BRUNCHtalks2 – Progressive in Approach

The second in our summer series of BRUNCHtalks explores what it means to be “Progressive in Approach.” We are still experimenting with the format. The video has been edited to include a portion of the event. Several of the video’s we watched during the event are included in the video along with keynote slides.  BRUNCHtalks will continue at Holy Cross throughout the summer – Sundays @ 9:30am. 

Whenever we try to articulate what God IS, language fails us. For the most part, the institutional church has defined God with words and expected that members of the institution will confess loyalty to those words. Many of the words, with which the institution has traditionally described God, craft an image of God as a supernatural being up there or out there who is responsible for creation and from time to time interferes in the workings of creation. As we continue to learn more and more about the magnitude of creation, both in time and space, our traditional words about God seem even more puny.  While some respond to our ever-expanding knowledge about creation by attempting to make our notions of God fit into the tight little containers that were crafted by our ancestors, some are seeking new ways to speak of the CREATOR OF ALL THAT IS, WAS OR EVER SHALL BE. How might a progressive approach to religion enable us to expand our images of the Divine MYSTERY? 

 

“In God We Live and Move and Have Our Being – Acts 17:22-31, Easter 6A

PanentheismThis coming Sunday’s first reading from the book of Acts provides an excellent opportunity to explore a vision of God that has all too often been ignored by institutional Christianity. While doctrines of the Trinity abound, the rich tradition of panentheism that permeates the writings of the mystics is neglected. For those of us who are attempting to reconcile all that we are learning about the realities of the cosmos with our visions of the ONE who lies at the very heart of reality, panentheism provides a way of speaking about God that moves us beyond theistic notions of personifications of the deity toward a deeper awareness of the presence of God in all things together with the assurance that everything is in God.

Let me begin by saying, that panentheism is, in and of itself, an evolving term. The term can be found in the works of German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, process theologian Alfred North Whithead, and more recently in the work of Juergen Moltmann, Matthew Fox, Philip Clayton and Marcus Borg (for Borg’s ideas about panentheism follow this link). The word itself is made up for three Greek words: pan = all, en = within, theism = god. Panentheism is used to describe God as ONE who is in everything.  Panentheism (unlike pantheism) does not stop with the notion that God is in everything, but goes on to posit that everything is God. God is in the universe and God transcends the universe. God is greater than the sum total of the universe. But the universe cannot be separated from God. We are in God and God is in us.  God breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.  

The term panentheism is proving helpful to Christians in the 21st century who are working to articulate our faith in light of all that we are learning about the universe. It is also invaluable to those of us who have a deep reverence for creation and are seeking ways to live in harmony with creation by treading lightly upon the earth. Panentheism is also a concept present in many faiths and provides us with a common way of speaking together about our Creator. But like all language the term fails to fully capture the nature of the Divine. It is merely a tool to help us think beyond the idols we have created to function as objects of our worship.

The Apostle Paul insisted that God is “the One in whom we live and breath and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28) As we look towards the heavens, we see an ever expanding new story of who we are. Just as Paul struggled to find ways to articulate the nature of the Divine to his contemporaries, Christians continue in every age to find ways to articulate the nature of the Divine to each new generation. We do not abandon the wisdom that has been offered by those who have gone before us. But we cannot ignore the wisdom that is being revealed to us here and now in our time and place within the communion of saints. 

Whenever we try to articulate what God IS, language fails us. For the most part, the institutional church has defined God with words and expected that members of the institution will confess loyalty to those words. Many of the words, with which the institution has traditionally described God, craft an image of God as a supernatural being up there or out there who is responsible for creation and from time to time interferes in the workings of creation. As we continue to learn more and more about the magnitude of creation, both in time and space, our traditional words about God seem ever more puny. While some respond to our ever-expanding knowledge about creation by attempting to make our notions of God fit into the tight little containers that were crafted by our ancestors, some are seeking new ways to speak of the CREATOR OF ALL THAT IS, WAS OR EVER SHALL BE. Often our attempts are as clumsy and as limited as the attempts of our ancestors. But sometimes, sometimes the likes of Tillich breathes new life into the notions of our ancestors and Paul’s description of our God as “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” becomes for us, as Tillich imagines, “the Ground of our Being”.

Below is a video that I have shown to Confirmation students (ages 12-15) as we begin to explore the great religious questions that have inspired wisdom seekers from the beginning of human consciousness: Who am I? What am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? etc. The responses of young people inspire me! I cannot wait to see what they will reveal to us about the nature of our reality! As you watch this video, I offer you a benediction. It is a blessing that I have adapted with permission from the work of John Shelby Spong.

God is the source of life, so worship God by living,

God is the source of love, so worship God by loving.

God is the ground of being, so worship God by having the courage

to be more fully human; the embodiment of the Divine.

