A faith that’s kind to each other’s hopes and dreams

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 5, 2011

One of the great privileges for me in writing these columns is dialoguing with you by e-mail or over a hot cup of coffee. You challenge me, clarify my thinking, and in large measure become some of the best teachers I could ever hope for.

Such was the case earlier this week when photo-essayist Jack Blair had a chat with me at Cochrane’s Java Jamboree Coffee Shop.

Jack was hoping for some clarification on statements I made in last week’s column on sore feet and growing out of views of God that are too small for adult life.

Yes, he agreed with my assessment of clerk Adam Doyle as a model of professionalism in the way he took time and care in determining my need to change to a larger shoe size for a more comfortable, pain-free fit.

But Jack found other parts of the column inadequate. Specifically, he struggled with my distinction between childlike faith and childish faith, and with “how concepts of personal faith need to change to keep up with change in the world,” as he put it.

About “childlike” versus “childish,” allow me to refer you to an entertaining linguistic discussion of the use of these two words by our language-loving son, James, who publishes a blog, Word Tasting Notes.

“Both ‘childish’ and ‘childlike’ signify behaviour that recalls the behaviour of children,” he writes in his Nov. 17, 2010 entry. “Why wouldn’t they mean the same thing? Why even have two words for it?

“Well, we know why,” he says. “A child may be mild or wild . . . And adults who emulate some quality of a child may emulate a positive or a negative one. So the word we use varies accordingly” – “childlike” for the mild, “childish” for the wild.

(To read James’ entire essay, look under “childish” in the Word Tasting Note Index on his website, sesquiotic.wordpress.com.)

In fact, when I used “childish” in last week’s column, I was using it quite intentionally to refer to author J.B. Phillips’ discussion in his book Your God Is Too Small of views of God that are just plain childish and ill-fitting to adult life in a modern world – immature images of God (or as Phillips terms them, “destructive unreal gods”), such as Resident Policeman, Parental Hangover, Grand Old Man, or as I like to say, Santa-in-the-Sky.

About these ill-fitting childish concepts of God, I made the comparison between the pain caused by a pair of shoes that were too small for our current needs, and a larger pair that fitted quite comfortably.

On this matter of comfort, Ron Nowell, of Calgary, a former journalist and serious thinker on religious matters, raised an important point that complements Jack’s concerns.

Ron agreed “that our faith should grow and change as we too grow and change, presumably becoming more mature and practical as we become more mature and practical in our understanding of life.

“However,” he added, “I’m not sure I’d want to compare a solid and mature faith to a comfortable pair of shoes.”

“Why not?” I asked.

A mature faith may well make us uncomfortable, he replied.

“Many of us who follow the Christian tradition . . . find that as we grow older and more mature, our faith at times becomes very uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s uncomfortable in the sense that it is challenging and questioning.

“Often, there is nothing comfortable in being a Christian, because we are always trying in our imperfect way to measure up to the perfect example of Jesus Christ. Certainly, our faith can provide reassurance and support, but I’m not sure it can ever be truly ‘comfortable.’ As long as we are growing in our faith and being tested by our faith, we will often have to put up with periods of discomfort.”

I agree with Ron. In fact, it’s really a question of two discomforts: the one, the discomfort of an ill-fitting childish, self-centred view of God inappropriate to our adult experience; and the other, an ill-fitting lifestyle response from us as adults in line with an increasingly mature view of God.

Jim Hillson, pastor of St. Andrew’s United Church in Cochrane, reflected on this tension from a slightly different perspective in his e-mailed response to the column. He wrote:

“I might suggest one additional thought that describes the opposite of childishness. A faith that fits is a faith that keeps us walking our path, keeps us listening for wisdom and insight, keeps us watchful for what is happening to the people around us, keeps us alert to ways we can nourish the spirit in others.”

Jack heartily concurs, wrapping up our coffee chat with a quote from philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “Friends . . . cherish each other’s hopes. They are kind to each other’s dreams.”

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page