Recently, I attended an informal gathering of clergy that formed to ask ourselves one question: Do you believe in God? The reason we did this is because, in case you missed it, one of my ministry colleagues who self-identifies as an atheist recently claimed on a national news broadcast that over half of United Church ministers don’t believe in a “theistic, supernatural” God. In response, another of my ministry colleagues devised a survey to test that claim.
Remarkably, over half of the currently serving ministers in our church responded (which in survey/statistics land is a very large sampling). The short answer is that we are not a godless bunch of heathens! Of those who responded 95% said they believed in God. (I wonder what the other 5% believe?)
But, (and yes, there’s always a but) the overwhelming message received was that it depends on what you mean by “God.”
What does theistic mean?
What does supernatural mean?
What does interventionist mean?
What does atheist mean?
Can two people have a conversation and use the same words but mean something entirely different? Yes they can!
Does that mean we should stop talking? No, it means we should talk more, and more importantly listen more!
So we got together and shared with one another our understandings of God. We talked, we listened, we learned. I didn’t convince anyone that my way of seeing things was right, but that was never the point. The point was to engage in the dialogue. The point was to wrestle with images and ideas to help us grow.
I encourage you to join the conversation. Here’s how you should start.
Close your eyes, hold your palms open, take a couple of deep breaths, smile, and savour the moment. That is your definition of God! Putting it into words is pretty much impossible, but it is good to try. Be humble, be patient, and be gentle with one another in your conversations, because their words are just as inadequate as yours are. It isn’t easy to do, but it’s very important for our faith journeys. It has been said that people would rather talk about their sex lives or their finances than they would talk about God! Well, whatever gets the conversation started! 🙂
As you spend your summer resting, relaxing, and recreating spend some time pondering what you think about God, and be on the lookout for people to share with. We in the United Church have a reputation for being pretty quiet about God – so much so that some people think we don’t believe in much of anything. You and I know that’s not true. And it’s up to us to change the perception.