Faith without formation is dead

By Bob Hulteen

Breathless, LonRay found me sweeping the porch of my Washington, D.C., rowhouse. “They set out all of Mr. and Mrs. Grant’s belongings on the street,” he yelled from the sidewalk. So, together we ran up 13th Street for a block-and-a-half and, turning left, saw the lives of this 80-year-old couple spread across the sidewalk in front of what had previously been their basement apartment.

Although I had primarily worked as community organizer with tenants in mid-sized and large apartment buildings, I knew the Grants because they did have problems with their landlord and they had been engaged in some of the Neighborhood Watch activities. I knew that the landlord had not gone through the legal process of obtaining an eviction order; I knew that he had illegally removed their photographs and family heirlooms, making them vulnerable to the vulgarities of passersby.

“I don’t believe that faith is an abstract set of beliefs; for me, it is an overarching approach to real-life realities.”

After a quick conversation with one of my colleagues, I decided to break the lock on their apartment and to start moving the Grant’s possessions back into the apartment they had been paying rent for. When neighbors started helping, I did warn them that the police would eventually come and that they should be aware that, even though they were in the right by helping, it might involve getting tied up in the legal system. We talked about the privilege I had as a white person to engage this system. And together we made a plan.

 

AS A NEARLY LIFE-LONG participant on adult education committees, it is hard for me to admit that my faith has not primarily been formed in forums. I don’t believe that faith is an abstract set of beliefs; for me, it is an overarching and foundational (maybe even instinctual) approach to the human condition.

So, where has such formation taken place for me? My faith has been formed in the streets.

My faith has been informed by deep study and communal discussion during adult forums. But that is not where it is formed.

I have touched God more deeply huddled around a campfire in the middle of Plymouth Avenue outside the Fourth District Police Station building than in the church library listening to eloquent speakers. I understand what faith means more completely when marching after a verdict for yet another victim of state violence. I realize what the powers and principalities are more clearly when I am facing the police line on the Standing Rock Reservation. I experience the inpouring of the Holy Spirit when a remarkably diverse group of leaders are preparing to testify on increasing access for all.

“I understand what faith means more completely when marching after a verdict for yet another victim of state violence.”

I still love attending the adult forum at my congregation. Great thought and planning goes into addressing topics that speak to the times.

But sometimes forums can be abstract. And, especially as we wait expectantly for incarnation, I need something more concrete. For me, that often means standing on concrete is foundational to my faith.

2018-12-10T08:27:01+00:00December 7th, 2018|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , , , , , |