Mystic or Bust

“The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or she will cease to be anything at all.” –Karl Rahner

Morality, ritual, and blind belief: contemporary Christianity is known for these. If you’re Christian, you adhere to certain moral standards (although these vary vastly between denominations and individuals); you go to church, and you “believe in Jesus Christ,” whatever that means. As best as I can tell, this is how Christianity is perceived by popular culture. For the most part, this is how Christianity is experienced by Christians.

Dig deep enough, however, and I suspect you’d find that many Christians have “experienced something.” For that matter, people of other faiths have, too, and those who calls themselves “spiritual but not religious.” As have artists, nature-lovers, scientists, community organizers, and anyone who volunteers their time to help others. You might call the “something” God or art or nature or love or truth, but regardless, you experience a mysterious happening that brings you alive and gives life meaning. You glimpse a source beyond the scope of human consciousness. You know a beauty that vibrates in your very cells. You sense significance that encompasses even tragedy, even rampant injustice, even death. (more…)

Tikkun Olam

circledancepicOver the past decade, my experience of church as a family of faith located in one community, one building, and one denomination, has shattered. My close association with a small urban United Methodist congregation for almost 25 years gave me a clear sense of identity and belonging. The rituals were familiar. The congregation was my gravitational center, the sun to my orbiting earth.

Contemplative prayer and my strong desire for silence have drawn me out of orbit, perhaps temporarily, perhaps not, and I’ve been grieving the loss. On a personal level church feels broken, and I’m painfully aware of the larger Church’s rapid decline. What’s happening to this institution I love?

Oddly enough, the loss has brought to mind the Jewish creation myth: At the beginning of time God’s presence filled the universe. (more…)

God of Nothing

Vase FacesDuring a Sunday service my pastor asked the congregation for our images of God. What people shared—God as the sound of children laughing; God as prairie; God as executive assistant—filled me with hope. Holiness is abundant, emerging in and through creation, and can be encountered in the smallest of ordinary moments. I too have known God as the breadth of the Hudson River, its salt water pushing against the fresh water flow, its expanse my wide margin, its current my clear direction. I’ve known God in the indiscriminate attraction of my bisexual body. I’ve experienced God in the joy of a climate march and a Black Lives Matter protest and in a community’s story-telling at a beloved member’s funeral.

But had my pastor confronted me yesterday, had she held the microphone to my face and waited for me to muster up my courage, I would have said God is emptiness. I kneel these days before the God of nothing. (more…)

Blind Faith

I can’t even write the words “blind faith” without my skin crawling. Despite forty-six years of attending church and more than half that time intentionally engaged in spiritual practices, enough of me is rational, academic, and post-modern that I’m unwilling to “blindly” do anything. Isn’t blind faith the purview of global warming deniers who believe humans were given dominion over the earth and the earth’s preservation is in God’s hands? Isn’t blind faith the stuff which sends terrorists careening airplanes into high rises? (more…)

Communal Faith and Climate Change

Every day I become more convinced that the pressing social justice issue of our times, the single most important problem that individuals and congregations and governments need to address, is our warming planet.  And every day I’m more convinced that an essential (perhaps the essential) source of a solution rests in our faith—not necessarily the Christian faith, although that will do, but humanity’s faith in the sacred wholeness of creation.

Since my brand of faith is Christian, look with me through one Christian lens at one solution.  Krista Tippett recently interviewed Nadia Bolz-Weber, the pastor at The Church of All Sinners and Saints, an emergent Lutheran congregation in Denver, Colorado.  Bolz-Weber said, “I don’t think faith is given in sufficient quantity to individuals… I think it’s given in sufficient quantity to communities.”  She gave a few examples:  Some people think they can’t say the Apostles’ Creed because they don’t believe all that it says.  “I’m like, oh, my God.  Nobody believes every line of the Creed.  But in a room of people…for each line of the Creed, somebody believes it.  So we’re covered, right?”  When praying for your enemies is impossible, which it often is, Bolz-Weber recommends asking someone else to pray for your enemies.  We’ve individualized faith too much.  Faith can (and should) be the work of community.

We’re facing an environmental disaster of inconceivable proportions.  Not only do we need communal faith to sustain our hope; we need it to coordinate our various gifts and energies to become a force to stop and reverse climate change.  In a secular, despairing world, congregations can say, “We know a source of healing and transformation!”  And in an overly individualistic world, congregations can function as the Body of Christ, throwing over the 21st century version of temple money-lenders:  our planet-killing habits and the systems that benefit from them.                                                             –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


Write, or Be Written

Here’s what excites me about our climate crisis:  It invites us to change.  “We face a choice that is starkly simple:  We must change or be changed,” writes Wendell Berry.  “If we fail to change for the better, then we will be changed for the worse.”  Okay, so the alternatives are either exciting or terrifying, but still:  Dire circumstances give humans the opportunity to create something new, and this fills me with hope.

Berry’s words remind me of a novelist friend who signs her books, “Write, or be written.”  I don’t think Elissa’s trying to make authors out of her readers; rather, she’s suggesting that everyone has the choice to accept the stories our culture tells about us or create our own.  The climate story our culture has written is dictated by consumption and profit at the expense of the earth and the poor who live close to it.  It’s a story written with highways and billboards, farming practices and diets, the movement of our money and the absence of money.  It’s a story most people don’t question.  We’re too immersed in it.

When I read the stories Jesus told and when I think about his life as a model, I see Jesus asking of us something similar.  We can accept the dominant stories of our culture—“an eye for an eye,” for example, or a morality determined by the law rather than our hearts—or we can participate in a radically different story based on love and humor and subversion.  Jesus doesn’t simply call us to believe in God’s realm; we have to create it, with thoughts and words and deeds.  Write, or be written.  Change or be changed.

These are tumultuous times, and, as every artist knows, creativity comes out of chaos.  As Christians, can we pioneer a new story based on justice and kindness and faith?  Let’s get to work.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew