DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What To Make Of It

Written by: on March 1, 2015

(Reposted, since the link was broken.  Thanks Bill and Liz for letting me know)

 

Sitting on the veranda of the oldest Baptist Church in Australia within the Central Business District in Melbourne, Australia my new Aussie friend and I were discussing life, our stories of faith, the weaving of doubt and faith, trust and control. The conversation between us flowed and was enjoyed as much as our cappuccinos. (If you are ever in Melbourne you will find their coffee and Melbourne’s coffee culture exceeds anything you will find in the Pacific Northwest – home of Starbucks, Stumptown and numerous coffee suppliers). We both spoke “English,” yet there were times when my “American” English, in particular my “Northwest” version of it and her Australian version, with its unique “slang” were words passing each other. Sometimes I did not know what she was saying; sometimes she did not know what I was saying. In the weeks and months that followed we learned from one another. I became accustomed to the Aussie culture and its particular slang. “The people as ‘nation’ is often seen as the bearer of a certain language or culture. The world is lived and sung in a way which is special to our nation and its language.”[1] My immanent frame, as Charles Taylor might refer to it, was stretched.

 

Sitting in a seminary classroom in 2007 I heard in the voice of my Missional Ecclesiology professor[2] a perspective from outside the United States reflecting and informing my American viewpoint, “Do you realize that following 9/11 America had the good will of the world? (pause) And you squandered it.” In an Old Testament classroom several months later I listened as methodically my professor set the stage as we considered “who” God was for Israel: savior, redeemer, rescuer, warrior, protector, healer. On we went drawing from Scripture a biblical framework for God’s character and relationship with Israel. Listening to the words of the priest Hananiah how could Jeremiah be a true prophet and how could Hananiah be the false one? Hananiah had the answers, what he proposed aligned with the God that had come through for Judah time and again. We were puzzled, what was the distinction? My immanent frame was being expanded.

 

My immanent frame was constructed of assuredness, what was true and what was not and fidelity to what I knew as truth. You did not question; told what constituted beliefs I had sought to affirm that truth in my life. I fit in well with “the drive to a new form of religious life, more personal, committed, devoted; more christocentric.”[3] I was shaped by the reality of Christian life and what constituted that life. “Adhere” is a word that Charles Taylor uses, it fit me well. “Individualism, as it emerges from the process of Reform, is first of all that of responsibility. I have to adhere, in a personal commitment, to God, to Christ, to the Church.” [4] How did I remain within this framework and when did things begin to change? Where did the initial cracking occur? The answer comes within the time of life. My children were in public grade school playing youth sports on the weekends; my personal interactions with others began to change. These interactions paved the way for exposure. Taylor’s description of social order as a blueprint for how we understand God’s plan describes my view and how I wanted to be viewed.[5] “Strong Christianity will demand allegiance to certain theological beliefs or ecclesiastical structures, and this will split a society which should be intent simply on securing mutual benefit.”[6] So how or why did I not remain closed? How have I remained anchored and open?

 

James K.A. Smith asked a pointed question in How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.

“A lot of contemporary apologetics, bent on ‘defending the faith’ against charges of the  new atheists, seem to offer a transcendent ‘spin’ as the alternative to immanent ‘spin.’ What might a Christian apologetic look like that offers a transcendent ‘take’ on our experience, even at points recognizing the force and persuasive power of an immanent ‘take’?”[7]

This changes the conversation. It describes the shift I have experienced.

 

Smith and Taylor reminded me of Alan Jamieson’s book, A Churchless Faith: Faith Journeys Beyond the Churches. Jamieson’s book resulted from interviews conducted in New Zealand in the mid-late 1990’s. His interviews and interactions with church leavers revealed not an absence of faith, but continuing faith. He recognized in the stories of church leavers a pattern developed. The “progression” is not a linear process; there is often an ebb and flow. Sometimes a tipping point is all that is needed while others find their way by investing in the questions. Jamieson drew upon the faith stages work of James Fowler to comprehend what he was seeing among church leavers. Those who have made their way are described as “Integrated Wayfinders” characterized by an interdependency for their inner faith life and toward relationships. They expressed an integrated faith – comfortable with and able to hold the tensions, often reflecting a more generous posture toward those of other faiths (or no faith). Their faith is self-governing, a faith they take ownership for and are active in praxis. Rather than a weakened faith, they have ‘come out’ with a strong and secure faith.[8]

