?the question mark?

Kari, Anne, and the rest, I so appreciate your questions and comments. Here’s a brief but serious response:

“I found only a question mark where the old conviction should have been” (Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase. My Climb Out of Darkness, p. xix).

Spiritual growth is often painful, challenging, and shattering. Maturation is infrequently pleasant. To move to the next level means to abandon the previous one. Granted, sometimes growth is like layering: we develop and progress and adapt, blending our new discoveries in with our old ones. However, the most transformative growth is the complete annihilation of what went before. This is where we often stop hard in our tracks, preferring the peaceful renovation of our familiar selves. I personally believe that we encourage the developmental approach, even in our churches, if not all religions. In fact, we discourage transformative change because it is unorthodox in its method, application, and results.

Who of us has the courage to acknowledge the “question mark” and release the “old conviction”, which may be a valid and serious step in coming to the truth?

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10 Replies to “?the question mark?”

  1. Not having read these books could you please explain what you mean by “Who of us has the courage to acknowledge the “question mark” and release the “old conviction”, which may be a valid and serious step in coming to the truth?”

    What exactly is the question mark and old conviction?


  2. Okay, well let’s use a simple illustration from our everyday lives: some people tell their children that there’s a Santa Claus. At some point, the child is going to realize that this isn’t true. So, a tradition that is practically religious in its importance is suddenly put into question. The child’s “old conviction” that there’s a Santa Claus, is suddenly replaced with a “question mark”. Where do all the presents come from? Why the tree? Why the music? Why the stories? Why the cookies and milk? Why the reindeer sled seen by NASA an all that? The transition from Santa Claus to the truth is often sad and traumatic. It was for me.

    In religious terms, let me use this illustration: when we are little children, some of our parents comforted us when we were afraid of dying that God wouldn’t let us die, that we would be safe… see you in the morning! At some point, we come to the realization that everybody dies some day, and that it is impossible to promise anyone even one more day! To progress from the make-believe conviction that God wouldn’t let us die, to the question of existence and mortality is, again, often sad and truamatic, but nevertheless necessary.

    Hope this helps Wendy, and thanks for your question. Sometimes I write something I think makes sense, but may not at all. Keep me in check, ya’ll!

  3. What…no Santa???

    Actually, it helps a bit…but I still don’t follow what exactly is the question mark and old conviction?

    Is the “question mark” that we all die but not all live on in heaven? Or that we all die and who knows who ends up in heaven?

    By “old conviction” do you mean that maybe many more people do go to heaven even though they may not be Christians by our standards or understanding?

    I’m sorry I seem so blank!

  4. That’s okay. The examples I used of Santa and dying are just examples. The “old conviction” could represent anything at all. In the case of Karen Armstrong, where the quote came from, the issue was whether male and female students could live in the same dorm. She was raised to believe that it was morally evil to even think such things. Now, she wasn’t so sure it was a sin. That’s the background to this blog. It can apply to anything… such as: is God a physical old man in the sky? Is Hell under our feet? We could go on and on with examples.

  5. It is an abstract concept, not to be taken literally.

    The Catholic tradition has the “mysteries” ingrained in its world view that, to some degree, not everything is as it seems, can be understood by humans, or has a definitive answer. I also think this healthy attitude is shared – and to a much greater degree – by many of us who feel disconnected from Christianity or other religion “of the book” but still feel a sense of a greater spirit world than we can see with our carnal senses.

  6. Thanks, without reading the book I could not put it into context.

    I think anytime anyone challenges, confronts, or steps aside from old convictions or societies assumtions it can be extremely freeing yet terrifying but it leads to growth in areas you did not know existed.

    I homeschool today because as a student in school I questioned the ridiculous rules, the boring stuff they taught, the labelling of people that stuck from day one… inwardly I rebelled against the “rules” and it left me desperate to find something better, more real and respectful of the whole person…body, soul and spirit.

