Archive for Process Theology

God is not a belief system

IMG_1117It is a simple truth really: god is god. God is not what we believe of god. God is not our theology or our doctrines. Since the dawn of time humans have had various ideas, religions, doctrines, theologies about god. God has remained god all that time. I will not say that god is unchanging, because I believe that god is love and love is a relational term, any living relation involves anyone involved in the relation changing in response to the other. So have we changed in response to the divine source, so has the divine source changed in response to our devotion, love and creativity. But having said that, our theologies and doctrines do not change the nature or the will of the divine.

Augustine said: If you have understood it, then it is not god. Anselm described god as always being more, greater, deeper than anything that we can imagine. Scripture supports this and shrouds the divine into mystery making sure that we can never nail down god (the popular joke is that we tried to nail god to a cross and he walked away). Faith and what the author of John calls eternal life (aionos zoe) cannot be grasped with the mind or the intellect. Forever it eludes even our most creative attempts.

No matter how much we would like to have god in a box, so that we could explain the divine, so that we can master the ultimate reality and explain the metaphysical in scientific terms, Jesus simply asks us to believe and follow. To believe is not as many people think to have a set of propositional statements that you hold true, rather believing is the act of trusting, loving in the absence of hard proof. You simply cannot believe with only your mind, you must be/love with your heart and your spool and your strength (body?) and your mind.

It is not up to me to tell you how it is, but I take this time to try to point at how it isn’t. The finger pointing to the moon must not be mistaken for the moon. In the same manner our theology, our doctrine, our tradition, our religion must not be confused with the divine. The divine is love, the divine is free the divine is not, in the words of C.S. Lewis, a tame lion.

The things Pope Francis did not say…

francisThe last couple of days there has been a post circulating on the internet with a bunch of statements allegedly made by the current Pope. People are upset that a pope would say such things (although he didn´t) and what it would mean for Christianity at large. Other people are praising the Pope for these statements sharing their relief that, here we have at least one pope that makes sense.

Now let me be clear, the Pope did not say these things, the statements are said to have been made at Vatican III a convention that has yet to happen.

So why write anything about something that is not real? Well, the contents of the Popes speech echo what is already going around in many Christian circles and for some this is fundamental Christian faith. In other Christian circles it is the ultimate heresy. So regardless of the veracity this “speech” that never happened lands in the middle of the current theological discourse.

There is no literal hellfire

“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”

This is not a novel idea and has been circulating in Christian discourse as long as there has been a Christian faith. The idea of a literal hellfire is a medieval idea based more on the works of Dante and Milton then the bible. Please note that the statement does not in any way dismiss the reality of hell but rather dispels the belief in hellfire and hell as a place of punishment, like C.S. Lewis wrote and Rob Bell, N.T. Wright and many others have echoed, hell is not a flaming furnace but the isolation from god, something that is not only an issue of the afterlife but a reality in the here and now.

Adam and Eve is a fable

Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.

Here the article touches on the idea that the first narratives in our scriptures are not historical facts but mythical narrative written to teach us about who god is, what it means to be human and what our relationship to the divine is and can be. The use of the word fable is apt as we indeed have a talking snake in Genesis 3. I will return to the idea of biblical authority further down in the article. We need to at least face the fact that our two creation stories in Genesis do not line up neatly and cannot both be literally true. We would do well to recognise that the creation myths of the Judeo-Christian scriptures are not factual historical documents and does not answer the question “how?” but rather tries to give us a hint at “why?”

God changes constantly

“God is changing and evolving as we are, For God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it.

The idea of a god that changes and evolves is very much presented in scripture in fact it is more present than the idea of the “changeless one”. As evangelicals we are prone to say things like it´s not a religion it´s a relationship as we believe in the idea that we can have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. Furthermore we believe that god is love and love also implies relationship. How can we believe in a relational god if we do not believe that both parties in this relation can change. Only death is static, changeless. Life is constant change and growth, why can this not be true of god as well? How can we at the same time argue for a literal reading of scripture and then ignore the countless passages in the bible where god changes gods mind and gods plans?

