This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Emerging Church Conference, Albuquerque. IV.


I know I am a few days behind here, which kind of defeats the point of “live blogging....”

But anyway, Friday night we heard from Richard Rohr, who spoke of the rediscovery of the contemplative tradition in Christianity.  He feels this tradition had largely been lost, even within monasticism, since like the 16th century.  They still had the language, but lost the direct experience and how to cultivate it.  By the 20th century, Rohr reports that Fransisco de Osuna’s aphorism about “thinking without thinking” was repeated and dutifully learned, but not understood or applied.

Rohr drew a distinction between dualistic and “non-dual” thinking.  Infinity, love, death, suffering, freedom, God, etc., cannot be addressed dualistically.  These approaches are always looking for someone to blame, winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, us and them: the self is the reference point.  The glory of the Christian gospel is intuitive consciousness/non-dual thinking.  Jesus invites us into his own experience: God is one, reality is one, truth is one.  

I noticed here how Rohr addresses another piece of Jesus’ inaugural proclamation in Mark 1:15.  If McLaren was all about the Kingdom of God, Rohr focused on metanoia.  Metanoia is usually translated “repentance,” but the Greek literally means a change of mind.  Rohr is saying that this change of mind has to do with moving into a non-dual approach which then enables faith/trust in the good news of the Kingdom.

He continues to talk about moving from a belief-based to a practice-based understanding of faith... but Someone Else, ie. God, is always the doer.  “We can only second the motion.”  All we are is the instrument (Francis of Assisi).  We pray not to but through Christ.  The Spirit prays in us.

I like Rohr a lot.  He quotes Einstein, who said that no problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.  The Kingdom of God requires a change in our consciousness in order to be perceived and inhabited.  If this is the contemplative, inward movement, the next two speakers will address the activist, outward movement.

Saturday began with Alexie Torres-Fleming, a community organizer from the South Bronx with an amazing story that read like something from the saints... and I say that without a hint of irony or overstatement.  Torres-Fleming even had what some in the tradition would call “the gift of tears.”  Her faith is very traditional Catholic, but expanding in the encounter with injustice and the lives of the poor... and the remarkable things the Spirit is doing in her life and neighborhood.  

“God doesn’t call the qualified but qualifies the called.”  

“Are we followers of Jesus, or just fans?”

“We have to be careful about feeling good if we forget who we are.”

“It’s not that there’s not enough bread, it is that it is poorly divided.”

“Whatever we have that we don’t need doesn’t belong to us.”

Torres-Fleming moved towards saying that it is not enough for the church to serve or help the poor... especially if we then expect them to be humble and grateful.  But that the church has to become poor.  If God redeems what God assumes, why would it be any different for the church?

Shane Claiborne spoke next, as another example of faith meeting life on the street.  Claiborne lives at the Potter Street Community, in Philadelphia.  He listed 9 of 12 distinguishing marks of emerging communities.  He says the church needs to stop complaining about the church we’ve experienced and start becoming the church we dream of.

These characteristics include a movement to the marginalized and abandoned places, economic sharing, hospitality, reconciliation and peacemaking, weaving together different traditions in prayer, creation care, and non-violence.  My take-away from his talk was how the church needs discontent and recklessness.

My reflection on this, as a presbytery Stated Clerk, is that our polity is usually used in a way that positively and even aggressively militates against recklessness and risk.  I think there is sometimes room for new and very different expressions to emerge, but such things are met with suspicion and resistance.  And our rules often prohibit them outright.  By legislating general rules based on feared worst-case-scenarios or a few actual abuses, we have foreclosed on things the Spirit might be trying to do in our midst.  I am not sure how one of these communities would fit into the Book of Order.  I do think it could be done, but trying to move such a thing through the inertia, suspicion, and low trust levels embedded in our system would be an exhausting challenge... to what purpose?        

1 comment:

John Edward Harris said...

Is our polity usually used in a way that positively and even aggressively militates against recklessness and risk? Are emerging new and very different expressions met with suspicion and resistance? Do our rules often prohibit them outright? By legislating general rules based on feared worst-case-scenarios or a few actual abuses, have we foreclosed on things the Spirit might be trying to do in our midst?

You raise interesting and important questions I am still wrestling with.

I also think that our polity has programmed us to respond in ways and that when new circumstances and opportunities arise that require a different response we are often ill equipped to do anything but stand there dumbfound.