Thursday, March 22, 2007

Introduction to Part 1 of How (Not) to Speak of God

The introduction's title helps introduce us to the deep thread that ties the book together:

Heretical Orthodoxy: From Right Belief to Believing in the Right Way

This book is written in two parts. Part One is a collection of theological and philosophical reflections, riddled with parables, stories, quotes from other authors, mystics, philosophers, theologians, and Rollins' himself. Similar in how Brian McLaren makes the point that theological and philosophical ideas can be perhaps more subversive in parables and stories in The Secret Message of Jesus, Rollins employs this tactic throughout Part One of the book. The parables don't stop there however. Part Two of the book is a collection of 10 services that Rollins' has participated in and probably helped create with his community called Ikon in Ireland, that bring out the themes, theologies, and philosophies in the first part of the book, while stirring up our imagination with more stories and parables to illuminate, however darkly, the ideas from the first section of the book.

Today, I'd like to just begin conversing about the introduction to Part One...perhaps this will help others like me, I feel like I need to keep the ideas and notions in manageable chunks, both to be able to have conversation about them, and also to digest the rich thought in the book. So I thought I'd throw out another quote, that sticks out to me from the introduction to Part One (in which Rollins' is setting up his aims for this section of the book):

"Here I picture the emerging community as a significant part of a wider religious movement which rejects both absolutism and relativism as idolatrous positions which hide their human origins in the modern myth of pure reason. Instead of following the Greek-influenced idea of orthodoxy as right belief, these chapters show that the emerging community is helping us to rediscover the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox Christian as the one who believes in the right way--that is, believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christlike manner. The reversal from 'right belief' to 'believing in the right way' is in no way a move to some binary opposite of the first (for the opposite of right belief is simply wrong belief); rather, it is a way transcending the binary altogether. Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis) understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world (Rollins, pgs. 2-3, italics and bold mine)."

I think that this notion of orthodoxy, as right way of living and believing hits at the heart of what I've thought for some time now. I have struggled a lot with Reformed theology and the whole predestination/free will thing for a long time, though it has become much easier in the last few years, largely because of this nagging suspicion that orthodoxy was never about having all the right beliefs lined up in a row to show God (or others). Rather, orthodoxy was the way in which we are called to live and love in the likeness of Christ. This helps to free us from the fear that if we don't believe all the right things, or are "led astray" on a certain doctrine, that we can find hope in that orthodoxy is rooted in the way we live and believe, rather than in what we believe, which bypasses the whole, "say the sinner's prayer" or before you can be saved you must believe 1, 2, and 3.

How does this sound to you? Orthodoxy as right living and believing rather than having a fixed or proper set of beliefs that are all "correct" (if we can even be perfect or correct in our doctrines about God)?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bright Sadness

Lent is well on its way, and thus far it has been a great experience. Soda hasn't been nearly as hard not to drink as I anticipated, although not buying any new music has been harder than I thought...I forgot that Arcade Fire's Neon Bible was coming out...anybody gotten their new album? It's gotten great reviews thus far...

As I mentioned before, Lent is traditionally called "Bright Sadness" in the Orthodox tradition, and after a few weeks of exploration into apophaticism, this notion of Bright Sadness has come to more adequately explain this time of Lent during this season of the church year for me. It has marked a period of my life rampant with dramatic change during the last few years and last few months. The Bright Sadness of this time of advent (or Lent), this time of waiting and participating in joining Christ in his sufferings, has brought great illumination, and yet sadness too. There have been moments of recognition and brightness that have reminded me of the importance of spiritual disciplines and obedience, rooted in humility, and a deep reverential silence that have shaped my life since childhood. Yet there have been periods of sadness and grief over the changes from where I've come from, and the loss of former perspectives. There has also been sadness in the changed relationships that have stemmed from deep theological shifts in the last five years, that have made it difficult to continue to perpetuate perspectives that no longer urge me along the journey of faith. And while I grieve in a way the loss and change of certain relationships in that they don't remain the same or rooted within a particular time and place, I also rejoice, for the journey of faith is also bright and illuminating. There is truly a sense of Bright Sadness right now--i.e. I am seeing life in new ways, yet there is a sense of loss, and I am changing and finding God in new ways, yet the relationships around me are also changing.

