Our New Initiative
by Chris Hardman
As many of you know, I grew up in the First Baptist Church of Helena, Arkansas, which was a moderately conservative church of its time and place. Naturally, I believed God was "up there" somewhere. God loved me, but that love was always a conditional love. If I strayed from the straight and narrow, "condemnation to hell" lay close at hand. I could always repent, but even if I did, I was never sure if I had repented "enough."
At a worship service when I was 16, I felt a strong sense that God was calling me to something. At the time, I did not know what that was. The only image of the clergy I had was that of the Baptist preacher, and that was not me!
For the most part I set that calling aside and began to pursue other interests. My childhood interest in insects and rocks led me to major in geology in college. I particularly loved the study of natural history and how life evolved over billions of years. It captivated my imagination like few things had. While I grew up in a church that took the Bible literally, in college I began to think about those first chapters of Genesis in a more metaphorical way. That metaphorical interpretation became even stronger when I married my wife, Libby, a cradle Episcopalian, who brought me into a church with a lot more "breathing room," a lot more openness to different ways of thinking about God and life.
My wife's continued influence, along with an exceptionally pastoral Episcopal priest, led me into the ordained ministry. In the midst of my pursuit of seminary, however, a conflict arose in my state that changed me, and set me on a journey that I am still traveling. In 1981, the Arkansas Legislature passed a bill calling for equal treatment of creation-science and evolution in the public schools. In 1982, a lawsuit was brought against the state to repeal that law stating that creation- science was not science but religion.
Believing that evolution was the process God used to create us and everything else, I was on the side of those who had brought the lawsuit. Most of my friends, however, were on the other side. They did not believe in evolution at all-even those who had gone to college. I could not understand why. I began to ask some hard questions. Are science and religion irreconcilable? Do you have to choose one or the other? Or is there some way of bringing the two into some kind of harmony?
I have been searching for answers to those questions for over 30 years. In the past 15 years, and especially since I have been here at Holy Comforter, I have grown in my understanding of God as Trinity to the point that I have finally begun to reconcile science and religion in a way that is life giving. In addition, this understanding of God has helped me reconcile a number of other sets of opposites that have always been problematic, like sacred and profane, material and spiritual, Christianity and other world religions.
What this Center for Trinitarian Spirituality proposes is a more encompassing way of seeing God at work in our world. It does not negate the way we have thought about God up until now. Rather, as philosopher Ken Wilber puts it, this new way "transcends and includes" the old way. The old way has been thinking about God as a person. That is a natural way to think about God because God is personal and relational, and the only way we know how to relate is through persons. This reemerging way, however, sees God more as a dynamic cosmic force, a force of love that moves in us and around us. In fact, as Paul puts it, God is "the one in whom we live and move and have our being." These two ways of thinking about God, may seem irreconcilable, but in reality they are just the way it is.
Science says much the same thing when it tries to describe a photon of light. Scientists tell us that sometimes it acts like a particle and sometimes it acts like a wave. Which is it? It is both, even though we can't explain it. Sometimes God can act like a person, and sometimes God can act like a flow of love. Which is it? It is both, even though we can't explain it. Not being able to explain it is really a good place to be, because if we could explain God completely, that would not be God!
As theologian Karl Rayner used to put it, "God is incomprehensible Holy Mystery." We are caught up in that mystery in all kinds of ways. What I hope this Center will do is to help us expand our understanding of God and become more conscious of God within us and us within God-together.
There are a multitude of efforts to do this going on throughout the world. It is gaining momentum under a lot of different names such as: emerging church, non-dual consciousness, action and contemplation, living in the present moment, etc. We have chosen to use Trinitarian Spirituality because we believe God is at the center of this movement. God is the one leading us to greater consciousness.
As we begin to put this way of seeing God into practice, we invite you to join us in some way. You can participate in a class or prayer group, or you can visit our website or peruse the new "Trinitarian" section in our library. If you have any interest in this initiative, and would like to help, please let me know. I would love to talk with you about it.