My Journey to an Open Faith

There is a congregation in Chicago mission center of the Community of Christ that is unique.  The atmosphere is focused on welcoming your personal journey.  It’s a place where you can be an individual, be different.  It is a welcoming congregation, which means it welcomes persons regardless of sexual identity.  It acknowledges the many ways God is revealed throughout the world, even through the universe itself.  It’s a congregation less concerned with membership, and more concerned with open acceptance.  It is a unique expression of Christ’s community.

In honor of that congregation, I gave the following “sermon” at their gathering last month.  It’s simply my reflection on religion, faith, or spirituality – whatever you wanna call it – and why I believe being open is so central.



We believe or are spiritual, not because our beliefs/religion/spirituality is particularly important or really mean anything by itself.  Rather, we believe or are spiritual because we must become.


Life does not sit still. 


Alone, we are not enough. 


Something lies within us, reaches beyond us, and exists between us.  Mysteriously, this “something” belongs to us the more we find a way to belong to one another.  It feels something like hope and something like home.  We know it best by missing it and remembering it is always already there.


Whether we call to YHWH, Allah, God, Spirit, Divine Love & Justice, Life-Energy, or the Force, religion/spirituality/belief usually serves to remind us that there is something else.  Whatever it is that lies within us, it also lies beyond us.  There is another (possible) world.   This name names the source of our lives and the possibility of true life-together.  It holds together a mystery and a truth:  There is something absent yet available within us, something always present yet not quite here, on its way and always near. 


At its best, religion/spirituality/belief provides us a way to come together in a different kind of community, one that honors what is (w)holy – what lies both within us, yet beyond us, between each other and all creation.  Ritual, scripture, tradition, and spiritual disciplines are essential to open us to spiritual communion, one that enjoins our lives with each other and those of the past.  In their hope and wisdom, there’s a story and language through which we can learn to hear ourselves, as well as each other in our ongoing search for renewed life and its divine possibilities.  Through ritual, scripture, tradition, and spiritual discipline, we join our anguish and hope with the anguish and hope that springs up throughout all of history.


At its worst, religion/spirituality/belief, itself, become god.  Any religion can become the object of its own worship.  Its scriptures, tradition, religious history and spiritual ideas can, themselves, become what is sacred.  God is eclipsed.  Beliefs become rigid because they are believed to stand outside of time.  They become bars of a prison, designed to protect the righteous and preserve their righteousness.  In the extreme, hearts and minds close off, both to others and to God.  God has become simply another “thing” of knowledge that some know and some don’t.  There is no longer any ongoing revelation or infinite possibilities.  Spirituality, too, can become this kind of circular journey, where the search for life, truth, and reality gets closed up in a passage that always leads one back to “the self.”


To have faith, it seems to me, necessarily means we must be open.  Life cannot stand still.  I cannot exist alone.  To live, I am not enough.  I must live in relationship to others and the earth.  To live and live on, I must become.


“God,” or whatever it is that mysteriously lies within me, yet beyond me and lies between us must exist.  But, I can never fully know precisely what it is.  For “God” to be God, God must come to me.  “God” exists, but only exists as this possibility.  We must have faith for any truth that lies beyond us.  We cannot fully ever know truly what or who s/he is.  God is always already here, yet never fully arrived.   To be on this journey and experience this mystery, we must be open.  We must begin with openness, the beginning of faith.


On Earth, as it is in Heaven: U.P. 2008

Falls at Presque Isle, Lake Superior

Falls at Presque Isle, Lake Superior

On Thursday of last week, our family returned from almost two weeks in the wilderness of Northern Michigan.  This was our annual two-week camping trip in Michigan.  We spent 4 days at Big Knob State Forest Campgroundon the northern shore of Lake Michigan.  We, then, trekked 250 miles to the Western U.P. to the Porkie’s (Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park) and spent 8 days on the Lake Superior shore.

Sometimes, I am embarrassed driving along the Lake Superior shoreline.  There are stretches of Highway 28 where the water is so blue, the inlets are so beautiful, I begin to cry.  

There is something spiritual about the Great Lakes for me.  If our bodies really are 90% water, growing up in West Michigan, I was 90% Lake Michigan via the Grand River for the first 18 years of my life.  Living in Chicago, with its large water inlets protruding out thousands of feet into Lake Michigan, I am again 90% of the lake and its blue.  Perhaps, something in my body knows.

Superiors Rocky Bottom

Superior's Rocky Bottom

Walking out off the stoney shore of Lake Superior into the 65 degree water, I could not walk far enough to not see clearly the rocky bottom.  The rocks shimmered a variety of colors, white, reddish, composite, and blackish-blue. 

Being in the Northern Woods, I dream of being a naturalist.  I dream of a little log cabin, a wood-fire stove, and daily routines of reading, writing, and work.   I attribute that dream to the one who plant its seed: my grandfather, Kenneth Winstrom. 

Bottom of Rainbow Falls

Bottom of Rainbow Falls

It was my Grandpa who taught me to stay in the woods, build a fire in the rain, chop a tree, split wood, choose and widdle a roasting stick, roast marshmallows, adore the cool fresh water, fish pike & walleye, respect a rifle, love the forest, and sit in the wilderness with the God who made it all.

I am trying to put words to a feeling.  There is something about the wilderness and its waters that puts life, even eternal life, in perspective.  It reminds me (us) that we are creatures.  Creation brings me closer to the spiritual fact of my bodily origins.  I am, you are, part of the earth.   Some say we are humans having a spiritual experience.

I suggest, we are animals – creatures – attempting a human one.