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Doubt is an opportunity to make a jump

Doubt is state of transition, sometimes into the unknown.
Doubt is state of transition, sometimes into the unknown.

What are you most afraid of?

I recall when I learned that heights were an issue for me. It was just like the movies.

My eyes were having trouble focusing and my knees were getting weak as I could see that it was a long way down from the tree-top platform off of which I was supposed to jump and catch a bar that was hanging a few feet away off a rope.

 I started blabbering to the people staring at me from the ground, warning them that I might pee on them as I jumped.  The person in charge was unfazed as she yelled up, “you wouldn’t be the first one!”

I thought to myself, “Yeah, well, it would be my first time.  Okay?”

After a few deep breaths and some Michael Jordan-level visualization, I made a run for it and jumped… only to miss the bar and slowly fall to the ground, thanks to my harness and belay.

What a failure for someone so used to being a high achiever… in school.  And, yes, this was a school trip, in college - a leadership development ropes course, for goodness sake, that our genius student body president wanted for us officers.

But, that uncomfortable experience taught me something about life that I will never forget: either jump and find out or stay on the platform and never know. 

What is doubt?

It is okay to think of doubt as a state of uncertainty - not knowing about something, one way or another. But, faith is not the opposite of doubt - faith is not a state of certainty.

If doubt is being on that platform on which everyone must first stand, taking a good look at the bar that lies just off the platform, then faith is actually the act of jumping off of it, not the experience of reaching the bar.

The goal is to get you to move - to come to the realization that staying on that platform will never be better than jumping off.  And, that jump comes with some requirements. 

What it requires is for you to confront some things such as the fear of failure, of embarrassment, or of anxiety about an unknown future. What it requires is for you to let go of something, such as the need to always seem like you have it all put together and to know everything about everything.

 The Hebrew Bible talks about a 40-year period of being lost in the wilderness for the people called, “Israelites.”  The narrative is supposed to convey a sense of both irony and sadness as they just recently have escaped from a captivity of certainty in Egypt only to be thrown into the freedom of wandering in the desert.

The Israelites carried along something called “the Ark of the Covenant” - this big box that was supposed to contain the Ten Commandments and which symbolized the presence of God with the people. The Ark was mobile, not stationary.  It was meant to be carried around wherever the people were going.  And, while its contents were always hidden, it served a reminder that God was a constant companion with the people, moving them along towards their next destination.

Doubt is an opportunity

Today, we are deep into this period of transition into the Coronavirus Age.  It is an era without much certainty emotionally, economically, politically, socially, technologically and, of course, religiously.

What we have to realize is that doubt is the Ark of our times: it is a symbolic reminder that our sense of faith is fully functioning. Our dissatisfaction with the way things currently are is a signal that we must prepare to take action so that things can be different. What this should do is motivate us to keep going, to jump, never staying in one place, certainly not on that platform.

What we should see is that doubt is a neutral state from which we can either move and find out about something or stay in place and never know about anything at all.

Making the jump

After I failed to catch that bar and was slowly lowered to the ground via a pulley, I experienced something that I never had previously in my life: I wanted to volunteer to go first on the next stage.

 So, after everyone in my group had their turn on the platform, jumped, and came down, we moved on over to the next tree-top platform. This time, there was no jump.  It was a complex entanglement of ropes that you had to find a way to walk through and get to the other side. Enthusiastically, I climbed up the tree, made my way to the platform, and started walking across… until I got to an obstacle that I could not overcome and simply jumped off in failure.

Okay, so, I didn’t succeed in making it to the other side.  But, it didn’t matter.

What mattered then, and what still matters today, is that I tried - I still try - to jump, because doubt is just a state of transition: we are all in doubt until we find out.

Are you ready to jump into something (figuratively speaking)? Are you ready to move? Sharing your idea is the next step in naming your fear and moving past it. Maybe you can post your next step to social media? If you do, tag #rethinkchurch!

James J. Kang is the Director of Communications and Innovation of the California-Pacific Conference of The United Methodist Church, an alum of Claremont School of Theology, and a Co-Founder of the #OWNYOURSHIFT Campaign


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