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

Monday, April 12, 2010


Bourgeault's book is Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. (It's right there to the left....)

Emerging Christianity Conference

Day Four.

Sunday opened with q & a with the presenters. The highlight was McLaren responding to the "why are there so few young people and people of color here?" question, by noting that it is the white church that is in trouble right now. Good point. It is also older white people who tend to be more likely to have continuing education allowances and other resources to attend such conferences. Rohr also commented on the possibility of moving conferences like this one out of the snazzy hotels.

In their summations: McLaren drew the distinction between a movement and an institution. Institutions are rooted in past movements and oppose new ones.

Rohr quoted a remarkable story about how Kalahari Bush-people would, when traveling, occasionally just sit down, saying that they had to "wait for their souls to catch up with their bodies." We don't give our souls time to catch up with our frenetic movement. Emerging church work is soul work. The soul wants meaning, not answers, seeks depth, not breadth. We need patience.

Stabile: the antidote for exhaustion is wholeheartedness. "What is it you don't have the heart for anymore?" We often hold onto the last word of God as a way to resist the net word of God. Every expectation is a resentment waiting to happen. Waiting is active: stay awake!

The communion liturgy was very powerful, except that Rohr should not try to preach. He can't do it. He should have handed this off to McLaren. It was a barely interesting lecture, and he never actually read the Gospel. But the service itself was excellent, with a shared eucharist across a long table, and music by a trio of women singers. Liturgical material from Taize and Iona. Even a traditional Protestant hymn thrown in.

All in all a good conference, though without the magic and electricity of last year's. Maybe it was just our table, but there seemed to be more of a Roman Catholic presence this year, which means discussing issues that have no relevance to me, having to do with the hierarchy and the Pope. Some seemed to identify "emerging" with a) more social action, and b) working towards women priests.

I am wondering if it is time to stop going to conferences and to start doing something. Future conferences will be valuable to the extent that they deal with practical, hands-on, active practices that can be shared and learned from.

Read Cynthia Bourgeault's book on the plane home: Centering Prayer and Inner Awareness. It's very good and helps to bring together the contemplation and action sides of the emerging church. This agenda is vitally important, and it is why Rohr is getting in on this. With McLaren and others, they seem to understand that this really is a paradigm-shift, new reformation, "rummage sale" time, and the new thing that is being born will need deep and strong spiritual roots. (As opposed to some corners of the emerging church movement who seem to view it as little more than the latest youth ministry gimmick.)

The conference also revealed again the bankruptcy of much of Roman Catholicism (not that I am not quite aware of the bankruptcy of much of Protestantism). But the Catholic inertia is so entrenched and virulent that I wonder why anyone even stays over there....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Emerging Christianity Conference

Day Three, cont'd.

Brian McLaren continued to work on finding the unity beyond duality. The early church exhibited a non-dual inclusiveness. What went wrong? Different models presented themselves until the experiment was aborted with Constantine's "solution," which was to reassert the homogeneity/hegemony model. The cross had been a sign of oppression and violence which Jesus subverted and turned against itself as a sign of liberation. Constantine sees it as a sign of conquest... and the church bought into it.

At the heart of the struggle for Christian identity today is the meaning of the biblical narrative. The creation-fall-redemption framework is largely assumed, even though it is inherently dualistic and imperialistic, based on Greek philosophy melded with Roman politics. It reflects Constantine's "assimilate or be destroyed" (ie. "the Borg") plan: imperialistic, violent, exclusive, and dualistic.

He reiterated a buch of stuff from his recent book, especially how we have learned to read the Bible backwards, through the subsequent tradition, and that it would be more fruitful if we could read the Bible forward, recognizing Jesus in his full Jewishness.

The emerging church has three resources in this: 1- a 3-dimensional, expanding biblical narrative, 2- a social understanding of the Trinity: perichoresis, interbeing without absorption, communion without conversion, one-anotherness, preserving difference in unity. 3- the gospel of the Kingdom which is non-dual: us-for-you, us-with-you.

