Friday, July 3, 2015

Freedom

Much will be made this weekend around the theme of “freedom.”  It would be difficult to imagine any American, or any person from any country for that matter, who is not “for freedom.”  Can you imagine anyone saying, “No, actually I prefer bondage?”  However, it is true that some folks in this country are not really free.  There still exists some bondage in race terms, in gender terms, in economic terms, and even others. 

Yet over this weekend, stories will abound about independence.  Probably we will hear again that the British were unfair to our forebears in the 18th century and so Americans did what Americans always will do: fight!

I have been in Independence Hall in Philadelphia more than once.  It is an impressive building and the history of the place is almost palpable.  It is easy for my mind to try to imagine those days of drama as those guys discussed why and how the American colonies needed to move forward independently from the British.  Truly, the Constitution is a wonderfully amazing document which has served us well for over two hundred years.

One can do no better than cite Lincoln’s eloquence when he describes this country as a “new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  All citizens in this country are free.  At one level that is true.  Politically, we are all free to do what we want within the bounds of legality.  But once we say this, we realize freedom is a more complicated concept than it seems on the surface.  For example, we just acknowledged there are some boundaries to our freedom when we said we are free to do what we want as long as it is legal.

Of course, you and I are free to do things that are illegal.  Drug dealers do this daily!  But to do illegal things puts us in jeopardy.  If we are caught, that is the end of freedom.  If we are jailed, we may still have some freedoms, but walking out of the jail is not one of those freedoms.  Captivity has replaced freedom.  And no one really cares how we feel about it!

As a corollary to political and individual freedom, let’s consider the spiritual freedom about which Jesus speaks.  Spiritual freedom necessarily takes into account that we now are no longer just talking about us.  God also is now in the picture.  In fact, spiritual folks probably would go so far as to say it is God’s picture and we are in the picture---individually and as a group.  In this interpretation Americans are nothing more than one group in a much larger group in God’s picture of the world.

A second thing that is in the picture (since God is now in the mix) is God’s desire (often referred to as God’s will).  This is a huge addition to the freedom equation.  Now there are two wills: God’s will and my own individual will (and even a third, if we add the community’s will).  Of course, I can still understand freedom as the freedom to do whatever I want.  In spiritual terms, this kind of individual freedom to do what I want inevitably leads to sin: doing what I want instead of what God wants. 

This leads to the crux of spiritual freedom.  It is paradoxical.  Spiritual freedom says I want to do what God wants me to do.  Obedience is a deeper form of freedom than my individual desires.  Obedience is not bondage, because I am willing God’s will for me.  The spiritual person is the most radically free person.

It is radical freedom because there is no impulse to selfishness, no protectionist tendency, no manipulative motivation.  Lord, make me this free!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Poets of the Soul

One of the ways lately I have been thinking about spirituality is focused by the phrase, poets of the soul.  By itself, the phrase may sound nice, but it does not convey anything special.  If I simply used the phrase, poets of the soul, you would not have a clue what I meant by it.  So let me unpack it a bit and give it a context and some specific content.
           
No doubt, most of us would have some idea about poetry.  Most of us had exposure to poetry in high school, if not before.  Probably some of us would say something like, “exposure, ha, I was forced to read poetry!  It is easy at my age to have some regrets about my education.  One of my regrets is that I did not take poetry more seriously.  I don’t blame the poets or my teachers.  I am sure the blame falls squarely on my shoulders.  I do not know why I would have claimed, “I don’t like poetry,” but that would have been my claim.
           
It surely means that I have missed out on a real treasure of wisdom, beauty and truth.  It is something I can still do, namely, engage poetry and be open to its formative and spiritual process.  Perhaps this is what I am trying to do when I come to the wonderful phrase, poets of the soul.
           
I am confident it was only when I was learning Greek that the point and power of poetry became clear to me.  As odd as it sounds, learning the Greek language prepared me to appreciate poetry.  I can’t tell you what day it was, but it was an important day when I learned that the Greek word for poetry was both a verb and a noun.  The Greek word, poiema, is close to our English word, poem.  The eye-opener for me was to learn this Greek verb is translated “to make.”  A poem is something that is made---a work.  A poem must be created.  A poem is a creation.
           
Learning this on that day in the Greek classroom set my brain racing.  It did not take much to realize the beginning chapters of Genesis are about poetry.  God is a creator---God is a poet.  The world is God’s poem.  I am God’s work of creation.  I am God’s poem and so are you! A poem became so much more than a bunch of words that rhyme.  A poem became a work of art.
           
