Riding in the car with a close friend from home the other day, I was engaged in a lively conversation with her about some of our friends and their charismatic religious beliefs. A few recent Facebook status updates triggered our bewilderment on the possibility of physical healing.
“I just don’t know if I believe it,” she mentioned.
I knew my automatic response would be to affirm and reciprocate her doubt. But as I opened my mouth to say, “Yeah, that’s absurd,” I felt embarrassed for beginning to respond in that way. I started to think about the beautiful tapestry of traditions that represents my school’s student body, and I remembered how strong that makes us. I recalled my visits to divinity schools when trying to decide where to go for my higher theological education, and I remembered the pull of unfamiliar history that captivated me about McAfee’s students. This was a place where I knew my comfortable places would be challenged by both my professors and my peers.
My school is Baptist, upholding the principles of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but our student body represents many more denominations. We look for the diversity in our community because we know it makes our personal faiths stronger. This community affirms the gifts God has given each of us, and we challenge each other’s accepted notions of faith.
It makes for a super exciting education. There’s talk back to the professor: “That’ll preach, Dr. Johnson!” There’s banjo in chapel, and there are stories of God’s intercession that sometimes make me raise my eyebrow. This community, though, which is so excited about my calling and very believing in God’s work on my life, has transformed me.
Growing up, I assembled a Baptist understanding of the Creator God, built a box around it, and placed my God up high in the sky so that when I prayed I knew where I was aiming. If ever I needed to see God, I would look high up in the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of that box I put up there. I knew all along that God is present and working in our world, but my faith was too small to visualize that reality. Then God made some movements that were a little outside that box I knew, and I found myself in seminary.
As a Baptist, I believe in a freedom of the soul; I believe in the body of Christ as my community of burden-bearing help. My peers at school have shown me that I’m not in this faith alone. Slowly, through conversations and holy moments, I begin to find the ability to tear that box down. Class by class, it comes tumbling down. Prayer by prayer…tumbling down. Sorrow borne on behalf of another, open arms and open doors, real stories shared and eager listening ears…piece by piece, that box disappears. And slowly, I begin to see the world around me as flooded with God’s energy. Every face I pass is one of God’s faces.
“The otherness in you is the only chance I have to grow.” My spiritual formation professor quoted this line to us, encouraging us to learn from each other and step outside our comfortable understandings of God. I am learning that God is way bigger than my box in the sky. My charismatic and Pentecostal brothers and sisters are teaching me that God dances and God heals. My Episcopal brothers and sisters are teaching me that God is present and powerfully receptive in liturgy. My Disciples of Christ brothers and sisters are teaching me that God is energizing and grace-fulfilling in the Eucharist. My Catholic brothers and sisters are teaching me to worship and feel comfortable sitting in the mystery of God. My evangelical brothers and sisters are teaching me the joys in carrying another’s burden. And my Baptist brothers and sisters hold my hands as I am washed in waters of unimaginable communal transformation.
Photo by Lesley-Ann Hix