Sharing Global Faith: Reflections on Faith
In her 2005 stewardship award-winning sermon entitled ‘Stand by this Faith,’ Rev. Naomi King draws on the Book of Ruth to orient and narratively ground her faith: “Slavery turns around to freedom, death turns toward life, on the basis of free choices, generous hearts, and listening where we are called.” King goes on to develop the concept of vocation and broaden the scope of faith itself, reminding Unitarian Universalists that “we’re doing church everywhere we go, every moment. We are making the choice constantly to stand with this faith, and to make hope real.” For King, standing with this faith equates to a subversive choice for freedom against the enslavement to conventional wisdom. It speaks to enlarging the circle of inclusion, supporting one another and attending to those who hurt. “When we move beyond the us/them to a truly universal we, when we open this circle, we are standing with this faith,” she proclaims.
In the August issue of Sharing Global Faith, three U/U luminaries from around the world open this circle of faith to a global community of seekers. Bishop Ferenc Bálint Benczédi (Transylvanian Unitarian Church) moves towards the cusp of the physical and spiritual worlds, where he begins to apprehend life’s completeness, God’s worldly presence and the existence of the good, beautiful and true. Drifting away from the creedal mode of belief that characterized his upbringing, Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana (Assembly of Christian Unitarians of Burundi) reimagines faith in terms of relationship, solidarity and responsibility. Rev. John Buehrens (First Parish Needham, MA) excavates the biblical etymologies of the term ‘faith’ and arrives at a definition that lifts up the courage to step forward in trust and affirmation. Woven together, these three reflections highlight the importance of living one’s faith in freedom as embodied vocation – standing, and moving, with this faith.
Bishop Ferenc Bálint Benczédi
Transylvanian Unitarian Church
Faith: it is the Gift of God Ef 2,8
The moment we are born we get in touch with the surrounding world. Our sensory system offers us the possibility to perceive this world. Research has been conducted to discover how our sensory organs developed and how much we need them.
As human beings, we are given the possibility to build a relationship with the spiritual world, but we have to learn how to nourish this connection, how to cultivate our soul.
We gather information about the surrounding world and we experience it by using our five sensory organs. They also provide us with the capability to orient ourselves in the spiritual world. We do not only need these sensory organs, we also need our spiritual gifts: faith, reason, free-will, conscience and love.
Faith is trust in God; it shapes our relation with God – we are the children and God is our loving Father.
Faith in God is like the grafted bough that turns the tart, wild berries into the luscious fruit. It is the gift of God, our ability to create spiritual communities. It comforts us, provides us with the realization that we are not only God’s creation, but that we are God’s children and that we can be God’s partners.
It is not enough to only cultivate our reason; we have to cultivate our faith too. This is how we can grow into a human being who can live at the convergence of the physical and spiritual worlds. By living there, we can apprehend the completeness of life: we perceive the presence of God in this world: we see the good, the beautiful and the true.
-Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana
Assembly of Christian Unitarians of Burundi
Whenever I hear the word “faith”, I tend to associate it with “I believe”. For over 20 years, I attended mass almost everyday, at least whenever I could. For 7 years, I not only attended mass every day but also had community lauds, midday prayers, vespers and complines. For the Sunday masses and other solemnities, the credo was always printed on the programme.
For many years, I worked hard to translate those dogmatic words into something personal that could work for me. The major concern was to have something both personal and in coherence with the official church teachings. Fear and discomfort can be part of that game. One might fear that one’s actions, even good ones, are not enough to get one to heaven and there is a sense of unworthiness that can potentially be damaging. The discomfort of living a faith written down in a book and that you do not own might put you in a situation of incoherence and contradiction – especially when there is an outside authority to regulate what you should and should not believe.
Slowly the expression “I believe” became “I have faith in”. To some, they might seem to mean the same thing, but one I was told whereas the other one I conceived by myself. It was personal and I could own it. Discovering a faith that holds high ideals like tolerance, the dignity of all human beings, the interdependence of all existence, the transcendent aspect of life and the belief in the strength of our experience was a transforming event. The ideals might seem too high to be implemented in our lives, but they are standards to conform our lives to and a mirror to our ethical living.
Through my growing understanding of relationships between humans, other beings, the environment and the creativity within those that we may want to call God, I have come to a deeper sense of how connected I am with other people. I have made a commitment to always try hard to find ways of moving on with the support of other people. Being a Burundian and an African, the values of solidarity, family and community gained in emphasis. My newly discovered faith is also able to comfort me in sorrow and push me through difficult times. At the same time, it helps me celebrate the many gifts that are bestowed on us.
My 15 month-old son and all other children would like to inherit a world that is livable. Some simple gestures of mine are now informed by the responsibilities my generation has for one another and therefore for future generations. I now know that I am here for a mere season, but I also have an awareness of the historic opportunity I have to shape the present even in small ways.
This faith has made me aware of the power within the universe and creation as a whole. The relationship with that power informs the relationship with the rest. This wonderful faith has taught me that human beings are all children of God. In a society based on ethnicity, the colour of one’s skin, rich and poor, man and woman and many other categories, this faith has taught me to welcome everybody as a brother because, as my faith insists, we share the same destiny.
I am grateful for the faith that reminds me all the time to have faith in the human capacity of building a more just and fairer world – to have faith in our responsibility as we live in this place – to have faith in the many possibilities that God has for us and to be open to freely embrace them.
Rev. John Buehrens
First Parish Needham, MA
FAITH IN FOUR DIMENSIONS
English is a rich but ambiguous language. A key word like faith has multiple meanings.
The Jewish scholar Martin Buber noted that in New Testament Greek faith is translated as pistis – related to the word epistle, as in Paul’s letters. It signifies that form of faith which can be articulated, written down, and affirmed as belief – often on the basis of the evidence or testimony of witnesses.
Some think this is the only meaning of faith — and then proceed to reject it as signifying credulity and creeds. Buber preferred the Hebrew Bible equivalent emunah, which means faithfulness, trust, loyalty, but no creedal formula. Our pioneering forebear, Universalist minister Olympia Brown, clearly had both meanings in mind when she told us all to “stand by this faith.”
But I think she also embodied a third, more existential, meaning of the word faith – signifying the courage to step forward, beyond the fixed beliefs of the tradition and beyond even the previous patterns of one’s own group, in trust and affirmation. Even more, she herself stood for the inclusive, social justice dimension of faithful living.
In his most recent book, Have a Little Faith, the popular American writer Mitch Albom addresses the question, “What if faith did not separate us?” with a personal story. Brown herself might have suggested a much better title: Have a Larger Faith.
In his first book, Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch as young sports writer interviewed a beloved teacher, then dying, and discovered something close to what my dying friend Forrest Church says about faith in its most universal dimension: whatever its form (or lack thereof), it is our human response to the dual mystery of being alive and knowing that we too will have to die. Everyone, therefore, has a faith. “Our religion,” said Thomas Jefferson, “is written not in our words but in our lives.”
The challenge then is to give faith shape, dimension and reality in the time that is ours. Let our faith be courageous. Let it be more affirmative than negative. Let it show our faithfulness and loyalty to all those, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, who, like Olympia Brown, served as pioneers and servants of a larger faith. Above all, may it have a broad, inclusive passion for justice – for all God’s children, for all our sisters and brothers — all around the world. Amen.