stuck or soaring

stuck or soaring January 9, 2013
stuck or soaring cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“Stuck or Soaring” (ink on paper, 8″x8″)

Questions lead to transformation.

Answers don’t.

Because transformation isn’t the fruit of thought.

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  • Gary

    I love the look of longing in the eyes of the poor fellow tethered to his answers and struggling to keep his head above water. I get a real sense of the desire he has for the freedom he sees in the questions.

    That man is me about 10 years ago. Maybe one day he will cut his rope and reach out and take hold of life’s questions. I know most don’t. But some do…I am living proof of it.

  • Kris

    I love that analogy…the freedom to question, explore, look at several different answers.

  • Adam Julians

    I apprciate the humour and the rhetoric in the cartoon.

    The whole idea of doubt being consistent with faith and there being a freedom in that is a principle I adhere to. I am always supicious of people who seem to have all the answers and have their lives “perfect”.

    At the same time I don’t see/agree with your point written later on.

    “Be transfromed by the renewing of your mind” is what scripture says. In that case transformation would be very much a “fruit of thought”, the opposite of what you say about that would that not be?

    Kind Regards


  • I am buoyed by the certainty that I loved and in a covenant of steadfast forgiveness and love.

    About questions and answers, it seems the dichotomy is set up falsely. Questions lead to answers. And answers lead to questions. And sometimes we settle on an answer and that feels good and right and true. Questions by nature don’t really feel good; they are unsettling and that’s exactly what they are for, to shake things up and extend the meaning or understanding. It can feel invigorating and it can even be addicting. But one does not feel right until one has something figured out.

    We’ve met people who only argue for arguing’s sake. This is a vexation and I wonder how much truth is uncovered this way.

  • If the mind is “renewed”, as in re-created, then it must die first. This is the end of thought.

  • In the tradition I follow we use the word “mystery”. These are things you can question infinitely, like the trinity. Sure people can spout out the doctrine of the trinity, but in no way does that fully explain it. You can spend your entire life contemplating the awesome mystery of the trinity and never have all the answers. What most people think is the answer to a mystery is really only the starting point for a deeper understanding that will never be complete. We are finite creatures, our minds are limited, but the questions are as infinite as God.

  • Caryn LeMur

    In my mind, transformation is the fruit of insight. Like a small hammer, the same insight hits us once.. then later… then again… and, all of sudden, we say “I get it!”… and our world view is reshaped.

    Insight seems to come from the right side of the brain, so to speak. While logic and reasoning come from the left side of the brain.

    If insight leads in understanding the world (and Christianity), and then logic examines and corrects, then I think we have much transformation. If logic leads, then we ‘box in’ the possible answers, and insights therefore become limited… and finally, transformation seems to slow to a crawl.

    In reference to the cartoon, I think of ‘insight’ as being from the Holy Spirit to our thought process – as if an invitation to explore. Thus, I hold that the full ‘thought process’ is necessary for amazingly quick transformation(with the right brain leading the exploration, and then with left brain confirming/editing).

    Hang with me for a moment.

    Ask yourself this question (designed for the insight-receiving right brain): “In order to honor Christ’s command that we give the same blessings to those we consider ‘evil’ and those we consider ‘good’ [Matt 5], how can United States Christians take the national lead in ensuring same-sex couples receive the same ‘blessings’ that opposite-sex couples receive?”

    If you sense your logical left brain saying, ‘the question is wrong!’… relax… let it go. You can always throw out the question in a few days time. Just ask the question. Pray over it, if you wish (don’t left-brain pray against it… just pray for any insight in any way).

    The questions really can (as implied by the cartoon) set you free.

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • I love the way you write Caryn. Thanks.

  • Brilliant!

    Oops…I mean, brilliant?

  • justininpr

    Yet the affirmation: “Questions lead to transformation.” Is actually an answer to the question, What leads to transformation?

    I think it is a false to affirm that answers don’t lead to transformation. I think the cartoon is more about not liking the answers given and searching for other answers. Also I think its about humility and recognizing the limits of our capacity to have the answers to all of life’s questions.

  • Caryn LeMur

    NP: thank you for the kind words.

    Brigitte: I liked your comment about people that argue… and I’ve wondered if there is more to the arguing than just the ‘surface’ subject we are discussing. Your thoughts?

