Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Many thoughts today

I wrote most of the following in class this morning. But somehow I hadn't heard about the attack in Qana (or Cana, as in first miracle of Jesus, water into wine not blood). So we need to take a moment to pray for that situation. Dear God, this world is fucked up.

...

OK, now let me respond to a few recent comments.

First, yes, I also was convicted especially by Eddie's comment about spending time with God now. We were having such a wonderful time, earlier in the summer, when we were doing the morning prayer together every day. But now we can't because we have to be up and out so early. It was lovely, though, to read scripture (which was always new and interesting) and to read a piece from a Father or Mother, or about that day's saint, or just to debate and discuss the passage we'd read. I don't know how to make that happen with our current schedule. And it will only get harder once the fall comes.

I can do morning prayer alone and I do, but it's just not as nice. It makes one feel a bit shizophrenic to say to oneself: "The Lord be with me" "And also with me" "let us pray."

Ah, well, we must carry on. I read the most lovely bit from Julian of Norwich today - her meditation upon Jesus as Mother. Not Katherine our new Presiding Bishop, not some radical feminist (of the 20th century, anyway) - no, good old Julian, mystic from the 15th century. This idea is not an imposition of our times. Beyond Christ himself longing to be like a mother hen, we have evidence in the Fathers (who weren't the greatest towards women, so that's saying something), and then this from Julian:

We make our humble complaint to our beloved Mother, and he sprinkles us with his precious blood, and makes oursoul pliable and tender, and restores us to our full beauty in course of time...And this sweet and lovely work he will never cease from doing until all his beloved children are born and delivered...And I understood that there is no higher state in this life than that of childhood, because of our inadequate and feeble capacitty and intellect, until such time as our gracious Mother shall bring us up to our Father's bliss. And then the true menaning of those lovely words will be made known to us, 'It is going to be all right. You will see for yourself that everything is going to be all right.'

Preach it, grrrl.

Anyway, about this Christology thing, let me see how many ways I can be heretical today. But first let me point out that I don't see anything against universalism in the Nicene Creed, and I think I explained yesterday how I still have a pretty strong Christology, just not one that is based in exclusivism and substitutionary atonement. So the anonymous person who said I was a heretic b/c of universalism and weak Christology isn't actually correct. I'm not a Baptist or Roman Catholic, to be sure...I'm not even following the 39 articles, probably...but I don't think I've gone beyond the Creeds. So am I really a heretic? Well maybe by today's standards. And being a strong believer in the progression of the Church and God's continued revelation to us, and the true faith of our tradition being as much God's Word as the Scriptures (tho of course it's not as easy to read! Or is it? Perhaps the Scriptures are harder than we think!), I do strongly respect that I am not following the journey on which the church has found itself. But then again, I do fall into line with many in my church, and I do agree with many of the founders of our faith (although of course I know Origen was considered a heretic for universalism) on the issues they were hashing out. I'm certainly not a gnostic.

Anyway, let me muse on Christology for a moment. Is Jesus the son of God? Of course. But does that matter? Of course it does. If I say it doesn't I am not a Christian. But is it necessary for salvation to recognize this? Or does it just make it much easier to live your life in line with God's story? My husband, paraphrasing Dallas Willard, says, "The smartest man who ever lived is offering a master class in how to live your life and you're invited to join and learn." Now I know that could be reducing Jesus to just a good teacher or smart man...but then again, we should recognize that. It seems often that the non-Christians recognize these aspects of Jesus (good teacher, smart) better than Christians do! How many Christ followers really think Jesus was a genius?

So I think Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived. And I believe he is the son of God. I believe his incarnation was the turning point in history when all the universe was able to start heading back toward God. I believe that his life is the model for our lives. I believe that his death and resurrection were the model for our future. Did they separately do something to balance the cosmic scales? Well they did make a big difference, in that nobody had been resurrected before. And the resurrection is the foretaste, as they say, of what is to come. Solid evidence of God's kingdom come.

