Faith, doubt, life – Q&A with Kyle Cupp

Today it is an honor to be a stop on the blog tour for Living in Faith, Dwelling in Doubt (Loyola Press, 120 pp., $13.95), written by Kyle Cupp. I’m a longtime fan of Kyle’s work, which I first encountered on the blog Vox Nova, a few years back.

I did write a little about this book at the end of September, when I first read it – a not-review that was a sort of a review. Today I wanted to present this Q&A with the author – and here it is. Enjoy! And read this book, it is wonderful!

-2How and when did Living in Faith, Dwelling in Doubt become a book for you? Was it an idea for a book, or was it a series of notes and essays that became a book?
This may sound strange, but I don’t think it really became a book for me until after my editor, Vinita Hampton Wright, took the manuscript I’d given to Loyola Press, cut out about seven chapters, rearranged the whole thing, and returned the draft to me for my review. I’d composed the manuscript in more or less chronological order, but Vinita restructured it with the work’s core story and themes in mind. As I read through it, I finally felt that I was reading a book.

Initial work had begun after the publisher and senior acquisitions editor at Loyola Press encouraged me to submit a book proposal after reading some of my blogging about faith and doubt and the relationship between the two in my own life. This was September of 2011.

I had a lot of themes in mind as I began early drafts, but during the writing process and with the feedback from the editors at Loyola, I narrowed the scope of the book to three basic ideas: how my faith has thrived in various environments of uncertainty, how my daughter’s fatal birth defect taught me that love has no time constraints, and how my relationships with family and friends have all necessitated and nourished my faith.

What is your practice when you write? Do you write daily, at a specific time, or do you write when the Spirit moves you?
Most of my writing gets done after my son and daughter are in bed and I’ve had a few minutes to relax and maybe drink a little coffee. Late at night, in other words. Sometimes I’ll get on a roll first thing in the morning, a time that would be optimal for me if work and school and such weren’t demanding my punctuality. I keep telling myself that I should get up an hour earlier each morning and immediately hit the keyboard, but as usual I don’t listen to me.

Do you ever find roadblocks, writers block or children’s blocks getting in your way? If so, how do you deal with blocks?
Oh, yeah. The worst offender, though, is just exhaustion. At nine at night my natural inclination is to make some popcorn and chill with a book or television show on DVD. Once I start down that path, though, there’s no going back. I have to fight the urge when I first feel it. I lose as much as I win.

What do you do for fun?
Diagram sentences. Well, not so much anymore. Pity my children, Fran: they will know of my love of the diagrammed word all too soon and all too well. In the meantime, I enjoy the usual stuff: combing dense tomes of continental philosophy, building constructions with my son’s LEGO blocks (and keeping them in my room so he can’t break them), asking divisive questions on Facebook and watching the fireworks. I also play video games.

Name five people or things you are most grateful for.
My wife, my children, my church, my education, and my socks.

Of all the lay ministry experiences you have had, which one has shaped you the most?
I’m going to say the combination of working with couples in preparation for their marriage and working with individuals in pursuit of an annulment. I meet people in love, eager and excited to bond till death do them part; and I assist people whose marriages have left them broken. I’ve come to appreciate the importance of being with others where they live and recognizing that people’s lives rarely conform to my expectations or to abstract rules. Life is messy. Morality is messy too.

Can you name a person who inspires you and tell us why?
My wife Genece. She loves me as I am while encouraging me to be the best person I can be.

What is one thing that you have not done yet, but that you would like to do?
Write a YA novel. It’s next on the agenda.

If you  could go anywhere in the world that you wanted, where would you go? Why?
New Zealand. It looks magical just on photo and film.

What is the best part of having your book published and what is the worst part of the experience?
I’ll start with the worst: burn out. The book is relatively short, just a little over a hundred pages, but the final few weeks of composition and revision just took all desire to write out of me. I lost interest in blogging for a while and still haven’t gotten back to my old production level.

The best part of having a book published? That’s easy. I’ve wanted to be an author since high school. So. Dream. Come. True.

