Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Return to Innocence

The LibraryImage by BrianWestChest via Flickr
It's wonderful to be able to study "progressive" or emerging Christianity with people face-to-face finally.  After four or five years of searching on my own or only with people on the Internet, I finally have the opportunity to discuss these "deep" things with real life flesh and blood people.  But, there is a concern that some of us have about this "new brand" of Christianity.  Why is it progressive Christianity is so "intellectual"?  Do you have to have a degree in theology to grasp the "deep" truths some of us struggling to root out?  These thoughts are troubling.  Obviously Jesus didn't appeal solely to the intelligencia.  If anything, it was the opposite.  He appealed to the common man.  So why the emphasis on book learning in emerging Christianity?  Well, I think I know the answer...

As we form Nexus (the United Church of Christ I attend), we struggle with how to appeal to people, as any new church does.  How are we different?  Why should anyone attending another church leave that church?  Why should people who have decided to spend Sunday morning sleeping or attending their kids' soccer games come to church instead? One thing we've noticed about ourselves is that, for the most part, we seem to be a bunch of "theological intellectuals".  I would define that as people who do a lot of reading about theology.  Someone sitting in on one of our groups for the first time would probably quickly notice all of the names of authors being tossed around. If you haven't read Spong or Borg or Crossan or Pagels or whomever, you might quickly feel lost and wonder if it's necessary to read all that stuff to be a emerging or progressive Christian. I think the answer is either yes or no, depending on where you are coming from.  For some of us, it's very necessary.  For others, it would be a complete waste of time.

As I've wrestled with my faith over the last several years, tearing it apart, piece-by-piece, laying all the pieces on the floor and then reassembling it, I've found it has been a challenging, scary and often confusing process.  Not all of the pieces I take out fit back into the new structure. Sometimes I need a new piece to fit in to a certain place and have to search around to find it.  Then, there's the fear that now that I've torn this all apart, will it actually fit back together into something that works? I'm the kind of person who has to figure things out.  I'm an engineer by nature. When I was a child, I would go through the trash, take things out and literally take them apart and put them back together to see how they worked.  I do the same thing with my faith.  As I've gone through this process I've made amazing discoveries, one after another. I'll get all excited about some paragraph or chapter or book and excitedly point out to Ty the discovery I've made. "Oh!"  I'll tell her "Look at this.  What I was taught was all wrong.  This makes so much more sense."  She'll take a look at it, think about it for a while and say.  "Yeah, it does make sense.  I don't have a problem with that." (or "That's what I believe, too.") like it's just no big deal.  No struggle.  No need to read the whole book.  No concordances or looking up parallel translations of the Bible on the Internet. No wrestling with theological concepts.  Just acceptance.  What I've come to realize is that for people like myself the reason we need to do all this intellectual wrestling is not because we have to learn emerging Christianity or learn progressive Christianity, we have to unlearn years and years of wrong thinking that was buried deep in our psyches and etched into our ways of thinking.  It's a hard process for many of us.  We have to read books on how to read the Bible. Our filters are so strong that we can't look at the Bible with "beginner's mind" anymore.  We have to listen to theologians explain how G-d really does love us unconditionally and here's exactly how and why.  But, for others there's no need to unlearn all the stuff some of us have to unlearn because they didn't learn it in the first place.

My wife is fascinating to me.  She was raised Catholic.  So, I assumed she knew all the standard Catholic dogma. But, apparently, she had some sort of built in shield against all the crap she was supposed to have learned as child.  It seemed to roll off of her like water off of a duck's back. For years, we'd be having a discussion about some theological point and I'd tell her that as a Catholic she was supposed to believe this or that or she had been taught this or that and she'd simply say she never looked at it that way.  Somehow through all of the indoctrination they tried to give her about her relationship with G-d and how the church was the sole arbiter of that relationship and how G-d was mad at her (and the rest of humanity), she never lost her innocence. Her big test was not theological or Biblical, her test was how she felt about G-d or what she knew about G-d deep in her own soul.  If someone told her something that didn't make sense in the light of that relationship/knowledge, she simply ignored it.  It would be like someone telling you something about the nature of your best friend.  Who are you going to believe, the person who says she knows something about your friend or your own experience of your friend?

I think children are born intuitively knowing what we progressives are struggling to learn.  They are born with a built-in relationship with a Creator who loves them unconditionally.  My girls used to talk about being in heaven with G-d before they were born like it was just common knowledge.  They don't have any fear of G-d abandoning them or not loving them anymore because they screwed up.  The idea that G-d is an egocentric maniac is taught.  So far, they have retained their innocence. And, if I have anything to say about it, they will.  I'm hopeful that for the next generation of Christians, it won't be as much of a intellectual journey to be emergent.  It'll just come naturally because they won't need to do all of the unlearning some of us have to do to return to that innocence.  For some of us the return to innocence is a long, difficult journey.  But, for others, it's a pretty short trip.   Check out this video.  You might have to watch it 2X to "get" it (especially if you're slow like me.  It took me a couple of times).

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