I’m reading a lot these days. What was once a duty and has sometimes seemed like a luxury now seems like a life and death necessity for navigating our crazy, wild world. I’m reading Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God (from shamanism through the three Abrahamic faith traditions and beyond), listening to Ian Kershaw’s To Hell and Back (European history from WWI through 1949), and just this morning, a Denver Post article “Colorado wants to duplicate Israel’s success in cybersecurity” (Tamara Chuang, April 20, 2016). These three diverse narratives link 6th Century BCE Israel, the post-World-War-II world, and today’s global society.
Wright describes how Babylon’s armies destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and carried Israel’s best and brightest into slavery—an unprecedented cataclysm for Israel—released a time of revolutionary creativity in Jewish thought. Reducing Israel to a small, defeated nation amidst invincible giants catalyzed the evolution of the Jew’s concept of God as the sole and universally compassionate sovereign of the universe. When Israel was deprived of military power to defeat its enemies, it developed an image of its God as the all powerful Lord of creation and an image of itself as the light to all the nations.
Kershaw describes the immense creativity that was released in Europe and throughout the world in reaction to the cataclysm of the Holocaust, multiple genocides, and two world wars. The 20th century theological revolution, with its renewed attention to our personal, internal experience of the divine and the Church’s reenergized mission of social transformation are just the tip of the iceberg of the intellectual, social, scientific, and spiritual powers that shaped the world we’ve inherited.
Tamara Chuang’s article describes the pre-eminence of Israel’s cybersecurity sector, a fruitful way in which Israel’s sense of being a light to the nations is manifested in commercial success amidst the cataclysm of chronic, unresolved conflict in the Middle East.
Anyone who is aware of the world is, one way or another, relating to the cataclysms of our time. For some of us, global climate change, oppressive political regimes and destructive social imbalances, plus persistent poverty, under-development, and countless sorrowful human woes, conspire to create an interior, if sometimes unconscious sense of both radical need and personal despondency. How can I cope, let alone creatively respond to the bottomless need around me? That’s what’s behind my impatience with life-as-usual in the church. My gut tells me that something radical, total, and unconditional is required of us—H. Richard Niebuhr’s phrase.
I want to share an image of the Church that has for many years sparked my interest in other faith traditions and made connecting with kindred spirits in other faith traditions an expression of my own evolving spirituality. There are many ways to think about the church, but a set of three in particular have been especially meaningful: (1) the historical Church comprises all that the church fathers and mothers set in motion and the varied denominations that have resulted; (2) the universal church comprises the people of whatever faith tradition who share a lived sense of the goodness of creation, the sacred interrelatedness of everything, and the transforming energies working in history; and (3) the movemental church comprises the self-conscious spirit people formed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, who continually evolve in response to their emerging consciousness and sense of the mission of the People of God.
This more complex, multifaceted image of the Church can transform the way one looks at people who are not members of a church. This is not an image of the Church I learned in Sunday School. Rather it was an image of the Church I learned as an adult from serious Christians who were focused in transforming the present world. They were faithful and intentional people who wanted to join with any and all who care about the future of families, communities, and the wellbeing of our home planet. This more expansive image encouraged me to engage the world, connect with others, and make common cause.
The context in which we think about our religious beliefs, spiritual practices, and personal vocations needs this larger view of the Church in order to let more fresh air and light into conversations about our changing sense of ourselves, our times, and our callings. We’re becoming aware of larger worlds—around us and within us. Inside and out, we’re becoming explorers of what we can’t quite see but suspect we might want to become.