 

One of the questions I am attending to is what self-governing is in relationship with and toward what end? What represented authority in their life prior to leaving church? How is authority represented in their life now, in relationship to what? If humanity within our secular frame affirms self as the authority what is different when one has a self-governing faith? (Questions, questions!). Taylor has reminded me, rather strongly, that for those of faith who are shaped by an open world view in which God is present our framework must change in orientation. Rather than continue to function as if belief in God is the expected norm we need to think from the standpoint (orientation) that the norm is now that belief in God is no longer the prevailing world view. This upsets the apple cart of how I might structure church in the present with an eye toward the future. No longer a provider of goods and services that offer something for others to partake in, “come here, join us.” Our transformation will require an investment in the challenges of belief and of secularism by conversation and listening.[9]

 

“We can never know God. The one who lies behind Creation can never be grasped directly.”[10]

 

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2007), 579.

[2] Just in case you are wondering, my professor in that Fall 2007 course was Dr. Jason Clark.

[3] Taylor, 541.

[4] Ibid.

        [5] Ibid. , 543.

        [6] Ibid., 546.

        [7] James K.A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2014), 96.

        [8] Alan Jamieson, A Churchless Faith: Faith Journeys Beyond the Churches (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002), 98, 100, 102.

         [9] Smith, 120.

        [10] Taylor, 763.

Note: initially published (British time on 1/28 @5:01 p.m.)

About the Author

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Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

5 responses to “What To Make Of It”

  1. Russ Pierson says:

    Carol, I can vouch that your original post was much earlier; the teaser was there on the DMINLGP home page, but the link didn’t work. Glad you reposted!

    I really resonate with this post; it’s as though you’ve been reading my diary, looking back over the past several years. As someone who spent most of adult life in full-time ministry and has now transitioned into public education, I’ve been on a similar journey of change, investing–as you suggest–in those “… challenges of belief and of secularism by conversation and listening.”

    And I love the Taylor quote you choose to end with: “We can never know God. The one who lies behind Creation can never be grasped directly.” Our response to that seems to me to be a kind of litmus test, representing where we find ourselves on the scale of being open/closed.

    Thanks so much,

    Russ

    • Russ …

      Thank you for your words and input. In some ways, perhaps even more than I realize seminary provided the path I needed toward maintaining my faith. 🙂 I hope to continue to learn how to listen and how to be present in conversation.

      Grace …

  2. Carol, what a very thought-provoking post with many questions and avenues of discussion. I believe you have given a good answer to your question as to why you have not changed. Our faith must make us weak at the same time it makes us strong. I am weak in his presence knowing that my need for him is greater than all other things. But at the same time, out of that deep relationship I’ve become strong in my faith and am able to face whatever the world may have before me.

    Through this person relationship my faith is strengthened and encouraged. I’ve moved beyond mere rules and regulations that tie me to this Jesus. It is the intimacy we have shared that binds me. Without this many may find Jesus to be nothing more than religion and rules which will never hold a person to their God. My imminent frame includes my Jesus in such a way that even in the face of death I would not deny him. Thanks Carol!

  3. Mitch…
    Interesting and thank you for your thoughts and reflection. I paused for a second when you wrote that I had not changed, because I think I have, at least how I understand God, God’s purposes and ways. Yet as you wrote I am anchored in my faith as are you. Perhaps that is part of our challenge — understanding anew what it is to be faithful, which means that humility must be part of our posture so that we are open to learn and to grow in our relationship without knowing all the answers. Grateful to journey with you and for your input and insights along the way.

  4. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Carol,
    Thank you for sharing your cross-cultural experience. I love how you choose to slow down and make time to fellowship and listen/share stories of faith journeys with others. Also, I love your curiosity and critical thinking skills. You ask lots of thought provoking questions that I continue to contemplate on. I don’t have any question to ask, but I love your way of analyzing things. For this line summarizes what Taylor’s is trying to communicate: “Rather than continue to function as if belief in God is the expected norm we need to think from the standpoint (orientation) that the norm is now that belief in God is no longer the prevailing world view.” Thank you!

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