Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Can We Say?

In our previous conversation, we discussed seeking to understand those who have no belief in God. If you read that post, please take a moment to also read the comments. They offer some clarifications and additional information that you might find helpful.

In regards to how we might respond to those who don’t believe, there are quite a few popular approaches. There is the ontological argument, the cosmological argument and the teleological argument, among many others.

These more well known arguments make many good points, but to me, they are more problematic than helpful. They are structured for intellectual debates, not dialogues seeking understanding. Besides that, speaking personally, they do not really touch on the primary reasons I’m a believer.

The challenges from atheists I’ve encountered in our conversations about God have been cause for me to honestly question many of my assumptions. Over time, it felt like those conversations slowly peeled away the outer layers of my beliefs, until not much was left. Not much, but still something. Here’s two of the things I found under all those layers.

I believe in God because of my personal experiences. Throughout my life, I have had encounters with God, and many of them have been transformational. There is little doubt, to me, that those encounters have “saved” me from giving in to some of my more antisocial inclinations. Beyond that, to borrow from Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, my experiences of God have “made me want to be a better man.” Because of the grace, the unmerited favor, I have experienced in my life, I have a desire to be a conduit of that grace in the lives of others.

There is a formal argument that uses this approach. It is called The Argument from Religious Experience (ARE). Here is what Keith Ward, until recently Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, has to say about this approach:

…There are personal experiences, known to all of us in a direct and natural way, that do not fall within the domain of the natural sciences. The scientific domain is that of publicly observable objects in shared public space. Since science does not deal with personal experiences, it cannot itself give an account of what they are, or of how they relate to objects in physical space. Science itself cannot provide a comprehensive world-view, because there are aspects of reality with which it does not deal. The most obvious aspects of this sort are personal experiences, and it is precisely in such experiences that such notions as value and purpose have their home…
In his book The Case for Religion, Ward also argues that since experience is beyond the confines of empirical evidence, it should not be subjected to the same demands we expect of physical evidence. I’m not so sure I agree with that point.

I would suggest that personal experience is indeed evidence, but not as the term is used in the scientific method. Instead, it seems to me that personal experience is indeed convincing evidence, if it is compared to the evidence often found in a courtroom. In other words, our personal experience is our testimony.

Now, one of the challenges to ARE is that it is too subjective to be of value. This is a valid criticism. However, in our day to day lives, we accept many subjective perceptions as true, without testing them every time. Richard Swinburne calls this the principle of credulity. If someone tells us that they saw a tree, unless we have strong reasons to question their perceptions, we usually accept that as a true statement. When God experiences are challenged, and other experiences are not, it suggests a bias on the part of the challenger.

These personal experiences do not stand by themselves. We have the “testimonies” of millions throughout history who speak of similar experiences. It is at this point that I want to return to the bible (which I promised I’d get back to eventually in the last post).

The stories in the bible can be viewed as further “testimonies” of experiences of God. Of course the ways these experiences are described was influenced by the time frame and cultural setting in which the authors lived. Consequently, there is much in their stories that we view as not just primitive, but even repulsive. For me, the fact that those “ugly bits” still remain, and have not been edited out, gives these stories more authenticity. I would imagine that my stories of experiences of God will be equally repulsive to future generations. Referring to the comment in the last post, I do not find value in the bible because it is an instruction manual. The scriptures are of value to me because they offer testimonies of God’s presence in the lives of those who lived in ancient times.

So, we have the testimony from scripture, the testimony from the historical tradition, and the testimony of those who experience God in our own day. Subjective or not, unless one believes that the millions of people who have had these experiences are all delusional, I consider these testimonies to be fairly strong evidence for God.

Beyond the subjective nature of religious experience, another criticism of this approach is that the various religious traditions can’t agree on the meaning of these experiences. As a matter of fact, there are divisions within the traditions themselves regarding how such experiences might be appropriately expressed. Although the ways religious experiences are articulated are quite diverse, I think most of those differences can be attributed to cultural and language variations more than anything else.

If you consider the mystics of the different traditions, you find very little variation in the experiences they describe, regardless as to if they are Jewish, Sufi, Buddhist or Christian. The mystic has stripped away the layers, and stands naked before this “Something More” that my tradition calls God. Usually such experiences are beyond words or thoughts. But, in order to communicate to others the content of such experiences, the mystic is forced to use the symbols and words of the religious tradition that they know best, which is often a matter of their cultural setting rather than a choice of “right beliefs” over “wrong beliefs.” So, the mystic is often very conservative, in that they affirm the tradition in which they dwell. But at the same time, most mystics are also rebels, pushing the boundaries of those same traditions. My reason for bringing up the mystics is that I think it is their tradition that most clearly suggests that the various faith traditions are actually struggling to find a way to put into words very similar religious experiences. I don’t think the fact that many of the official teachings of the various traditions contradict one another is a good enough reason to reject the strong possibility that the experiences from which those teachings have sprung have much in common.

