God Calling – Are You In?
Reflections on “Virtual Pilgrimages: The Holy Land of Paul and John”
I was struck as I watched Peter Meineck from New York University get this Eastertide series off to a swift start that his class featured at least two apparent contradictions. The first was that the series began with a nonbiblical character who, for all his famous travels, never set foot in the Holy Land: Odysseus. The explanation for that choice lies with Deirdre Good, professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary. Professor Good planned the series at the invitation of the Discovery team (and in particular, its chair, Emory Edwards, whose excellent idea it was). She invited classics professor Meineck to give the first class because she sees in Homer’s Odyssey the pattern and paradigm for all stories of journey and pilgrimage. Professor Meineck is also the artistic director of the Aquila Theater, and his dramatic rendering of the story drew us into the themes just as Professor Good had hoped.
Now, I knew that part going in, so for me the more powerful (apparent) contradiction was his opening statement about the relationship of the Greeks and their gods: Getting the attention of the gods, he explained, was a bad thing. You didn’t want them noticing you, because, quite frankly, they weren’t very nice. Discovery’s overarching theme for the year is “Practicing the Presence of God.” In Christian theology and practice, God’s presence is seen as a good thing, a great source of hope, at least for most of us. Unfortunately it becomes a platitude, something we can take for granted. Listening to Professor Meineck it occurred to me that it only makes sense to seek God’s presence if you believe that “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). Of course our scriptures and our tradition acknowledge wrath and judgment (“O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.” Psalm 6:1), and too many Christians grow up with an image of an angry God that sometimes, sadly, drives them from the church (Jay Bakker spoke about this powerfully last January
). But, thanks be to God, 1 John usually carries the day, reminding us that to know love is to know God. Discovering the reality of that love is the inner pilgrimage, and we’re all on it. We journey not only through space and time but also through relationships. God’s love is our pointer and our destination.
As the series continued in the following weeks, Professor Good and other excellent guest teachers -- Dr. Brigitte Kahl of Union Theological Seminary and Professor Katherine Shaner of General Theological Seminary – expanded our understanding of pilgrimage both physically and spiritually. The podcasts of their sessions that are available for listening on Trinity’s website unfortunately cannot include the fascinating visuals they brought with them to class, but I hope that the ideas they present will resonate nonetheless.
For those who took part in the classes, and those who will listen to them online, please post a comment. What stood out for you? Did the perspectives they offered change the way you think of pilgrimage? Have you experienced pilgrimage in your own life? Did it lead to discoveries about yourself? About God?
Regular Discovery classes will resume in the fall, and join us for Bible study Sundays at 10 am over the summer. It’s all a journey!
Enjoy audio from some past Discovery Classes:
How Do You Discover Things?
Trinity's Youth Group participated in "How Do I Experience God...As A Teenager?"
By Robert Owens Scott, Director of Faith Formation and Education
When my son was in elementary school, I looked forward to spending time with him at bedtime. I found that a blunt, “What did you do today?” predictably failed to get much of a response, so we started playing a game. Each of us would share two things: What did I learn today? What did I contribute? In answering those questions we discovered things about our days – and our lives – that could easily have gone unnoticed.
I think about those evenings because I have a similar experience when I attend Discovery, Trinity Church’s education series for adults. The classes are planned and produced by a dedicated team of parishioners, and (full disclosure) I am the staff member who supports their work. Faculty are drawn from the rich diversity of New York City and its environs, and the variety of perspectives we hear week to week almost always provoke in me some fresh realization about my world, my work, and my faith. And as interesting as I often find the information that’s presented, for me the best thing about the classes is the questions they raise, because they help me to notice what I might otherwise miss.
And that brings me around to the subject of this blog. “Discoveries” (see what we did there?) is a forum for Discovery participants (not always me) to reflect on a recent class or series and share the discoveries the class inspired. Others can comment, add their own discoveries, and discuss online. Recently we’ve been making audio recordings of the classes, and sometimes we produce video to go with it. Those will be linked to this page, too. The idea is to share our experience with one another and with our web visitors.
Discovery’s theme for the year is “Practicing the Presence of God.” As I write this we’re almost at the end of a series for the season of Epiphany called, “How I Experience God as a _________.” Each presenter filled in the blank and spoke of her or his personal experience and how that experience may (or may not) speak for a group (hey, we’re all members of some group). So we had “as a Soldier,” “as a Mormon
,” “as a Hispanic American,” and so forth. Jay Bakker, a pastor and author who is, not incidentally, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, kicked off the series by filling in the blank, “as an Insecure, Dyslexic Pastor.”
Jay said something that not only framed the series for me but given me a lens on my life as well. He explained that his primary experience of God when he was a child was about being judged and condemned. He was caught up in the kind of hyper-Calvinism we like to think isn’t really out there until an evangelical minister writes a book suggesting God isn’t all that interested in sending people to hell and the blogosphere lights up like a flaming Christmas tree. It (and some dramatic experiences that were national news for a time) drove him away from the church for years. Then while reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians he had a profound experience of grace that turned him around and drew him back into faith. He experiences grace as full acceptance – acceptance of the things about ourselves that we’re conditioned to cover up. In other words, no need to hide. The focus of his ministry has become – and this is the phrase that really struck me – salvation through transparency.
Watch an interview with Jay Bakker:
He challenged us to imagine what a church would look like if it were truly a community where people can come in all their brokenness and be known and loved as who they are. What would it be like, he asked, if not only the congregation but also the clergy could be so open? Do we let one another risk that kind of transparency? Why not? What skills would we need to cultivate in order to nurture a community that was both open and safe?
Watch an interview with Barbara Sherer:
The apostle Paul wrote that someday we will know God as God knows us – fully. Can we know one another that way, and still love one another, as God loves us? That’s the question of grace. And it’s the risk we need to take if we’re going to keep deepening our discoveries.