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YOUR FAITH, YOUR LIFEAN INVITATION TO THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
By JENIFER GAMBER BILL LEWELLIS
Morehouse PublishingCopyright © 2009 Jenifer Gamber
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTransforming Questions
At the core of human life is a search for meaning. Nothing else truly satisfies. We need to know that our lives have meaning. Among theologian Paul Tillich's contributions to religious understanding was to insist that what we mean by God is actually that which is of ultimate meaning, that our search for meaning is ultimately a search for God.
When seeking information, there are no dumb questions. When seeking meaning, however, you may have had the experience of being led on a rabbit trail by someone's uninsightful questions. For in our search for meaning, even if we discover a right answer to an irrelevant question, seeking to answer that inappropriate question will take us way off course.
"If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution," Albert Einstein said, "I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes."
Einstein understood the importance of asking the right question, the intelligent question, and the effective question. Seeking to discover the proper question has long been central to Bill's thinking, to his prayer, his faith, and his life. He was introduced to the priority of the appropriate question—how crucial it is to ask the right question—during the 1960s by Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan, who cited four "transcendental imperatives" and their interrelated questions, to be asked with intentional awareness on one's path toward authenticity and integrity.
Authenticity, in the framework of this book, refers to our disciplined attempts to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible and, therein, to be open to intellectual conversions of our minds, moral conversions of our wills, and religious conversions of our hearts. The journey begins where we are and seeks to get beyond ourselves to the unique and beloved persons God has created us to be. This journey to integrity, into the mystery of God's love for us, takes courage.
Bill introduced these imperatives to Jenifer during conversations about what truths God was calling her to. She also found them to be consonant with her way of being in the world. We come to these questions differently—Bill as a theologian, father, husband, and son, and Jenifer as an economist, wife, mother, and daughter. But both of us share a love for the search: to know God, to know ourselves, to know our faith, and what all of that might mean for our lives. Likewise, you come with your own experiences and ways of being.
In his introduction to Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn't, Stephen Prothero contends that "faith without understanding is the standard [among Americans who] are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion. They are Protestants who can't name the four Gospels, Catholics who can't name the seven sacraments, and Jews who can't name the five books of Moses." Their faith, he continues, "is almost entirely devoid of content. One of the most religious countries on earth is also a nation of religious illiterates."
With that in mind, Your Faith, Your Life contains basic content, information for Episcopalians who want to deepen their knowledge of the Episcopal Church and for those who are considering making the Episcopal Church their church home. Beyond basic information, this book suggests a path for those who seek understanding of their faith and their life as well as transformation, deeper conversion, as they walk with God. Thus, the emphasis on the crucial importance of asking the right questions.
If you turn back to the table of contents, you'll find four main section headings: "Be," "Seeking the True," "Seeking the Good," "Seeking God," and five sub-headings: "Be Attentive," "Be Intelligent," "Be Reasonable," "Be Responsible," and "Be in Love."
As someone who has chosen to join a faith community, you are deepening your commitment to an intentional journey of discovery and transformation. This can be for you a journey of new experiences, deepening reflection, penetrating insight, and conversion. Because your journey must be guided by good questions in order not to be derailed, the five imperatives will help you frame your questions.
Like the Episcopal understanding of being born again—again and again—personal transformation is an ongoing journey. It is a process of attentiveness (being an attentive subject), understanding (being an intelligently inquiring subject), judgment (being a rationally reflective and reasonable subject), and decision (being a responsibly deliberating subject).
Stop reading frequently, to ask transforming questions. Ask questions while you explore the imperatives that guide your journey to integrity and transformation.
Be attentive to your experience, to your senses, feelings, intuition, and imagination. Upon this evidence, you will form ideas, hunches that may be right or wrong. Later, what you think you understand will depend on what you have sensed or imagined, what you have paid attention to, or not. If you have been inattentive, you will be clueless. Oversights will eventually need to be corrected.
