Church: Old and New

October 27th, 2019 by Dave Leave a reply »

The Emerging Church
Monday, October 28, 2019

I do believe that what some refer to as the “emerging church” is a movement of the Holy Spirit. Movements are the energy-building stages of things, before they become monuments, museums, or machines. In the last sixty years, several significant events have taken place, both within and alongside the various Christian churches, to foster this movement. Spiritual globalization is allowing churches worldwide to profit from these breakthroughs at approximately the same time, which of itself is a new kind of reformation! No one is directing, controlling, or limiting this movement. We are just trying to listen together. It is happening almost in spite of all of us—which tells me the Spirit must be guiding.

Just so you know I am not merely arguing for my own agenda within the Catholic Church, I want to briefly identify some of the historical developments that I see propelling this movement throughout Christianity:

  1. Our awareness is broadening, recognizing that Jesus was clearly teaching nonviolence, simplicity of lifestyle, peacemaking, love of creation, and letting go of ego, both for individuals and groups. More and more Christians are now acknowledging Jesus’ radical social critique to the systems of domination, money, and power. In the past, most of Jesus’ practical teaching was ignored by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians. The establishment chose instead to concentrate on private sinfulness and personal salvation and, as Brian McLaren says, on an “evacuation plan” into the next world.
  2. There is a common-sense and growing recognition that Jesus was clearly concerned about the specific healing and transformation of real persons and human society “on earth as it is in heaven.” The Church, more than Jesus, historically focused on doctrinal belief and moral stances, which ask almost nothing of us in terms of real change. They just define groups—often in an oppositional way.
  3. We are recovering the older and essential contemplative tradition within Christianity, starting with Thomas Merton in the 1950s, and now spreading to numerous denominations, like a “treasure hidden in the field” (Matthew 13:44). Some emerging church leaders have yet to grasp the centrality of contemplative and inner wisdom.
  4. Critical biblical scholarship is occurring on a broad ecumenical level, especially honest historical and anthropological scholarship about Jesus as a Jew in the culture of his time. This leads us far beyond the liberal reductionism and the conservative fundamentalism that divide so many churches. We now see the liberal/conservative divide as a bogus and finally unhelpful framing of the issues.

While these may not seem like significant changes in and of themselves, together they are causing sea changes in modern theology as well as practice. These shifts may be the very reason we are currently so divided as Christians, with some clinging to an older way of doing and thinking while others are pulling in these new and “emerging” directions.

Rummage Sales
Sunday, October 27, 2019

I have come to set fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing. —Luke 12:49

People are rightly concerned by the loss of property through fire. However, forestry workers understand that from the destruction caused by fire emerges new growth, new life. Time and again, this also has been shown to be true in the church as we seek to follow the way of Christ in light of expanding human knowledge and understandings that continually affirm the movement of the Spirit.

In 2017, Protestants and Catholics honored the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. When Martin Luther (1483–1546) posted his “95 Theses” or complaints on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, European Christianity had become too focused on meritocracy and hierarchy, losing sight of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic Church itself now admits it is always in need of reformation. The perpetual process of conversion, or reformation, is needed by all individuals and institutions. We appear to be in the midst of another period of significant turmoil and rebirth, thus my focus on Old and New: An Evolving Faith in this year’s Daily Meditations.

In North America and much of Europe, we are witnessing a dramatic increase in “nones,” people who don’t identify with a particular faith tradition. While I ache for those who have been wounded by religion and no longer feel at home in church, the dissatisfaction within Christianity has sparked some necessary and healthy changes. Episcopal Bishop Mark Dyer (1930–2014) aptly called these recurring periods of upheaval giant “rummage sales” in which the church rids itself of what is no longer needed and rediscovers treasures it had forgotten.

As Phyllis Tickle (1934–2015) reflected, in the process of building necessary structure in institutions, we eventually “elaborate, encrust, and finally embalm them with the accretion of both our fervor and our silliness. At that point there is no hope for either religion or society, save only to knock the whole carapace off ourselves and start over again.” [1] This is a difficult and frightening task, which is why we only seem to do it every 500 years or so! If we look at church history, we can see the pattern. [2]

With each reformation, we don’t need to start from scratch but return to the foundations of our Tradition. We don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater but reclaim the essential truths. And remember that truth anywhere is truth everywhere. With each rebirth, Christianity becomes more inclusive and universal, as it was always meant to be.

It takes a contemplative mind to witness these changes without resistance or defensiveness. When living within a sacred tradition, everything can seem essential and untouchable. But all Christians are already worshipping in “reformed” churches—often many times over—whatever our denomination. Let’s take heart and have faith that the Holy Spirit is with us through it all.

