Get ‘Grounded,’ Part 5: Where is God? Perhaps—at dinner

Pilgrims from Ann Arbor FUMC breaking bread together in Palestine (1)

When pilgrims from our Ann Arbor congregation traveled to the Holy Land, we enjoyed dinners together like this one in a Palestinian restaurant. A dinner table is an important reminder of God’s presence in our world.

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This summer, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Christian educator Debbie Houghton invite readers to get a copy of Diana Butler Bass’s new “Grounded: Finding God in the World” and read along with us. Over five weeks, David and Debbie have published five reflections on Bass’s book with questions to consider. Here’s a link back to Part 1, also to Part 2, and Part 3—then Part 4 This week, Debbie offers Part 5, our concluding reflection …

By DEBBIE HOUGHTON

I was living in Sweden when 9/11 occurred—I had just returned home from the daily school pick-up of my sons and the phone rang. My husband, who was in London for work, told me to turn on the TV—as I did, the image of the airliner hitting the World Trade Center jumped out, as it has for a million times since that day. Just as all people of the world, I was fearful and anxious, and wondering what would happen the next day, and the day after that.

An art project representing the WTC done by the son of Debbie Houghton while in Sweden (1)

An art project created by my son while we were living in Sweden, reflecting on the World Trade Center and the attacks of 9/11/01.

What did happen was that I took my children to their Swedish schools, and was met by my Swedish friends, who hugged me and acted like my family members had died. Which in a way, they had.

The love and care expressed to me by the Swedes was in my mind as I read this last chapter of Grounded. Diana Butler Bass uses the events of September 11th, 2001 to illustrate the question that frames her book—where was God on that horrific day in New York City?

I discovered on 9/12 that God was in the love and comfort offered to me by my Swedish friends. We shared the human connection of loss and fear, and the thirst for community in a time of great unease. Diana calls this sacred cosmopolitanism, a state of being citizens with God and one another in a holy cosmos. This holy cosmos connects us with dirt, water, and sky, and to the natural world that we believe will last forever, but needs our care and love to survive.

Our roots and where we call home connects us to those who are our neighbors, and how we share our community space creates compassion for all. Throughout the book, we are called to see God in this connected cosmos, and to understand that God-with-us means here and on the horizon.

Diana tells us that in May of 2015, Pew Research Center released this data about the landscape of American religion: the percentage of Americans who identified as Christian dropped from 78.4% of the population to 70.6%, while people who are religiously unaffiliated grew from 16.1% to 22.8%. These numbers underlay her assertion that we are undergoing a spiritual revolution right now, and established congregations of all faiths need to provide gatherings that allow people to encounter the spirit of God in community, and lead them to make this world a sacred space for all.

New York, NY, September 27, 2001 -- Mandy Holke and her husband Ramsay (background) from NC, together with NY resident Martha Calhoun have volunteered to serve food to rescue workers at the site of the World Trade Center collapse. Photo by Michael Rieger/ FEMA News Photo

Dinner tables popped up in many unlikely places in New York City in the weeks after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. Here, volunteers are serving dinner from sidewalk tables they set up near where other volunteers were working at Ground Zero. (Photo by Michael Rieger/ FEMA News Photo)

One of my favorite images from this last chapter of Grounded is that of the dining room—Diana suggests that instead of thinking about Revelation’s holy city as an imperial throne room, we should imagine a dining room instead. The beauty of this dining room is that there are many chairs and many kinds of diners–human, animal, plant–all creations of God.

Diana describes the table here:

No one owns the table. No one gets to take it over. We receive this table; it is the gift of heaven to earth. Our job is to pull up more chairs. And make sure all are fed.

Grounded opens with the question, “Where is God?”

God is the host of this table—the world that is holy for all of us. How do we find God? We practice hospitality for all creation, acts of love, care, and healing that show us God in our human neighbors and families, in our landscapes and homes, and in the flora and fauna of the earth.

To quote Diana Butler Bass, “God is with us. Here.”

Come visit us!

I have so enjoyed this reading of Grounded and I hope you have, too. It gives me hope to think that we are not dying out as spiritual people. We do need to recognize the connections between God and the world that we live in, and open our minds and hearts to new ways of searching for and finding God.

I am very excited that Diana Butler Bass will be visiting our church in March 2017 to talk with us about Grounded and her thoughts about a spiritual revolution. She will be with us on March 24-26, 2017, at the First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, MI. For more information, contact me at debbie@fumc-a2.org or check out our web page at www.fumc-a2.org.

Many thanks go to David Crumm and Read the Spirit for encouraging me to contribute to this series and for providing valuable guidance!

 

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1st United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor (1)

Come visit us at http://www.fumc-a2.org/ (Just click on the photo of our building.)

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