Q & A with Stephen Shortridge
Author of Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies
Can you explain the title, Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies?
For me, deepest thanks is the easiest way, or poetic way, to say how grateful I am to God for His beauty in everything and everyone--including myself. The deeper apologies are the regrets and longings I feel to be redeemed and complete--including all creation. The honest tension I feel between who I am and who I am becoming is a great deal of what this book is about. Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies, are the joys of thanksgiving and the sorrows of repentance sharing tears.
I trust God will finish in me what He has started. I have all hope for that. To not be honest about how things really are, especially in faith, is not honoring to God. God is not deceived, we are.
How is your view on God and your faith shaped by your artistic perspective?
I was trying to explain my book to someone the other day and said this: "It is an artist's experience of God and faith, more than a theologian's."
I personally cannot separate my creativity from my Creator. Everyone is creative. Every child is born an artist. The professionals are just children who never stopped. Creativity can help us experience the spiritual and creativity for God creates love. We have the choice to create life or death--I often wonder what beauty doesn't exist because we didn't create it. My job as an artist is to see beauty. My job as a saint is to serve Beauty. It's a good job.
Do you feel that the Church today embraces doubt as openly as you do?
Honest doubt is faith; lying about my faith would be real doubt.
It's important that everyone understand it is not God I so much doubt, it is my conflicting faith and foolish pride that creates most of my doubt.
The saints of old never had problems not knowing everything. Today, I avoid anyone that "clearly" explains all the mysteries of God; they've clearly not met Him. If we are to have new revelations of God, we should be moving from what has been certain to uncertain which certainly can confuse us or cause us doubt. There's nothing wrong with that in my view. God has always proven Himself faithful and used my doubts to humble me.
It seems like the church shouldn't fear doubt; they should fear lying about doubt.
What do you mean when you talk about God being an impressionist?
There are different styles of Art: for instance, Impressionism is one, and Realism is another. These two contrast my views of God and religion well, even Mercy and law. A "realist" wants all the details, all the facts, presented in an order they like which is understandable and without mystery.
By contrast, an impressionist paints with much of the information missing; the viewer must participate in the completion. There is more mystery to this form of creating. When God creates, I see more mystery than understanding. More Holy, than comprehended. And in God's scheme of things, requiring my faith to trust when I don't understand. Something He says He's pleased about.
God is an impressionist artist that invites me to use His palette of beauty and not to scribble over it with the drab charcoal in my pocket covering rainbows of His promise with the grays of my limited judgment or self-righteous legalism.We are God's impressionism and not our ideas of "realism."
Why is being honest about our doubt essential for faith?
In your book you talk about four stages of faith. Can you tell us about those stages?
Bernard of Clairvaux, a monk from the 1100's, wrote:
First Stage--I love myself for my sake. (I am God)
Second Stage--I love God, for my sake. (I own God)
Third Stage--I love God, for God's sake. (Discover God is holy and do your best to be holy)
Fourth Stage--I love myself, for God's sake. (Broken and humble to receive everything from God)
It seems few of us live in the fourth stage where a deepest thanks (humble gratitude), and a deeper apology (broken regret) co-exist in harmony with each other. To love ourselves for God's sake should lead us not to self-love but to the place we say to God, "Lord, if loving me pleases you...then please do."
Throughout Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies, you talk about a "childlike" faith filled with awe and wonder. How do the concepts of a childlike faith and a faith that allows doubt fit together? First, I need to say that Christ pointed out the child's heart as the right heart--a model of faith like a child.
I think we get confused when we don't understand that we can have doubt and still trust God. This is important and maybe the point of an argument on doubt.
To say as Job, "yet though He slay me I will trust Him," is supreme trust in God, not a lack of doubt about consequence. His hope was in God, not about his circumstances or outcome.
A childlike faith doesn't doubt God, it may be naive and unashamed, but it still trusts. When the child of God lives in awe and wonder, it doesn't demand to understand like an adult.
Have you ever felt alienated in your church community for asking tough questions?
I think we all struggle in different ways and hide in just as many.
I don't like to ask tough questions. What I really don't like however, is when we struggle and pretend we don't--usually to impress or hide our failures. When we do that, those that hurt and need God find us of little help. Our denial or pride makes God unreal or unavailable to them.
If they know we are lying, God is fantasy.
If our self-righteous lies convince them we are holy, they feel shamed and not loved or welcome.
Too often, our "churchliness" offends, shames or makes them laugh.
When I see that, in others or myself, I have trouble keeping quiet. Tough questions are not the issue--truth is.
For an interview with Stephen Shortridge, contact Karen Campbell at 616.309.4390 or email@example.com