Chris’ blog – April 2021

What is faith?

by Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life

April 2021 — What is faith? I have heard faith described as “believing things you don’t really believe.” I’ve also heard faith defined as “believing things you cannot ultimately prove.” I like the latter better than the former. Still, it misses a bit of the point of faith to me. It seems to me faith is not primarily about believing beliefs. Beliefs matter. By this I mean core beliefs. Beliefs that relate to ultimate meeting and our relationships with God, creation, each other, and our selves. Still, faith is more than belief — it is about actions. It is about investing ourselves, being vulnerable, and taking risks. Faith is not a passive act of believing beliefs but a courageous act of risking ourselves based on those beliefs.

One day, when I was a pastor, I was visiting someone in his office. He was a collector of antiques and he invited me to sit down on this flimsy looking antique chair. I was honestly not sure whether or not it would support my weight. I considered just hovering over it and not putting my full weight on the chair. However, that was impossible since the chair had no arms, and I did not want to spend the whole meeting looking like I was sitting on the toilet. So I took a leap of faith and sat down. Thankfully, the chair did support me. This story is both an example of simple faith and a metaphor for all acts of faith.

Sitting on ancient chairs is easy compared with other leaps of faith in my life. One of the biggest leaps of faith that I ever made felt more to me like an abandonment of faith at the time. It came right on time. I was in my first year of college when another campus ministry invited our campus ministry to participate in a discussion about creation and evolution. We agreed to a discussion. However, what they had planned was more of a lecture.

I can sum up the whole presentation in three sentences:

  • The Genesis creation story is scientifically accurate and historically true.
  • If you believe in evolutionary theory you cannot be a Christian.
  • We have biblically accurate dinosaur coloring books for sale at the table in the back.

I remember thinking to myself, “This is not science! This is The Flintstones! If this is where taking the Bible seriously is going to lead me, then I cannot be a Christian! Wait a minute! Why should I believe ANYTHING anyone taught me in church?”

I began questioning everything I had ever believed about God, Jesus, and my United Methodist Christian tradition. I also questioned every religious experience I’d ever had. I believed it was entirely possible, and most likely probable, that my religious experiences were just a combination of wishful thinking and emotion.

It was a gut wrenching experience. However, I was determined that I was not going to trust the full weight of my life on anything that could not stand up to my most rigorous questions. Just like that antique chair, I figured my Christian tradition, rooted in an unscientific world-view would crumble beneath the weight of my reason and I did not know where that would leave me. My whole world view and my most significant relationships were rooted in my church culture. However, I wanted to know the truth, even if it meant discarding my whole belief system.

Since this leap of faith, I have let go of some beliefs. Other beliefs I hold more loosely. Still, most of my core beliefs remain and I can tell you why I hold them and why I believe them to be rational and compelling. However, the truth that I found was not quite the truth I was seeking.

The truth I was seeking was a knock down drag out argument for the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, and the loving, forgiving nature of God. What I discovered was that faith, by its very definition, can never have the kind of lock-down drag-out kind of proof I wanted. However, most of what makes life good and meaningful is a matter of faith and not ultimately testable and provable. I began to see that there is no life without faith even If I did let go of my belief in God. I also learned that the core beliefs of my United Methodist Christian tradition actually did take seriously the integration of science, reason, and experience. In taking the leap of faith to challenge my tradition I discovered an intellectual rigor to my tradition that I did not know was there. It welcomed and was even able to engage my most challenging questions. This allowed me to be more open to the possibility that my spiritual experiences were more than just wishful thinking and emotion. Of course, they could be. But that is the nature of faith and I am ok with that now.

I hesitate to say this because it seems that when I feel at peace with my beliefs is also when I have an experience that challenges me to grow once more. Still, there is a difference in me now. I just don’t get as worked up about it as I once did. I now have more perspective and, I dare say even faith, in the midst of my doubt. I’m not sure I even understand what I mean when I say this. However, let me share how I have experienced it.