SPONG Living pastordawn

Prayer: To Whom Shall We Go? Luke 11:1-13

PanentheismJesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel text Luke 11:1-13 begs the question: “To Whom Shall We Go?” Liberated from perceptions that reduce images of God to those of a cosmic superhero who abides up or out there ready to manipulate events here in the world at the request of those who pray, the activity of prayer takes on a whole new meaning and shape. Our images of who, where and what God is will direct our prayers in ways that impact our expectations of prayer. Who do we pray to and what we expect of the One who hears our prayers will shape how and why we pray.

Before we can even begin to understand what so much of the Christian tradition means when it talks about praying to God, we need to take a step back and look at what we mean when we say the word “god.” Throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions you can trace two very distinct ways of understanding and talking about God. Continue reading

Jesus: Human or Divine? – A Question for Palm Sunday

SPONG Living pastordawn“….when he returned to the city…Jesus entered the Temple precincts and began teaching. The chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing what you do? Who gave you this authority?’ And I,” replied Jesus, ‘Will ask you a single questions; if you give me the answer, I will tell you my authority for these actions. What was the origin of John’s right to baptize? Was it divine or was it human?” They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘divine,’ he will respond, ‘Then why did you refuse to believe him?” But if we say ‘human’ we have the people to fear, for they regard John as a prophet,’ So they replied to Jesus, “We don’t know.” (Matthew 23:23-27)

Divine or human? We don’t know? Really? Of course we know? Divine or Human? You bet we know! We’re just afraid to say. These few verses are usually ignored during the lead up to the big events of Holy Week. It seems to me, that they may well provide those of us who live in the 21st century about as much angst as they provided to people of the first century, but for entirely different reasons. I think perhaps, the writer of the gospel according to Matthew, whoever he was, may have been messing with his first century audience. “Human or divine?” was just as much of a loaded question in the first century as it is in the 21st century but for entirely different reasons. The writer of the Gospel According to Matthew may have placed the question in the mouth of Jesus, but today, just as I’m sure it did all those centuries ago, the question echoes back and forth between Jesus and the listeners to the narrative until it is not so much about John the Baptist’s authority to baptize as it is about Jesus himself. Which is exactly what the author designed the interchange to do in the hearts and minds of his listeners. “By what authority are you doing what you do? Who gave you this authority?”

In good rabbinic style the author of this text has Jesus reply to a question with a question. “I will ask you a single question; if you give me the answer, I will tell you my authority for these actions.” Do you want to know why I came riding in here on an ass? Do you want to know what gives me the right to mock your notions of Messiah? Do you want to know by whose authority I rube the Roman’s noses in it, parading into town mocking their leadership with a farce designed to make you laugh at the way they dare to laud their power over us? Do you want to know what or who gives me the right to march into the Temple at Passover and turn the place upside down, attacking the financial system that lies at the heart of our peoples’ collaboration with Roman oppression? Do you really want to know by whose authority I challenge the injustice that surrounds us? Do you really want to know? Well I’ll tell you if you answer me this? “What was the origin of John’s right to baptize? Come on you tell me. Was it divine or was it human?” They lopped of John’s head for daring to challenge injustice. Served it up on a silver platter for the crime of challenging Roman authority. Do you really want to challenge my authority? Human or divine? Come on tell me, I dare you.

They discussed it among themselves and they knew they were trapped. “If we say, ‘divine,” he will respond, ‘Then why did you refuse to believe him?” But if we say, ‘human” we have the people to fear, for they regard him as a prophet.” So they replied to Jesus, “We don’t know?”

Human or divine? We don’t know. Of course they knew! They know and we know. We are just afraid to say. Because if we say, we know full well what the next question will be and we don’t want to go there. Human or divine may not be a 21st century question. It is a question that has different implications in our day than it did back when the writer of the Gospel According to Matthew put it into the mouth of Jesus. To question someone’s authority in the first century meant pretty much what it does today. We, like our first century ancestors in the faith, want to know if Jesus has the right stuff to challenge the system. If Jesus has the right stuff; then maybe just maybe he’s worth paying attention to. Show us your credentials Jesus. We want to know who you are before we take any advice from you; especially advice that will have us taking a stand against the powers that be. Continue reading

As humanity evolves, may it evolve in ways that embody Divine compassion!

