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.
I 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:
- Walter Brueggemann
- Brother David Steindl-Rast
- Sister Simone Campbell
- Fr. Richard Rohr
- Martin Marty
- Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
- Karen Armstrong
- John O’Donohue
- Sister Joan Chittester
- Eugene Peterson
- Thich Nhat Hanh
- Desmond Tutu
- The Dalai Lama
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!
So 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!