Paul Fromberg, a liturgist experienced in introducing new, and often ancient, liturgies suggests this way of being attentive: Instead of asking yourself (or your congregation after a newly experienced liturgy), "What did you think?" ask, "What did you see?" So often we bypass the step of noticing, being attentive with our senses. We skip to judgment. By beginning with our senses, we heighten our awareness, and open ourselves to new experiences with the intention of receiving them without judgment. By doing so, we broaden the possibility of gaining new insight.
A February 2004 Wall Street Journal special report on trends included this: "How do trend spotters find what they're looking for? They keep their eyes open." Be attentive.
This book will help you be attentive to this particular journey by introducing the language and practice of our worship, the stories of the Bible, the people and events of our church history, the creeds, and the structure of the Episcopal Church. Knowing the words of our faith will help you own your experiences and share them with others. As you read this book, as you journey with your community, be attentive.
This second imperative asks you to inquire into the meaning of your experience, the data or information you have received. What does this mean? Experiencing something is different from understanding the meaning of your experience. Be intelligent as you interpret what you have seen, heard, or sensed. Have you missed any crucial information? How else might your experience be understood? Are there alternative explanations?
By separating experience from understanding you become aware of how your current understanding may shape what you see and hear. How does the lens through which you see the world affect your experience? Challenge yourself to see and hear with new eyes and ears. Sometimes a new experience may not accommodate your current understanding. When this happens, reexamine both your earlier and your new experience. Did you miss something? Does this new evidence challenge you to adjust your understanding?
Insights occur spontaneously as well as after considered reflection on one's experience, but are they correct? There may be several ways, some even contradictory ways, to understand your experience. Determining which meaning rings most true requires reasonable judgment. Choose the meaning to which you are drawn and live with it for a while. Does it make sense in light of other experiences you have had? Does it make sense in light of the witness of history, culture, and the experiences of others?
This step of judging is different from both experience and insight. Ask yourself, have you judged wisely? Is this your best interpretation of the data? Remain open to new possibilities. God is with you, bringing new things to life in you.
Having judged what you consider to be true, based on your experience and reflection on your experience, you now face the question, "What am I going to do about it?" Thus the fourth imperative: Be responsible in what you do with what you have judged to be true. Is the action you are considering truly worthwhile? What commitments will you make, what risks will you take, to act responsibly?
This will come into play especially in chapter 7 of this book about what God is calling you to do. Discerning God's will is something we do each day with even the smallest choices, such as what to eat, say, and do. We also discern God's will when faced with life-changing experiences such as falling in love. Be responsible in deciding what to do as a result of what you have judged to be true and the correct understanding of your experience.
THREEFOLD CONVERSION WHILE SEEKING THE TRUE, THE GOOD, AND GOD
Look again at the section headings in the table of contents. "Seeking the true" involves being attentive, intelligent, and reasonable. "Seeking the good" involves being responsible. "Seeking God" involves being in love in an unrestricted way as God's love floods your heart. All involve an intentional dwelling with questions meant to transform the seeker. We invite you to use the four imperatives in the continuing development of your faith and the integrity of your life.
As a theologian as well as a philosopher, Lonergan added a fifth imperative. "Be in Love transformed." Be in God. Be in the relationship God offers you as revealed in your experience, in what you have discerned to be true and in what you have decided to do. Being in love means being open to transformation in God, self-transcendence, visualizing yourself in an open-handed, palms-turned-up position of prayer, being open to the Mystery that grounds your being. This fifth imperative, then, brings you back to experience, understand, judge, and decide, again and again, with renewed integrity, open to multiple conversions, as you move along the way toward personal authenticity and self-transcendence. We invite you, then, as you read this book: Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible. Be in Love. And, if necessary, change. "If necessary," of course, is rhetorical. We always need to change; we always need to strive for integrity, to be born again and again, to be changed from the inside out, to be transformed by good news, to be in Love transformed.
