Example #45 Literature and Faith

What if studying a novel included looking at faith journeys?

Della taught English and wanted to include exploring faith journeys as part of the development of character where it was appropriate to a text.

"We did lots of work on character but I felt that a character's faith did not get the same degree of attention as other aspects. I think this is partly due to the way society views faith and partly the students' own lack of understanding of the different ways in which a person’s faith may form and develop; they tended to think only in terms of belief and unbelief; you either have faith or you don't.

"I asked students to trace their own faith journeys privately. I did a presentation about the way faith can form and change. I wanted a more formal style and less interaction as many of my students feel threatened talking about their faith (or lack of it) openly. I asked students to relate what they were learning to their own experience as the lesson progressed. Students did this privately but could ask questions throughout the presentation.

"We then developed a tool together that consisted of a range of questions that allowed us to interrogate a text concerning a character’s faith journey. The questions allowed for much more subtlety that our past discussions of characters' faith had showed, for example:

  • What factors in the faith community work for/against the character’s faith?
  • What factors in the wider community work for/against this person’s faith?
  • What changes in faith do you see across the text?
  • What crises in faith are there? What causes them?
  • What faithful living can you see?"

What’s going on here?

Della saw her English lesson as a place to explore faith as a crucial element of being human and to raise big questions.

She engaged students in relating the content of a presentation to their own experience, developing questions to bring to a text, and using these questions to connect faith and literature.

She reshaped her practice by focusing on a particular group of questions and making a tool to continue asking them, guiding the interaction of the students (focus on private response, then developing questions together), connecting with student experience, and making connections with faith explicit (focusing on faith, presentation).

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Faith is about assurance and trust; it is putting a growing and changing trust in God. This is usually based on evidence of God’s character and experience of him. Faith in Christ is the means by which people come into this close relationship with God. Faith is not just individual, it is something that the Christian community holds in common and affirms in its way of life, worship and creedal statements. Reason is not the opposite of faith, reason and faith can go hand in hand. Asking questions and probing issues can be a sign of a growing faith.

What difference does it make?

Della made a difference by giving students information and questions that enabled them to think about how faith forms and changes in a nuanced way. This in turn gave them a tool for interrogating a text at a deeper level in relation to questions of faith.

Where could we go from here?

There are other issues around character where we can give students an ability to question at a deeper and broader level. For example, a Christian understanding of the unity of a human being, body, soul, mind, emotions and will, can change how a character is viewed.

Digging deeper

It is not only believers that have faith. Faith and trust are required in all aspects of life. We have to trust people who have expertise and have faith in their ability: doctors and nurses, architects and teachers, the people we work with. Without some level of trust we could not function or form relationships.

It is impossible to go through life without trust: that is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself. Graham Greene

Having faith does not mean people become passive; Christians are called to work in co-operation with the Holy Spirit. The combination of relying on the Holy Spirit plus effort on our part creates an attitude of: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13). Faith in God should lead to a compassionate way of life as faith cannot be separated from action. Faith that does not express itself in action is dead faith (James 2:14-17). Trust helps to build the Christian community. Trust is not abstract; it is the daily placing of life in God’s hands, relying on him.

We can have faith in others, encouraging them and trusting them. Trust is built by honesty and kindness and trust should be based on our experience of people’s character. Learning to trust appropriately is difficult, for trust makes us vulnerable and requires wisdom. Ultimate trust and faith belong to God alone (Psalm 62:8).

Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence. Democritus

Reason is the gift of God that he expects us to use. Doubt does not have to be destructive of faith: it can be a part of a struggle to believe within a framework of faith. Everyone starts with a view of the world – a way of seeing things – and we ask our questions and reason from that standpoint. As Christians, we start with a Christian worldview and reason from there.

Explore similar examples:

What if faith could be seen as involving living as well as believing?
What if science raised big issues about faith and values?
What if a text were explored using the concept of grace?

