Paul L. Caron

Sunday, August 21, 2022

NY Times Op-Ed: The God I Know Is Not A Culture Warrior

New York Times Op-Ed:  The God I Know Is Not a Culture Warrior, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3Two Sundays ago, my church had a baptismal service. Baptisms at our church are a mixture of solemnity and unbridled glee, often full of laughter and tears of joy. Those who were being baptized or, in the case of infants, their parents, took vows to put their trust in God’s grace and love and to renounce spiritual darkness, evil and “all sinful desires that draw” us from the love of God. After the baptism, the kids in our service ran forward, giggling, trying to get sprayed with the baptismal water that our priest, Ryan, slung over the congregation as he called us to “remember your baptism.”

On that Sunday, Ryan invited anyone else who wanted to get baptized to let him know. To my surprise, after the service ended and we were all mingling, two more people approached Ryan and asked if they could also get baptized. So after a short conversation with them, he hollered for the congregation to regather and, then and there, two others joined our ranks through baptism. People cheered and applauded as they emerged from the water. I left that service feeling pensive, grateful and in awe of the beauty of God and human lives.

I have thought of that incandescent Sunday a lot the past couple of weeks because there is a perplexing difference between the way we celebrated God that morning and the way I typically hear God discussed online and in our broader cultural discourse.

The God of that baptismal service is one of joy, kindness and peace. The God I often hear about in American politics, in the news and on Twitter is one of cultural division and bickering. The God of that Sunday service seemed powerful and holy, yet gentle and beautiful. The God in our cultural discourse seems impotent and irrelevant, a mostly sociological phenomenon related to political posturing and power plays. ...

It’s not that I think God has no place in politics or public discussions. Faith touches all areas of life, and issues such as abortion, religious liberty and the relationship between church and state are important. But when we primarily talk about God in the context of political or ideological debate, believers’ actual experience of God, worship and faith — not to mention spiritual virtues like humility, gratitude and kindness — often gets lost. God becomes merely another pawn in the culture wars, a means to a political end, a meme to own our opponents online or an accessory donned like a power tie. ...

[S]ometimes I have to retreat from larger media debates over politics and theology to preserve the honest, tender and fragile heart of faith in my own life.

I often quote the fifth-century ascetic Diadochos of Photiki, who seems shockingly contemporary in our time of smartphones and social media. “When the door of the steam baths is continually left open, the heat inside rapidly escapes through it,” he wrote. “Likewise the soul, in its desire to say many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech.” 

Sometimes, in order to retain a “remembrance of God,” I have to take a break from our societal discourse around faith, which can minimize who I imagine God to be. Practices like gathered worship, silence, reading the Scriptures and prayer remind me that if God is real, there are far more interesting, lasting and confounding things about God than what can be captured in our public discourse.

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Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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