When I first was exposed to The Church of the Saviour, what immediately impressed me was the presence of a lot of blessings—helpful preaching and teaching, heartwarming, healing relationships, laughing and having fun together, and seriousness about things that really matter. In this community there was the awareness and acknowledgement of pain along with contagious joy. The community was grounded in a reality bigger than itself.
I wanted what I felt and saw. Something contagious was going on, and I wanted in on it. When a church is being formed consciously by the gospel, there is something real to touch, taste, receive and even push against.
The evidence is growing that more and more Americans feel at a loss when it comes to using the word God in a meaningful way. This is inevitable in the face of our radically different understanding of the universe. When I was a child in the 1930s, growing up in a small town in Kentucky, everyone I came into contact with believed in the existence of God and thought of God as located “above us.” Today we are confronted with scientific evidence that there are a lot of universes, perhaps beyond the counting, and the way we know this is not by sight, even with the most powerful telescopes, but by mathematics! In such a plethora of universes, the word God is an issue, and the ground on which we think about God has shifted. How can we think meaningfully about God and the distinction between “God above us” and “God with us”?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, languishing in a Nazi prison and writing as he pondered, said that we now live in a world come of age. The issue now is not belief in God as a cosmic parent, as the “God above,” but how to understand “God with us.” This led Bonhoeffer to focus on “God with us” as revealed in Jesus on the cross. Those of us who have been studying climate change and what it will bring in the future, understand that human civilization is headed for a cross experience of suffering and radical upheaval in which we too will cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
How do we prepare ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and the world for the crises of faith that have already started?
A few months ago one of our church members went with Faith and Money Network to visit people in Wise County, Virginia, who are fighting mountaintop removal and the devastation of that beautiful region. Something happened to Dottie on that trip. She identified with the people suffering from the abuse of the coal industry on themselves and their land. She not only identified with them but also felt the call to be in solidarity. She is now using her gifts of poetry writing, speaking and persuasion to share with other communities the plight of Wise County and how we can be in solidarity with them.
The call Dottie has heard is to a radical identification and solidarity with others, in this case a group of people who are serving as the moral conscience for land that is being violated by a power group acting out the values of the dominant American culture. In a self-focused culture, this makes no sense. In the culture of the churches of The Church of the Saviour, it makes a lot of sense. We call it “radical discipleship.” Our belonging to God and to each other results in call—call that claims us in a way that frees us to be who we are. Hearing call brings us alive. It is the road to freedom—the freedom to love God, love ourselves and love other people. Reverence for the experience of call goes to the core of our being Christian community.