But I don't think I believe that God demanded the sacrifice nor that without Christ's death we'd all be lost. Perhaps without Christ's resurrection we'd not be able to resurrect. But this idea of cosmic scales balancing...well I just don't see it. It sounds more like yin/yang to me. What I see when I read God's story is a God who never balances the scales. A God who always pushes toward us no matter how crappy we act. A God who forgives over and over and over and over again. A God who deeply longs for people to love him no matter what they've done against him. A God who doesn't hold grudges. This is the story of God. This is the whole story, not a prooftext.

How can you know that story and not be universalist?

That's rhetorical, anonymous. (I'm considering blocking anonymous posting anyway...)

We don't have the answers yet at all, and we are on a journey. Why can't we be on different places in our journey? Not just you and me, but those from other cultures and faith traditions.

My journey is going through some woods right now. I fear what I think - things that go against what I was always taught was salvation. But salvation isn't based on what I believe, is it? I mean, come on. Is it really based on what we believe? Or is it based on who we love?

Jesus is the answer, that is my Christology. But he is the answer because he is the incarnation of God's love, he is God reaching into the world in love. I love him and I want to live like he did. The answer to the question of what is the meaning of life, I guess.

Which is where the pluralism has affected my Christology. I'm not longer sure Jesus is the only way to God. I think I believe he's the best way. At least, he's definitely the most direct route! But the only way? Jesus is God's love in the world. But God's love is manifest in other ways, albeit not as powerfully. My exposure to world religions has convinced me that God has revealed Godself through other religions in some ways. So the piece of information that we Christians have is Jesus - perhaps he's the thing we know about that others don't. But I believe others know things about God that we don't know - or that we are blind to. There is beauty in the manifold names and faces for God in Hinduism - their God is much bigger and more diverse than ours. There is genius and peace in the meditation of many traditions, especially that of Buddhism which gives such honor to the natural world (and that's something Christians often neglect). We can learn so much from the Baha'is about peace and ecumenism. I personally am fascinated with the eschatology of the LDS church. Muslim devotion to prayer is certainly beyond most of us. Jewish liturgy is gorgeous and their reverence for Scripture is enviable. Even pagan religions (or cosmological) recognize the revelation of God in nature and respect and work with that better than we do.

So. Whew. All of that to say that there's a lot of not just wisdom but TRUTH in other religions. God's truth. God's revelation. So the pluralism has affected my sotierology and eschatology. I said that it's affected my Christology, but you know, I actually don't think it has. I still pretty much think the same things about Jesus that I ever did. I've changed my mind about salvation and about what happens after death, and of course that's wrapped up in Christology to an extent. But I'm not sure having a "high" Christology necessitates exclusivism.

There, Rachel. That was for you. :)

One last thing, if you're still with me. I watched a fantastic, terrifying film that I strongly, strongly recommend you run out and rent. It's called The Corporation. I'm just going to tell you to see it. We can chat about it in the comments once you've seen it (or if you already have). Very. Scary. Stuff. And very, very important to know.

I got to thinking about why the younger generation - my brother's age and below (he was born in 1980) - is so up in arms and ready to mobilize. I thank God for it. But it's curious to me, because it's like this groundswell all of a sudden (this is largely anecdotal - my brother's on a kick). And as we were watching this Corporation movie, it struck us: the thing people are most afraid of is Communism and/or Socialism. That's why they are willing to let Corporations run the country - really, own the world - because they are so terrified of the government doing it. Because if the government does it (which I think is what democracy is?), then that is socialism. Or can become it.

But my brother was a kid when Communism fell. Young'ns today simply weren't taught about the evils of it. So they don't fear it. They don't have anti-Communism deep in their bones. So they can see the happy medium that just might be possible between fascism and socialism. They can visualize democracy. They don't fear stripping corporations of power and actually would prefer the government not be in bed with them. They aren't afraid of universal healthcare because they see that it makes sense. Many older ones of us can't see that it makes sense because we're afraid of what it could turn in to, or what it could portent. But it doesn't have to! And I think the next generation is finally in a place to teach us that. Maybe they can get us out of this mess of wars, too. They're not equating the terrorists with the commies. They're not interested in another cold (or hot) war, and they don't seem all that interested in defending our "honor" or "way of life." They can see the flaws in the American way of life and call us on it.

