Beyond human-centred faith

I find the biggest difference with deeper greener styles of Christianity is their post-anthropocentrism. That is, they are not so human centred. Instead of limiting their spiritual focus to the relationship of God to humanity, or even more myopically, of God to the individual, a more expansive awareness is embraced. So not only is the relationship of God to the human considered but so too is the relationship of God to the non-human, and of the human to the non-human. It’s not so one dimensional. It’s much more holistic. And this post-anthropomorphism flows into Christian ritual, experience, storytelling, symbolism, ethics, theology, social organisation, and more. It flows into the life of how we worship, how we pray, and how we read and interpret the gospel. It opens up aspects of the Christian tradition that have been long forgotten and neglected.
Embracing such styles of Christianity does however involve a lot of unlearning. It involves re-examining what we’ve been told are Christian teachings and testing how intrinsic to Christianity they actually are. Is the earth truly to be left behind? Do animals only have utility value?  Is the body irrelevant or even inimical to spiritual practice? Is the Spirit of God not to be found flowing in the earth as well as the sky, in the female as well as the male, in the body as well as the mind? Can we not, with the Psalmist, joyously call on sun and moon, mountains and trees to praise God with us, as fellow worshippers? How much of our inherited, human-centred view is intrinsic to Christianity and how much is merely the cultural accretion of the centuries? It can be surprising to learn what the scriptures and more ancient expressions of Christianity and Judaism actually say.

Ken Wilber inspired musings

Dan Danforth’s comments have got me thinking about Ken Wilber’s “all level, all quadrant” view of human consciousness and behaviour. And although I don’t agree with Ken Wilbur on everything, and would assert that his “four quadrants” doesn’t mesh with Plato’s “the good, the beautiful and the true” nearly as cleanly as he suggests, nevertheless I find Wilber’s thoughts on this stimulating.

So, while some of this is in my head I thought I’d write it down, even though some of this may come across as gobbledegook if you’ve never encountered Wilbur’s “all level, all quadrant” view before. To help you orientate, though, here’s two diagrams of the four quadrants: the individual-subjective, individual-objective, collective-subjective, and collective-objective.

Different Theorists and the Four Quadrants

Ken-wilbur-four-quadrants1

Characteristics of the Four Quadrants

Ken-wilbur-four-quadrants2

Wilbur claims the top left correlates to beauty (aesthetics), the bottom left to goodness (ethics), the top right to truth (epistemology), the bottom right to … well, I’m not quite sure. I see problems with this, particularly with beauty, because beauty is not always in the eye of the (individual-subjective) beholder. Instead, I would say the good, the beautiful and the true cut across the four quadrants in some very interesting ways.

For example, recognizing beauty can be a matter of:

Personal taste
… that is, self determined (individual-subjective)

Cultural conditioning
… that is, socially determined (collective-subjective)

Genetic programming
… that is, physically determined (individual-objective)

Context
… that is, systemically determined (collective-objective)

Thus, contra Wilber, beauty cannot be boxed into the individual-subjective quadrant so easily. Nevertheless, Wilbur is surely right in suggesting all four ways of viewing the world their own validity. Integrating his own thinking and mine, I would say, beauty cannot be fully understood without taking all four quadrants seriously.

I would say the same for goodness and truth as well. If I said, “It’s cold today” your perception of the “truth” of this would very much depend on your cultural conditioning in contrast to my own. If any of you are Canadians, you should doubt the truth of my statement very much, at least by your standards. If however I said, “It’s 20C today”, well, you could check the truth of that just by Googling the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia. There are different kinds of truth.

Where am I going with this. Well, just that it becomes very interesting when you come to conversations about the “goodness” of Christianity or the “truth” of the resurrection or the “beauty” of a Protestant church.

Ahimsa, Christian style

Dalai_Lama It surprises me sometimes, that people are quite happy to listen to Buddhists speak of ahimsa, but get quite agitated when Christians speak of nonviolence.

I’m not sure what it is, whether it’s the exotic unfamiliarity of Buddhism in contrast to the assumed familiarity of Christianity, or the fact that Buddhists are less numerous and politically significant in the West, or something else entirely. But when the Dalai Lama speaks of ahimsa, people lap it up. But when a Christian speaks of nonviolence, people call it irresponsible.

This gets me to wondering, maybe we need to de-familiarize the New Testament, to help people see it with fresh eyes? To help people approach it with a beginner’s mind? What if we were to translate the New Testament a different way?

Ahimsa in the New Testament 

Blessed are the ahimsa practitioners, for they will be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, practice ahimsa. And the God of love and ahimsa will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, ahimsa, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22)

He came and preached ahimsa to you who were far away and ahimsa to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:17)

Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Practice ahimsa with each other. (1 Thessalonians 5:13)

Make every effort to practice ahimsa with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then ahimsa-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

What happens for you when you encounter the words of the ancient messengers this way? Do you object to the translation? Do the implications disturb you? Does it encourage? Or give you a fresh perspective? On Buddhism or Christianity?

Related articles on ahimsa

So much for ahimsa

What is glocal Christianity?

