Who do you say I am?

Daily Reading for August 24 • The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

What saddens me these days is how many Christians I meet who identify themselves as “heretics”—jokingly if they are still in churches and defiantly if they are not. For some, the issue is that they believe less than they think they should about Jesus. They are not troubled by the thought that he may have had two parents instead of one, or that his real presence with his disciples after his death may have been more metaphysical than physical. The glory they behold in him has more to do with the nature of his being than with the number of his miracles, but they have suffered enough at the hands of other Christians to learn to keep their mouths shut.

For others, the issue is that they believe more than Jesus. Having beheld his glory, they find themselves better equipped to recognize God’s glory all over the place, including places where Christian doctrine says that it should not be. I know Christians who have beheld God’s glory in a Lakota sweat lodge, in a sacred Celtic grove, at the edge of a Hawaiian volcano and in a Hindu temple during the festival of lights, as well as in dreams and visions that they are afraid to tell anyone else about at all. These heretics not only fear being shunned for their unorthodox narratives; they also fear sharing some of the most powerful things that have ever happened to them with people who may ridicule them.

Given the history of Christians as a people who started out beholding what was beyond belief in the person of Jesus, this strikes me as a lamentable state of affairs, both for those who have learned to see no more than they are supposed to see as well as for those who have excused themselves from traditional churches because they see too little or too much. If it is true that God exceeds all our efforts to contain God, then is it too big a stretch to declare that dumbfoundedness is what all Christians have most in common? Or that coming together to confess all that we do not know as we reach out to one another is at least as sacred an activity as declaring what we think we do?

From “Way Beyond Belief: The Call to Behold” by Barbara Brown Taylor, quoted in Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-One Writers Speak about Their Writing and Their Faith, edited by Jennifer L. Holberg (Eerdmans, 2006).

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