Parson to Person: Decisions, decisions, decisions
The Twentieth Century had barely begun when the great Harvard philosopher and psychologist William James released a veritable bombshell of a book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” Many clergy, more orthodox than God, were apoplectic, for they were convinced that every born-again experience should match theirs and match it exactly. William James revealed how individual persons are and how versatile is God.
Just now I think the book should be reissued as I thumb through the lockstep new-you paperbacks in the Walmart religious books department. (Now you didn’t think I buy them, did you? I can read while standing quite as well as the freeloaders next to me. My tribute to these glow-in-the-dark paperbacks is to reshelve them meticulously.)
The brother of William James was the rather famous psychoanalytic author Henry James, whose stories seemed to illustrate William’s ideas.
William James wrote, “Man alone of all creatures on earth can change his pattern. Man alone is the architect of his own destiny.” He also wrote, “The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings, by changing inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
How did Saint Paul put it: “Be ye not conformed to the world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
Both William James and St. Paul were pointing out the basic principle of the greatest power we know – Faith. To me the main organ of faith is not feelings, not imagination nor wishful thinking. It is will power – the power to choose what you will do and who you will become.
I always revere the words of Harry Truman: “The deepest questions cannot be answered but have to be decided!” See? Will power and decision, again.
I happen to be a Wesleyan. I’d say Methodist but I’m not sure our founder, John Wesley, would recognize us. Wesley transformed much of Eighteenth Century British society and some say averted the bloody social revolution in France. Wesley was a faithful “doer.” The main organ of his movement was the will.
How often I return to the story of how John Wesley came to the point of religious exhaustion and said to his Moravian friend from the University of Jena, Peter Bohler, “Compared to the faith of you Moravians I am lacking in faith. How can I preach faith when I do not truly possess it?” Said Bohler, “Preach it that you might possess it!”
I wouldn’t be surprised if you asked, “You mean to ‘fake it?’ Exactly!” Go through the motions of faith and it will be yours. How did you ever learn to walk or dance or read or write? You went through the motions with sheer will power until you had it.
Mother Teresa never wanted her journal to be published following her death but it was. In it she confesses that for the last fifty years of her work she never again felt the vivid presence of Christ as her calling but think, thousands met Christ through her. After all, Jesus did not say, “feel me.” What he said was, “Follow me.”
The New Testament book of James, and I don’t mean to confuse you with Jameses, declares, “Faith without works is dead.” I say without works, faith will not occur.
Use your will and decide, yes, decide, to go through the motions of what my teacher Paul Tillich called your “ultimate concern” – I call it your highest hope. Yes, go through the motions and you just may be caught in the act.