Openness to threefold conversion is crucial as you ask yourself the questions prompted by each imperative. Being attentive, intelligent, and reasonable opens you to intellectual conversion. Being responsible, shifting from seeking the true to seeking the good, opens you to moral conversion. Being in Love opens you to religious conversion. There, life begins anew, where a new self is to be understood, only to be transcended. Born again, we attend again to our experience, insight, judgment, and decision, to a rumor of angels promising deeper intellectual and moral, and religious conversion.
We live in a world of constant change. Some of us are not comfortable with that. If you are not so comfortable with change as you might like to be, try to spiritualize the experience by considering changes that affect your life as opportunities for intellectual, moral, or religious conversion. The key, as you consider potentially transforming questions while reading this book, is sustained critical attentiveness to these four levels of how we come to know ourselves, the world around us, and God—experience, understanding, judgment, and decision—and an openness to multiple intellectual, moral, and religious conversions.
"A person is becoming authentic who is consistent in the struggle to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible," according to Lonergan. "This precarious and ever-developing state depends on long and sustained faithfulness to the transcendental precepts."
A person doesn't have to be religious to achieve authenticity, though one does need to be authentic to be truly religious. You don't have to be liberal or conservative. Your reading of the Bible may tend toward the literal or you may take it as metaphor, rich holy writ given for your conversion. You don't have to profess adherence to the teachings of any man or woman or institution. You don't have to be a Democrat or a Republican. You don't have to be Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Moravian, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist. You don't have to be "right," but you do need to be open to conversion. If necessary, change.
BEING IN LOVE
In Love, of course, means in God's love. The first great commandment as told in Matthew 22 is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (22:37). Matthew continues, "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (22:39). In our love of neighbor we recognize God unformed, disguised in our world, like the lion in the block of marble.
Yes, it is possible in this life to love one's neighbor while paying no mind to God. Is it conceivable, however, for someone to love God and not love one's neighbor? Perhaps the answer to this question resides in the words, "And the second is like it."
We do not know God directly. Our families, the Jewish and Christian scriptures, Jesus, church, culture, friends, icons, images, and communication technologies (including the Internet, television, movies, newspapers, novels, music) have this in common. They are media — lenses and filters through which and whom come the visions and values and meaning we live by. They do not come directly from God. They are mediated through our experience.
For St. Paul, Jesus Christ is Mediator par excellence. "For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5), and "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.... He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" (Hebrews 1:1–3).
And Jesus tells us that if we know him we will know the Father (John 14:1–14), that we are to love one another as he has loved us and by our love for one another we will be known as his disciples (John 13:34–35), that whatever we do to our sisters and brothers in need we do to him (Matthew 25:31–46), and that he will be with his disciples to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
Inside the gates of heaven, imagine coming upon a fork in the road where there are two signs. One sign points northwest "for those who love God." The other sign points northeast, the way "for those who love their neighbor." That may be the only case where the saying attributed to Yogi Berra works: "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." For, like the two great commandments, the roads converge.
Our hope for this book is that it might be for you a deeply spiritual roadmap. Take the imperatives into your head and your heart, adapting them to the rhythm of your own consciousness in ways that you may find yourself in Love—intellectually, morally, and religiously transformed — discovering, again and again, increased authenticity and integrity in your faith and your life, discerning ever more clearly God's call to be.
TRANSFORMING QUESTIONS 1. Be Attentive: Remember the first time that you came to this particular church. What did you notice? What was the event? Who was present? 2. Be Intelligent: What does what you noticed say about the community? 3. Be Reasonable: What does the community say about itself? (You might want to look at the church's mission statement.) How does what the community says about itself compare with your experience? 4. Be Responsible: What about the community's mission appeals to you? How might you contribute to that mission?
Excerpted from YOUR FAITH, YOUR LIFE by JENIFER GAMBER BILL LEWELLIS Copyright © 2009 by Jenifer Gamber. Excerpted by permission of Morehouse Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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