The young changed the world in the 60's. Let's let them do it again. I know I'm being way simplistic and overoptimistic here (but hey, I'm accused of being such a negative person on here, may as well go off the other end now & then). But if you could hear the desperation in my brother's voice when he calls me and begs for information to DO something...it's really touching. And he's connected - his generation is way networked. Which, funnily enough, is what Eddie is telling us at the moment is quite key to the future of the church. It was the key to the early church, too - Christians were out there in the marketplace and you couldn't not meet them. But they stayed friends with non-Christians and never retreated into a bubble (either a literal one or one of ideology and opinion). They couldn't have grown like they did (like rabbits, not pandas, as Gibbs put it today! He said we're the giant pandas ha ha) without networking and without taking advantage of their urban environment.

I guess you're doing the right thing, reading me here. :) And I'll keep writing for you. I wrote most of this during class today. So that's why you're not getting notes (sorry). I'll bet Eddie would be tickled to know his words are going up each day (almost). But anyway what I'm saying is let's keep networking, and keep telling each other about great films like The Corporation, and great websites like (you fill in the blank), and great churches like cota and All Saints, and great social movements like Sojourners and the Center for Action and Contemplation and their conference here in Pasadena. We are a community. It's real, not virtual. We exist. And we will change the world.

10 comments:

Rachel said...

What a fabulous post!!!

I am still chewing on this, and will almost certainly have more to say about it once I've read it a few more times, but for now just wanted to drop a comment and say brava.

JD said...

Thanks for the marvelous quote from Julian. I quickly tired of folks taking your new PBp's quote out of context after the first report. And I also wanted to say that I thought your prayer was right on target.
Too many people accuse of us softpedaling Jesus when we suggest that there might be some eternal truths in other faith traditions. I fail to see how that diminishes in anyway what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Granted, hs hands were occupied, but he didn't lean down from the cross and point at folks and say "I'm doing this for you and you and you but not you." His plea for fogiveness did not seem to have restrictions.
Keep the cross central and you'll be fine.

Anonymous said...

I was the anonymous commenter on the other post who responded to your question about "Am I a heretic?" Forgot to add the moniker I use: FrMichael. FYI I'm a Catholic priest, not an Episcopalian one.

Regarding your budding universalism and reference to the Creed, perhaps you overlooked the phrase,

"He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His Kingdom will have no end."

Do you have any doubt what the 4th century composers of the Creed had in mind with this phrase? I'm sure you had some exposure to the Church Fathers. This phrase would be consonant with their preaching, in which Divine Judgment was portrayed in terms of the Gospels (think Mt 25 for starters) and Book of Revelation.

Universalism is indeed something with creedal implications.

Now, we live in a free country and TEC is not a church built upon strict adherence to dogma, so I doubt something like this would have career ramifications for you. But it seems to me in your writings (which I came across in my scanning of Episcopalian sites with the build-up to GC2006) that you are testing your personal beliefs vs. institutional/traditional ones and offering them up for comment. I can't speak competently about Episcopalian theology with my decidedly Roman outlook but when things like the Creed are mentioned that involve the larger Christian tradition I'm probably not a bad guy to have around.

Yours in Christ, FrMichael

The Feminarian said...

Thanks for the clarification on your identity. It always helps a great deal to know where posters are coming from - and also to hear a bit more than a short terse response.

I did think about the section of the creed involving judgment and Kingdom. Universalism doesn't not have to preclude judgment, however. We can still be judged for our deeds (either by God or by ourselves in the face of a holy God, however you want to think of it). I mean, I don't think Matt 25 will literally happen with a big line of people waiting to go right or left (the fact that he is speaking about animals is a clue that the story's probably not a literal prediction). The important thing in that story is to note WHAT it is that condemns or blesses, and that's our actions toward "the least of these." People get quite hung up on whether they're going to be told right or left, but I don't think that was JC's point.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that there could still be a judgment and a time of separation from God. Justice pretty much demands it, doesn't it? As does our own attitude - lots of people simply won't be able to abide God's presence (and love). So I can absolutely speak with you that "he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." No question!

