A Reversal

In a presentation at Hardin-Simmons University, David Benner (You Tube – https://youtu.be/3hkO1ZmQ56Y) tells the story of a friend who gave up his church membership because he found that religion added nothing to his spirituality. Later he indicated that he found that his spirituality was too anti-intellectual and offering nothing to his humanity. That story sounds like a modern parable raising questions about the way the church has operated throughout the centuries – bring people into membership (religion), help them grow in their faith (spirituality), and then move them into mission (humanity).

The Seeker Church movement adapted that model to what they thought was a modern mindset– entice people with an entertaining style of worship (religion), once in the door engage them in serious faith growth (spirituality), and … The problem was that, while thousands of people thronged to the worship / entertainment extravaganzas on Sunday mornings, only a much smaller sub-set was willing to be involved in continuing programs to develop their faith or move them into mission. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral seems to have undergone a similar fate.

As the number of “spiritual but not religious” grows and church participation continues at exceedingly low numbers, perhaps it is time to explore other options, models that are not based on the same assumptions – namely, religion is the precursor of spirituality which produces an integrated humankind. What if that model were reversed?

What if the primary focus were on what it means to be fully human, engaged wholesomely in the human community – caring for those in need, going green, building up relational infra-structures, ensuring tender justice for all, standing in solidarity with those who seem to be different from the norm, ensuring that no one is marginalized or dis-enfranchised, protecting the weak, feeding the hungry, …? Then, out of the striving for human (humane) concerns, a need is felt – a need for something more, something deeper, something sacred.

The community of human activity can’t exist on activity alone. We are a meaning-seeking people. We have a deeply implanted need to pay attention to that unheard inner voice that has been calling us into action, enticing us beyond ourselves. That insistence comes from the depths of mystery, the depths of our human unconsciousness. Mystery is woven into our being and must be attended to or we will run out of steam with our attempts to put our humanity into action. The development of our spirituality becomes essential, not to the deepening our church membership or upholding our religious practices, but to the living of our lives. Life itself calls forth the engagement with our inner self.

But spirituality itself can become so alluring that it distracts us from our activity in the world, from our growth into personal wholeness and maturity. The spiritual masters have suggested practices to their novices. Those practices are designed to support the spiritual formation while keeping the novice engaged in the world around. We call the collection of those practices religion and communities of practice are called religious associations (churches, temples, mosques, fellowships, etc.)

What would happen if a congregation’s new member class were a week-long mission trip to an inner city soup kitchen, or engaging in a Habitat for Humanity building blitz, or assisting medical personnel at a health clinic in Haiti, or preparing meals at the Sacred Stone camp of Native Americans in North Dakota? What if those new members were committed not only to the mission enterprise but also to a year-long weekly small group experience in which they would debrief their experiences and explore the spiritual dimensions of their personal growth during and after those experiences? What if one of the questions to be explored during the small group experience were “What practices might I need to continue my growth in faith and how might I regularize them in my life?”

What might result from such a reversal sounds more like Gordon Cosby’s experiment that became known as the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., or Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA, than what is happening in most of our congregations today.

Is such a reversal possible? Yes! Is it probable? That is up to you and me…

In a presentation at Hardin-Simmons University, David Benner (You Tube – https://youtu.be/3hkO1ZmQ56Y) tells the story of a friend who gave up his church membership because he found that religion added nothing to his spirituality. Later he indicated that he found that his spirituality was too anti-intellectual and offering nothing to his humanity. That story sounds like a modern parable raising questions about the way the church has operated throughout the centuries – bring people into membership (religion), help them grow in their faith (spirituality), and then move them into mission (humanity).

The Seeker Church movement adapted that model to what they thought was a modern mindset– entice people with an entertaining style of worship (religion), once in the door engage them in serious faith growth (spirituality), and … The problem was that, while thousands of people thronged to the worship / entertainment extravaganzas on Sunday mornings, only a much smaller sub-set was willing to be involved in continuing programs to develop their faith or move them into mission. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral seems to have undergone a similar fate.

