NuDunkers Hangout on Worship and Authority

Here’s the youtube video of today’s conversation on worship and authority. In the next few days we will be posting follow-up reflections (and somewhere in there someone will recap for you the 10 minutes of discussion that happened after the technical glitch kicked us off the youtube feed). It was a very enriching conversation to be part of, and we hope you find it similarly challenging and inspiring. Please comment here or on the google plus page with anything you’d like to critique or add or wonder about…

NuDunkers: Worship and Authority

A smattering of thoughts, in absence of anything that seems to hold together much…

Last night I heard an Orthodox monk speak of the seed of the Spirit that lays dormant in each of us until we choose to nurture it and cultivate it. He spoke of authority in the Orthodox tradition as coming from a life of practice that is recognized by others. Authority, he said, has little to do with titles or learning or articulateness, and everything to do with the shining of God in and through a person’s actions over a lifetime. “Deep calls to deep,” he echoed the psalmist, saying that we know when we are in the presence of deep wisdom; something within us resonates with that wisdom. I most often see it in people’s eyes — I can tell who has seen much suffering and experienced its transformation into abundant life, most often, by looking at the ineffable but subtle glow in their eyes. Similarly, good Anabaptist / pietist folks like to talk about “knowing a tree by its fruits.”

Worship is close to my heart and at the center of my calling. I find it hard to express the joy of seeing a worship planned with tender care, spun out into the world with anticipation, caught up in something holy and often unexpected, breathed into life in a community, and echoing through eternity. The way in which God meets her people in worship is precious. Worship realigns our priorities and teaches us how to value the good. Worship helps us become enthralled with life and breaks our fascination with death. Worship knits us together and sets us ablaze with love. But like any beautiful and holy thing, the very experience of worship itself is far greater than any list of its “side-effects.”

We humans are worshipping creatures and authority-following creatures. The question is never “will we worship?” or “will we follow?” but rather “whom or what will we worship?” and “whom or what will we follow?” The answers to those questions begin, bit by bit, to claim and reorient our lives. It strikes me that in worship (as in life), all authority in the church comes directly from the One we worship but is manifest through the many joined in one body. Here, we seek both to express the best gifts of our community and also to offer the many voices just as they are. And in that expression and offering we are met and formed. So, though we must never worry that God’s realm will rise or fall based solely on our worship, we also must honor the power that flows through our worship: power to nurture, challenge, equip, and equally power to wound, destroy, or lull into apathy.

The questions this leaves me with are these:
How do we call out and form leaders in this area?
How do we hold them accountable to us and ourselves accountable to them in creating robust opportunities for encounter with God — opportunities that open us up and avoid the myriad pitfalls that can close us off from God?
How do we turn worship from a consumer activity led by a professional purveyor of all things holy (or alternatively from a social club with very little vision and direction), into something more communal and sacramental, something that points more to God than to our own safety zones and preferences?

NuDunkers will be talking about this topic in a Google hangout this Thursday at 10am EST. You can find more information here. Also check out the other blogs on this topic:

Travis Poling, The Body of Christ as Liturgical Authority
Dana Cassell, Worship and Authority
Josh Brockway, Whose Authority, Which Worship
Matt McKimmy, Respect my (lack of) authority

PS — I wrote another post on this topic a while back: “Let us pray” and authority

Be careful what you wish for…

I just got back from the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, and I find myself swimming in reflections about the shape of the church in that gathering. Here is one of those:

I often find myself among feminist and liberationist colleagues in Boston, and in those theologies there is an emphasis on egalitarian community in which all have a voice. In the Church of the Brethren, we maintain Paul’s understanding that anyone who is present within the church as it discusses is to be given a voice. Early Anabaptists called this “Sitzrecht,” translating to something like “the right of the seated.” In principle this sounds like an amazing thing — no domination, no oppressive hierarchy, no silencing of anyone, no matter their education level, their socioeconomic status, their race, or any other demographic or personality feature. We then endeavor to discern the Spirit (not our own agendas!) in the spaces between the words.

