Of all the confusing words in religion, “faith” is the one that frustrates me the most. I would wager my little brother that the word is used by Christians more than any other (save “God,” “Jesus,” possibly “Amen.”), but its actual definition is one that most Christians would be hard-pressed to identify. I can picture it now: Jay Leno takes his camera crew into the churches of America and asks them to define “faith,” this word they use so often, and they stutter and stammer and are embarrassed and the men in Jay’s audience bellow with laughter and the women chuckle and the Christians cringe but are good natured about it, thinking they could do better if they had to. If caught by Jay Leno, I wouldn’t do a better job. I have only vague ideas about the meaning of the word itself. I know it is what Christians prefer to use these days instead of the word “religion.” I know we are taught to have it and keep a tight hold on it. I know it is similar to optimism, and people use it to cope with death and sickness and failures. At its worst, it is pitted against science and philosophy in books titled things like “Keeping your Faith in College” and “Science and Faith: None Can Live While The Other Survives.” But lately, I’ve been trying to look past the worst of Christianity to the best. Because even though the worst is easy to yell about, the best is full of life and beauty and real love. And I found out from a year of yelling that hopelessness makes for okay literature and bad poetry and real, scary meaningless depression in my actual life. So I’m giving the best a try, and changing the channel really quickly from the televangelists.
I have a lot of problems with traditional Christianity. I’m a feminist who loves gay people and liberal politics and I’ve got some issues with authority. I was a communist once. I’m fairly sure there are places in this world where those things and Christianity go together, but Midwestern America is not one of them. The more I’m reading books by Christian hippies though (Rob Bell, Anne Lamott, Rachel Held Evans), the more I feel like the church could actually be a place where I belong. I tried to be an atheist for a little bit last year, but I’m too scared of death. I had to put a little faith into my understanding of this world to sustain the hope that death doesn’t mean death. That this world isn’t all there is. I’m still hesitant to call myself a Christian, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it, but Christians are looking less and less like women-hating science-deniers and more like protest-going-gender-including-beer-drinking real people that I want to be around. If that sounds like a compliment to you, you’re welcome.
The thing is, as much as I really want to be a Christian sometimes, there are some major roadblocks that I can’t completely get past with my own will power. I’m not going to get into them; you can probably imagine what they are based on the information about myself I’ve already given you. Other religions are a big part of this barricade too, along with the concept of exclusive salvation and biblical authority. The point is that as hard as I try, I just can’t quite sign up for this thing completely. As liberal a church as I choose to attend, I probably can’t ever comply with a Christian creed without lying a little. I want to though, and I think that counts.
Mark tells the story of the father who brings his son to be healed by Jesus. Jesus tells him that all things can be done for those who believe. The father is frantic; you can feel his anxiety. “I believe; help my unbelief!” It’s like he’s trying to slip a half-lie to Jesus at first, convincing him of something he didn’t know himself. But I have a feeling Jesus would be a hard person to lie to. I’m imagining him looking up in the middle of the father’s sentence, piercing him with the love and truth in his eyes. The father knew he needed this miraculous healing power, and he trusted Jesus not to freak out about his confession of doubt. Of course, he didn’t. He healed the kid. So I guess that’s where I am. I want to believe, God, help my unbelief. Heal whatever in my life needs to be healed to take my roadblocks away. The ball’s in your court, and I trust you to be the baller I hope you are. 
I like the book of John because he’s different and he strikes me as kind of a hippie with all of his love talk. He writes about Thomas after Jesus’s resurrection. All my life, I wondered why people kept naming their kids Thomas. The guy gets such a bad rap from tradition. “Doubting Thomas” had to see in order to believe. “Faith,” according to Saint Augustine, is to believe what you do not see. Thomas didn’t believe, or couldn’t. He saw Jesus die. He wasn’t meeting with the other disciples, waiting and hoping after Jesus died, he was off doing who-knows-what, moving on with his life and probably grieving the loss of the last three years. I like Thomas and I don’t think he’s the villain or the fool in this story. He needed more than what he got in order to change his life and his thinking, and he was still waiting for it when Jesus came to him. The thing about this story that I think is often ignored is Jesus’s reaction. Jesus doesn’t scorn Thomas and make him sit by while he rewards the other disciples that showed more faith. He meets Thomas in his doubt and he proves himself in exactly the way Thomas asks. In my head, Thomas looked up at the God he thought he knew and said, “God, the ball’s in your court. I don’t know what you’re doing here, and I’m really having some problems with everything you just let us go through. I miss my friends but I’m not an idiot. I can’t just keep pretending I believe this when I don’t. If you really need me, you know me better than I do. Do whatever you’ve got to do.” This, I think, is courage. And that’s why I think people still name their kids Thomas. The guy was real, and whether we want to admit it or not, everyone is going to have moments where they either talk to God about their doubt or lie to God about their doubt. My campus pastor told me that God is always going to be more okay with our doubt than Christians are, and I trust God to be stronger than Christians and stronger than my doubt. So if that’s faith, I guess I’ve got a little of it.
 Given to me by a well-meaning relative after I described to her the fun I had during my school’s Harry Potter Week.
 I completely made that last one up, but it sounds realistic doesn’t it? Like something that was written in 1989 that was found on a bookshelf of a Sunday school room in a small-town Lutheran Church in Iowa? The cover would maybe have a monkey-looking human holding a bible with a confused look on its face? If I ever lost steam on my current career path, I may find success writing polemical evangelical pamphlets for church foyers. Ironically my made-up title contains a Harry Potter reference.
 I think; I hope.
 I watched that movie “The Motorcycle Diaries” with Gael Garcia Bernal.
 Mark 9:24
 Still trying to wrap my head around the exact sports situation that metaphor implies. Like, is he on the other team? Or my team? Why is he in a different court than me? I only played one year of 5th grade basketball but I have a friend who’s pretty good at it so I figured I’m qualified to use the metaphor. I play tennis but I’m not that good. Wait, is this a tennis metaphor? Like the ball’s in my court, I’m going to serve it to you? Or something? The whole big green area is called a court, though, I think. I’m going to leave all of that alone, someone just call me and tell me. Baseball season’s coming up, Go Cubs Go! The word “baller”‘s still cool right? I heard a guy say it yesterday, it sounded cool.
 John 20:24, NRSV