I remember one morning, while in seminary, thinking to myself. “I’m not sure I really believe in God today.” Then I chuckled when I sensed God saying to me. “That’s OK Chris, I still believe in you.” and I went on with my day as usual. My freshman college “me” would not have found this compelling at all. . . but it is so very compelling to me now.

Back to my original point. Core beliefs matter but they are not the same as faith. Faith happens when I invest in and risk are when I am vulnerable based on my core beliefs. Faith is not a noun, it is a verb. Faith is not something we have. Faith is something we do, exercise, and practice. It always involves risk and it always involves vulnerability.

Dr. Brené Brown is an expert on courage and vulnerability. She is very quick to correct people when they say “I understand what you are saying, if I am vulnerable and live courageously, I might fail.”

“No,” she says, “I am saying if you are committed to a life of courage it will require you to be vulnerable and if you consistently live this way, you WILL fail many times.” While I know I am paraphrasing a bit, this is the spirit of her words and she is talking about the life of faith.

Since I was a young child I have sought to live prayerfully. As I have grown I have tried not to make decisions based on fear and have tried to listen and respond to what I believe the spirit of God is guiding me to be and do. However, things do not always work out. I have lost a job, I have lost money, I have lost friends, I have made mistakes, and, I have been an ass at times when I thought I was being faithful or prophetic. Faith has not always protected me from pain and loss, even when I have been prayerful and courageous. Still, living prayerfully and courageously has often helped me sense and avoid danger, endure pain and difficulty, and drawn me into life-giving relationships and experiences. I believe that most of what is best about me has come from big and small acts of faith.

If you have taken enough time to read this far then my guess is that you are somewhere on an intentional journey of faith. My question is “Who is on this journey with you?” Churches synagogues, mosques, temples, and other communities of faith can often be these kinds of communities. However, I find that we also need communities within and outside of these communities. We need a smaller circle of people with whom we can develop deep trust.

If you are looking for this kind of community, one option is the PrairieFire community at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. It has been a place where many people have discovered and rediscovered genuine courageous faith. If you’ve read this far, perhaps you might want to learn more about our next two-year community that begins this fall? Make no mistake, it will cost you something. You will not come out of the experience the same as you entered. However, I believe you will find that change a welcome one. If you would like to know more about this community of courageous faith please go to

Your partner in hope and healing.


Chris’ blog – March 2021

Anxiety Amped Up to “Eleven”

by Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life

(March 2021) I thought he was about to hit me! His face was red. His voice was loud. He was invading my personal space. The veins in his neck were even popping out! He said it was because I did not use the pronoun “He” when I talked about God in worship. When I suggested, perhaps I could use both “He” and “She” I thought his head would explode! I decided to refrain from sharing my strong belief that God did not have genitalia.

Still, under mental, emotional, physical, relational, or existential stress, I can feel attacked, insecure, or frightened by other’s anxiety. Today, not so much. Partly because the more I know, the more I am aware of what I do not know. But more importantly, I have learned that people rarely hear me when I come at them emotionally. I know that this is true, because it is also true for me. When people come at me, my natural response is to go into self-defense mode. Fight, flight, or freeze! I was definitely in fight mode in the encounter I just mentioned.

This was not a private encounter. It happened in front of others in the church. I wanted to show folks I could take this guy on, that I could “beat him” and “win” the argument. I did stay calm, and that was good. Still, knowing what I know today, I would have approached him differently. I would not have argued. I would have not explained. I would not have tried to defend myself. I would have done my best to keep calm, stand straight, and let him say everything he wanted to say. I would have clarified that I understood what he was saying as well as the emotion behind it. I would have thanked him for trusting me with his perspective and his feelings. My goal would not have been winning the argument or changing him in any way. My goal would have been modeling to him and to those who are watching a healthy way of engaging with him.
I do not like it when someone gets upset over some little thing and loses all sense of perspective. But do you know what bothers me even more? . . . I know there are times in my life (even this year) that this has been me. I do not like to admit it, but it is true.

