Getting Outside of a Boxed-in Faith

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I recently attended a workshop with Anna Carter Florence on “Preaching the Verb”. While the focus of the workshop, understandably, was on the verbs, she commented that adjectives are rarer than verbs and nouns in scripture. Therefore, when there is an adjective, we need to pay attention to it. This side comment has stuck with me and made me take more notice of adjectives- not only in the bible but in our faith language as well.

If asked to throw out the first descriptive words that come to mind when you think of the word faith, I have a feeling most of us would say: comforting, belief, love, hope, foundation and other similar words.

These words seem so passive, so tame and, while our faith can be a comforting foundation, a source of love and hope, I feel that there is something more- something we are missing if these are the only words we encounter when it comes to our faith. Over and over again in scripture, I discover God doing something unexpected, something new that messes with the expectations of faithful people. This is especially true in this Season of Pentecost when one of our metaphors for the Holy Spirit is fire- untameable, powerful, unpredictable fire.

I am enthralled and inspired by more active unpredictable words for faith like: energizing, exhilarating, risky, reckless, abundant, challenging, radical, passionate, extravagant, extraordinary. These words too have a foundation in scripture, but more importantly, they ignite something in me. This is the kind of faith that keeps me on my toes, never bored, not sure what is around the next corner and never stuck in doing the same old thing just because it is familiar and safe. These are the kinds of words that keep me learning, praying, asking questions and seeking God’s voice.

I am going out on a bit of a limb this Sunday in worship. This week is our annual church picnic held off sight at a park lodge. I enjoy this opportunity to have a basically blank space in which I can move and place the chairs and worship space in ways that our sanctuary space limits me. So, I always try to take advantage of the opportunity.

So, this week, the theme is Wisdom’s participation in God’s creation of the world. This is a perfect theme for being in a space full of windows looking out onto a grassy field and trees. But instead of simply talking about how Wisdom participated with God in creation, I want us to experience the act of creating. Creativity is an attribute of the divine and a spiritual discipline we can cultivate. So, this is where it will get a little crazy. We will have tables set up with craft supplies and after setting up the purpose of the activity, people will enter a time of creating in whatever form that might take. This is an application of an experience I had at Presbyterian CREDO last month.

I think this will be a breath of fresh air to some and a challenge for others. It will be something all ages in our church can participate in: from two years old and up. My hope is that we can open ourselves up to connect with our Creating God in a new way and see how we are called to participate in acts of creating for God’s kingdom.

I admit this is a bit of a digression from my original topic, but by experiencing faith in a new and perhaps challenging way helps us to connect to those less tamable adjectives for faith and see that when we try something new, we may be transformed in ways we never thought possible.

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Childlike Exploration

I love watching my daughter playing in the backyard. At two years old, everything is new. She enjoys hunting dandelions and asks what the leaves and the pinecones and the buds on the branches are. Every bug is a ladybug and she constantly asks “What that Mommy?”  What I love the most about her backyard adventures is the complete joy she takes in discovering something new. She roams around the yard, no knowing what she will discover around the next corner or under the next rock.

This reminds me of how we should approach our faith and worship. But all too often, worship becomes routine, something that we do out of habit instead of a desire to praise the God who loves us. How often have we come to worship and only half listened to the prayers, only half paid attention to the words of the songs we sin? Or what about when, upon hearing the scripture text we thought, “I know this story” and tune out until it is over? Scripture then, also becomes routine, something we fully pay our attention to only when it is a story we are not familiar with… and then it is something we need to conquer and dissect.

Instead, we need to kindle a child-like attitude toward worship. Jesus said “come to me like a little child”. In part this means coming to worship in an attitude that sees it as unknown territory to explore; expecting to encounter something new under the rock of scripture; to discover how God is moving and breathing among us. One way we do this at my church is when we worship in creative ways. The liturgical art and interactive worship opportunities enable us to see a familiar story or concept in a new way. They provide a different lens through which to perceive timeless truths.

I pray that along this journey of faith we keep our sense of wonder and exploration, like a child discovering the joys of God’s creation of the first time, when we come to worship every week. May we put aside the idea that there is nothing new to discover and open of hearts to hearing in new and fresh ways the living Word of God.