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evolution

Michael Dowd on TEDx – Why we struggle now.

The evolutionary evangelist continues to impress. Here he discusses an evolutionary perspective on the stubbornness of our human condition  – sin – in a recent talk for TEDx Grand Rapids.

“Prior to microscopes, it wasn’t just difficult to understand infection, it was impossible. Prior to telescopes, it wasn’t just difficult to understand the large scale structure of the universe, it was impossible. Two or three hundred years ago it wasn’t just difficult to understand our evolved nature, it was impossible.”

“History will show that the greatest psychological and spiritual realisation – revelation – of our time is the understanding that human beings have instincts like all other animals do and if we don’t understand appreciate and respectfully manage – that is honour and harness our inherited drives, we are bound to be enslaved to them.

What you resist persists, but what you can be grateful for – honour – can transform and empower you.”

 

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Science and/or Faith?

Responding to a recent local online debate around a Cape Town science teacher who has been “forced to quit” her teaching job as a result of a consistent attack from her reportedly  Christian colleagues, I thought we should do a poll. The postings were predominantly combative in tone and reveal just how divided the issue is in many or most people’s minds.

If you would like to explore this issue further please see my reflections on “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity“.

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.

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”

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”

Philip Clayton in conversation with Nic Paton

Darwin, Teilhard de Chardin, Sacred Evolution, Hosting the Universe, missional biology, co-evolving, radicalised ecozoic incarnation, and the generation that is asking “brilliant questions”:

Philip Clayton (author of “Transforming Christian Theology“) in conversation with Nic Paton (curator of The Sout Project).

Listen to Philip Clayton in conversation with Nic Paton.

Muzi Cindi – A postmodern nigger in the woodpile

Talking About God Thinking About GodAs epiphanies go, Muzi Cindi’s stands way out. As a preacher and churchman of some 25 years standing, God appeared to him in 2007 during a Radox moment in the shower. So far, only slightly unusual. Then, God actually spoke to him. That deserves, I suppose, a hearing, even in this day of revelation overload. But the clincher is the message, and it was this: “God does not exist”.

But instead of creating a debilitating crisis of faith for Cindi, this subversive “a-theist” anticreed has become his catharsis, motivation, and passion. The evangelical zeal which was his all along merely adjusted to a new message and is as far as one can tell, as strong as it ever has been, and certainly no less radical. The outcome of his visitation is now available as a book, “Thinking about God, Talking about God”.

Well, maybe I should say that it’s not so much a conventional book, as a documented process, largely unedited, full of spelling errors and dubious assertions, brimming with contradiction, but ultimately held together in a burning vision. Lordy Lordy Hallelujah! this is surely a testimony for the postmodern age.

As a text, and because this is a review, let it be noted that the index of howlers is unusually high, the problems ranging from simple spelling, incorrect word usage, to un-researched shortcuts, and the appropriation of whole chapters from other sources. This I am sure is due to the fact that this is an entirely self funded enterprise, and therefore wholly sidesteps normal publishing channels; but this is part of the “Thinking about God” charm. To stop at such nitpicking would be to miss the point.  

Cindi’s essential point is this: the Christianity he was brought up in, is not only unsustainable and discredited, but already defunct. “The Christian world is disintegrating, because the story on which it is based is losing its power.” He supplies abundant (though somewhat chaotic) data to support his claims. But his offering is essentially a visionary one, involving wide theological, philosophical, and scientific thought. He seeks to address the seeming incompatibility of a deep love for his evangelical tradition – and his faith in Jesus – with his philosophical embrace of the new atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

And this embrace extends to just about everything that contributed to the end of the modern era, from Copernicus and Galileo’s pioneering cosmologies, Darwin’s evolutional insights, Einstein’s discovery of relativity, Paul Tillich’s theological atheism and Karen Armstrong’s religious demythologising.

DoNotBelieve“Don’t believe what I believe” is one of Muzi’s rallying cries, and I look forward to the T-Shirt. In case this gets interpreted as mere reactionary anarchy, he explains to us the apophatic (negative theology) traditions from where he draws his succour: Meister Eckhart, the 13th century mystic, Paul Tillich, and Don Cuppit. And he gives credit too to all reformers – Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, the evangelical fathers Wesley, Edwards, Moody, and the South Africans such as John G Lake and Nicholas Bhengu. And references are not just to Christianity: universal, ecumenical appeals to the wisdom of all the worlds’ faith traditions pepper the book.

One of the most curious questions I have about Cindi’s explosive energy its relatively sparse dealings with the question of African roots, and bringing in more post colonial thought to buttressing his extensive postmodernism. Where, for example, are the fathers of the African revolutions, where is his own South African literary tradition amongst the plethora of first world sources? I do not want to prescribe who he should be, but it is a little vexing that the vast majority of his thesis of a post-God God is found in European and American thinking. I’d be delighted to see him take on African traditions with the same zeal he has taken on his own Evangelical roots, and even further to see him unpack an authentic Ubuntu as part of the rebuilding of Christianity.

I find myself identifying with Cindi’s vision, including his passion for knowledge, his hermeneutic of suspicion, his honest confusion, and his pariah status. At the same time I share his love for the evangelical tradition, and the ancient way of Jesus. He affirms, “A redefined Jesus still stands at the centre of my God experience”. Furthermore, I broadly concur with his inclusivity and embrace of all wisdom traditions as a way forward in a post Christian age. “Thinking about God” is flawed and fabulous, a headily chaotic brew, diverse, divisive, and delicious.

Muzi Cindi is a self confessed heretic, and draws strength from making peace with heterodoxy. The book is prefaced with an unattributed quote, “For every orthodoxy was once a heresy, and every heresy is fated to be orthodoxy. All countries were founded by traitors. All our churches were founded by heretics. The patriotism of today glories in the treasons of yesterday.” But to accuse him of lack of accountability would be short-sighted indeed; in addition to his relational ties to his mentors, the book is remarkable for its sheer range of references.

MusiHis vision is no idiosyncratic delusion, but rather an extension of a variety of well acknowledged intellectual and spiritual traditions. And we need his energy and his attempt to reconcile the old and new views of God and the cosmos. Despite his rambling style, I do not believe that this is a “mish-mash” of thought, so much as an emerging, integral vision.

Overcoming the taboo associated with thinking outside of our boxes, especially our religious ones, is a foundational shift which requires great courage; as Seal sings, “We’re never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy”. Cindi is not shy of being regarded as a holy fool, and having recovered from the fear of asking questions, the potential for “error” appears to have no limit. And yet, all progress, and all evolutionary shifts, require these chaotic conditions. With startling audacity, Cindi has created them.

His life’s work, I intuit, will be to ensure that this chaos does indeed lead to a sustainable spirituality. Perhaps chief amongst the questions will be the one “Where, now, is our authority?” which emergent thinkers like Phyllis Tickle have been addressing.

If the world is to remember Muzi Cindi the author, he will have to employ a good editor. And if it is to celebrate his personal legacy, he will have to help those still ensnared in modernistic thinking, to emerge. He will need to fully develop his empathy, creating sound bridges for others to cross. And he will have to gain the trust of those who not so long ago, would have gloried in his immolation at the heretic’s stake.

Muzi’s Website.

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