27 May 2006

Christ Plays in Creation: Conversation #4

NOTE: Continuing the dialogue between a pastor in Rochester, MI and two missionaries in Uganda, we are considering the important work of Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. Right now, we're considering chapter two: Christ Plays in Creation.

I want to hone in on Peterson's description of "Gnosticism," (pg. 59ff). Peterson draws out these primary threads for understanding Gnosticism (which we'll generally define as the privatization/hiddenness of truth or the modern notion that belief and praxis are two separate things). The parallels to Western Christianity are apparent. I'm curious to hear how a westerner writing about western faith resonates with westerners living in Uganda.

*Metaphysical alienation: The material world is temporary, passing away. In fundy lingo, "It's all going to burn anyway, who cares?" Because God is spirit, we should not invest ourselves in the material ignoring the fact that Creation is good/very good and that we (material and spiritual beings) are created in the image of God.

*Secret lore: Hidden truth is the one path to salvation. Da Vinci Code smacks of this--which forces me to ask myself, why are people so attracted to this hidden salvation/revelation? Is it because it lets us off the hook from the radical demands of the gospel, or the sacrificial demands of local faith communities? Is it because Da Vinci code is inherently against metanarratives (Roman Catholics, Universal Church, Opus Dei, Patriarchy).

*Escapism: "We escape from everything except the self, we escape from the world into the self," (61). Peterson will later remind us that I am not myself, when I am by myself. I am made to live in community, relationship and dependency on others (wives, families, faith community, neighborhood's), etc.

*Few souls: This Gnosticism is only found and achieved by a few...good remnant theology. We see this in extreme fundamentalism and extreme liberalism, it's really good ol' fashion pride and arrogance. God is not interested in saving the world (cosmos) BUT in a few people. How depressing is that?

*Individualism: Private interpretation is encouraged (i.e. self taught is a virtue) and it seems that Gnosticism can be prone to a historical reflection.

Stanley Hauerwas said to a group of preachers and professors this week, quoting someone else I believe, "The hardest thing to do is to live where you are."

God places us in specific geographical locations, ethnicities, relationships, times and worldviews to ask the question C.S. Lewis asked when writing about Narnia. "Once I created Narnia, I asked myself, now how would God redeem that world?"

"Gnosticism offers us spirituality without the inconvenience of creation...spirituality without the inconvenience of sin and morality...spirituality without the inconvenience of people who don't like or who aren't 'our kind.' And maybe most attractive of all...a spirituality without God, at least any god other than the spark of divinity I sense within me," (62).



17 May 2006

Conversation #3

Clearing the Playing Field... revisited

In response to your thoughts on worship, it seems that Peterson could almost substitute the word "Life" where you have used "worship" in your article. I think that worship is a word that is almost dangerous to use now because the working definition for most people in our churches is so hardened. I think that it is a word that needs to be carefully redefined as we use it because it conjures up so many images throughout the conggregation, and so little imaginative freedom. It seems that we cannot break out of a constrictive box because we spend our time arguing, sometimes debating, and in better scenarios wrestling among different terms, most of which have been petrified and void of life for ages. I think that Rochester is a church that is really open to exploration and is taking some great strides that are the exception to our movement as a whole.

The talk about gnosticism made me think of the critique of the whole "historical Jesus" movement by Bultmann (I think?), where Jesus always ended up looking a lot like the person doing the research on the historicity of Christ. To the existentialist Jesus turned out to be, whoa!, and existentialist, to the monastic Jesus was monastic, and to the moralist, the center of the life of Christ was moralism. We seem to hold on to that tendency as many of us today in the Christian church, which overemphasizes (in my opinion) a confession of belief in doctrinal stance, thus underemphasizing a lived out gospel that may or may not make the verbal confession that the church is seeking. I think that Peteson's
discussion of the Word is brilliant in bringing these together. I think
it is scary, though, because it is so hard to define and impossible to confine.