And it is an amazing thing.

But make no mistake, it takes a whole lot of faith to listen not only to those who disagree with you, but also to those who have wounded or discounted you, even to those whom you believe are just plain wrong. It takes a whole lot of faith in the God who works in mysterious ways and the Spirit who stirs creativity out of chaos when her people gather… because sometimes, in practice, it just looks like an unholy free-for-all.

This year a resolution on climate change came before the delegate body. Several of the speakers who came to the mics were people who advocated against it, who saw salvation of souls as more important than the saving of the earth, who spoke from a denial of human complicity in the wounding of the earth. This debate, more than any other this year, saddened me. And it has stayed with me.

But the more I think about it, the more I think there is hope in this. This is what true, honest, human disagreement looks like. This is the outcome of egalitarianism in practice, the result of striving to seek out and listen for that of God in every brother and sister. And this is holy because God is working in the midst of it. God never coerces us to love, because God knows that that kind of “love” wouldn’t, in fact, be love. We always have the choice to accept or reject Jesus and Jesus’ in-breaking realm. Likewise, we must allow that in other people.

This is not to say that we don’t continue to try to find the Truth and proclaim it as fully as we know how. This is also not to say that we give up the ability to lovingly hold one another accountable to Jesus-following. But it is to say that a measure of patience is required in our dealings with one another to make sure that we are not coercing one another, dragging one another along by sheer willpower or political stratagems, no matter how subtle. Hearts and minds converted by love, actions that are the result of true repentance, can never have their birth in coercion or fear.

So, as much as I would sometimes like to grab my brothers and sisters by the lapels and shake them when they don’t believe something I believe deep in my soul — to shake them until they submit — in my better moments, I know that to do so would be to do violence to the body, to deny the unsearchable wisdom of God, and to set myself up as God.

Instead, by the Spirit’s help and Jesus’ example, I will search for the voice of God in the midst of this messy egalitarianism, I will proclaim and witness to the truth I think I have glimpsed, and I will seek to open my heart, even in the midst of discussions that make me cringe. Because perhaps my sister or brother who does not agree with me will be the vehicle of my own conversion toward love. Perhaps, ultimately, we will save each other, and in doing so, carefully, faithfully, and obediently in Christ, God might use us together to heal the world.

When Life Becomes Intensely Physical…

This is a reflection I shared at Old South Church’s Sunday evening service a few weeks ago. I hesitated to post it here because I don’t want to be defined by my struggles, physical or otherwise. And yet, it has become so central to my current life and already in many ways so formative of who I am and what’s important to me, that I am finding it hard to write about anything else until I put this out there. So here goes. Blessings in the moments to you all.

The biographical information in the bulletin:
Laura is a musician, teacher, writer, minister, science fiction aficionado,
intentional-community inhabitant, Hoosier, city lover,
mental health worker, theology PhD student, quilter, Anabaptist,
contra dancer, purple admirer, INFJ,
carer for two cats, partner to Jeff, aunt to twin nieces,
connoisseur of simplicity, farmer of peace,
pilgrim, prayer warrior, and star-gazer.

And the reflection:

Let’s pray.
God, you are here with us. Make yourself known, in our bodies, spirits, minds, souls. As we search for you, come find us.

I.
You may have noticed in reading my bio that I am a list-maker. I like things to be orderly and sequential and patterned. So I searched for a way to share with you today a story that would have a clean beginning, a logical progression, and a packaged end, but I could come up with nothing.

My life at the moment has more questions than answers, more stumbles than confident steps. At another time, the story will perhaps make more sense. But for now, I offer what I have – fragments of thoughts, stories, images – a faith that is more of a stained glass window or crazy quilt than a chart, map, or timeline. And perhaps we will glimpse God together in the midst of it all, or perhaps we will together be ushered into a holy darkness with God, or perhaps… well… whatever happens, we will not try too hard to paper over the cracks in the plaster, but trust that the Spirit can make some holy art with them.

