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Thursday
Jul032014

The Big Picture

Summer in Oregon is the best summer.  It is green, it is warm, there are weeks of sunshine.  The forest is full of trees, the ocean is cold and crisp.  There is almost nowhere you can go where you will not be surrounded by the beauty of nature. 

In a way this beauty is a cathedral and God's presence is known intimately and immediately in ways that we perhaps struggle to find in other more quotidian (day-to-day) environments.  We may even begin to suspect that this is where God truly is and the only place to truly meet God.

I'm sure you've known people who have said as much, and you may have struggled with that question.  Why go to church?  Why not go camping?  Why all the talk about God when God is here to be experienced?  And while that all sounds good, upon further reflection, it is found wanting.  After all, what if I don't experience God's presence in the forest, or even further: so what if I do?  What does that mean?  What does that change? 

It is only in community that experiences can be shared, discussed, considered.  What is "God in the forest?"  What about "God in the desert," or "God in art," or even "God in the skyscraper?"  What about all the other places people have encountered God, how does that change our understanding of what God is?  If we only have individual experiences of God we are like the old tale of the three blind men describing the elephant.  But together, we get a bigger, better picture of God (this is what we call theology), and that picture is like a map that allows us to discover, experience and learn more. 

C.S. Lewis addresses this very point in Mere Christianity, a book everyone should read at least once, and I'll leave you with his quote.  I hope you're enjoying your summer.

"Now, theology is like the map.  Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert [when he felt god's presence while out alone under the stars].  Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map.  But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God - experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused.  And secondly if you want to get any further, you must use the map.  You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it.  It leads nowhere.  There is nothing to do about it.  In fact, that is just why a vague religion - all about feeling God in nature, and so on - is so attractive.  It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach.  But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.  Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea.  Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.  (Mere Christianity)."

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