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Loving the Questions, We Search Together for Answers: the first month of Living the Questions

News St Martin – Talking Points

Thursday 6 February 2014

‘Living the Questions: An Invitation to the Journey’ is the Spring Term Sunday morning Educational Programme where members of the St. Martin’s community get to dig deeper into the Christian tradition, embracing our questions and searching for meaningful answers together. 

So far it has been a typical St. Martin’s ‘do’: every other Sunday, after coffee hour in the Vicarage, more than two dozen participants (young and old, black and white, from Britain, Australia, Asia, Africa, and the Americas) come together from 12:15pm to 1:45pm, to watch a twenty minute video and discuss in small groups. 

Each video is a collection of interviews and mini-lectures. Over the course of the series, we will hear from more than thirty different theologians, social scientists, pastors, activists, and journalists.

The line-up is particularly strong in Bible.  Included are Marcus Borg (an Anglican Canon Theologian), J.D. Crossan (an Irish-Catholic ex-priest and prominent Jesus scholar), Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (perhaps the foremost Biblicist among Catholic Feminists) and Amy-Jill Levine (a Jewish feminist scholar who teaches New Testament at Vanderbilt, one of America’s top Protestant divinity schools). 

Other presenters include liberal Anglican Bishop Shelby Spong, Sr. Helen Prejean (inspiration of the film Dead Man Walking), John Bell (of the Iona Community), Siyoung Park (Professor of Religion, Geography, and Korean Studies at Western Illinois University), Jim Forbes (America’s foremost Black preacher, from the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York), Emily Townes (a Baptist, Black womanist ethicist at Yale Divinity School), and Mel White (founder of the gay and lesbian MCC Church).  Together, they promise a rich variety of challenging – and sometimes conflicting! – insights about God, faith, tradition, and modern life.

So far we have completed two sessions.

12 Jan, ‘Loving the Questions,’ was our opening session: ‘Faith is not a destination, but a journey.  Instead of a preference for the quick and the easy, how can we cultivate a love for the questions that motivates us toward compassion and justice?’  Fundamentalism was the central topic of this session.  What is it?  Why is it attractive?  Do we sometimes adopt ‘killing certainties’ rather than face the uncertainty of life?  At the same time, many participants were sceptical of the label.  Do the terms ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘progressive’ ignore other important similarities and differences?  Am I a ‘fundamentalist’ simply because I am unwilling to treat every belief as ‘merely a symbol’?  The conversation was challenging and thoughtful!

26 Jan, ‘Taking the Bible Seriously,’ was our second session: equally lively and challenging!  Is the Bible God’s divine word, or is it only ‘a finger that points at the moon,’ a lens through which we can glimpse God?  Do we sometimes treat the Bible like a fourth member of the Trinity – like an idol that overshadows the living, true God? Can Biblical literalists and Biblical non-literalists coexist in the same congregation? 

At the end of our discussion, we collected our thoughts and considered the insights, questions, and challenges that the session had prompted.  Here’s what some of the participants had to say:  ‘How can I really be open to the possibility that my own answers might have to change?’  ‘How do we help each other on our spiritual journeys?’ ‘What does it mean to focus beyond my own spiritual development and to think about the development of others, even the development of my whole church community?’ ‘We each have our own spiritual lenses – how do they change with time?  Do we need new spiritual glasses as we get older?’ ‘How do we uphold our own inner convictions?’  ‘How do we include people with radically different ideas about the Bible in our St. Martin’s community?  Is it desirable?  Is it even possible?’

Join us at our next meeting, Sunday 9 February, when we tackle that process of ‘theologizing’ itself: ‘What does Thinking Theologically mean?’

The conversations and the questions go on.  We can look for the answers together!

John Falcone

For more information on Living the Questions, please see our Faith Courses page.