II.
As an intern chaplain, I came to the neurological medical/surgical wing of the hospital every day for a summer. I walked into rooms not knowing what I would find and whether I would be yelled at to go away, asked for an exorcism, a song, or a prayer, met with joyful laughter or despairing tears or blank stares. All I knew was that my job was to try to find love, hope, and God in the rooms somewhere, even if God seemed to be tiny, silent, or hiding.

For a week in room 326, Tommy greeted me every day as if it were the first time we’d met. He was having trouble with memory and had come to the hospital because of a severe stroke. Every day, after re-introducing himself to me, he catalogued for me his scars. Four scars, four surgeries, shown and told over and over again. This was what he wanted me to know about himself and his journey with illness – that he was a survivor, that he could be known through his weakness, healing and healed, but still visible. When I asked about God, Tommy showed me his scars.

III.
Two weeks ago, I started walking with a cane. My body has been inexplicably breaking down for the past 9 months, and all the doctors and tests have come up with only stabs in the dark as to why. As much as my logic brain says that using a cane is not shameful or a failure, as much as my theology education rushes in to say that God is present and still loves me, I still find myself very often wanting desperately to throw my cane against the wall. Fancy theology or not, my prayers these days are often internal screams of curses at God.

IV.
A week after Easter, churches around the world read the story of Thomas, who is not with the others when Jesus appears after his resurrection. Many preachers talk about his doubt or faith. Many other preachers talk about Jesus’ willingness to meet us where we are.

Here’s what I kept thinking that day.

Thomas doesn’t ask to see Jesus, when he hears that Jesus is resurrected. He asks to see Jesus’ wounds. If he believes that Jesus was resurrected and appeared, enough to ask to see him, why does he anticipate that Jesus will still have wounds? Wouldn’t he think that resurrection would take away wounds? After the defeat of death and transformation into utter wholeness, why would our God still have wounds?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

Except… there are times when I can’t imagine myself without my scars. Would anyone recognize me if I didn’t have those quirks, weaknesses, survived traumas, frailties? Is this what Thomas is asking for – a way to recognize Jesus the Resurrected One as the same as Jesus the Crucified One?

And then there’s this… If Jesus is entirely whole after his resurrection, completely holy from top to toe, and yet he still has wounds, then perhaps there is hope for people like me and Thomas, hope for Tommy in his many surgeries, hope for pilgrims with blistered feet and worn dreams, hope for all of us with our many wounds and scars – perhaps wholeness does not depend on being free from wounds or without blemish. Perhaps wholeness, holiness is something deeper. Perhaps this God of ours has the power to transform wounds into holiness, not leaving us in our brokenness, bitterness, and vulnerability, but yet not denying their part in making us who we are.

If that is who God is… then maybe that God is worth worshipping with our whole and broken lives.

V.
I was in the Harvard Square T station, attempting to navigate slowly and exhaustedly the long and newly-treacherous-for-me ramp, hoping only to not fall down. Most people flew past me, in a hurry to get to their next activity.

One person I could see out of the corner of my eye, guitar on his back, at a safe and comfortable distance from me, slowed down to match my pace, as if to say, “I see that this is hard for you. I don’t know you, but let me be your companion for a little bit.” When I got to the bottom of the ramp and through the gates, we parted ways, never even overtly acknowledging each other.

In that moment, I was seen and known, and my stumbling mattered and was held, while at the same time it did not matter because there was a deeper wholeness present.

Jesus, was that you?

VI.
Here’s another thing I’ve been thinking about. In my understanding of faith, Jesus looks like God. We can know what kind of God we worship by looking at what kind of person Jesus was. We worship a God who plays with mud and uses a glob of spit to heal. We worship a God who washes and caresses feet as a living sermon, a God so in tune with the spiritual connection to the physical that he can tell when someone has touched the hem of his coat and been healed by that touch.

