Earthquake Theology: Learning from Francis and Justin.

I am told that a really good piece of civil engineering combines strength with flexibility. If a building, bridge, or other structure is to have a good chance of surviving an earthquake it must comprise these two attributes. 

Of course, as the Psalmist knew, real life is often lived in the midst of random chaos. In Psalm 46, for example, we read that faith in God means that ‘we need not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.’ 

The problem is that we are often fearful and, ironically, one of the reasons we often fear is the nature (or structure) of our faith!

When life’s earthquakes erupt around us people of faith have a tendency to resort to one of two courses of action. Let’s call them the affirmative and negative responses.

The affirmative response, at first sight, looks attractive. It involves the digging of deeper roots, strengthening, supporting and, underpinning the original structure. The trouble is that although the affirmative strategy may succeed in the short-term, in the long-term it is almost bound to crack. It is too rigid, too committed to a particular set of doctrines or worship styles. The negative response involves giving up on the whole religion game. The negative responder  admits that the doctrines they previously held dear do not in fact stand up to scrutiny, in the face of life-events. I suspect we all know people who have chosen the affirmative and negative roads.

But, there is a ‘third way’ (apologies for the horrible political term). The third way involves incorporating flexibility into the original structure, seeking new insights and new ways of responding to life’s earthquakes. It is the way chosen, and modeled for us by Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin.

Both Francis and Justin have strong foundations in a particular ecclesiastical tradition. Francis was nurtured in that bastion of conservative Catholicism – the Jesuit order. Archbishop Justin, was nurtured at the other end of the spectrum, through the Alpha course at Holy Trinity Brompton. In both cases as seismic shifts occurred in their own circumstances they grafted new forms of spirituality onto the original structure. Let’s be clear neither man has dispensed with their heritage. But, both have founded new ways of enriching their faith.

It is quite incredible that the first ‘Jesuit Pope’ chose the name Francis. This is the same man who before speaking at an evangelical rally in Argentina bowed his heading for a blessing by its Protestant leaders. Archbishop Justin, the first ‘Alpha Archbishop,’ is a Benedictine oblate and has a Roman Catholic Spiritual Director. He recently urged Anglicans to rediscover the sacrament of confession. This summer he spoke at both New Wine and Walsingham.

If we desire to belong to a united church – the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church – if we wish to get through life’s storms, if we wish to reach out to others, we need to explore and adopt a broad range of spiritual practices and become comfortable with a different theologies, if we don’t we might just crack, and that would be a shame.

Recommended books:

Pope Francis Untying The Knots – Paul Vallely

Archbishop Justin Welby – Andrew Atherstone


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