This is the first post in a series about Diana Butler Bass’s new book, Grounded: Finding God in The World–A Spiritual Revolution. I heard her talk about it last week at the Claremont School of Theology, and it just arrived this week courtesy of the Los Angeles County Library.
Butler-Bass is a uniquely important voice on the mainline Protestant landscape; she is a church historian and a religious sociologist, but, most importantly, she is a disciple of Jesus trying to experience God in a maddening contemporary landscape. I hope blogging about Grounded creates space for constructive conversations about the things she’s grappling with.
The first claim that resonates with me is a personal one, and not historical or sociological. It’s worth quoting at length.
Much to my surprise, church has become a spiritual, even a theological struggle for me. I have found it increasingly difficult to sing hymns that celebrate a hierarchical heavenly realm, to recite creeds that feel disconnected from life, to pray liturgies that emphasize salvation through blood, to listen to sermons that preach an exclusive way to God, to participate in sacraments that exclude others, and to find myself confined to a hard pew in a building with now windows to the world outside. This has not happened because I am angry at the church or God. Rather, it has happened because I was moving around in the world and began to realize how beautifully God was everywhere.
I suspect some version of this struggle is shared by most congregants in mainline North American churches. I also suspect it’s shared by lots of those churches’ leaders.
Church is my vocation.I get to pick the hymns and creeds and to craft the prayers and sermons. Still, the leeway I have to bend the traditional language of worship to egalitarian and communitarian sensitivities only goes so far.
The struggle is a yearning for an experience of the beauty and the power of God in the day-to-day grind, including Sunday. Masculine pronouns aren’t the real problem.
Butler-Bass is about to drop the hammer on the western expression of a heaven-bound God mediated by a hierarchical church as out-of-touch and in dire need of revision.