The Spiritual Landscape
Then there is always an atheist or an agnostic in the Progressive mix who adds, "There is no God, so there is nothing to report." One or two even argued that it was the existence of God that is the issue that Tony should be addressing.
I'm not going to respond to each of these suggestions individually. There is something to be said for each of the first seven. And I'm not going to respond to the atheist-agnostic complaint. I realize that there is always someone in that camp lurking on the fringes of the Progressive Christian community with the message, "I can't believe you can be this smart and believe something so stupid." But the only truly stupid move we can make is to start every conversation about God by trying to convince people who don't believe in God that they should.
We do. They don't. For purposes of this conversation that's enough.
I am much more interested in why we Progressives find it so hard to talk in immediate terms about an experience of God and/or a sense of what God is telling us. Here is my list, which grounds many of the seven reasons cited above in a longer historical view.
One: As I have argued elsewhere, the American Protestant church is a product of the American Revolution and has always been joined to it at the hip. Because I've made this argument before, I won't spend too much time with it here, but the long and short of it is this: The American church is a product of our national history and we are its homely, powerless, wanna-be twin sister.
In sorting ourselves out relative to the unpleasantness of 1776, we pulled down the charred remains of the bridge to the ancient church that was burned in the Reformation and invented a new one—stripped of mystery, stripped of a sense of itself, dependent upon the democratic process, and deeply imbedded in national affairs.
It is no wonder, then, that we feel most alive when we mirror one political party or another, attend national prayer breakfasts, send our national representatives to the White House, issue resolutions, or tweet our opinion about the way real Christians will vote. Have we "got God?" "You betcha'. I'm pretty sure that God has been hired by both candidates' Political Action Committees and will be telling us how to vote any day now."
Don't misunderstand: I have no problem with seeing the spiritual relevance of the political choices that we make. I am one of those who are convinced that, in fact, there may be very little to life, if anything, without spiritual significance of some measure. But judging from our vocabulary, the time we spend on things political, and the fact that we are prepared to trash the entire church in arguments over the latest bit of legislation out of Washington, plainly our emphasis on it is in the wrong place.
Yes, I know that we've defined politics as the management of our common life, and I know all the arguments about why Jesus was political. But God is and has been devoted to something larger than politics for quite some time now. Witness, for example, how many nations and empires that have blown away with the dust—or the complete lack of interest that Jesus exhibited in the fortunes of the Roman Empire and its taxes.
But because this is where we live, a conversation or encounter with God is secondary. And it shouldn't surprise us that most people find it is easier to just get a voter registration card.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/