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emergence

The Nested Storyverse

Based on a few ideas coming out of conversations on the advent of evolutionary christianity, I thought it would be good to articulate a schema of our stories, especially in the light of the  evolutionary/emergent paradigm, and compare it with the orthodox/evangelical construct.

As I grow towards an understanding of the universe as a divinely imbued processes (emergent spirituality), rather than a predetermined machine (deist/theist orthodoxy), I have come to appreciate the centrality of story in life.  Indeed, I did an album a year back entitled “Story” (The Sout Project) and have just done another quite different offering, entitled “Space and Story: Soundtracks for mythmaking“. So the understanding of us being involved in a “Storyverse” is resonating.

Our stories help articulate our realities, far better than other “objective” modes such as sermon, text book, news report, bullet-point summary, or twitter snippet. (Story can however exist in these spaces, but they are not necessarily the best media).

The subjective, experiential or imaginative nature of a story enhances the opportunity for connection between us and our world at a deep level. Stories exist at different levels simultaneously, and that is why we can say we live in a Storyverse. In fact we could say that our stories are “nested” in one another. More local stories belong inside larger, more universal ones.

Having said this, indulge my analytical bent as I present a few ideas about these nested levels of Story.

  1. My story – The core of it is my life, history and particular sensibility having a unique shape which can be shared in telling, writing, or any other form of creative expression.
  2. Our story – As an individual I have a communal context, made up of the confluence of many stories, all told within this community.
  3. Our tradition – Our community usually centres around shared interests which have history in themselves, such as a faith community like a denomination, sect or philosophy, or other interest group to which we belong.
  4. (At this point I will get more particular regards my own christian tradition).

  5. The “christian church” – the tradition/s I have been part of have all existed in the context of 2000 years of christianity.
  6. The Abrahamic promise – In turn, christianity grew from Judaism, whose roots are in God’s promise to Abraham “In you I will bless the nations of the Earth”.
  7. The Wisdom traditions – alongside Jewish history, we need to include other wisdom traditions, both those emerging from the middle East as well as from the Far East – (Vedic, Taoist etc.), and importantly, the natural primal spiritualities existing globally outside of “civilised” urban cultures.
  8. The history of man – homo sapiens consciously (“knowingly”) develops and lives within a religious frame of reference (to a greater and lesser degree) as part of life.
  9. Life on Earth – man emerges from the process of life as a unique and highly complex species, and relatively recently in Earths 4.3 billion years. However, some of us draw too exclusive a line between man and the rest of life, forming the basis for many of the crises we experience today – a lack of appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things.
  10. The Great Story – The Epic of the Universe, the 14 billion-year journey of light and dust, humanity’s common creation story. To me, this makes sense in the context of a Creator who spoke this into existence. However, this cannot be proved – scientific knowledge seems to stop at 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang, and so a barrier exists beyond which no evidence appears to be currently accessible. So it is by faith that we can say with the writer of Hebrews that “the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” [1:3]
  11. The transcendent Creator – the first cause, ultimately much larger than any category we might hold, mysterious at heart, who can only be accessed through the mystery of faith. Here, all categories – time, matter, mind, and even “story” itself – break down.

It might be best to allow the perennial texts to speak:

A way that can be walked is not The Way
A name that can be named is not The Name
Tao is both named and nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things

Tao Te Ching 1 (trans. Jonathan Star)

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Paul’s letter to the Romans (11:33)

Eye cannot see It, tongue cannot utter It, mind cannot grasp It. There is no way to learn or to teach It. It is different from the known, beyond the unknown. In this all the ancient Masters agree.

The Upanishads

I began by suggesting a contrast of 2 Storyverses I have inhabited. This involves my journey from modernist deist-theist orthodoxy to the emergent/evolving wisdom consciousness.

Typically, the orthodoxy misunderstands, ignores or rejects 6 – 9, in which the Abrahamic promise is hardwired to “God”, with no cultural or physical context or consideration. This eliminates the arena championed by the natural sciences, and creates the quite unnecessary conflicts of worldview typical of the young earth creationalist vs. materialist evolutionist stand-off.

If we consider the materialist side of the debate, including evolutionary atheists, their story will include points 1-3 and 7-9, rejecting both historical expressions of religion (4-6ish) as well as a theistic first cause (10).

The more we accommodate these nested stories, the more credibility and integrity our spirituality will have, not just as presented to the world, but as lived and experienced within our own lives.

