Navigating without a plan.
One of the issues for theology is what do we mean with the term, God’s plan or being lead by the Spirit? We ask because all Churches are in a process of imagining what it means to be a national church. We are in a time of asking hard questions of what it means to be a congregation. It does not stop there, for individual christians are asking what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? We are trying to navigate these questions in a time unrest.
As a society we are faced with difficult issues. The Brexit referendum is not limited to Europe: it is part of a much larger process of the confusion that underlies the crisis of “manufacturing democratic consent” in our societies, of the growing gap between political institutions and popular rage, the rage which gave birth to Trump as well as to Sanders in the US. We have the rise of outrage of those who feel left out, moves to narrow nationalism and distrust of the “other”. Signs of chaos are everywhere – Is this a reason to despair?
In such times we worry. We often seek for just the right information to move into a far country. Planning becomes our default position. It becomes the narrative that determines our sense of that it is crucial to deal with life.
Planning is big on our agenda — for we want to make the best use of our time and we want to arrive without too many distractions. In business, and life, there are those who are called life coaches. They sit down with us and lay out what they think is necessary to build a life or a business. It is an expanding business. Churches seek out those who will help them grow, as if there is a technique that provides a simple solution, a magic bullet for what ails us.
We think we can plan our way into the future. The irony is planning can be a dead end-the best laid plans is a phrase that reminds us of that. It turned out that over planning is not necessary for each day provides new experiences that we have not planned on. In fact, planning almost makes us miss the unexpected.
I think there is default problem with the language of God’s plan. Or the idea of planning because it assumes God is in control. It affects both evangelicals and liberals. I think it is problematic because it assumes a God has all the power or has determined the future. Too often this theology is left unexamined and leaves us vulnerable to disappoint or criticism of why did not God act.
This has created difficult issues for the church in how to speak to our society. We have a history of calling upon individuals and society to do justice and compassion. The problem is, it is often phrased “do the will of God.” Or some have said, “What would Jesus do?” Those words fall flat in our secular society and often do not resonate even with those in the faith. Simple phrases do not deal with the complexity of action and we have been searching for ways that are faithful to our insights and are not self righteous views.
We know that faith calls us to world care. It is not always easy to discern what is worthy of us, or how to make this reality better. Too often we revert to ideology and shout at those with whom we disagree.
The question what has love to do with this is compounded when we know that God does not have a plan, that God has not set out a map to follow. Now it feels good to hold these views because decision making is easier. If we begin, though, with the reality that this world does not have a straight path, that God has not decided the future, that we live in randomness and chance, we can begin to develop a faith that will guide us without guarantees. By beginning without a safety net we can have confidence in our actions, and agency.
A moment of transformation was when I wrote a piece for JesusJazzBuddhism. The editor pointed out that my use of the term “God” would not compute for many. So I had to search for another term. As it happened, I was reviewing piece by John Coltrane. In the piece the Psalm he moves to Love Supreme. This made sense because one of his lines was “I will do all that is worthy of you. Love that is worthy of worship.” Thanks to Tomas Oord I now have made this the uncontrolling Love Supreme. Coltrane’s prayer is this uncontrolling love supreme is to help us resolve our fears and weakness
The power of a revised faith is to bring to consciousness those beliefs that influence us. It is here that Oord’s work on the Uncontrolling Love helps us escape the idea of the future is planned and we can find the right plan which will get us to that future. The answer is clear: persons who are open to the prompting of the Spirit of God, who is always transgressing boundaries, find creative ways to bear witness to uncontrolling love.
It takes determination to live out our Christian calling in a world that is so indifferent to values, peace and beauty. Using the idea of uncontrolling love of God gives us away of living that the community can mimic — setting one’s face toward the future, being spiritually alive, and taking our faith seriously.