When I was in high school I attended several church camps, retreats and regional Lutheran youth gatherings. During these events I’d get caught up in the powerful and emotional music, worship and fellowship—often resulting in a spiritual euphoria. Upon returning home to my normal day-to-day schedule and community, I sometimes experienced a sense of disappointment in my faith life. What had happened to that intimate connection between God and me that was so obvious at the youth event? I learned that basing my faith only on “heart” and “soul” wasn’t enough to sustain me through my daily life.
This Sunday’s Gospel text (Matthew 22:34-46) calls us to wholistic faith. As I observe contemporary Christian culture in America (especially the youth culture), it seems that heart and soul take precedent over mind.
I’m struck whenever I channel-surf onto that late-night infomercial for a “Songs of Praise and Worship” CD where the cameras pan over a sports arena filled with worshipers, arms raised, eyes closed, singing and swaying in blissed-out emotional ecstasy: certainly we’ve got heart and soul covered.
At the same time, when complex and potentially divisive faith-related issues arise in politics or science, I see many Christians recoil in fear and suspicion. What is it about these intellectual challenges that threaten the faith of so many people?
God gave us our minds for a reason. The intellect is an invaluable tool for building the foundations of faith. I appreciate our Lutheran commitment to learning and education and the freedom that we’re offered to ask questions, to debate, to doubt and to grow. I’m thankful that we don’t ask our parishioners to “check their brains at the door.”
Our congregations provide many different classes and forums each week for people of all ages and stages. Lutheran colleges and universities can be found in every corner of the U.S., encouraging the development of the mind as well as the heart and soul. Our church leaders attend rigorous biblical, pastoral and theological training at a variety of seminaries and graduate schools. I believe God rejoices in our quest to learn more about God and the universe.
Our Lutheran church family has many good role models for people to look to as they explore the intellectual issues of belief and religion. Martin Luther studied law and was a professor and musician, in addition to theologian and pastor. Paul knew his Scriptures inside and out, along with the intricacies of the cultural dynamics in the first century Mediterranean world. And of course, we look to Jesus who at age 12 was ditching his parents to hang out at the temple, discussing theology with his pastors for days at a time.
Thank you, God, for our wonderful and curious minds and for meeting us and engaging us intellectually.
I’ve written a song celebrating a brain-based approach to faith. Here are the lyrics:
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