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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Six Words Describing My Theology.

Six Words Describing My Theology

These are not in order of importance, but stations in a circle of interaction and connection.  They balance each other and move together.  These are very brief sketches, to be filled out in future posts.
  1.  Celtic

I am inspired by the vision and practice of the Christians based in Ireland who worked mainly on the western fringe of Europe from the 5th through the 12th centuries.  The flavor of the mission was decidedly different from that of the Roman mission, which would eventually take precedence.  The Celtic movement was decentralized, centered on nature, rooted in spiritual practices, incarnational, communal, and inclusive.  In many ways the Celtic mission anticipated not only some themes of the Reformation, but now finds remarkable resonance among 21st century Christians.  It is a road-not-traveled by which we may not only reconnect with our Christian origins, but speak with integrity to our world.
“Celtic” today means more for me than a recovery of ancient history, but paying attention to the theologies emerging from the fringes, the edges, and outside of the mainstream, but which are also fed by roots driven deep into the biblical and Christian tradition.

(We Presbyterians also have a Celtic connection from our Scottish heritage; much of the energy in this Celtic revival emerges from places like Iona, Scotland.)   

   2.  Orthodox

I am grounded in the doctrines and outlook established by the Orthodox church as a continuation and articulation of the faith of the apostles, the New Testament, and Jesus Christ.  Discovering the theology and spirituality of the Eastern Church early in my education kept me Christian; I daily rely on the insights of the early fathers and mothers of the church.  Along with the affirmation of the Trinity and Christ’s two natures, I also have embraced the doctrine of “Theosis” which talks about how humans become by grace what Christ is by nature, and participate in God’s reality.  This mystical grounding feeds, informs, and orients my faith.    

(It also means that I move decidedly away from theories of the atonement which involve Jesus having to die to satisfy the honor or wrath of an angry Father.)  

   3.  Reformed

I believe the church requires constant reforming and reimagining according to the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ.  As he is attested in Scripture, Jesus Christ is the One Word of God to whom we belong and whom we must worship and serve in life and in death (Barmen).  The Scriptures are the unique and authoritative witness to him (C-67).  Constant self-critical vigilance is required for the church to resist wandering after the lure of wealth, privilege, and power, and remain faithful to the Lord Jesus and his life of humility, service, healing, justice, peace, and love.  Being Reformed is more a matter of faithfulness to this general approach of the Reformers than it is about trying to apply in our time their specific solutions to 16th century problems.    

   4.  Presbyterian

The church is organized according to two principles: a. responsibility rests with the elders, and b. elders bear that responsibility by gathering in councils.  Leadership is at once concentrated among those who have demonstrated a commitment to discipleship, and at the same time diffused in a group so that no individual becomes central.  The responsibility of elders gathered in councils is to discern and follow the will of Jesus Christ, who is the only Head of the Church.    

   5.  Progressive

Human beings are caught between the true world in which we are created by God as spiritual beings destined for eternal life, and the false world of delusion, sin, ego-centricity, and personality which we have invented.  Christ calls us to repentance: the process of awakening to a different way of seeing, thinking, and acting.  In repentance we resonate with Christ and increasingly perceive according to his perspective.  We come to see the reality of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls, and the extend it into our social and ecological life.  Changed people change the world.  The more Christlike we become, the more we reshape our world according to Christ’s principles and values.  Nothing is more imperative for the future of humanity and creation than that people follow Jesus’ Way of non-violence, humility, equality, inclusion, simplicity, generosity, forgiveness, and walking lightly on the Earth.  That, by the way, is the urgency behind our evangelism. 

   6.  Contemplative

Contemplation is a centering, grounding awareness which we experience in prayer and meditation, and which we express in connection and compassion.  In contemplation we experience Presence, the fullness of time, immediacy, the eternal now.  Through the depth, silence, and sensation of contemplation we learn to see from ever higher, broader, and more inclusive perspectives.  By looking inward we become more open, identifying with others.  Because it gives us access to realities far larger than our minds or senses can comprehend, contemplation knows by means of ritual, symbol, story, metaphor, archetype, poetry, and imagery.  Contemplation connects us, however subtly, with the ultimate source of energy, light, and life.  It funds, energizes, and feeds our work of discipleship in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking in humility with the living God.       

Monday, January 9, 2017

VR Goggles as a Metaphor for the Spiritual Life.

VR goggles are a very good image for the spiritual life. 
We humans are placed in a world of wonder, blessing, joy, and abundance, created by God and declared very good. 
Yet, due to the limitations of our consciousness we develop an ego-structure which functions like goggles, presenting us with a false projection of reality, which we proceed to live by. 
So we we flail around reacting to whatever our goggles are showing us, and unwittingly crash into others, whose goggles are instructing them to react.
And here we are.
The spiritual life, which is to say repentance, is about removing the goggles.
Maybe this is what Jesus means when he says what he says about eyes. Like: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away,” and “the eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

What Is Truth?

