Faith as Honoring

I've been thinking a lot lately about faith as honoring.

What does it mean to have faith? One answer I've thinking about--for months and months--is that faith is a way of honoring as we move through our lives.

From the time we wake up in the morning to the time to go to bed we look out on a world that is flat, open to interpretation, and sort of like a Rorschach blot. Mark Twain once quipped that "Life is one damn thing after another." Our days are like that. Something happens, then something else happens. A string of events until we fall back asleep.

As we move through this sequence of events we make choices about honoring. Some things will happen during the day that we will applaud and cheer. Which things? What are those things that we applaud during the day? What things do we honor, praise, encourage, note, and respect? To use Old Testament language, where do we stop and say, "This is holy ground."? Where do we linger to build an altar and say, "Surely God was in this place."?

But the religious language isn't necessary. Everyone applauds things and honors things throughout the day. And we each do this differently. Someone at your workplace might be being honored or applauded today. But you might disagree, for whatever reason. Someone at your workplace might be being ignored or treated with contempt today, and you might disagree. You might think this person is actually a treasure, a person worthy of honor and respect. 

Again, we all honor and we all do it differently.

Faith, in this view, is a particular--distinctively Christian--way of honoring.

My thoughts here are informed by texts like 2 Corinthian 12 where Paul uses his famous body metaphor. As background, the wealthy patrons of the Corinthian church were not honoring the poorer members of the church. In the face of that behavior Paul says:
2 Corinthians 12.21-26
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Paul's intervention is an honoring intervention. He says, in effect, "You need to learn to honor differently." Weaker, contemptible, shameful and dispensable parts of the body need to be treated with "special honor." God honors in a particular and distinctive way. Specifically, God gives "greater honor" to those people who lack honor in the world. Examples here abound, an example from James:
James 2.1-6a
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor.
I'm also thinking of the Beatitudes--"Blessed are the..."--about how Heaven applauds and honors in a way different from the world.

The practice of the Christian faith, then, is learning to honor in a particular way. Life isn't one damn thing after another. Some things are honored. Some things are dishonored. Some things are applauded. Some things get crickets chirping. Some things get respect, care, and attention. Other things are ignored, neglected or disdained.

The Christian faith has a distinctive approach to this activity of honoring, a particular honoring aesthetic if you will. Faith is about learning to honor in this distinctive way, about learning to paint the world with this particular aesthetic and artistic sensibility.

And learning to honor in this particular way, acquiring this sensibility, isn't easy, natural or intuitive. Being a great artist--being a Christ-like human being--takes effort, a lifetime of effort and practice. You don't just wake up and choose to honor in this way. It takes a lifetime of constant cognitive, affective and behavioral practice.

In the end, I don't know what exactly it means to be a Christian. But I think it involves at least this much.

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6 thoughts on “Faith as Honoring”

  1. Thanks Richard. This post reminded me of one of my favourite movies 'Bringing Out the Dead' (1999, directed by Scorsese and starring Cage in the best thing he has done IMHO ). The take home of the film without spoiling it for those who may want to see it, has to do with our purpose being one of witnessing. Not witnessing as in 'being the example', but literally to witness (and give honour to) life in all its brokenness and filth. To place ourselves where others would sooner not and to see the life there. I have carried that idea with me ever since seeing that film - to be faithful is to see through the grime and blood to see a sacred and holy creature/moment.

  2. Richard, I like the way you brought the concept of aesthetics into display; "what is it to be human in the 'style' of Jesus?" is an utterly radical question in the face of a human style set by the Roman Caesar.

    The question before us who pursue Jesus' style--or aesthetic--in the 21st century could very well be "was Jesus merely being counter-cultural or was he in pursuit of a fuller experience in being human?"

    You created some interesting insight when you connected honoring to believing in Jesus' style of being human. Could this honoring--in the way,and of the the "things"--that Jesus displayed, translate into becoming more fully human as well?

    If so, I wonder what this might mean in a therapeutic context like psychology; certainly, breakdowns in physical systems distort our human experience, but barring those, does "psychological distress" become something more about "aesthetics" and less about a "technological" form so common in our thinking? (By "technological form" I mean understanding things in terms of mechanism, and cause-effect relationship i.e., "because this happened to me yesterday, I'm like this today.")

    Also, Piety has always felt as something defensive rather than creative. Jesus' aesthetic on the other hand, feels utterly creative.  

  3. While liking and strongly agreeing with what you are saying here, I can't help but wonder whether 'faith' is the right word to use. You seem to be focusing on something closer to worship, which, while related to faith, is not the same in several respects. Faith, for instance, involves personal trust, is contrasted to sight, is more distinctively responsive in character, etc.

  4. From the time we wake up in the morning to the time to go to bed we look out on a world that is flat, open to interpretation, and sort of like a Rorschach blot. Mark Twain once quipped that "Life is one damn thing after another." Our days are like that. Something happens, then something else happens. A string of events until we fall back asleep.
    I simply love this!

  5. I love the sentiment, and the vision of Christian life that is expressed

    What I wonder is this: “What do we gain, and what do we lose, by
    expressing the importance of honoring by offering it as a definition, or
    concept, of faith?” In other words, what happens when we say “Faith, in this view, is…a way of honoring.”

    I think there is some real gain here: if I tell someone
    “I trust you” or “I think you are reliable” or “I’m counting on you” or “I
    believe what you are telling me” that seems to necessarily do them honor, and
    it also obligates them to be trustworthy. So there does seem to be an element
    of honoring that is involved in faith, in the normal meanings of the word. And
    the Christian concept of faith seems to involve this kind of honoring, unlike a
    concept of “faith” that just involves “placing a bet” or “taking a chance.”
    This also helps draw out one of the ways in which Pascal’s wager misses the
    point: making a bet isn’t quite what the concept of faith aims at, and I think
    that part of what is missing in Pascal’s wager is this dimension of genuinely
    honoring someone by trusting them.

    So what do we lose, if anything? I think that if
    “honoring” is taken as a definition of faith, instead of an interesting part of
    its semantic field, then we don’t really have a historically or scripturally
    relevant definition of faith. Taken in that way (which I don’t think you
    intend), this would resemble an odd redefinition of faith similar to Tillich’s
    definition of faith as “ultimate concern”. No, faith isn’t ultimate concern or
    honoring. But both concepts help us explore the complex and interesting
    semantic field associated with the word “faith.”


  6. Great post.
    The Twain quote reminds me of the definition given in Alan Bennett's play, The History Boys, where it is said of 'history' that it is, " fucking thing after another". Classic.

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