BY THE REV. RICK BECK |
Having experience with martyrdom is not something we want on our resumé; neither giving nor receiving. And though we wouldn’t wish this outcome for anyone, our lives have been significantly affected by those whose lives carry this banner. July 6th is the Moravian Festival day when we celebrate the life and faithfulness of John Hus who was burned at the stake because he wouldn’t recant his unorthodox teachings. We not only celebrate our place in history and the necessary changes that came to the church at a painful price, but we also offer a caution that we, as part of the mainline Christian church, don’t repeat history.
Since the 4th century, the Christian church has struggled with the distinction between what is foundational and uncompromising, and what is visionary. The Moravian terms for this are essential and non-essential. As the early Christian church gained more power and control in society, the list which was considered foundational grew and it assured that the privileged who created the list remained privileged. The result of this was an imbalance of power. The power which the church enjoyed had turned the Good News on its head. Instead of being the champion of the oppressed, it became the oppressor. John Hus was one voice from history that challenged this imbalance, the voice that spoke into what is now Moravian history.
We value answers. They provide certainty and are the foundation that we build on. When we’re born, we have no answers, only questions. Everything is a mystery. Our first experiences begin to shape our first answers and this, combined with the heritage we inherit, creates the foundation from which we grow. This initial foundation provides an all-important sense of security. Without it we don’t feel safe nor do we learn to trust. So, answers are important…at least for a while. They create the container (values, beliefs, world view) by which we hold and evaluate our experiences.
Eventually, our experiences grow beyond the limits of our container. The answers that once gave us certainty may become restrictive and confining. We generally respond in two ways. We seek out anything or anyone who will support our faltering container and resist any evidence to the contrary, or we embrace a bigger container, expanding our values, beliefs and world view. This becomes our new norm and foundation for future experiences and will continue to support our sense of security and identity until our next identity crisis comes along.
It’s a sign of maturity when we recognize that this is a life-long process. We never “arrive” spiritually speaking. We can never say, “I know everything I need to know about God. Next stop – Heaven!” There’s always more to discover about ourselves in relation to God and others which suggests that our focus on answers is misplaced. The journey to spiritual growth is not based on having the right answers but living gently and patiently with the questions. Faith is about learning to trust the questions rather than grasping onto quick and unchanging answers.
The problem with answers is that they close our minds and hearts to the continued revelation God longs for us to embrace. Once we have an answer, we stop pondering the question. Granted, we need to pause and savor a new answer. We need time to digest a new way of being, but another question is always waiting to offer us more growth. The danger lies in our desire to make an answer absolute. We draw a line in the sand and make a judgment as to who is right and who is wrong based on our own values, beliefs and world view rather than that of Jesus Christ whose container was always expanding and including more of society, especially the less privileged. Our need to be right insists that others are wrong. This dualistic thinking creates division motivated by the fear being wrong which feels like death to the human ego. Questions, on the other hand, open our hearts to the mystery that is God. Questions consider the wisdom and value that all people have to offer. Wisdom invites union motivated by love.
The life and witness of John Hus invites is to find a balance between answers and questions. Although answers are important, they are not the ultimate goal. Union with God is the goal. Answers and questions are merely partners on the journey. The best advice may be to hold the answers loosely while pondering the spiritual questions. If we hold our answers with a death grip, we won’t discover the life grip with which God holds us and we might be tempted to burn someone at the stake. John Hus was willing to live with the burning questions of his day for the sake of union with God through union with all of God’s people.
What does John Hus have to teach us today? What are the burning questions that we as a church are challenged to hold and grow from? What are the burning questions that are calling you into greater union with God through others?
About the Author
The Rev. Rick Beck is a Moravian Pastor of thirty-two year. He is currently serving the Good Shepherd Community Church in Calgary where his ministry focuses on spiritual direction. Rick is part of a team that trains spiritual directors at the FCJ Christian Life Center in Calgary, AB. He also has two spiritual direction groups in his congregation and consults other congregations on this topic. Rick will be retiring from pastoral ministry at the end of August at which point he will expand his spiritual direction work in his community, and the Northern Province.