Sunday with Ron Rolheiser
10 Major Faith Struggles Today
This is from a few years ago, but I think it still stands up and warrants our attention, contemplation, and discussion on a Sunday.
However you decide to participate today, I hope that your contribution will be personal. That is, I would like for us to talk about our own faith struggles in the light of this list, and not on what we (think we) see around us in others.
• • •
What are the ten major faith and church struggles of our time, at least as manifest within the more highly secularized parts of our world?
1) The struggle with the atheism of our everyday consciousness, that is, the struggle to have a vital sense of God within a secular culture which, for good and for bad, is the most powerful narcotic ever perpetrated on this planet … the struggle to be conscious of God outside of church and explicit religious activity.
2) The struggle to live in torn, divided, and highly-polarized communities, as wounded persons ourselves, and carry that tension without resentment and without giving it back in kind … the struggle inside of our own wounded selves to be healers and peace-makers rather than ourselves contributing to the tension.
3) The struggle to live, love, and forgive beyond the infectious ideologies that we daily inhale, that is, the struggle for true sincerity, to genuinely know and follow our own hearts and minds beyond what is prescribed to us by the right and the left … the struggle to be neither liberal or conservative but rather men and women of true compassion.
4) The struggle to carry our sexuality without undue frigidity and without irresponsibility, the struggle for a healthy sexuality that can both properly revere and properly delight in this great power … the struggle to carry our sexuality in such a way so as to radiate both chastity and passion.
5) The struggle for interiority and prayer inside of a culture that in its thirst for information and distraction constitutes a virtual conspiracy against depth and solitude, the eclipse of silence in our world … the struggle to move our eyes beyond our digital screens towards a deeper horizon.
6) The struggle to deal healthily with “the dragon” of personal grandiosity, ambition, and pathological restlessness, inside of a culture that daily over-stimulates them, the struggle to healthily cope with both affirmation and rejection … the struggle inside of a restless and over-stimulated environment to habitually find the delicate balance between depression and inflation.
7) The struggle to not be motivated by paranoia, fear, narrowness, and over-protectionism in the face of terrorism and overpowering complexity … the struggle to not let our need for clarity and security trump compassion and truth.
8) The struggle with moral loneliness inside a religious, cultural, political, and moral Diaspora … the struggle to find soul mate who meet us and sleep with us inside our moral center.
9) The struggle to link faith to justice … the struggle to get a letter of reference from the poor, to institutionally connect the gospel to the streets, to remain on the side of the poor.
10) The struggle for community and church, the struggle inside a culture of excessive individuality to find the healthy line between individuality and community, spirituality and ecclesiology … the struggle as adult children of the Enlightenment to be both mature and committed, spiritual and ecclesial.
18 thoughts on “Sunday with Ron Rolheiser: 10 Major Faith Struggles Today”
Regarding #2 and #3 — my husband and I have been in a circle of about 24 friends from one church for 30+ years. We are all in our sixties and seventies. Over half of the group started scattering to other churches in the area about 15 years ago because of personal unrest at church. At that time, we decided to try to continue to meet in some way so that we could maintain these friendships. We meet once month for a “blog” type of study, usually something that is thought-provoking and possibly even controversial. Our group spans the spectrum of right/left, conservative/moderate-liberal. One thing we have done, without it being stated outright, is to refrain from taking any political sides in whatever discussions we have had. I’m sure most of us have felt some tension with some of the discussions, but our commitment to our friendships has prevailed. It is an unusual group, and at different times has been “church” to many of us.
Another aftereffect of what JMJ/Christian Monist calls “Platonic Dualism in the church”. In this specific application, Faith is Spiritual, Justice is Worldly/Secular.
Not helped by the widespread use of Fear and Guilt Manipulation both inside and outside the Bubble.
Very thoughtful post, Chaplain Mike
I’m still reeling from the impact of the Brueggemann post, and now comes Rolheiser . . . .
That Brueggemann helped me this week is undeniable
to borrow from Brueggemann on God’s ‘Generosity’,
“By Your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing. . . .”
soooo . . . . I look at number 7 and number 9 . . . . and I consider if I have failed to open my hand to those in need because I suffered from an ‘anxiety of lack’ . . . . and I correct myself to become grateful and thankful and out of that, I can share from an abundance I had not acknowledged
How do we come to that place where we TRUST in Providence enough to realize and live by the knowledge that all we are and all we have comes to us ultimately from the Creator Who asks of us to care for one another without thought of something in return . . . . but just out of love for the sake of ‘the other’ ?
Maybe your comment isn’t one that someone would normally Amen, Robert, but for some reason I find myself wanting to say, Amen. Peace to you, my Christian brother.
Nice perspective, and I can see how some of these questions are universal. I imagine even the most atheistic of atheists have SOMETHING they put their faith in, which means that even they will, at times, wrestle with not seeing certain “results.”
Great comment and personal testimony. I bet a lot of iMonkers can relate.
Secular world tensions (and obnoxiousness from both sides of the political spectrum) mixed with church community tensions (I wish more Christians truly, honestly believed in God’s grace, rather than “Grace, and…” or “Grace, but…”) currently have me in a very cynical spot. I find myself sitting in recent worship services feeling much as I felt during my long spiritual desert ordeal about 15-20 years ago. I’m constantly reminding myself (and telling God) that this isn’t about any lack of belief in Him, it’s just my own nature mixing with what I see and feel that’s causing a disconnect. I don’t like it, but there it is.
About the only firm thing I’m holding onto these days is that Jesus loves me, and if anyone challenges me on that, I’ll kindly point them to the Bible.
