Thoughts for the Soul

Bottomless Wells . . .

Posted on: Jun 25, 2019

What is my faith apart from my concepts about God, Jesus, church, and life after death?

That’s the question that caused a spiritual earthquake for Rev. Brian McLaren, the keynote speaker at the spring meeting of the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference May 31-June 1. He had been a pastor for a number of years when he pondered, “My faith is a system of beliefs, and it’s not working. The system is crumbling. I can’t save it. . . .” And then he poses the above question to himself.

Needless to say, reflections like these frighten people like pastors, as well as many who sit in our pews most Sundays. Others point out (many too happily) that churches have become empty over the decades because of its focus on “systems of beliefs”—the expectation that being a Christian requires affirmation of a particular list of beliefs about religious stuff.

McLaren goes on to tell about a conversation when he related his ponderings to a rabbi friend. Her response is noteworthy: “That’s something about you Christians that never made much sense to me as a Jew. We don’t read stories in the Bible looking for beliefs. We read them for meaning. . . . We aren’t looking for some timeless, abstract statements about reality. We’re looking for meaning to guide us in the predicaments of life, to help us know who we are, why we’re here, where we’re going, to help us be better people, so we can heal the world. . . . We see our sacred stories as bottomless wells of meaning.”

McLaren, along with many others, now advocates that being a Christian is much less about what we believe and much more about how we live. And the fundamental guidepost to how we live is how we love. As McLaren puts it, “[Love is Jesus’] prime directive—love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, [all] as he himself modeled.”

Because the word “love” often turns into a cliché, McLaren suggests several other words to help us flesh out all the different ways of expressing Jesus’ kind of love: mercy, compassion, peace, reconciliation, nonviolence, kindness, community, solidarity, friendship.

We grow our awareness of these terms by contemplating the stories about Jesus, along with the stories that Jesus tells—going into the bottomless wells of meaning that await us. Then we need to reflect on how we practice a particular kind of love day by day.

Such reflections may lead us to say to ourselves, “What I could have said was . . .” or “What I should have done was. . . .”

We will also discover that practicing Jesus’ kind of love helps us share such love more freely. Our practice will not make us perfect. But we will more readily journey forward into the kind of lives that God calls us to live.

— Pastor Fogal

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