The Unending Conversation: A Grown Up God

I have a weakness: I write best when I am disagreeing, refining, or challenging. But when Jacqui Lewis says that we need a grown up theology and grown up God, I can’t do anything but agree. I look forward to her upcoming book, Go Deep, Get Naked, and Come Clean: Getting a Grown Up God.

Reflecting her background in psychoanalytics, Lewis reminds us that growing up we first love our caretaker, then shift our love to a transitional object that we may eventually be able to set aside. Our stories often serve as similar caretakers and transitional objects, sources of comfort as we grow in life and faith. We are formed by those stories, reforming them as we go. The faith stories we tell, form, and create shape how we love, when we love, who we love, what we even think is or is not love.

The story of Christianity has so often been a story of in and out, win or lose, a zero-sum game where if God chooses me there is no longer room for you. Or the story of a God who punishes, and from whom we need to be saved. This is, says Lewis, immature religion that has springs more from competition on the playground than it does a mature faith that views faith and theology through a single lens, that of a God who is love.

She asks, does orthodoxy infantalize our faith? Do we need a new story? What if God speaks Buddhist, Muslim, woman, jazz? What if our canon is not closed? What if our theology allows God to be as large as God is? What if we are all called to create God together even as we are created? These are uncomfortable questions, and need to be asked.

I wonder if a metaphor here might be theosis. Theosis, or deification is best summed up by the words of St. Athanasius (quoted earlier in the day by Bp. Schori): God became human that we might become gods/divine. Theosis is how the Eastern Church understands salvation, that ongoing participation in God which is a life-long practice of virtue in relationship to all of creation. As with most tales of salvation, it is about salvation of individuals, though, as the Romanian theologian Dumitru Stăniloae reminded us, salvation is undeniably corporate.

What if we were to expand notion of salvation together, of the shared deified life, to that space which is supposed to be a (note, I do not use “the”) vehicle for salvation? What if we viewed the church itself as undergoing deification? What if that we were able to see that the Body of Christ, as human as it is, is also growing into the same mature use of conscience (as Crossan referenced earlier in the conference), learning together what it is to rightly discern between good and evil? Theology is the story we tell about our shared life in God, and it is a story we retell, arguing and refining in midrashic fashion. Just as human persons are created to become mature, so too the Church becomes a more mature and spacious place in and through which the loving God can become known.

When asked what do we need to let go of to have a grown up God, Lewis answered without hesitancy: Confidence. So often, she noted, the theology of our past was characterized by an openness and curiosity that is lost in translation as it is passed down through the generation. She is right, tradition becomes ossified, no longer a joyful encounter with the Spirit who is expands our vision of God, always moving with us toward a horizon that continues to move. Rhetoric that the church is without error, so popular in Orthodoxy (especially as a foil to papal infallibility), allows a false-confidence that simply shuts our ears and eyes to the ongoing work of God that is already happening in the world.

Perhaps deification is a way to think about this, an orthodox (see, I do have one quibble: orthodoxy does not infantilizes us, we infantilize orthodoxy) metaphor that enables us to live into the humble realization that both individually and corporately we are growing into God, and that we need a grown up theology to match a grown up God. This is not a marker of our failure, but rather, a sign of trust in a God who is always with us, who is always calling us forth into greater love, the only criteria of any import, the only criteria by which we will be known.

Filed under: WIT Posts Tagged: jacqui lewis, Unending Conversation