Learning all this led me to see myself and every human being in a two-fold manner.  I am both a work of a Poet (God) and I am a poet at work.  Let me elaborate by looking at three aspects of what I consider my poetic work.  And the work that I am about is the work of soul making---my own soul making.  I am a poet of the soul---of my soul.
           
I have already named the first aspect of this in the language of soul making.  A poet is a maker.  For too long, I heard about the soul in such a way that people “had” soul.  I grew up hearing that we “have” a soul and, then, when we die, the soul goes to heaven.  Being a child of a scientific age, that always set uneasily with me.  Very early I knew no physician could locate my soul, like that doctor could find my heart or kidneys. 
           
Then I read a piece that made a huge difference.  I began to realize that I did not “have” a soul.  I “am” a soul.  I like the definition of soul that says my soul is the “essence of me.”  With this understanding, I am born as a soul.  But it is an infant soul.  I and others will need to do a great deal of soul making to bring me into the fullness that God desires.  In this sense, I have been commissioned by the Holy One to be a poet of my soul.
           
I find this to be an exciting assignment: make myself a poem.  A second word comes to mind to describe the process and the product of this soul making.  The product---a poetic soul---will be a soul of majesty.  It will be me---a poem of which God will be proud.  I will be a soul of majesty.  And the soul making process is a majestic process.  To see living and my life as one of majesty is pretty profound.  It seems deeply spiritual.  I like the idea of living majestically.
           
Finally, if I can pursue this poetry of the soul---soul making---and have it come off well, then I will have participated in a miracle.  A miracle is an unusual event (often caused by God).  A miracle is an amazing or wondrous achievement or result.  This is exactly how I have come to understand the process of poetic making of the soul.  I affirm there is a sure role of God’s grace in this poetic process.  But I am the poet---the poet of my soul.
           
Maker, majesty and miracle.  Those are poetic ways of understanding the way of spiritual living that I want to embrace.  I like being a poet and I really like the idea of soul making as creating a poem---a poem of my soul.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Desert and Dessert

When I was younger, these two words confused me.  Sometimes, I misspelled them.  And I see this same confusion among students today.  I know that many faculty claim students are not what they used to be.  My guess is the same thing was being said of my generation.  Spelling may be one of those things we all are sure current students don’t do as well as the older ones remember they once did!
           
What I do remember is not being clear, which was to spell the arid land devoid of water and the food served at the end of a meal.  Do I use one “s” or two?  And why does English have to be so confusing was the question?  I can only imagine what learning English as a second language might mean.
           
I thought it would be fun to explore both words---desert and dessert---as words that can have a spiritual meaning.  In this way perhaps we can have a handle on how to remember them.  And as we will see, they are opposite ends of the spiritual perspective.
           
We can start with the first word, desert.  Perhaps we can say that it is simpler, if only because it has one “s.”  When we say it, we put the emphasis on the front syllable.  One says “desert” by making a hard “d” sound. When you pronounce it, it feels like you are forcing the word out of your mouth. 
           
When I examine the spiritual aspect of the word, desert, I realize it is also associated with my sense of simplicity.  We all know that a desert literally is an inhospitable area.  It is an area devoid of water.  In my imagination a desert is a sandy, hot, foreboding place.  I imagine huge stretches of land where all we see is sand and, perhaps, sand dunes.  I imagine it to be scorching hot.  Typically it might induce some sense of wariness, if not fear itself.  The desert can easily be seen as a dangerous place---a place to be very careful.
           
Biblically speaking, the desert is also wilderness.  It becomes a place of testing and, often, temptation.  The desert is the place where we may have to be for some period of time.  But the desert is not the kind of place where you want to stay and, certainly, not to build a home.  The desert is not home; it is a place to endure, a place to pass through, if we can.
           
Inevitably, we will all have times and seasons of “desert spirituality.”  My own Quaker tradition talks about “dry places.”  I realize this is desert language.  A dry place is a time when one has no sense that the Spirit is present.  One can continue spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditation, but have no sense that there is any engagement or meaning.  If we stay on the spiritual journey long enough, we will experience desert times.
           
When we add that second “s,” the desert is transformed!  It becomes the sweetest experience possible.  Dessert typically signals good stuff and good times.  There is even a hint of luxury and plenty with this good thing called dessert.  Dessert can be seen as a gift.  It is not a necessary part of a daily meal.  It is an add on---a bonus.  It feels like saving the best till last.
           
