“If it is hope that maintains and upholds faith and keeps it moving on, if it is hope that draws the believer into the life of love, then it will also be hope that is the mobilizing and driving force of faith’s thinking, of its knowledge of, and reflections on, human nature, history and society. Faith hopes in order to know what it believes. Hence all its knowledge will be an anticipatory, fragmentary knowledge forming a prelude to the promised future, and as such is committed to hope.” Jürgen Moltmann- Theology of Hope
When someone goes through a spiritual crisis or loss of faith it is a chilling time. Even when you are trying to believe there is always a time that you really take stock of exactly what you believe and why. Without regurgitating the crisis in my life and faith that came after my return from Iraq and near physical, emotional and spiritual collapse that came with my PTSD I wanted to just take a few paragraphs to meditate on the grace, mercy and love of God that is a central theme of the Gospel.
I have talked about the miracle that embraced me during the season of Advent and Christmas. I call it my “Christmas miracle” because the year prior I had spent Christmas Eve walking in the dark and cold wondering if God even existed even as most of the Christian world was celebrating the Incarnation of Christ the Lord. Since that time my faith has continued to be renewed and restored and with the exception of battling Adolf Von Grosse Schmertzen my very painful and very big Kidney Stone have come to feel like my old self for the first time since Iraq.
As I have entered Lent it has been a time of renewal. Part of that renewal has been being able to believe again and as the Psalmist says, “be still and know that I am God.” This has been a refreshing time as I have continued to experience God’s grace as well as grown in my faith which is founded on the Anglican Triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. That actually has helped me as I have experienced some measure of healing and recovery from what I experienced.
My time in Iraq was meaningful and I loved my Marines, Soldiers and other advisers as well as our Iraqi allies. When I came back I felt alone and a lot of that came as my church had endured a series of scandals and splits and even before Iraq I had been thrashed by some of the people at the center of the storm who have all since left the church for other places that they can afflict. Coming home to that was disillusioning, as isolation that I felt from many in the chaplain community. I have found that my experience is not uncommon and that others have had similar experiences upon their return from Iraq.
For me this meant a period of almost two years where it seemed that God himself had disappeared from my life. I struggled to even pray. That is no longer the case, I seem to be on the rebound and God is real again. So things have changed, I think that my faith has matured in some ways, I don’t need to go argue points of doctrine that saints, theologians and philosophers much smarter than me have legitimate disagreements about for centuries. Nor do I need to push my views on people in my church or anywhere else as if I had the latest and last word from the Almighty. I used to seek approval and want to have input on denominational theological or liturgical committees and I would write in the hope that my “brilliance” would be recognized and that my opinion would be sought after. When I write something now it is because I believe it and to stimulate interest and discussion and occasionally to answer or critique those who use faith as a weapon to bludgeon or intimidate those that they are against. I do not expect to change anyone’s mind and since I have no position where I can enforce my beliefs on anyone else (nor would I want to thank you) my thoughts are simply that. I hope that they edify and encourage and if someone has a “wow I could have had a V-8 moment” reading something that I write I’m okay with that.
Hans Kung once said: “Time and again we see leaders and members of religions incite aggression, fanaticism, hate, and xenophobia – even inspire and legitimate violent and bloody conflicts.” I guess to some this will sound “liberal” but I came back different from Iraq and I have seen too many people suffer from those that would use religion as a weapon to control others. In Iraq I had Iraqi officers; including Generals tell me that they did not trust their Islamic clergy Sunni or Shi’a because they by their words and actions had caused so much suffering during the insurgency that followed the US invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately I am seeing the same kind of attitude that the Iraqi officers describe grow exponentially in this country, especially among the farthest right of the religious right. The use faith and religion to enforce their particular understanding of the Bible on people who are not Christians is troubling and something that our often very secular and not very Christian “Enlightenment” thinker founders understood. Some now declare anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100% as enemies not only of them, but of God and often over things that are not even Biblical like economics, gun control, taxes and a host of other conservative political issues. Now there are those on the far left that do the same thing but most do not use the Christian faith as justification for their intolerance of opposing views. Somehow while I don’t think God sees things that way that the extremes see them I know that the Al Qaida Iraq, the Taliban and other groups think much in the same way. However, such speech is protected and even if disagree with it would not support attempting to silence those who hold beliefs that I disagree with be they religious or political. Debate, dialogue and even disagreement on issues are important in both the Church and society in order that we don’t become a tyranny of the right or left, religious or secular.
As such my faith has grown in that I have no agenda other than to care for the people that God allows me to have contact with. I’m certainly not perfect at this and at times my default setting of being an ass can re-emerge but I know that Christ is working in my life again. I have emerged from what Saint John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.” My faith is in God and in Christ crucified who in the words of St Paul who said “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:19 NRSV) I like what Chrysostom says about this passage: “For had it been His pleasure to require an account of the things we had transgressed in, we should all have perished….” The fact that God has condescended to reach out to his creation in this manner is evidenced also in 1 John 2:1-2 where the Apostle writes: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for[the sins of the whole world.” For me this Lent is about reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins in an age where so many are drawing lines in the sand and preparing for war, be it religious, social or ideological.
So anyway, it has become more important to me after having gone to war and seeing its effects on people as well as having looked into the abyss of hopelessness to be an advocate for reconciliation, peace and hope for the future especially in my own country where the anger, division and even hatred between the political and religious right and the political, religious and secular left seems to rise to new heights every day.
My identity is not in a political leader, party or ideology, it is in Christ crucified. My optimism is based on him and the creation that he reconciles unto himself and I cannot give up hope or be silent about God’s love and reconciliation . As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”