Robert F. No a trace in your post suggested sympathy plea, it was as you say. It was on topic . It was real and personal and that I appreciate that. I use to like the Young and Restless now I watch the Old and Infirm and may do a guest shot. Enough about us.
God must love poor people, he made so many.
Thanks for the encouraging word, j.b. I do appreciate them.
I hope that my comment above is not read by anyone as a play for sympathy; I was just trying to be transparent about what I have had to struggle with most in my spiritual life, as per the request by CM that we make our responses personal. And, as you say, by 3:34PM (or before), I was “back on track,” which is to say off topic. We do tend to move back toward the habitual, don’t we…
I’m glad that you are healing from your injury, John. May your recovery stay on track, and may you return to the links as soon as able. Me, personally, I won’t go near a golf course, but then, I’m a socialist, as you know.
Robert F. I have been really struggling and recuperating with a majority mobility issue the past 14 months due to an golf cart injury that really did a number on my legs especially the left one. I mention this only because I recall in one of your comments you had an issue with your leg. Not trying to get into your personal business but if I did recall correctly I can sympathize and relate to you. My condition is improving thanks to really great medical care and I am grateful. I know how much it just changed my life the past 14 months so I want I know how hard it is to stay positive. I am glad I can now
use the little scooter at Wal Mart and I am sure the other shoppers are thrilled as I ram into them.
No person wants to be born and no person wants to die. The baby is safe, happy, getting fed and can feel their Mothers heartbeat. However once born life gets better. My faith is that is what happens when we pass. You are just being honest about fear.
There was a young man that use to be on Larry King when he had a call in show on CNN. His name was Matty and he had a life ending disease , knew he was going to die early and he did. He once said he was prepared and ready for this death but he did not want it to hurt and be in pain. I am with him on that. Health issues can overwhelm anyone no matter how faithful, smart or positive thinking.
I am rambling but like I said my injury has given me a new perspective as it was the first time in my life that I really had a major health problem.
You add a lot to this site by your comments even though you and I disagree on many things for sure. My golfing buddy who knee capped me with the golf cart thinks I sacrificed my left leg to protect my right leg so I would not lean to the left when I walk.
I believe your prayer cited in your final sentence will be answered.
I certainly hope you can live be at least 110 years old, then you may I repeat may comment and say John Barry I see the wisdom and agree with you. I will respond with “who is John Barry” and where is he . For this I have to make another 40 years and the odds of that are about as much as you agreeing with me but I hope it is so.
I tell my wife I am down in the dumps and she tells me I am dressed for it .
So I see your comment at 3.34 and think you are back on track.
My golfing buddy who was driving the golf cart says I should sue the party responsible for him driving over me, he thinks the responsible party is Bud Weiser. Life is good and goes on.
Of course, if you were or are one of the many Christians down through time or today who were or are poor yourself, this one is not so much of a struggle.
Can certainly identify with this.
> like it’s a betrayal of the community if I say anything that is not cynical
Oh, yeah. I’ve certainly felt chastised for not being universally negative. In some contexts anything positive is auto-translated into “polly ana”. It is very frustrating.
I can identify with a great deal of what you have experienced.
Fear has been my biggest crippler in life, including spiritual life. In the struggle with fear, fear has continued to hold the upper hand, and keep me face down in the wrestling mat. The way it looks and feels, not much will change, I won’t change much, before the end of my life, which is likely to be sometime in the next decade or two, given my health issues and age. I pray for the faith to die well when it death comes; only God’s grace can give me that faith.
number of these are struggles for this atheist too! For instance, under no 1 (together with 2 and 3) I would replace the word atheist with the words “narcissistic validity”. It is difficult to maintain an even keel, to be calm and rational and empathetic, without giving in to the waves and tides of reactionary emotions, the torrents of anger, the waste on that which does not truly fulfill, the useless angst etc etc. Many a time I allow myself to be robbed of my peace by thoughts running away due to the craziness one encounters and reads, the hate stoking etc.
Also under 8 – very true. A moral view not guided by tribalism or ideology or self-interest is a very, very rare thing, inside and outside of faith. But in this I find myself echoing Peter Capaldi’s Doctor- while continuously agonizing over the question “Am I a good man?”, I have come to see the truth in, and desire to reflect his own answer in his famous speech to Missy –
“I am not a good man! And I’m not a bad man. I am not a hero. I’m definitely not a president. And no, I’m not an officer. You know what I am? I… am… an idiot. With a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out, learning. I don’t need an army, I never have. Because I’ve got them. Always them. Because love, it’s not an emotion. Love is a promise. “
This might fall under #2 – I’d say my biggest struggle right now is a sort of contagious cynicism.
In one church community that I’m a part of, people are so angry and bitter over the state of American society and American Christianity that they almost act like it’s a betrayal of the community if I say anything that is not cynical – expressing love and appreciation for Scripture, say, or expressing hope for the future renewal of the church, or talking about seeking and experiencing God’s presence (in a community where to many people, God feels frustratingly absent).
Meanwhile, for years my other church community has been struggling with some really unhealthy and destructive stuff that had been going on in secret and has finally started to come to light. That gave me plenty of my own reasons for cynicism, and for about three years I really couldn’t find God in that community – or anywhere else, really. It’s only in the past year that I finally began to find new ways of connecting with Jesus that sort of let me work my way around the sides of the barrier that those experiences had set up.
I think that cycle of losing and regaining faith is actually a necessary part of how our relationship with God grows and deepens over time. But it’s kind of like a wheel that’s flat on one side, and every time you hit the low part of the cycle it’s hard to keep it moving instead of getting stuck there.