The end of this raucous, strange year can provide an opportunity to take a new look at what religious faith might mean to us in the future. Which raises the question of whether we are willing to change if somehow change seems called for.
The author of this insightful piece in The Guardian gives us a look at what that kind of change might look like and why one might want to move into it with hope.
Writer Bryan Mealer reports this: "After growing up in the church and leaving for many years – even abandoning my beliefs at one point while covering war – I was contemplating a return. On a visit to my parents, my children had inadvertently exposed a void that I’d been trying to ignore. My three-year-old daughter asked my mother, 'What is God?' only to have her brother reply: 'Don’t you know, silly? God is Harvey.' Harvey is what we called our Honda. The look my mother shot me is still burned into my retinas."
What Mealer had to throw overboard was his childhood vision of a God interested primarily in rules and retributive -- not restorative -- justice.
He writes that one time when he was a freelance journalist covering war in the Congo, "One day while I was visiting a displaced camp, my guide took me on a tour of tents where babies had died during the night, the mothers still cradling the tiny corpses, catatonic with grief. 'It’s God’s will,' one woman told me, but I’d grown tired of hearing it. 'Then I want no part of this god,' I thought. As I stood in a haze of cooking fires at the forgotten edge of the world, that god ceased to exist."
Back in Texas, Mealer became jogging friends with a man who had been on a similar journey and who now was an Episcopal priest. Eventually they helped each other confront the question of who God is and how can we live in a healthy relationship with the divine, recognizing that God is real, wild and adventurous, not just some rule maker and disciplinarian.
One day Mealer's priest friend, David, said this to him: “God has to die. The God of our childhood has to shatter in a thousand pieces, die, disappear or change, if we are to have a spiritual life beyond our childhood.”
For many people that is the path toward a healthy faith commitment. Others found God in childhood and have never had to watch that God die, to be replaced by another more in harmony with the God of the Bible.
For Mealer, "Reclaiming the title (of Christian) is a moral protest against those who attack immigrants, refugees, minorities, and the poor and the sick, the very people whom Christ instructed us to help along the road, and without question."
This rediscovery process can be life-affirming even if often painful. What we don't want to do, however, is to discover a god merely of our own making.
P.S.: If you'd like some help on that road to discovery, I'll be leading gatherings in late April at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Pennsylvania based on my latest book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. For details and to register, click here.
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A CHURCH MOVES AGAINST SUICIDE
In the face of state budget cuts, Episcopalians in Wyoming have taken on a ministry of suicide prevention. It's an increasingly necessary task, and thank God people of faith are willing to help. What's your congregation, if any, doing about this? At my Presbyterian church in Kansas City, we're about to hear a sermon series, starting in January, about dealing with suicide and similar kinds of mental health catastrophes.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column about some fascinating scholarship on the Apostle Paul now is online here.