doubt & faith: new ways for old words

i’m a little behind these days, but what’s new? we are in the thick of things around here, with jose juggling the start-up of a 2 year department of justice grant to serve women victims of violence in denver (so exciting but a ton of work) & our kiddos all growing up and going to and fro (my oldest just accepted into the naval academy next year, that’s where jose went for college) & typical refuge and basic kathy nuttiness.  i am so sad that i missed christianity 21 in the midst. it sounded like an amazing event, with an incredible amount of wisdom & hope for the future passed on in all kinds of amazing ways.  this blog has been in my head for a week now so it’ll be good to finally get it up here.   i only have 2 more posts in this short series on doubt & faith, as we are wrapping up our saturday refuge conversations this week.  i have appreciated the focus this season & our wednesday house of refuge has been exploring tricky faith journey topics, too, so i’m getting it from all angles.

2 saturdays ago my friend karl opened with this video from recycle your faith & facilitated a conversation centered around this passage in james 2:14-20

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?  So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.  Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

when you read it, what are some feelings that you have?  we had a wide range of responses ranging from initial feelings of shame & guilt for “not doing enough” to motivated encouraged ones that we have a responsibility as christians to actually live out our faith in a tangible way & that’s how our faith increases.  in these moments of honest Bible reflection, i am always reminded how sad it is that the Bible has become distorted for so many.  in all kinds of wacky ways it has been used as a tool of shame instead of encouragement & movement.   i believe one of the tasks of “the church” moving forward is to really re-claim the beauty & mystery & challenge of the Bible without setting people up for the “i suck & can never pull this off” mentality that i believe is terribly pervasive & often paralyzing.

in fleshing out the idea of an active faith, one of the thing that really jumped out is how we often have an unrealistic view of some simple things God calls us to. we often associate “belief” with “faith” and assume that if we believe the right things that somehow we have faith; most of you reading this probably have already let go of that idea & understand how believing the “right” things didn’t end up amounting to the kind of wild & adventurous & transformational life Jesus radically calls us to.

yeah, i feel more clear than ever that faith is cultivated by action, not just beliefs.

in our conversation, we touched up on three important words:  trust.  courage.  obey.

good words.  challenging words.  and words that for some of us who might be wrestling with issues of faith might make us cringe a bit because they have been so over-used in ways that caused us to question our faith.  most of us have probably felt (or currently feel) that somehow we don’t have enough trust, courage, or obedience.  so we doubt ourselves & God & sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time trying to grind down and figure it out in ways that are in our heads and not our hearts, our feet, our hands.

when you hear these words–trust, courage, obedience,  what comes to mind for you?

i know for me, i always used to think of big unwavering trust.  huge bold-move courage. first-time obedience (all you former “growing kids God’s way-ers”will smile at that one).  and often because we don’t have big trust, huge courage, and first-time obedience, we end up kind of stuck, paralyzed, mad at ourselves-for-not-having-faith-like-we-probably-should & doubting our ability (or God’s) to change.   a lot of our examples in the Bible can make it even worse, primarily because of the ways that we’ve been taught in sunday school & other church-y venues about what trust, courage, and obedience supposedly looks like (it’s usually big).

part of what’s shifting in me over these past years is unhooking “belief” from “faith.” i have stopped being so hard on myself for not trusting enough, being courageous enough, or obeying enough–whatever that’s supposed to mean.  instead i am trying to learn to step toward an active, risky, often-unclear faith that requires a crazy & beautiful but not-so-big-it’s-completely-overwhelming-and-in-fact-sometimes-it’s-smaller-than-a-mustard-seed amount of trust, courage & obedience that is little by little reflected in my actions & the ways i move toward love.

i believe in grace through and through, but i also believe that our faith is increased when we put our butts on the line in real, active, scary, tangible relationship with God & other people in small ways. when we step out and act on a stirring that God has put on our heart.   when we offer a cup of cold water to someone who’s hungry & thirsty.  when we receive a cup of cold water from someone who knows we are, too.  when we offer forgiveness–even for just that day–although every part of us screams “no way, i can’t.”    when we show up instead of hide.  when we quit being so passive and focused on our own “personal & intimate relationship with Jesus” and start thinking about God’s wild & crazy relationship with the world and how we can offer love, mercy & justice in all kinds of little practical ways on his behalf.

