The Outriggers of Our Faith


"They are like the outriggers of our faith; they bring stability in the midst of the storms of life."

This is my paraphrase of something I recently heard A.J. Swobada (his most recent book is After Doubt) say in a conversation about the tidal wave of deconstruction sweeping the church over the past pandemic season. In the interview, A.J. was making a case for how to deconstruct your faith without losing the faith, without losing Jesus. The larger frame of the conversation focused upon those who have experienced trauma and abuse in the church. Understandably so, such experience causes one to sincerely question the faith tradition they've inherited. 

In naval terms, outriggers give stability amid choppy or unpredictable waters. So, what are these "outriggers" for our faith and why are they important? 

A.J. said something that almost sounds counterintuitive. He suggested that in deconstructing our faith, we often cut ourselves loose from two of the very things we need for support: the history of the faith we've been given, and the church herself. Seems counterproductive, right? But he makes a great point. We are not called to go and discover our own faith, but rather the faith that the apostles and early martyrs died to give to us. This is not something of our own construction. There is something that's being handed down from generation to generation. That last sentence certainly goes against the grain of a postmodern, anti-authoritarian culture that is suspicious of meta narratives and power structures. Secondly, though, A.J. said that its the church we need when we are struggling -- the people of God, the community. Now, he was definitely not saying we should keep hanging around abusive or harmful people! But isolating ourselves within our own echo chambers of self-confirmation or self-soothing will be destructive. We need the koinonia. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we need the word of Christ spoken to us by the brother or sister. 

To be clear, A.J. began the conversation with some thoughtful, compassionate, pastoral wisdom born out in his own life as a pastor/scholar/author. When a person who has experienced abuse or trauma in the church comes to you, don't presume to immediately offer counsel or advice. Affirm and thank them for sharing part of their story with you, and then ask, "How are you inviting me further into your story?" The last thing that this person needs is yet another person to force their way across boundaries in their life. Jesus models this. He says he stands at the door and knocks. He asks the sick, "What do you want?"

I am grateful that I have not experienced significant trauma or abuse in the church. I am grateful my parents pointed me to Jesus, the church and Scripture. But I have certainly wrestled with the faith and tradition I've inherited. I've felt spiritually homeless at times. There are aspects of "my" faith and "my" experience of the church that I suppose I've been "deconstructing" over the past several  years - but only with the aim of "reconstructing" something with God's help -- a more robust and resilient faith rooted in Jesus Christ, on his terms not mine (ideally!).

In closing, I felt a sting of conviction as a disciple of Jesus and as a father that I must remember I am not constructing "my own faith" but rather aiming to receive "the faith that the apostles died to give to me." When A.J. said that I had to stop the podcast and let that sink in. Wow. The history of the church matters. I'm returning to one of my favorite books, Water from a Deep Well, in this effort to remember the faith that I've inherited. I am making it my aim during this Autumn season to read more works from dead or ancient writers, rather than just fill my plate with snacks from the buffet of contemporary opinion.


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