The Spiritual Landscape
Four: Hidden behind the other dynamics that have made us reluctant to speak in a direct fashion about God is something more amorphous, but infinitely more powerful: the Progressive fear of being thought of as fundamentalist. Listen for any time at all to Progressives talk about their faith and you will learn far more about what we don't "believe in" than you will learn about what we do believe: We don't believe in being bigoted. We don't believe in being homophobic. We don't believe in creationist assumptions about the origins of the universe. We don't believe in literalist readings of Scripture.
It's not surprising then, to find that we are reticent to claim that we can or have heard God speak. It's one more thing "those crazy, ignorant fundamentalists do." So we certainly don't do it.
None of this is surprising, of course. The label, "Progressive," screams "not-fundamentalist" and implicitly makes the really rather silly historical claim that we became progressive thanks to a faith that—if it weren't for our generation's synergy of faith and learning—would continue to be narrow, repressive, and worst of all, fundamentalist. Frankly, I find the label self-important and a complete misreading of history which—without Christianity's influence (not fundamentalism, just garden variety orthodoxy)—would not be marked by the characteristics we have supposedly "discovered." Read, for example, Marcello Pera's book, Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians. But because we are hell-bent on making sure that no one thinks we are fundamentalist, we have jettisoned the notion that God speaks—wreathing it round with false humility and skeptical reserve.
Where does this leave us?
The irony, of course, is that because the Christian faith is finally about a relationship, the kind of reticence that all factors nurture may not have any bearing on whether God speaks, but it certainly makes it difficult to hear when God does.
"Got God?" Sure.
But are we listening?
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/
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