All religions are true

“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

I think this is the most upsetting statement of all the ideas presented in this short text. And while I agree in principle I would have liked the statement to read “there is truth in all religions”. C.S. Lewis famously said “Just because we are right, does not mean that everybody else is wrong”. To believe that Christian faith and doctrine is the only truth is a fallacy as there are countless variations of Christian belief and various different truth claims. If there was only one truth and Christians possessed it, then all Christian churches would preach and teach the same thing. However the reality is that we are sometimes so varied in our description of this truth that we may as well be different religions. I think we need to be at least a little suspicious when we believe that there is only one truth and we (as in our little group of Christians) have it. The text actually makes clear that the church’s mission or mandate is to include all, including the ones that have a different take on truth than us.

The Authority of the Bible

The Bible is a beautiful holy book, but like all great and ancient works, some passages are outdated. Some even call for intolerance or judgement. The time has come to see these verses as later interpolations, contrary to the message of love and truth, which otherwise radiates through scripture. In accordance with our new understanding, we will begin to ordain women as cardinals, bishops and priests. In the future, it is my hope that we will have a woman pope one day. Let no door be closed to women that is open to men!

In my opinion this is the key issue, the question that we all come back to over and over again. If there is one question that the church must face, wether Catholic or Protestant, Orthodox, evangelical or emergent, it is this one. The place of the scriptures in our faith community. If we cannot re-evaluate how we have historically interpreted some passages to be literal and others not, then we can never as a church or faith community grow. In many conservative circles we have come to worship our tradition (and/or the bible) rather than god. And we state blindly that god does not change neither does our understanding of scripture. The reality looks different, we have time and time again revised our understanding of scripture and tradition and changed how and why we act and believe in certain ways. In some liberal circles we have gone the other way and tossed out all tradition and historical understanding, changing things that may not have needed revision, just to make a clean break with the old.

It is my opinion that we need a far more sensitive and humble approach where we tread softly, recognise that we have always interpreted our scriptures and our faith through cultural lenses, some good and some bad. It must be the work of every generation to return to these scriptures and traditions and carefully re-evaluate and re-imagine what it is to be a follower of the way in our time and place.

So whether Pope Francis said these things or not is rather irrelevant (at least outside of Catholic circles), I for one would have loved to hear this speech made by a Pope or any other religious leader. We need this conversation in all of Christendom, and we need to be able to converse with love and charity, humility and grace.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8 NRSV)

All living things are my teacher

5415984_-039039-kosmos-039039--1In John 3.16 we read that god so loved the world (kosmos) that he gave his only begotten son…. And it seems to me that all through scripture we are reminded again and again that kosmos, that is all of creation, is longing for redemption.

When god creates the world, as we read in Gen 1, god looks upon creation and pronounces it good. There is an inbuilt original glory to creation that holds and proclaims the glory of god. Every piece of creation has this original glory and shows it off by being truly itself. A tree sings of this glory in the rustling of it’s leaves, a tiger whispers of this glory in it’s graceful but deadly prowl.

Yes there is brokeness to, all is not what it should be, but god did not break it, we did with our machines and pollution. However much be screw things up, we are not able to break god’s imputed goodness. It is still there, it sneaks through in waterfalls and sunsets, cats and seahorse, birch trees and mountain ranges, in kisses and caresses, in you and me.

We are all part of this kosmos, we are all made of the same stuff and so we all carry within us part of the glory and goodness that god drew out and still creatively draws out in this evolutionary process.

We are all part of this big living organism glued together by life and quantum mechanics and so whomever you meet whether human, animal or plant, celestial or spiritual phenomenon, there simply is no other, there is only being. As such we can learn, if we are open and willing, from all of god’s glorious creation. Every moment can be a learning moment, every place a Solomon’s porch, a temple of divine growth. Every person place or object holds something sacred and holy if we are willing to open our eyes, ears and minds to the voice of god luring us to greater beauty and complexity.

Every day is an adventure and: Life is my religionBeing alive is my daily spiritual practiceLove is my ruleHumankind is my familyAuthentic friendships is my churchThe kingdom of god runs through my veins.Jesus is my brotherBecoming and being all that I am is my callingHelping you become and be all that you are is my ministryMy deepest feelings is my guideAll living things are my teacher.