No doubt about it, a not-book-review

Living+by+Faith,+Dwelling+in+DoubtThis is no doubt in my mind that Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt by Kyle Cupp, (Loyola Press, 120pp, #13.95) is an excellent book.  This however, is not a book review – just a warning. The review will come soon.

In full disclosure, I have known Kyle online for a number of years. First from his posts at Vox Nova, which caught my eye and engaged my heart and mind. Later, we became Facebook friends and I began to follow his other blog. He’s a pretty smart guy; I can’t claim to always understand him, but I always want to read what he posts.

Back to the book. I get lots of books, which I am deeply grateful for. There are piles of them in the spare room, on tables in various other rooms of the house. Some live in my car for awhile, or I bring them to work. Publishers often send me a review copy, asking me to host a blog tour stop. This book did come to me in advance, in the form of a gift, but not as a review copy.  (Most of the books I receive are never reviewed.Sorry!)

But – this is not a book review!

So what the heck is this post about?  I am planning my unsolicited review of Kyle’s book, which will be pretty glowing. I just want to give you some advance warning! Plus I have not finished the book yet, so I can’t review it.

Fine, but why write this post today? Forget the advance warning, I really just want to tell you that this book about faith and doubt is, *ahem-clears throat*no doubt one of the best books I have read about my favorite co-existing topics of faith and doubt.

It’s a slim volume, why haven’t you finished it yet? Good question! I am reading Kyle’s book with painstaking slowness. I read a chapter or two, I pick it up a few days later,  reread a bit, and then add another chapter. Short does not mean the book should be rushed through.

How do we know the rest of us will like it? There is no certainty that the rest of you will like this book. In fact, there are elements that are going to make some people uncomfortable. It could be because Kyle speaks freely about the depth of his faith, the elements of doubt, and questions of certainty that will cause some to challenge what he writes about faith itself. Others will shrink back from some of the personal stories that Kyle shares, because they have the potential to make one uncomfortable.

Why would we read a book about faith that makes us uncomfortable? Aren’t books about faith, the Bible included, have the potential for discomfort? They should make us uncomfortable; if not, we might have a problem. Shouldn’t our faith journeys cause us discomfort?

Enough questions for today. The only thing that I can add – without a doubt – is that this is a compelling little volume and I hope that you read it.

The Beauty of Touch – A Guest Post by Karen Bond

This is a guest post written by Karen Bond. When she shared this with me earlier, I knew it had to go on the blog. Like Karen, I am one to touch things, even if it says “do not touch!” The other thing that struck me was how important a component doubt is as we discern and come to grow in faith. I hope you enjoy her words and imagery. And the reminder that we are an incarnate and tactile people.

-1I love when inspiration hits; a memory of something good; a phrase that sets my mind wandering and that happened in a wonderful way at today’s Mass.

Today was the Feast Day of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Thomas needed to see that Jesus had risen from the dead before he would believe it. It wasn’t because he didn’t trust his friends or Jesus’ word, but Thomas needed to touch him. How many of us does he represent?

When the priest described Thomas as touchy-feely and gave an example from his own life; of his three year old self touching a hot oven after his mother warned him not to, so many things in my mind came flooding to the front. We all have those moments.

This touchy-feely part of the sermon clicked and immediately I thought of my first trip to England and my visit to Warwick Castle.

I am a Doubting Thomas.

If you tell me the water’s too hot, I must put a finger under the tap.
I like to open cabinets and the drawers in the refrigerator, and in a museum, I am an absolute horror to bring along. If it doesn’t specifically say in big bold letters DO NOT TOUCH, it’s a safe bet that I will touch it. Granted, I have not ever climbed up onto a Revolutionary era cannon at The Smithsonian as I saw one young child do, but I have my other moments.

I’ve slid my fingers along the woven edges of medieval tapestries at The Cloisters.
If I’m in an art museum with a roped off masterpiece, I must run a finger along the velvet rope that keeps me from the painting itself.

I’ve touched the fire truck at The State Museum.

