God in America
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"Dwell in possibility." ~Emily Dickenson

How Do You Imagine God?
God in America and USA WEEKEND Magazine are partnering to explore Americans' images of God.

How do you imagine God? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I'm not sure I can honestly say I "imagine" God in the sense of a picture. The other day, I came across a quote from John Lennon, who said, "I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us." That gets closer to my experience of the Divine, which I more often experience as a presence, a Spirit that connects us to one another and all of creation in love, hope, and compassion. 1 person liked this

My Beliefs

I believe ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I teach religion at a university and, from time to time, in seminaries. So, the question of belief comes up often in my life. Indeed, I often ask students to write their own religious or spiritual "creed," or statement of beliefs, and am routinely surprised at how that task in itself encourages a kind of rigidity that people really seldom practice. On the other hand, when I ask students what they have learned about faith or God through their own experiences and observations, their positions tend to be more open. This periodic experiment has made me shy away from hard and fast statements of belief. But, I can say that I have found that the concerns raised in the Bible for the most marginalized and most vulnerable are still relevant in the world I live in. The path of compassion, love, and justice called out by the prophets and walked by Jesus still seems like a meaningful, if no less difficult, way to confront suffering. I do the best I can to follow that path. And, the whole range of human shortcomings laid out in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures still seem to apply to me and the people I encounter. So, I try to practice the tolerance, generosity, and forgiveness toward myself and others that Jesus modeled. I *believe* I get that wrong a lot! But I also *believe* I always have the chance to get better at it. 2 people liked this
My most powerful moment of belief was ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I like to hope that belief or faith is more than a series of moments that we can rate and rank. But I can say that I have had powerful moments of awareness of the presence of God throughout my life. Most recently, that awareness filled me when I visited Sacred Heart Community Center, a non-profit that helps to meet basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, and employment among low income families in San Jose, CA. The morning I visited, a sign on the door read "We have no bread today. There were not enough donations," and a long line of people waited in the lobby for the sacks of groceries that would get them through another week. They were quiet as monks in that line, their heads bowed as though heavy with prayer. And, of course, they were in prayer--prayer of the sort I am almost certain I had never practiced until my heart opened to the scene before me.
My greatest moment of doubt was ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Oh, gosh! I am riddled with doubt. Full-on disbelief, even. All the time. You know, there's a Buddhist saying: "Great doubt, great awakening." For me at least, doubt is a window I can open onto my faith. The fresh air of questioning, of critical reflection, and even what sometimes feels like the ill wind of anguished rejection of long-held beliefs has typically opened my heart and my mind to a deeper, more substantial kind of faith. More often than not, these seasons of doubt--and I have to say, I'm coming out of one now after a long stint of feeling mistreated and disrespected by people whose life practices seemed quite at odds with their professed beliefs--end up "proving" to me, as much as such things can be proved, the reality of grace and the enduring power not of my faith in God, but of God's faith in me.
My spiritual life means... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator doing the best I can to practice the Great Commandments that Jesus taught his disciples: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Mt. 22: 36-40). I fail miserably all the time, of course, but I try to be aware that my ability to love my neighbor requires that I love myself. That means that I have to practice the same level of acceptance and forgiveness for myself as I offer to others, even as I accept the challenge to work for justice and peace.
The biggest misconception about my faith/belief system is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator what I'd refer to as "The Bill Maher Fallacy": that Christianity in total is conservative, fundamentalist Christianity. When people say, "Christians think [insert your favorite idiotic or offensive idea here], they're not talking about the Christians I know--people who work for justice, peace, and healing. My "go-to Christians" here are, for example, the people--mostly volunteers--who work tirelessly at the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, PA (http://www.thomasmertoncenter.org/) to address the root causes of poverty, homelessness, and violence. These are people of great integrity and great intellect, who act out of an educated discipleship that is not easy to parody.
My spiritual role model is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator anyone who is tending the sick, feeding the hungry, advocating for the disenfranchised at this very moment. While I'm a great fan of spiritual exemplars, I think our attachment to what used to be called "spiritual athletes" and now are more like "spiritual celebrities" (Mother Theresa comes to mind...) can disconnect us from our own abilities to protect and comfort the most marginalized among us. I think that's why I've always liked the medieval English mystic and pilgrim Margery Kempe so much. Married and the mother of 13 children, Margery ran a feed mill and a brewery before she took up a full-time spiritual vocation in a world where women like her weren't supposed to do that sort of thing. Mocked by neighbors for her spiritual visions and (often loud) reveries, arrested several times for her insistence on speaking about the Bible at a time when laypeople--especially women--were forbidden by law to teach or preach and for wearing the white clothes of the consecrated virgin (which she obviously was not), and often just garden variety annoying, Margery hardly exemplified the "perfect" spiritual life. But she was perfectly human as she kept at despite all manner of obstacles. That sloppy, inconsistent, half-wrong, half-right spirituality tends to work more for me than a beatific anchoress hold up in a cell praying ceaselessly.
The tenet/practice/teaching I appreciate most about my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator "Love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself." But I also like the old Hunter S. Thompson adage: "Call on God, but row away from the rocks."

