George Stuart (Singing a New Song) has kindly given us open access to his yet to be published book.
Starting all over again? Yes or No?
A faithful questioning of all I have been taught
about God, Jesus, Creation, Humanity,
Prayer, Sacrifice, Life after Death, Heaven
and the Bible.
From the Conclusion and after a far ranging practical and interesting discussion questioning eight decades of traditional church teaching:
What comes next for me?
I have taken up the challenge presented by Dr Val Webb in her recent book ‘Testing Tradition and Liberating Theology’ where she states that her aim …’is to help lay people in particular to see that there has never been only one way to think about God and that traditional arguments have often been held in place by power and authority against other more refreshing theologies. My aim is to keep people ‘doing their own theology’- finding something that works for them and is transforming in our contemporary world.’
I hope I have not betrayed her trust in regular church-goers. Unlike most regular church-goers, I have had a formal theological training and I have probably done more theological reading and solid Bible study than most others so I suppose I am not really representative of the great bulk of people who still attend church services. Even so, not being an academic theologian, a biblical scholar nor historian, I still have this urge to make a response of my continual questioning. Some of this has been very difficult for me, but Val Webb has challenged me to find my faltering, and partially-informed voice.
So how do I respond to all this ‘faithful questioning’, concerning the exercise of my discipleship? Am I virtually saying that the Bible has got it wrong about a theistic God? Am I saying the early church fathers got it wrong about Jesus? Am I saying that the church, for hundreds of years has been preaching the wrong message about the Cross and God’s Plan for Salvation? To an extent I suppose I am. Some might say that is very arrogant. I’m not sure how to respond to that accusation. All I can say is, that this is where my study, my searching and all my ‘faithful questioning’ has led me.
Sometimes I feel I am betraying the church and Jesus. Sometimes I feel I have been betrayed by the church and its teachings. I never feel betrayed by Jesus.
So what is the outcome? In many areas of my belief I perceive I have had to ‘Start all over again’. However, I believe I am now in a much more belief-satisfying and Jesus-centred situation than before.
I have tried to argue my positions logically. I have included smatterings of cosmology, psychology and natural sciences in my comments. I have spoken of my experiences as nearly determinative for me. I have tried to state issues as I have perceived them to be, from a church-goer’s perspective. I have relied on new for me, and old information. I have tried to be rational in what I have proposed. I have concentrated on what I see as common sense, plausible and reasonable for my day and age.
I also realise that if I had been brought up as a Buddhist or a Muslim or in any other faith, I would probably have a completely different set of beliefs but I hope I would still be ‘faithfully questioning’ everything. There must always be the ‘Yes. But…..’
And in my continuing questioning journey I believe that
• I must allow both logic and dreaming to have a voice.
• I must embrace both the ‘possible’ and the ‘impossible’.
• I must allow science to be heard alongside poetry.
• I must consider new information but not let it silence wisdom.
• I must not allow the past to dictate the present or the future.
All these have a contribution to make to my human response to Mystery.
Having worked through these eleven major areas of my ‘faithful questioning’, I believe that if people shared only one of these concerns, they might find it sufficient reason to turn their back on the church and leave. I believe that altogether, these concerns could form a very solid basis for very serious consideration to do just that. I could expand further on my reasons for ‘clearing out’ so much, but I wish to state that I think my present beliefs are more Jesus-based. I also wish to correct any impression I may have given, that I feel there is nothing in the Christianity I have been taught which excites or inspires me. That is not the case. There is much, and it all has to do with Love; that which is an emphasis I experience in my church affiliation today.
What keeps me in the church and continuing to struggle with it, is the story of Jesus. For me, it would be good for the church, in its doctrine, its teachings and its practised liturgies, to concentrate more on the human Jesus and less on the distinct and often distant God. I believe we would then be on much more relevant and helpful ground. So I hope I have presented alternative ways of understanding and practising the faith of my childhood, youth and following years, even though in some areas of my questioning I have had to ‘Start all over again’.
So, endless questioning. Maybe some rather pointless. Continuing reappraisal. Maybe some rather dodgy. More rejections. Maybe some rather challenging. More affirmations. Maybe some rather bold. More journeying with Jesus. Maybe most of it rather exciting but always challenging.
All together, if it helps to nurture me and you as disciples, to bring love to blossom, to spread justice and mercy, to encourage ourselves and others to live abundantly, then all of this endeavour may have been worthwhile. If not, it has all been a waste of time, both yours and mine!
Let me conclude, remembering a saying of Jesus, “I tell you this; unless you turn around and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” So I appeal to the little child in me and each of us.
Do you know this rhyme?
Scintillate. Scintillate. Globule vivific.
Feign would I fathom thy nature specific.
Loftily poised in the ether capacious;
Strongly resembling a gem; carbonaceous.
You may not. However, I think you may remember this one.
Twinkle. Twinkle little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high;
Like a diamond in the sky.
I believe both rhymes are important. ‘To scintillate’ is significant and ‘to fathom’ can certainly lead to spiritual growth. I also wish to affirm that both ‘to twinkle’ and ‘to wonder’ are profound.
Let us twinkle for ourselves, Jesus and most importantly for others around us. Let us love. You in your small corner and I in mine.
The way we live is more important than what we believe.
My warmest greetings. Grace and Peace. George.
Good stuff! Little discussion in my church community so this is most welcome! The same questions the same doubts the same certainties!
Thank you so much, George. You express so well the thoughts and feelings of so many who are re-evaluating their faith. Your post is very timely. At our next Ex-Religious Support Network meeting on Saturday 15 December, we are examining the question of meaning in a world without the traditionally-viewed God of the Bible. Joe Sehee, a secular pastoral carer who speaks on purpose and meaning, is leading the discussion. I do hope you and some members of this church can join us. You can find out more and RSVP here > https://www.meetup.com/Ex-Religious-Support-Network/events/256803079/
Thankyou for this honesty and I hope you will continue to write. It is a bit overwhelming when I consider what I am questioning and search for something in its place. But the traditions, pomp, sexism unreality are not convincing