Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weary of the small god

Looks like I struck a nerve with my last Facebook posting:
I don't want to understand God. To understand and be certain of what I experience as mystery would reduce the transcendent Holy to some rational being small enough to live inside my head. Anything that small has no power to save me. I need a God much bigger than that.
Perhaps I'm just getting a bit weary of the image of the immanent God and how that has played itself out in our culture. I often find that the mystical Trinity is often reduced to something way too small and individualistic.

We live in a culture which values the primacy of individualism and independence - both of which I'm persuaded have taken on an idolatrous status. We value independence in America to the point where we denigrate God's intention of interdependence and balance. My independence and its associated "rights" are worshiped at the altar of American culture while forgetting that rights have associated responsibilities to the greater good of the community (yes, that pesky interdependence thing!).

We say we value individualism and so create a culture of spiritual and emotional isolation which breeds unhealthy codependency rather than healthy mutuality. Intimacy at any level, whether with a friend or lover, becomes less and less possible because of our "me centered" world.

While God is both immanent (personal) and transcendent (wholly/holy other and beyond), I feel as if I have grown up in a world which has erred on the side of portraying the immanent personal God at the expense of the transcendent Holy Other. The immanent personal God can be reduced to a god who needs to be understood and follow the "rules" as set forth in human written documents we call Scripture.

Don't get me wrong, Scripture is indeed God-breathed and inspired, yet at the end of the day, these writings are not magically dictated by the Almighty to human automatons who just wrote down everything in pure form. These are human writings describing how God's actions were seen (and interpreted) within the community. But I digress ...

In this culture where "me" and "we" are the center of an immanent God relationship, it is so easy to distort this into an ecclesiology where me/we/us become the locus and focus of God rather than God's work in Christ being the transforming work of the Holy Other which draws us back into God's heart. We begin to see God's actions as beginning and ending in us ... rather than beginning and ending in the mystery of God. And when we do that, there is no call for transformation or change in us. God exists for us at the expense of our existing for God.

So I guess I'm a little weary of the God who just seems way too small. The "boyfriend Jesus" imagery feels too simple and too reductionist. This has no power at all to save me. I need a God much bigger than this. I need the mystery, awe and transcendence of the Triune God who breathed me into existence, sustains me from without (and within), and fills all things (not just me) with the divine. Come Spirit of the Living God!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Of ultimate importance ... part 2

This question of ultimate importance hit home for us in the last 72 hours. For those of you who know I serve in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, you may have heard about the tragic shooting which occurred in one of our parishes last Thursday. If not, you can read about it here.

I heard about this just before the opening of our diocesan convention. My oldest daughter, who served as youth delegate from our county, was out picking up breakfast for us when I heard the news. I was glad I had the chance to talk with her when she returned to our hotel room and break the news to her before convention opened.

When convention opened and the news was announced that the parish administrator and co-rector had both been shot, we were stunned. Brenda Brewington, parish administrator, was pronounced dead at the scene. Co-rector Mary-Marguerite Kohn+ was flown to Baltimore Shock Trauma and kept alive on life support so that organ donations could be arranged. Douglas Jones, the homeless man who perpetrated this act of violence, was found dead in the woods near the church of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This was the first time my daughter had confronted a senseless, violent death. Given that a priest was dead, and her mom is a priest, this was hard to process and understand. She was very teary at the opening of convention. But we gathered together and other people at our table offered her comfort and consolation. She had a safe place to process this horrible news. And she was surrounded by people of faith who showed her how Christians cope with tragedy:
  • We cried together and had conversation
  • We offered forgiveness to the gunman
  • We prayed the litany at the time of death for Mary-Marguerite+
  • We offered Eucharist in thanksgiving for all who minister in Christ's name
  • Two parishes offered their churches to the family of the gunman for his funeral
  • We recommitted ourselves to helping the most vulnerable in our communities
So where did my daughter learn to cope with senseless tragedy? Where did she hear about the injustice of a society where the mentally ill have less access to treatment than they do to guns? Where did she hear about people recommitting themselves to serve Christ? Where did she hear an affirmation of life? She heard this surrounded by her Church. She didn't learn this on the playing field.

Enough said.