Now, there are certainly some “religious experiences” that need to be challenged, especially those which cause harm to others. That is why that even though I personally give a high priority to the evidence from religious experience, I don’t think, by itself, it is enough.

Which leads me to the second reason I am a God believer. This one does not engage science or philosophy. It is really not even open for scrutiny by either logic or reason. I am a believer because I long to be in relationship, not only with God, but with other people, who often become, for me, “God with skin on.”

I was struck by a line in last week’s Gospel lesson from John. Jesus is being questioned, and a group is demanding that he speak plainly, and tell them if he is the messiah or not. Jesus responded by saying “You do not believe because you do not belong…” We usually think that you believe, and then join a community of like-minded believers. Jesus turned that around. It is because we belong that we believe. The beliefs spring from being in community…in “communion”…with others.

That has certainly been my experience. It is from being forced to go against my natural inclination to be a bit of a hermit, and engage the larger community, that I have grown in my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Beyond that, once I came to understand that it wasn’t enough for me to function in that community as a servant, but realized the need for me to allow others to serve me, that I began to see evidence for God in the faces of those all around me.

Also, it is through belonging to such a community that my experiences are given a very necessary check and balance. As I share what I have understood the meaning to be of a particular experience, the community, who has also had such experiences, can either offer words of encouragement or caution. Their collective insight can rein in the individual who might do something foolish or harmful because they understood that “God told me to do it.”

Experiences of God, both in the mystical experience and the community experience, are first and foremost about relationships, not right beliefs.

It's about relationships. It's about belonging.

I wonder how well our communities welcome everyone, regardless of their beliefs, or lack thereof, and make an effort to let them know that they belong, and are valued? Or, do we, perhaps unconsciously, have a hierarchy of belonging, with only those with the right beliefs (which usually means “beliefs that agree with me”) allowed into the inner circle? Something to think about.

Experience and belonging. Those are the keys to my belief in God. Now enough from me. Tell me why you believe, or disbelieve in God?


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Listening to Atheists

Today, I'm going to ramble a bit about a topic which has fascinated me over the last few months. The topic is understanding those who have no belief in God.

A couple of years ago, I finally admitted to myself that I really had little understanding of that view of reality. I've always had a rather strong belief in God, and assumed that most everyone else did as well. I was 19 before my God belief was ever seriously challenged.

Now, this doesn't mean I had never encountered any atheists before that. But, as is usually the case, they chose not to challenge me. Instead, they remained politely silent until the subject of the conversation shifted. Now the times have changed. With the popularity of authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, more and more atheists seem to be revealing themselves. It turns out that there are many more than we thought there were. Perhaps that has been the case for a long time, but we just didn't recognize it.

Why should this matter to me? One of the frustrations I run into a lot in discussions about "church growth" is the theory of "build it and they will come." If we just make our church more welcoming, more inclusive, etc. etc., then we'll bring folks in. And yes, that is true, to a point. You will attract those who perhaps have some background in Christianity but quit being active in church for one reason or another. And you may attract those who are "spiritual seekers," those open to the quest for that elusive "something more." And you may even draw in a few folks who like the music or the architecture.

But, if you're trying to attract those who have rarely been in a church, those whose experience of Christianity is limited to the stories of the bible and the televangelists, you're missing your target audience. They consider Christians to be engaging in "wishful thinking" at best, and as "delusional and dangerous" at worst. Regardless of what we do, to imagine these folks are going to wake up one Sunday and say "I think I'll go to church today" is indeed quite delusional, I'd say.

So what can we do? Well, I'm working on that. I've read of some ideas on how to engage this particular growing group of non-believers, but they didn't seem very convincing to me. So, I've been making an effort to do my homework. I've been trying to wrap my head around the mindset of those who have no belief in God. I've been attempting to listen, in the hopes of understanding.

I've had a few opportunities to seek such an understanding in my daily encounters with other people, but the majority of my conversations have happened online. As with most online conversations, you have to make a few assumptions before you can glean anything of value. First, if the person is using a nickname, you initially take everything with a grain of salt. You also recognize that the norms of civil discourse will often be thrown out the window. Folks are going to cuss you out, call you names, etc. That comes with the territory.

