Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jesus and Buddha with Richard Rohr and James Findley

Everyone at this conference is old. Seriously. Out of 950 people, I've only seen 5 or 6 other people my age (and they were in couples) and another 20 who are younger than 50. There are lots of men wearing cardigans like the one my dad wore in prison: chunky with a big collar and either wooden buttons or a zipper. The women wear funky, boxy jackets with expensive embroidery or applique and big chunky jewelry. Lots of turtlenecks are in evidence.

This reality plus the fact that I'm from Chicago cause people to ask me in wonder why I'm here. I tell them that I'm active in the emerging Christianity movement and that I want to make sure that we don't get insular so I'm attending events of different kinds of Christians. Usually, I have to give a definition of emerging Chrsitianity at that point. My definition goes a little like this:
It's a movement that is trying to follow Christ in new ways. Most of the traditions of the church were formed during the Modern era when people believed in conquering one another, either bringing enemies into the fold through victory or relegating them to hell if they could not be co-opted. But now we're in a post-Modern era in which the overwhelming amount of information makes us realize that we can't conquer everyone or even most everyone. Thus, we realize that we might not have the only access to Truth and have to live accordingly.

For the most part, people seem to understand what I'm saying. I know that the emerging church has other definitions (Mike has the best here) and that my definition leaves out some pretty salient characteristics of the movement, but mine is a definition of why I'm involved in the movement. Even more gratifying than folks' responses to my description in what I'm doing are the messages being taught by Father Richard Rohr (a Franciscan priest) and Jim Wilkins (a scholar who studied with Thomas Merton in the sixties). It is almost identical to the messages that resonate with me from within my movement.

Let me give you a couple of quotes, so that you can get a feel for it.
"Maybe the world will not survive a religion that is based in tribal consciousness." JF

"What we call globalism is also affecting religion." RR

"What you don't know anything about can be kept in a ghetto. That's not possible anymore." RR

"Instead of letting Jesus be a teacher of wisdom, we spent all of our energy insisting he was God." RR

"We have to stop thinking that Jesus spent all of his time making dogmatic statements about heaven and hell. I am convinced he was teaching us how to live here." RR

I spoke with Richard briefly when he was standing in a hallway by himself between sessions. I thanked him for the event and talked about why I was there. He told me that he had met with Brian McLaren recently and that they were planning to do some events together (Ricahrd has also recently hosted some events with Jim Wallis). That was on Friday. On Saturday, he spent about 15 minutes in one of his sessions talking about the emerging movement. He outlined what he saw as the three major aspects for this crowd of grey-hairs.

1. Honest Jesus scholarship.
2. Honesty about peace and justice.
3. Recovery of the anceient contemplative tradition which in great part has not been taught for 400-500 years. He calls this the ability to think in a both/and paradigm.

He then said that we all needed to find a practice that helps us achieve these three "pieces of the Emergent pie."  It's not just that he agrees with me that excites me. It's that this whole group of people who are so different demographically from the emerging folks agree with him. So often we associate our elders with an unwillingness to change their thinking. But no one in this group blinked an eye when he talked about the church's over-insistence on the divinity of Christ to the neglect of his teachings. Imagine how the evangelical spot-lighters would blow up at the implications of that. But Doug Pagitt made exactly that same statement at the Midwest Emergent Gathering, quoting Acts 28:30-31, the last chapter of this book on the actions of the creation of the church after Christ's resurrection and ascendency to heaven: "Paul lived for two years in his rented house. He welcomed everyone who came to visit. He urgently presented all matters of the kingdom of God. He explained everything about Jesus Christ. His door was always open." (Thanks Bible Gateway!) There were two things that Paul taught, but for the most part, the Modern church only teaches the latter. We're considered radical for pointing this out and are becoming darlings of the media who present us in bemusement to a population that has come to believe that all Christians think that loving their neighbors involves bombing them. But here is this group of people in their 60s and 70s quietly working towards the same revolution.

Sometimes the emerging church is criticized for being just another denomination. This is because the roots of the movement are post-evangelical and the evangelical church's rigidity forced a lot of people to leave and start new churches. But in the last 15 years, the post-evangelical folks have met people like me who come from mainline protestant traditions and who are able to stay within those denominations to work change form the inside. From all of our different paths, we are converging on this journey towards the Divine. That is why we call it a movement and not just a new denomination. It is so powerful to see this convergence in this group of Catholic senior citizens as well. We need elders for their patience and their wisdom. They are not so twitchy or impulsive. I feel privileged to be here among them.


Helen said...

Neat :)

I'm glad you're enjoying it.

2Cats said...

Princess Max
I'm glad that you enjoyed RR & JF's conference, too - I stumbled into your blog while trying to track down the conference CDs which were just released. As a (in your term) "Catholic senior citizen" I just had to say that Rohr and Findlay have been teaching in that way for decades - That kind of open Catholicism you mention has luckily been presented to me since I was a young teen in the early 70s, legacy of the thoughts expressed in Vatican 2 -and I assume that in your denomination of origin, there were always kindred souls too. I really glad to see the signs of the spirit in "emergent Christianity" - but I am also glad to hear that some like you are staying in traditional denominations to work for change from within --- it's not new or lost spirituality -- and I hope many staying "inside" might give more permanance to re-emergent awareness

PrincessMax said...

2cats, thanks for stopping by. You're right; there were definitely kindred souls in my church growing up. At least, what I think I heard were folks that were open to conversation. I think I was a bit of a steamroller.

A local guy, Brian Mitchell, spoke at the Brian McLaren conference this weekend from a Catholic position similar to the one we're talking about. It's reappearance was fun to see.