Since I was little, I’ve been someone who asked a lot of questions, particularly questions around scripture, faith, and tradition. I’ll admit I was a Sunday School teacher’s worst nightmare. Fully engaged and always sitting with my hand in the air, no teacher was spared an easy answer. Where do we go when we die? How did Noah get all the animals on the ark and did someone have to train the whales to stay behind the boat? How exactly does the trinity work? Is it like water where three forms can exist at all times? It was a common occurrence for me to be asked to leave Sunday School for asking too many questions and being rather belligerent when no one would answer them.
The questions continued to bubble up in my mind until the infamous Sunday they boiled over. I had so many questions and what the preacher was saying didn’t make sense, so I did what all high school students are conditioned to do. I calmly put my hand in the air and waited to be called on. Stunned and confused, he called my name. In the sentences that followed, I asked all of my questions about Holy Week and Easter, without so much as stopping for a breath. Was Jesus’s death required? If so, why? If so, does that make God guilty of child abuse? How exactly did the resurrection happen? Did it have to be literal or would metaphorical be just as powerful a story? Why did Mary think he was the gardener? What did he look like such that no one recognized him? The color drained from his face before turning red with either embarrassment or fury. I’m still not sure which. To each question, his only response was to say, “You have to have faith! Just have faith in what I’m telling you!” I left that day angry that there was nowhere in the church to ask difficult questions and no space to engage in dialogue with people struggling to find similar answers. I’d eventually find space to grapple with these questions outside of the church in college and in seminary. That freedom to wrestle with the questions and to live with the questions would transform my life and my faith.
I suspect that many of us have questions, big and small, theological and ethical, about tradition or why we do what we do, or about that special churchified language we throw around but rarely define. What if Church became THE place that engaged our questions, invited questions, even expected that questions were an integral part of our spiritual journeys?!? What would it take for your church to fully become a place where these questions can be asked and explored?
Well, maybe it starts with you. Grab a paper and pen. Set an alarm for 5 minutes. Spend that time jotting down the questions about faith and church life that you grapple with. In the next week, take a friend to coffee and ask them a question or two from your list. Be open to whatever their answer is and see what you might learn from their wisdom, even if its much different than yours. Sound super nerdy? Yep, but I promise you, you’ll learn something you didn’t expect. And, my advice, good conversation often requires at least one refill.
—Rev. Laura Arnold, Pastor at Decorah Congregational UCC