So, I've been talking with a few atheists for a few months now. I'm still trying to piece together the various things I've learned, but here's a few, in no particular order:

1. Most atheists, except the ones who are very young and just like to start flame wars, are highly educated. Not only do they know their science, they also know their bible. Unfortunately, there is often an underlying assumption that you cannot be both scientifically knowledgable and a Christian simultaneously. If you are a Christian, you haven't seriously studied the science. In other words, there is a bias that most Christians are "intellectually challenged." If we're not just plain dumb, we're too lazy to do the work necessary to find the "real" answers.

In listening, I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about evolution, as one example. That is another assumption among many atheists; all Christians are creationists, and deny evolution. As a result, I've heard many, many, many lectures of evolution. Sometimes I find the topic fascinating. But, as one who is not all that interested in the subject, after about the 25th time, I started to tune out.

In summary, the first point is that it is a mistake to consider atheists simply uninformed. The surprise is that is their perception of us theists! A side point is that once you get over that surprise, if your intention is sincerely to listen in order to understand, you'll recognize that you can learn a lot from these folks. That is cause to drop the assumption that you have the Truth that they need, and then move from a debate kind of conversation to a sincere form of dialogue.

Keep in mind, at this point, I'm not talking about conversions. That's another conversation. I'm just seeking understanding.

2. The assumption among many atheists that I've encountered is that all Christians believe the bible literally. Along with that is the notion that Christians see the bible as some kind of divine instruction manual. This is what leads to so many conversations about evolution. The assumption is if they can get a theist to question the creation stories in Genesis, or at least admit the world is more than a few thousand years old, then they have proved their point. The bible is in error, so everything in it no longer has authority.

According to the US Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 by Pew Forum, 33% of US Christians believe the bible literally. Among the mainline churches, that drops to 22%. Note that since this survey involved 35,000 interviews, we can assume it is somewhat accurate. When I point this statistic out to some atheists, they make yet another assumption, then claiming that I am throwing out the bible, and so cannot be a "real" Christian. That usually causes me to chuckle, as I've heard that very same claim more than a few times from the other side!

The positive aspect of such discussions, for me, is that it has encouraged me to wrestle with aspects of the bible that are rarely challenged in church circles. I don't believe that non-literalists throw out the bible. That is an inaccurate assumption, for reasons I'll get into eventually. But, I do think that most Christians tend to gloss over the bits of the bible that those outside the church find not only challenging, but downright repulsive. Consequently, we are usually unprepared when asked to respond to difficult parts of a text.

3. Claims of "supernatural" events really bother most atheists that I've talked with. To them, it is the same as claiming unicorns or Harry Potter are real. It is often referred to as the "God of the gaps." If you don't know how something happened, just fill in the blank with some supernatural act of God.

For the most part, the atheists who have a strong reaction to the supernatural are empiricists. If there is not testable evidence, then the thing does not exist. I've been asked to "show the evidence" hundreds of times. It is by far the the most common argument against a belief in God.

Now, this is where things get a bit difficult. These "empirical" arguments are not new. To a great degree, they are a rehashing of Plato and Aristotle. As I'm trying to stay in the vernacular here, and am admittedly not the most well informed source regarding either science or philosophy, I'm going to need the help of those who are more knowledgable about those disciplines. Please feel free to correct my fuzzy thinking or inaccurate paraphrasing in the comments.

Empiricism is a tool of science, but the two are not synonymous. Empiricism, to simplify the term, claims that knowledge is derived from sensory data. Although the scientific method includes the need of empirical evidence, it also incorporates the use of theoretical methods. A minor point, but since I'm now shifting to primarily talking about science, I felt that clarification to be important.

It is also important to always remember that what we call "science" is not some "thing" out there. It is a tool, a mental construct, fully idenitified as the "scientific method, a procedure to search for cause and effect relationships in nature. It is the best tool we have to gain knowledge of the physical world.

Forgetting that science is a tool can lead to some very silly statements, such as "science is wrong" or "science is bad." The method itself incorporates the "iterative process", used when new information or thinking is suggested, which would be cause to repeat steps of the method. So, claiming science is "wrong" assumes that the method arrives at some static absolute truth, which is not how it works. When claiming science is bad (nuclear power, climate change, etc), one has attached a moral value to the scientific method. The reality is that science is morally neutral. The only morality within science is that brought in by the scientists themselves, and those who use the results of their research.

