Honest to God


I’ve been reading a book this month that was published in 1963 called Honest to God.  Written by John Robinson, bishop of Woolwich. It’s a bit dense and slow-going but it has been speaking to me in ways I could not have imagined.  When I wrote a few months ago about taking a break from church, I found myself afterwards in various conversations about our decision and I wrestled to find adequate language to express what I was feeling.

Enter some random bishop from the 1960s!   Who knew?  I’m only a couple chapters in at this point but so much of it is resonating for me and I’m discovering that Robinson is giving me some of the language I was seeking.

While we do have folks in our lives who understand what we are wrestling with, we have an equal number who don’t.   Trying, repeatedly, to explain my various frustrations/qualms/uneasiness/evolving-theological-understandings was difficult and I found myself asking the question that Robinson asked on page 18 in Honest to God.

Is it really necessary…?
Must we upset what most people happily believe–
or happily choose not to believe?
And have we anything to put it in its place?

That’s the chief question I’ve pondered over the years.  If I do not want to wear this particular theological garment, have I another to put on in its place?  Or will I merely be unclothed?  Because certainly something is better than nothing, no?

To that end Robinson says this about his own experience, which is precisely how I have felt over the years, particularly the second paragraph…

The only way I can put it is to say that over the years a number of things have unaccountably ‘rung a bell’; various unco-ordinated aspects of one’s reading and experience have come to ‘add up’.  The inarticulate conviction forms within one that certain things are true or important.  One may not grasp them fully or understand why they matter.  One may not even welcome them.  One simply knows that if one is to retain one’s integrity one must come to terms with them.  For if their priority is sensed and they are not attended to, then subtly other convictions begin to lose their power…

And then, equally, there are certain other things which have not rung a bell, certain areas of traditional Christian expression — devotional and practical– which have evidently meant a great deal for most people but which have simply left one cold.  The obvious conclusion is that this is due to one’s own spiritual inadequacy.

For many years, particularly in my early 20s, this was my primary concern.  That there was something spiritually amiss in my soul.   That I lacked discipline.  That I wasn’t as devout as one ought to be.  If I didn’t feel like praying the ACTS prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) during a morning “quiet time,” then there was surely a barrenness to my “spiritual walk.”

Yet over the years I have come to discover a richness in other forms and expressions of my faith and I no longer worry about the bankruptcy of my soul.  It is not an inward poverty on my part but rather a faith seeking new form, new language, new imagery.

I’ve been drawn lately to the language of Paul Tillich, who refers to God as the Ground of All Being and encourages an understanding of depth when it comes to our imagery of God, rather than height.  Chapter three in Honest to God is titled “The Ground of Our Being” and I’m looking forward to what Robinson has to say next.  Stay tuned!