Monday, February 24, 2014

The Nature of Experience

We United Methodists believe that God is revealed to us through a blend of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  God offers guidance to us through what we call the quadrilateral.  Each one serves as a check and balance to the other lest we attempt to use only one leg of this four-legged stool.

My brother who is a pastor, monastic, and theologian is convinced that one is more important than the others...experience.  I have been thinking about the nature of experience and raise these questions.
1. Who determines what an experience means?
2. Does one experience always have the same meaning, or can that meaning change over time?
3. Can we trust others who help us determine what an experience means?
4. Does our experience of God reflect who God really is?

In his book "Remove the Heart of Stone," Donal Dorr talks about two kinds of meanings of our life experiences.  Imposed meanings come to us from others, or outside influences.  When you have a depth experience someone is there to tell you what that experience means.

An example is the night I walked forward to pray at the altar of my church as a 16 year old teenager.  I don't remember the preacher's message or why I went.  What I remember is a confusing bundle of emotions that were pretty typical for a teenager.  So I had this experience of release and there were tears.  Immediately afterwards I was surrounded by people who cared about me who were also authority figures in my Sunday School teacher, my pastor, my parents, and friends.  It was at that moment that they imposed a meaning on my experience.  They told me that I had been saved.  And I believed them for several decades.

Dorr talks about another type of meaning of our experiences:  Intrinsic meaning.  With this meaning there is time and space for the meaning of our experiences to bubble up from within.  One resists imposing a meaning in order to yield to the intrinsic meaning.  This type of meaning needs time for prayerful reflection.  It comes when we are ready to ponder it.

This is one of the ways a fast-paced world can subvert the process of our spiritual formation.  The world is so wired to make snap judgments on people and issues.  Labels are a simple way to make sense of our world.  But is this world genuine?

I look back on that altar experience differently now.  I do not see it as this pivotal salvation moment, but rather a part of my ongoing returning to God.  It was a way of expressing my desire to know God and let go of a bunch of unhelpful emotions.

My prayer is that God's people will give each other the holy time and space to resist imposing meaning on one another's experiences.  Let us be so present with God and each other so that God can be part of the insight into what life's experiences truly mean.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Church 3.0

Yesterday my friend and mentor, Dr. Elaine Heath, professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, shared this blog as a must read.  It is titled Church 3.0 and was written by Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, current Conference Minister for the Southwest Conference of The United Church of Christ.  Dorhauer makes a striking case for a new reformation needed in the attractional church.  Church 2.0 happened 500 years ago during the Reformation and the changes were strongly resisted by the status quo Church.  

Dorhauer, like myself, is a steward of the institutional church.  We know and love the Church.  But our love for the Church must not get in the way of our love for the gospel.  It is time for a new version of our Christian faith to give birth to new ways of re-presenting Christ to the world.  It is time for Church 3.0.

"Postmodern communities of faith aren’t investing in buildings. Millions of dollars to buy and build property is a waste of missional resources. Stained glass windows used to be necessary when illiterate peoples could not read nor remember the stories of the faith. The stunning beauty and brilliance of story was captured in these magnificent pieces of art, and the gospel was kept alive because of it. Now, it is an opulence that can’t be justified to a world where access to story is but a mouse click away. If property doesn’t directly impact mission, it is a waste."

"Postmoderns don’t want to eliminate any possible means by which the sacred can be experienced. They want to eliminate stale rituals that no longer feed the spiritually hungry."
"This is only a glimpse of what I experienced in my exploration of church 3.0. I love deeply what I see. I trust this expression of the faith to be as authentic as mine – and to ensure that people everywhere will come to know that they are loved, valued, and respected. That is all I need my church and my religion to do or be. It is enough."
I commend this blog to you.
It is why I am involved in the Academy for Missional Wisdom
God is doing a new thing and we need eyes to see!

Grace Always,