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • Kris

    I know that God loves and forgives me too, but I still have a lot of questions.

  • Carol

    In his classic book The Varieties of Religious Experience William James speculated that there were two families of God: believers whose primary spiritual focus is consolation and believers whose primary focus is a search for reality/truth.

    Perhaps those whose focus is on truth-seeking have a higher tolerance for existential angst (psychological pain} than those whose focus is on consolation.

    The Western Church seems to be dominated by consolation-seekers rather than reality-truth seekers:
    “(D)oes there exist in man a natural attraction to truth and to the struggle for truth that is stronger than the natural attraction to pleasure?  The history of religion in the West seems by and large to rest on the assumption that the answer is no.”–Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity

    What is easy to forget is that BOTH are families of God even though our spiritual needs/desires often conflict and one person’s mountain top experience can be another’s purgatory or hell.

  • Adam Julians

    You wrote

    “transformation isn’t the fruit of thought” and then “If the mind is “renewed”, as in re-created, then it must die first. This is the end of thought” in response to what I wrote about being transformed by the renewing of the mind from scripture.

    I can’t accept there being the “end of throught” as a prerequisite to the mind being “renewed” or “re-created” as you put it. Paul talks about capturing every thought. I hear simlar things being said about it not being about theology in some churches. Well – I have a brain and I quite like using it thank you very much. I’m not about to stop thinking or doing theology. For me there is freedom in this. If I allow someone else to take that away from me, I become enslaved which is the very antithesis to the “soaring” that your cartoon advocates or the reason why I subscribed to your site.

  • Carol

    St. Anselm defines theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Faith first, then theological understanding evolves out of faith.

    In our post-Enlightenment Church we expect faith to follow theological understanding or even confuse theological understanding with faith.

    The Orthodox Churches of the East teach that the believer must “descend from the head into the heart.”

    If only our logical thought is changed then nothing will really change except we may suffer from the illusion that we know the thoughts and ways, the will of God and not just for ourselves but for everyone else as well. It always amazes me that the “Moral Majority/Religious Right” crowd do not recognize themselves as the spiritual heirs of the biblical Pharisees for all their bible reading and quoting.

    Authentic conversion involves the healing of mind, emotions and, the most difficult for most of us, will.

    This was the medition from Fr. Richard Rohr this morning:

    Doctrines Are for
    the Sake of Experience Number 12 of 57

    Christians speak of the “paschal mystery,” the process of loss and renewal that was lived and personified in the death and raising up of Jesus. We can affirm that belief in ritual and song, as some Christians do in the Eucharist. However, until we have personally lost our own foundation and ground, and then experienced God upholding us so that we come out even more alive on the other side, the expression “paschal mystery” is little understood and not essentially transformative. It is a mere theological affirmation or liturgical acclamation.

    “Cross and Resurrection” is a doctrine that most Christians would probably intellectually assent to, but it is not yet the very cornerstone of their own life philosophy. That is the difference between mere belief systems and a living faith. We move from one to the other only through actual encounter, surrender, trust, and an inner experience of presence and power. Then it is our “secret” discovery too, and not just a church theology.

    From Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, pp. 62, 63

  • Adam Julians


    Agree with everythign you say about faith and theological understanding. And with a problem you have higlighted in a post – enlightenment world with and over emphasis on the intelect or as you put it “understanding”.

    So we need to engage brain and faith. Problem comes in some churched where it becomes over cerebral and we end up with a cold “truth”. Or at the other extreme where the brain starts to become disengaged and we hear phrased such as faith being “not just theology” with instability being the result.

  • Oh my Adam of course I don’t advocate not thinking. What that leads to I agree with you on. What I mean is that although thinking can bring out adjustments in the brain, I don’t believe it brings about recreation. It may carry us to the cross, so to speak, but it doesn’t have the power to resurrect, so to speak.

  • Adam Julians

    OK the point you want to ake is that thinking is good from the the respect it “may carry us to the cross” but that is “doesn’t have the power to resurrect”.

    I don’t understand why you would see different functions with thinking between the cross and resurrection.

    I don’t see a dichotomy between the cross and resurrection with regard to thinking but an interdependency with both.

    And faith, mind, emotions, and will all having a part to play holistically as Carol mentioned.

    I don’t think we can comparmentalise things as easily as it seems to me, with all due respect, that yuo are making out. I know it is a western worldview tht tends to do this with compartentalising. Perhaps this is where we have the potential to learn form other (non-western) worldviews.