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1Dear friends, I love you and long to see you. Please keep on being faithful to the Lord. You are my pride and joy. Paul encourages the Lord's followers 2Euodia and Syntyche, you belong to the Lord, so I beg you to stop arguing with each other. 3And, my true partner, I ask you to help them. These women have worked together with me and with Clement and with the others in spreading the good news. Their names are now written in the book of life. 4Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: be glad. 5Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here. 6Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. 7Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel. 8Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise. 9You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you. 10The Lord has made me very grateful that at last you have thought about me once again. Actually, you were thinking about me all along, but you didn't have any chance to show it. 11I am not complaining about having too little. I have learnt to be satisfied with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little. 13Christ gives me the strength to face anything. 14It was good of you to help me when I was having such a hard time. 15My friends at Philippi, you remember what it was like when I started preaching the good news in Macedonia. After I left there, you were the only church that became my partner by giving blessings and by receiving them in return. 16Even when I was in Thessalonica, you helped me more than once. 17I am not trying to get something from you, but I want you to receive the blessings that come from giving. 18I have been paid back everything, and with interest. I am completely satisfied with the gifts that you asked Epaphroditus to bring me. They are like a sweet-smelling offering or like the right kind of sacrifice that pleases God. 19I pray that God will take care of all your needs with the wonderful blessings that come from Christ Jesus! 20May God our Father be praised for ever and ever. Amen. 21Give my greetings to all who are God's people because of Christ Jesus. The Lord's followers here with me send you their greetings. 22All God's people send their greetings, especially those in the service of the Emperor. 23I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless your life!
1My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won't treat some people better than others. 2Suppose a rich person wearing fine clothes and a gold ring comes to one of your meetings. And suppose a poor person dressed in worn out clothes also comes. 3You must not give the best seat to the one in fine clothes and tell the one who is poor to stand at the side or sit on the floor. 4That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge. 5My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him. 6You ill-treat the poor. But isn't it the rich who boss you around and drag you off to court? 7Aren't they the ones who make fun of your Lord? 8You will do well, if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves. 9But if you treat some people better than others, you have done wrong, and the Scriptures teach that you have sinned. 10If you obey every law except one, you are still guilty of breaking them all. 11The same God who told us to be faithful in marriage also told us not to murder. So even if you are faithful in marriage, but murder someone, you have still broken God's Law. 12Speak and act like people who will be judged by the law that sets us free. 13Do this, because on the day of judgment there will be no pity for those who have not had pity on others. But even in judgment, God is merciful! 14My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don't do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? 15If you know someone who doesn't have any clothes or food, 16you shouldn't just say, I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat. What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? 17Faith that doesn't lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead! 18Suppose someone disagrees and says, It is possible to have faith without doing kind deeds. I would answer, Prove that you have faith without doing kind deeds, and I will prove that I have faith by doing them. 19You believe there is only one God. That's fine. Even demons believe this, and it makes them shake with fear. 20Does some stupid person want proof that faith without deeds is useless? 21Well, our ancestor Abraham pleased God by putting his son Isaac on the altar to sacrifice him. 22Now you see how Abraham's faith and deeds worked together. He proved that his faith was real by what he did. 23This is what the Scriptures mean by saying, Abraham had faith in God, and God was pleased with him. That's how Abraham became God's friend. 24You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe. 25For example, Rahab had been a prostitute. But she pleased God when she welcomed the spies and sent them home by another way. 26Anyone who doesn't breathe is dead, and faith that doesn't do anything is just as dead! The tongue
1Only God can save me, and I calmly wait for him. 2God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe and the fortress where I am secure. 3I feel like a shaky fence or a sagging wall. How long will all of you attack and assault me? 4You want to bring me down from my place of honour. You love to tell lies, and when your words are kind, hatred hides in your heart. 5Only God gives inward peace, and I depend on him. 6God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and he is the fortress where I feel secure. 7God saves me and honours me. He is that mighty rock where I find safety. 8Trust God, my friends, and always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety. 9We humans are only a breath; none of us are truly great. All of us together weigh less than a puff of air. 10Don't trust in violence or depend on dishonesty or rely on great wealth. 11I heard God say two things: I am powerful, 12and I am very kind. The Lord rewards each of us according to what we do. (A psalm by David when he was in the desert of Judah.) God's love means more than life