But what's next? "And his Kingdom will have no end." It's that "no end" that I get stuck on. If it really has no end, is eternal, then doesn't it seem like eventually those who rejected God could be won over? God wants people to love him. God longs for the salvation of all (2 Peter 3:9 - oops, I'm prooftexting :). So why couldn't God's patience extend after death into eternity? That's just the question I'm asking.

I'm not really trying to push the boundaries, I'm honestly looking at the narrative and God's character and holding it up against what I've been taught and questioning where the two don't fit. And I do believe the creed, and I believe in Judgement and I believe in the Kingdom above all (which I think has begun already). But neither of those statements conflicts with an eventual return to God for all creation. I'm not saying it won't take LOTS of time. I'm just saying that our friend Origen might have been on to something.

Anyway, I'm quite delighted that you're reading the blog and commenting. I very much value your input and the perspective of not only a Roman Catholic but a priest at that! I'm honored you take the time to consider my musings and respond. Keep doing so - I will learn from you, I'm sure. That is the entire goal of Feminary, you know - to learn something.

revabi said...

This is one of your finest posts. Boy when you get fired up you really write well. Keep posting.

Anonymous said...

Hello, different anonymous poster here.

Are you seeing the two options as universalism (absolutely everyone will eventually be saved) or exclusivism (salvation only through explicit faith in Jesus, with MAYBE some exceptions for those in the Middle of Nowhere who had no opportunity ever to hear a passing missionary. Maybe. If we're feeling generous.)

That strikes me as a false dichotomy.

I can't handle exclusivism myself. No way, no how. And Universalism sounds very attractive to me -- but then I get hung up on how it negates free will just as much as the most extreme Calvinists do. And as much as I don't like it, Jesus talked about hell a lot.

And while that may not necessarily mean that anyone is there, it does have to mean, I think, that it is a possibility. God respects our choices, even when our choices break God's heart.

What do you think about inclusivism that does not limit salvation to those who expressed explicit faith in Jesus Christ but still allows for the possibility of rejecting God?

The Bro said...

Hi sis

I think you're probably right about the communism thing. In the film there's a debate in which business owners express the terrors of putting things in the hands of the government...not realizing that under democracy they ARE the government. And as I remember the younger generation seemed to think that the commonwealth could handle their assets just fine without the help of corporations. (Can you believe firemen used to pass by burning houses if the mark of their company wasn't on the house!?)

As far as the earlier part of your post - I'm not even going to comment on the content because I can argue forever back in forth in my own brain, and by the time I've come up with anything useful, I already have a counterpoint to work out. So here's what I have to offer...

I looked up the word heretic in the dictionary (cause I honestly couldn't define it on my own), and was quite surprised at what it said: "A person who holds controversial opinions, especially one who publicly dissents from the officially accepted dogma of the Roman Catholic Church."

Lord, may we all be respectful, loving heretics today, sharpening and challenging each other in the journey of faith.

peace

Anonymous said...

Your series of posts on evangelizing has convinced this lurker to comment, especially the part about needing to get people to make friends within 3 months of attending a church. Some people may *need* to just be left alone to observe and take in and get used to a church without people necessarily trying to make friends. I may just be weird, but having essentially left the denomination in which I was raised but still wanting to go to a church, of some sort, the thought of trying to talk to strangers at a church when I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing there is too much. I will note I am overly shy in certain situations, like groups of strangers in which I do not know anyone. I'm not so sure what my point is- but for some people, church is hard enough without trying to make friends too, so I guess just don't be insulted by looks of terror and difficulty making conversation from the overly shy?

Lisa in FL said...

Thanks for this post.

Kate said...

Okay, long post...I have to admit before I comment that I didn't read the entire thing, but I got through about 80% before my eyes got buggy. Wanted to let you know that I can definitely relate to fearing your own thoughts. I've been going through that for the past few years and I have a sneaking suspicion that as I enter seminary, that feeling is not going to go away.