Sometimes I encounter those who will claim that the scientific method is the only source of all knowledge. That is the point in which I begin to disagree. Show me the empiricial evidence for love, or beauty, or art or even goodness for that matter. No, I cannot agree that love is an emotion, or a chemical reaction. And my experience of beauty is not limited to symmetrically pleasing lines. While I agree that the scientific method is indeed the best tool we have to understand the physical world, it seems to me that it has limits.

That concludes my initial thoughts about my recent conversations with atheists. I was going to continue with some suggestions of what we might have to say in such conversations, but this post has already become much too long. Watch for the next installment, in which I'll attempt to say a bit about inductive logic, tacit knowledge, and the importance of community.


Friday, April 09, 2010

Abp. Orombi (May Have) Resigned From the Joint Standing Committee

Abp. Henry Orombi has written a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He includes the following pronouncements:

1. The Primates are the only authority he recognizes within the Anglican Communuion (although he seems to have no problem with attempting to sneak his own irregular deputies into meetings of the other Instruments).

2. He will not attend any meetings at which representatives from the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada are present (well, we've heard this threat before, and in the end, it was all just we'll see).

3. Anglicanism is a church of bishops (perhaps revealing his real problem with the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee? Heaven forbid that God speak through someone not wearing a purple shirt).

4. He stands "with my brother Primate, Bishop Mouneer Anis, in his courageous decision to resign from the Standing Committee" (is this a resignation? Perhaps. Or perhaps he is keeping his options open?).

5. He demands an immediate meeting of the Primates, and insists that TEC and the ACC be excluded.

When I consider this letter in its entirety, I am struck by its self-righteous and arrogant tone. Abp. Orombi blames everyone else for "the Communion...moving away further and further into darkness" and ignores any role he has played in the creation of the current chaos.

Perhaps Abp. Orombi really is so vain, and has surrounded himself only with those who encourage such vanity, resulting in him being oblivious to the role he has played in causing the current unpleasantness. Perhaps we can assist him in regaining a bit of Christian humility.

We might start back in 2004 with the role of Uganda in one of the earliest attempted thefts of property belonging to the Episcopal Church. St. James, Newport Beach was one of these early "trial balloon" attempts to steal property. The choice of that congregation brought to light the involvement of extremist groups such as the American Anglican Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

When asked about these attempted thefts by Uganda, Abp. Orombi made the following statement:

..."Look at it this way: If a child is running away from home, the first question that must be asked is, why is he running away?" said Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda, a vocal critic of the Episcopal Church, in a telephone interview. "We didn't look for them or hunt for them. We are responding to a need."
Such attempts to look so innocent fall flat if you look just a few inches under the surface.

For instance, in 2004, a memo entitled Draft Proposal for Overseas AEO was written by Alison Barfoot to those planning an attempted coup (the efforts of a small group of extremists to take over the Episcopal Church). It spells out quite clearly the method by which a congregation can be hijacked and put under the authority of an offshore bishop. Here's part of it:

... The question then becomes: Which offshore diocese? And how is that diocese and bishop selected? The proposed governing principle would be that these connections follow the line of Pre-existing relationships. If a priest does not already have a pre-existing relationship with an offshore bishop who is willing to participate in this process, then a match needs to be made...
Barfoot, who authored this proposal, became Abp. Orombi's international relations assistant that same year.

So, the author of a proposal to use offshore bishops becomes the assistant to the Primate of Uganda. When a parish with such celebrities as David Anderson and Howard Ahmanson connected to it decides to try to jump ship, who scoops them up? The Anglican Church of Uganda. Imagine that.

The title of "international relations assistant" is unusual, and seems a bit extravagant for Uganda, a nation that faces so many other challenges. But, it makes more sense when you consider that the position is funded by American extremists:

A retired bishop in Uganda explained, "Americans send money to the archbishop's office, who later distributes [it] to dioceses." The Rev. Aaron Mwesigye, the provincial secretary in the Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi's office, confirmed this, saying that U.S. conservatives had been "contributing towards the renumeration and salaries of provincial staff since 1998." He added that "American conservatives provide money to Africans not as donors but as development partners in mission."
Of course the assesments from the more than 44 Episcopal congregations that Abp. Orombi has attempted to steal over the years has also added more than a bit to his treasury.

If pressed on this matter, no doubt Abp. Orombi will claim he has "handed over" those 44 congregations to ACNA (an entity that some, like myself, do not recognize as a valid institution). Sorry, Abp. Orombi, but handing over stolen goods to one of your accomplices does not absolve you of any responsibility for your crimes.