I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela last summer in Spain, all 500 hot and sweaty miles of it. It was beautiful and profound and I find myself able to adequately describe very little of it.

I noticed, on the trail, that when you asked people, “How are you?” their answer most often had something to do with their feet – how many blisters, how sore, what miracle cream solution they had used, what parts of their shoes were falling apart. In a life paired down to the bare essentials, where you carry everything you possess on your back, and where your only task is to put one foot in front of another, life becomes very intensely physical. Feet and backs, sweat and thirst, sun and rain on skin. “How are you?” “My feet hurt a lot today.”

But life for us on earth is always intensely physical, is it not? Sometimes we are able to forget that, but certainly not if we are tired, sore, lonely, jumping for joy…

We worship a God who understands that. And who does not dismiss that, but meets us
with bread and wine for our grumbling stomachs,
water for our aching feet,
oil for our bowed heads,
kisses of peace for cheeks red with shame and fear,
spit and mud for blinded eyes.

We worship a God who knows the connection between body and spirit in God’s very own body and spirit.

VII.
I don’t know what’s next on this journey for me. A year ago, I was setting out for two months to be a pilgrim with hiking poles. Today, I continue my pilgrimage with a cane.

I do not always sense God’s presence. But most of the time I am confident that the God whose promises sustained my ancestors in faith is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

I keep praying the old prayers and listening to the old stories, because while words fail me in this pilgrimage, there are saints galore who have traveled these paths before me and their faith can, for now, stand in for mine.

I keep coming to the table and to the font, because God knows enough about me to know that when life gets intensely physical, the cure for what ails me is not in high-falutin’ words but in touch and mud, water and food.

I keep coming to be among you and singing the old songs, because when I cannot sing, you can sing for me until I can find my voice again. And someday, I will sing with you again, perhaps even singing your song for you for a time.

I keep coming back, time and again, to the Body of Christ, because when I cannot hold my own faith, the gathered body can carry it for me. And we can share each others’ joys and sorrows, fears and hope, falterings and faith, until we’ve together seen this journey through.

“Let us pray” and authority

A former worship professor of mine wrote a great (if slightly ranting) blog post the other day about the theological and practical difference between “Will you join me in prayer?” and “Let us pray.”  That post sparked a lot of Facebook discussion, which prompted her to post three other really good blog posts.  If you’re like me, you’ll like a lot of what she writes (or at least it will make you think), so you should just check her blog out.

That whole discussion has stayed with me.  Some of those who mentioned not liking “Let us pray” noted that it is a command.  Although the language technically is one of invitation, I can see why people experience it as more command-like.  But it has me thinking about authority.

This morning, as I was doing yoga, my online video teacher repeatedly said things like, “please go into warrior pose” or “if you want to, join me in this pose.”

This evening in German class, my teacher asked us about every 10 minutes what we wanted to do in the class or if we liked the exercise we were doing or if we would rather do something different and what we would rather do.

And all that has me thinking again about authority.

There are times when I want (dare I say, we want?) to have someone lead me (us?) with a firm (though not tyrannical) hand.  There are times when I voluntarily give authority to my yoga instructor and my German teacher, and I want them to tell me what to do next.

Sometimes I think we in certain segments of the church shoot ourselves in the foot by shying away from taking authority or allowing others to have that kind of authority.

Don’t get me wrong — I know of many ways that power has been and continues to be abused, inside the church and outside of it.  But we do ourselves and other church members a disservice, I think, if we allow that abuse of power to be our only example of leadership and power — if we give up understandings of authoritative speech altogether, leaving them only to those who pervert those understandings for selfish ends.

I am convinced that there is place for loving direction and voluntary submission.

So maybe… maybe “Let us pray,” is an expression among many possible expressions of that kind of loving direction, exercised for a particular time, granted by the calling of God and the assent of the people, voluntarily submitted to by others, and held accountable to Christ and Christ’s body.

On Children… A Teaching Philosophy?