Suddenly, words like “post-fact,” “post-truth,” and “fake-news” have come into our national conversation.  Not only do different political factions have different opinions, they now appear to rely on different facts and even different “truths.”  What is ridiculed and rejected as fake-news for some, is revered as the basis of others’ whole outlook.  What’s going on here?

When I was growing up, we all shared a basic understanding of history and values; we spoke the same language; we agreed with the same general outlook on life.  There were terrible, profound, and even violent disagreements and arguments.  But all our lives were built on the meta-narrative of the post-enlightenment West.  (A meta-narrative is an overarching story that presents a comprehensive framework for understanding various events, experiences, and phenomena, based upon supposedly universal truths and values.)  

We had only disgust and amazement for any views outside this framework, such as when Communist governments issued what were to us bizarre statements about events that we labeled “revisionist history.”  They were not telling the facts but skewed, cynical, self-interested lies made up to support their twisted and oppressive ideology.  The nadir of this approach was the 1959-1961 famine caused by Mao’s agricultural policies.  It turns out that the laws of biology supersede ideology.  Who knew?  But we would never do such a thing.  We were all about truth and real facts.  That was until scientific truth threatened our own lifestyle and economic order.  This is now happening with global warming.  Senator James Inhofe’s statement that he used to believe in global warming, until he realized “what it was going to cost,” is a perfect example of this.  Global warming deniers today are as revisionist and ideological in their refusal to accept scientific facts as Mao was.

So we see that our commitment to scientific truth and real facts eventually undermines the very meta-narrative we live by.  One classic example of this is the decline of Christopher Columbus from the heroic explorer and discoverer I learned about in school, to the depraved murderer, torturer, and enslaver of Native peoples, subsequent research has shown him to be.  Indeed, the whole superstructure of Western civilization is crumbling under the weight of the facts we are unearthing. 

One way to deal with this collapse would be to renounce (implicitly or explicitly) our commitment to scientific truth and facts, and proclaim and enforce an arbitrary ideological framework.  This is what global warming deniers are attempting to do.  It would require at least as massive a project of violent purging and enforcement as anything the Soviets or Nazis ever did.  

Another approach would be to separate into distinct cultural enclaves based on the particular constellation of truths and facts that each finds helpful and acceptable.  This would foreclose on much meaningful conversation and dialogue, since each interest group explicitly rejects the facts and methodology upon which the opinions of others are based.  If you don’t believe global warming is real, and you reject all evidence of global warming as a hoax, and rationalize whatever evidence you have to so it fits your ideology, then how do you have a conversation?  This would at best mean splitting a society into distinct, coexistent interest groups.  At worst it means civil war, as groups seek to impose its facts on others, and wipe out the ones whose lives are based on “lies.”

Post-modern philosophy has noted the fallacy of “objectivity,” pointing out how inherently ideological and biased is even the most “scientific” meta-narrative.  Often, claims to objectivity and universality are oppressive attempts by an elite to impose its self-interested perspective on society.  In our history it was the privileging of Anglo-Saxon culture as the pinnacle of human advancement.  All such top-down meta-narratives are violent, reductionist, lies designed to enforce social conformity and cohesion, cementing the elites’ privileged position.  But they are not true.  Indeed, some post-modern philosophy seems to question whether there is any single truth at all for us, and not just infinite different perspectives.

Which brings us to the question raised by Pontius Pilate in John 18:38, “What is truth?”  He, the official of the occupying Roman magisterium, cynically dismisses any “truth” except what his own weaponry can enforce by sheer terror.  The hearer knows that the real truth is standing there in front of Pilate: the beaten, tortured, humiliated, bleeding loser: Jesus of Nazareth.  He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” the only gateway to God (John 14:6).

We do not ever find the truth revealed in the self-serving, grand, ideological meta-narratives imposed by imperial fiat, sustained by State institutions, funded by its economic regime, and maintained by popular loyalty.  We only have access to the truth in the immediate and the embodied, particularly in those who suffer from the callous and gratuitous violence required to generate and hold up the false meta-narrative.

Jesus presents an alternative narrative, from below, in which coercion is replaced by compassion, retribution by forgiveness, diseases and disabilities by healing, scarcity by abundance, and institutional violence by God’s shalom.

So, as our society splinters into competing “truths” and oppositional sets of facts, it is up to the community of Jesus’ disciples to bear witness to his truth by living according to his example and teachings.