When I was in my early 20s, I often sang a song for worship and church events called “Shifting Sand,” by Caedmon’s Call. The lyrics are all about the fallibility and malleability of human faith –
“My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace”
– and in contrast, the rock of God’s grace, solid and unchangeable. Many hymns have riffed on the same theme: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.” A moveable faith was obviously a bad thing, even if it couldn’t entirely be helped in imperfect humans. The good thing, the God thing, was to be immovable, to remain the same no matter what waves may come. Although our moods might change, we could rely upon correct doctrine to be our solid rock. Let the questions and doubts swirl below; they could not shift us if we stood on the rock of faith.
Over the last decade and then some, I’ve interacted with various deconstructionist movements: the emergent church, radical theology and its Rollinsian sibling, pyrotheology, and most recently the Exvangelical community, which has me reflecting back about my own theological deconstruction, the most noticeable part of which happened before I encountered all these other deconstructing folks.
I think all of us who change our religious orientation have something that shoves us off the seemingly solid rock. For me it was a confluence of events. I was studying theology and philosophy from a broader perspective and in particular being exposed to a lot of liberation theologies, and it opened a door in my mind. I learned that other people read the same Bible I did and came to very different conclusions about what was important about Christian belief and action. I read it for myself and everything seemed considerably less black and white than I’d been told. My calling to ministry was becoming more insistent, but the Christians who surrounded me didn’t think it was possible that I was called to preach or teach. My mind wandered into new territory: “Maybe they’re wrong,” and for the first time, I allowed myself to take that idea seriously. And just like that, I was off the rock, standing in the sand, the waves altering what was firm beneath my feet, each crest creating new patterns and sweeping away the old.
I thought for a while that I would find a new rock, that I would reconstruct a new system of belief that would stay solid and unchanging. The bedrock of Christ has remained constant, but that’s very different from a doctrine about Christ. I have now believed and disbelieved a number of things about Christ. That along with everything else has swirled and shifted, pieces swept out to sea for good, others returned again and again, the grains constantly being rearranged, left for a while with the low tide, flooded to invisibility with the high. I’ve chosen the sand, shifting as it is. No doubt or question is off limits. Change is acceptable, even expected.
Twenty year-old me would be very disturbed indeed by this picture of faith. No doubt she would order me back up onto the safety of that rock, and drag me up if necessary. But another twenty years have shown me that the rock isn’t faith. The rock is certainty – and certainty is an illusion. Who knows when something might come along and shove you off, into unexpected and unpredictable ground? Faith isn’t the rock. Faith isn’t about what stays the same. Faith is down in the sand, shifting to meet what comes. Faith is movement and transformation. Faith is being shaped and made new each moment by living water.