God is, my response to the God question

There’s a challenge afoot initiated by Coffeepastor, formulated after he read this blog post by Tony Jones.

Jones argues that liberal Christianity does not know how to articulate WHO we think God is. Coffeepastor  who blogs at philosophy over coffee wrote this:

Well, yesterday Tony Jones added a new wrinkle to his ongoing commentary…
These have prompted me to think that progressives have a God-talk problem. That is, progressives write lots of books and blog posts about social issues, the church, culture, and society. But we don’t write that much about God. That is, we don’t say substantive things about who God is, what God does, etc.  
You might say the same thing about conservative Protestants (i.e., “evangelicals”). But the thing is, their people pretty much know what they think of God. It’s well-known and on the record.  
Progressive/liberal/mainline theology, on the other hand, has a PR problem. We might think that people know what we think about God, but they don’t. It’s clear in the comments on this blog and elsewhere. 
It really struck me yesterday, when listening to a recent edition of the TNT podcast “Homebrewed Christianity” in which Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders repeatedly and forcefully said things about who God is and how God acts. He didn’t relativize those statements with qualifiers, and he didn’t cowtow to political correctness or academic jargon. That was jarring to me because it so rarely happens.  
Thus, I challenge all progressive theo-bloggers to write one post about God between now and August 15.
Ok – that’s the challenge – to write one post about God before August 15, 2012. Several of my blogging colleagues have such as (not the same as the podcast) Tripp, who blogs at anglobaptist and Robin who blogs at metanoia

The challenge got me thinking – “Hey! I talk about God all the time, and especially in my sermons!” 
And just to make sure I went back and read my sermons over the summer. It’s a lean season since I have had four Sunday’s off and tend to preach short, five minute homilies in the summer, but still I was certain I had talked about “who God is” and “what God does” in my sermons. Here are a few things I’ve said:
Sunday, July 29, 2012:  
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  God is forgiving and expects us to do likewise as well as be kind and tenderhearted. 
These words about God –  who God is and what God does – come from the Letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians contains some instruction to the early church (and us) on how to live as the body of Christ, or in other words how to live as the presence of God active in the world.  Yes, even as a Progressive I believe that scripture informs us and lays the foundation of our understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, who the Holy Spirit is, and who we are.
Sunday, July 22, 2012 :my sermon ended with this prayer – 
 Let us pray….May God, the holy one, the Divine Giver of Life, be with us and all who suffer. May God offer us a shoulder of solace and comfort us in our grief. May God’s love be like a mantle about our shoulders, holding us in peace. May God so fill our hearts and minds with the Spirit of God’s compassion that we too will be agents of God’s healing grace in the world. May God be with those who lost loved ones, embrace those who lost their lives, sustain those who are tending to the wounded. May God heal this broken world. May we partner with God to reconcile the broken places of this world. May compassion prevail in all we do and say.
This is my prayer – I wrote it from my heart. God is holy and divine – the GIVER of life. All of life exists because God created life. 
Sunday, July 1, 2012: (from 1st Samuel, the choosing of David, the young shepherd boy to be king) 
Once again God is acting in and through the smallest and least likely of candidates. God sees deep into our lives and recognizes within us, deeper gifts and possibilities, hidden to the untrained eye. God uses small and unexpected events – and unlikely people – to manifest God’s desire into the world.
God acts through the small and seemingly insignificant, God acts in unexpected ways, inviting us to consider how God is working in our lives, and in our community.
In this sermon I talk about God as the one who acts in and through our lives, supporting and sustaining us. God gives us life and God gives us gifts that strengthen our lives and enable us to manifest God’s desire in the world. And, what is God’s desire? Well in part God’s desire is that we love, forgive, and have compassion for others – that we be tenderhearted. 
When I first read of the challenge on Robin’s blog (Metanoia) I responded by saying that it might be easier to articulate who God is not than who God is. For example, I wrote, I do not believe that God is an old white man with a long beard who sits on a throne somewhere “UP” there. However, some people may know God in that image. I don’t think it’s “wrong” I just think defining God with such specific characteristics is limiting. God is so much more than any one set of characteristics we can give God. Here is what I said on Trinity Sunday – June 3, 2012:
In the end we sometimes just have to shrug our shoulders and acknowledge that our efforts to describe God are either limited, or perhaps, endless? How God manifests God’s self in and through the Trinity, as three persons in one, as God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, is an effort on the part of Christians to describe God as relationship – God is in relationship with God’s self, with creation, and with us.
I am not convinced that it is important for us “Progressives” to define God – that instantly conjures up limitations on who God is. God is always more than
 I do think it is important that we talk about God and how we experience God in our lives and in the world. 
As a Christian I know God as “relationship.” This relationship is not limited to specific human traits and qualities – such as embodiment – God does not need to have a body in order to be in relationship with God. 
The Trinity is one effort, perhaps the primary effort, Christians have made to describe the nature of “relationship” that is God. For me, and for many, the language of the Nicene Creed is antiquated. But one thing I think is crucial is that it describes a relationship God has with God’s self and with others and the relationship of others with God. 
The incarnation, more than the Nicene Creed, invites Christians into the relationship that is God. The incarnation brings God into human flesh, God is one of us – suffers the trauma of birth, the joys and sorrows of life and love, the pain of abuse and injustice and dies a cruel death. And yet, that death was not the final expression of God’s self, God’s relationship with humanity and all of creation. God’s self is enlivened in the resurrection, God lives on. God lives on in and through our lives, modeled on the life of God in Jesus, inspired to action by the liveliness of God made manifest in the Holy Spirit.
God is relationship.
 That means God is complicated and messy. God is known and unknown, like some days I think I know my husband of 27 years and then he does something to surprise me and I realize that I will never fully know him. God is love, love that sustains and supports me and you as we try to become the best version of ourselves possible. God desires that for us, that we live healthy, happy lives. And, when life is unpredictable and bad things happen, God is there with us. God is there to hold us up and give us the courage to take another breath or another step. God is there in our deepest sorrow and our greatest joy. Because that is what we do when we are in a relationship. We are present for the other, we love, we support the other, and we help them become the best version of themselves possible. 
God is relationship that transforms death into life, chaos into a new creation, sorrow into hope, disorder into order.
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About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
This entry was posted in Progressive Christians, the God Question, Tony Jones, who is God. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to God is, my response to the God question

  1. Robin says:

    Off to walk and ponder God as relationship.

  2. so very well said Terri. I have no problem giving my vision of God, but I admit to not having the surety that the conservatives voice. And that I submit is the problem–this dead certainty that one has defined God based on some particularized interpretation of a text. God is definable as love, relationship, and infinity. Beyond that, it seems to me, we are limited by the smallness of our all too human minds. When it gets wrong, is when we start assigning God human characteristics that we should consider negative–such as anger, and retribution, and jealousy….

  3. Lisa :-] says:

    The first thing that came to my mind is that those "evangelicals" who are so sure they know exactly who God is are full of crap…I do love your explanation of God as "relationship." It is not so far off from my own growing perception of the Almighty, though I no longer label myself "Christian…"

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