When I lived in England, I liked the way they talked about dessert.  Often it was called “sweets.”  I think that can apply to a certain aspect of spirituality.  In classical spiritual tradition, the good stuff of spirituality was called consolations.  Consolations were the sweet things God gave to people: neat experiences, grace, etc.  Consolations “console” the soul.  They are never guaranteed, but they are sweet when given. 
           
Consolations are not merit-based.  People do not deserve to be given dessert after every meal, nor do spiritual folks merit consolations based on our good works.  Dessert and consolations are always add ons---gifts to enjoy.  And that is precisely the appropriate human response to dessert: enjoy.  If it is a gift, offer your appreciation and enjoy.  But do not become expectant or take it for granted. 
           
Desert and dessert are not simply confusing words for third-graders to keep separate and be able to spell correctly.  They are important descriptions of two key aspects of the spiritual journey.  As we travel our spiritual journey, there likely will be times we find the path has led straight into the desert.  In this spiritual desert there may not literally be sand and scorching sun.  But there will be trials, temptations and tests.  It may be a place of hardship and suffering.  We will be asked to endure and make do.  Persevere is the attitude.
           
At some point---unexpectedly and graciously---we will be led out of the desert.  Often we come out of the desert into our normal spiritual time and place.  But sometimes, like the ending of a good meal, the host offers dessert.  We may be blessed with consolations that seem out-of-this-world good.  They might even seem like heaven on earth.  However, the caution is not to get used to it.  Simply enjoy it.
           
On the spiritual journey we never know whether there will be one “s” or two “ss.”  It makes a difference: desolation or consolation, heaven or hell?  On the spiritual journey it does not matter.  Stay true.  Keep going and keep growing.  My best guess is at the end it will be dessert!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Long Loving Look

Writing a daily inspirational reflection or blog is a disciplined, humbling experience.  The disciplined part should be self-explanatory.  It is like exercise or playing an instrument.  It won’t work if I just do it if and when I feel like it.  Discipline means I do it---regardless of feelings.  Over the years I have learned that insight is not too closely linked to how I feel.  In the end that is a relief!

Writing these pieces is also quite humbling.  On one level it seems presumptuous that whatever I think or say others will want to read.  This smacks of a false humility.  I actually know there are folks who want to know what I think.  Some are intrigued by how I think.  I know I am not brilliant.  But I do have experiences and I know how to reflect on them and how to learn from them.  And this is what some people want to know.  So I humbly submit it day after day.

In order to feed my own soul, I do look at what others say.  Of course, we tend to pick our favorites in this regard.  One of my favorites is the Franciscan, Richard Rohr.  Rohr is about my age, but came through life very differently than I have.  We both have pretty humble midwestern backgrounds.  But he was a Catholic from the get-go.  And I was a pre-Vatican II Quaker who barely knew anything about Catholics.  Rohr became a Franciscan.  It would be at least college before I would have had any clue what that even meant!

Rohr writes a daily blog which I read.  While we share many similarities, we remain quite different guys.  He has more training in psychology than I do.  And because he is Catholic, he has read some Catholic authors whom I have not.  But we share much.  We are both interested in the contemplative tradition.  I think Quakers have always been contemplative, but we never used that language until very recently.  So when someone like Rohr talks about the contemplative life, I pay close attention.

He did just that in a recent blog.  Rohr was doing a series on his Order’s founder, namely, St. Francis of Assisi.  Francis was a well-to-do playboy until a series of events put him on the spiritual quest.  The upshot was a commitment to follow the way of Jesus.  Francis saw poverty as the hallmark of that way of life and so committed himself and his followers to that simple life.  But he was also a contemplative. 

This is where I began to follow Rohr.  In a recent post Rohr reflects on Franciscan contemplative spirituality.  Rohr says of Francis, “He practiced contemplation, or ‘a long loving look at the real,’ which allowed him to see in a new way.”  This offers a wonderfully simple definition of contemplation.  Contemplation is a long, loving look at the real.  That makes contemplation seem quite ordinary. Contemplation has to do with the real.  That is deceptively simple.

It is deceptively simple, because too many of us complicated the real.  And some of us fabricate our own versions of what is real---reality.  Through our experience and, sometimes, our education, we develop views of reality that are actually very real!  We create illusions and substitute our illusion for reality.  Or we warp reality in a way to make it fit the way we want the world to be.  This was the early world of Francis.

