Three of my uncles are ministers, pastors, preachers. Sometimes I get muddy on the details of their exact titles, so I loosely refer to them as “men of the cloth.” Today I had the pleasure of hearing my uncle, a Methodist minister, give his Sunday sermon at a welcoming church on the outskirts of Seattle. His sermon was thought-provoking and unusual in its delivery – interspersing YouTube clips and footage from one of the Indiana Jones movies to illustrate his point about the difference between “faith” and “belief.” Belief, as I understood his message, is more passive. He pointed out how faith can be misconstrued as a noun, but he challenged his congregation to view it as a verb. Action. Active. Motion. Moving. Compelling.
After the service, I experienced my first-ever Applebee’s. Over sweating glasses of Diet Coke and a mug of cold coffee, we spoke of the past. I learned of my aunt sitting bedside on a death watch when my grandfather took his last breath. I remember few details surrounding that week, but I’ll never forget the excruciating and embarrassing car ride to his funeral after drinking over a dozen beverages at my 21st birthday the night before.
Six months later, my aunt suffered the pain of a second watch. This time it was for her mother’s unexpected and swift decline. As her siblings scrambled to join my aunt bedside, she recalled holding up the phone to her mother’s ear so one of her sons, stuck in traffic, could speak his final words in her ear and listen as she exhaled a final time. Tears came to my eyes as I imagined my uncle, caught between Bellingham and Tacoma – unable to reach his mother in her dying moment; experiencing her via phone, during one of life’s most crushing moments, surrounded by strangers in cars. People who were probably frustrated for other silly reasons in that same moment, but none that carried such weight.
Sympathizing with his long-ago pain, our conversation turned to my own long-ago, familial pains that started out small, like flint ineffectually striking stone, but over the decades continued in a slow burn that metastiszed into a comfortable fire. We talked through our perspectives and misunderstandings. When I processed our conversation on my drive home, it occurred to me that the past and beliefs about the past are indeed passive and it’s better to have difficult conversations and move forward in faith. Faith for a better familial future and reparations of the petty beliefs from a past that will, thankfully, never be reclaimed.
Yes, faith is a verb. And as with exercise and stretching new muscles, it’s painful at times. But I have faith the effort is worth the uncomfortable, yet redemptive experience of a long-awaited reckoning.