When God is not Assumed

I think we need to take notice.

I regularly receive the weekly On Being Project e-newsletter, The Pause, by Krista Tippett. Many of the weekly themes mirror themes that regularly show up in our pulpits and our religious education programs—belonging, silence and solitude, humility, empathy, connection, etc.

Good graffittiI know we preachers and teachers are always looking for good material that can deepen our understanding of a certain Biblical text. We will use poetry, the lyrics from a song, an overheard comment on the bus, quotes from commentaries, a billboard message, and movie dialogue. Most of us aren’t all that concerned that the material comes from secular sources even as it reinforces Biblical and religious truths.

Certainly much of the material that is found in the The Pause would be good fodder for Sunday sermons. And I would recommend any preacher or teacher to take notice of what they have to say about a variety of topics. But that is not what I mean when I say “I think we need to take notice.”

What I think we need to notice is that it seems that On Being has their finger on the pulse of emerging trends around religion and spirituality. I know they would not advertise themselves as a religious organization or publication. But, regularly, as they explore basic human themes (like belonging, humility and empathy) they turn to religious scholars and writers, priests, pastors, rabbis, and spiritual leaders for insight and wisdom into their chosen theme. On Being is not a religious organization, but they highly value the wisdom of religious traditions. This is important and worth taking notice.

Just take a look at this list of religious figures who have been either quoted or interviewed in the last few newsletters. You likely recognize a few names from your own religious and spiritual seeking:

Conversation around fire
Conversation around the fire

Here is what I want us to notice. In our churches we often start with God and make the connection to the human experience. God is assumed. God is the starting point. What On Being does is start with the human experience and then draws on many different lenses to understand those experiences. The religious lens is not ignored; it is one voice among many, and an important voice at that. Religion is more a resource for the human experience rather than an end in itself.

I have titled this post When God is Not Assumed. Certainly this title can be applied to the The On Being Project and their weekly newsletter. But I am also finding evidence that our churches are increasingly becoming places “where faith and doubt, belief and unbelief” are equally welcome. Like The On Being Project, many of our churches are starting to soften the “God is assumed here” message that seems to automatically accompany any perception that one has of church. I see subtle signs that our churches are less concerned with right belief than they are with accepting people where they are at—theistic and a-theistic, alike!

In our 1001 New Worshiping Communities we are increasingly finding that a belief in God is rarely a prerequisite for participation. Our new worshiping communities are places of hospitality and welcome for people who have questions, who share similar struggles, interests and lifestyles, and who may even flirt closely with agnosticism and atheism. The point is that God is no longer the obvious starting point. God is more of a question than an answer.

God is not the assumption. God is the gift!

Table conversationsSo here is an idea. The On Being Project has an initiative called the Civil Conversations Project. If you are interested in provided a safe and sacred place for people in your community to have important conversations around things that matter you might consider this. What I like about this is that they avoid the usual sacred vs. secular dichotomy that we often see.

You know what I mean. If you go to a church class you usually assume that God will be the starting point or, at least, the central point. If you go to a community class God might not even be welcome. I have seen this personally happen at meetups where all viewpoints are welcome EXCEPT religious viewpoints. Ugh…

Much of our experience is rooted in an either/or world. It’s safe, expected and assumed to talk about God in church. And it’s often dangerous to talk about God anyplace else.

On Being and the Civil Conversations Project breaks through that either/or thinking. In their world God is not assumed, but God is certainly welcomed as a gift.

Our churches are asking, “How do we connect with an increasingly secular community and at the same time not lose our religious identity?”

My friends, On Being is asking a similar question and showing all kinds of success. They may be showing us the way forward.

I think we need to take notice!

3 thoughts on “When God is not Assumed

  1. Brian, thanks once again for your post. You and I read and listen to much the same stuff. We also both ride bikes like maniacs. I was sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. Mine is severely demented and I’m her caregiver. Just letting you know I think you are right on the mark and appreciate your work. Ben Dake

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  2. Interesting! I recall back to the time when Krista Trippet was host of “Speaking of Faith.” I think “On Being” grew out of that. Do you suppose she is “post Christian?” Or following the spiritual trends like any other consumer marketer who wants to keep the show on the air? Or sincerely interested in the crossroads of faith and practice, life in the real world, and the balance of walking a tight rope between culture and spirit. Which leads me to ask of course, is there a missing and broken piece that is causing the dichotomy of the two? If, as Rohr and Morrel say, we are all made in the image of a Triune God-regardless of our spiritual practices or lack thereof, then why a dichotomy at all? There should be three, not two…

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  3. What I read in your post is a shift from a priority of content that is belief based, to a priority of relationship that is human based. Many religions have evolved to worship content, and one must adopt the required beliefs to belong. Now there is a shift to recognize relationship rather than belief as reflecting our connection to the sacred or the divine or God or the universe or whatever vocabulary you want to use. There are no belief eligibility requirements to belong. Everyone belongs.

    A Course in Miracles teaches that our relationship to God directly corresponds to our relationship with each other. We cannot be divided among ourselves and be united with God. Something to think about.

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