Bruce Epperly returns to offer us a vision of a Christian faith that is able to move with some fluidity, isn't rigid and yet able to transform. As I have been considering the transcendent in my own reflections, Bruce brings in the immanent in his. I appreciate his ability to provide a means of finding that bridge between spiritual dimensions. So, from England, I invite you to consider Bruce's offering from Massachusetts.
Lively, Loose, and Affirmative: “Loosely Christian” as Transformative Faith
I believe that we can claim the term “loosely Christian” as a positive affirmation. We can affirm the life and teachings of Jesus and share intimately in Christian community and mission, and also be open to God’s movements in the novel and rich textures of a post-modern, post-Christian, and post-Anglo-European world. In this ever-changing, multi-centered world, faithful Christians, can embody a fluid, protean, and transformative faith. They can sit loosely on the growing edges of the Christian tradition at the intersection where faith and culture converge as partners in healing the earth. Here at the lively and flexible growing edges of faith, we may discover that margins are the spiritual frontiers beckoning us on a holy adventure with an innovative, fluid, and resourceful God as our companion. Christ is on the loose, showing up where we least expect it, and this is our calling today – to be Christians on the loose, pushing the boundaries of faith and practice. We are frontier people, making new paths as we journey towards God’s evolving vision of Shalom.
These are difficult times for Christians today. For many congregations, the future is in doubt. Other more conservative Christians fear the growing ethnic and religious pluralism in North America. They see equal rights for non-Christians, including atheists and persons from other faith traditions, as an attack on Christianity. But, faith is always lived out in the concretenesss of the present moment. Faithfulness embraces the now with all its limitations as the place where we discover God’s possibilities for us today.
As you consider your own congregation and its current challenges and successes, for a moment, let go of your fear about the future shapes of Christianity. For a moment, don’t even worry about issues of institutional survival as important as these may be to you professionally and congregationally. Can you imagine new worlds being born as we die to images of faith that tether us to a bygone era? Can you imagine the current marginal status of moderate and progressive Christianity as invitation to travel light and loose, creating new maps of our spiritual landscape? Can you visualize the emergence of frontier spiritualities, inspired by the vision of God as innovative, fluid, and constantly on the move – the image of God as an active verb, rather than a static noun? Can you envisage spiritual and political partnerships with open-spirited evangelical and Pentecostal Christians? Can you appreciate the irony that a fluid, shape-shifting God and a constantly growing faith provides the best hope for healthy “stability” in a swiftly moving age?
The limitations give birth to possibilities. Jesus was born of a limited, concrete woman, not women in general. Jesus lived in Judea, not everywhere. But, Jesus lived “loosely,” inviting people to launch out into deeper waters, and to go beyond their spiritual comfort zones to embrace God’s ever-evolving horizons of the spirit. Jesus experienced the depths of God’s vision, birthed along the Galilean see and shared a message that is ever new and always creative. In that spirit, I propose that being “loosely Christian” may be among the most inspiring images for understanding the church, theology, and faith as we seek to embody and create healing, guiding, and transforming spiritualities for the twenty-first century.
We are not the first Christians to recognize that an innovative, fluid, protean, and agile faith is necessary for facing a novel and challenging environment. A living, spirit-centered Christian faith, like a living cell is animated and guided by its nucleus, the transformative encounter with Jesus Christ. It is energized by its mitochondria, the inner movements of the Spirit, that reflect the liveliness and adaptability ascribed to the Greek figure Proteus, who shifted shapes to respond and anticipate changes in the environment. Wildly flexible and sensitive to its context, a protean faith loosely yet dynamically fulfills its mission through its willingness to embody God’s good news in diverse and creative ways. Like the emerging faith of the first century Christian communities, we must also make it up as we go along, creatively joining tradition and ritual in forming innovative visions of God, human life, the non-human world, theology, and spirituality.
Next week, we explore “Christ on the loose. Following Jesus means coming alive to God’s energy of love in lively and life-transforming ways. Jesus embodies novelty as well as order; Jesus pushes us toward new horizons and adventurous possibilities. Jesus opens us to God’s ever-evolving, ever-emerging vision of Shalom for humankind and this good Earth. (For more on this vision, see Loosely Christian: Answering God’s Call for a Creative Faith for Today Bondfire/Patheos books.)
Bruce Epperly is pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. A resident of Cape Cod, Bruce has previously served on the faculty – or on an administrative or ministerial capacity – at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Lancaster Theological Seminary, and Claremont School of Theology. The author of twenty seven books in spirituality, ministry, healing and wholeness, and process theology, his most recent books are Letters to My Grandson: Gaining Wisdom from a Fresh Perspective and Loosely Christian: Answering God’s Invitation for a Creative Faith for Today.