I believe I have grown. I believe I am getting better at catching myself and being aware when I feel cornered, attacked, threatened, overwhelmed, or just tired. Still, under mental, emotional, physical, relational, or existential stress, I can, feel attacked, insecure, or frightened by other’s anxiety. I stop listening and feel the need to “defend myself.” My emotional energy goes from being “with” others to trying to “push” others. I might want to push them away or I might want to push then toward something I want them to do or believe. Of course, they usually say “Oh, thank you for pointing out how wrong I am. I just needed you to get angry for me to see your point. I will change now.” . . . no, of course they don’t.

There is a scene in the mocumentary “This is Spinal Tap” where guitarist, Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) is showing director Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) his custom stage amplifiers that “go to eleven.”

MARTY: Does that mean it’s…louder? Is it any louder?

NIGEL: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most…most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here…all the way up…all the way up….

MARTY: Yeah….

NIGEL: …all the way up. You’re on ten on your guitar…where can you go from there? Where?

MARTY: I don’t know….

NIGEL: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is if we need that extra.. push over the cliff…you know what we do?

MARTY: Put it up to eleven.

NIGEL: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

MARTY: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top… number… and make that a little louder?


NIGEL: These go to eleven.

If you need a laugh, here is a link to the clip:

There is a part of me that thinks if I just invest a little more emotional energy, if I just turn it up to “eleven,” I can push you, change you, or even negate you. That’s just silly.

Still, “eleven” is that setting right now in many congregations and a great deal of that anxiety is being focused on clergy. Sometimes it is expressed as anxiety over specific issues or policies. Sometimes it is less direct and expressed as scapegoating of the clergy. Clergy even feel it coming from those who they believe should “have their backs” such as congregational or denominational leaders and even their own family members.

If you are clergy or a congregational leader and you are feeling like you are caught in the crossfire right now, you are not alone.

I also have some good news for you. There are things you can learn and techniques you can practice that will help. None of them require you to change anyone but yourself and none of them require you to crank your amp up to “eleven.”

If you would like to learn more, I invite you to join me for a live webinar: “Leadership in 2021: Ministry Under the Shadow of a Pandemic” with Rev. Bill Selby 9:30 -11:30 a.m. Central time. Cost is only $25 and anyone in the USA may register and attend. For more information or to register please visit:

Your partner in hope and healing.


The Scandal of Particularity    

I can still remember the first lecture of the first class I ever took at Duke Divinity School.  Dr. Geoffrey Wainwright, In a very proper and professorial British accent lectured on “the scandal of particularity.”

You might ask, “What is ‘the scandal of particularity?’”. . . go on. . . ask. . . please. . .


(sigh). . . no one ever asks.

Well, Dr. Wainwright and I would like you to know anyway. “The scandal of particularity” is all of the messy challenges that come about when followers of Jesus say that the God of all creation, “The Ground and Source of all Being,” was also somehow mysteriously embodied in a vulnerable baby who pooped his diapers.

Ok, it is a bit more complicated than this, but this is one of the most “scandalous” parts and this is the time of the year when followers of Jesus begin to tell this first story in the first chapter of The Scandal of Particularity.

There are some other good parts too. There are lots of parts where Jesus pisses off good church people by saying the people they thought were doomed to Hell were going to be first in heaven.  There are parts where people who think they don’t matter and have very little power become center stage and examples of great love.  There is a very sad part where Jesus, after pissing off too many politically powerful people, because of all of that stuff I just talked about, is executed as a violent revolutionary.  Then, his inner circle of followers loses all hope and run for their lives.  Until, in the midst of their fear he returns to them in a new kind of body in some new and mysterious way giving them the courage to risk their lives as the “scandal of particularity” somehow, mysteriously lives and continues in them.

Why am I telling you this?  Because I am a part of this “scandal of particularity.” I am a follower of Jesus. I was baptized and raised in a United Methodist Church in South Mississippi. I have been loved and shaped by people from this tradition and those experiences have shaped me in profoundly positive and meaningful ways. None of these experiences or relationships are general.  They are all particular.  This is who I am, and I cannot talk about “faith” “meaning” “love” or “spirituality” without this particularity being a part of that conversation. Even if I do not explicitly say it, this particularity is there.

