A Liturgy of Doubt

Stage setup for REVAL: Doubt

Last night at REVEAL: A Night for Worship (hosted here at Missiongathering) we spent some time engaging with the idea of a Liturgy of Doubt. Inspired by this segment of a talk from Peter Rollins, wherein he posits that the church could potentially be the place for people not to come and express their belief, but come to express their doubts, we sought out to create such a space.

Here’s a bit of what took place last night in what is being called, “the best church service I’ve ever been to.” -Kate Martin (Yes, she’s my wife… so what!? ;) )

Open in Song

We kicked the night off with “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Great midtempo song. Good way to start off a more meditative/reflective night of worship. Not a ton of energy (which would be counter-productive), but not overly sleepy (which sets a difficult tone). Plus, it’s a great Call to Worship song…

All creatures of our God and King / Lift up your voice, and with us sing.

C’mon everybody, time to get yer praise on!

Call to Worship: Setting the Theme for the Night

After the opening song I took a few moments to explain what our time together was (hopefully) going to look like. I explained how we were going to look at the idea of Doubt and create a safe space to express those doubts. How Doubt is completely normal and natural for people who live by faith. You can’t have one without the other, regardless what Joel Osteen tries to say.

I also lamented about how difficult it was to find music for this particular theme. There are not many (g0od) congregational worship songs that give voice to our doubts. Part of this is possibly because we’ve been trained in the church, by the church, that to Doubt is a negative thing. It is to be avoided, and shame on you for not having faith. So why would we want or need songs that would lead us to say/sing things that aren’t empirically true, or don’t lift us up to a more secure place of trust and hope?

So I said that several songs we were singing tonight I actually changed the lyrics to, so that they would better give voice to our struggles and our doubts. And other songs, songs that may have been written to give voice to our doubts, unfortunately all tend to resolve by Verse 3 or the Bridge. So that, by time the song is over, you’ve come out of your place of Doubt and are expressing an attitude of faith and trust. But life doesn’t resolve so quickly… why then should our liturgy?

Worship through Song

We then sang “40” by U2. A great song inspired by the Psalm of lament found in chapter 40.

I’ve waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry // How long, to sing this song?

Prayer

Invited everyone to pause and to center themselves, and invite God to open our hearts a bit further to the reality that God is a secure Being. So secure, in fact, that God is not offended by our doubts. God does not get frustrated at us when we get frustrated at God. We need to let go of the destructive theology that views God as having low self esteem and gets all bent out of shape when we go through seasons of Doubt. And we would do well to live in to the reality that God actually might be inviting us to express our Doubts.

Worship through Song

When the Tears Fall,” by Tim Hughes, is a really cool song. Some strong lyrics that really fit the night well, but still opting for a blend of doubt and faith. So that we cannot fully sing about our questions and our struggles and our pain without covering it on a higher plane with a bigger umbrella of trust and hope that trumps everything else. For instance, Verse 1:

I’ve had questions, without answers

I’ve known sorrow, I have known pain

Love it. But then:

But there’s one thing, that I’ll cling to

You are faithful, Jesus you’re true

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great verse. And I believe it. But the problem is that there have been times in my life where I haven’t believed it. Where I haven’t clung to Jesus as being faithful or true. My life demonstrated just the opposite. And I’ll bet YOU have been there, too. So singing this just feels disingenuous sometimes. But, other times it’s not. Other times it’s GREAT to declare our sense of trust and hope in the midst of life’s storms. I’m all for that. That doesn’t mean, though, that we aren’t also in need of songs that just give us a chance to voice our despair and doubt.

Anyways, I chose to alter the lyrics of Verse 3 so that we could at least END the song in existential despair… ha!

When confusion, is all around me

And the darkness is my closest friend

When the laughter fails to comfort

When my heart aches, Lord are you there? (the original lyrics: Lord, you are there)

Video Clips: Peter Rollins on Doubt

Then we watched two short video clips of Peter Rollins talking about Doubt. The first video he throws out the idea of God doubting God. That Jesus, while on the cross, cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as a demonstration of despair and doubt. So he suggests that when we lean in to our doubts, and embrace our dark nights of the soul, that we are then standing in the very sight of Christ.

As a way to complement this, I set up three canvases on the right part of the stage. And throughout the evening I invited and artist to write the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on these three canvases. First lightly in pencil, then gradually heavier and darker with a black pen, a black sharpie, and finally with black paint. So it was cool having her off on the side expressing this sentiment over and over again, getting bigger, darker and bolder.

The second video, as I mentioned above, was when Peter challenged faith communities to consider a Liturgy of Doubt.

