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!