The afternoon workshops I attended: the one on art and drawing was helpful in getting us to use both sides of our brain. But the one on ritual I found to be not as helpful and pretty lame. There was a lot about ritual and ceremony generally, but little was done to tie it into either the rest of the conference theme or the biblical narrative. Furthermore, I feel we needed to hear some practical application, like how to integrate different kinds of ritual into our local experience, and there was none of that. So that was frustrating.

The evening session was a "Lamentation." I did not see the point to this in the schedule but I went anyway. It turned out to be a kind of lament/dance of old white people/boomers, which I didn't have much patience for. Just about everyone here is fairly privileged. I could see a lament for the Earth or a lament for the poor, and some of this did come out. And I understand that we all have stuff that has slapped us down and disappointed us over the years. And I see how suffering is kind of the doorway to a non-dual mind. But we need to celebrate what is emerging. This could have turned into a giant whine about the church we have lost, and I get enough of that in my normal life. But it didn't. So I was ambivalent.

More to come....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Emerging Church Conference

Day Three

Richard Rohr came back to the podium on Saturday. The theme for this day is ministry.

The early church held the "prophets" in high esteem; but the church soon marginalized, domesticated, and eventually eliminated the office of prophet. Their role was to provide validation from the intuitive/imaginal level. It was a recognition of demonstrated abilities and gifts.

He spent a lot of time complaining about the ordination process in the Roman Catholic church, which is not that different from what goes on in Protestantism. We ordain people before they show any gifts, as if the act of ordination itself conferred spiritual gifts and authority. This puts the control in the hands of the institution, instead of the Spirit.

Suzanne Stabile identifies 4 "mantras" learned from Jonah: 1- show up; 2- pay attention, 3- tell the truth, 4- don't get attached to the results.

In authentic ministry we don't do it, we serve what God is doing.

True liminality leads to increased awareness.
True liminality leads to increased consciousness of pain.
True liminality leads to increased knowledge of ourselves and others.
True liminality leads to increased knowledge of your own shadows, and those of others.

She shared a wonderful joke by Jack Kornfield about the bedoin family going across the desert on camels, when the father turns and tells one of the children, "Stop asking if we're almost there; we nomads, for God's sake!"

I will summarize McLaren's next talk next time.

Emerging Church Conference

Day Two, cont'd.

Rohr went on to talk about how there is no homeostasis in the universe, everything is change/adaptation/adjustment.

Literalism is always a decrease in meaning, because it tries to reduce the meaning to one dimension.

The next presenter was Suzanne Stabile, subbing for Diana Butler Bass, who had a death in the family and couldn't make it. She talked about liminal space, a place of anti-structure where transformation happens. Nothing new happens as long as we are in our comfort zones. It is the ultimate and perhaps the only teachable space. But our culture abhors liminality. We need to let the church stay in its liminal zone for a while. Don't try and resolve it too soon.

Brian McLaren finished up the day with the evening session. His presentation was balanced by brilliant and funny skits by Ted Schwartz. McLaren's point was that there was a unity that preceded dualism, and a unity that is beyond dualism. Temporary Autonomous Zones are places where the normal patterns of homogeneity and hegemony break down in an acceptance of wild diversity.

Living by duality makes us destructive. The kind of "knowledge" the people acquire in Genesis 3 (duality of good and evil) is recognized and counteracted by Jesus. For the apostle Paul, Christ destroyed duality and established unity. McLaren referenced 1 Cor. 8:1-11, 1 Cor. 12, and Ephesians 2:11ff, and finally 1 Cor. 13. The way to get to the unity beyond duality is love. Knowledge will pass away.

Emerging Christianity Conference

Day Two

The first speaker yesterday was Cynthia Bourgeault, a teacher of Centering Prayer. She talked a lot about the brain and the heart, and how we need to get beyond the often violent reactions we make when we are in our limbic/reptilian brain. More of the brain is available when we learn to relax into what is happening. The heart is also an organ of spiritual perception and the prefrontal lobes connect with it.