When I was visiting my close friends, often a touch on my shoulder relieved any anxiety that had been rising, a hand grabbed and squeezed in friendship elicited a smile, fingers brushing as a cup of tea was passed was a small hug.

Most recently In Wales, the only thing that kept me from rocking and weeping during the flight was my hand on my pocket frog, the cool Lucite against my palm, my thumb rubbing the same spot over and over again. I also liked to rest my hand against the cold stone of thousands years old castles and brickworks and abbey walls.

Touch is the most soothing thing when it’s wanted or when you least expect that you wanted it. I feel this at daily mass every day during the peace part of Mass. I’m a little lost when there is no one around me to shake my hand. That simple touch sets my whole day on a positive note.¬

In Warwick, though, we were able to take a tour of the castle, and we eventually came to a room with a large, stunning chest. We were told that this tower (known as the Ghost Tower) was known to have the ghost of Sir Faulk Greville who was murdered by his servant, and we should listen for it. I think we all chuckled nervously.

The chest was next to a locked door and yes, I turned the old knob. The door didn’t budge in case you were wondering.

As the tour group was heading into the next room, I touched the top of the carved chest. I looked around and tried to lift the lid.

It opened!

It opened quite easily. I was just about to peek inside when a voice began to speak.
I jumped at least ten feet, dropping the lid that fell noisily into its original closed place. I looked around the empty room and ran out after the tour group as fast as I could catch up.

When I met up with them, I realized that it was the tour guide on the other side of the door speaking at the exact moment I lifted the lid. Not quite the ghost I had just started believing in.

Touchy-feely is one of the more adventurous and a most beautiful part of human nature.

Taking a leap of doubt

doubtPoor doubt, I feel kind of sorry for it. Doubt takes such a beating in our culture, and I think that is rather unfortunate. Where would faith be, if not for doubt? Like night and day, like good and evil, like joy and sorrow… well, like so many other opposite points, the space between them is where all the real action is found. How can we so carelessly toss doubt aside, as if it negates everything? For me, the deepest anchors of faith are not dropped in surety and certitude, but deep in the ocean of doubt.

Is our faith more about making leaps of doubt, rather than leaps of faith alone? Can one exist without the other?

Somewhere around 2005 I heard a radio program on the topic of doubt and I was hooked on doubt as a topic to explore. “A History of Doubt” first aired on what was then called “Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett,” in 2003.  Tippett’s program, and now podcast, is know known as “On Being,” and  “A History of Doubt” continues to find an audience. The program features Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has made doubt a field of study and exploration.

Today’s Gospel, one of the most familiar, even to those who do not follow the Gospel, is about “doubting Thomas.”  When I was a kid, I used to think badly of Thomas. Was my point of view informed by my faith education? Probably. I don’t have any specific recollection of hearing this – or any other Gospel – as a child, but my “religious instruction” classes, I do remember. Please know that I was spared any “mean” priests or nuns, so none of this is couched in that. What I do remember is that we were instructed that is that doubt was the opposite of faith. It seemed reasonable enough to me, so I went along with it… when I was 10.

Today I have no such vision. What about you? I can only speak for myself when I say that my faith, something that is so real, so powerful, at the heart of my being, is infused with the on-going scent of doubt. Are you shocked or scandalized to hear this?

Not too long ago, I wrote about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, calling him a dangerous man. One of the images that I was holding at that point, was that of the certitude of some of the Pharisees who not only doubted Jesus, but who used that doubt to plot the death of Jesus.

This is one of the challenges of doubt, at least from where I am. Perhaps it is not doubt that comes first, but what comes first is a certain “knowing.” Doesn’t such certitude, such absolutism, say that there is little room for God?  What does such certainty do, when God in fact, can never conform to our limited capacity for knowing God?

So what does this have to do with today’s Gospel? Thomas certainly knew Jesus, didn’t he? But did Thomas know Christ? No – not until that moment of encounter. Go ahead, says Jesus, stick your hand in there, this is for real.