Subverting the norm

Pete Rollins and Tony Jones at the Coffe Ethic in Springfield

The last couple of days I have spent at Subverting the norm II, a conference about radical theology, postmodernism and the church. It has been three days of deconstruction, radical thought and repentance.

It has been such a privilege and honour to spend three days with some of the greatest theologians involved in this ongoing conversation.

The tile of the conference “Subvert the norm” points to the fact there there is this thing, called “the norm” or normal and that it needs to be subverted. I love the idea of subversion, there is no correlating term in Swedish. So the closest I get to translate the title Subvert the norm to Swedish is normkritik – norm criticism, which of course is not quite the same.

To critique something is to stand on the outside and have an opinion about it, giving the appearance of objectivity, to subvert something is in my oppinion to engage in it and change the rules.

The conference itself was a wonderful gathering of great minds. To explore wether or not post-modernism can live in the church or maybe if the church can survive post-modernism. Here is an excerpt from the subverting the norm webpage:

Can the actually existing churches speak meaningfully and persuasively to those who aren’t so sure about the supernatural or the magical or the metaphysical, which includes the fastest growing religious demographic in North America, the “nones,” those with no formal religious affiliation?

Can the church retain a viable role in a world where God is often viewed as a relic of the past, or as a grand Santa Claus in the sky, or perhaps even as a narcotic or neurosis that we’d do well to get rid of?

And if the churches are to be faithful to the revolutionary event that gave birth to Christianity, or if they are to recover their theological voice in a compelling and transformative way, is it possible to do so by listening to voices on the margins of the church, or outside of the church, including even those who might rightly pass for atheists? And perhaps more to the point, why are voices on the fringes of the church, or outside of the church, becoming more influential on church leaders and practitioners than the traditionally “orthodox” voices inside the churches?

It has been three days of thought provocing, challenging and subverting experiences. With me home I have the strong conviction that if the church is to include post-modern thought and radical theology, then it must transform into a differnt structure than the traditional structures we see today.

Our liturgies must be transformed to allow for a radical liturgy that gives voice to a broader spectrum of human experience than todays often happy clappy evangelical liturgy.

I find that I will need some time to internalise the experience before I can capture it in words, but I want to take the time to thank all of you who made STN2 such a great experience for me. Thank you for your generosity, your hospitality, your humility and your love for a wayward Swede, lost in the bible belt.

 

The return of the blog

tumblr_m9pb53vJjx1rnmfgho1_500After a long hiatus in blogging I have decided to warm up the keyboard and start blogging again. Any long term reader will immediately notice that the name of the blog has changed and with that maybe the direction of the blog as well.

Personally I think the new name “Theopoetics” better reflect the direction the blog has had for a long time and that the byline: Life is my religion also reflects this direction.

The return of the blog will start with a blog series that will unpack that very statement over the course of the next few months.

If you are familiar with the kind of theologians that move in more progressive circles (process theologians and radical Christianity etc) you will already be familiar with the term theopoetics. But for those of you who wonder here is the Wikipedia entry on theopoetics:

Theopoetics is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines elements of poetic analysis, process theologynarrative theology, and postmodern philosophy. Originally developed by Stanley Hopper and David Leroy Miller in 1960s and furthered significantly by Amos Wilder with his 1976 text, Theopoetic: Theology and the Religious Imagination. Recently, there has been a revitalized interest with new work being done by Rubem AlvesCatherine KellerJohn CaputoPeter RollinsScott HollandMelanie MayMatt GuynnRoland FaberJason Derr, et al.

Theopoetics suggests that instead of trying to develop a “scientific” theory of God, as Systematic Theology attempts, theologians should instead try to find God through poetic articulations of their lived (“embodied”) experiences. It asks theologians to accept reality as a legitimate source of divine revelation and suggests that both the divine and the real are mysterious — that is, irreducible to literalist dogmas or scientific proofs.