Besides these blatant thefts, which have been strongly condemned in every statement released by the Instruments, we also have the matter of Abp. Orombi's refusal to engage in any way in the "listening process" recommended by the Windsor Report and the Primates. Instead, he has chosen to fan the flames of homophobia, as can be seen in his most recent"position paper" in response to the proposed Ugandan Kill the Gays legislation. Apparently, although Abp. Orombi hesitates to support the death penalty, he affirms the "solution" of tossing all gays and lesbians into prison. Such Christian compassion, eh?

He continues to believe bizarre theories like this:

...I am appalled to learn that the rumours we have heard for a long time about homosexual recruiting in our schools and amongst our youth are true. I am even more concerned that the practice is more widespread than we originally thought...
Yet, when confronted by the violence against gays and lesbians in Uganda, fueled by his bigoted rhetoric, Abp. Orombi struggles to find a response:

...Orombi said he had never heard of people being tortured because of their homosexuality, that when he learned about incidents – from the western media – he was at a loss to understand why he had not heard of them. He refused to accept that persecuting and torturing gay people was done openly in Uganda...
So far, Orombi has not condemned those acts.

So, Archbishop, if you must resign from the Standing Committee, please say so clearly. And while you're at it, why don't you swallow a dose of humility, recognize that your own most unChristian behavior has contributed to this current chaos, and resign from some of your other lofty offices as well. I'm sure much of the world would sigh with relief.


Sunday, April 04, 2010

An Easter Sermon

Sometime during the night before that first Easter Sunday, something happened that transformed the world. We refer to this event as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This morning we have heard the biblical account of this transformational event. And if you listen carefully to the words of our liturgy, you were also hear our theological understanding of this miraculous event. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death, our ancient enemy has been cast down and trampled underfoot. We are assured that we too shall be raised up, and will be with God for all of eternity.

The biblical and theological understandings of what happened on this night are important. They give us a firm foundation on which to talk about the important implications of this transformational event.

However, sometimes I wonder how deeply our understanding of the resurrection actually impacts our day to day lives. So, tonight that’s what I want to talk about; how the resurrection can transform our daily lives.

To do that, rather than depend on scripture and theology, which as I mentioned you will fully receive within this liturgy, I want to zero in on our personal experiences of resurrection; the ways we die, and then are raised up as new beings in our daily lives.

In order to experience the resurrection as more than just some future event, in order to raised up into a new life in the here and now, there is first one difficult step that we have to be willing to take; we have to be willing to change.

William Auden wrote;

We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And see our illusions die.
Change can be difficult, and even frightening. It seems safer to just continue to respond to life; choosing this over that without a thought as to what drives our choices; what memories and images are stamped on our souls. But then, in the wee hours of the morning, we awaken to the feeling that something is missing, that something is not quite right. We feel that longing for the illusive "something more." It’s as if we want to go home, but we have forgotten the way.

But then, once in awhile, we catch sight of that elusive “something more.” Off in the distant, we glimpse the home we thought we lost. It is in these moments that we can be transformed, if we are willing to be changed. If we allow our illusions to die, something new may be raised up in their place.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about, by offering you a story from my own life.

A few years after we were married, my wife wanted to go to a church-sponsored weekend that was popular at the time. In order to go, I had to agree to attend a similar weekend for men. A weekend with a bunch of men who drove Volvos and talked exclusively of football and irrigation systems? I knew that this was a vision of hell that even Dante had been spared. Besides, I didn't have time for such foolishness. I was working full time on the loading dock, and taking classes at the University full time at night. And now I was supposed to drop everything to sit around and sing "Kum Baya" with a bunch of yuppies?

At the same time, this interest in the spiritual life on the part of my wife was a new and positive development. I went to the weekend, etching the marks of clawing fingernails the length of our driveway. Of course, I went for my wife. I knew I had no need for such drivel.

The event was actually worse than I expected. A series of long, boring talks interspersed with guitar music, clapping, laughter, and the periodic embrace of some weeping guy declaring, "I love ya, man!"

Two nights later, a meditation was offered in the darkened church. The only light was a small spot shining on the altar cross. At its conclusion, the men wandered out into the hall, where ice cream was being served. I could hear the laughter and the back slapping. I decided that the only way I was going to avoid these happy huggers was to just stay in the church.