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

~On Children, Kahlil Gibran

I’ve been thinking about a teaching philosophy and trying this on for size… reading “students” in place of “children.”  I’m not sure this quite captures it — I’ve not played with it enough yet.  But it does capture something about  being firm in one’s own identity and subject matter, while also allowing room for the hand and aim of God, as well as the identity and momentum of the student.  It does begin to speak to the need to remain humble in the presence of an ultimate impossibility of being able to name an ending point.  At the same time, it  encourages the teacher to take her role seriously, being honed at God’s hand into the best, most stable, and yet most flexible bow possible.

What do you all think?

Quicksand, zombies, and the church

This morning I listened to a RadioLab podcast about quicksand that began with the observation that children in schools are not afraid of quicksand, though people of their parents’ generation were.

The reporter, in his work to discover why this changed, noticed that the height of use of quicksand scenes in movies was in the 1960s.  Whether this was a cause or an effect was not conjectured, but the reporter noted that quicksand references were present in many of the biggest cultural concerns of the time:  MLK, Jr. talked about the quicksand of racism, there was a concern that the moon landing might literally end up in lunar quicksand, and the Vietnam War was likened to quicksand.  RadioLab postulated that the rapid change of the era had people fearful of getting stuck and overwhelmed in unfamiliar territory, making quicksand a compelling image of collective anxiety.

At the beginning of the piece, in almost a throw-away aside, the reporter asks the children this question: If you aren’t afraid of quicksand, what are you afraid of?  Not surprisingly, one of the quick answers was zombies.

So this, then, is the question that has been following me this morning:  If one of our strongest images of collective fear, analogous to quicksand in the 1960s, is zombies, what is the church doing to combat (or, from another perspective, redeem) our “zombies”?  What about “vampires”?

Go ahead and laugh.  I did, when I first thought of the question.  But the more it stays with me, the more I think it’s begging for a serious answer.  Are we being the kind of church that has an answer to “zombie apocalypse”?  What might that kind of church be like?

Sabbath delight

I am thirsting for rest — not just for rest of body, but also rest of spirit. I thirst for a chance to step out of my important work to remember my true place in the delightful work of God. So tomorrow I am determined to begin a Sabbath practice again.

In preparation for that, I am looking again at my practice from a couple years ago. It was inspired by a class on Sabbath in which we read, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath, an exquisitely beautiful book. He writes about Sabbath as a gift of a sanctuary in time, especially needed today in the midst of our modern attempts to bend time to our will.

I was also inspired by Marva Dawn’s book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, in which she works with a Christian understanding of Sabbath to identify four movements in the concept of Sabbath: ceasing, resting, embracing, feasting. With this emphasis, she works to counter the misunderstanding that Sabbath is about prohibitions and obligations by drawing connections to the wholeness and joy that can come from attuning our rhythm with God’s.

Given all of that, I’d like to share the way in which I have imagined and practiced Sabbath (can you tell I’m a list-maker?). This is but one possibility among many, it is specific to my own spiritual needs and life, and it is a practice in progress. In hopes that it might inspire your own practice or that it might inspire you to share your own practice with others…

LAURA’S SABBATH PRACTICE

Day before Sabbath:
tidy apartment (put all work, lists, books away; put everything in its proper place, take out trash if needed)
shop for any groceries or supplies needed (including creative or cooking supplies)
finish any work that cannot wait a day
do all of this with care and intention — as preparing for a guest

To welcome Sabbath:
attend an evening worship if possible
pick a Sabbath quote to post on Facebook, close out all internet activities
make tea
turn on music
light candle with prayer (naming any worries and giving them to God for at least 25 hours; thanksgiving for creation, love,…; welcoming and dedicating the Sabbath)
enjoy tea, candle, music until bed
if desired, think through possible activities — being careful not to attach schedule or expectations on any of them
go to bed, don’t set an alarm

Sabbath:
Avoid
anything that feels like work or has any pressure to perform or produce
using money
scheduled activities, looking at the time
internet and screens
driving
worries and lists
things that make me sad or heavy

