Life happens in cycles, but nothing is truly and totally repetitive. Seasons progress from one to the next each year in fairly predictable patterns, but never has the exact same season been experienced twice. Every day on the weather, meterologists (who I affectionately refer to as “guessologists”) gives us the day’s average, actual and record highs and lows - today isn’t the same as this day last year, and the good money is on it being somewhat different next year as well.
In Brian McLaren’s newest book, Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in 12 Simple Words (New York: Harper One, 2011), he speaks of four seasons of the life of faith. The spring of simplicity is marked by uncluttered dichotomies; this is right, that is wrong, this is up, that is down. Faith is a simple matter, being right is very important.
This gives way to the summer of complexity; obstacles and challenges come into view, but with a newfound sense of independence, we run headlong toward them. Faith is marked by a passion and zeal to enact change and a confidence that we will see the fruit of our struggles soon.
When struggles, disappointments and disillusionment begin to settle in, we know the autumn of perplexity is upon us. Dichotomies that used to seem so concrete, truths which seemed unassailable, postures which seemed so right begin to crumble and, like Job, we cry out, “When, oh Lord?... No!... Why, God?”
It is only by moving through these seasons that we enter the peaceful harmony of winter. We learn to listen to the deep silence of the snow-blanketed forest, and in it hear the majestic song of creation in response to the Creator. All around us creation is resting and we are invited to slow down and behold.
Of course, progressing through these seasons is not a one-time, linear event. Just as there are cool days in summer and strangely warm days, even weeks, in the midst of winter, so too will we have “unseasonable” periods in our life of faith. Likewise, we know that after winter comes spring - every year...unless you live in Texas and then you usually skip right to summer.
While I could appreciate the previous metaphor of the light spectrum (In New Kind of Christianity), this new image of seasons subtly addresses the danger of viewing people in “earlier” stages as inferior. It may be the case that you are in the summer season of perplexity while another person is clearly floating through the simplicity of spring...but this alone is no reason to view them as necessarily less mature. In keeping with (and perhaps straining) the metaphor, you may be in the summer of 1985 while they’re experiencing the spring of 2011.
This recalls the admonition for ubuntu faith to cease viewing the earlier stages as wrong or bad. I confess that I struggle with this task - and my conversations with many friends suggest that I am not alone. When I hear someone interviewed on the news, as I did recently, claiming that her child was shot in the leg and not the head because God loves her child and protected him, I immediately begin asking, “What about the children who have been shot in the head? Or those eighteen who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them?” (Luke 13:4)
My natural response when Christians make statements that I feel are naive or immature is to fall back into those initial questions I mentioned in my previous post, “What do we have to say to anyone else if we can’t agree with each other?”
Perhaps my response should be to recognize that this may be the most appropriate way they can articulate life and faith from the where they currently dwell. There has to be room for these different perspectives even within our churches. Perhaps the expectation for everyone to be on “the same page” is inappropriate, given that each of us are likely experiencing various seasons of faith. That doesn’t mean that we don’t question and challenge each other; the questioning may be part of the process by which we move from one season into the next. Yet, there must be room for each of us to grow and mature as the Spirit moves within us.
The challenge then becomes cultivating an environment where each person is invited to pursue God faithfully with others who may be at drastically different points in the journey. Iron sharpens iron, but sometimes iron is also the hammer helping shape the nearly molten metal of another’s life. Of course, the hammer must remember that apart from the hand of the metal smith, it is a lifeless tool.
Perhaps this seems like an elementary observation - and I’ll grant that may very well be the case. However, if it is then I contend that on the whole, Christians in the West are functioning as preschoolers.
In the final edition of this series of posts, I'll say a few more things about Naked Spirituality and comment on how the books work well together.