Summary: Week Forty-three

Gender and Sexuality

October 20 – October 25, 2019

With all the changing ways of understanding gender and sexuality, most of us truly need contemplative eyes and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “rupture simplistic binaries” and be compassionate and respectful of difference and diversity. (Sunday)

Jesus, like the cosmos itself, is about two things: diversity and communion. (Monday)

As a Christian, when confronted by a tension between a religious certainty which leads me to violate the law of love and a deep unknowing that still moves in the direction of “loving my neighbor as myself,” I am bound to choose the latter course. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Tuesday)

With the interpretive grid provided by a critique of domination, we are able to filter out the sexism, patriarchalism, violence, and homophobia that are very much a part of the Bible, thus liberating it to reveal to us in fresh ways the inbreaking, in our time, of God’s domination-free order. —Walter Wink (Wednesday)

You are not your gender, your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, or your social class. These are not qualities of the True Self in God. Why, oh why, do Christians allow temporary costumes, or what Thomas Merton called the “false self,” to pass for the substantial self, which is always “hidden with Christ in God”? (Thursday)

One of the easiest ways that progressive denominations could ignite interest in the binary-busting aspects of Christian theology would be to free up queer clergy to proclaim the Gospel from an explicitly queer perspective, boldly and honestly. —Elizabeth Edman (Friday)

Practice: Generosity

Giving brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous; we experience joy in the actual act of giving something; and we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given. — Siddhārtha Gautama, The Buddha [1]

Those who pray learn to favor and prefer God’s judgment over that of human beings. God always outdoes us in generosity and in receptivity. God is always more loving than the person who has loved us the most! God does not shame us but loves us even more deeply than we could ever know or love ourselves.

Douglas Abrams reflects on a conversation with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

In generosity, there is a wider perspective in which we see our connection to all others. . . . There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. . . . There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. [2]

Writer, yoga teacher, and queer activist Jacoby Ballard notes that generosity is an important practice in LGBTQIA communities:

I see collective houses sharing, providing for one another. I see partners taking care of each other, friends showing up for childcare for queer families, . . .  community putting in incredible effort to create beautiful commitment ceremonies. I see our communities supporting the organizations that support us. This is so beautiful, and I think this is a human quality for survival. Every community that survives does it together—we can look to so many other communities to see this. Generosity is a response to injustice. We rely on one another out of necessity, but also because we know in our hearts that there is a different way to be, a different way to live. Our generosity with one another is indeed resistance to the greed and fear that oppresses us. We provide for one another out of love for each other and love for ourselves. When we give, we acknowledge that all beings want to be happy. [3]

Here is a contemplative practice to cultivate generosity from mindfulness teacher Amy Love:

Sit in a position that feels stable yet comfortable.

If it feels right for you, close your eyes. If it feels better to keep you[r] eyes open, gently gaze down in front of you. [Settle] into this moment by noticing your breath.

. . . Bring to mind a time when someone was generous toward you, a time when someone did something nice for you. Bring that time to mind in full color, reflecting on who was there, where you were. . . . How did it make you feel? Where does that feeling live in your body? Really feel into what this time was like for you.

If your mind begins to wander, that’s okay. Gently escort your attention back to feeling the time when someone did something nice for you.

Now . . . bring to mind a time when you were generous with someone, a time when you did something nice for someone else. Again, really [sink] into this memory by recalling who was there, where you were, and what was happening. How did it make you feel to be generous in this way? Where do you feel that in your body? What are the sensations of generosity like in your body?

[End] this short contemplation by resting back in your breath for a moment. [4]

I pray that recalling experiences of generosity, both given and received, will allow each of us to carry that spirit to all living things, especially those who challenge our overly-simplistic ideas of what it means to be a human being, made in the image and likeness of God.

The Wedding at Cana

Friday, October 25, 2019

Today, openly queer Episcopal priest Elizabeth Edman shares about the first time she preached on the Gospel passage about the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Her use of the word “queer” as a verb may be off-putting or confusing to some, but if you are familiar with Jesus’ first miracle, the context of the story will help you understand what she means.

As I started working with the text, I saw something amazing going on. . . . What I saw was Jesus taking these pots of water—water designed for ritual bathing, for spiritual cleansing—and turning that water into wine that everyone was supposed to drink. What I saw was Jesus taking this substance that was all caught up in ideas of cleanness and uncleanness, all caught up in notions about what separates us from each other, and turning it into something designed to be shared, something that eases our anxiety about all the harsh lines in our world. . . .

What I saw was Jesus queering those pots of water.  

So that became my sermon: a queer reading of the wedding at Cana. I was so deliciously intoxicated by the queering in this story that I knew I had to be explicit about it. And I also knew that there would be lots of churches where a sermon like that would get me fired. . . .

One of the easiest ways that progressive denominations could ignite interest in the binary-busting aspects of Christian theology would be to free up queer clergy to proclaim the Gospel from an explicitly queer perspective, boldly and honestly. Let us be ourselves, and assure us that you will have our backs when our proclamation unsettles and afflicts those who are comfortable in a dualistic worldview.

Queering itself is risky business. To reject easy binaries is to enter into uncertain terrain. The discomfort of such liminal space is often at the heart of the fear that erupts in violence against queer people—violence that may be physical, or legal, or ecclesial, or economic. You really can get fired for it, even in denominations that pride themselves on being gay friendly. [1] Lots of priests and pastors have.

And that’s just so many shades of wrong, because in fact, busting those false dichotomies is part and parcel of [our] tradition. It is one of the bedrock reasons I am a Christian and love my tradition so much. Christianity pushes me right off that cliff of comfortable binaries all the time, and I need that. . . . “Love my enemy? Do good to those who persecute us? How could love and persecution possibly coexist?” [2]

She’s right, you know. The Gospel often puts us on the horns of a dilemma so we can wrestle with it. Jesus transgresses one boundary after another and we accept, celebrate, and even try to emulate him in many ways. Are we Christians today open to the possibility that God has called others (by the design of their very bodies) to wrestle with other questions and share their divinely-inspired insights and experiences without shame? I do not know the answer to that question, but it is one I am willing to struggle with. There is a cost that comes with denying the undeniable and we all pay it, but those we deny and marginalize pay a much higher price. 


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