I've realized that it is important for me to wrestle with some more of these thoughts, and so I've decided to start blogging through Peter Rollins' book How (Not) to Speak of God. This book has been a breath of fresh air, and has helped put into words many of my thoughts that I had yet to find words for, and also stretched me in new ways. Combine this book with some of the best lectures and discussions of my seminary experience on Apophatic Theology from the last few weeks, especially as seen expressed in Pseudo-Dionysius, and bright sadness takes shape in powerful ways.

This should be fun and challenging, and for my friends and family reading this, if there are words that don't make sense, let me know. I know that I have yet to "define" apophatic theology (or for a Wiki definition, click here), and I will come to that, but for now, I'd like to quote a bit of the introduction of Rollins' book, that I won't even comment on tonight, but would simply like for it to ruminate and give shape to the coming discussion. This is found in Rollins' introduction, and explains his reasons for being drawn to mystical theology, which shapes a large part of the book and which illuminates much of my own perspective of how this dialogue about faith, church, the kingdom of God and so much more should take shape. This quote is in reference to Rollins trying to explain why how we (don't) talk about God is important:

"Each time I returned to the horns of this dilemma, I found myself drawn to the Christian mystics (such as Meister Eckhart), for while they did not embrace total silence, they balked at the presumption of those who would seek to colonize the name 'God' with concepts. Instead of viewing the unspeakable as that which brings all language to a halt, they realized that the unspeakable was precisely the place where the most inspiring language began. This God whose name was above every name gave birth, not to a poverty of words, but to an excess of them. And so they wrote elegantly concerning the limits of writing and spoke eloquently about the brutality of words. By speaking with wounded words of their wounded Christ, these mystics helped to develop, not a distinct religious tradition, but rather a way of engaging with and understanding already existing religious traditions: seeing them as a loving response to God rather than a way of defining God (Rollins, xii)."


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

a convergence of sorts

there are always times in life when things seem to be converging in a way that help some of the often seemingly random experiences of life fit together in great ways. i've nearly finished How (not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins, we are studying Pseudo-Dionysius (with a reading in class tonight about how mystical and apophatic theology is connected to postmodernism in my historical theology II class), and in one of my seminar classes last night called "Who is God?" my professor seemed to hint at the Derridian notion that the spirit in receiving a gift is more significant than the gift itself, a strong theme in Rollins' book...

I've also been struggling a lot with categories of late which i think has led finally to some of the above pieces fitting together, e.g.: categories with which are appropriate to talk about God, the difference between religious and scientific categories and how to talk about the difference with my friends who are not yet believers, language games, and the limited understanding of the revelation that we can understand. I've decided to write my research paper for this second of three historical theology courses on Pseudo-Dionysius and his work Mystical Theology. (my seminary doesn't have systematic theology, we instead study the content of systematic theology as the doctrines and perspectives develop over time through the course of history, philosophy, and theology. after two introductory courses which help to give a very, very broad overview of some of the theologies and doctrines that will be discussed, we are required to take Historical Theology I: Patristics, II: Medieval, and III: Reformation and Counter-Reformation to Contemporary. I have to say that I really appreciate this method of studying the plurality of perspectives deemed orthodox by the church and one of the reasons i chose The John Leland Center was for these courses, and the practice of rooting our perspectives in particular contexts and histories. It helps to show the complexity of issues rather than making things black or white.)

on a side note: i should probably not use the word "convergence" and not point people over to my good friends Todd and Lisa who are co-pastoring a church re-start called Convergence. They are doing some great stuff, and I highly recommend hanging out with their theologically imaginative community if you get a chance. better yet...create some art with them, get involved in acts of justice, and stick around for some great conversation.

lastly, i think that i'm realizing so many of the differences that arise in the conversations about the character of God, epistemology, categories, ecclesiology, and missiology arise out of differences in understanding the authority and role of scripture in church community. one of the downsides and things that i am trying to be careful not to do as i'm enjoying a brief respite of some issues and while some of my understandings and theology is coming into a time of better (yet certainly not even close to clear) focus, i want to be careful not to inflict violence on the other (especially in class) by falling into the fundamentalist trap of believing that what i perceive to be "right" thinking puts me in a better place or makes me of more value than the other who is trying their best to make sense of their theology in their particular context. it's been a great time as some of the dots have started to connect, but a humbling time as well, where the draw towards arrogant belief or "better belief" or "more correct perspective" in light of my relationship with others who do not and may never agree with me is strong. this has challenged me in class...especially in ethics and "Who is God?" to listen before disagreeing or speaking out. maybe that's why the dots are starting to connect in the first place?...