On Being a ‘Church of Reason’

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The heat of the summer was continuing to up the ante yesterday as members of The Episcopal Church in Parker County began arriving for the launch team meeting.  The invitation to sit indoors with each other was welcomed as the temperature outside approached 100 F. In Texas, the heat of the summer is always a valid excuse for not doing something outside, and yesterday, it made for a perfect reason for us to be gathered together as we continue to build community one stitch at a time.

During our time together, we sat to consider some rather deep questions.  As we divided into two small groups, we considered questions like, “When you hear the phrase ‘Love your neighbor,’ what does it mean to you?” and “What does it mean to you to be made in God’s image?” and “What do you love most about your life?”  Each question was a question that invited us to think about our experience, our walk on this earth.  Each question also invited us to consider the action of God in our lives.

In the Anglican tradition, reason plays a rather large role in defining who we are as faithful disciples worshiping Father, Son, and Spirit.  To be a church of reason does not simply mean that we use our reason to make decisions in our lives.  We acknowledge that almost all people do that almost all the time.  The author and theologian Padraig O’Tuama wrote something similar to this in his book In the Shelter. (An incredible journey of narrative, theology, and poetry.) To have the ability to reason is to be human. We, as a species, tend to do what we believe is reasonable at the time. It does not always mean that our actions are just or that they are blessed by God’s presence; it does mean that we are using our God-given giftedness as a species to make decisions – good, bad, and ugly – in the business of getting on with our daily lives.

We can go about defining reason in any number of ways, but it seems that best way to understand reason is through experience. As creatures, we create ways of thinking that are specific to our experiences, shared and personal. The experience of our lives informs how we come to different conclusions and guides us in taking the next step. The experience of each person’s life informs us, guides us, and invites us. The experience that I have in life may not be exactly like any other person’s, but I can share my experience with others. I can look back over the arch of my life to take note of how God has been active in my life, and I can take the incredibly risky step of sharing my life experiences with others.  In opening up to others by sharing my life experience, by sharing when and where I have felt God’s presence, I enter into a state of vulnerability with others.

When I take the time to name the moments in my own life when I have experienced God’s active presence in my life, I am placing myself in a vulnerable place, and I am learning how to look for God’s presence.  In the act of naming these moments in my own life, I am sharing my experience of God, and I am learning how to listen for the moments when God has been active in another’s life. I begin to learn how to listen for those moments in the stories that others share with me, and I begin to be influenced not only by my own experience but also by the experiences of those that are in community with me. I begin to take on a posture of receptivity that is honed through the continued practice of listening for the movement of the Spirit in my life and in the life of my neighbors.

To be a church of reason is to be a church that looks for these moments in our shared lives of faith. It is to be a church that is willing to listen to the stories of those outside the church as we discern where God is moving in the context around us. It is to be a church that is learning how to help others name for themselves the moments that God has been present in their own lives. To be a church of reason is to be a church of experience, of openness, and of receptivity. Welcome to the Church as an institution of reason.

Vessels of the Spirit

“Jesus said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”

To be made well.  It is something that everyone wishes for when they fall ill or suffer from a longterm illness or condition for which there is no cure.  The desire to be made well is a desire that springs from within the deepest parts of our being; we want to be made whole as a human being, to have the ability to move freely and to exercise our free will through the movement of our bodies.  The desire to be made well is often thought of in the most immediate terms – in the wellness of the body.  The desire is to appear strong, to have the appearance of being a person that is complete and able to do the things that everyone is able to do.  But, the first reading of this desire leaves much unattended that is equally important to the well-being of humanity.  The desire for wellness can also be thought of as a desire for wholeness throughout the human person.  It is a desire to have wholeness not only in body but also wholeness in spirit and in mind.  We desire to be complete and to have our dignity restored as a person created in the image of God.

The question that Jesus asks of the man is a question that we might think we should take as our own.  It is a question that reflects our need to feel helpful, needed, wanted by others.  As we survey the landscape of creation, it does not take long to see the truth of what living in a tragic, fallen creation means.  With just a cursory glance of our surroundings, we can identify people that are struggling with the affliction of poverty, disease, malnutrition, physical disabilities, mental disabilities, infectious diseases, terminal illness….

scaldatoarea-vitezda-ierusalim-12In this scene, Jesus witnesses the same tragic reality of creation.  Jesus sees a man that is struggling with a physical affliction.  The man sits by a pool intended for healing and wants to move into the waters “when they are stirred up” to find the healing that he desires so deeply.  Jesus enters into the scene, witnesses the tragic condition of the man, and extends the grace of God flowing through the power of the Spirit to the man that is in front of him.  Jesus enters into the tragic reality of creation in an effort to reconcile humanity to God through that same Spirit that abides in us, adopted children of God.  It is the same Spirit that enables us to cry out, “Abba! Father!” that moves through Christ and empowers Jesus to achieve the mission the Father sent him on – to restore the dignity of humanity by walking a life of servanthood that we are able to witness.   Continue reading

Being drawn to the Bread of Life

“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

In the Gospel reading this morning, we continue into John’s discourse on the Bread of Life and are once again faced with doing are very best to understand what Jesus is trying to teach us through these verses. We are, once again, faced with some rather enigmatic sayings from Jesus that make this faith of ours seem quite bizarre, and we might find ourselves echoing some of the thoughts of Jesus’ interlocutors, which up to this point has been a crowd of people. In today’s reading, the crowd suddenly becomes “the Jews” and the hostility within the reading increases as the discourse continues.

Early in the discourse today, the question of origins comes to the forefront after Jesus makes the claim that he is the bread of life and that he comes from the Father. You can almost feel the temperature rising as you read the passage from today’s Gospel. As I entered into the text, I could feel the anger that was cast towards Jesus. So, what happens when we read the Gospel with that kind of tone put into the mouths of the people that are discounting what Jesus is saying? For example, it might sound something a little like this:

“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I have come down from heaven’?”

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