When the heart and brain are in "entrainment" there seems to be an alignment between visible and invisible realms. We have contact with the visionary/imaginal world. Jesus referred to this world as "the Kingdom of Heaven." It is the mysterious source or origin of things, "the reality looming on the surface from which things emerge." It is not "imaginary" but quite real and objective. Events don't just happen in the outer world. The resurrection of Jesus, for instance, is a fact on the imaginal plane which altered the disciples' consciousness.

This is an older way of seeing. Christianity began in this liminal, imaginal space. When the eye of the heart is opened that reality becomes manifest here and now.

"The truth does not need to be defended; it only needs to be lived."

Then she went into a strong critique of "liberal" thinking, which is overly timid and lacks conviction. It discounts the reality of the imaginal.

We cannot lose faith in the truth of the Easter kerygma. We have to find the fire and regain the confidence... but no longer on the literal and propositional level. On the imaginal level. It's not about believing the impossible but seeing the invisible.

Ken Wilber's stages of development. We have to move out of the rational and pluralistic and into the integral and non-dual consciousness. The burning-but-not-consumed-bush in Exodus is a good example of non-dual thinking. Both/and.

It is about "opening the eye of the heart and bending the knee of the heart to the grace which surrounds us."

Bourgeault's analysis was inspiring because it looked ahead with integrity towards what the new mind, or the mind of Christ, is beginning to look like... yet at the same time she sank her roots deep into the spiritual tradition. (The Eastern church has used language like "bringing the mind into the heart" for centuries.) I have to take her word for the physiological stuff, though.

After lunch Richard Rohr spoke again.

He built on this physiological side with the observation that the heart literally as a brain/neurons. Separating the brain from the heart resulted in 500 years of dualistic thinking in our culture, and centuries of attrocities.

Jesus talks much more about "how" than "what" to believe.

More later....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Emerging Christianity Conference

Day One

In the morning, Shane Claiborne reflected on his experience with the Simple Way community in Philadelphia. What does it mean to be fully devoted followers of Jesus? Orthodoxy must bear fruit in Orthopraxis. This means a lifestyle based on the widely and radically inclusive vision of Jesus, and all that entails: restorative justice, reconciliation, cultivating goodness and order. We have to keep laughing and dancing. The tyranny of the urgency can't hijack our joy.

Claiborne is always inspiring and exciting. The question is how do we learn from his experience and apply it in our different contexts. I am particularly interested in whether and how the church does ministry in suburbia. More on this as we go through the week, no doubt....

In the afternoon, we heard from Richard Rohr who talked about non-dual consciousness, which is the same as contemplation, and which is the goal of the Christian life. It is Ken Wilber who said that the purpose of religion is to bring people to a new and broader consciousness. Carl Jung suggests that the greatest problems are fundamentally unsolvable, expressing the necessary polarity of every living system: problems cannot be solved, only outgrown, which is something that happens as the fruit of suffering... if we can find the grace in the suffering.

Karl Rahner: to know we don't know is the beginning of religious consciousness. This means respect for mystery, leaving the horizon open: contemplation. Which is the opposite of dualistic thinking.

Jesus assumes a unitive relationship between God and the person. He creates a moral equivalence between God and humanity, between himself and others, and between any person and God. The Spirit is indwelling in the human person: so finally there is a moral equivalence between all people.

Humanity's deepest need is not for answers, but for communion. We need meaning; to be held rather than to hold.

The traditional model in Christian spirituality is Purgation/Illumination/Union. The purgative way brings our wounds out of the unconscious into consciousness, and into community. Mainstream religion generally does the purgation thing fairly well. And this is helpful in a broken and weak society. But obedience to religious laws is just the first stage of the spiritual journey.

(We did an exercise in non-dual thinking, which involved walking meditation and contemplating a found object.)

Rohr later discussed the difference between being "driven" and being "drawn." The former is anxious, compulsive, goal oriented, with irritation when our goals are not met. The latter is more responsive to the world: interactive and reciprocal.

People need to be into the illuminative stage, which means recognizing the shadows, including some holy dissatisfaction. Only then are they ready for the emergent conversation. We need to be shoved into the world of ambiguity.

In short, Claiborne kind of embodies in gritty urban reality the kind of thinking Rohr is talking about.