Krista Tippett’s TED talk from 2010 provides an “important linguistic resurrection” of the word compassion. Tippett sees compassion as kindness, curiosity, empathy, forgiveness and reconciliation, the simple act of presence, a willingness to see beauty in the other, and “for the religious compassion also brings us into the territory of ‘mystery’ encouraging us to see not just beauty but perhaps also to look for the face of God in the moment of suffering, in the face of a stranger, in the face of the vibrant religious other.”  

womblove pastorDawnIn his book “Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time”, New Testament scholar Marcus Borg writes about the Hebrew word for compassion ‘rakham’ – “The Hebrew word for ‘compassion’ whose singular form means ‘womb’ is often used of God in the Old Testament. It is translated as ‘merciful’ in the characterization of God as ‘gracious and merciful.’ It is present in that quite wonderful expression from the King James Bible the ‘tender mercies’ of God. It is found
in a passage in Jeremiah that has been translated as follows:

“Thus says Yahweh:
In Ephraim (Israel) my dear son? my darling child?
For the more I speak of him,
the more I do remember him.
Therefore my womb trembles for him;
I will truly show motherly-compassion upon him.

“Thus the Hebrew Bible speaks frequently of God as compassionate, with resonances of ‘womb’ close at hand.

“And so Jesus’ statement ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate’ is rooted in the Jewish tradition. As an image for the central quality of God, it is striking, To say that God is compassionate is to say that God is ‘like a womb,’ is ‘womblike,’ or, to coin a word that captures the flavor of the original Hebrew, ‘wombish.’ What does it suggest to say that God is like a womb? Metaphoric and evocative, the phrase and its associative image provocatively suggest a number of connotations. Like a womb, God is the one who gives birth to us — the mother who gives birth to us. As a mother loves the children of her womb and feels for the children of her womb, so God loves us and feels for us, for all of her children. In its sense of ‘like a womb,’ compassionate has nuances of giving life, nourishing, caring, perhaps embracing and encompassing. For Jesus, this is what God is like.

“And, to complete the imitatio dei, to ‘be compassionate as God is compassionate’ is to be like a womb as God is like a womb. It is to feel as God feels and to act as God acts: in a life-giving and nourishing way. ‘To be compassionate’ is what is meant in the New Testament by the somewhat more abstract command ‘to love.’ According to Jesus, compassion is to be the central quality of a life faithful to God the compassionate one.”

Tippett’s storytelling helps us to connect with the divine image which exists within our flawed humanity. She insists that the flaws we see in compassionate people liberates us from our modern obsession with perfection and gives us the courage to be compassionate. Tippett paraphrases Albert Einstein to remind us that, “the future of humanity needs this technology as much as it needs all the others that have now connected us and set before us the terrifying and wondrous possibility of actually becoming one human race.”

Among progressive-christians the word ‘panentheism” – literally “all in god” is used to express the notion that, all is in god and god is in all. One way of understanding panentheisim is to expand on Acts 17:28 “In God we live and move and have our being” with a blessing I often use when I lead worship: “God dwells in, with, through, and beyond us.” To imagine the Divine Womb-Love in which we live and move and have our being dwelling in, with, through, and beyond us provides a compelling way of living into our Divine/Human compassionate-selves.   As humanity evolves, may it evolve in ways that embody Divine compassion!

“In God We Live and Move and Have Our Being – Acts 17:22-31, Easter 6A

PanentheismThis coming Sunday’s first reading from the book of Acts provides an excellent opportunity to explore a vision of God that has all too often been ignored by institutional Christianity. While doctrines of the Trinity abound, the rich tradition of panentheism that permeates the writings of the mystics is neglected. For those of us who are attempting to reconcile all that we are learning about the realities of the cosmos with our visions of the ONE who lies at the very heart of reality, panentheism provides a way of speaking about God that moves us beyond theistic notions of personifications of the deity toward a deeper awareness of the presence of God in all things together with the assurance that everything is in God.

Let me begin by saying, that panentheism is, in and of itself, an evolving term. The term can be found in the works of German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, process theologian Alfred North Whithead, and more recently in the work of Juergen Moltmann, Matthew Fox, Philip Clayton and Marcus Borg (for Borg’s ideas about panentheism follow this link). The word itself is made up for three Greek words: pan = all, en = within, theism = god. Panentheism is used to describe God as ONE who is in everything.  Panentheism (unlike pantheism) does not stop with the notion that God is in everything, but goes on to posit that everything is God. God is in the universe and God transcends the universe. God is greater than the sum total of the universe. But the universe cannot be separated from God. We are in God and God is in us.  God breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.  

The term panentheism is proving helpful to Christians in the 21st century who are working to articulate our faith in light of all that we are learning about the universe. It is also invaluable to those of us who have a deep reverence for creation and are seeking ways to live in harmony with creation by treading lightly upon the earth. Panentheism is also a concept present in many faiths and provides us with a common way of speaking together about our Creator. But like all language the term fails to fully capture the nature of the Divine. It is merely a tool to help us think beyond the idols we have created to function as objects of our worship.

The Apostle Paul insisted that God is “the One in whom we live and breath and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28) As we look towards the heavens, we see an ever expanding new story of who we are. Just as Paul struggled to find ways to articulate the nature of the Divine to his contemporaries, Christians continue in every age to find ways to articulate the nature of the Divine to each new generation. We do not abandon the wisdom that has been offered by those who have gone before us. But we cannot ignore the wisdom that is being revealed to us here and now in our time and place within the communion of saints. 