Through a kind of conversion process, Francis learned to see in a new way---a contemplative way.  This is what Rohr has seen and said.  The key piece for me was not the long look at reality.  Rather it was a long, loving look.  I am not sure what all it means to look at reality lovingly.  But I am up for learning more.  I think Rohr adds a helpful piece when he says it is like getting a new pair of glasses.  He describes it as, “Seing from a pair of glasses beyond our own is what I call ‘participative seeing.’  He  pushes this further.  “This primal communion, communicates spaciousness, joy, and a quiet contentment.”  This is quite descriptive of the contemplative experience.

The contemplative receives a primal communion.  That communion communicates qualities of spaciousness and joy and contentment.  That I long for.  And that I can begin to have by living the contemplative life.  In the contemplative life I am free for what is real.  I am free because “the essential gap between me and everything else has been overcome.  I am at home in a benevolent universe, and I do not need to prove myself to anybody, nor do I need to be ‘right,’ nor do others have to agree with me.”

Those last words of Rohr do a wonderful job of describing the life of the contemplative.  He or she comes to be at home in a benevolent universe.  Such a universe is not out to get you!  That universe is present and provides a loving reality that wants you not only to survive, but to thrive.  At times this is difficult to trust.  But that is why it is a journey of faith.

It begins in faith, but it is not a head trip through theology.  It is a journey of life through the experience of a long loving look at reality.  Reality turns out to be a benevolent universe that communicates joy, contentment and spaciousness.  How fine!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Complexities and Troubles

Everyone who has kids or even grandchildren knows there are teachable moments when they are the teacher and you are the student.  Sometimes you are a willing student.  And other times you did not want to be a student at all!  I recently had one of the former moments.  I was not looking for it, but I was taught and was fine with it.  I was not unwilling.

To set the scene, you have to imagine a room half full of boxes.  A house project led to the accumulation of many boxes.  Of course, a scene like this is irresistible to any young soul.  My granddaughter was sucked right into the middle of the boxes.  You can use them as forts or a maze.  Some of them were so big you get into it and seemingly be lost to the world---or, at least, a parent.  Quite a bit of time went by in the wonderful world of box land.  Then she was finished and wanted to escape.

At one point, a young voice plaintively appealed for outside advice.  She asked a simple question.  “How do I get through this crap?”  The room was no longer filled with boxes.  They had become a problem.  They had been re-labeled as crap!  They were not entertaining any more.  They had become obstacles and the issue now was how to surmount the problem?

My granddaughter’s life had gone through a metamorphosis.  The boxes that had lured her into the space now turned out to be complex.  Added to this, they had become nothing but trouble.  The only question was how to deal with these complexities and troubles?  She realized fairly quickly that she needed help.  So she made the appeal.  And with good parents around, help came fairly quickly and her troubles were over.  That could have been the end of the story.

In some ways it was the end of the story.  But in my mind the story also took a different form.  I realized that it could serve as a metaphor for life.  Most of our lives have their ups and downs.  As we go through life, we go into “rooms” that can be like phases of life.  Sometimes the rooms have things that lure us to settle in and play.  The “boxes” can be any number of things.  Remember, it is just a metaphor.

There come times, however, when the room---when a particular phase of life---changes on us.  The phase of life may come to be nothing but complexity and trouble.  We can sometimes feel trapped.  We are certainly not having any fun.  We would opt out, if we could only figure out how to do it.  Sometimes it is ignorance that stops us.  Sometimes we are impotent---we don’t have the power to change things. 

I have been in these kinds of situations.  They can be of our own making.  I have done a few of those.  We get into trouble and then we can’t get out---at least, we can’t get out of trouble on our own.  We need help.  Sometimes our complexities and troubles come to us and we did nothing to cause or provoke it.  Again, we need help.  

I would like to think about this metaphor in a spiritual sense.  Life does put us into troubles and complexities.  These always have a spiritual side.  As I reflect back on my own life, two such periods come to mind that I can share.  One came at that transitional time when I went to college.  The other one came more at mid-life.

Dutifully, I went to college.  At some point during that initial year, I realized I actually did not know who I was or where I was headed.  College made no sense.  So I finally mustered up enough courage to leave and go back home.  Of course, that solved no problem, but it did give me time and a context to think about things.  And to learn to pray.  An older friend came into my life and became a spiritual mentor.  He solved no complexity and did not get me out of trouble.  But he helped me learn how to have faith at a deeper level and to grow into the person I was to become.  I went back to college and then some!  He helped me get out of a room of “boxes.”

