Editor’s note: Reverend Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church, has been claiming in his doctoral dissertation (and in this weekly column) the the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. He is currently considering why a change in the church’s sense of mission is needed.
In Telluride, programs and discussions about religion, spirituality, health, Nature, science, and art are common and often well informed. Telluridians are thoroughly engaged in the shifts of consciousness and relationality that are emerging in Western and perhaps global contexts. A view of the church’s mission that engages those shifts and that can discern God’s presence and action within those trends is needed to address the life issues and earth issues prevalent within my context.
Frankly I am not interested in supporting any sense of mission that is motivated by perceived needs to impose a cosmology, preserve an orthodoxy, protect an institution, secure justification, or deliver from hell. Rather, I am deeply motivated by the potential for an embodied and in-earthed sense of mission that can contribute to the development of socially, spiritually, and environmentally engaged human persons who are seeking wholeness for themselves and for all creation.
While I appreciate the idea of heaven as a metaphor that informs aspects of transcendence in human experiencing, I do not believe that the attainment of heaven should be the focus of Christian faith or the goal of Christian mission. Biblical references to afterlife, resurrection, and the heavenly realm evolved over time with deep associations to the vindication of martyrs, the power of God’s realm over the realms of human empire, the victory of justice over injustice, and hope in the face of conquest and persecution. To reduce those images and contexts to a puerile assurance of heaven is to strip them of their power and intent. I do think that the question of life after death is an open one, but it should not become the centerpiece of Christian theology and mission.
I would rather muse on the possibility of life after death, leave it at that, and so live my life awake and fully engaged in the realities of this earthly existence than to hope in any certain and detailed promise of life beyond the veil and therein to slumber and lose sight of my venture here. I would rather wiggle my naked toes in the mud of earth than float in white robes on the clouds of heaven. And I do not think that I am alone in that sentiment.