Whenever we try to articulate what God IS, language fails us. For the most part, the institutional church has defined God with words and expected that members of the institution will confess loyalty to those words. Many of the words, with which the institution has traditionally described God, craft an image of God as a supernatural being up there or out there who is responsible for creation and from time to time interferes in the workings of creation. As we continue to learn more and more about the magnitude of creation, both in time and space, our traditional words about God seem ever more puny. While some respond to our ever-expanding knowledge about creation by attempting to make our notions of God fit into the tight little containers that were crafted by our ancestors, some are seeking new ways to speak of the CREATOR OF ALL THAT IS, WAS OR EVER SHALL BE. Often our attempts are as clumsy and as limited as the attempts of our ancestors. But sometimes, sometimes the likes of Tillich breathes new life into the notions of our ancestors and Paul’s description of our God as “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” becomes for us, as Tillich imagines, “the Ground of our Being”.

Below is a video that I have shown to Confirmation students (ages 12-15) as we begin to explore the great religious questions that have inspired wisdom seekers from the beginning of human consciousness: Who am I? What am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? etc. The responses of young people inspire me! I cannot wait to see what they will reveal to us about the nature of our reality! As you watch this video, I offer you a benediction. It is a blessing that I have adapted with permission from the work of John Shelby Spong.

God is the source of life, so worship God by living,

God is the source of love, so worship God by loving.

God is the ground of being, so worship God by having the courage

to be more fully human; the embodiment of the Divine.

SPONG Living pastordawn

Whose Persistence? Preparing to Preach on the Parable of the Pleading Widow

pleading widowLooking back on a sermon I preached six years ago on this week’s readings from Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8, I am struck by how much my own images of the Divine One we call God have changed and yet remain oddly similar. The intervening years have afforded me the opportunities to begin to leave behind notions of an anthropomorphic God who intervenes in our lives. As I have embraced the writings of progressive and evolutionary theologians, I have struggled to understand and articulate God’s nature from the perspective of panentheism (everything is in God). There are those who suggest that this is a departure from the Christian tradition. Yet looking back, I am beginning to see this movement as a natural progression of the tradition. Indeed, so much of what I have always loved about Lutheran theology has freed me to explore this path. So, I offer this old sermon as a snapshot of my own pathway toward new visions of the Divine. I trust that my early efforts to move beyond the notion of God as the “unjust judge” will move some to begin to see God in, with, and through all those who persistently plead for justice. 

What little I know about the art of wrestling I learned from my brother Alan. He and I are just eighteen months apart in age and together we participated in many a wrestling match. All too often one or the other of us would be bothering the other and before we knew it we were rolling around on the floor wrestling. I’ll have you know that up until the age of about twelve I was quite a good wrestler. Up to that point I usually managed to hold my brother to the ground and with my knees firmly pinning his arms I would be able to get my brother to agree to my point of view. But my brother’s adolescent growth spurt put an end to my winning streak. Just as soon as my brother was big enough to pin me to the ground I decided to stop bothering him. Bothering my brother became dangerous and I had to give it up in order to save my dignity. Continue reading

Preparing to Preach on Prayer: To Whom Shall We Go?

PanentheismAs I continue to work on this Sunday’s sermon, (see earlier posts here and here) Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel text Luke 11:1-13 begs the question: “To Whom Shall We Go?” Liberated from perceptions that reduce images of God to those of a cosmic superhero who abides up or out there ready to manipulate events here in the world at the request of those who pray, the activity of prayer takes on a whole new meaning and shape. Our images of who, where and what God is will direct our prayers in ways that impact our expectations of prayer. Who do we pray to and what we expect of the One who hears our prayers will shape how and why we pray.

Before we can even begin to understand what so much of the Christian tradition means when it talks about praying to God, we need to take a step back and look at what we mean when we say the word “god.” Throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions you can trace two very distinct ways of understanding and talking about God. Continue reading

GOD Within ALL, ALL Within GOD

spirial shellYesterday’s post in which I mentioned panentheism certainly prompted some interesting questions from various readers. So, even though I’ve written, preached and posted about panentheism many times, I thought I’d provide a fuller explanation of what I mean when I use the this word which I believe provides a way of articulating our reality that is both helpful and hopeful.

Let me begin by saying, that panentheism is, in and of itself, an evolving term. The term can be found in the works of German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, process theologian Alfred North Whithead, and more recently in the work of Juergen Moltmann, Matthew Fox, Philip Clayton and Marcus Borg. The word itself is made up for three Greek words: pan = all, en = within, theism = god. Panentheism is used to describe God as ONE who is in everything.  Panentheism (unlike pantheism) does not stop with the notion that God is in everything, but goes on to posit that everything is God. God is in the universe and God transcends the universe. God is greater than the sum total of the universe. But the universe cannot be separated from God. We are in God and God is in us.  God breathes in, with, and through us.  