    Good to be sharing under the banner of there being a freedom to do so on this site!

  • Carol

    The challenges of late 20th and 21st century technology require us to rethink our theological and spiritual presuppositions if our faith is not to become compartmentalized from our secular experience.

    Judaism, like Christianity, is facing the choice between renewal or increasing marginalization in our secular society.

    I worked with a progressive Catholic Redemptorist priest who had taught patristic moral theology in Rome for 15 years and had personally met such well-known Religious leaders as the Dalai Lama and the progressive Jewish leader Abraham Heschel. Fr. Murphy often mentioned how much he admired Rabbi Heschel.

    My personal belief is that, in many ways, the Jewish Renewal movement has more theological insight and spiritual depth than the current Christian Renewal movement:

    The Church has tended to define its adherents as either orthodox or heterodox according to whether or not they accept the official doctrinal teaching of the hierarchial authorities. Our information technology with its globalizing affects has created a new category of persons of faith, the polydox, inclusivists who believe that “all truth is God’s Truth.” This is eroding the sectarian triumphalism and narrowness that has fed the dark, often to the point of violence, side of organized Religious Traditions.

    To the exclusivists and fideists who would condemn seeking wisdom outside of one’s own Religious Tradition, I can only say that if God can speak through Balaam’s ass, S/He can speak through anyone. It has been said that God only has children, not grandchildren. Each generation must accept the challenge of learning to “sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land” and there is no land stranger than our own 21st century post-Enlightenment/Industrialized West.

    “We exist in a bizarre combination of Stone Age emotions, medieval beliefs, and god-like technology.” —Edward O. Wilson, esteemed Harvard biologist

    “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide.
    Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.” –Jaroslav Pelikan

    “You cannot claim absolute finality for a dogma without claiming a commensurate finality for the sphere of thought within which it arose. If the dogmas of the Christian Church from the second to the sixth century centuries express finally and sufficiently the truths concerning the topics about which they deal, then the Greek philosophy of that period had developed a system of ideas of equal finality. You cannot limit the inspiration to a narrow circle of creeds. A dogma – in the sense of a precise statement – can never be final; it can only be adequate in its adjustment of certain abstract concepts…. Progress in truth – truth of science and truth of religion – is mainly a progress in the framing of concepts, in discarding artificial abstractions or partial metaphors, and in evolving notions which strike more deeply into the root of reality.” –Alfred North Whitehead

    “Many have gone back because they are afraid of looking at things from God’s standpoint. The great crisis comes spiritually when a man has to emerge a bit farther on than the creed he has accepted.” –Oswald Chambers

    “Now ‘crisis of faith’ takes many shapes and forms. I suppose the salient question is whether a crisis occurs within or against faith.” ~Michael Phillips

  • Adam Julians


    Thank you for making that post. It was rich in thought. It’s a pleasure to read with what clearly you have wrestled with and come to your own conclusions about with a sesnse of considering all the factors you talk of.

    That is interesting with what you say about Jewish renewal. Church dogma has (and is) an issue. that’s not to write off things like creeds – they all have thier uses. Creeds came out of a need, one of which was to address herecy and solidify unity in the church.

    Of course though they are not perfect, or gospel. What you have higlighted is the need to constantly be evoloving, creating while being faithful to the core principles of being followers of Jesus. A feering, creative journey, I think you will agree.

    On the note of Heschel, I would if I might share somethign of a personal expereince. In the last church I was in, a small group was looking at “The Prophets” by Heschel. An incredible read with insights from the Jewish theologian.

    Actually, I was inspired by this to “speak out” wheras before had kept my tounge heavily guarded in church gatherings, out of fear of rejection. One comment the pastor made at the time of studying this book was that “prophets edify by shocking” and asked the question “will prophets ever be accepted by the church”.

    That insightful quote form Oswald Chambes about says it for my experience fomr then on in that I realised I had “gone back” to what was considered acceptable in church circles in order to not be rejected.

    Both what the pastor said, reading Heschel and personal expereince gave me the confidence to look at things from “God’s standpoint”.

    This became a self – full fulling prophecy on the part of tha pastor in that me speaking out about something led to him saying the church he pastored was not for me.