Seek
outside activities, physical activities with no pressure
creativity
cooking playfully
eating intentionally and slowly
prayer and other ways of connecting with God
reading for fun, piano and music for fun
activities with others
playing with cats, play and laughter in general
writing letters (with no pressure)
God hunt (where have I seen God in the last week, where do I find God today…)
general delight
favorite foods (in moderation)
affection

End of Sabbath:
light candle again with prayer (thanks for Sabbath, work, and rest; dedication of work week)
Sabbath ends just before bedtime — set alarm for next day
try not to check e-mail or Facebook (or do work) until the following morning

By far, the most important (and difficult) practices of this have been the lack of schedule (and the freedom from clocks) and the freedom from work and screens. The quality of the space that opened up in me because of these practices was astounding, balancing, and joy-nurturing.

But the hard part is that Sabbath is not utilitarian — it’s part of the foolishness of faith that only makes sense through experience and in the framework of God’s Story. So on the eve of my first Sabbath in a while, I find myself anxious and needing to summon all my courage in order to let go of my grip on my work, schedules, lists, clocks, internet…. I feel as though the world might just fall apart in the next 25 hours… and maybe without all that stuff I won’t actually know who I am… and yet, by God’s grace, I am determined to dive in anyway, sensing the call of Christ to jump in the deep end on this one. Who knows what wonders I might discover there.

One of the things I remember most clearly from the class on Sabbath is this: if I wait until I have time for Sabbath, I will never do it. There will always be more good work to fill the time. The very act of setting apart time for the Holy within the weekly will reorient all time, but beginning must be a leap of faith.

So here I go… I’ll be back in internet communication on Saturday morning. Until then, I leave you with a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

And a question: What do you or would you include in your Sabbath practice, ritual, and spirit?

Questions Reframed, #1

I mentioned in a previous comment that I find myself needing to reframe the typical Protestant questions / debates before I can articulate Church of the Brethren beliefs. Because I have studied ecumenical theology, I understand the questions, but the questions themselves don’t quite make sense in a Brethren context. So, here’s the beginning of a series on “questions reframed.”

Typical question: Which is more important, faith or works? Which comes first, grace or works?

This question is often thought of in a justification / sanctification framework, almost in a court-based paradigm or a mathematic formula. Lutherans and others say grace and faith, of course! Catholics and pietists might put more emphasis on the human works in response. Most everyone agrees that grace (in whatever form) comes first or is the precondition for all human goodness.

But I find myself tongue-tied when I try to answer the question framed in this way. Here’s what I want to say in response…

An acorn grows into an oak tree. What’s more important in the growth, the acorn’s potential and “action” or the sun/rain? Which comes first in the growth process, the acorn’s potential and growth or the sun/rain’s nourishment?

A child and a mother are connected. Which is more important, the child’s personhood and action or the mother’s love? Which came first, the child’s interaction with the mother or the mother’s interaction with the child? When the mother teaches, which is more important, the response of the child or the teaching of the mother? Can you really parse out where each love starts and ends and which love is more important or came first?

I guess what I’m saying with all this, primarily, is that if we think in terms of more organic processes, we don’t have to have a “first” or “more important” but can recognize that somewhere in the space between, the dynamic process happens such that beginnings and endings, firsts and lasts, gives and takes get all mixed up. That, I think, is where God is.

So perhaps a more fitting question is “What is the nature of the dynamic process between God and humans?” or “In what ways can we understand and experience ourselves as part of the flow of grace that connects us with the divine?”

God-talk and dancing

NuDunkers are gearing up for another conversation, this time about how Church of the Brethren folk do our God-talk. The brothers and sister who have so far commented on this have written beautiful and impassioned and historical statements about the Church of the Brethren’s mode of doing most of our God-talk and God-knowing with our bodies — through our service, our witness, our rituals. There are solid historical and theological (and even cultural) reasons for this, many of which are explored in other places and more of which will be explored in the conversation on Thursday (more information here about how to be involved).