faith does require trust, courage, and obedience.  these words don’t scare me as much as they used to.  i want more of all three in my life, but i am recognizing that the only thing i can hope for is a little more for today & not worry so much about tomorrow.   i read this quote from mary anne radmacher last week: “courage doesn’t always roar. sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says i’ll try again tomorrow.”

what is so fun for me right now on my journey is everywhere i look i see people who are practicing these three things in different ways that would usually never, ever “count” in many more conservative christian circles as real trust, real courage, and real obedience because so many of the “right words” or “right beliefs” or even typical “right actions” aren’t associated with them.  but one thing i’m sure of:  their faith is not dead & they are helping mine come more alive. they increase my desire to trust God’s big story, to be more courageous and move instead of stay still, to do hard things i don’t really want to do but will be good for me in the end.

i always love to hear some of your thoughts & reactions.

  • in your faith/doubt journey right now, how are you finding new meaning for these words?

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • In the past trust in God has always been something I had to figure out how to create with my sheer will.

    Now in these days, on this journey, I know I can’t trust. I want to be one of those people that wakes up every morning and says “Good morning Lord, I love you and look forward to the day with you.” But honestly, my day begins with asking God to help me lay down my armor, and let Him in. My morning prayer is that the whiny little brat in me that wants to hurl my bible against the wall and find legitimate reasons not to trust, will be overcome by God.
    For me, I trust when I choose to lay my armor down. And that is a daily ritual.

  • It appears that we are writing about similar things at similar times. Definitely adding your site to my google reader.

    One of the theology professors at my former alma mater recently reminded that we are all in the place we are now, and that we can be in no other places. We can’t “Four steps of faith” or “Five thoughts to a happy life” will our way out of where we are. I think of “The Dude” in “The Big Lebowski” (a very Christian movie, imo), and where “the dude abides” simply because he can do no other.

    This shouldn’t inspire apathy, but just the opposite, to truly live where we are, whether faithful or faithless, and ask the God of all mercy to have mercy on us.

  • i had an additional thought since saturday nights conversation that is often heard in my recovery program: recovery is not about what happens in your head, but what happens with your feet.
    the idea being that we can process, think, even pray and that is all good, but the real change comes when my feet drag me to a meeting, or into service for someone, or to the phone to make a call.

    like danny, i crave mercy, and that is empowering.

  • Kathy,

    I’ve been searching for a way to express the brushy path of belief God has led me through in the last few years. You said it perfectly: “i believe one of the tasks of “the church” moving forward is to really re-claim the beauty & mystery & challenge of the Bible without setting people up for the “i suck & can never pull this off” mentality that i believe is terribly pervasive & often paralyzing.”

    For me, trust has meant following God in the opposite direction of where I thought I should go. Three years ago, I quit my job in a bold “Here I Am, Send Me!” kind of way. I sincerely wanted to make myself available for God’s good works. And you know where we headed? Inside me. I remember saying, “No God, you’ve got it wrong. You’re releasing me. We’re not going out. We’re going in.” See my blog, “Crossroads” at for more blasphemous conversations with God.

    Obviously, my Lord knew more of what I needed than I did. So, for me, courage has meant believing in this journey — even though everything in me screams “You should be concentrating on others and not spending so much time looking at yourself.” Yet, God has not moved me from this path. He wants me to learn to love me before I can unconditionally love others. And, this has been the scariest, most narrow way I’ve ever gone as a Christian.

    Which calls upon my obedience: believing in God’s instruction to remain, to learn to love myself, and to see how my softened heart can reclaim the abundant love too-long hidden amidst the verses in the Bible.

    Thanks for asking so many juicy questions.

  • mary – oh that is such a beautiful and real image. i so get it. letting God in is definitely not my reflex.

    danny – great to hear from you. sorry i am behind on responding to comments, but i really appreciate you stopping by and adding your perspectives. i haven’t seen the big lebowski, but i have heard it is really good. i will have to add that to our queue. hope to hear from you again. yes, please, mercy!

    karl – oh i love that thought. it is so true, isn’t it. we think it’s supposed to be in our head but really it happens through our feet..thanks for sharing & for a great evening together with lots of lingering thoughts.

    shelby – great to hear from you, it’s been a while. i appreciate your sharing a bit of your journey & what these 3 words look like for you in action. lovely. i am glad you like the juicy questions!


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