An interview about my faith and denomination, from sjpark11 for his class.
1. What is your understanding and experience of spirituality?
– There exists a divine pulse to the universe, a breath of creation by a Creator. To experience spirituality is to be in touch with this pulse, to be “aligned” with creation in all its potential and possibility.
As a Christian, I also believe this divine pulse, God, revealed Himself on the earth at one point in time as one of us, to reverse the human condition of entropy and invite us into that story of healing.
2. What are some images or metaphors that support your understanding and/or your experience of spirituality?
– I like C.S. Lewis’s metaphor about the door. Currently, we are on one side. We get glimpses of a “reality” beyond us, something so grand and beautiful that we can hardly take it in. It’s evoked sometimes in our natural experience, whether by sunset or ice cream or romance or song, though these things in themselves come quickly and go. One day we will get to the other side of the door.
Faith is about the journey of looking through the keyhole, getting a glance of infinite beauty, until we permanently partake in the radiance of all that we hoped for.
3. Who are some of the people and authors from your denomination who have significantly shaped your understanding of spirituality?
– C.S. Lewis shaped my faith as an imaginative, playful, breathtaking adventure. Before Lewis, when I was an atheist, I had always imagined faith to be stodgy and full of silly rules. After Lewis, I found faith to be a field of freedom in which good was maximized.
I also absorbed a lot from G.K. Chesterton, Timothy Keller, Francis Chan, Andy Stanley, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Henrietta Mears, and Brené Brown (who is indeed a Christian).
4. Name and describe some significant insights and characteristics of your denomination’s approach to spirituality. What do you consider its strengths and weaknesses?
– I was trained in a Baptist seminary but also served at a Methodist church. I think the strengths of the Protestant group are a very close communal structure like a family, a high emphasis on intellectual sermons mixed with the emotional depth of liturgy and music, and occasionally, a care for the neighborhood and city. Baptists also use a full tank of water for baptism, not that weak sprinkle sauce. (Totally, totally kidding on the last one.) The weaknesses are often too much “insider language,” an inability to handle grief, a temptation to be isolated, and in-house bickering.
5. Name and describe a book written by someone in your denomination that would help someone gain insights about your denomination’s approach to spirituality?
– While C.S. Lewis might fall outside my “denomination,” he’s informed nearly all of them, and his books Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain are must-reads. For someone outside Christianity, his book The Screwtape Letters is excellent.
Mere Christianity was a series of radio talks where C.S. Lewis answered the reason we need Christianity, particularly after the cynicism of World War II and the Holocaust.
The Problem of Pain answers how there could be a good God with suffering in the world. Lewis, by the way, had an incredibly difficult life. He was married for just four years before his wife died of cancer and he was nearly broke his entire life, despite his books being bestsellers.
The Screwtape Letters is a satire, about a senior demon teaching a younger demon how to tempt a human to hell. The twist is that the demon’s most effective techniques are shallow, boring, trivial trappings that fog the human from ever thinking too hard and that distract them to death, or as Lewis writes, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
6. What people and resources have been important influences on your spirituality and spiritual practices outside of your denomination?
– At my hospital, where I’m a chaplain, nearly every third chaplain is from a different denomination. They’ve all helped to broaden my faith by their differing interpretations of the Bible while at the same create a deeper understanding of my own. More than that, even when our ideas may disagree, I’ve learned disagreement doesn’t have to mean division.
7. Describe your spiritual practices. How do they influence your living and ministry?
– Spiritual practices such as prayer, reading Scripture, serving the community, and solo or corporate worship times (whether by myself or on Sunday) have brought a greater joy to my daily experience.
It’s humbling to know through such practices that there is a greater, higher, incomparably wonderful beauty beyond the brokenness we see on earth. It’s unbelievable to think that this great divinity would take an interest in us. It brings perspective to some of the trivial things and crystallizes what’s most important. I realize constantly that I am small, life is short, and God the great parent wants us to get along with our brothers and sisters.
8. What suggestions would you offer for someone who is in the process of establishing a spiritual practice in their lives?
– To have tons of patience. Spiritual practices are hard. We are easily distracted and our minds are busier than ever. The second we try to pray or read sacred books or serve others, we think of a million other things to do. It’s FOMO at its worst, because “spirituality” can feel like it doesn’t pay off. But as spiritual practices are both a way of growing character and getting in touch with God, these things take as much time as growing fruit or growing a full beard.
So it requires a stillness and a kind of rest that we’re not used to. When we get there, it’s worth that extra amount of investment to run through the distractions.