“I just can’t pray that way anymore.” Have you ever thought that? Your theology shifts, your ideas about who God is and how God works has changed what you think about prayer. It can be unsettling – even scary.
“I didn’t hear the name of Jesus said even once in our group.” Do you ever wonder if, in an effort to be inclusive and to welcome everyone, people worry so much about stepping on toes that faith seems to be put on the back burner?
“I’m just not sure I believe that. Where do I fit?” For many who were brought up in the church, the idea of finding a safe place to articulate your doubts without being judged is hard to imagine, let-alone trust.
“We’re being distracted by all kinds of politicized issues and we need to get back to the basics of the gospel.” There are endless concerns in the world around us and it can be challenging to know how to engage.
In the Generous Space community we try to avoid the either/or of dualistic thinking – and embrace the both/and of holding things in tension. One of the inevitable tensions that arises is between being both a vibrantly Christ-centered community and being a safe space for those who are questioning, experiencing doubt, or needing some distance from church, religion, or Christianity as a particular system of belief.
Throughout the entire history of the ministry, there has been one constant: we wanted to be centered around the person, ministry, and redemption of Jesus Christ. What do we mean by centered? Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, the beginning and end of our human journey, the one who reconciles us to God, the one who shows us how to live through the incarnation, the one who teaches us how to participate in connecting heaven and earth, the one who energizes, cares for, protects, and provides for us. Christ is the one who holds all things together.
Swirling around that center, however, are lots of theological, interpretive, and ethical questions about the implications of following Jesus. There are differences in understanding how we ought to be a Christ-centered community.
Given our desire to be a generous community, a generous space, we want to make room for those who desire to connect with us. We aren’t interested in litmus tests of orthodoxy and bounded sets that determine who is in and who is out. To say that we are Christ-centered ought not to be an exclusionary statement. Jesus demonstrated consistently that reaching to the margins and creating space for those who experienced oppression and exclusion was central to enacting the Kingdom of God. We know that Jesus frustrated the expectations and purity concerns of the religious leaders of the day.
Not only that, but if Christ is being itself – if all things hold together in Christ – then we can legitimately wonder how we will encounter God in the other – even the other who describes their current worldview as questioning the very existence of God.
Generous space community seeks to be a curious community and a compassionate community – one that sees the image of God in every human being and the stamp of belovedness upon their person. I believe this is an extension of our Christ-centeredness. We believe these things because of Christ.
But if we are to truly live out our four core values, all arising from our commitment to Christ, humility, hospitality, mutuality, and justice, then we need to make room for those on the edges of faith to have a voice, to express what they need, and what would be most nurturing of their spiritual lives. People living with significant doubt about faith are not second class citizens in our community – because our faith is precisely what affirms that they are just as much Beloved image-bearers of God as the one who lives an overtly Christian life. But will their presence water down our Christ centeredness? Will they influence the community in such a way that we simply become a place of human connection where all beliefs are relativized?
I don’t think there are fast, easy, or simple answers to these questions. However, I do think that the nature of faith is being confident of what we hope for and certain about what we do not see. If we are confident that Christ holds all things together, if we are certain that it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that has reconciled us to God, then our faith will hold true even if some in the generous space community struggle to believe those things. If our faith tells us this is true – then it is true whether someone believes it to be true or not. A quiet and confident faith doesn’t rely on horses and chariots (tangible, human signs of power and influence and victory) but the Spirit of the living God working in and among and bringing the harvest at the right time.
I don’t have to control someone else’s belief system in order to welcome, love, and receive them in community. I can hold the belief that they are held by God – even if, at this time, they don’t believe that. This is the beauty of a Christ-centered community – we can hold faith with and for one another. This is predicated on the belief that it is the absolute free gift of God’s grace that reconciles us to God and not some meritorious effort on our part.
Practically, however, we have the reality that there are some in our community who are respectful of, but not particularly wanting to engage in, Christianized activities. Christian worship is triggering for them. Reflection questions that ask about one’s Christian journey can be difficult. Expectations of participation may, in fact, be more detrimental than conducive to that person’s spiritual journey. Expressions of spirituality and faith may look very different for different individuals. How do we make room?
I think we begin by actually looking at our own faith. Do we believe that Christ IS at the center of all things, holding all things together? If we do, then maybe we can hold that faith for another who may not be in that same place at this time. If we’re unsure, then maybe we can rest in being in a community where faith is shared, where others will uphold us in the confidence of their faith and through the Spirit, and where we can safely wrestle, ask, doubt, and test. If we don’t, but we are still drawn to connect with generous space community, then maybe, just maybe we could be open to the reality that there is an energy of faith within the community that is mysteriously life-giving, hopeful, and peace-cultivating within us. If that’s the case, then, “Yes and Amen” to journeying with us.
Being Christ-centered might not always look like the insider-language of Christianity, the activities of your childhood church, advising or directing people along certain interpretive expectations, or even the overt practices of faith. Being Christ-centered might actually be holding the fierce faith that is quietly confident enough to fling wide the doors, to go to the highways and the bi-ways to welcome others in, and be willing to serve, love, and prefer the other enough to be willing to relinquish one’s own preferences and desires. Our community will not shrink back from times of prayer and worship, or times of engaging the Scriptures and reflecting on God’s revelation to us. Our community is not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to bring salvation to all who believe. But our community will also do well to remember to embody the good news of the gospel at all times …. and if necessary, to use words. We will do well to remember to be merciful to those who doubt and to keep our hearts open to all of God’s beloved children. And we would do well to look for the ways God shows up in sometimes unexpected places.