As the number of “spiritual but not religious” grows and church participation continues at exceedingly low numbers, perhaps it is time to explore other options, models that are not based on the same assumptions – namely, religion is the precursor of spirituality which produces an integrated humankind. What if that model were reversed?

What if the primary focus were on what it means to be fully human, engaged wholesomely in the human community – caring for those in need, going green, building up relational infra-structures, ensuring tender justice for all, standing in solidarity with those who seem to be different from the norm, ensuring that no one is marginalized or dis-enfranchised, protecting the weak, feeding the hungry, …? Then, out of the striving for human (humane) concerns, a need is felt – a need for something more, something deeper, something sacred.

The community of human activity can’t exist on activity alone. We are a meaning-seeking people. We have a deeply implanted need to pay attention to that unheard inner voice that has been calling us into action, enticing us beyond ourselves. That insistence comes from the depths of mystery, the depths of our human unconsciousness. Mystery is woven into our being and must be attended to or we will run out of steam with our attempts to put our humanity into action. The development of our spirituality becomes essential, not to the deepening our church membership or upholding our religious practices, but to the living of our lives. Life itself calls forth the engagement with our inner self.

But spirituality itself can become so alluring that it distracts us from our activity in the world, from our growth into personal wholeness and maturity. The spiritual masters have suggested practices to their novices. Those practices are designed to support the spiritual formation while keeping the novice engaged in the world around. We call the collection of those practices religion and communities of practice are called religious associations (churches, temples, mosques, fellowships, etc.)

What would happen if a congregation’s new member class were a week-long mission trip to an inner city soup kitchen, or engaging in a Habitat for Humanity building blitz, or assisting medical personnel at a health clinic in Haiti, or preparing meals at the Sacred Stone camp of Native Americans in North Dakota? What if those new members were committed not only to the mission enterprise but also to a year-long weekly small group experience in which they would debrief their experiences and explore the spiritual dimensions of their personal growth during and after those experiences? What if one of the questions to be explored during the small group experience were “What practices might I need to continue my growth in faith and how might I regularize them in my life?”

What might result from such a reversal sounds more like Gordon Cosby’s experiment that became known as the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., or Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA, than what is happening in most of our congregations today.

Is such a reversal possible? Yes! Is it probable? That is up to you and me…

Psalm 120

Psalm 120  
In my distress I cry to the Lord,that he may answer me:2 “Deliver me, O Lord,from lying lips,from a deceitful tongue.”  3 What shall be given to you?And what more shall be done to you,you deceitful tongue?4 A warrior’s sharp arrows,with glowing coals of the broom tree!  5 Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,that I must live among the tents of Kedar.6 Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.7 I am for peace; but when I speak,they are for war.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.] 

I am distressed when I experience no insistence upon me.  O Lord, insist! I want to be set free from thinking that I can reason “it” all out by myself.  When I do so I become a charlatan to myself. So full of myself, I can hardly hear God’s calling. I shoot myself in the foot. Nay, in both feet! I feel as if I am in an alien land, living in an armed camp among those who want to do anything except that which bears the name of God. Perhaps. If only I would listen to God’s audacious insistence I could resist their (and my) inclination toward the un-called-for.

Psalm 8

Psalm 8

1 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth! You made your glory higher than heaven! 2 From the mouths of nursing babies you have laid a strong foundation because of your foes, in order to stop vengeful enemies. 3 When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made— the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place— 4  what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? 5 You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur. 6 You’ve let them rule over your handiwork, putting everything under their feet— 7 all sheep and all cattle, the wild animals too,8 the birds in the sky, the fish of the ocean, everything that travels the pathways of the sea. 9 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth! (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Audacious Lord, in place of omnipotence and omnipresence, you have chosen to be present as awesome insistence. The only access we have to that which we name as God (Perhaps!) is by attending to that unheard calling that echoes deep within us. When we are are open as new-born infants we find ourselves to be related to the stars in the heavens. We are, indeed, made of stardust and yet we seem to have a divine imprint stamped upon our beings. Our response to your awesome insistence increases divine presence in the world and moves us just a step closer to that ideal Comonwealth of Peace and Justice that Yeshua taught and lived. When we act as citizens of that Commonwealth, it is the name of God that is praised. Perhaps.