I believe that at the heart of all of the mysterious, yet very real, experience of spirituality is deep relationship.  I also believe everyone is spiritual, whether or not they choose to use that language or not.  To grow spiritually is to grow in relationship.

Growing in relationship is inherently a practice of vulnerability.  I only have one honest self to offer you and, if it is an honest self, it is also a “particular” self. If you reject it I do not have another authentic self to offer you.

I also know that my particular tradition of faith is not perfect.  Christians, including me, do not and have not always acted like Jesus.  Worse yet, sometimes we have not even recognized and repented of it. Sadly, I and others in my faith tradition, have sometimes turned “the scandal of particularity” into “the scandal of exclusion”.

However, “The scandal of particularity,” is really about God’s inclusion of all people. It begins with a story of angels proclaiming Good News to “all people” and a story of Persian astrologers welcomed into the home of the holy family as some of their first guests.  There is no indication that they ever changed their religion before or after returning home.

I deeply value my particular experience in the United Methodist Church. I believe God was and is at work in if for good in me and in the world.  However, Jesus did not invite people to become “United Methodists” or even “Christians” he invited people to become beautifully human.  The first followers of Jesus were simply called followers of “The Way.”

You and I each have our own “scandal of particularity”. We all come from and speak from a particular experience of faith. Maybe yours has a formal name, worldview, and rituals.  Maybe it does not. Maybe you are still trying to figure out your own relationship with your religious tradition. Maybe you have no desire to be a part of a formal religious tradition.  Maybe you do not believe in God.

Still you, like me, live by faith. You, like me, live as if some things are more true and more real than others. You, like me, are more than just the sum of your biological parts, and you, like me, cannot ultimately test or prove the kind of things that give life its ultimate meaning. We are all a part of the same mystery of being. However, we all live in this mystery in “particular” ways.  While we may be able to talk about spirituality “in general,” we all live into our spirituality “in particular.”

I get very bored with conversations about spirituality in general.  Of course, if I have to choose between religious strife and religious tolerance, I will choose tolerance every time. However, I believe most of us long for something much more meaningful.

In my own experience, the kinds of conversations that have most transformed me in life giving ways, are those in which someone has trusted me with their own “scandal of particularity” while also allowing me to share my own. These are always sacred conversations and I often leave such conversations with a deeper since of connection and care for that person.

As Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, I want to foster such conversations. I also want to model this in my own conversations with others. This blog is one such conversation. Often I will be speaking from my own particular religious tradition. As I mentioned earlier, even if I do not specifically allude to it, I am sure it will be there.  It is a fundamental part of what makes me who I am.          I find this tradition rational, inspiring, and compelling. It is the best way I know to become the person I was created to be.

At the same time, I expect that anyone who has thoughtfully chosen another worldview or religious tradition, has also done so for similar reasons. So, we all have our own “scandal of particularity.”  Because of this we often try to avoid the topic of religion. We may fear that the conversation will end in argument and division and, sometimes, it does.  However, I have found that when there is trust and respect and the goal is understanding and not to “convert,” some of the most sacred conversations that I have ever had have happened when someone has trusted me with their own “scandal of particularity” and also given me the gift of understanding mine.

Your partner in hope and healing,


To read more of Chris Waddle’s blogs, click HERE.

Chris’ Blog

Chris Waddle, M.Div.

“I believe that the essence of spirituality is rooted in ever growing loving relationships with God, others, creation, and our best selves.  As the Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, he helps leaders, communities, and individuals from all walks of life and religious beliefs nurture these significant relationships. Chris believes nurturing these relationships involves faith, vulnerability, wonder, and playfulness.”


Pastoral Care for the Generalist – June 2021

Putting Down the Pushers – May 2021

What is faith? – April 2021

Anxiety amped up to eleven – March 2021

Whatever the Question, the Answer is Grace – February 2021

Self Care, Sanctuaries, and Playgrounds – January 2021

The Scandal of Particularity – December 2020

No money? No insurance? No problem.  We can help! – November 2020