Something NewPosted: March 13, 2016
SLIDE 3: PASTOR JOHN ROBINSON
Pastor John Robinson was not allowed to accompany the courageous band of Pilgrims who were setting out for the New World. He was too old. Only younger members of the Pilgrim congregation were allowed on board the Mayflower, because it was deemed that only strong young people would be likely to survive the rigors of setting up life on the unexplored continent of America. As it was half of them would perish during that first brutal winter. Pastor Robinson was fifty-five, and the age cut-off for the settlers leaving for the great Wilderness was thirty-five. So with great vision he offered them a prophetic insight to take with them to the New World.
SLIDE 4: GOD IS STILL SPEAKING
He told them not to be constrained by the wisdom of the Old World. As they set forth to try to establish the Commonwealth of God in a new land, they should be open to the possibility that God might reveal to them new truth, “For God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word.” Pastor Robinson’s words are the inspiration for the United Church of Christ “God Is Still Speaking Campaign.” We are not constrained by a narrow, literal, fundamentalist reading of the Biblical text, but we are free even compelled to seek the new truth God is revealing to us as a Pilgrim people, who are commissioned to establish the Commonwealth of God in the Wilderness of our twenty-first century post-Christian era. God is doing something new in our time.
SLIDE 5: RISING FROM THE ASHES
But what is God up to, and where are we going in the Dark Wood of Post-Christian America? Eric Elnes addresses the future of churches in our culture in his book the Gifts of the Dark Wood. He calls the spiritual communities who are likely to survive the “shake out” of religious institutions “misfit communities of faith.”
Currently there are a number of misfit communities that I see rising from the ashes of the world’s dead and dying religious traditions. They cater to a diverse crowd. Yet there is a spirit within them that transcends differences.
SLIDE 6: MISFIT COMMUNITIES
All these fringe, sometimes experimental communities are part of something very interesting and mysterious happening now at the grassroots. In the eyes of many the old orthodoxies of the classic world religions, which centuries ago provided light and life to the faithful, have drifted far from the spiritual “fire” that gave them birth. The classic orthodoxies have become stale and rigid, fleeing from mystery and uncertainty, promoting a one-size-fits-all path to spiritual or worldly “success’ and showing precious little tolerance of difference or appreciation for diversity. They are crumbling.
SLIDE 7: MOVING THE TRADITION FORWARD IN RESPONSE TO THE SPIRIT
To label these fringe communities misfit does not mean that they have abandoned their native traditions. Rather, in the history of world religions, the unorthodox tend to reflect the growing edge of faith. Later they become the new “center” of a transformed understanding of the faith. These new misfit communities are not throwing out the ancient tradition but deeply honoring it by moving the tradition forward in light of fresh insight from the Holy Spirit, which continues to speak (God is still speaking) in our world.
SLIDE 8: AN INTERFAITH CONVERGENCE – THE NEW CENTER
What is particularly intriguing about this development is that as these communities respond to the Holy Spirit they are discovering a substantial foundation of common ground between adherents of many faiths. For instance, certain Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities are discovering that they share more in common with one another than with the orthodox strands of their own traditions. Even though the framing beliefs of these emerging and converging communities remain distinct from one another, their core values are looking increasingly similar.
What follows are twelve characteristics that, in my experience, constitute the new foundation of spiritual common ground. They are part of the new identity toward which these communities are moving, while retaining beliefs and practices that are distinctive to their particular traditions. I believe the time is coming when these twelve attributes will be part of what is considered the new “center” of adherents of many faiths.
SLIDE 9: WE ARE NOT THE ONLY EXPRESSION OF FAITH
- These communities are letting go of the notion that their
- particular faith is the only legitimate one on the planet. They are embracing an understanding that God is greater than our imagination can comprehend (or fence in), and thus they are open to the possibility that God may speak within and across all faith traditions.
- SLIDE 10: NO LONGER A LITERAL INTERPRETATION
- They are letting go of literal and inerrant interpretations of their sacred Scriptures while celebrating the unique treasures that their Scriptures contain.
- SLIDE 11: NO LONGER DOMINATING NATURE
- They are letting go of the notion that people of faith are called to dominate nature. They are embracing a more organic understanding of human relationship with the earth.