Quantum Theology

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“Creative Commons parallel worlds” by Alice Popkorn is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Quantum physics has led us into a new world of understanding (and incredulity). Separate a particle into two parts and they communicate faster than the speed of light no matter how much distance separates them. And, what you choose to observe determines what you actually see — that is, an atom can be investigated in terms of its locality or measured as to its speed (one or the other, but not both).

In a like manner, what you expect to see / experience with reference to God determines God’s actuality. Classical theologians take a snapshot of God (locality) and generalize from that snapshot to God’s being. Process theologians examine how God functions (speed) over time and generalize God’s function. John Cobb is a pre-eminent process theologian. Ironically, in his recent work (Jesus’ Abba) he sounds more like a classical theologian who has taken a snapshot from which to draw his conclusions.

Radical theology suggests a more sweeping approach — a pox on both your houses. Instead of God’s essence or God’s processes, Nicholas of Cusa says “God is possibility itself (posse ipsum).” John Caputo says “God doesn’t exist; God insists.” What is at stake here, drawing upon quantum physics, is not what we observe about God. Instead, my primary concern is for the relationship between us as observers and that which we observe and name as God. Relationality becomes primary in the quantum world, and in anything involving human beings.

To observe God as possibility itself is to suggest that for me — as one who stands within the tradition of Yeshua — compassion, peace, and justice are not only possible, but they constitute the highest aspirations for my life in community. Once I mention aspirations the possible has become inspirations; the possibilities have become potentials. Possibilities in God have no force, no demand, in and of themselves. They are simply indiscriminate possibilities. When I apprehend one or more of these possibilities as being for me, they begin to take on a passion (a potency) which is not implanted in me from an external God, but from within. They become God having taken up residence within me. Because those potentials are bound with an inner passion, I am likely to move to actualize them. When the possibility that has become a potential is becoming actualized, then it can be said that God is alive and active in the world in and through my activity.

It is possible that I might take up where Mother Theresa left off, caring for the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. It’s a possibility, but has no potential for me. A 30 day silent retreat is certainly a possibility for you. But when I talk about my 30 day silent retreat, you may know immediately that you have no aspiration for such a journey. Together you and I may explore the possibility of engaging in a mission with the homeless, only to learn that the possibilities to which you are drawn don’t appeal to me, and likewise my favorites are not on your list of favorites… until you suggest that we join a project to build 20 Habitat for Humanity houses. Your aspiration and my passion found a common potency and a possibility became a potentiality and is awaiting our putting it into action.

God does not have a pre-determined plan form my life that I am to discern and follow obediently. Instead there is a divinely-rooted possibility that I may discern and act upon such a possibility (and of course, I might not). The other reality is that my enactment of the possibilities of compassion, peace, and justice may be different from yours (less complete, more complete, or even in a different direction). My hope is that we may find some common ground so that our actions might complement and build upon each other. 

Posse Ipsum (God is Possibility Itself)

posse ipsum
(God is Possibility Itself)

You have seen them — those pictures with the eyes that seem to follow. You all around the room. Nicholas of Cusa, a 15th Century mystical theologian, uses that image to discuss God. No, his conclusion was NOT that God sees you wherever you go! Instead, he suggests quite the opposite. His focus is on the viewers of the all-seeing eyes. When there are multiple observers scattered throughout the room, all looking at the painting, each one sees the eyes looking at them. In truth, suggests Cusa, it is a different painting for each observer. Observer A sees the painting as looking to the left; Observer B, to the right; Observer C, straight ahead. Indeed, our vision is God is a two-way interactive relationship — we are looking at God; God is looking at us.When God is doing the looking, humankind is a multiplicity. When humankind is doing the looking, God is a multiplicity.

Cusa suggests meditating with an icon is an analogous process — the meditator gazes into the icon until they experience the icon gazing into them. It is this reciprocal, relational process that we call prayer. Some spoken prayers (e.g. mantras) function similarly. The Jesus Prayer is one such Christian mantra — “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The prayer is repeated continually (sometimes aloud; sometimes internally) until the prayer begin to pray the one who is praying — reciprocal relationship.

