Foolishness of Faith

feast-of-fools-bw“We are fools for the sake of Christ” 
1 Corinthians 4:10

I oftentimes find myself struggling with the foolishness of the Gospel.  I want to be faithful, but I also want to be responsible and reasonable.

In the Spring of 2006 I got completely engrossed in the news about a hostage crisis in Iraq.  Four Westerners had been taken hostage by terrorists, one an American Quaker named Tom Fox.  These four were in Iraq as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team, an organization that believes that violence can be reduced through non-violent direct action.  Three of the four hostages ended up getting freed.  Tom Fox, the Quaker, was killed.  I remember discussing this news with a member of the congregation I was serving. He was retired military and thought these Christian Peacemakers were fools.  Only a fool would go unarmed into a situation of violence, he said.  Which made me wonder what he thought about Jesus.

My struggle over this hostage situation was complicated further by my love for my husband, who is wholeheartedly committed to his pacifism and who has felt called at times to join a Christian Peacemaker Team.  On the one hand I admire his faithfulness, and I am proud of his courage.  On the other hand I am scared that he will put himself in harms way.  My fear tempts me to pray for him to be reasonable and responsible, to consider his family rather than his call.

I remember an article in The Christian Century written by James Loney, one of Tom Fox’s Christian Peacemaker Team who was taken hostage in Iraq.  Loney brought Fox to life in this article, describing him as the spiritual “anchor” of the group.  He described Tom diving into prayer

“the way a warrior might charge into battle.  He turned his captivity into a sustained, unbroken meditation.  The chain that bound his wrist became a kind of rosary, or sebha (the beads Muslims use to count the names of God).  He would picture someone: a member of his family, a member of the Iraq team or the CPT office, one of the captors—whoever he felt needed a prayer.  Holding a link of the chain, he would breathe in and out, slowly, so that you could hear the air gushing in and out of his lungs, praying for the person he was holding in his mind. With the completion of each breath, he would pass a chain link through his thumb and index finger.”[1]

Loney went on to describe Fox leading them in bible study, refusing a blanket and pillow so others could have them, advising them on Iraq’s kidnapping industry and teaching them the Arabic they needed to communicate with their captors. When they took Fox away, blindfolded and handcuffed, his last words were to encourage his friends. “Be strong,” he said.

Loney’s article about Fox had a profound effect upon me.  I couldn’t stop thinking about this Quaker, this fool who walked unarmed into violence, and his staggering commitment to peace. What leads a man to this kind of life?  To be this kind of person?  To know this courage?  Was it faith?  Because if it is, I don’t know if I have it.

I would like to think that the life of faith isn’t particularly dangerous.  That those who have been killed for acting on their faith (Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Tom Fox) just weren’t being smart or safe.  But I can’t say that about these people, nor can I think it, because I admire them too much.   Their stories are the stories of Christ himself.  The convictions they held, the goals they worked toward, all proclaim the truth of the Gospel.  Their stories are the greatest testimonies to the difference one life can make.

I know I am reasonable and responsible.  Lord, help me be more foolish.

[1] James Loney, “Cell group: Held hostage in Iraq,” The Christian Century, July 24, 2007.

about Marie Howe

tumblr_m11rrgvwUL1r13ilso1_500I was introduced to the poetry of Marie Howe this summer.  Last week, on a whim, I ordered all three of her books.  When they arrived in the mail I stayed up late to read each book cover to cover.  I highly recommend each to you:  The Good Thief, What the Living Do, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.  I don’t usually read poetry three books at a time.  But reading Howe’s poetry was like reading her autobiography.  She has known horrific suffering—a terribly abusive father, a younger brother who died of AIDS, and sexual violence no human being should ever know, let alone a child.  Sometimes I read her poetry in horror.  She is fearless in her writing.  (I cannot begin to tell you how I admire her for that.)  The horror would have been too much for me, I couldn’t have kept reading, had it not been for her faith.  It amazed me that a person who had known such tragedy and violence also knew that she was loved by an ultimate and abiding Love.

Sometimes we preachers wonder if what we have given our lives to makes any difference at all.  Sometimes we wonder if God is real or has any power to heal the horrific suffering of this world.  If we are honest, we wonder these things out loud.  Marie Howe’s poetry brutally unveils the trauma this world can inflict.  Her writing also unveils faith as a saving grace in the midst of trauma, a faith that heals when nothing else can.  For this message and for this extraordinary poetry, I am deeply grateful to Marie Howe.

From her book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time here is a Marie Howe poem:


Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel it

I know it is—and that if once it hailed me

it ever does—

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction

not as towards a place, but it was a tilting

within myself,

As one turns a mirror to flash the light to where

it isn’t—I was blinded like that—and swam

in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so

specifically myself I thought I’d die

from being loved like that.