I came to faith in an ELCA Lutheran Church in my late 20’s, attended a Methodist Church for many years, and was on staff at an evangelical non-denominational seeker church for a while. I started a women’s ministry consisting of women from all different denominations. I have a spiritual mentor who is Catholic, and I graduated from a Cooperative Baptist Seminary. I now spend my days with those who met God through Alcoholics Anonymous and who experienced God’s healing touch in ways I can never fully comprehend. Most of those who call themselves Christians in my urban context are from a Pentecostal background.
I have spoken and worked with congregational groups across the spectrum from very liberal to ultra conservative and have found things about all of them I love. As my love of diverse expressions of the Christian tradition has grown, my distaste for the divisive, exclusive, judgmental ways in which various groups treat one another has also grown.
As I shared in my post “Will Gandhi Burn?”, Rob Bell is taking a lot of heat from those in power in the evangelical right but the ugliness is spreading. I read this week that a Methodist minister got fired just for blogging about Bell’s book. I also read a very insightful post by Drew G.I. Hart that views all this infighting as a power struggle among the white male evangelicals for control of religious dialog in this country. No matter how you view it, I am just tired of the constant bickering. I think it is distracting us from our real call to be reconcilers who work together to usher in the Kingdom of God here and now.
I dream of an expression of the Christian tradition where people from all different theological positions and who have taken all different types of paths to God can respect and love one another. I think the only way this kind of unity will ever occur is for us all to accept that none of us are God and none of us truly have the mind of Christ. I think the thing most lacking in our religious dialog is humility – thus my whole point in writing “Will Gandhi Burn?”
Last week I attended my first Quaker service. I was invited to share a little about Embrace Richmond with a group that has been supporting our work for many years. After the service, I engaged in an extensive email dialog with an acquaintance who is Quaker. He was gracious enough to share with me the Quaker beliefs. From what I can see, their beliefs are incredibly open to a diversity of theological positions. I guess the only way we will ever achieve Christian unity is not to open our mouths! I love the idea of simply connecting spirit to spirit with other Christians. I am not sure how it plays out in the broader Christian context. Maybe I need to hang out with my Quaker friends a bit more.
So while I am dreaming, my ideal expression of Christianity would embrace people wherever they are on their spiritual journey – liberals, conservatives, agnostics, atheists, etc. However, it would encourage all to grow in Christ likeness (or love, the spirit, the light or whatever word people identify with what I know as the Holy Spirit) by engaging them in the work of reconciliation. These “reconcilers” would seek to heal a broken world and usher in God’s Kingdom through relationships across race, class and religious beliefs. I envision diverse groups of people who come together to address the brokenness of our world through very real, tangible projects such as increasing affordable housing, creating jobs for people with barriers, helping urban youth escape the cycle of poverty. The most important element of these groups is not the “project” or “mission” but the fact that we bring together people who are radically diverse and learning to hear, love and respect one another. These types of reconciling relationships will do more to usher in “The Kingdom of God” than anything we “achieve” through our efforts.
The final element of my dream expression of the Christian tradition would foster deep, life giving spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer, meditation on Divine writings and the fostering of spiritual experiences. As I shared in a recent post, spending time alone in nature feeds my soul. I can see people alone in the wilderness, sitting in urban gardens and resting in God in their living rooms. As we rest, I trust that we will experience God’s spirit in powerful ways. Like my Quaker friends I think we spend way too much time talking about God and not nearly enough time experiencing the healing, life giving presence of Christ spirit within us. Silence, reflection, meditation and contemplation open us up to these experiences far more effectively than debating theology and dissecting passages of scripture.
I would of course love to see people gather so those who feel led can share their spiritual experiences with the group through the ancient practice of testimony. I have recently participated in a group that used group spiritual direction as a way of sharing spiritual insight and found it spiritually nurturing and far more effective at bringing about spiritual conversations than the traditional small group curriculum. I think learning to share our unique experiences of God is both nurturing to those sharing and enriching to the broader community.
So that is my dream. Not sure if this dream will ever become a reality but if you have read my book you know I am a dreamer. I have been blessed to have been a part of so many expressions of the Christian tradition and the diversity of my experience has enriched my spirituality. However, it makes me hungry for places where we can all come together and appreciate how God moves in and through each of our Christian expressions. I actually think my Quaker friends may offer the expression closest to my dream. Perhaps I if I spend a bit more time with them, God will use their openness and commitment to peace and justice to teach me how to better unite the broader body of Christ in both action and contemplation.
Just imagine what God could do with a united Body that loved and respected all God’s children? That is what I dream of and pray I get to experience in my own little corner of the world. Perhaps I will only see it in our work in Hillside Court but I do hope God allows us to start a movement that will sweep across this city. I don’t expect this movement of unity and reconciliation to come from the superstars of the faith like Piper and Bell. I think it will be the little people like me and my friends at Embrace and as I shared on Friday, it will be a very quiet revolution – not nearly as entertaining to watch as the Bell and Piper debate but far more sustainable and life giving.