The term panentheism is proving helpful to Christians in the 21st century who are working to articulate our faith in light of all that we are learning about the universe. It is also invaluable to those of us who have a deep reverence for creation and are seeking ways to live in harmony with creation by treading lightly upon the earth. Panentheism is also a concept present in many faiths and provides us with a common way of speaking together about our Creator. But like all language the term fails to fully capture the nature of the Divine. It is merely a tool to help us think beyond the idols we have created to function as objects of our worship.

The Apostle Paul insisted that God is “the One in whom we live and breath and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28) As we look towards the heavens, we see an ever expanding new story of who we are. Just as Paul struggled to find ways to articulate the nature of the Divine to his contemporaries, Christians continue in every age to find ways to articulate the nature of the Divine to each new generation. We do not abandon the wisdom that has been offered by those who have gone before us. But we cannot ignore the wisdom that is being revealed to us here and now in our time and place within the communion of saints. 

Below is a video that I have shown to Confirmation students (ages 12-15) as we begin to explore the great religious questions that have inspired wisdom seekers from the beginning of human consciousness: Who am I? What am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? etc. The responses of young people inspire me! I cannot wait to see what they will reveal to us about the nature of our reality! As you watch this video, I offer you a benediction. It is a blessing that I have adapted with permission from the work of John Shelby Spong.

God is the source of life, so worship God by living,

God is the source of love, so worship God by loving.

God is the ground of being, so worship God by having the courage

to be more fully human; the embodiment of the Divine.

SPONG swirl

God: Supernatural Theism or Panentheism?

Marcus borgWhenever we try to articulate what God IS, language fails us. For the most part, the institutional church has defined God with words and expected that members of the institution will confess loyalty to those words. Many of the words, with which the institution has traditionally described God, craft an image of God as a supernatural being up there or out there who is responsible for creation and from time to time interferes in the workings of creation. As we continue to learn more and more about the magnitude of creation, both in time and space, our traditional words about God seem ever more puny. While some respond to our ever-expanding knowledge about creation by attempting to make our notions of God fit into the tight little containers that were crafted by our ancestors, some are seeking new ways to speak of the CREATOR OF ALL THAT IS, WAS OR EVER SHALL BE. Often our attempts are as clumsy and as limited as the attempts of our ancestors. But sometimes, sometimes the likes of Tillich breathes new life into the notions of our ancestors and Paul’s description of our God as  “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” becomes for us, as Tillich imagines, “the Ground of our Being”.  

So, with a spirit of discovery and wonder, I encourage you to listen to Marcusfish in water Borg’s attempt  to describe our God. Borg’s efforts take us beyond the Ground of our Being toward a panentheistic understanding of God in all things and all things in God.  Please note: panentheism is not pantheism – pantheism means God is in everything – so God can be worshipped by worshipping nature because God is in nature. Panentheism means everything is in God and God is in everything – so – God breathes in, with, through, and beyond us, and we intern are in God – everything is in God but God is more than the sum of everything. A panentheistic view of God does not preclude thinking of God as personal – but it does understand that God is more than personal. 

While I don’t agree with everything Borg says in this video, it is a wonderful place to begin to think about expanding our way of speaking of the Divine. As long as we remember that our language will always fail to capture the wonders of our God.

The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity – Adult Ed. Class

living the questions bk

Having worked our way through the Living the Questions 2 and Saving Jesus dvd series, our Adult Education Class is using the book: Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity as a frame for our review of progressive Christian theology. Each week I will post the video clips that were used during the class. This week’s class consisted of an introduction as well as an exploration of what it means to move beyond definitions of the Divine toward the reality of unknowing. 

Thinking Theologically

“We must get away from this theistic supernatural God that imperils our humanity and come back to a God who permeates life so deeply that our humanity becomes the very means through which we experience the Divine Presence.”  John Shelby Spong

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKmkAAC?p=1 width=”550″ height=”443″]

Opening to the Embrace of the DIVINE

cosmic eyeWhen we begin to let go of the various images we have fashioned into the idol that for so long has been the focus of our worship, we open ourselves to the embrace of the ONE who is so much more than we can possibly imagine or describe.  We live in a culture that encourages us to abdicate our role of peering   beyond our fears in order to  catch a glimpse of the HOLY so that we can become like children who faithfully follow in the footsteps of the loud and the powerful. And so, we have settled for definitions and images of the DIVINE that are mere talismans from which we dare only to ask for good fortune to somehow come our way.   Letting go of the  grand-pupiteer-in-the-sky-father-god is not easy. Moving beyond the idolatry born of our fears requires a faith that trusts that our movement is supported by the ONE we seek. 

