Next week I’ll be teaching my first college course: Religion 101, an introduction to New Church theology. On the first day of classes (spoiler alert for any students in the class) I plan to have the students discuss three questions: 1.) Why are we here (in this universe)? 2.) Why are we here (at Bryn Athyn College)? and 3.) Why are we here (in Religion 101)?
There are various reasons for approaching the course this way, but this post is just about the particular phrasing of those questions. I thought at first of asking why are you here, but I wanted to talk about more than that. Why are you here is an important question, but asking why are we here will (hopefully) encourage the students to start thinking in terms of community – which includes all of the “why are you here”’s, as well as a collective answer that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
I’ve thought about this kind of thing before when praying the Lord’s prayer, which begins, “Our Father…” It’s a collective prayer. We pray for our daily bread. We ask that the Lord forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors.If I really think about what I’m praying, it is both a comfort and a challenge. When I pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” I’m asking the Lord to give me and the community I’m praying with – my children, my church, the world – what we need. And if I’m praying that from my heart, I’m also going to be concerned about being a part of the answer to that prayer for our communities. When I pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” it’s not only a commitment to forgive those who have hurt me (as if that wasn’t hard enough!) – it’s a commitment to foster a spirit of forgiveness within the communities that pray with me.
It is incredible and humbling to recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ loves me, Coleman, as an individual, with all my failings. But it’s also so vital for me to remember that he also loves me as part of us. It’s never me on my own with God – it is always us.
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