Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Chapter 6 – On Being a Postdenominational Priest
in a Postdenominational Era

1.  I met Matthew Fox in person at a clergy conference in Bend, OR, in 1985.  He was regarded then as a person of distinct notoriety.  More pointedly, he was in theological hot water with just about every major denomination for his extreme left views on religion and spirituality…a reputation he seemed to relish.  Our reading today provides a travelogue of his bumpy ride through the 1990s and onward, including his official rejection by the Roman Catholic Church and his integration into the Anglican Church…specifically, the Episcopal Church.  Are you aware of any other theologians, pastors or religious leaders who have made such a dramatic switch?  What were the circumstances and outcomes surrounding their transition?

2.  Fox identifies his ouster from Catholicism as the point at which he understood his vocation as “a postdenominational priest in a postdenominational era.”  His discussion of the movement from the modern era to the present era is enlightening, albeit heavily slanted by his rejection by the R.C. Church.  And yet, he makes some accurate points…especially those that challenge the limitations of denominational institutions and agendas when held up against the pressing needs of a global community.  Where are such limitations visible to you: locally, nationally, and globally?

3.  Fox notes on page 109 that, “Ecumenism is postmodern and may even be another word for postdenominational.  Worship is becoming more and more ecumenical.”  Fair enough, to a certain degree.  But he quickly gets at the heart of his critique on pages 112 -113, “Christianity will never grow up to its adult stature until and unless it heals its wounded Roman and its wounded Jewish child.”  He believes ecumenism with Judaism and Islam can “reinvigorate our species with spirituality.”  He tosses in Buddism, Taoism, and Hinduism (East meeting with West) as further ingredients for his recipe of postdenominational and postmodern awakening.  Politically, the East, Middle East, and the West have not worked well together.  How, then, might these same groups approach one another in search of unity with such diverse and longstanding religious disparities?

4.  In his section, “Protesting Catholicism and Protestantism,” on pages 116-118, Fox provides a detailed list of behaviors that offend.  Look at them again…where do you agree/disagree?

5.  Fox’s devotion to Jerry Garcia is obviously quite substantial.  I found this short section a bit bizarre…especially his seeming dependency on the Garcias to repeatedly validate his ministry.  How exactly is theirs a “postmodern marriage”…and how can he attribute “applause as prayer?”  I’m baffled by his eagerness to elevate the Garcias, yet exclude them from his former style of critique.  How did you respond to this love story?

6.  Hubris abounds here…get your boots out.  This leads to his glowing evaluation of the “Planetary Mass” in October of 1994.  His revelation from that event: a new philosophical era has emerged.  Their mantra: “We celebrate, therefore we are.”  Like I said, hubris abounds!  They were especially pleased to exclude any theologians from the design and execution of this event and do so with a team of artists.  He describes this mass as “reconstructive postmodern art” with “spirituality at its core.”  The pinnacle of Fox’s hubris?  “I think the Planetary Mass represents a new, postmodern stage in human development.  Postmodern worship has arrived.”  (Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?!)  I’m at a loss of words here.  How about you?

7.  Orthopraxis (correct practice/behavior) versus orthodoxy (correct beliefs)…confused yet?  Fox despises the latter and praises the former.  We need both, folks!  He concludes with this healthy observation: “Indeed, if we put these two together, a Protestant principle and a Catholic one, we are talking about a reconstruction of Western Christianity.  This would move us from religion to spirituality.”  What would this look like and what would it take to achieve it? 
(Uff da!)

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Chapter 5 – Consider the Liles of the Field:
How Should Christians Love Nature?

1.  The theme of Sallie McFague’s essay is no mystery…it’s embedded in her title.  The answer to her question?  “…by obeying a simple but very difficult axiom: pay attention to it.”  She elaborates by saying, “The message is that we pay attention to difference, that we really learn to see what if different from ourselves.”  When are you most likely to pay attention?  What are your motives for doing so?  When are you least likely to pay attention?  What contributes to such detachment?

2.  McFague suggests that art is a valuable means of helping us learn to recognize and accept real differences.   Can you recall some form of art that has produced such attention from you in the past or present? 

Simone Weil concludes, “absolute attention is prayer.  By paying attention to something she says, we are, in fact praying.”  This leads to revelation.  I like that insight!  “So to really love nature, we must pay attention to it…to the world that lies around us but is not us…because we cannot love what we do not know.”  Are there parts of nature that have felt “prayer-like” for you?  Under what circumstances or frame of mind do you need to enter into such a relationship with nature?

3.  McFague invites us into “two ways of seeing the world,” directing us to consider nature writing.  She demonstrates its value through Annie Dillard’s description of a gold fish named Ellery, as well as the famous whole-earth picture of our planet from NASA.  Using these as metaphors, who or what are the current “goldfish” and “whole-earth” relationships in your life?  In other words, where (nature) and with whom (community) are you drawn closer or farther apart?

4.  McFague notes, “The arrogant eye simplifies in order to control, denying complexity and mystery, since it cannot control what it cannot understand…(and that) we Westerners all perceive with the arrogant eye.”  “The loving eye, on the other hand, acknowledges complexity, mystery, and difference…(promoting) acknowledgement of and respect for the other as subject.”   As Christians individually and as the Church collectively, where have you (and we) experienced our greatest weaknesses and strengths with each of these “eyes?”