    There are few absolutes for me…except my own faith in Jesus. However, for my own peace of mind I realized I can’t expect to understand everything and does it really matter? It is my own step of faith to not over analyze things. Coming from Ireland I am sensitive to the division that can be created when we compare ourselves to others when it comes to religion….and religion can also be the attempt to not be religious.

    Do I really care if one person believes that I’m headed to purgatory first versus directly to heaven…or worse yet hell?

    When I talk to my good friend who is a very conservative Catholic who views taking communion as sacred and every crumb is representative of Christ’s body and not one crumb will drop…then compare it to how we do it at church… everyone ripping bread from the same loaf, crumbs everywhere, kids spilling the “wine”…does it really matter…is one more right than the other…one upholds church law on how communion will be performed versus our laid back version.

    I don’t consider her to be burdened by this procedure…but rather she enjoys it. Just as I have friends who love the public school system…it isn’t bondage but freedom…it is all relative.

    Maybe we are all overthinking things because as Christians on this side of the world we don’t have as many burdens laid on our cross as other areas do. I chose homeschooling because I knew I could not live by the rules imposed on my children…yet I don’t lose any sleep when people assume they think they know why I homeschool or what it entails.

    By stepping away from public education it also freed me from needing a church that imparts teachings to my children…I don’t need a church for that yet I can see why people would want or need that if they think that only an institution such as a church can do that.

    What I do want for them is a place/church to experience other Christians as the world is filled with other views and beliefs…it is nice to be around others who share a love for Jesus and want to serve him and are willing to walk the walk and take on battle scars to serve him in whatever way that shapes up for that individual.

    So, I pray that as I grow in my faith and as my children experience their own challenges…be it that one chooses to be a pastor or my daughter chooses a life of servitude as a nun that they will also always know that the Lord gives them the freedom to make changes and seek him in whatever way they need to without compromising the fact that he died for us to save us.

  7. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

    We know we will face times of discouragement and frustration in life, but in the midst of that we are to consider it joy! Wow – nice verse – hard to live! But, when I really looked at this verse it may have more to do with PERSEVERANCE.

    Are we willing to persevere? Are we willing to push through and let go of our previous successes or failures?

    Maturity is a by-product of perseverance. Think of David in the bible – started with a lion, then a bear which lead to Goliath. I don’t think David would have had the maturity to deal with Goliath had he not persevered through the other God-given challenges.

    Many in life are living like the army of God in that day. Running back and forth – trying to get enough “chutzpah” to deal with the giant. Because of their unwillingness of lack of maturity in the promise of God – they lived in lack! God has called us to a life of moving forward – growing – maturing – becoming complete! I want to be like David – willing to go when the going gets though – willing to get in there when it’s unpopular. Even be willing to have my motives question like Davids were (Brother said he was conceited in his heart – nope! He was actually at the battleline being the delivery boy for his Dad).

    It comes down to Perseverance! Not in our strength – but Gods!

  8. Thanks Wendy. I appreciate your comments. Check out this quote:
    Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not confined to any one creed, for, he says, ‘Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah.’ Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, andn in praising it he praises himself. Consequently he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance” (Ibn al-Arabi, 12th century Muslim mystic and philosopher).

  9. John…can’t believe I am saying this but it is shouting aloud in my head…AMEN! I have often thought that the challenge of life is just that to perseverse even during the most completely boring, mundane moments…

    Dave, darn it, I will have to really sit and ponder this verse as it is one another Pastor friend shared with me once many moons ago, so I need to really heed what it is saying…and I’m tired…very tired.

    Have a great night!

  10. Ahhh, I am sitting here perched on the loo, watching ella my three year old play with her toys in the tub as I re-read this quote you sent. I do love my laptop!

    Rather than ruin this quiet moment of reflection I will ask the question…what is it that I am supposed to get from this quote that you may be trying to allude to? I hate going down unnecessary streets only to have to turn around and get back on track.

    Oh, and how does my illustration of a relaxing night catch you all…no wine, no sunset, certainly no cigars…just the most amazing little girl in the world who soaps her legs as if she was painting a picasso and sings like an angel.

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