Interactive Element

I think it’s important to provide interactive elements in our corporate worship so that it’s not all just passive/observational experiences. So I had signs printed up that were from a poem called, “An Approach to God – Losing My Religion” and posted these all around the sanctuary in groups of two. One sign would be a positive expression of faith in God. The other sign would be a negative expression, a statement of doubt.

Statement of Faith

Statement of Doubt

I also had small cards printed up and put on everyone’s chair before they got there that read “Sometimes I doubt __________________.”

So during this part of the gathering I invited people to take some time and interact with their own doubts. I invited them to get up from their chair, walk around the room, and read all seven stations. And if, while reading one of the signs, you find yourself resonating with the idea on the sign, then just sign your own name on the paper. As a way of saying, “yup, I can relate.” Then, take your card and write out three things that sometimes you doubt. It could be doubts you have now, it could be things you’ve doubted in the past, it could be things you always struggle with.

Sometimes I doubt ________

A few of the Stations of Faith/Doubt Statements

Can I just say, this part of the gathering blew me away.

I got off the stage and took part in the seven stations around the room, and it was incredibly powerful to stand there and watch people willingly and publicly sign their own names on some pretty heavy expressions of doubt.

And everybody was doing it!

Everyone was be honest and saying, “yup… I’ve had that thought before about God.” Or, “yep, I’ve doubted God in that area.” It was so powerful to be a part of this expression of both faith AND doubt on a corporate level.

Worship Through Song

The old Hymn, “Come Ye Sinners,” but without the slightly cheesy chorus that was added to the original hymn by someone else at a later time. It goes like this:

I will arise and go to Jesus / He will embrace me in his arms

And in the arms of my dear Jesus / Oh there are, 10,000 charms

What the?! Why would an armful of charms be appealing to me? Anyways… the verses to this song are golden. Especially when you go back to the original version of it and add in the few lines at the end of each verse that the “chorus” writer took off.

Scripture Reading – Psalm 44

Original Song: How Long

About 6 weeks ago I was frustrated by the lack of songs that express Doubt, so I chose to just write one. I had read Psalm 44 and was struck by how the Psalm started on a positive note (God, you’ve done all these great things for us and for our fathers…) but then takes a sharp turn at the end (But where the heck are you now? Are you sleeping? Wake up! If you really love us, then help us!”).

It’s called “How Long,” and you can hear the live performance of it here, if you’d like.
How Long (Live)


Interactive Element Cont’d

Then I invited everyone to turn their chairs and get in to groups of 3-5 people. Once in their groups, they were to go around and each share what they wrote on their “Sometimes I doubt _____________” cards. But I told them they could only read them. They could not set it up, or put it in context, or tell a bigger story. Or say, “sometimes I doubt_________, but not right now! Right now I’m good!”

Nope. Just read your doubts. Outloud. To others.

And then we put a phone number on the screens and invited people to text in some of their doubts.

Special Music

After several minutes passed, and people shared their doubts with one another, I sang the song “Silence of God,” a real gem by Andrew Peterson. Seriously, pause now and go listen to it!

During this song we put on our screens some of the doubts that had been text in.

It was a really, really cool moment.

As I’m singing this amazing song about the silence of God people are looking up and reading all these different types of Doubts. And they are discovering this: You are not alone.

You are not the only one who doubts.

You are not the only one with THIS SPECIFIC doubt.

Very cool moment.

Reading from “How (Not) to Speak of God”, by Peter Rollins

A buddy then got up and read a parable from this book. The parable imagined a small community of people who, right after Jesus was crucified, left the city and started a small faith community in a remote village. This faith community continued on and lived out the teachings and the values and principles of the Way of Christ, never knowing about any resurrection or ascension. But they viewed the Love of Jesus and the Way of Jesus as having inherent and intrinsic value that, even though it ended in death for Jesus and would end in death for them, they were committed to that way of love and peace. And then, after about 300 years, a small group of missionaries found this remote village and preached to them about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The community was elated and ecstatic and celebrated throughout the night, but no one could find the village elder. Finally, one of the missionaries found the elder alone at the outskirt of the village, clearly saddened. The missionary wondered why he wasn’t joining in the celebration, for Jesus is not dead but alive! The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the missionary compassionately in the face:

Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judge him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him not because of the implicit value he has, but because of the value that he posses for them.’

I’m not sure why I chose to end the night with this parable, but it just seemed fitting.

What if, in a life full of sorrow and pain and suffering, we were not assured of any resolution from our doubts? What if all we had to look forward to was death?

Would we still follow Jesus? Would we still live in his love, and live out his love?

