I grew up in a pretty fundamentalist church, though I doubt any of those beautiful saints would describe themselves as such.
As an aside, the most helpful thing I've been able to do is understand that there is both beauty and vulgarity in our past. But that's another post entirely.
I grew up in my faith believing certain things - such as the notion that the return of Jesus was immanent and in almost every scenario that would turn out bad for me. Why? Namely, I was a teenage boy and half the things that naturally wandered across the screen of my mind were completely at odds with what Jesus would be looking for in a citizen of heaven.
Every thunderstorm, every unstable moment, was an opportunity for my very natural failures to be played on the big screen as I boarded the dismal monorail for Sheol.
Who created this theology? I did. In all honesty, no one taught me this belief - it simply came as a result of putting years of sermons together and coming to this conclusion. Jesus is coming back, look busy.
We do ourselves a great disservice if we refuse to move beyond the "what" (in my case, the return of Christ) to the "why" - the return of Christ is directly linked to the scintillating and unstoppable love of God for His people, His longing to be with them, to reunite the people with the tree that sets time on it's edge and runs playful circles around the miserable march that is age, death, disease, and pain.
Christian spirituality is about belief, no doubt. We all begin with belief, something we can't understand (no matter what we say to others) and then we grow - developing and maturing into new places with Christ and in step with His Spirit - to the place where the commitment to the "what" and the tribe with which we become aligned no longer holds us so tightly.
I believe in the "What" - as a teacher and pastor the "what" is important:
What about Jesus?
What about my ruined, broken soul?
What about the poor?
What about the habits that keep me enslaved to that thing from which Jesus has sprung me, in that epic prison break called redemption?
The "what's" are magical and poetic in the way they set our feet on the narrow path, but we cannot live simply in the what. This is the struggle I have with systematic theology - it is the quest for the "what" (beliefs, ideas and constructions) but the system can grow so tight that it squeezes out the "why."
Christian spirituality is fed by the "what" but it is free to fly through the "why."
Today, I encourage you to think through the questions of the "What" - what do you believe about some of the key pieces of your faith? About God, Jesus, church, person, gospel, apocalypse, prayer, service, etc. Now, consider the "why" behind each of those: why do they matter? Why do I believe this instead of not believing or believing something different?
I'm happy to say that I can sit in the raging thunderstorm today, flashbulbs popping through the heavens, and know that behind that savage thunderhead is a mysterious Known - hidden but revealed, graceful and firm, beautiful and complicated - watching and smiling, playing artfully with the air masses and seeing me just as I am. There, right there, my "what" meets my "why" and I find myself walking free.
*If you find yourself stirred by this post, may I recommend Fr. Richard Rohr's Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. You may not be ready for his "what" but the "why" in this book has the power to set you free.