I love this stuff. Mark and our other teammate, Ben are reading the Clearing the Playing Field section now. I think they are both excited about joining the discussion.

Feel free to use any of this on your blog.

Spencer OUT!

Conversation #2

It is a bit arrogant to quote yourself, but this is from an article I wrote for Wineskins...I think it rings true in my reading of "Clearing the Playing Field":

The top question of the day for American churches is not whether we are right, rationale, or biblically accurate. Whether we have a progressive worship service on Sunday’s or whether we are on the cutting edge in our particular tribe. The top question for the Church is, “Do we understand who God is and the way he understands worship?” Our lives are worship more than the songs that flow from our lips. The Living God is calling the church to be a prophetic people. To be prophetic in the way Jesus taught and lived while he was among us, revealing the Kingdom of God.

I love what Peterson does with the phrase "spiritual theology." In fact, I'm going to unpack this for a moment.

First, I think we need to talk more about the gnostic tendencies in American Christianity or maybe it is just Christianity in general. I think the appeal to the DaVinci Code, for instance, is that it is simply a new (old really) set of beliefs. If I believe in the right to live, personal responsibility, my country--then I'm a faithful Christian. I can root, cheer, believe, admire, and even worship Jesus so long as I don't actually have to follow his way and teachings. Luke-Acts (in conjunction with a discussion about "belief" in the ancient world vs. modern constructs) would serve as a healthy remedy to the disease of gnosticism.

Second, a sound-byte may illuminate what I'm trying to say. Why are eastern religions so appealing to Westerners? In the West, Christianity presents itself as a philosophical system whereas Eastern religions present themselves as a way of life. What I'm saying, Christianity started out as an eastern religion! Rodney Clapp's phrase "Constantinian Gnosticism" seems appropriate here.

Now to theology. Coming from a religious movement (Restoration Movement) that almost devalues theological education (hence our pride in self-taught preachers) I find this to be an extremely important element. We need women and men who've wrestled with the great thinkers of the twentieth century, who've been challenged by James Cone, Guitterez (sp?) et al. We need folks who understand the complexity and mystery of trinity without offering a Kool-Aid "esque" explanation.

But we need theologians to also be practicioners. That's the genius of Peterson. Here's a first class theologian who's committed to the work of local pastorates.I don't know a whole lot of spiritual theologians. I know a lot of spiritual people who carry around some unhealthy theology (myself included) and I know some great theologians who've never actually embodied the Good Samaritan.

Confession: I would rather hide out in the office, writing this reflection than go and put my arm around the woman in the hallway who just found out her husband is leaving her. So, today, the word from God, is to be less "theological" and more "spiritual" (to use Peterson's language). To be more passionate about living according to the rythyms of the gospel than knowing the text.

P.S. I may put some of our discussion on my blog, if I have your permission to do so.



Conversation #1

Warning: The following posts will be discussions between Josh Graves, Spencer Bogle, and Mark Manry. One lives in cozy Rochester Hills, MI and the others live in Jinja, Uganda. All three are dedicated to asking the question, "What does it mean to be an apprentice of Jesus?" The conversation is based upon Eugene Peterson's book "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology."

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places
Conversation 1- Clearing the Playing Field

And so we begin our conversation on “a conversation in spiritual theology.” I will try to offer up ideas which will ignite some dialogue, though it may be tempting to merely converse on the subject of “Eugene Peterson as poet extraordinaire.” I am not sure what structure will work best for this dialogue, but I think that the form my initial entry will consist of my overall understanding of the main points (often times I find in discussion that what I perceive as the main point might not necessarily be so), maybe a quote or two that I see as representative of his argument (or perhaps quotes that just blew my comfortable framework of spirituality to pieces), and then some proposed questions concerning praxis. Let me know what you think if it is not what you expected or wanted.