5.  Under the heading, “The Subject-Subjects Model,” McFague notes that the best analogy for loving nature is friendship.  What attributes of friendship connect and bind us to nature in a life-giving way?  How might our entire planet and its inhabitants benefit from such a respectful and honorary attitude?

6.  Care or rights?  This debate will linger until the end of time… as well it should.  Applied to the natural world, it becomes even murkier…especially in our highly charged political/economic environments.  Much is at stake, on both sides of the discussion.  McFague raises the delicate question, “But is all of this Christian?  Is it commensurate with the radical, destabilizing, inclusive love of Jesus?”  What do you think?

7.  Perhaps the author of Ecclesiastes might have benefitted from this metaphor, “A time to map…and a time to hike.”  This last section stirred my imagination.  “What if we saw nature as ‘a world of difference?’  Then we might realize that we have to take a hike (without a map), become world-travelers, become apprentices to nature.”  Where have such “hikes” transformed your life in the past?  Are you on any kind of  hike at this moment? 

McFague concludes, “No one, I believe, loves the whole earth except as she or he loves a particular bit of it.”  Tell us something about your small piece of earth and why you love it.  What do you receive in return?  Where is God active in your love of nature?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Chapter 3 – New Creeds; Chapter 4 – The Great Work

1.  Tom Harpur has an axe to grind…in fact, several of them.  Connecting the dots of his diatribe isn’t easy.  For example, his initial discussion of “Core Christianity” and “Perennial Philosophy” were briefly mentioned, but never fully explained or integrated into his bump-and-run style of discourse.

The Christian Church, he claims, is in a world of hurt and the forecast ahead is one of gloom and doom.  While he correctly directs us toward the kingdom of God being present everywhere, I become quite nervous of his assertion of “the divinity of humanity, the ‘godness’ of every human being who has ever lived…the divinity of every one of us.”  How is this any different from today’s New Age definition of spirituality and its highly individualized motives and agenda?

2.  Moving on to the Creeds, Harpur characterizes the Church’s current efforts to face our challenges as “feeble.”  He castigates Liberals for having nothing worthwhile to proclaim, while criticizing Fundamentalists for checking their brains at the door and clinging to outdated traditions and interpretations.  (We love you, too, Tom!)

On page 61, Harpur goes off the deep end by denouncing the comprehensibility and relevance of our Creeds!  But wait, it gets better…and I quote, “Most are in a zombie-like state of consciousness anyway and just let the whole liturgy roll completely over their heads, unexamined and unexplained.”  He then states that we’ll either wake out of our trance or drop out due to health or old age.  Offended yet?  I sure am!  So, what should we Lutheran zombies do to ward off this vicious condition?  Are our Creeds really the problem here?  Again, how is the re-writing of the Creeds any different than the New Age agenda of fleeting personal accommodation?  What are the real problems we face?

3.  Thomas Berry offers a refreshing contrast with our previous author.  While listing several examples of “The Great Work” throughout history, Berry notes that our agenda now “is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.”  He then asserts that we have moved from natural selection to cultural selection as the “decisive force in determining the future of the biosystems of Earth.”

How did we get into this mess?  He blames it on “an attitude that is shared by all four of the fundamental establishments that control the human realm: governments, corporations, universities, and religions – the political, economic, intellectual, and religious establishments.  All four are committed consciously or unconsciously to a radical discontinuity between the human and the nonhuman.”  Take a few minutes to explore this premise.  How do you see each of these as participants in this shift of balance?

4.  From there, Berry zeroes in on the solution: “that every being has rights to be recognized and revered.”  This is solid biblical stewardship, folks.  But alas, like Berry notes, “Throughout the 20th century the situation has worsened decade by decade with relentless commitment to making profit by ruining the planet for the uncertain benefit of the human…so that a few establishments now control vast regions of the earth.”  Our Great Work, and that of our children, will be to change this course of devastation.

Where do we see this tragedy being played out in our country?
Where do we see this being played out around the world?

Where do we go from here? 
What are you doing, or would you consider doing, to further participate in this Great Work?
How do we approach and address this as the Church?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Emerging Christian Way

Chapter 2 – Experience: The Heart of Transformation

1.  Tim Scorer takes us down a much different path this week… inviting us to share in an “experience of transformation.”  You are asked to write words in the pentagon of this star for the dilemma that is most pressing in your own life.

  • If you are comfortable sharing with others, what is this dilemma for you at the moment?
2.  Scorer continues with the remarkable story/analogy of Zacchaeus and Jesus…encouraging us to put ourselves in their shoes. 

  • How might you spend a dinner conversation with Jesus? 
  • What would you ask Jesus concerning your most pressing dilemma? 

3.  Write the following words on the star, one per tip: 
      Jesus, God, world, Bible, and community/tradition. 

  • How does Jesus create an “open heart” in you?
  • How does God approach you through your open heart?  (See Roo Borson poem, “The Trees”)
  • When you focus your open-hearted attention on the world, both of nature and of humans, how does that affect the way you see your personal dilemma? 
  • How does Psalm 139 demonstrate the Bible’s strength?
  • Using the analogy of a tree, how do we both benefit from and contribute toward “community and tradition?”

4.  Finally, what did you gain from Tim Scorer’s chapter and his exercise with the star?  Does it help you approach potential dilemmas in a new and meaningful way?