Is he worthy of our allegiance because of what he can do for us? Or because of who. He. Is.

Close in Song

And, though I partially didn’t want to, we closed the evening with “It is Well With My Soul.” It’s just such a great song, even though it semi-sort-of worked against the point of the evening. Ha!

It really was a phenomenal exercise in practicing a Liturgy of Doubt. Something I think the Church would do well to embrace, embody, and invite people to engage in.

Thanks to those of you who came out and went there with me. I hope you found it as meaningful as I did.

We’ll see you at the next REVEAL on Sunday night, November 4th at 7pm.

______________

p.s. I did a talk a few months back wherein I explored more about what it might look like to Lean in to Your Doubts. You can check that out here.

The De-Evolution of a Beard

Goodbye “Depression Beard!”

For two months (November-December) I grew out my beard, calling it my “depression beard.”
And then, on January 1st, I shaved it all off.

Here is a video of that moment.

(check out this post, and the talk I gave last week, to learn more about my “depression beard,” what it meant to me, and how it relates to “Doubt” in our Christian faith.)

The De-Evolution of a Beard from colby martin on Vimeo.

Lean in to Doubt

The Psalm Center, at Corban University

Here is the audio from the talk I gave Friday January 13th at Corban University.

At their chapel service, I spoke about doubt. I shared some of my story, and talked about what I was learning about the power of “doubt” within the context of our expression of faith.

You can stream it here or download it for later listening.

Here’s a few excerpts:

Doubt is not something you do TO your faith, rather it is an integral expression OF your faith.

Much of Christianity gives no room for doubt. It is seen as a betrayal of God. It is feared and to be avoided at all costs.

When we engage with our doubts, when we open up the depths of our souls to the darkness that shadows us in our times of suffering, sorrow and doubt, we then find ourselves in a unique opportunity to participate in the crucifixion.

Something profound happens when we engage with the Divine Absence, when we suffer the Dark Night of the Soul, when we lean in to our doubts and let them fully develop. We find that as we begin to come out of it, after being confronted by the full trauma of doubt and despair, we discover that that which pushed us there no longer has power over us.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
Have you ever had seasons of doubt? If so, how did you handle it?

In my talk, I reference my “Depression Beard.”
To see a video where I finally shaved my depression beard, click here.

The Lord Taketh Away and… Giveth?

The other day I saw someone’s status on Facebook, and it read:

God will never take something away from you without the intention of replacing it with something better!

I had to read it twice before I was assured that THAT is what they truly wrote.

Now, far be it from me to judge someone else’s perspective on who God is and how God acts in this world. I’m very aware of my own quirks when it comes to God’s posture towards humankind, and how God acts (or doesn’t act) in accordance. Eyes would roll and pitchforks raise (causing heads to roll) at some of MY thoughts on this issue. So I comment on the above statement carefully, not intending to make the original author feel small or crazy.

But here’s my problem with this line of thinking.

This statement makes the following assumptions:

  • That God is active in the removal of “things” from our life
  • That God not only removes things by God’s own action, but that God does so with a greater purpose
  • That this purpose is noble and good and will lead to the betterment of the person who had this thing removed
  • That we are decent enough judges of what is “better,” so that we can know (or at least say) that “B” is better than what I had, which was “A”
  • That God only removes something with a plan to replace it

While some of these assumptions may have merit, I cannot buy in to all of them, and I don’t think you should either. My fear is that this line of thinking will inevitably end in disappointment or disenfranchisement. I suppose it isn’t overly  harmful to believe that God is active enough in our lives to possibly play a part in “taking something away.” This assumption, while probably needing clarified, is decent enough. God, as the Benevolent One, who knows and loves us like a Father knows and loves their children, surely might work in our lives in such a way as to add OR remove certain things in our lives.

However, does this mean that if something is “taken away” from us (which begs the question: what does this MEAN? A material object? A job? A relationship? An addiction? A temptation? A personality trait? An emotion or feeling? What are we talking about here?), then must we assume it is because God either did it directly or influenced it somehow?  And how can we discern when it’s GOD taking something away, or when it’s a result of some other force? (Or do we embrace some sort of deterministic worldview where everything that ever happens to anybody is already determined and caused and controlled by God? *shudder… No thank you). So then, if perhaps SOMETIMES something is taken away by God, and other times not, then how do we know when we ought wait expectedly for “something better?” And is the counter-point to this line of thinking that when something is taken away by a force OTHER than God, then there ought be no expectation of it being replaced with something better? Again I ask, how do we discern?