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The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity

All Mother, its been almost 2 months since my last post. And I confess that it was a bit of a downer: the non-event (for me) of Lausanne 2010.

That shut me up for a bit. But now, the news just got good again…

I’ve been following one of the most inspiring events of recent times online. It’s called “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity” and curated by Michael Dowd, author of the 2009 book “Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World”.

Continue reading “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity”

Lausanne 2010 – the questions to your answer.

This week saw the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (yes folks, that’s spelled with a zee) take place in Cape Town.

I held an open posture (a “reverse pretzel”) towards the goings on, and met face to face with a few delegates. But by and large I remained fringer than the self-proclaimed “fringe”. Part of this advanced yogic manipulation involved my posting a question per day on conversation.lausanne.org.

For evangelicals, regardless of the plethora of diverse issues – globalism, truth, social action, climate- the answer is always “Jesus”. Even then, we shall have to ask again, “Which Jesus?”

So here, to summarise, are what I see as key questions to address going forward. Conversation around these on conversation.lausanne was not prolific, so let me simply repost them here:

  • Can Evangelical – Postevangelical interfaith dialog bear fruit?
  • How have liberal, postmodern and emergent values infiltrated evangelicalism?
  • Is evangelicalism inherently dualistic?
  • Is “worship” a separate idea from “evangelization”?
  • What comes first – belief, behaviour, or belonging?
  • Does the Gospel of Grace require the threat of Hell?
  • How does our salary affect our theology?

Rohr on 9 stages of consciousness

I have heard Father Richard Rohr presenting more than one framework for development (that includes the work of Fowler and Plotkin), but this is the one he presented on 12th June 2010 in Cape Town.

There is much to say in respect to this teaching, and I hope people will comment. For me this type of wisdom perspective is a way forward for those called in to a sense of emergence, who might be growing wary of the word’s overuse.

Here are a few points:

  • He is at pains to present this not as a “race to finish”. At each stage the call is complete it in its own time, with maximum honesty. This removes the inevitable moralising about who is where.
  • I could not get full clarity on stages 6 and 7, so I have grouped them together.
  • Father Richard gives us a mantra, and this was “transcend – include, transcend – include”. This means we fully live a stage, and transcend it when done, rather than rejecting it. The corollary is if you can not include you have not transcended. (As we can see it a feature of Stage 4 to break this very rule). This bears an interesting similarity to Brian McLaren’s metaphor of the tree in “A Generous Orthodoxy”, which builds on the previous seasons growth.
  • The context of these spiral dynamics of emergence is that most of the world (and that includes the church) is in a combination of stages 3 and 4, and is somewhat stuck there.

And now here are Richard Rohr’s stages of Consciousness:

1 – Infant consciousness
Undifferentiated from mother, this is our first experience of the world. It is complete oneness, and the bliss of ignorance. In personal terms includes ages up to 2 years old.

2 – Magical consciousness
Between 2 and 7, as the child realises that it is an individual, it experiences the world directly, unambiguously, and magically. This consciousness, (parts of which Rohr suggests can be seen in the likes of The Amish and everyone’s favourite saint Mother Theresa), is only sustainable by separating from reality (I may be misunderstanding these examples). Its mantra might be “The way I see it is the way it is.” Its negatives include narcissism, pietism, and sentimentality.

3  – Mythic / Tribal consciousness
Innately dualistic, this stage sees deep group conformity regardless of what might be true. Dualisms include us/them and win/lose, and karma – you get what you deserve – totally dominates grace. The bible becomes a totem and the only “wisdom” is the conventional.

4 – Rational consciousness
Here myth becomes the victim of their rational prowess. What they don’t understand, they call wrong. Intolerant of previous levels, this spiritual adolescence results in doctrines like biblical inerrancy and papal infallibility. Because of their inflexible emphasis on belief and not faith, Rohr calls those at rational consciousness “practical atheists”. Most conservatives find themselves at either stage 3 or 4.

5 – Vision Logic
After Ken Wilbur, this is a pluralistic age of “universal scepticism”; everything is true, everyone is right, and we refuse to place our bets. Most liberals are stuck here.

6/7 – Subtle/Psychic consciousness
The separate self starts to fall away; this may or will involve the dark night of the soul. It is about emptying, of which Meister Eckhart said “The spiritual journey is about subtraction, not addition”.

8 – Christ Consciousness
The non-dual mind of Christ. “I and the Father are one.”

9 – “I am”
The fully integrated, divinised self. The “pure contemplative”. Holiness is “doing your thisness”.