I offer this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s testimony (I use this term in its full religious sense because Tyson’s proclamation represents the best of what this medium of communicating a profound experience can be) as a way to inspire questions about the nature of the DIVINE.

Tyson’s testimony about his encounters with the universe open me to an understanding of the DIVINE that has been described as panentheism which suggests that all of creation is in God and God is in all of creation; (pan=all, en=in, theism=god). Panentheism is not to be confused with pantheism which looks at the tree and sees god and so worships the tree.  Panentheism sees the tree as sacred because it is in God who is also in all that is. Where Tyson sees us held by the universe, I wonder if the universe is another way of speaking of the MYSTERY we call GOD, or is the universe held in God, and if so how might we begin to relate to all the various aspects of the universe knowing that that are both in and of God?  

Such an image of the DIVINE implies that everything that is is held in God and so all that is is sacred. It also means that as we move beyond our fears God is the very GROUND OF OUR BEING (Tillich). With all that is being revealed to us about the wonders of creation, can we begin to move beyond our idols trusting that as we put one foot in front of the other, God will uphold us? As we leave behind the talismans can we begin to seek more than merely good fortune and turn our ardent desires toward the adventure of an ever evolving universe? I wonder, can we possibly begin to feel the tender embrace of the DIVINE?

Discovering the Sacred in Everything – Mary Oliver

Discovering this video of Mary Oliver reading her poetry is like running into an old friend . I have not communed with her work for a long time and listening to her read her work reminds me to look for the sacred in all things for all things are in the Divine and the Divine is in all. Oliver puts flesh upon my panentheist  musing. Enjoy!

New Beginnings

So many new beginnings: Back to work this week; a new beginning. Team Ministry; a new beginning. As students and teachers head back to school, churches begin a new program year. At Holy Cross we are are using the Alternate Lectionary (scripture readings) for Creation and this Sunday’s readings call for a celebration of Humanity. The first reading is the Hebrew creation myth found in the first chapter of Genesis; the all too familiar story. Churches have been telling this particular story of our beginning for centuries. Standing here at the beginning of a new century makes me wonder why we don’t tell a new story of our beginning.

When I begin to study the Genesis story with Confirmation Students, I ask them to imagine our ancestors sitting around a campfire asking one another, “What’s it all about? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Who are we?” Looking back at how we once approached these questions of meaning is a perfectly fine exercise. But we can’t stop there. It’s time for us to change the scene so that it better reflects who we are here and now. Gone is the campfire. Gone is the three-tired universe. Gone is the belief that Genesis is history.

The time has come for us to imagine a different gathering at which the same questions emerge. Only this time those who have gathered can reach into their pockets and take out their mobile devices to access the wisdom of the ages. This time a new myth emerges to capture our imaginations, a new myth from within which we can begin to imagine who we are, where we came from, why we are here and where we are going???

So this Sunday our first reading will not come to us from the book of Genesis. This Sunday we will begin our celebration of humanity by telling a new creation myth, one that emerges from the wealth of knowledge that science offers us. I can’t wait to begin!

20th CENTURY MYSTIC – Teilhard de Chardin

“Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a mystic whose explorations of creation landed him in hot water with his beloved Roman Catholic Church and propelled him toward visions of a cosmos whose very life-blood is Love. 

Published posthumously, Teilhard’s “Le Phenomene Humain” reads more like the work of a progressive 21st century christian theologian or scientest than that of a devoted 20th century Jesuit priest/biologist/palaeontologist. Teilhard paints a poetic vision that modern theologians would call a panentheistic view of the cosmos (pan: all + theo: god = god is in all and all is in god).  

As I work my way through Sarah Appleton-Weber’s translation, “The Human Phenomenon” I am also enjoying Ersula King’s excellent biography “Spirit of Fire”. King is Professor Emerita of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol, and a vice president of the World Congress of Faiths. Her specific areas of expertise are in the life and work of Teilhard. Below you will find her lecture  which provides an excellent overview of Teilhard de Chardin and the “Contemporary Mystic Quest”  (in 5 parts).  Whether you know a great deal about his life and work, or nothing at all, I commend it to you. But beware, it will wet your appetite for more.  

‘WE ARE ALL THE UNIVERSE BECOMING MORE AWARE OF ITSELF” Rev. Michael Dowd

Michael Dowd, a self-proclaimed Evolutionary Evangelist is committed to spreading the good news that evolution is humanity’s common creation story as he proclaims that science illuminates the evidence with which God is communicating to humans today.

Inspired by the work of Fr. Thomas Berry who portrayed the epic of evolution as a sacred story Dowd seeks to popularize Berry’s insistence that humanity is the universe becoming conscious of itself. 

