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Journeying Through Our Faith: Theological Book Group

September 18, 2018
Theological Book Group at Old South Church in Boston
Rev. Donald A. Wells

In general, those who sign up to read a book or more with The Theological Book Group feel that they are on a journey; a journey that hopefully will lead to a deeper understanding of their faith and how that faith can then be lived out in the world. But to accomplish that there needs to be a willingness to examine their faith and to ask tough questions. The old rubric: ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ leads them to the belief that ‘the unexamined faith is not worth believing’. A journey indeed.

J.R. Tolkein says it well in his The Lord of the Rings. He has Bilbo Baggins, embarking on his journey, singing:

The road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the road has gone,

And I must follow if I can,

Pursuing it with weary feet,

Until it joins some larger way,

Where many paths and errands meet.

And wither then?

I cannot say.

Hence participants come with an openness to wrestle with books that raise tough but exciting issues: the nature of grace in a world that needs more, not only from God but from us; the work of reconciling biblical stories with current scientific understandings; the examination of the fear that pervades our nation leading us to be at odds with other peoples and nations, as opposed to the overarching themes of the Christian story, along with the stories of other faith traditions, that seeks to dispel unwarranted fear; the nature of the biblical texts themselves, written over many centuries, sometimes telling stories that may not always be grounded in historical fact but are nonetheless true; the insidious nature of racism and the callous use of it by some to further their own agenda; and on and on. This journey takes us into realms that are, at times, a bit uncomfortable but always challenging.

Often a book will challenge us in a special way. The material presented is not just ‘out there’ to be discussed and then appropriated as we see fit, but rather the material is really about us; it is our story. We recently read a book, along with other materials, by Frederick Buechner; prolific writer, teacher, Presbyterian minister. In one selection he tells of a ‘room called remember’ to which he can go to reaffirm that it by God’s grace that he has survived over all these years. The question before us then was: do we have such a ‘room’ to which we can go to remember how God’s grace has sustained us, is sustaining us, and will sustain us throughout our days? That knowledge is the basis for hope!! So do you? Indeed, it gets personal.

Perhaps one can understand when I suggest that the Theological Book Group is certainly not for everyone. The word ‘journey’ is often overused. But, whatever word you might use, the notion of moving forward, of taking the next step, of wanting to be challenged in order to move beyond where one currently sits, is an important ingredient to have before signing up.

I have learned a lot over these years sitting with my companions on this journey of faith: increased listening skills; the patience to hear someone else’s story; to see the materials we are reading from a new perspective; and on and on. Every Monday evening we gather for an hour, bringing our very lives into connection with each other. A simple prayer opens our meeting and a prayer of ‘going forth’ concludes it. We take turns in being the ‘Liturgist’ for the evening: an ecclesiastical name for the one who leads us in our prayers! And then we start. The 18-22 people around the table begin to tackle the material at hand. Laughter and joy, yes. Quietness and soul searching, yes. Probing and questioning, yes. Seeking to live a deeper life with God, yes. Openness and trust to follow Jesus, yes. Bilbo Baggins sings it well:  

The road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.


And I must follow if I can…

To anyone who might be interested, I would ask just one question: Do you dare?