Theopoetics makes significant use of “radical” and “ontological” metaphor to create a more fluid and less stringent referent for the Divine. One of the functions of theopoetics is to recalibrate theological perspectives, suggesting that theology can be more akin to poetry than physics. It belies the logical assertion of the Principle of Bivalence and stands in contrast to some rigid Biblical hermeneutics that suggest that each passage of scripture has only one, usually teleological, interpretation.

Whereas these strict, literalist approaches believe scripture and theology possess inerrant factual meaning and pay little attention to historicity, a theopoetic approach takes a positive position on faith statements that can be continuously reinterpreted. Theopoetics suggest that just as a poem can take on new meaning depending on the context in which the reader interprets it, texts and experiences of the Divine can and should take on new meaning depending on the changing situation of the individual.

 

 

Christianity, faith or science?

It seems that most people are upset by uncertainty, and more specifically Christians get really upset if one where to say that we cannot know. I was taught when I first came into the church about this “blessed assurance”, to know that you know that you know that god is real/good/loving etc.

At the same time I was taught about faith and hope none of which speaks about any such knowledge or assurance. Conviction, yes, but not certainty. The very essence of having faith is to put our trust into what has yet to be proven. And for many of us, myself included that trust grows and deepens year after year as more and more of our experience points us in the direction of the divine.

I know that I have written it elsewhere, but I will stand firm claiming that once something is fully known we stop experiencing it, we stop being present to it and it fades out into yesterday. We then assume that the thing, the person simply is the same and we stop listening and interacting consciously. In a sense we kill the relationship when it is consummated (and by that I mean once we have fully explored the depths of it). The thing is no-one can be fully known ever, as people constantly changes. God does to, and even if we hold the belief that god does not change (not ever), we still hold that god is infinite and therefore to know god fully would take an infinite amount of time. So whether we actually believe god changes or not, the reality is still the same, we cannot know god fully. This is why we must trust, hope and have faith.

To believe (as we understand it, that is intellectually to be of the opinion that…) is a modern way of thinking, the etymology of the English word believe comes from to belove, to have a relationship to, to love to trust. In Swedish the word for faith (tro) comes from the word safe (trygg), to be safe with to trust. Either way it is not knowing for a fact.

Again I want to end with a beautiful poem from Tukaram:

Certainty undermines ones power, and turns happiness
into a long shot. Certainty confines

Dears there is nothing in your life that will not
change – Especially all your ideas about god.

Look at what the insanity of righteous knowledge can do:
crusade and maim thousands
in wanting to convert that which
is already gold
into gold.

Certainty can become an illness
that creates hate and
greed.

God once said to Tuka,

“Even I am ever changing -
I am ever beyond
Myself,

what I may have once put my seal on
may no longer be
the greatest
Truth”

 

Marriage is meaningless …

After years of deconstructing both my worldview, my faith, my theology, my sexuality and every other aspect of my faith I have come to this conclusion (among many others to be sure), marriage is meaningless.

Marriage has meant many different things in many different times and many different cultures. Most of the time marriage has been mainly a business transaction, a way to secure land, possessions in a word ownership. It is clear that the “protection” of marriage in the decalogue is purely protection of assets: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours ….. Possessions (wife included).

Jesus both protects and deconstructs marriage/family, you shouldn't divorce on one hand against a child will leave parents etc on the other. It seems to me that Jesus protection of marriage was an act of justice. No you cannot just leave a person (your wife) unprotected and with no financial security, destitute and unwanted.

Today all these reasons for marriage are void, in our post-modern, post-secular society the individual can live alone without the family unit for financial security and protection. The institution of marriage (not instituted or even commanded by god) is very much a human, cultural invention.

Therefore marriage today holds only the meaning we give to it, it contains only the magic and blessing we bring to it. The rules, the shape and structure of marriage, whatever we decide it to be.

In other words, if you want your marriage to be blessed, be a blessing in your marriage, if you want your marriage to be a sacred adventure, live a sacred adventure. If you want your marriage to be an isolated duet close the doors. If you want to include more people (friends, children, co-workers, fellowship), open them. If you want you marriage to be a joint business venture, make it so and if you want it to be your closest friendship work hard to make that happen.