Crooked Kisses and Other WoundsHere is something that I have no doubt of… If Jesus were standing before me, I might faint before I stuck my hand inside of his wound! And perhaps this is where this Gospel leads us to…

What are we so sure of? Do we really love Jesus as much as we say that we do? I mean really, think about it… are you ready to thrust your hand deep into the wound of anyone, even those you love most? Isn’t that what Jesus is asking us to do?

imagesLoving Jesus with such hard-core certitude and thinking about how that smarty pants Thomas should have thought twice before questioning God is one thing. It would seem that another way of seeing this is that Thomas offers us a gift… Jesus asks us to enter into the wounds of all. I’m sorry, but that makes me queasy when I think of physical wounds, and overwhelmed when I think of all the other wounds, the ones we can’t see, but that are present in all of us. Thomas, seemingly undaunted, leads the way.

Suddenly certainty has dispersed like fog in the midday sun. We can be so “certain” of so many things, but can we place ourselves inside of the bloody wound? And how can we live Christian lives of sacrifice and service unless we do precisely that – literally and figuratively?

This is where Thomas leads me, and I am grateful to him, and to God, for bringing me to this place where I shrink back, recoiling perhaps in utter horror. Listen, I am VERY squeamish, the thought of such things sends me reeling. Now I can castigate myself for this, or I can see it as an invitation to change.

And is that not what our faith really is, our belief in the Risen Lord? This faith centers around a Triune God, always inviting us, always challenging us, but always welcoming us, to a kind of transformation. That transformation also means moving from doubt to faith, and the constant criss-cross of that territory, for the whole of our lives.

Doubt is nothing to be feared; I believe that doubt is to be befriended. In fact, maybe what we are called to are not only “leaps of faith,” but also of the aforementioned, “leaps of doubt.” Doubt can act as our greatest guide, the very force that leads us into the wounds of Christ and the on-going transformation that follows.  I never doubt that is the way of the Lord, and I never doubt how hard it is to follow and believe in God, living as a Christian. This is no one-time decision, made in certitude and lived in certitude; it is an invitation into the mystery of our faith, a life lived in Christ Jesus.  To do that we must follow and follow and follow…

search_of_certainty1Every day, in one fashion or another, propelled by my doubts, I seek to live more deeply in my faith.  Yes, a good leap of doubt, taken with a heart of faith, can bring us, like it brought Thomas, closer to the Lord, without a doubt.

Pope Francis, a dangerous man

482845_10200697918798828_1560242012_nPope Francis continues to amaze us, but I believe him to be a dangerous man.  Many people, myself included, can’t quite take it all in. Is this for real? God forgive my doubt, but a part of me keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop… and I pray that it is not a red shoe. How I prefer his worn, black shoes; the shoes of a man who has actually walked.

He is a dangerous man, but I will get to that in a few minutes. This dangerous man has captured my heart indeed.

Today I walked my dog, praying this over and over in my head and heart, “Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief!” This is a twist on the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, verses 23 and 24, which say:

Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Faith. Belief. Such things do not come easily or cheaply. Oh, trust me – I do believe. But sometimes it is hard to truly, deeply believe. Like right now. It is eerily like falling in love; it feels great, but you know you will get hurt at some point.

That is when it hit me – we have to put our hearts out. We have to take the risk. That is what faith and belief demand from us. That is what Jesus asks of us, all the time.

Back to Pope Francis. Today he gave an audience to the media, in which he said and did really amazing things.

Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief.

Here is a snippet of video in which we hear the Holy Father speak about how and why he chose his name.

He is a dangerous man, indeed. And for that I am grateful. If Satan is the divider, Satan has had a great, great run. So how then is Pope Francis a dangerous man?

What could possibly be more dangerous than to have the Bishop of Rome who might unite us? Very little, if you ask me. And that is an amazing thing.

How we all like to run off to our little groups, like a bunch of bitter Pharisees plotting, sneering at “the other,” and trying to exclude. And how this Holy Father might be more like Jesus, kindly finding ways to speak to all of us.

Lord, I believe. Help my disbelief. Stay dangerous, unite us – please.