Monday, March 31, 2008

Mike: Response to Rami's March 30 Post

Let's take the matters you raise one at a time.

(1) You wrote, "I am intrigued that your faith has led you 'to experience a sense of the presence of God...I never find God in the box of religion, but only when the box is stripped away, etc." Start with the "box." The longer I live with Christianity, the more liberating it becomes. The God Who meets me there keeps pushing at the boundaries. The "box" keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Like you, I find it interesting that liberation has come to us in different ways. Perhaps this has to do with starting places. While born into a culture dominated by Christianity, I found my early spiritual home in literature and science. God sought and found me there in the stories associated with various mythologies, the novels of writers such as Lewis and Tolkien, the simple basics of physics and astronomy and the like. I backed into Christianity through such things. As a result, Christianity in the end was not so much a box as a universe in which God became even more real to me.

As for the presence of God, my personal experience is modest. All I can really say is that at various moments I've known in my bones that I'm standing on holy ground in the presence of God, the One revealed in Jesus yet also the One Who is beyond knowing. On the basis of such experiences, I resonate with writers such as Phyllis Tickle, who speaks of feeling the Presence on the other side of a thin wall. Frankly, such experiences strengthen whatever resolve I have to resist treating anything else as if it were God. Non-verifiable experience? You bet. Still, it's there--and I've got lots of company when one looks back over the centuries.

(2) As for Baptists and religious freedom, you know your history. You're also right about the public perception of the Baptist brand. There's more, though, to the contemporary story. Most Baptist bodies in the United States and the world continue to support religious freedom. The Baptist Joint Committee actively monitors the state of religious liberty in the United States and takes various actions designed to protect and foster such liberty. In any case, I think a deep commitment to genuine religious liberty remains a vital counterpoint to religious predjudice and violence.

(3) "Spiritual formation, I think, always requires that we die in some sense in order to live an authentic human life." You're right. Similar sentiments exist in a range of religions. I also think it relates directly to our topic and text. In the case of the story, the Israelites have to die to the gods of Egypt in order to live well with the God who brought them out of Egypt. It's a multi-faceted death involving perceptions, patterns of dependence, habits of speech, and the like. As quickly becomes apparent, it's hard to keep idolatry in the grave!

Much of our spiritual formation involves discerning and putting away idols, and this nearly always feels as if we are dying. "I can't do that. I can't live without it." We honestly believe our life depends on the idol.

We're right in a sense. When we put down an idol the life we lived in service to the idol dies. Dying usually hurts. Much to our surprise, though, we find we outlived the idol and can do quite well without it, better in fact. Racism, imperialism, and the like rank as some of the big-time idols we must die to in our era. Of equal importance are the more personal idols, little house-hold gods as it were: greed, fear of the other, vengence and the like. Each one must be put away in favor of following the light we're given by the living God.

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