I thought it was time to revisit why I named this blog Glocal Christianity. I am sure many of you wonder what the heck I mean by ‘glocal’ and what that has to do with my style of Christianity, so here goes.

Glocalization

The word ‘glocalization’ is a portmanteau of the words ‘glocal’ and ‘local’. It’s basically short for ‘localized globalization’, and unpacks the fact that the globalization of the local (macro-localization) and the localization of the global (micro-globalization) are often intertwined.

To give some examples, who doesn’t know what a vuvuzela is now? The infliction of vuvuzela’s on the world by South African soccer fans is a classic example of macro-localization, of the universalization of the particular. Conversely, who’s heard of the expression, “The world is at your doorstep”? The existance of 45 language groups in a school near me in western Sydney is a classic example of micro-globalization, of the particularization of the universal. These are some of the experiences and truths I seek to grapple with in this blog.

Some locales more globalized than others

Now, the truth of the matter is that some locales are more globalized than others. By and large, towns are not as glocalized as cities, small cities are not as glocalized as large cities, and even within large cities some suburbs are not as glocalized as others. Of course there are exceptions, but that’s the general rule of thumb.

My interest is born of the fact that I just happen to live in one of the most multicultural suburbs in one of the most multicultural cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Glocalization is rampant. So I wonder, what does a glocalized Christianity look like?

What does glocalized Christianity look like?

First, I tell you what it doesn’t look like, at least for me. It doesn’t look like celtic revivalist Christianity, for celtic nostalgia is only one influence amongst many. It doesn’t look like triumphalist civic Christianity, for Christianity is becoming increasingly marginalized in this religious melieu. It doesn’t look like a managerie of neotribal Christianities, for we’ve got far more subcultures than Christians. It doesn’t look like emerging expressions of Christianity in less globalized locales. It has far more diversity to grapple with.

So, what will a glocalized Christianity look like? That’s what I’ve been exploring and what I hope to explore in even greater depth as my own understanding expands. As I have expressed in my blog description, at the very least I think it involves exploring what it means to follow Jesus in a multireligious, multicultural, multimedia world. And I differentiate between multireligious and multicultural quite deliberately. I think it’s equally important to explore how we disciple western Hindus and eastern Christians. In fact, I am continually challenged to do both without walking more than 20 meters from my front door. A glocalized Christianity is a Christianity adapted for contexts of extreme cultural and religious diversity. That’s what this is about, both the conversations and the art.

The web as globalized locale

Now, of course extreme cultural and religious diversity may not be your local experience. Diversity is distributed unevenly and by virtue of that we are each going to have different experiences. But, I’m gathering if you’re here that you’ve experienced at least some of the ripple effects of glocalization. And I’m gathering you probably recognize that the web itself is a globalized locale, albeit a nonphysical one. So I’m glad you’re interested in joining me in this journey of discovery, of exploring what it looks like to follow Jesus in a multireligious, multicultural, multimedia world.

 

Oh for God’s sake! Episcopal Priest Barbie?

Episcopal-Priest-Barbie Just when you'd thought Jesus junk could get no worse, along comes … wait for it … Episcopal Priest Barbie. I think I'm gonna slit my wrists now. And the piece de resistance? You can friend her on Facebook!

Despite my better judgement I find myself pining for the Spanish Inquisition at this point.

You can read the full spiel at Idol Chatter. I can't stomach reiterating it all.

The Man with the Golden Gun

Worship-of-the-Golden-Gun When the people saw that the holy fool was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around the respectable pastor and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this holy fool who brought us up out of slavery, we don't know what has happened to him."

The respectable pastor answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to the respectable pastor. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a gun, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O America, who brought you up out of slavery.

When the respectable pastor saw this, he built an altar in front of the gun and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD." So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Is paganChristianity unChristian?

Pagan-christianity You know, I think I finally nailed where I part ways with Frank Viola on “Pagan Christianity”. It came out in conversation.

I was discussing the book with a friend on Sunday, who, like me, liked the book but had a few misgivings. And I said, “Apart from the euphamistic way he uses the word ‘Pagan’, which really grates with Pagans, what’s most problematic for me is that he shows insufficient appreciation for just how unessential many first century Christian practices actually were.”

What I mean is this, I think Viola is unquestionably correct in identifying many contemporary Christian practices as noncore, nonChristian even and thus nonessential. Where I think he errs is, in insisting there’s a pristine Christianity waiting to be restored.

Consider, a huge chunk of the New Testament consists of Paul’s letters to various Christian communities. And a huge chunk of that consists of Paul castigating Hebrew Christians for pushing nonessential Hebrew practices onto Gentile Christians. But does Paul ever castigate Hebrew Christians for practicing circumcision and kosher diets amongst themselves? No. Curiously, no.

What this suggests is, Paul was keen to differentiate between what was essential and what was not, but he regarded what was not as culturally “optional” rather than intrinsically “antiChristian”. What this suggests in turn is, neither should we assume that everything which is “Pagan” is intrinsically “antiChristian”. We need to look deeper before we decide that, before we write off Gentile (that is, Pagan) Christianity altogether.

