We are the evidence


“I believe in God.” Those first words in our statement of religious faith are first only because generations of people thought seriously and deeply about their experience. We wouldn’t put God first if we were the originators of faith. Not right away.
We would put ourselves first, as Adam and Eve did.
We would have a strong intuition that our shaky existence means there has to be something more, something greater. But this intuition would be quiet in the background while the immediate needs of body and spirit rule our lives.
Given a choice, we’d eat the apple because its appeal is immediate. We might sing with the feeling in John Denver’s old love song, “You fill up my senses….”
This would go beyond apples and our stomachs. We would realize that it’s not good to be alone, so we might start to organize special gatherings to share those feelings of need and the satisfaction of coming together. One thing would lead to another, and an ever larger canopy of meaning would grow over those gatherings. They would acquire a special character, something we might describe as sacred: set apart from the ordinary for the sake of enhancing and lighting up the ordinary.
And we would need a name for what we were pointing toward. That mystery, that summit of all our desiring might be called God.
This little reflection on the origins of faith is prompted by a news item in the British newspaper The Telegraph. In Nashville, Tenn., deep in this nation’s Bible Belt, the newspaper found evidence of a “church without God.”
Avowed atheists along with Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran and other Protestant church dropouts were found meeting in what they call Sunday Assembly. This is a movement started in London, England, last year that has gone worldwide, including over 150 assemblies in the United States.
They meet on Sundays in imitation of Christian church assemblies, but no other significance is given to the day. There is no God, no Jesus, no heaven and hell. Otherwise, however, these secular Sunday gatherings have the look and feel of an evangelical service. There is rousing music, appeals to generosity and service of community needs, and the shared activities known as “fellowship” in traditional church settings.
As one member told The Telegraph: “The idea is, why not steal all the good bits about church — the music, the fellowship, the community work — and lose the God stuff.”
The secular Sunday Assembly movement seems to be a natural for these days as traditional religious faith loses a presence in public life and has less attraction for the young. Most people still need and want those “good bits” from church life while fewer feel any need to go deeper than the bits. Modern life itself seems to hold all necessary promise and comfort. Why look for more?
We should welcome the Sunday Assembly as a work of God — even though its members would object to that way of describing their movement. Everything that begins in a desire for unity and service of others is a good beginning. It has the potential to go beyond any original limits.
There will be some in the assemblies who will wonder more deeply than others. Some will find that they can’t be satisfied by “bits.” They will feel that intuition for something more, some greater life and love. They could realize that religious faith is a choice which still makes sense.
We are the people who should be the evidence of that.
Frank Wessling

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