My Faith History

As a child I believed ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator God was everywhere, in everything. I pretty much still believe that.

How I Practice My Faith

Where and when do you practice your faith? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I belong to an Episcopal church, but I've actively taken a 'sabbatical' this year to reflect on what it means for me, at this point in my life and in light of my understanding of discipleship, to participate in an institutional church community. So, much of my faith practice is connected to my teaching and the writing I've done on contemporary spiritual practices for the online magazine, ReligionDispatches (http://www.religiondispatches.org/contributors/elizabethdrescher/). I'm currently in the process of completing a book on the relationship between new digital social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and contemporary religious practice, Tweet if U ? Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation (Church Publishing, Spring 2011). My research and writing for this project has taught me a great deal about the significance of participation, collaboration, and connectedness in both face-to-face and online religious communities. I'm looking for ways to enhance that in my own local church and in churches more generally.
In my house, the thing that most represents my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator walls of books and a quiet place to sit with or without them in the back garden.
The song/book/film that most represents my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator "I act like I have faith, and like that faith never ends…but I really just have friends.” -Dar Williams, “My Friends”

Religion & the Public Square

What should be the role of religion in politics? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator You know, "should" is tricky in this question. It seems to me that that religion IS in politics, and we SHOULD educate ourselves about both the wide varieties of religions that populate the American landscape and the role these have played in our political traditions. People can't turn off the beliefs that define their approach to the world, but they can be aware of them, of how they complement or compete with the beliefs of others, and they can learn to develop decision-making strategies that integrate diverse perspectives.
Should courses about religion be taught in public schools? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Absolutely. The recent Pew study of religious knowledge made clear that most Americans (a) don't understand the religious traditions that have shaped and continue to shape American culture and (b) the legal structures that allow us to explore these traditions as part of a meaningful education. Our inability to teach about religion without straying into faith formation has had tremendously negative effects on both the political process and our general ethical environment.
Is interfaith dialogue important? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Interfaith dialogue is essential to a functioning, pluralistic society of free people. The Pluralism Project at Harvard University (http://pluralism.org/) provides great resources for understanding religious difference and for engaging in productive conversations about faith in American life.
Do you feel comfortable discussing your faith with others? Why/why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator It's kind of my day job. But, I'd love to discuss it with Bill Maher.
Do you feel that you have a duty, because of your faith, to put your beliefs into action? What are some of those actions? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Again, "duty" feels heavy to me. But, I do feel that my faith inspires me--fills me with the Spirit--to act consistently with my values. Many years ago, for instance, I worked for a corporation which I felt was acting unethically and in ways that had serious impact on the wellbeing of the people using its products. Eventually--after trying for a very long time to address the issues from within the corporation--I reported the company to the government, and became a whistleblower. You might say that this action, uh, "opened me to other career options," which is how I came to teach and write about religion. So, it worked out for me in the end. But, more importantly, those particular practices stopped, and taxpayer money was repaid to the government. Difficult though all of that was to live through over the course of almost a decade, I truly felt blessed to be supported through it all by a faith embodied by the friends and family who prayed with me, wept with me, celebrated with me, and generally made the reality of faith present to me on a day-to-day basis.

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Published October 11, 2010

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