Whatever you do, do not think that marriage can be all of these, human beings are meant to live in tribes, collectives of people who connect with each other in different ways, transactionally, emotionally and or sexually. Some people will have friends outside the marriage with whom they are more intimate than their spouse. Most people especially parents with young children, spend more time at work or with the children than their significant other, these connections are natural and valuable and whether you like it or not part of your marriage. Don't like it? Change!

Marriage is an empty container that will hold whatever you put in it, if you put discontent and resentment that is what you will have. If you put in grace, loving the other, that is what you will get.

Marriage is a piece of clay that we can shape together (Ghost, anyone) to whatever shape we like for it to be.

Let me put this in a different way for my more “churchy” readers. If we by sacrament mean “an outward sign of an inward grace.” Then a marriage is only a sacrament when it is a sacrament. That is, marriage is only a sacrament when it is a positive environment that nurtures and enables each person involved to grow and become the person they where created to become, that is, when the marriage is filled with grace and love. There is no secret magic in the marriage ceremony, no automatic bliss that comes with tying the knot. Marriage just like your Christian life and spirituality takes a lot of work, and while I am sure we get help from god, as so much else, in the end it is up to us.

Personally I think this is good news!

Marriage, if taken as a carte blanche, a contract we have yet to fill with conditions, stipulations, dreams and visions, becomes an amazing adventure of becoming. Where we as partners, co-creators of our lives shape the future we wish and hope for in the turbulent currents of our lives.

Doesn't god have any place in marriage then? Of course, god will be as involved in our marriage as we are. God works in us and through us, when we create our dream marriage god is right there creating along with us, luring us into the future and accepting with loving, forgiving grace whatever we make of it like a loving parent receiving the toddlers squiggles.

If god truly is omni-present, immanent, Emmanuel, god with us then god is already at work within your marriage. The marriage is sacred because you are holy, divine images of the godself. Just as god is also at work in your friendships, business relations and in every other relation in your life, equally sacred because of the presence of the divine in every place, every moment of your life.

 

Taking the G out of the kingdom ….

I was listening to a Homebrewed Christianity – Theology Nerd Throwdown (TNT) when I was struck with this beautiful idea.

It was Tripp Fuller who said (Not the exact quote, though these are his words)

If you take the G out of Kingdom you get kindom with no cock and no crown.

The kindom of God, the extended interdependent family of god not ruled by a Patriarch or King but by a loving nurturing parent who is genderless or rather transgendered (as I have written before, not trans as in going from one tend to the next but as in more than both the one and the other).

We are invited, not as loyal subjects and subordinates, but as family members and co-creators. We are invited into the perichoresis the divine dance of interdependence and mutual, loving submission.

 

A larger container

energies

Often in these theological conversations we are presented with a set of polar opposites. Monica Coleman states in a recent Homebrew podcast that when presented with polarities in conversation all you need is a bigger container.

Think of the earth (or the Earth as Jeanine Slettom and John Cobb would have it), a globe with two opposite poles the Arctic and Antarctica on opposite sides of the globe. There is no way they can be reconciled (brought together) but they are in fact connected and together not only in that they are on the same planet but in the larger container of the universe, they are infinitely close and interconnected. Just as we are all connected or rather an integral part of the eco system of this planet.

In church, the larger container should be god, or maybe, to make it more applicable, love (god is love). This I think is Christ centred, Pauline, process theology. All of the created exist within godself so that god is always present and at the same time transcendent. God is intimately present in me, in you in everything and everybody. But because god is always present in everywhere and everybody it also means that god is always bigger than the present situation (conversation, polarised debate) we find ourselves in.

This also means that everyplace is holy, because god indwells it, and every person is holy, because god indwells them. This means that different opinions, or theologies (or maybe even religions) only need a bigger container to find that they are in fact intimately interconnected.

Exasperated Paul cries out, don’t you get it? You cannot say you love god and then turn around and hate your brother. If you are in love, you are swimming in this bigger container and have the opportunity to se how we are al interconnected and interdependent. Love is the true god-particle that binds us all together and gives us mass.

Why can’t our different theological perspectives be in the words of Bruce Epperly, contrasts, different colours and streams of thought rather than mutually exclusive polar opposites?

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