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Sean Tucker does junk religion : the “Unlearning” review

And the Darwin Award for Ecclesial extinction goes to…

Any church leader in Sean Tuckers new book “Unlearning”. Well, not all of them, but Sean’s debut is a litany of insensitivity, crassness and downright toxic religion, which I am now reminded, has been alive and well over this last decade. Continue reading “Sean Tucker does junk religion : the “Unlearning” review”

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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.

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.”

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.

OM : re-imagining the Logos

Before Time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking. The Voice was and is God. This celestial voice remained ever present with the Creator; His speech shaped the entire cosmos. [John 1, The Voice]

OM. The eternal Word is all: what was, what is and what shall be, and what beyond is in Eternity. All is OM. [Mandukya Upanishad]

lattice-dynamic-mt-doveExclusivism cries foul on my right, and pan-anythingism beckons on my left. Christianity demands that I conform to its interpretations of “the way, the truth, and the life”, as Eastern philosophy calls me away from māyā, my illusions. But I engage the fracas, because I believe a re-imagining is not an optional extra. And specifically, re-imagining the bankrupt Modern Christian tradition. Continue reading “OM : re-imagining the Logos”

Does Emergence = Global Religion?

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
 
christ-buddha-shakti transfiguration mandala by Jack Haas
christ-buddha-shakti transfiguration mandala by Jack Haas

Few statements cause as much reaction in Christian circles as those proposing that all religions lead to God. After all, it is generally accepted that Jesus himself stated “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

One topical variant on this theme has to do with “Global Religion”, and the idea that Christianity is but one of many faiths which point us towards Divinity, the Sacred, or Enlightenment. And with the advent of Emergence Christianity, with its pluralism, and its revisioning of Biblical Faith, the Emergent Church is viewed by many as leading us away from true orthodoxy into a new religious synthesis. This urge is typified in such statements as Continue reading “Does Emergence = Global Religion?”

Revisioning Atonement

A year ago, around Lent, a competition was announced on emergent village for people to rethink the meaning of the Cross of Jesus. Several new ideas emerged, together with some fresh reflection on the issue, and an interesting interview with Mark Baker and Tony Jones. I would like at this time of thinking about the Cross, to present a visualised framework, which might help us to come to terms with something much debated through the ages, the issue of Atonement.

Most accept the doctrines of their tradition without much deeper thought. Continue reading “Revisioning Atonement”

Four views on Hell (Zondervan, 1996)

John Walvoord (Literal), William Crockett (Metaphorical), Clark Pinnock (Annihilist/Conditional Immortality), Zachary Hayes (Purgatorial)

Reading this book was a fascinating, even refreshing exercise. It is an all out debate between various views on the afterlife, in such a way that each view gets critiqued by all others.

I found it entertaining: Besides its fetching sulphurous red design, it was like watching a round robin boxing match, with one fighter per corner. The patterns and dynamics, tactics and overlaps were fascinating, but Continue reading “Four views on Hell (Zondervan, 1996)”

Eternal Punishment in Augustine’s The City of God

In many ways, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was the most influential post-Pauline theologian in Christendom. Even today he is widely quoted and revered, but more importantly, his theological approach has been deeply internalised so as to be seen as normal. Any disagreement with his writings is tantamount to heresy, and this applies equally to Catholic and Protestant traditions

Many major themes of Christian thought can be traced to Augustine. These include the Just War theory, the Trinity, and Original Sin. But what I want to focus on here is his profound influence on the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment.

Continue reading “Eternal Punishment in Augustine’s The City of God”

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