Karen Armstrong’s long and winding road.

God, rid me of God [Meister Eckhart]

Former nun, lapsed Catholic, unsuccessful academic, undiagnosed epileptic, fired schoolteacher, failed heterosexual, cultural ignoramus, unlucky in love, ex-Christian, post-atheist, faded TV personality, turned author, sage and freelance monotheist: these are some of the milestones on Karen Armstrong’s long, hard road.

Very rarely does an autobiography remain a gripping tale throughout, without succumbing to egoism. But Karen Armstrong manages this admirably in “The Spiral Staircase” (2005) in a litany of misadventures starting out at age 17 when she excitedly decided to enter a cloistered lifestyle in the hope of finding transcendence and happiness. Continue reading “Karen Armstrong’s long and winding road.”

Review: “The second coming of Christ” by Muzi Cindi

Muzi Cindi, Boss Drummer

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria Muzi?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

When I’m with her him I’m confused
Out of focus and bemused

And I never know exactly where I am
Unpredictable as weather
She’s as flighty as a feather
She’s a darling! She’s a demon! She’s a lamb!

[“Maria” from “The Sound of Music” by Oscar Hammerstein II]

Aah Muzi, you’ve done it again. You’ve broken all the rules and just come right out with it. The maverick atheist evangelical Christian has a new book. Continue reading “Review: “The second coming of Christ” by Muzi Cindi”

Sculpting the Narrative: McLaren’s “Greco-Roman” meets Fox’s “Fall-Redemption”

I am just about as excited as I could be. I’ve just put down Brian McLarens “Part 1: The Narrative Question” in his new tour de force “A New Kind of Christianity”. And on the table, too, is my well worn copy of Matthew Fox’s 1982 Classic “Original Blessing.”

If there are two defining works for the Christianity of the 21st Century, these two books are it. You may have seen Avatar in 3D, reading NKoC and OB together will give superb depth to any vision of the future of Christian spirituality. The very fact that McLaren is predominantly Evangelical Protestant and Fox Dominican Catholic, and that both these great contemporary thinkers consider themselves post the modern era, gives us a tremendous ecumenical advantage over narrower, more sectarian points of view.

The problem in a nutshell

Matthew Fox’s thesis is that Modern Christianity has been hijacked by a set of anti-biblical assumptions, which he calls the “Fall/Redemption” tradition. Properly understood, the Biblical narrative emerges from what he has named the much more ancient “Creation Spirituality” tradition.

The key curators of this are the “Yahwist” author of Genesis, the Wisdom writers, The Old Testament Prophets, Jesus, Paul, Francis, Mechtild, Eckhart, Teilhard and host of others, while the main proponents of Fall/Redemption include Augustine, a Kempis and Tanquerry. Fox shows how modernity built on Newton and Descartes, and siding with this latter paradigm, resulted in the crisis of spirituality we experience today, especially in the West. Continue reading “Sculpting the Narrative: McLaren’s “Greco-Roman” meets Fox’s “Fall-Redemption””

Bemerge

Be the change you want to see in the world. [Ghandi]
“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” [Isaiah 54:2, NIV]

Well the “New Kind of Christianity” storm is upon us. I am yet to read the book, but right now I am an observer from the edges of the weather system created by Brian McLarens cyclonic lifting of the pressure of our inherited orthodoxy.

Right now, emergents are fighting theological and ideological battles, and so we should. But clear or correct thinking is not an end in itself. We should fix our gaze beyond.

That end, I might offer, is the Life of God. Do our thoughts support and generate It? Are we brought further into right relationship with all things, especially our Creator?

Here are some alternative voicings of the question: Continue reading “Bemerge”

The New Age – a postevangelical view

Tierazon1 fractal (Jack Haas)

Despite my naturally pedantic approach to language, I find that there are a few words or phrases that remain stuck on my tongue and in my head. My lifelong struggle against cliché and bad habits is tainted by this clutch of problematic symbols that like Pauls thorn, seem to resist my every effort in the battle to say what I mean and mean to be as fresh, new and creative as is humanly possible. One such phrase is “New Age”.

I first became aware of it while at the start of a journey which took me to the heart of charismatic evangelicalism, almost 30 years ago. What I remember this pejorative usage implying was false, relativistic, disembodied and uncommitted spirituality.

These are a few things from popular culture which in my experience are deemed “New Age”: Continue reading “The New Age – a postevangelical view”

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