This aspect of our tradition is one of my very favorites — we know our theology in our bones before we can articulate it (and in ways we could never articulate). Because of our depth of practice, our theology springs forth like streams of living water from within our common experience.

And yet… I want to provide “the other side,” perhaps more of a vision and hope than a description of what currently is. In the Church of the Brethren, I believe we are now being called to do more thinking, writing, and speaking of our God-talk. I believe that (as evidenced by the NuDunker conversations themselves) God is inspiring in Church of the Brethren members a move toward being able to articulate our beloved traditions in service to the denomination and broader church.

May it never be that we replace our practices with theologizing. May it never be that we flatten our rituals by explaining the life out of them. May it never be that God-talk becomes something that some people do and others do not, rather than being shared by all. And, God help us, may our theology never keep us from loving or being fully in the world, from encountering the mystery of God and the beauty of the daily.

But my experience is that, far from shutting down mystery, beauty, ritual, and discipleship, God-talk that follows joy and awe continually finds itself opening and stretching toward God.

People from the outside are increasingly looking to this ritually-rich tradition, and first we must say “come and see!” but we must also be ready to account for the hope that is within us — ready to uncover together the stirrings of mind (as well as heart, soul, and strength) that are present within the tradition and to seek together the Spirit’s “new thing” among us.

If we are in danger of losing our ritual, it is at least in part because we have not done the theological dance of interpretation that can be an opening for the Spirit to breathe new life into the church. I hear often that study easily becomes stale and keeps us from moving forward. This can be true, certainly of study that is disconnected from devotion and life. But equally, brothers and sisters, practice that is done “just because we do it” can become stale and can keep us from moving forward. Who among us has not heard a brother or sister say “that’s the way we’ve always done it” as a way of closing a door on new possibilities?

Theology and practice are inextricably linked, and either one becomes anemic without the other.

To most of the broader church I would say, put down your theology texts for a while and just live into the ritual and communal life. Let your body do your thinking for a while — seek to experience faith like a master carpenter knows the wood, like music lives in the body of a passionate pianist.

To the Church of the Brethren I say, let’s talk about what’s meaningful to us in what we do. Let’s think about where and how God is in our midst in and through our practices. And, more than that, let’s open a little more room to experience study, learning, and God-talk as devotion and as a dance with mystery.

I read a quote this week that resonated deeply with me — from Serena Jones (a systematic and constructive theologian) a description of how she senses her work in theology in relation to faith:

“In those moments when I am most thoroughly immersed in teaching such things, it feels more like I’m dancing or story-telling or even playing a vigorous game of soccer or poker than engaging in something disembodied and abstract. What is very clear to me, in the midst of it all, is that doing systematic theology is itself a practice — a form of engaged knowing, a disciplined habit of body and mind, a patterned action, a way of embracing the world that is as embodied and ritualized and traditioned and improvisational as any of the other forms of ‘practical know-how’ more typically associated with practical theology.” (For Life Abundant, eds. Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass)

We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are called to gather the gifts of the people of God, affirming the worth of all members of the body and encouraging the gifts of all members for the building up of the body. To marginalize a study or articulation of theology, in my mind, can easily perpetuate the same excess (just in the other direction) as ivory tower elitists marginalizing congregational practice.

In truth, all our seeking to know God, all our devotion, all our lives and practices can be caught up in the divine dance of the Trinity. By the grace of God and with the use of the very best of our gifts, this, over all, is what we should seek and continually open ourselves toward experiencing.

(PS, here are the blogs of fellow NuDunkers on this topic:
Discipleship not Dogma by Josh Brockway
Yeoman Theology by Brian Gumm
Ritually Rich by Dana Cassell
Living Theology by Matt McKimmy

And here are a couple other posts that I’ve already written that connect with this one and give a fuller picture of my own understanding of this issue:
Paul and Practical Theology
Apo-what-ic?)