Dowd’s work is especially intriguing to this particular 21st century pastor who connects to the cosmos from the perspective of panentheism (God is in everything and everything is in God). Evolutionary Christianity is an exciting way of using the explosions in scientific evidence to illuminate our religious quest to understand our place in the cosmos. 

I am indebted to a blog-follower from South Africa for linking me to this excellent video by New Hampshire Outlook that explores the work of the Rev. Michael Dowd. In addition to a fabulous interview this video provides an enticing overview of Evolutionary Christianity that will leave you wanting to learn more.  You can begin by visiting Evolutionary Christianity’s Blog. I’m anxiously waiting for my copy of Dowd’s “Thank God for Evolution” to explore more of Dowd’s insights.

Open to the MYSTERY

“Infinity always gives me vertigo and fills me up with grace.”

 Bruce Cockburn

 

In pondering MYSTERY we are always indebted to those who have gone before us.

What follows relies on the work of Brian McLaren and process theologian James Murray

A while back, I went to a lecture given by Brian McLaren. Brian McLaren is one of the leaders of what is being called the Emerging Church Movement, which is a movement that is trying to articulate a new kind of Christianity for the 21st century. McLaren told us a story about a friend of his named John who lives in South Africa.

John is a very wealthy successful Zulu who belongs to a Pentecostal church that preaches what is called the prosperity gospel. This is movement that insists that if you have enough faith God will see to it that you prosper and become very wealthy. Well John belongs to a very large Pentecostal church in South Africa that has tens of thousands of member. John is a very wealthy and successful businessman.  And in John’s church if you are rich you gain entry to the inner circle of the pastor and you are called an Armor Bearer.

But after being involved as an Armor Bearer for many years John becomes disillusioned. John says,  “I’m rich but a whole lot of other members of the church who are good faithful people are poor.”  These folks have been doing everything the pastor has taught them to do and for some reason God just isn’t rewarding these poor folks with riches. The pastor keeps laying hands on them and they are not getting rich. It’s worked for me, but I just can’t figure out why it’s not working for them.” So John starts to have doubts about the prosperity gospel and he is deep in doubt.

A couple of years ago John comes to his friend Brian McLaren and he tells him that he has decided to put his faith to a test. John announces that he is going to read Richard Dawkins book the God Delusion. Now for those of you who haven’t heard or read about Richard Dawkins, he is an atheist who has written several books on the fact that God is dead or just an illusion and that people of the 21st century should just get over it. So, John says he’s going to put his faith to the test and read the God Delusion and put it all on the line.  John says that, “If I become convinced by Richard Dawkins, I will give up my faith and become an atheist.”

So John starts reading, and he’s just going to put it all on the line. It’s sort of a good Pentecostal test.  And John tells his friend, “Brian, I’m a good Pentecostal and I know how to hear the voice of the Lord.  And one morning I was taking a shower and the Holy Spirit spoke to me. And the Spirit said, “This man Richard Dawkins speaks the truth.”

So John says to his friend, “Brian what do I do with this? I know the voice of God and God has told me that Richard Dawkins is speaking the truth.”

Well John is a good businessman and he doesn’t have much formal education, but he wants to figure this out. And he says to his friend, “Brian I just had to live with this terrible paradox in my mind. That God has told me that Dawkins is speaking the truth. And months went by and I was in turmoil about this.” And then he said, “It gradually began to dawn on me that the God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is the God that the missionaries brought to my people. And it was a white god and a colonial god and that god was used to justify putting all of my people in a position of subservience.” And he said that, “It gradually began to dawn on me that Richard Dawkins is killing a god who needs to be killed.” And he said, “The strangest thing happened after this, I found myself loving Jesus Christ more than ever. Because I realized that Jesus was trying to reveal another vision of God, a vision other than the God who kills and destroys and dominates and judges.”

In Jesus’ parable: “people never put new wine in an old wineskin. If they do, the new wine will burst the skin; the wine will spill out and the skin will be ruined. No, new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. People never want new wine after they’ve been drinking the old. They say, ‘We like the old better’.”

Jesus reveals a vision of a God who is beyond our tribal instincts and understandings; a vision of a God who is beyond our fears. And yet, all too often we prefer the old God better. We long for the supernatural being out there separate from the world who from time to time intervenes in the world; that old God who is out there and who can’t be known directly, but only believed in; that old God who sits waiting on a cloud for us to die so that he can judge us and forgive us and reward us. We like the old wine better than the new wine.  And we have these old wine skins so we try putting the new wine that Jesus brings in those old skins, hoping that they will contain it. But the new wine burst the skins and pours out all over the place.

It’s the 21st century and nobody uses wine skins anymore. Why last year when we toured the vineyards of Niagara we learned that nobody’s using cork anymore. The best of the new wine comes to us in screw-top bottles. We’ve moved on and we’ve learned all sorts of things about creation, and that knowledge of creation has expanded our vision of God in ways our ancestors could never have imagined. It’s time to let the old vision of God die.