    I am freer and stronger in Christ for having suffered that rejection and for the way I have handled it. Which has led me to a site like this where I have found I am not alone with the kind of expereince I have had. That’s cool! 🙂

  • Carol

    Adam, I was raised in an “unchurched”; but highly ethical family.

    My father always said that he was looking for a “fair deal” not a “good deal” from others because if he got a good deal he would be cheating them. Whenever someone was criticized in his presence, he would say, “Yes, but s/he has redeeming qualities” and then he would cite those qualities. My agnostic (not atheistic) father was more “Christ-like” in many ways than most of the “Christians” I have met since embracing the faith as an adult convert.

    It took my father almost 10 years to accept the fact that I had actually “gotten religion” and that it wasn’t just a “crutch” to get me through the dissolution of an abusive marriage. Perhaps “accept” is not quite the right word, it was more like a resignation. Dear ol’ Dad just sighed and said, “Well, at least it hasn’t made you mean.”

    As an adult convert rather than a “cradle Christian”, I noticed many conflicts between professed faith and practice in the Church. The one that bothered me the most was the pro-life activists who would picket women’s healthcare clinics that offered abortion services and then complain about their tax money going to support “lazy welfare mothers.” SAY WHAT?????

    I mentioned to a priest how illogical I thought this was and his response was, “And what makes you think that people are logical?” Good question! I realized that I had bought into the rationalistic Enlightenment heresy that the only problem with us humans was ignorance and that education ALONE would solve it.

    I think that much of the Western Church shares that heresy and that is why there is so much pressure to accept official dogmatic teaching as proof of faith. Instead of “by their fruits (deeds) shall you know them” the measure of committment has become “by their beliefs shall you know them.”

    “Over the last 20 years, God has taken me deeper and deeper into His own heart. He has transformed me (and has promised to continue that!) with revelation, by lavishing His Love, and sometimes by saying, “this one will now suffer for a season”. I know Him, trust Him, and love Him. So excuse me when I find it funny when some Facebook person questions my “salvation” because I don’t line up with their exact doctrine.” ~ David Wilson

    “When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, ‘Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?’”–Quentin Crisp

    “I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said ‘Stop! don’t do it!’ ‘Why shouldn’t I?’ he said. I said, ‘Well, there’s so much to live for!’ He said, ‘Like what?’ I said, ‘Well…are you religious or atheist?’ He said, ‘Religious.’ I said, ‘Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?’ He said, ‘Christian.’ I said, ‘Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?’ He said, ‘Protestant.’ I said, ‘Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?’ He said, ‘Baptist!’ I said, ‘Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist church of god or Baptist church of the lord?’ He said, ‘Baptist church of god!’ I said, ‘Me too! Are you original Baptist church of god, or are you reformed Baptist church of god?’ He said, ‘Reformed Baptist church of god!’ I said, ‘Me too! Are you reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?’ He said, ‘Reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!’ I said, ‘Die, heretic scum,’ and pushed him off.” –Emo Phillips

    “As one of the [Unitarian Universalist] denomination’s many itinerant clergy, he [Hosea Ballou] was riding the circuit in the New Hampshire hills with a Baptist preacher one afternoon. They argued theology as they traveled. At one point, the Baptist looked over and said, ‘Brother Ballou, if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I’d still go to heaven.’ Hosea Ballou looked over at him and said, ‘If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you.’” ~ told by the Rev. Elizabeth Strong

  • Adam Julians


    Thank you for sharing that. Perhaps your background explains some things as to why what you write resonates with me.

    I too came fomr a family that isn’t Christian and remain to be the only Christian in the family, and came to faith in Jesus Christ later in life. I too see many “Christ-like” qualities in poeople who are not Christian and many flesh – like in people who are.

    I’m familiar with one or two of the quotes you have written and the irony that they convey.

    I think the point you make about education isa valid one. But then isn’t that a factor of society as it stands, the idea that the way out od a problem is with education. I recall Ton Blair with his rhetoric about “education education education”. Yes sure, in the Industial Revolution teaching children to read and write was for many a pssport out of poverty. Yet there are people in the UK with masters degrees who are homeless today.

    I happen to have an education so benefit socially with that. But I woudl argue in principle that it is of no more worth in terms of a contribution to society than the housewife, the guy that drives the truck that collects household waste, or the plumber.

    What relevance would education have for a carpenter from Galilee I wonder.