The second time I will share came when I was diagnosed with cancer.  My girls were still young---one in diapers.  I did not feel particularly unlucky or that God owed me something better.  People get sick at all ages.  And my theology would say God does not give us bad things to test us.  Once again, I cried out for help and God came in the form of many friends and family.

Physically, I survived and have thrived for decades now.  For that I am grateful.  But even more grateful am I for all those folks who were there for me.  They would have been just as graceful and helpful had my fate been different.  Life or death---they would have been friends of the Spirit.  They helped me at a time when I really wanted to ask, “How do I get through this crap?”

We do not live in a perfect world.  We may enter phases of life that deliver obstacles and troubles and we ask, “How do I get through this crap?”  Very often, it is someone else who comes to our aid.  Often, it is a community.  Always I think it is the Holy One.  It is my experience that this Holy One typically uses others.  And I am always grateful.           

Friday, June 26, 2015

Relational Keys

There are few indications in my life that I am “with it.”  I remember that term from my growing up days.  Being “with it” was something most of us aspired to achieve, but most of us never made it.  I don’t even think I came close.  I suspect that one of the problems was most of us would never quite be sure what “it” was that we were supposed to be “with!”  Was it the clothes to wear?  Sometimes it seemed like it must be the hairstyle.  All I knew was farm guys probably did not have a chance.

Many of us never outgrow this aspirational quest to be “with it.”  I am sure the “it” changes.  It might be the place you go to college, the car you drive, the one you date.  Again, I was never sure about it.  Fortunately for myself, I felt the urgency to be “with it” subsides over the years.  I hope it is because I gave “it” up, rather than simply gave up!  I did feel more free as a result.

Although I don’t consider being on Twitter “with it,” it is not something I would likely have done without the effective cajoling of my very competent secretary.  Like many things, Twitter is whatever you make of it.  I do a great deal of news and follow people I never would get a face-to-face meeting.  I see things presented in a brief package that I probably never would have run into otherwise.  Recently one of these caught my attention.  The headline simply said, “Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down to 2 Basic Traits.”  I could not resist.

The tweet took me to a piece that Emily Esfahani Smith did for the Atlantic.  Of course, I wanted to know what those two things were.  I have been in some long lasting relationships.  I have had relationships I hoped would be long blow up too quickly.  So I was open to learn.  I went to the site and began reading.

Typically, we are given tantalizing tidbits to draw us into the meat of the article.  Quickly I learned that every June 13,000 couples get married---beginning what they hope is a long-term relationship.  13,000 couples: Wow!  I read on to learn that according to some experts only three people of ten who get married have a happy marriage.  All this was interesting and the supporting research to get to the results, but I was in a quest to find those two basic traits that build lasting relationships.  Of course, near the end I found them.

When I found them, I laughed because I was not surprised.  The two basic traits of long relationships are kindness and generosity.  I was happy these were the two traits.  I was happy because they really are special, to be sure, but they really are not special.  What I mean by saying they are not special is anyone can be kind and be generous.  They are not like IQ or something that many people don’t have.  Being kind and generous is not having superior talent.

Knowing these are the two basic traits was not surprising because I realized my parents were teaching me these two traits from an early age.  And I certainly was trying to instill these characteristics into my two girls when they were small.  The good news about kindness and generosity is they can be learned.

To be kind is to be other-focused.  Being kind is not about you.  It is about the other person.  No wonder this is a key to long-lasting relationships.  Of course, in a relationship, kindness is reciprocal.  I am intent on being kind to you, but you have the same intent toward me.  So paradoxically, I wind up getting what I gave.  Kindness is a form of love.  I love and am loved in return.  That is a good deal!

The same goes for generosity.  Generosity is related to liberality.  The opposite is selfishness and hoarding.  You ask for one and I give two.  Generosity is always more than enough.  And frequently, generosity is more than I can even have imagined.  How many times when someone has been generous with me, I say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have.”  And that’s correct.  They did not do it because of a “should.”  They gave out of the generosity of their hearts.

Kindness and generosity are not the privilege of a few or the lucky ones.  I can choose either or both any time I want.  And if I enter a relationship, I can practice being kind and generous.  If I am committed to being kind and generous, I am not in a conditional, tit for tat relationship.  Generosity and kindness are not bargaining chips for getting something I want.  They are not coercive.

