This post, edited slightly, is reprinted with permission from “Reflections” by Rev. Dr. Kathy Hurt, Senior Minister of Birmingham Unitarian Church in Bloomfield Hills, MI, where I was a member during much of the 1990s. This essay seems to be an appropriate reflection for the day after Easter, given the recent turmoil at FDL.
Samuel Wells, currently the Dean of the Chapel at Duke Divinity School, argued in a recent article that the single most important theological term is the term “with.” Not heaven or hell, not God or sin, not salvation or eschatology or revelation, not any of the weighty words that have commanded theological attention since the beginning of time. But instead…with.
With is a small, ordinary word that can carry a lot of significance when one considers it from a spiritual perspective. If you can agree with Wells’ argument, then you might conclude that all faiths spend far too much time and energy debating the wrong ideas, and are much too concerned with matters that ultimately have less importance for us.
Who cares what happens after death? What difference does it make what we believe or do not believe about God? Why ask someone if he or she has been born again? If with is the centerpiece of our spirituality—the cornerstone of all we believe and do—then those other fiercely held positions mostly disappear, and the focus shifts to the quality and conduct of our relationships with others.
The word “with” is a relational term. But viewing it as a theological term, Wells makes theology concerned about how we live in community, how we treat one another, how we navigate our interactions, how we understand our connections to all life. A spirituality that is based on with challenges us to consider who or how we love, who and what we care for, what and how we do for others. It does not spend much time calling for us to figure out beliefs and opinions, political views and stances on issues, but instead keeps turning our attention back, again and again, to what we just said to that person, how we just treated a family member, a stranger, a co-worker (or fellow blogger), when we just passed judgment on one person, when we just ignored another.
Can it be that after all the time religious leaders have spent wading through hefty theological tomes, studying all sorts of treatises about heaven and hell, God and sin, salvation and eschatology and revelation, that it all comes down to a little word with a lifetime of meaning, the word with?
The possibility is both liberating and daunting: what might each of us discover about our priorities if we begin to see them through the lens of with, to measure them in terms of their effect on everything and everyone that we are in relationship with?
Photo by Elizabeth Ann Colette (Flickr) licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.