Sunday, July 08, 2007

q and a

Ginger and I had a conversation with our friend Jay over coffee Saturday afternoon as we talked about the questions that shape our faith. Often, when people talk theology, the vocabulary centers on issues, which is ultimately polarizing, I think, because they end up doing things like taking a stand and defending a position. Neither of those verbs facilitates discussion or relationship, both of which are crucial to faith. Questions, on the other hand, are invitations to conversation, if they are asked honestly.

As someone has said, our answers are only as good as our questions.

Maggi Dawn has a great post asking about the word “missional” as an adjective churches use to describe themselves. The growing list of comments shows how important it was that she framed her thoughts as a question rather than an issue. She was clear about her thoughts and feelings, but in a way that invited others to do the same where we could all learn from one another.

My friend Gene pastors a church in Plano, Texas. One of the ways they choose to talk about faith is with “Life Mission Questions,” which they describe as follows:

  • How do I live as a Christ-follower?
  • How does your life express your worship of God?
  • How do you partner with God to rescue those around you?
  • What have you done to strengthen your core relationships today?
  • How do you act more like Jesus than when you first met him?
  • How do you invest your time, talents and treasures to serve God and others?
Though I understand the value of our creeds has they have been handed down, I find much more resonance in faith expressed as interrogative rather than declarative or even imperative. Several years ago, my friend Billy and I wrote a song in which we tried to ask questions that matter. Here are the lyrics to “The Question Pool”:
where did I leave my plastic halo
why can’t I speak to my good friend
am I sleepwalking through the best years of my life
how long is too long to pretend

what do I owe my parents’ generation
what do I want and who would know
can I live on answers that were handed down to me
do I just hold on or just let go

I am drinking from the water blue
down at the question pool

what is lying over my horizon
what am I afraid of going through
if whatever happens come to push me past the edge
will all I believe in still be true

I am drinking from the water blue
down at the question pool
I wonder what it all comes to

why am I moved by stories of Eden
what does its lovely sadness mean
am I a traveler who cannot remember home
why do I cry sometimes in dreams

I am drinking from the water blue
laying down at the question pool
The final lyric took shape as we poured over page after page of questions we had written down or solicited from friends or read along the way. When life is distilled to a set of principles, we begin to set as though we were made of plaster of paris, becoming more and more rigid and brittle as time passes. If our faith is fed by questions, we have the chance to keep growing and changing as we learn more about our God, our world, and ourselves. My seminary ethics professor began the semester in the fall of 1978 by saying, “The issues that will be at the forefront during your ministry are probably not even in sight right now. Therefore, you have to learn how to think and question so you will have a framework to deal with what is to come.”

Our answers are only as good as our questions.
In The Return of the Pink Panther, Clouseau sees a man on the street with a dog next to him. “Does your dog bite?” he asks.
“No,” says the man.
Clouseau reaches down to pet the dog and the pooch almost rips his hand off.
“I thought you said your dog did not bite,” Clouseau exclaims.
“It’s not my dog,” the man replies.
Let me say again, our answers are only as good as our questions.

As we talked together on Saturday, the question that intrigued me most was, how do we live out our faith without it exhausting us? We know we are called to live out our faith in our world. We don’t know how to deal with life in both the micro and macro. How do we ask questions about Darfur that will energize us to creativity rather than futility? How do we do church in a way that feeds the community instead of church life being an endless stream of committee meetings? How do we learn to say, “This is the day our God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” and really mean it? How do we live so that when we are asked how we are doing we can answer something other than “I’m really busy” or “I’m really tired”?

When Billy and I came up with the metaphor of the question pool, we imagined a place that fed and invigorated us: to drink from the question pool would be to drink the Water of Life. If we really asked what we owed our parents’ generation, or what the Eden story really had to say beyond the creation wars, or how our faith was changing as it was tested, we thought we would be on a journey worth taking. Over a decade later, I still feel that way.

Truth grows in the face of questions the way my tomato plants are responding to the summer sun. Questions cause love to grow: that’s how the uncharted territory or a relationship becomes a home. Faith grows with questions because the point was never the answers anyway.

“I will give you water and you will never be thirsty again,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman as they stood by the well in the heat of the day.
“What kind of water is that?” she asked.
“Exactly,” Jesus replied. And then he smiled.

Peace,
Milton

3 comments:

Presbyterian Gal said...

Lovin' "The Question Pool" lyrics.

And Jesus, the Zen master, at the well.

Tess said...

You're absolutely right about the questions. How else are we to overcome our prejudices and those of others?
Which is why I have such difficulty with those elements of our faiths that require unquestioning acceptance.
Dialogue - so vital but often so difficult!

beth said...

That'll preach, brother.