Most of the major religious figures model kindness and generosity.  I know there are times I do it.  But I want to grow up and do it more consistently and do it better.  I want to be able to be kind and generous to a broad range of people.  It is easier with the ones I like or want to impress.  Like Jesus, I want to be able to grow my capacity to be kind and generous to those more on the margin of my relationships.

This reflection on a tweet will become a blog and perhaps give the wrong impression that I am “with it.”  I aim instead to get “with it” as I grow into a more kind and generous person.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Freedom of Exploration

The phrase, freedom of exploration, I read somewhere.  I have no idea, since I read fairly widely.  I do remember when I saw it that my interest was piqued.  Perhaps it is because I have some interest in the process of innovation that it intrigued me.  But I also thought about my work in the discipline of spirituality.  Let’s look at both of these arenas.
           
The freedom of exploration seems like a suggestion or, even, advice to me.  I can imagine saying it to someone.  “Go ahead, explore freely.”  I do not know how you could order or command someone to do this.  It feels more like permission.  “Go ahead.”  There is an element of encouragement that I very much like.
           
I value both words, freedom and explore.  Our American culture talks a great deal about freedom.  It is assumed that we are a country with immense freedom.  Perhaps the ideal is being able to do what I want whenever I want and wherever I want.  I am not against this idea of freedom, but I am not sure that is the deepest or most profound freedom.  In fact the idea of freedom in the phrase, freedom of exploration, is more qualified.
           
In fact, I think the more important idea is the idea of exploration.  The phrase simply acknowledges that we have the freedom to explore.  I think the idea of exploration is the radical idea, not freedom.  It is radical because the process of exploration is a process that opens us up.  It potentially calls into question the status quo---the routine that seems to run most lives and most institutions.  The freedom to explore implies that a new way, even better way might be discovered.
           
In the world of innovation we know that freedom to explore is a necessity.  By its nature, innovation looks for new things or new ways to do old things.  By nature innovation is potentially disruptive.  It is a potential threat to the status quo.  Doing things the way we always have done them might be comfortable, but ultimately refusal to change usually spells death.  Innovate or die!
           
I would argue that the same thing is true in the spiritual realm.  Most of us would not think to speak about spirituality and innovation in the same sentence.  For too many people spirituality is rooted in tradition.  Thinking the way we have always thought seems to rule the day.  By its nature, tradition is conservative.  Tradition is rooted in the past and tends to abhor change.  From the perspective of tradition, why is there a need for freedom to explore?
           
I certainly am not against tradition or heritage.  In fact, I did a Ph.D. in early Christian history.  But if we deal only with the past, we are anything but free.  We become prisoners of what was.  And we resign ourselves to being mere spectators to what will be.  We risk becoming spiritual dinosaurs in a world, which only sees a role for the dinosaur in a museum.  It has little to do with the vibrancy of real life.
           
Oddly therefore, my analysis comes to the place where I would say that we have no choice but to explore.  We have come to the place where we should say that we have the obligation to explore.  Let’s push this a bit further into the arena of spirituality.
           
We can begin with God.  God surely was a God who worked in history, as I see it.  In fact the biblical tradition is a record of God’s work in history.  There are the two covenants---Old and New Testaments.  There is the rich treasure of twenty centuries of Christian tradition.  So clearly, there is a God of history. 
           
But I assume there is also a God of mystery---the Spirit who is at work in the present and the Spirit who is pulling us all into the mystery of the future.  This is where the freedom of exploration takes place.  In the freedom of our exploration we need to be actively looking to see where and how God is at work today.  It might be in the institutional church, in the creeds and sacraments.  I would affirm this is probably true.  But the working of the Spirit is probably not limited by these traditional modes of Divine Work.
           
We are called and challenged to exercise our freedom to explore other venues where the Spirit may be at work.  The answers here are not obvious.  And the ones who come up with new insights may not be the bureaucrats of tradition---the priests, professors of religion and the like.  The bureaucrats may be the least likely to be innovative, because we are the conservers. That is why exploration requires freedom.
           
It requires freedom, not anarchy.  Freedom is the space and the grace to go ahead and explore.  Freedom is new questions and new openness to fresh winds of the Spirit.  Maybe it is the child---and the childish---in our midst, who might be an explorer of the Spirit.  Perhaps it is the marginalized.
           
Freedom to explore does not require ordination.  It requires curiosity, courage, and commitment.  It is open, non-judgmental, and flexible.  I want to be more involved in this future work.  I hope all people of the Spirit want to become explorers and have the freedom of exploration.  It is our future!