Certainly Uncertain

There is one thing we can be absolutely certain of — that we will have times of uncertainty.

I like to think of myself as a person of faith. I’ve been a follower of Jesus for 24 years this month. I can say that I have had seasons of listlessness, frustrations, and yes, doubts. Not in the overall premise of the tenants of the faith, but more so in its practices, platitudes, and politics. But I would be amiss if I did not also confess that sometimes when I am laying in bed at night, that an alien though enters my mind that whispers, “Is this for real?” Maybe not those exact words, they might be much lengthier. Or it might not be words, it’s more like feelings, or just the unformed words of an idea. To have these thoughts, in whatever manifestation, are quite unsettling.

Our brains hate uncertainty. The unknown triggers a threat response in us, causing fight or flight instincts. Meaning that in order to avoid uncertainty, we sometimes shut down our more cognitive functions and use baser elements of our repertoire of responses. As a result, faith traditions have sometimes, well, more than sometimes, shamed the premise of doubt when it rears it’s “ugly” head. If you have doubt then you are not a true believer. Or, as an alternative, for the gatekeepers and vanguards of the faith who secretly have doubts, they inverse the symptom. They seek out those who believe differently. And if you believe differently, then YOU are uncertain, there is conflict. You are painted a certain color or labeled in hushed tones as a heretic. Conflict abounds when uncertainty surfaces.

Maybe we should fully embrace uncertainty and doubts, not only in faith traditions, but also in society as a whole. The whole idea of exploration and living on the frontier is bathed in the idea of uncertainty. I, for one, do not believe science and faith have to conflict. (I am not speaking about creation science, which, in my opinion, bastardizes both faith tradition and science.) Science is all about embracing the unknown, and the curiosity that embraces it. Faith, too, can be about embracing the unknown, and simultaneously embracing faith and doubt while penetrating the cloud of uncertainty. This is when these faith traditions evolve and mature. It’s reasonable to say that the faith and understanding of most modern persons who hold to religious traditions, both of conservative and progressive stripes, is considerably more evolved and educated than tribesmen who sat around the fires listening to the elders recount the oral traditions of Moses, Abraham or other religious patriarchs.

I think a big fear that we have about doubt and uncertainty is that we think if one acknowledges it, then one thinks their faith will be shattered or rendered nonexistent. But I think that is an unwarranted fear if an individual has the courage to explore the doubt from different angles. To be curious about its origin or its source of influence. To determine what questions are arising and trying to explore them in their proper contexts. A question begins with a quest, and a quest involves exploration.

Certainty seems to be a bit more unstable than uncertainty. At one time inhabitants of this globe were certain it was flat. To believe otherwise invited shame, scorn, accusation, and sometimes, death. So much for stability. And the “faith” that sometimes influenced these responses, although imperfect in its practice, did over time survive and transform into something much more viable due to its adherents who dared to questione it. The doubts and uncertainties of those brave enough to explore the other angles led the world and the church and other faith traditions into a new era. And I believe we are all the better for it.

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Bullies and Comfort Zones

The one time I was bravest in my life was when I was around ten years old. You see, there was this bully. His name was Roger. I will not list his last name to protect the not so innocent. He lived about ten blocks away from me on South Travis street. He was about three years older. One day when I was playing in the nearby parking lot with my neighborhood friends, Roger came by on his bike and threatened us. I don’t remember what he said. But it terrified me. It kind of scared my other friends, too, but not to the degree it did me. He eventually rode off, and play timed resumed, but a little bit closer to our front yards.

A few days later, we saw him approach on his bike, yelling his threats accompanied by his hideous bloodthirsty laughter. (I mean, all laughter that comes from your adversary at ten years old is hideous and bloodthirsty, think Scut and Grover in A Christmas Story.) We, meaning I, scatter and flee to the safety of our, meaning my, front porch. Of course, he just rides on by, with his hideous and bloodthirsty smirk. All adversaries have that classic villainous smirk.

This cycle repeats itself over several weeks, maybe a few months. One fine day, as we were playing kickball in our front yard, the eminent arrival of our adversary commenced. This time, he was a bit more bold. He didn’t ride on by. He rode onto my front yard, steering right toward me, issuing his insidious threats accompanied by his hideous bloodthirsty laughter.

This time, however, he was not the only one to be bold. I stood my ground. Didn’t budge. I really don’t know where I summoned the courage from. I think I was just weary of the daily encroachment on my calm.

“What did I ever do to you?” I yelled at him. He attempted to run me over with his bike, but I reached my arms out, still standing my ground, in a counter of blocking his poorly maneuvered trample. His steering wavered, and he cut to the side, narrowly missing me, and I distinctly remember him turning his head with a “What-did-you-just-do-?-Now-you’re-gonna-get-it-!-How-dare-you-!” look on his face. He circled around and attempted his maneuver again, with the same results. This time his look back was a sneer of resignation, and he rode off in defeat into the sunset that hadn’t arrived yet. I never saw him again. Or if I did, he ignored us and kept riding by.

Roger would have been a senior when I was a freshman when I entered high school, so I approached my freshman year with a lot of anxiety. But I never encountered him at school, either. (I had two guardian angels in highschool, my band mates Cary McLain and Robert Burkhart, who looked after me, and said they kept trouble from coming way. Not that they had any run ins with Mr. Roger, but I’d really like to think so because that makes a much more interesting story.) I saw Roger’s Facebook profile the other day, and he still has the appearance of bully. Appearances are deceiving, however, and it’s very likely he has become a functioning, responsible member of society. Honestly, I wish him well.

Courage is one of those things that you don’t realize you have until you are in a situation that requires it and you have to summon it. It’s a choice to summon it. It doesn’t just happen, but it’s freely available.

Recently I was doing a writing exercize that asked what are some of your failures in life. The exercize was intended to assist us to find the successes that are born out of failures. One of the failures I wrote about wasn’t a specific event, but more of a character trait, or rather, a mindset. A good portion of my life, I have tried to live within my comfort zone, avoiding failure and vulnerable moments. I haven’t taken too many risks, primarily because of fear of failure, or in some cases, fear of success, because success would require change. Opening my eyes to that has caused me to take pause and consider that a lot of what we fear, a lot of our bullies, at least as adults, are metaphorical. It’s not that they’re not real, but they’re not tangible, therefore, we can easily sweep them under the rug.

It’s not January 1st yet, but I’m making a “Resolution” (ugghhh, I hate the idea of resolutions, but that’s for another time,) to look at my new bully, the Comfort Zone, and hold my arms out and make an attempt to throw off its steering my life into a direction of resignation and fleeing to my front porch. Fleeing every time an opportunity presents itself, or when the inspiration to pursue something grand comes along. Just like Roger, I think my Comfort Zone can be tamed, or hopefully transformed.