- SLIDE 12: BELIEFS NO LONGER USED TO DIVIDE AND EXCLUDE
- They are letting go of empty worship conventions and an over emphasis on doctrines as tools of division and exclusion. They are embracing more diverse, creative, engaging approaches, often making strong use of the arts.
- SLIDE 13: LETTING GO RACIAL, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION PREJUDICE
- They are letting go of racial prejudice and a narrow definition of sexual orientation and gender identity. They are embracing with increasing confidence an understanding that affirms the dignity and worth of all people.
- SLIDE 14: PHYSICAL WELL BEING IS AS IMPORTANT AS SPIRITUAL WELL BEING
- They are letting go of an understanding that people of faith should only interest themselves in the spiritual well-being of people. They are embracing a more holistic understanding that physical and spiritual well-being are related.
- SLIDE 15: NO LONGER IMPOSING THEIR VISION ON THE WIDER SOCIETY
- They are letting go of the desire to impose their particular vision of faith on wider society.
- SLIDE 16: LET GO OF LIBERAL, MODERATE, CONSERVATIVE
- They are letting go of the old rivalries between “liberal, moderate and conservative” branches of their faith. They are embracing a faith that transcends these very definitions.
- SLIDE 17: NO LONGER JUDGING OTHERS IN THE AFTERLIFE
- They are letting go of notions of the afterlife that are dominated by judgment of “unbelievers.” They are embracing an understanding that, as God’s creations, God is eternally faithful to us, and that all people are loved far more than we can comprehend.
- 10 They are letting go of the notion that faith and science are incompatible.
- They are embracing the notion that faith and science can serve as allies in the pursuit of truth, and that God values our minds as well as our hearts.
- They are letting go of the notion that one’s work and one’s spiritual path are unrelated. They are embracing an understanding that rest and recreation, prayer and reflection are as important as work, and that our work is a calling and expression of our sweet spot.
- They are letting go of old hierarchies that privilege religious leaders over laypeople. They are embracing an understanding that all people have a mission and purpose in life in response to the call of the Holy Spirit. It’s no longer about who wears the robes but who lives the life.
- When I read these twelve attributes of misfit spiritual communities I said, “He’s talking about United Church!” Apparently we are not alone. There are other brave communities of faith who are reaching beyond the traditional expressions of faith to embrace a new way of being followers of Jesus, or Moses or Mohammed in the world. God is doing something brand-new in the world, and we are part of that movement. If we are struggling financially as a congregation at the moment, understand that we are on the cutting edge. We are where God is trying to do a new thing.
- Now lest we become too prideful, being on the cutting edge is not easy. When God summons a congregation to become part of doing a new thing, it is a challenge! And there is no guarantee we will succeed. Earlier in his book Eric makes the statement that for God right failure may be more important that right belief. So let us not sit back and assume that everything is going to be O.K. because we are on the cutting edge.
- So let’s consider four challenges we must face as we move through the Dark Wood. First, when we are on the cutting edge, we are navigating uncharted territory. It hasn’t been done this way before, and we will experience anxiety as we move into an uncertain future. We will be challenged to trust God.
- Second, moving through uncharted territory we will have to rely upon hints and inspirations from the Holy Spirit. As a congregation we will need to pray for guidance and discernment and then take time to prayerfully listen for direction from God. Congregations are often too impatient to wait and listen for the still small voice of the Spirit, and then trusting what is often the counter-intuitive direction of the Holy Spirit. We may want to run the church like a business, while God is summoning us to reach out with ever greater generosity and mission.
- Third, diversity is hard. Homogeneous groups are much easier to make work. But on the cutting edge we are called to become a diverse community of faith, and embrace our diversity as a source of strength. We need to practice appreciating other people in our congregation who are different from ourselves.
- Now there are many more challenges thriving on the cutting edge, but allow me to mention one more. The fourth challenge is making an experimental community of faith work financially. When God is doing something new, guaranteed there will be financial struggle. This congregation has done its best stewardship in the past around tangible assets: paying off the first mortgage, raising money and paying off the bonds for the sanctuary, raising money for the building campaign. Out on the cutting edge we are challenged to raise money for intangible programs: Sunday school, youth group, mission, leadership development, coaching for transition, advertising.
- We have been called to the tests of the cutting edge. Let us embrace the challenges God has placed before us: anxiety in the face of doing a new thing, prayerful trust in God as we move through uncharted territory, embracing and making diversity a strength, and making it all work financially. Have faith my friends and God will bring us through.