Ordination Questions

How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of God?
     The past two years have made it clear to me there is a gap between the God spoken about in Seminary and the God spoken about in the local church.  It is not that the language of God in these locations are at odds with each other, but the language is different.  Seminary language about God focuses on the Transcendence of God.  Gender neutral and cross cultural references to God are favored – “God” “the Divine” “the Ground of Being” “Ultimate Reality” are acceptable and expected names for God.  Personally, I love this way of talking and understanding God because it stretches my imagination and reminds me that when we talk about God, we rely upon constructs in our minds to help us express that which we cannot put into words.  However, it has become clear to me that many lay members of the local churches I am appointed to do not receive the same energy and satisfaction when talking about God in abstract and ambiguous terms.  This does not mean that lay members do not talk about God; rather there is a strong emphasis on the intimacy of God in their language.  God is not “God” but “Father” or “Friend”.  It is not “the Divine” but “Jesus”, not “the Ground of Being” but “the one who walks with me”.  God is not “Ultimate Reality” but “the one who forgives and accepts me”.  This linguistic shift has been somewhat difficult for me because it often invokes in me a question of idolatry.

I have noticed that we all have preferred language about God – I prefer the language of transcendence – and when we talk about God we can become locked into thinking about God in only the terms in which we express.  The most common example is that our talk about God lead us to believe God to be ‘male’.  Viewing God as male comes in part because we are locked into talking about “God the Father” or in the masculine pronoun “He”.  Our resistance to thinking of God as anything other than a ‘male’ becomes greater, and thus we create in our minds an image of God that becomes an idol – God in the shape of a male human being.  We tend to defend idols to the detriment of growth and are sometimes threatened when our idol of God encounters the Living God (or even another idol).  During these residency years it has become clear to me that God is not bound to the limited language we associate with God and yet is as intimate as a breath.  I am thankful that the local church communities have shared with me the importance of upholding the intimacy of God while trying to maintain the transcendence of God. 
Another way in which the practice of ministry has affected my experience and understanding of God is best summarized in a Ralph W. Stockman quote “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.”  As I encounter more people I am exposed to more truths about God.  I learn about how people experience God as ‘healer’, ‘master’ ‘redeemer’, or ‘nature’ for instance.  The more people talk about God from their worldview (rooted in Scripture, tradition, experience and reason), the more I come to see that there is so much about the Mystery of God that I do not understand.  For example, my current nagging question was posed by a church member, “Do you believe there is consciousness outside the human mind?”  Another person shared with me the image that the entire world is a giant organism and every part of the world has a place.  Trees become the ‘lungs’ of the world organism and humans are the ‘brain’ of the world organism.  The question becomes, “if humanity is the world’s brain on the ground, then why is the world set up to move toward interdependence and interconnection?  Why is life set up to thrive in community and not set up to thrive in isolation?”  These are questions that have come across my path while working in the local setting, and they broaden my shoreline of wonder, a shoreline which I hope never has an ending.