Soon, I was alone. I knew they would let me stay there for as long as I wanted, if it appeared I was having some kind of "spiritual experience." So, I got on my knees, gazed on the cross, and assumed an "attitude of prayer." After a few minutes, I decided that it would be a shame to waste this opportunity, so I might as well go ahead and actually pray. I started out with praise and adoration, as I had been taught to do during my Pentecostal days, telling God how wonderful he was, and how much I loved him.

Then suddenly I stopped. What was I saying? Why should I declare my love for God? God could care less if I lived or died. The ugliness of my life was evidence of that. It was time to be honest. I now knew something about love, through being a husband and a father. That experience made it clear to me that I did not love God, and saw no indication that God loved me.

I got off my knees and sat in the pew. I still had to stay in the church, of course. I could hear a sing-along starting up in the next room. So, I just sat there, letting my mind wander, enjoying the quiet peacefulness of the place. Suddenly, in my mind's eye, I saw a neighbor who had lived next door to us when I was quite young. I saw her holding me as I cried. There was a vague memory of falling off my tricycle, or something similar. I had not thought of this woman for 25 years. Yet, here she was, in a vivid memory, floating across the screen before my mind's eye. What a strange thing.

The image shifted. I now saw my grandparents. Then a teacher from grade school who used to talk to me after class. Various aunts and uncles paraded by. Then the man who took me in and fed me when I was homeless. Next, a counselor from reform school. A professor from the University. Finally, I saw my wife, my daughters, and my newborn son.

I was on my knees again, although I didn't remember moving. What were all these images about? I wasn't sure. They all drew from me a similar feeling, however. The feeling of being loved; of being loved unconditionally.

It felt as if I were being held and slowly rocked, as a voice whispered, "Shh, it's okay now. I've always been here, and I've always loved you. I know you've been hurt. And I tried to show you that I cried with you, that I so deeply loved you. I tried to show you through all those you are remembering tonight."

I dared to believe this was real. This was a moment of transformation. I was loved. Even more importantly, I was worthy to be loved. That was over thirty years ago, yet rarely does a day pass when I don't remember that night; the night I stopped fighting to survive, and began to live.

You see, that night in that darkened church was a resurrection moment for me. My old way of viewing the world as a dark place full of disappointment and pain, was replaced by a new reality; the awareness that I was what I had always been intended to be, the beloved of God.

That resurrection moment changed everything. As I said, I dared to believe it was true. And that belief was based on more than simple wishful thinking. In that moment of glimpsing the depth of God’s love, I had discovered that elusive “something more” I had been seeking. I had found the way home.

In his book A Passion for Pilgrimage, Alan Jones explains it this way:

The memory that holy Week seeks to revive is one that lies deep within everyone. It is the memory of our beginnings. It is the memory that enables us to remember the painful things of our past without despair. The Great Memory is simply this; God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home! Our first memory is God's love for us, and it is this memory that has been buried and repressed. Your first memory (if only you could get back to it) is that of being God's joy and delight. Why is it difficult to remember the joy of our beginnings in the heart of God? I wonder if it has something to do with our unwillingness to face the fact of our limited future? Memory and hope are intimately related. Perhaps we cannot recall the love that brought us into being in the first place, because we cannot imagine a love strong enough to pull us through the gates of death. I refuse to remember, because I dare not hope. I refuse to remember and I dare not hope, because I am frightened and angry because I will have to change.
Resurrection calls us to remember the love that brought us into being in the first place. Resurrection requires us to remember who we are, the beloved of God.

Since that night 30 years ago, I have had many resurrection moments. But, I would be misleading you if I did not admit that I’ve also had many moments, sometimes even days and weeks, when I’ve lost sight of God’s love.

What has allowed me to persevere in my Christian walk during those times when God’s love seemed so distant? My faith, derived from those previous experiences of resurrection.

St. Paul reminds us that all things work for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to God’s purpose. All things work for good.

That means that even though I might experience life as a series of good times and bad times, as a progression of moments in which God seems close, and them seems so far away, I must constantly remind myself that God is moving with me through it all. And the movement of God is always from glory, to glory, redeeming all things for good. My response is to try to move with God, even if that means moving from faith to faith, trusting in God’s redemptive love.

God is moving among us right now. God is offering us the gift of a new life, the gift of resurrection. If we are willing to change, if we are willing to be transformed into a new creation, if we are willing to finally come home, say yes to God’s gift of grace, God’s unmerited favor, God’s redemptive love.

If we are willing to accept this gift, then we can move with God together. And together we can help those beyond these walls to find their way home.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!