What Lutherans have to offer - A Space of Grace
“Human beings are meaning seeking creatures.” Karen Armstrong opens her 2007, biography of the Bible with this sentence. Can I get an Amen?
I’ve spent the better part of my adult life as one of those meaning seeking creatures. I suppose, I also spent time as a child engaged in the same activity, but that search seems so distant now. The pilgrimage has yielded a few answers, and a whole lot of questions. In fact, the older I get, it seems the clearer my questions, and the fuzzier my answers. It seems I am destined to a life of wonder, and now consider my life task to be the one who wonders out loud – in print, from the pulpit, online or around the dinner table.
I have often said that my two favorite stories from scripture are Jacob wrestling with an Angel (Genesis), and the gospel narrative of Doubting Thomas (John). These narratives have aided my exploration, largely because they are ancient reminders that the quest is as old as humanity. Plus, hey, they are stories, and frankly, I am a sucker for a good story. The story can be found in scripture, in the cinema or listening to a neighbor describe his week at work. But I love Thomas and Jacob most, because they are both wrestling with questions that involve faith and doubt, and if you read Luther’s commentaries, wrestling with Christ himself. Wow!
For me, faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin. One needs both, in my view, to have the whole picture. Try putting a sliced quarter into the parking meter in Newport, Rhode Island next time you want a Venti Half-Caf Skim Latte at the local Starbucks. See how that works for ya. How can one coin be two things? It’s a paradox, and I love paradox, perhaps that is ultimately what attracted me to Lutheran theology. For it is in the Lutheran expression of the faith of Jesus that we find less either/or thinking, and more both/and concepts. We are simultaneously saint and sinner, the Eucharist is both earthly elements and heavenly promise, Jesus is both human and divine – and all of it at the same time. We are not asked to choose one or the other. Rather, we are invited to live in the tension.
In our time, there is a deep desire for surety and definition. “Why don’t you stand for something?” comes the shout from the gallery. A conviction of faith seems to credential one as a real Christian. I am sympathetic to that desire. We live in chaotic times, and clear answers, or repetitive ‘ways we’ve always done this before’ provide a sense of stability. And yet, there is another hunger. It is a desire to enter into the questions of life, faith and meaning. Entering into these questions is rooted in our Lutheran heritage. I believe our greatest gift in these turbulent times is to offer a space of grace. By offering a space for people to explore what they question, wonder and doubt – we allow for, even encourage, a precious and grace-filled discovery to occur. For I believe that is where Christ can meet people, and walk with them, just as he did with Thomas. In a culture that is hungry for meaning, for community, for peace – that’s a true gift. This is our uniquely Lutheran gift to the people in this region of New England, and indeed around the world.