Furthermore, let’s say that I have “thing A” in my life, and I am able to clearly and with certainty know that it is gone from my life because God took it away. And let’s say that I have enough objectivity to step back and assess that such a thing has happened (namely, that God has taken “thing A” away from me). Then I ask you this: how will I know WHEN  it has officially been replaced with “thing B?” What if “thing B” is categorically different than “thing A?” Can we adequately judge the goodness of things if they are in different categories altogether? Let me illustrate what I’m getting at…

Todd and his girlfriend Stacey just broke up. Todd, a dedicated follower of Jesus, has prayerfully discerned (and possibly told by his youth pastor) that God must have thought it was better for him to no longer be dating Stacey. God has taken her away from him. Some of his Christian friends tell him the above words of encouragement: “Todd, dude, God will never take something away without the intention of replacing it with something better! So have faith, bro!” As weeks and months go by, Todd starts to get curious about when this promise will come true. Will it be Judy from geometry? Or perhaps Hillary from Home Ec? But what if, in this scenario, God’s entire “plan” was take away Todd’s girlfriend and replace that lack of relationship with an inner sense of peace and security?  Helping Todd to move in to a state where he can know that just being a child of God is enough. That being single will allow him to focus on other (better?) things. And so after a few months, with no new girlfriend, Todd concludes that God doesn’t, in fact, want him to have a girlfriend at all. After sharing this insight with his youth group friends they say back to him, “well there you go, Todd! That’s the “something better” that God was intending to replace Stacey with!” Todd nods in agreement, and they all sing a worship song together. But when Monday comes, and Edith from English class asks Todd out, he then smiles and realizes that THIS is what God was REALLY up to the whole time. Because as everyone in 7th grade knows, Edith is way better than Stacey!

I guess I just think that we would be better off not living in the sort of simplistic formula as described above. It will inevitably lead to disappointment, frustration, and feeling like God owes us something every time a thing that we like gets “taken away.” And life surely doesn’t work that way, so we end up feeling like God has abandoned us. Or another fear I have is that we might miss out on the blessing in our life if we are focused on “thing A” being replaced by something categorically similar. What if (assuming that God has done the taking) God really does have a purpose for the taking and is planning to re-fill that gap with something that is much more beneficial to the one experiencing the loss, but the plan involves something of an entirely different nature? If we don’t broaden or deepen the way we think about such things, we could go on and on in life completely missing the blessings of God.

A final issue I take with this saying, is that if we move from our time of loss straight to an expectation of gain, then we completely miss out on truly grasping with our loss. We skip over experiencing the trauma of such a loss. We lose an opportunity to essentially participate in the crucifixion, and cry out “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” But since I’m going to be giving a talk on Friday about this exact issue, I’ll say no more about it now. Hopefully I can get the talk recorded, and I’ll upload it here.

Perhaps, in the end, I might amend the original Facebook status as thus:

If we lose something in life that was dear to us, and we are sincerely led to believe that God was involved in the process of initiating or directing this loss, then let us choose to first engage with that loss. Experience it. Know it. Let it stare at us in the depths of our soul and let us not move on to quickly. But when we do, when we begin to move from crucifixion to a time of resurrection, then let us begin to believe that no matter what comes next, whether or not what we initially lost will ever be replaced, that we will be better because we engaged with Christ and participated in his crucifixion and are now living in his resurrection. And that, ultimately, is life.

Kinda long for a pithy FB status, though.

6 Reasons Young People Leave the Church

Check out this recent study being put out by Barna. They spent 5 years asking the question “why do teens tend to give up on or leave the church after they turn 15?”

The findings (which can be more explored in David Kinnaman’s newest, “You Lost Me“) reveal that most of the reasons why young people are leaving the church can be summed up in to 6 main concepts:

1) Churches seem overprotective
2) Their experience of Christianity is shallow
3) Churches come across as antagonistic to science
4) Church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic and judgmental
5) They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity
6) The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt

Now, clearly I’m not one of the statistics of “those who left the church.” However, I AM one of those who have found the tension in all six of these areas, particularly numbers 3-6.

There are many of us who are exploring new ways to approach these issues. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say, we are uncovering ways that are old (hearken back to Jesus and the Biblical Writers) but that have been lost and so now are seeming new, or fresh. And many communities and churches are starting to address these issues in ways that resonate with people (most of all, the disenfranchised youth referred to in this study).

I think it’s high time we start listening to the voices of the next generation, for in them I sense a call to return to lost values and misplaced beliefs.

I, for one, am hopeful.
Hopeful that Christian women and men are rising up to the challenges of addressing these (and other) issues that are slowly emptying our churches.