Saying Yes To What Is

Saying Yes To What Is

For years I remained within the institutional church, situated at what Richard Rohr would call “the edge of the inside.” From my Bible college days I asked questions that had no answers. I did not see things dualistically, black/white, right/wrong, in/out. My struggle with my gender identity taught me this is a complicated world in which suffering is the norm. I was not going to accept a faith that did not acknowledge that reality.

People in the church often became angry with me because they wanted to hear something with which they already agreed. They did not get that from me – not from my preaching or my magazine columns or the seminary courses I taught. My mentor, Dr. Byron Lambert said, “The truth is hard to tell and the truth is hard to tell.” What he was saying was the truth is hard to discern and equally difficult to communicate. That instruction formed the heart of my ministry.

We cannot start the religious journey without structure. We need boundaries to control our developing egos. But when our faith never leaves those rules and regulations, religion becomes little more than an evacuation plan for earth dwellers. Follow the rules and heaven is yours. All it takes is a willingness to color inside the lines. It is still all about you – your ego – your personal comfort. That kind of religion does not even demand love.

Rohr suggests the first phase of faith could be called the construction phase, and the next is the period of deconstruction. We enter this phase when we encounter suffering, life’s greatest teacher. Suffering occurs when we are not in control. Having to stop for a traffic light is an infinitesimally small form of suffering. Losing your work and your friends because you dare to live your own life instead of the one mapped out for you is another form of suffering. Cancer, or the loss of a loved one, is an even greater form of suffering. Suffering helps us see that a religion of rules and regulations is utterly inadequate. For many this is the stage in which faith is dormant, if not altogether lost. In this period we are often angry. But if we work through our anger, we come to the next phase of faith – reconstruction.

In reconstruction we lose our superiority complex and return to Jesus in genuine humility. We understand Christianity is not about meritocracy. It is about grace. We realize our soul never needed answers. It needed meaning, and the story of redemptive suffering found in Jesus holds all the meaning we need. We embrace mystery and realize, as Rohr says, that mystery is not unknowable, it is endlessly knowable – truth unfolding in deeper and surer ways as we live into it. And when the day is done that kind of faith will bring us to a place in which we can accept the profound truth that love is saying yes to what is.

I’m not there yet.

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15 thoughts on “Saying Yes To What Is

  1. “But when our faith never leaves those rules and regulations, religion becomes little more than an evacuation plan for earth dwellers.”
    Agreed! Thank you Paula

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  2. Maybe your best blog ever….and that is a lot to compare to. I’m not there yet either. Far far from it and I weep. Really!

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  3. Did your mentor say, “the truth is hard to tell, and the truth is hard to sell”? Or, did he repeat the first phrase exactly, giving a somewhat different meaning to the phrase the second time it was used (as written above)?

    Sounds like Rohr’s thoughts are informed by Buddhism. Regardless, the lessons from your writings reflect the paradoxes of life or contradictions of faith or perhaps the inherent tensions we must manage to grow in wisdom. Well done!

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    • Mark, he was a philosophy professor (and gentle soul) whose PhD thesis was on Jacques Mauritain. When he first used the phrase, I could sense no nuance in how he said “tell”. The more we talked, however, I began to realize he was saying the truth is difficult to discern, and any attempts to communicate it should always be accompanied by caution and be open to challenge. Gees, that’s such an inadequate answer. The whole thing is a question to discuss over dinner sometime! And yes, Rohr has been informed by Buddhism. Paradoxes of life, contradictions of faith, inherent tensions – all teachers of wisdom – none of which were made manifest until after those carefree summer days on Roslyn Avenue.

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  4. I am a short time Paula blog fan, but can say this is indeed one that touches me where I LIVE! I have been trying lately to “embrace my place,” which is pretty much the same thing I think. But it is so very hard when time is flying by now that I’m in my sixties, and it seems like there isn’t enough time in the day much left in my life to pursue anything….still, as an 86-year old woman told me a week ago, “you’re right where God wants you to be…” and as my sainted mother used to say, “everything happens for a reason”: and one I’ve enjoyed from many 12-step meetings I’ve which always makes me smile “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

    My personal twist on that one, “there is a God and She has a wicked sense of humor!”

    Paula, you are truly an inspiration.and your honesty and courage are phenomenal.

    Rebecca

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  5. As usual your thoughts send me into the depths of my own journey, and it was there in the deepest recesses of belief I came to an understanding I will never know anything with certainty. The Myth of Certainty of Dan Taylor’s helped me get there, and I am grateful to the now deceased friend who shared the book title with me. Now I’ve read others of Taylor and find that he speaks to me in ways which Rohr speaks to you.

    The kingdom is both present and yet coming; something too few of us were taught back in the “old days.” I now realize there a lot of kingdom work to do, and doing it with people like you make it sweeter.

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    • Did I ever tell you that I met Taylor and talked with him for quite a while at the Festival of Faith and Writing? He had just returned from his trip to Ireland that resulted in his book on Celtic Christianity.

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  6. Excellent Paula! Life has a way of crushing our tidy answers, and honesty requires that we admit this. I used to be so certain. I’ve read hundreds of your posts over the years and this is one of your best.

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