Mainline Protestant Channel
We Aren't as Smart as We Think We Are
In my part of the world, Central Pennsylvania, there are people who are afraid to cross the Susquehanna River to go from York to Lancaster or Lancaster to York; there are others who have never been beyond their geographical region or county limits. While all spirituality and politics is local -- Jesus and Socrates never traveled far -- the local can be the catalyst for global thinking if we open ourselves to avenues of learning available to us, most particularly the internet and cable television. If God is omnipresent, then every place can be a window into the divine, inviting us to see God in God's many manifestations. But, we must be willing to go beyond our intellectual and spiritual comfort zones. We must also be willing to sift through the data that confront us with a critical eye.
While there is no one solution to religious illiteracy, many solutions are quite straightforward and, to be honest, simple. People just have to make a commitment to take their faith as seriously as they do their interest in sporting events, Sunday morning soccer, television, or hobbies. While God is present in all these activities, our ability to see God in the "secular" moments of life is grounded in our commitment to regular study and religious practice. It is unlikely that we will see God in the secular if we have never looked for the divine at all.
Bible reading is important, but not sufficient, for religious awareness. Congregants need accessible introductions to scripture, Christian theology, Christian history, and world religions. Because intellectual growth alone is not sufficient for a holistic faith, these studies need to be accompanied by training in spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation as well as service to the community. (I am developing a series of adult study introductions to Christianity and biblical texts for congregational study in my work at Lancaster Theological Seminary. For more information see www.livingtheadventure.org as well as the brief bibliography listed below.)
Moderate and progressive Christians need to reclaim Christian education as an essential aspect of congregational life beginning in childhood and extending throughout the life cycle. This involves creating classes that involve theological reflection, spiritual practices, and social concern. Ultimately the issue is not just religious literacy and ignorance, but a holistic commitment to shaping a life of faith that enables people to experience God in their daily lives, the challenges of life, and in the religious pluralism of our time.
A Brief Bibliography
Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us
Dorothy Bass, ed., Practicing our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People
Dorothy Bass and Don Richter, Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens
Dorothy Bass and Miroslav Volf, eds., Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life
Maxie Dunnam, Workbook of Living Prayer
Bruce Epperly and Kathy Harvey Nelson, eds., Christianity 2.0: Renewing a Life of Faith available at www.livingtheadventure.org)
Bruce Epperly, Holy Adventure: Forty-one Days of Audacious Living
Bruce Epperly, Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.