Confession-less or Confession-free?

I chuckled at the furor over Donald Trump’s choice not to recite the Apostle’s Creed during George Bush’s funeral. I laughed for two reasons. First, Americans politicize every action; it’s the bait and fodder of the endless news barrage that polarizes us. Second, I laughed because I, too, would have remained silent beside the Donald.

The difference is that unlike Trump, I know every syllable of this ancient Christian creed. It was branded – seared! – into my memory during two years of Lutheran confirmation classes. In retrospect, that process maddens me. Take a young mind just beginning to think for itself, then tell it to confirm a list of absolute truths passed on from institutional powers. No encouragement to explore other faiths or philosophies. No freedom to broaden one’s search. Just force feed and regurgitate the age-old tropes.

Yes, I know the Apostle’s Creed as readily as I know the American pledge of allegiance. It’s just that I (like many I know and love) no longer resonate with its doctrines – a patriarchal blueprint for God (almighty father, only son), virgin birth, descending into hell, literal resurrection.

I simply don’t believe these things. What I do believe is that we should carefully scrutinize any formulas presented to us. We should ask ourselves if these “truths” make sense in the laboratories of our own daily lives.

In the introduction to my 2019 book, Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission (co-authored with Rob Mueller), I quote my 39-year-old son, Pieter. He speaks of the spiritual values he shares with his circle of millennial friends.

“We are seekers first, Christians second (if at all). We are reluctant to make statements of faith because they calcify that part of our brain that seeks new understanding.”

For over 30 years, I was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), a branch of Christianity that claims a “confessional heritage.” It’s Book of Confessions – faith pronouncements from key, often turbulent eras of history – provide clinical insights into Western colonial thinking. However, on the level of doctrine, I cannot accept or affirm any of them in totality.

It’s not that I don’t have faith. You could even say I have my own creed, but it’s always evolving. Further, I don’t expect others to describe their journeys in any way that doesn’t make sense to them. Here’s a taste of where I’m at.

I believe in a Presence that humans have variously called God, Spirit, Tao, Higher Self – a mystery at the heart of all spiritual awareness, yet personal in a way that guides my life. I believe in the power of love and how it spurs me to work for justice in nonviolent ways. I believe that the teachings of many spiritual leaders – among them Jesus and the Buddha – call us to counter the cold love, materialism and self-centeredness that plague us as a species. I believe that forgiveness, even of enemies, is a triumph of human evolution. I recorded something similar in my book, Invitation to The Overview.

In my final years as an ordained worship leader, I struggled mightily with that part of the liturgy traditionally called the “affirmation of faith.” How can we affirm the miracle of belief without anthropomorphic boundaries? How can we seek Truth without stumbling over truths as articles of faith?

There is one creed that I do like, almost in its entirety. It hails from the Iona community of Scotland.

“We believe that God is present in the darkness before dawn; in the waiting and uncertainty where fear and courage join hands, conflict and caring link arms, and the sun rises over barbed wire. We believe in a with-us God who sits down in our midst to share our humanity. We affirm a faith that takes us beyond a safe place: into action, into vulnerability and onto the streets. We commit ourselves to work for change and put ourselves on the line; to bear responsibility, take risks, live powerfully and face humiliation; to stand with those on the edge; to choose life and be used by the Spirit for God’s new community of hope. Amen.”

Words like these allow me—in good conscience—to raise my voice with others in corporate worship. They don’t calcify the search but spur me onwards.

Many may call me confession-less; I believe I am confession-free. And for all those classic-rock buffs reading this: “freedom tastes of reality.” 

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