Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.
This morning I attended a Maundy Thursday worship in my bathrobe. No, I didn’t venture out to church. No self-respecting Presbyterian church has Maundy Thursday worship services at 9 a.m. The worship happened via a telephone conversation that began with a question(s): What helps me name the insistence that I experience so that it isn’t just my wishful thinking. I don’t want to fall into the trap of God-in-the-highest or of Tillich’s God-the-ground-of-being. I don’t want to lose the depth. Am I kidding myself?
I don’t have an answer. I am trekking in the wilderness, in the desert—a blind man poking around with a stick.
One of the insights of Prayers and Tearsis that one will not experience the unconditional, the impossible, the totally other without “a lot of preparation in advance, that a long and difficult advent is needed to prepare for this in[ter]vention. . .” Insistence comes as a shock to the system—one’s personal ego system and the corporate systems of religion, politics, economics, etc. Unprepared, the insistence, “instead of shocking us, will just pass us by without a ripple.”
Derrida and Caputo suggest that deconstruction is what prepares us. While I agree, there is needed an underlying reality within that permits deconstruction. Some call it faith. Faith is the preparation that opens us to the deconstructions that prepare us for the shock of insistent’s invasion. Only when we began to trust into trustwere we able to ask the question, “What’s next, Papa?” [Romans 8:15, Message]
This journey began with a leap into the unknown. That leap launched a journey that has a deep history with that trust. Experience of numerous events on the journey opened the possibility for the trust to deepen and broaden. And, as trust deepened, any hope for some kind of magical fleece to save the day was abandoned. There is a consistency of the history with that trust. It means constantly saying “Yes.” And I have!
Say “Yes” to trust many time over had the effect of exposing the hairline cracks in my ego container. Every time “Yes” was spoken—every time trust was trusted—the cracks widened until the fissures overtook the solidity of the ego container. Now, to ask “What’s next, Papa?” is not an ego-striving, a wanting to know what is ahead so I can control it’s coming. Instead, it is more a declarative statement than a question: “Bring it on! Whatever the future holds—no matter how much it shocks me or the world around me—I trust into trust that I will survive and will, in justice, find some quality of life.
So, then the question becomes: How do I teach spiritual formation? How do I help others move out of the signs and symbols into the experience of trust? After all, what we are talking about is not in the writings out there. Some of the wise have been not been able to articulate the experience and tie it to a theology.
It is a truism that faith (trust) can’t be taught; it can only be taught. The best that we can do is tell the stories of our experience with trusting into trust. Then, when someone responds positively, we can help them grow into their own stories. As D.T. Niles said, “We are one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” That is why community—mutual sharing of journey-stories—is so important. In the sharing, we grow. Neill Hamilton was correct: we don’t develop trust on our own; instead, we grow into the trust of the community—even if the community is only one other person who is also preparing to the shock of the advent of the unconditional.
While we try to avoid getting boxed in to categories, we have shifted from theology to ethics. The commonwealth of peace and justice is calling for an ethical society that embraces justice—the well-being of all in society. [As a side note, salvationis no longer a theological concern. It is an ethical matter that is built on a medical model. Health is a ethical-political matter as we have learned in the morass that is America’s dilemma.]
To prepare for the possibility of the impossible—the incursion of the unconditional insistence—is to shift concern from theology (who or what is insisting?) to ethics (what is this incursion calling me to do?). But, ethics is frightening—especially if I can’t locate it in a certain theology. Joseph Fletcher’s Situational Ethicsblew the church’s thinking out of the water. If action isn’t pinned down by theological doctrine, if the long robes don’t have a categorical answer for every situation, then our theology will fall apart and have no meaning at all. That was the shaping of the fear when ethics is detached from being a sub-category of theology.
Trusting into trust, however, suggests another alternative where theology is a sub-species of ethics. Paul Lehmann’s Ethics in a Christian Contextattempted to explore this alternative. The basic question is ethical: What am I to do? However, my response to that question is guided by my context—I am a follower of Yeshua and in community with other followers. A Buddhist, experiencing the insistence of the unconditional, might have a response that is nuanced differently from mine. Theology is important, but not primary.
This takes us back to the initial question: when I experience insistence is it really unconditional, or is it just wishful thinking. That was also Augustine’s question: What do I love when I love my God?