“We got a shot at getting these stones but I’ve got to tell you my priorities: bring back what we lost? I hope, yes. Keep what I found? Have to—at all costs. …and maybe not die trying would be nice.”
With these words (and the re-gifting of a certain shield), Tony Stark finally makes his peace with Captain America and rejoins the Avengers, setting in motion the “time heist” that leads to their final confrontation with the titan Thanos. Though he isn’t able to achieve all three goals, this shift in Iron Man’s motivations inevitably leads to his final act of heroic sacrifice, saving the universe and completing an over ten-year character arc.
This interior change in one of my favorite on-screen characters has a particular resonance as I sense a movement into this new season of my “faith.” A season which has me longing for a vague, mythical relationship with the biblical stories and characters of my youth, but is also deeply impacted by years of conflict, failure, and rejection within the institution laying claim to those stories.
In short, I desperately desire a “childlike faith” in the face of very adult losses.
By “childlike” I do not mean “simplistic” or “unthinking,” but full of wonder. I want to ask questions without feeling the need to formulate air-tight answers, to ask that beautiful question all children ask: is it true?
This is, of course, not a query regarding the factual likelihood of a story’s details, but a deeper hope that our world is sufficiently full of magic that such things happen. I want to hear––without scoffing or studying––the tales of miracles, battles, and heroes; of talking animals and “dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons”;1 of hopes fulfilled, tears answered for, and the belief deeply rooted in the young that life is stronger than death.
But I also will not abide a mere return to that which has been the source of so much pain in my and my family’s life. I have simply seen too much: the man behind the curtain has fully revealed himself and I will never again know the blissful ignorance of the common parishioner.
And yet, like the tide, I feel again the draw to participate in the faith story that quite literally raised me.
This draw is not due to vague emotions of shame or lostness on Sundays—I feel no compunction about missing church and quite enjoy a slow morning at home. And it certainly has nothing to do with a fear of judgment lest I “give up meeting as some are in the habit of doing”—if God cares about my church attendance, then Heaven isn’t for me anyway.
But come to mention it, this has nothing to do with things like “God” or “Heaven” anyway: my level of belief on any given day is inconsistent and tenuous at best.
No, there is . . . something else going on. Something else is guiding my hurting heart back to the liturgy and the silence and the sacraments, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it is. The seats are too uncomfortable, the services too boring and too early, the creeds too anachronistic, and the sacraments too limited within their churchy context—and yet I know that Sunday morning I’ll find my way into a pew and wait with confusion and expectation for the service to begin and something to happen.
And that’s where you, dear reader, come in.
I want to explore with you this hunt for the source of my heart’s inconsolable longing. Many of you may also not exactly miss “church”—I know some of your stories and don’t blame you—but when all is quiet, something feels amiss, somewhat “off.” Something was lost on our way to freedom and you may, like me, have the uneasy feeling that we have to go back to find it.
So this post is an invitation into a “time heist” of sorts: a perilous journey back to recover and reclaim what we lost amidst the wreckage of doubts swept aside and budget discussions and fights over whether drums are suitable for church music; of shit like apologetics and the Religious Right; creationism, homophobia, and True Love Waits. It will take all our skill and cunning to avoid these as we travel down the rabbit hole, but I believe we can make it.
I believe we can recover what we lost and keep what we’ve found.
So I invite you to join me: I will begin publishing a weekly newsletter of short posts2 intended to discover whether we can indeed reclaim some measure of actually participating in the Christ Story while also fully committing to leave all of the bullshit behind. Because if I miss anything about pastoral ministry, it’s conversations with people invested in our mutual growth and encouragement, not whether we believe the right stuff.
If you’d like to read and participate in this discussion, please sign up for my weekly newsletter, “Reclaiming Faith” here. And please share with any you think may be interested!
1. Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit.↩
2. No really, crazy as it may seem, I’m talking 300-500 words—like half this post!↩