This guy is a stud- to steal a Mark Manry word, an absolute wordsmith.
I felt that the Introduction and “Clearing the Playing Field”
prolegomena exposed the current (and historical) Gnostic tendencies that separate the spiritual life from the here and now and from the relationships that compose our nexus of existence. It draws back the theologian with head in the clouds as well as the elitist spiritualist who interprets holiness as isolation from the surrounding ‘sinful’world. I guess if I were to choose another sub-title for the book so far it might simply be, “a celebration of Life.” He has such a way of constructing ideas to open eyes to the possibility and the reality of life in everything that exists. All of this, encased in the Word. I love that he states that he will use 2 stories, 3 texts and 4 terms to begin, and the 2 stories and 3 texts are all scripture. I guess I was expecting a good “sermon illustration” story, but found that everything is scripture in here, and it challenges me to see all of life through the Word. His passion for the Word of God, living and played out in
every aspect of life, is apparent on every page. I thought I had a
fairly decent “theology of the Word,” but I was captured in his exegesis of John 3 and 4, as he exposed the creative nature of the word made flesh. He has a way of sharing thoughts that are so profound to me in a way that leaves me feeling like, “why in the world did I not see that? How have I missed it?” In both stories it is comforting to find Christ at the center, creating and recreating, covering a spectrum of influence of which is impossible for me (or the people with whom I
work) to be outside. It is so very freeing.

My thoughts through this section was that it seems that our interpretation of spirituality and tendency to separate it from its sibling translations of the more “here and now” wind and breath have such a profound impact on ecclesiology. It seems that it lends itself to a rather low ecclesiology where it is hard to see the church as the body of Christ in action in the world. It seems that this gnostic spirituality is always waiting for Christ to “use me” or Christ to do something while very rarely reaching the point of identity where we see ourselves as the body of Christ as well as ourselves in direct relation to the body of Christ incarnate in the world. His 4 terms all seem to resound with one theme- Relationship! With everything.

All of the time. How do we see it? How is Christ at the center? To often we have reduced this to a trite moralism that stifles our imagination. My struggle is to find the language that can re-define the terms that our congregations are so “used to” and comfortable with that are now a barrier to imagining the Christian Life in whatever context they find themselves. How do we talk about sin? Salvation?
Grace? How can we use a language that challenges our churches without
leaving them behind with a seminary jargon? How can we challenge
them to use the same imagination that they use with their jobs working on a computer, designing a car, exploring ways to teach a 7th grader, in their walk with Christ? Well, I guess I will spare the quotes this time because I have guests and need to cook something for dinner. I am anxious to hear what you think.


13 May 2006

Mom Instincts

I am convicted that I live my life according to the insticts that are embedded deep within. Some instincts are good, some are destructive. The spiritual life is figuring which is which.

I grew up in a nurturing, safe, and empowering home. Many of the insticts I live out come from my mother.

Instinct #1. The instinct to love. Here's the thing: to love someone is to risk everything. We run the risk of being rejected when we choose to love. Those who are willing to invest in others, pursuing them, face the reality that some will not love in return. Long story short--mom taught me to love without conditions, risking all one has for the sake of others. Mom does not exist for herself but for the sake of others. The instinct to love, to risk, is a great gift--full of terror, wonder, pain, and rejection.

Instinct #2. The instinct to work. My mother wove discipline into her children. Nothing comes easy, if it does, be suspicious. Little comes without hard work, if it does, it probably isn't worth having. Right in front of us, mom lived out discipline (going back to college when I was entering the teenage years) juggling a chaotic family, school, and deep fidelity to a local church community.

Instinct #3. The instinct to praise. To praise is to admit the incompleteness of our existence. Not just praise toward the Creator, but praise towards those around her. Constant affirmation, encouragement, and approval--no matter what adventure we invested ourselves in...and there were many.

To love like Jesus. To work for the way of God like Jesus. To praise the Father and those around you like Jesus...what better legacy can a mother leave for her family, those whose lives cross her annointed path?