In his further elaborations in On Learned Ignorance (De docta ignorantia) two significant ideas emerge: 1) God is not a substantive entity; instead, God is posse ipsum (possibility itself) and 2) imago die (that is, “created in the image of God”) refers not just to human beings, but to the whole universe.

posse ipsum One of the popular understandings of Cusa’s day was that God was the Unmoved Mover — that is, God as Creator is outside the creation. That which is created is moving, changeable, transient. God as Creator is unmoving and unmoveable, unchanging and unchangeable, permanent. Cusa says “No! God is not a substantive entity. Instead, God is posse ipsum (possibility itself) == the name we give for that which we experience as the possibility for fullness of life. We experience that possibility as an invitation to become what we can be. Possibility as invitation, as calling, does not force itself upon us. We can choose to pay attention, ignore, deny, or even be unaware of the invitation. However, when we attend to the invitation it is no longer just a possibility, it becomes a potentiality. Potentiality come with a force — no, not a force outside us; instead, the force of our own desire to actualize the potential. That inner force (accompanying the perceived potential (potency) leads us to action. As we actualize the potential, we often say that we are living into our God-given calling or being obedient to the will of God or following in the Way of Yeshua. Thus we are co-creators with God.

imago dei When Cusa broadens the understanding of imago dei to include the whole universe, he is suggesting follows the same process of moving from possibility to potentiality to actuality. Before the
Big Bang, the possibilities for the universe were endless. The Singularity that preceded the Big Bang was filled with a potential (a potency) that could not be contained. The explosive burst into reality set in motion a unfolding serendipitous creativity — not the unfolding of a pre-determined plan. The Big Bang spewed out a gaseous cloud of Helium which gradually began to condense into the nuclear furnaces we call stars. Eventually stars collapse upon themselves and explode, spewing out new elements to serve as building blocks for new developments which can gather around stars. One such development we call “earth,” upon which a potential we know as “life” became actualized. Cusa, realizing that human life was but one actualized potential arising out of endless, suggested the possibility of other life in the universe. I suspect he would support the current idea of the possible existence of multiverses. So, we humans have lately joined the universe as co-creators with God.

God is in all; all is in God. Cusa’s elaboration of God as posse ipsum (God is possibility itself) places him squarely among the pane theists. Pantheists say that everything is God; God is everything. Pan-en-theissts say that God is in all and all is in God, but there is a distinction between the One (God) and the many (creation). When we understand that God is possibility and creation is the actualization of possibility’s potential, we avoid the slippery slope of positing an anthropomorphic “will” of God that demand obedience from human beings. Too much blood has been shed throughout history by those who think they (and they along) have the will of God. Such a narrow, externalized, violence-producing understanding robs God of God’s Godness — that is, God as unfettered, unlimited possibility. And it also robs us our our-ness — that is, our to be captivated by the visitation of possibility, to discern within the possible that which is potential for us, and to actualize it as God’s (possibility’s) partner in this reciprocal, relational process we know as life.

A Deep Yearning

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“Creative Commons hiraeth” by Trish Hamme is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Psalm 62:1,11,12    1Only in God do I find rest; my salvation comes from him. 11 God has spoken one thing— make it two things— that I myself have heard: that strength belongs to God, 12     and faithful love comes from you, my Lord— and that you will repay everyone according to their deeds.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

There is a deep yearning inside me that begs to be connected to that insistence, that calling in the name of God. Perhaps. When I hear and act upon that insistence, I find strength; I am whole. Those around me want my immediate response to their every whim, but I’d rather take the time to discern a meaningful and valued course of action. Let me not fall into their ‘immediacy’ traps. In my time of discernment, may I take no account of social status or political persuasion, framing my action to that deep unheard inner calling in the name of God. Perhaps. And, if my plan of action is successful, I hope I do not puff myself up and strut like a bantam rooster who thinks his crowing created the day. Remember this, God’s weakness is my strength and my weakness is God’s strength. That is how the God-process works.