Friday, October 13, 2006

Contextual Faith

Reformed people have taken pride in always having confessed their faith in their own way, in tempore and in loco. . . . This is the way, as they say, authentic confessing will always take place: it will always be contextually determined. — Martien Brinkman, “Unity: A Contribution from the Reformed Tradition”

Today I am offering a quote from the daily "Devotions and Readings" posted on the web by my denomination. (This is a "Daily Quotation.") I am fascinated by this idea of faith arising contextually... my faith is what it is because of where it is and when it is. When I was ordained a statement of personal faith was one of the requirements; in fact, I had to read it to the Presbytery and be examined on it. I wrote it in my last semester of seminary, and sent it by email to my whole committee. In that exchange I had two experiences, one with a male minister of many years (we'll call him Dave) and one with a female minister nearly my own age (younger, I think; we'll call her Ellie).

The idea of corresponding with Dave made me nervous, because he was an openly conservative, evangelical type, and I was (am) a flaming liberal, about to graduate from one of the most liberal seminaries in the United States. "Oh great," I thought. "I can just imagine what he will think of my faith statement!" But something funny happened in our exchange, something unexpected. Dave took me seriously. He engaged me. He pushed me, and I pushed back. In some instances, our exchange resulted in my modifying our faith statement because Dave convinced me by the strength of his argument. And in some instances, the prodding and pushing resulted in my feeling that much more confidence in my position, and stating it even more boldly.

Ellie, from whom I had anticipated no problems (a little cocky???), took me by surprise. Her first email to me felt like a real attack. In fact, it had me sputtering in indignation on the phone with my friends and classmates. Ellie's critique was general: she said the document sounded more like a seminary paper than like a faith statement. She said it would alienate people, because it sounded like I was trying to flaunt my education rather than sincerely expressing my faith. I was defensive. I was offended. I was mad as hell. And then I sat down and rewrote my statement, this time as a prayer instead of an explanation. And you know what? It was better. She was right.

Here it is:

Life-giving God, my greatest comfort in life and in death is that I belong to you. You created me, you love me, you redeem me through no merit of my own, and you walk with me all the days of my life.

Inspiring God, Holy Scripture and our human senses reveal you to be the Creator of all the universe. In sovereign love you create all human beings in your own image. In fathomless generosity you give us a beautiful and bountiful earth to care for and to cherish.

Gracious God, the world is a witness to your loving deeds in the midst of our history. You and you alone know the depths of human brokenness. Sin and evil seem to triumph, from the deserts of Iraq, to the fence posts of Laramie, to the crater that is Ground Zero. And yet we are your witnesses, amazing God: people reach across the divides of our violent culture to take one another’s hands and to offer one another their love, support and solidarity. This is your glorious work, for from you alone all goodness flows.

Saving God, I believe that Jesus the Messiah is your Word and your ultimate revelation in our midst. Jesus came healing the sick and casting out demons. He lived among us welcoming sinners, women, children and all who were outcast. He lived celebrating, teaching, breaking bread and sharing the cup. Always, in every place, he revealed the redeeming power of your love. In his death on the cross Jesus suffered brutally the effects of human sin. In his being raised from the dead, he revealed your ultimate triumph over sin and the powers and principalities of this world and the next. I recognize Christ Jesus as being both fully divine and my fully human brother. Jesus’ life calls to us to accept your free gift of forgiveness, and to engage in a life lived for one another, in justice and love.

Restless, sanctifying God, I believe that you are revealed to us in the work of your Holy Spirit. Present from the beginning of all things, the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh to be your presence among us, and to be our advocate with you. Through this outpouring, Jesus Christ calls the Church into being. The Spirit calls all people to be ministers of the good news of your love for us.

Mysterious God, you are God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God, you exist far beyond our words, our conceptions and formulas. We know you to be sovereign and transcendent, human and immanent, relational and dynamic. You are one God, Lover, Beloved and Love.

Ruling God, the Church is yours. We your people are called to preach the gospel in word and deed, and to embody in our own lives Christ’s commandment that we love one another. The Church is the body of the faithful, a grateful community of sinners, assembled into the one body of Christ through our baptism. In solidarity with suffering humanity Jesus accepted the baptism of John. For followers of Jesus baptism is the sign and seal of our membership in the body of Christ and our acceptance of the gift of salvation that you bestow upon us in grace.

Prodigal God, you give us every good gift, and we remember and give thanks. The sacrament of Holy Communion is the sign and seal of Christ’s saving work. In eating the bread and drinking from the cup, we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we anticipate his return and the heavenly banquet. In our celebration of this meal, we show a unity we often don’t feel, and we act in hope of a community we fall short of living out. We are bound to one another as we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

Patient God, the world is a partial and incomplete revelation of you. But scripture is your Word to us, and the place where we meet and are instructed by your Holy Spirit. Holy scripture is the priceless lens through which we see you, and through which we learn more perfectly to recognize you in the world. But even scripture cannot contain all your mystery and goodness. Surprising, radically free God, you who continue to move among us in the Holy Spirit, you are my comfort in life and in death. Amen.

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