Like many in the South, I grew up thinking that faith required conviction, and that uncertainty, or doubt, was what we experienced in moments of duress or weakness.
Like many here and everywhere, the older I get, the more I realize that I (and everyone else, particularly those with the most unyielding beliefs – about religion, politics, how we ought to live, whose football coach is the biggest cheater, whether Coca Cola or Miracle Whip makes a more moist chocolate cake – you name it) am utterly clueless.
I will be 37 next month. My daughter is 12, and every year she can remember, one of the teachers in her public school has asked the class to raise their hand as she reads off a list of Christian denominations. Because teachers when I was growing up did exactly the same thing during history units about “religious diversity” or the Reformation or the Puritans, I believe this is for the most part innocent if not completely ignorant, disrespectful and borderline unconstitutional.
And when she tells me she raises her hand for a different “random” denomination each year because she doesn’t want to feel left out or – worse, be called out – my heart aches because I know exactly what it was like to feel “othered” because, unlike the kids who were unquestionably BAPTIST! or CHURCH OF CHRIST! or raise-your-hand-if-you-are-CATHOLIC!, I went to a tiny Lutheran church where I constantly questioned and even fought against most everything we were taught.
I have always believed the biggest mysteries of the universe – why, if not how we are here; what happens when we die; are there others out there?; do dogs go to heaven?; is there heaven? – are beyond our ability to comprehend, much less explain.
That is why it has confused me at best (at worst, struck me as arrogant), when people express with unquestioning conviction their faith in constructs they themselves proclaim to be larger than us all.
But that is not a sentiment I’ve always been comfortable expressing, as – like my daughter is now – I grew up in a culture that equates courage with conviction. I have found the opposite to be true. It takes courage to live with uncertainty.
There are additional merits to uncertainty in matters of the world’s biggest questions:
Uncertainty provides tremendous opportunity to learn, evolve and connect with others whose backgrounds and experiences are different from our own.
Uncertainty gives us the permission we need to ask bigger and bolder questions, and the humility required to cope in those frequent times we don’t find answers.
Uncertainty opens doors for thoughtful conversation with people of contrasting viewpoints.
It is Sunday, a day of conviction for many here where I live. For me, it is a day to reflect on what I don’t know, and enjoy the grace that comes with that.
The universe is so spectacular and mysterious. As my daughter says, let’s not ruin it by trying to explain everything about it.