Thus, though I agree buildings and podiums and pews and ordination ceremonies and Christmas celebrations have nonChristian origins, I disagree that Christian communities are less than authentic when they don’t ditch everything, at least not automaticallty. Instead I would say, let’s look at this through the lens of critical contextualization. It may be that we can use some of these things redemptively. Then again, maybe not. I may still land in the same place as Viola when its all said and done!

But the difference is, I tend to stress “essentials first” rather than “essentials only”. Though I can apreciate the value of microchurch, I am not so keen on saying there is a biblically mandated size restriction; and though I can see the pitfalls of ceremonialism, I am not so keen on poo pooing symbolic expression and embracing iconoclasm. I think, so long as it’s helpful, everything is permissible.

Moses has been more important to American history than Jesus?

Heston_rifle
The Huffinton Post makes the blunt suggestion that Moses has been more important to American History than Jesus. I am wondering what my American friends think of this? Cause, well, with the popularity of dispensationalist Christianity and manifest destiny over there, I gotta say, from this side of the Pacific the suggestion holds some resonance. So, is Moses the American prophet?

Beyond tribalism

Sydney-church99 The problem with most churches is not that they're uncontextual, its that they're too contextual for too narrow a segment of our culture. They are contextual for the tribe of white, aspirational, family-orientated people who like to play life safe. And consequently, not so contextual for people who are not. This segment is a significant segment of our culture, but only a segment.

The alt-tribal church

Now, one solution that has been suggested by the missional crowd is more tribal churches. To shift from a geographic focus to a demographic focus. But I have found geography has not been rendered irrelevant by globalization. Place still matters. Tribal churches greater chance of success where geography and demographics reinforce one another. For example, Goth friendly gatherings have more chance of success in dingy inner city suburbs than in leafy outer suburbs. Pagan friendly gatherings have more chance of success in Salem and Nimbin. Café churches have more chance of success in Café strips. Place still matters. When people wish to gather offline and not merely online, when people start bringing families and not just themselves, they don't want to migrate half a city away every week. Even when they belong to the tribe, the tribal church may be too distant for more than an occasional visit. Place still matters. So tribal church is only half a solution.

The multi-tribal church

The other half of the solution, as I see it, is multi-tribal church. Genuine multi-tribal and not just white, aspirational mono-tribal masquerading as multi-tribal in their rhetoric. Multi-tribal needs to be modelled at every level, beginning with the leadership level. Multi-tribal needs to celebrate, and not just tollerate, tribal diversity. But when you have genuinely multi-tribal church, everybody, even the tribless, are in a cross-cultural situation … together.

Our church

It's this latter approach that I see as necessary for my context. We live in one of the most multicultural suburbs in Sydney, which is one of the most multicultural cities in the Southern Hemisphere. We have over 50 languages spoken in some of the schools in our area. We have only a bit over a hundred people in our church. Even if we dispanded the church and sent out every man, woman and child in pairs we would not have enough to send someone to every tribe. And of course, not everyone is a gifted apostle or evangelist, so this is a rediculous expectation. What we can do though is learn how to be more embracing of any and every tribe. And be missional amongst whoever God places in our path.

But don't think these approaches are unrelated. They are the two extremes of a broad spectrum. And contextualization is needed along the whole spectrum. Where is your place?

Can we speak of orthodoxy without speaking of Constantine?

If you have been part of the missional conversation for any length of time then you’ve no doubt you’ve seen Christendom – that ancient notion of a Christian nation – being fairly heavily critiqued. But, have you ever spotted the elephant in the room? The fact that the first Christian empiror, the author of Christendom, was also the sponsor of the Council of Nicea, where that premier document of orthodoxy, the Nicean Creed, was first crafted. So,

Can we deconstruct Christendom without deconstructing orthodoxy?

Do we risk heresy by challenging Constantine?

Having given this some consideration, I say no. For to make such a suggestion is to imply that everything which came before Constantine was heretical, which would make Constantine our Messiah, not Christ. Moreover, church leaders were distinguishing between authentic and inauthentic Christianity way before Constantine, even within the New Testament itself. Nicea did not create orthodoxy, it merely clarified it, as clarifications became more necessary.

To get down to brass tacks, the teaching of the Trinity did not emerge out of nowhere at Nicea. More than a century before, Tertullian was using the words “Trinity”, “person” and “substance” to explain that the Father, Son and Spirit were “one in essence – not one in person”. In fact, the word Trinity was being used as early at 170 AD, by Theophilus of Antioch.

And of course, their teaching was itself rooted in the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 and the blessing of 2 Corinthians 13:14 and other teachings from the New Testament. It was not a burst of imagination and invention, it was the end product of a long process of clarification and contextualization. Imagination was the strength of the gnostics; memory was the strength of the traditionalists; and Nicea drew on memory.
So, the essense of my position is this, if it is possible to speak of Christian orthodoxy prior to Christendom, if it is possible to speak of Christian orthodoxy post-Christendom.