It’s time to open ourselves to what Christ has and is revealing to us about a vision of God that moves beyond our fears; a vision of God that is reflected in the cosmos as we are beginning to understand it; a vision of God that enhances our knowledge of God and calls forth a spirituality in us that sustains us in our daily living; a vision of God that helps us to experience God.

By peeling back the layers of the tradition of the Church, by unpacking the generations of theological doctrine, scholars are beginning to see a vision of God that Jesus spoke of. The new vision revealed to us in Christ, is one that reflects the reality that, “God is in the world and the world is in God and God is more than the world.” This is a vision of a relational God; a God who is intimate with the world.

We may long for the all-powerful King God, who with the stroke of his arm imposes his will upon the world, but who among us can be intimate with such a god. Is such an all-powerful God even capable of intimacy or would it be like you or I trying to caress an amoeba.

The ancient mystics found in the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures the vision of God that Jesus lived and died to reveal. They found a vision of God with us, who is compassionate and directing, using our freedom and responsibility, and calling us to use these for the good of others as well as ourselves. A vision of God that emphasizes that, although God is always an important factor in what happens, God does not control history. God is in us and we are in God but we are also members one of another, and our lives are interwoven with the wider natural context of creation as well.

God’s power is relational power as opposed to unilateral power. Unilateral power is by nature coercive—imagine the old god, the cosmic moralist, and ruling like an absolute king. This image is of a God who gives, but does not receive; acts but does not listen; demands but does not compromise; this image of God makes spirituality difficult because it ignores our identities as God’s beloved creatures, it ignores our desires.

The vision of God that Christ reveals is of a God whose power is relational, a God who gives, but also receives, acts but also responds, has a vision but is open to change and transformation. Christ reveals an image of God who creates and gives freedom and creativity to creation. Freedom and creativity are intrinsic to each of us and relational power works to value that by offering a dream or aim to each of us. The future is created out of response and anticipation. The idea of relational power is dependent on diversity, actually welcomes diversity, and offers novelty to each nano second of experience.

Christ’s image of God affirms that God has a vision, appropriate to each moment of experience and, in the broadest sense, for the vast expanses of planetary and cosmic history. God is omnipresent, in all things so there are no God forsaken places. In each moment God presents the world with possibilities. God calls us into God’s dream of the future; a dream of peace and justice and peace for all God’s creation.

If we are in God then what we do matters.  What we do and who we are impacts God. What we do can limit God, but can never defeat God. For in each moment the dream is revised and offered back to us. We can refuse but God does not stop, for there are some who listen and they will guide us. God leads us by persuasion and Christ empowers us by expanding our freedom to be what God is calling us to be, and the Spirit lives and breathes in with and through us.

All of creation is interconnected and intimately related to the Creator.  This expansive vision of God cannot be stuffed into the old wine skins of the institution. New ways of worshipping, new ways of praying, new ways of understanding will move us beyond the old image of God which has soured and turned to vinegar in those old wine skins.

Images of God are but pale reflections of God. Worshipping images of God is a problem as old as time itself.  Such worship has an ancient name. It’s called idolatry. We are called to worship God, not a pale reflection of God. So, our worship will always be incomplete for we peer through a glass darkly. So let us worship with humility, trusting Christ to show us the way.  Let us worship together, mindful that our words and rituals will fail to capture the wonders and mystery of our God, but open to the possibility that together we might capture a glimpse of God or feel the touch of God, or hear the love of God, or recognize the gifts of God as we worship together.

Let us always be prepared to let an image of God die. For we are a people who claim the power of resurrection and we know that in death there is new life. God will come to us again and again, touching, caressing, nudging, persuading, cajoling, imploring, healing, soothing; sometimes shouting, sometimes whispering, often just embracing.

God will be who God will be.  YAHWEH.

Our images of God will come and go, but God remains steadfast. The new wine that comes to us in the life of Christ brings us a foretaste of the feast to come; a taste that reminds us of our connectedness to God and to one another; a sacred connectedness.

So let our prayers open us to the reality of that connection. Let our deeds reflect the confidence that our freedom to act can change the world. Let us be about ushering in the reign of God that Jesus taught. A reign of justice and peace, where each one of God’s children is treasured as God’s beloved.

Let us live with confidence trusting that God is the source of our being.

Let us walk together trusting that God is the ground of our being.

Let us be all that we were created to be.

Jesus said over and over again, in words and in deeds: “Do not be afraid.”

So let us have the courage to drink the new wine that Christ offers and if it tastes a little strange to our palates, drink again, let the flavor move us to a new understanding, a new way of relating, a new way of being.

Let us open ourselves to the reflections of God that are all around us – open ourselves to the God who lives within us.