When I moved to the Twin Cities in 1993 to start a new church, I carried with me two overarching core values that had crystallized for me during my previous church experiences. One, I never again wanted to be part of church where sexual orientation mattered. Because it doesn't. And two, I wanted to be free to speak about my own evolving beliefs and be a part of a church where it was o.k. to ask questions about the existence of God, to learn about the real Jesus, and to explore a variety of spiritual traditions and practices. After fourteen years at Open Circle my commitment to these two core values hasn't wavered. And in fact, I have become more and more convinced that if Christianity is going to have anything meaningful to say to our world in the 21st century these core values will need to be at the center of Christian faith experience.
I have discovered over the years at Open Circle that of these two core values of mine, the second is the one that is on the "cutting edge" for our community. There is no one in our community who cares about the issue of sexual orientation. And in fact, many came here first for this reason.
But on the issue of God and Jesus and spirituality, we are not all at the same place. Which is not surprising. We have folks who have come from traditional Christian experiences and others who have come from none. Some of us hold to more traditional Christian beliefs (but not too traditional or it would be uncomfortable to be here, I suspect) and some are more interested in exploring other belief systems and spiritual practices.
A couple of years ago I discovered first-hand our diversity on these issues when I addressed forthrightly my own beliefs about God. I doubt if any message I have delivered here got such a response. What are my beliefs? I don't "believe" in the personal, traditional God of orthodox Christian theology. I am one of those who share the sentiments of the retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong that the "traditional religious understandings have lost most of their ancient power." Spong again: "My personal God, a kind of divine father protector, a bit of a Mr. Fixit, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call the God of the gaps, began to shake visibly, to wobble before my eyes, and to fade perceptibly." This has been my experience. I don't "believe" in a god who is up there, out there, in control of everything, able to answer any prayer.
For me, "belief" in this kind of God ultimately foundered on the question of evil in the world. If there is an all-knowing, all-powerful God, why does he or she allow evil to persist in our world? Enormous amounts of brain-power and ink have been exhausted over the centuries attempting to answer this question in a satisfactory way. Some believe God ultimately wills the evil; some believe we are pawns in cosmic battle between God and Satan; some believe that in his wisdom, God allows it to happen. Some believe that there is eternal justice; God allows it to happen here but exacts justice in the afterlife. For me it is very simple and concrete. I can't believe in any God who has the power to stop terrorist bombers from killing 100's of innocent Iraqis everyday and allows it to happen. (And remember that these same terrorists believe that their God is calling them to do this and is going to reward them for it in the afterlife!)
For me, God is a metaphor for the ultimate and deep realities of our world that we experience but only partially. For instance, we all know what love is. We all know that we need love. We also know that the love we experience is always incomplete; it never exhausts the depths of what love is. And we feel the constant pull in our lives to go deeper, to become more loving and loved individuals. That deep, inviting love is God for me. This God/Love is real for me. I don't "believe" in it; but I do trust it completely.
So, there, I have said it again. Why? Because I want to be honest with you about my beliefs. Because I want to invite you to think about yours and know that it is o.k. to talk about your beliefs at Open Circle. And, because I know that there are lots of Christians who are sitting in traditional churches or who have already left and who know that they don't believe what they once did but don't know what to do with it. If you know someone like that maybe you should send them this newsletter or invite them to Open Circle.