Excerpts from Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies
By Stephen Shortridge
Beauty of Contradiction
In my life of faith, I prefer impressionism to realism, trusting mystery rather than my own understanding. That preference puts me at odds with those Christians today who seem to imagine there are no mysteries about God. This is quite a mystery, at least to me.
The beauty of being confused is that it allows me to find God's love in paradox, something that is true even though it may contradict belief and experience. The beauty of contradiction is His forgiveness in my uncertainty. (11)
Faith can thrive, naive and ignorant, but faith that thrives in knowledge, after experience, has weathered the storms of doubt and confusion. My honest doubt has not been an enemy of God. God has used it to humble me. (12)
I have felt spiritual confusion, and it's more than imagination. It's real, and when it's evil, it can be as tangibly real as physically losing your balance. Only in this case, it attacks your spiritual equilibrium. The confusion can arrive through argument or situation, but when you sense spiritual fog, I hope you will realize immediately that you're under attack. When you feel it enveloping you, run, don't walk, to God. For me, spiritual fog is blinding, and if it's thick enough, can create such vertigo that I no longer know up from down or even right from wrong. (53)
Don't mistake action for faith. Sometimes action is just the appearance of faith--or even a lack of faith, or a lack of patience, or both.
On the other hand, sometimes doubt, of all things, can be a step toward faith. It may seem confusing, but having honest doubt is not a lack of faith. I am a man of faith. Some days I face giants and walk into furnaces. Other days I have trouble uttering a simple prayer. I'm still a man of faith--with honest doubt.
Honest doubt is faith; lying about faith is real doubt. (78)
God's mystery surrounds me and always has. It surrounds all my experiences, all the people I've known and even the impostors I've been. But the greatest mystery in my life has been the undeserved grace of a loving God. (18)
In an art composition, the light and dark values are divided into positive and negative spaces, each defining the other and sharing their boundaries.
In life, knowledge and mystery are parts of the same composition, each defining the other, and sharing their boundaries. They are parts of the same whole, sharing the same space. Good questions don't always lead to good answers. They might only silhouette the shapes of mystery and outlines of grace. (169)
Blindness with Reason
There are times when I have felt uneasy while visiting Florida. At first I thought it was because there's nothing taller than the buildings. But what I've come to realize is that I actually feel claustrophobic. For me, without mountains and a wide-open vista, my view is limited to the press of my immediate surroundings. In Florida, I can see no farther than that house, that building, or that tree. My world becomes smaller, my vision shortsighted, my perspective limited. Claustrophobic.
Similarly, for faith, I need God's greater perspective, because evil presses and pushes the cares of this life into my view, not just blocking my view of reality and putting doubt in the way of my faith, but attacking my faith head-on by eliminating my view of God. (51-52)
I am now frustrated with God--or is it with my religion? I don't understand it; everyone else seems to be doing fine. I'm tired of this battle, but I'm learning it's easier to cover over my failures with religion rather than deal with them openly and honestly.
I can't let anyone know how I struggle and fail. I need a strategy. Did I pray? I must have because I got an answer: "Put more effort into your religious appearance."
My absurd hope is that if I look like a Christian and quack like a Christian . . . I will become a Christian duck. This logic, as it fails, requires more commitment to my self-righteous disguise and a louder quack. I hadn't noticed, but I'm sure others have. I've developed a very spiritually sophisticated and affected duck-like walk. (68)
When I think of joy, I think of my grandkids. They exude joy in the simplest ways, unconsciously. God's gift of joy is ready and available to us all the time, but it only exists when I am thankful, not anxious. When I'm a child, not an adult. (102)
Living your life as if everything is a miracle could also serve as a definition of childlike. (151)
Crisis of Faith
At some point, maybe now, I am having a crisis in my faith. I'm at a place where my soul longs to offer more than my religion requires. And where I wonder if the good that is acceptable to others may not be the good of God. I have a growing fear that my religion could be an idol. It's a good crisis, creating a question that needs answered. (125)
It is God alone who comes to rescue us from that place. We all seem to find Him by running into Him as we leave the burning building and the fire we started. The first thing we do is thank Him by becoming pious; and the second, with our hair still smoking, is to imagine our strength and another's weakness.
I wasn't interested in a relationship with God when I started this journey; it was all about me. Later it was still about me but with a new label and a recommitment of my pride. I still wasn't interested in the relationship part, except the part where God blessed me. Sadly, even now, I see this is still too much about me. In the first three stages, it was up to me to pretend and to perform, and learn. Now, with my own confused experience behind me, I know it isn't how I look, it isn't what I do, and it isn't what I know that matters. What's most important is my relationship with my Redeemer, the Lover of my soul. (172)
For an interview with Stephen Shortridge, contact Karen Campbell at 616.309.4390 or firstname.lastname@example.org