Have you ever found yourself wanting to articulate something that’s not quite complete. . . but in process? That’s how I feel about the topic I want to explore this week. If you’ve been following with me for a while, you can probably sense my inklings on this. I talk here and there about my desire for a “Horizontal Church.” What do I mean by that? Well, that’s in process, including in my own thinking, but I mean a community that is more participatory, more empowering of the collective body, and more shared in its leadership. I mean a church (likely, building-less) that views itself as community-alongside-a-community, always with neighbors and justice in mind. I mean a community that finds God and the sacred in everyday experience. These thoughts are all in process.
I’ll be doing some writing on this all week. But today, I want to begin with a re-post that can lay some groundwork. Does the shift from vertical to horizontal resonate with you?
Earlier this month, my husband and I spent a weekend in Petoskey, Michigan. This small town is located alongside Lake Michigan, and each night, if it’s not too cloudy, people can watch the sunset right over the lake. The view is stunning. Sometimes I forget how miraculous this is. . . The sun sets without fail every evening, yet no two views are the same.
The first night we were there, we saw a sunset unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Just above the water, along the horizon, there was a thick, fiery band of light. No grand swirls in the sky; just one bright, luminous band.
A jetty was in front of us as well, and it contained a walkway toward a lighthouse. As we watched the evening light in the sky, two individuals came into view. One was walking toward the lighthouse, and the other was walking away from it. Though they did not know each other, their silhouettes met within this light of the horizon. It was gorgeous, and no photo did it justice.
Beautifully, it reminded me of a metaphor that Diana Butler Bass uses for God.
Dr. Diana Butler Bass is a theologian and religious historian, and I love her newest book. It’s entitled, Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution.
She says that throughout most of our human history, we have practiced a vertical spirituality. In our minds — and especially, in our unconscious minds — we tend to think of God as literally ‘up.’ God is up there. . . somewhere. Some of this thought is connected to Christian scriptures, but it’s also a vestige of having believed in a literal, three-tiered universe. God is up, far away in heaven. We are here. And below us lies some kind of netherworld.
Diana Butler Bass writes that for most of our history, religious institutions have functioned a bit like an elevator within that consciousness. They work to bring us closer to that distant God, who is up there. . . somewhere. In response, she says, we have built vertical hierarchies, and Church architecture often mirrors our vertical spirituality too.
Bass believes that we are experiencing a major shift these days. I also sense it. Do you? More and more, people are longing for a horizontal spirituality, a sense that God is with us in our everyday experiences.
. . .God with us on the ground.
. . . God with us in our everyday lives.
. . . God with us in the midst of suffering.
. . . God with us in horizontal relationships,
connecting us in friendship and community,
connecting our world in justice and equity.
God with us. This conviction brings us back to the language of incarnation.
I recently heard Diana Butler Bass talking about these thoughts on a podcast. The hosts asked her if she might provide a particular image or metaphor to think God in a horizontal framework. I loved what she said.
She said, “Yes, actually, the horizon itself.” She mentioned that some have expressed concern that she’s de-emphasized the transcendence of God in her arguments — that is, God as holy, mighty, and mysterious. She said that the image of the horizon gives a different view of transcendence.
No matter how much we approach the horizon, it’s always before us, still a mystery. Yet it’s always with us on our plane.
I love it.
God with us.
Mysterious, yet incarnational,
an ever-present Horizon on our plane.
This piece is part of a series. Feel free to check out the other pieces as well:
Horizontal Church: Who Speaks, Prays, and Preaches? — Why?
Horizontal Church: Participatory and Empowering (Part 1)
Horizontal Church: Participatory and Empowering (Part 2)
Horizontal Church: The Priesthood of All Believers and Collective Organizing
Horizontal Church: Accountability
Horizontal Church: Christian Education