On Being a ‘Church of Reason’
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.
Following the Whims of the Spirit
- Moloney, Francis J and Daniel J Harrington. The Gospel Of John. 1st ed. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2005.
- “Pádraig Ó Tuama — Belonging Creates And Undoes Us Both”. On Being. Last modified 2017. Accessed March 11, 2017. http://www.onbeing.org/programs/padraig-o-tuama-belonging-creates-and-undoes-us-both/.
Building Gates of Enough
These great mysteries that surround us. They are not trivial things that are to be forgotten; they are not the sort of things for which there is a solution. Instead, they are those things that ring around us with so many answers. They are the mysteries of Father, Son, Spirit – or perhaps you prefer something less concrete to describe the mysterious three. Perhaps something along the lines of Creator, Word, Wisdom. Those very mysteries that invite us, call us, beckon us to come closer, deeper.
The mystery of the Holy Trinity is one that continues to baffle us in the most appropriate ways. It is a mystery that serves us by not giving us clear cut answers to the question, posed by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Who is this God person anyway?” Instead of giving us clear cut answers about the nature of God’s person, the Trinity calls us deeper and deeper into the reality of God’s being through our own questions that we bring to God in our prayers, in our daily living, and in the ways that we practice relationship with friends, family, strangers. It is a mystery that serves us in the way that all holy mysteries serve us – by drawing us ever deeper into the mystery of God and by encouraging us to come up with our own words to make claims about who we understand God to be.
The Trinity is how we come to enumerate the reality of the three persons of God – Father, Son, and Spirit. But, it is also a way for us to understand how God desires us to be in relationship with each other and with creation. It is a way for us to understand the movements of God’s ruling passion – the passion of deep, sacrificial love. The Trinity is a way for us to enter into the reality of the divine, and it is a way for us to understand the depths of God’s love for God’s creation. At the same time, it is something that confounds us precisely because it teaches us differently than the world teaches.
In an article in The Atlantic this week, Uri Friedman writes about the walls within the current era. In fact, quite startlingly, Uri reports that walls and border fences are going up across the world at the fastest rate since the Cold War. The borderlands of the world – whether those are borders between countries or between cultures – have become a major focus of leaders in the world today. The borderlands are a place that inspire a sense of fear, a sense of danger. In response, we are building walls around those borderlands and trying to create the best form of wall technology to keep the differences at bay for as long as we can. We look out across the borderlands and realize that in order to protect what we have in the now, we must create some
kind of barrier against that which would encroach upon it. Interestingly enough, the border fences and walls that have been built between 2000 and 2014 are most commonly built by wealthier nations in order to keep out the citizens of poorer nations. Examples of such structures are to be found in the United States along the U.S.-Mexico border, in Israel on the border of the West Bank, and in Saudi Arabia along its border with Yemen.
These walls of protection go against what we learn from the life of the Trinity in the way that the Trinity enters into our lives. The Father, Son, and Spirit work, in the Biblical narratives and in our lives today, to bring down the walls that emphasize difference as threat. The Trinity works within the reality of our lives to teach us that the differences that we notice between persons are the very gifts of the Spirit that we inherit as adopted daughters and sons of God the Father through the life, death, and resurrection of God the Son and the granting of God the Spirit to us to continue the work that the Son began in his earthly pilgrimage. The differences that are currently understood as threats are, in the life of the Trinity, the very things that make up the entirety of the image of God, the image in which we are created.
The Trinity alters our understanding of other persons we meet because the Trinity works within the boundaries of human creation to knit us together in the unified life of Father, Son, and Spirit. The persons of the Trinity work together, in a single mission, to call us into the reality of God’s ruling passion – the passion of love that destroys the barriers between us and God. The ruling passion of the Trinity enters into our own realities, realities characterized by suffering, pain, disease, and works to invite us into the reality of God’s abundance. It is an invitation to share in the work of Christ by inviting others into God’s abundance in the ways that we pray our own lives.
And while God’s reality, the reality of the love that is shared by Father, Son, and Spirit, is a reality of abundance, it is an abundance that flows out to us in the form of enough. The life of the Trinity teaches us that the worldview of scarcity, through which we understand the world, is not the way that God speaks creation into existence. Instead, the abundance of God, found within the movements of the Trinity, is also true within the boundaries of creation in the here and now. It is an abundance of love and grace that flows out from the Father, Son, and Spirit and enters into our lives. It is an abundance that spills over into creation and calls creation into existence. It is an abundance that promises us that there is enough. It is an abundance that is true because the Father, Son, and Spirit continue to walk with us in the midst of the pain, suffering, and death that is easily found in our own experiences of life.
It is said often that the opposite of scarcity is abundance. The reality is that the opposite of scarcity is enough. The abundance of God’s love is the opposite of scarcity in the sense that it is through the abundance of God’s grace that we have enough to enter into the Divine life of Father, Son, and Spirit. It is the only abundance that comes without expense to another, and it is the kind of abundance that teaches us all we need to do is to put our faith in God. In putting all of our faith in God, we will be granted enough, and we will find that we enter into a renewed creation as we ascend into the life of the Divine through the life of the Trinity.
In a way, the Trinity itself becomes a metaphor for us to follow in living our own lives within the boundaries of creation. Though we do not share in the same nature as God, we are able to enter into the life of the Divine through our adoption as children of the Father. We are able to look at the life of Christ, a life powered by the Spirit, to see what complete faithfulness to the Father looks like. We are able to look at the Cross and see that it is ourselves that we have crucified, and we are able to finally recognize that the gifts of Son and Spirit invite us to join them in the mission of the Father – a mission of love and salvation for creation. It is a mission that came from the abundance of God’s self – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and promises enough. It is a mission of love, of sacrifice, of invitation, and of service. It is a mission that beckons to us and pleads with us to bring down the walls of scarcity in order to erect the gates of enough.