What should we care about? How should we express our caring? In light of what, toward what, should we live? The questions raise Hugh Macleod's inquiry: “Is it a tool or a prop?” Does it ground us in the heart of things, or keep us fluttering about in the shallows on the periphery of our lives? Eyes that see, ears that hear, a heart that understands seem to know shallow when they are in its presence, seem to recognize “it” and “not-it.” And so, the importance of seeing, and hearing, and understanding--of taking the time to look, and listen, and apprehend. And, that means stepping back from fear and desire.
Standing apart from our fears and desires, what do we need? What do we need for what--with no fear or desire to propel us? What governs our action, our direction, our needs, then? Then, perhaps, we are open to consider “What needs us?” The question enlarges to “What do we need to do what, what needs us to do?” Does the Grail serve us, or do we serve the Grail? I need a camera to serve the Seer, and I need to take the Seer to the places the Seer needs to see. Or, am I only kidding myself here? As the Seer is satisfied, I am certainly satisfied as well. As I fail the Seer, I fail myself as well. There is a point at which the Seer and I are one. But, then, I can wander off, on my own, seeking my own ends, my own advantage, my own profit. The Seer and I can part ways. I can live in the service of things the Seer doesn't need at all. We can co-opt our calling, and aim for the Big Time at any time. It is the story of the Lost Way of the species, and of each of us, as well. It could be called The Lost Calling.
What do we need to do what we are here to do? It depends, doesn’t it, on our vision of who and how we see ourselves, and what we think we are here for. All the questions stir, and our pulse rate increases, as we approach the point of transition, and wonder how different the future needs to be from the past.
Who ARE we? What ARE we about? What do we need to help us do what we are here to do? What are we here to do? If we were building the church over, from the ground up, what would we need to bring our idea of church into existence? There’s that word again, twice. Church. Do we see ourselves as the church, the ecclesia, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ? The Community of the Faithful? Faithful to whom, to what? Do we see ourselves carrying forward any of the things we have inherited from the church of our experience? The Sacraments? The rituals? The theology? Doctrines? What do we tell our children about the unknowns that shape our lives? About the values that are the foundation of our living?
How do we talk of grace, mercy, and peace? Of justice and compassion? Of the divine “ought-to-be-ness” that grips our hearts and carries us into the service of a good that is greater than our own good? How do we grapple with the mystery? How do we say what is meaningful, and why do we say that is meaningful and not something else instead? What stories do we tell to communicate what we believe? What do we believe? What do we believe about believing?
I believe it is important to do our believing within a context that governs, not the what of believing, but the how. In the past, doctrines have determined the content of belief. We have been told what to believe. Our faith consisted of specific body of belief. We could talk of “the Christian faith,” for instance as being different from “the Hindu faith” by virtue of the difference in the content of the beliefs of those perspectives. I believe we have to do our believing in a different context.
The first rule is that the process is always being defined—the process of believing is itself in process. The second rule is that the process of believing, or, you might say believing itself, does not rule out contradiction and paradox but rather engages them, even creates them. Believing is a balancing act whereby experience counterbalances and enlarges and deepens experience. We believe what makes sense at any point in our experience, but experience informs belief. Belief does not restrict or limit experience, but it shapes experience even as it is shaped by experience in the eternal dance of yin and yang. Believing is balancing, a way of balancing our experiences, and being balanced by them.
Something happens, and we believe this or that about what caused it to happen, why it happened, what the purpose of its happening was. And we formulate theories, and doctrines, and explanations which provide a framework for understanding the experience, and the theories can prevent us from examining the experience, and the doctrine can keep us from thinking about the experience. And superstition and religion and astrology are just different ways of thinking—or not thinking—about experience in ways that accommodate us to is and offer us a way of living in relationship with it. Religion needs to become much more scientific in its approach to experience, else we will be bound inextricably to the world views of the past, and persecute gay people because “the Bible says they are sinful,” and go to war with the infidel because they are a threat to “true belief.” Belief that is truly “true belief,” looks at what it believes and asks, “What makes me think this is true?”
Believing has to be done in a context that sets the ground-rules for believing, in a context that defines the process of believing. Essential to the process of belief is the practice of inquiry and investigation, of asking, seeking, and knocking, of pushing against the limits and challenging authority and questioning assumptions. “This means, of course, that we can never claim to have truth cornered, captured, and incarcerated, and that what we have to offer is not a stilted list of things to think and believe and do, but an atmosphere which encourages the examination of what is known and the exploration of what is unknown so that what is worth knowing might emerge”(Jim Dollar, “On Being Presbyterian” ca.1985 ).
There is always more to see than has been seen, to hear than has been heard, to understand than has been understood. And, our beliefs are always evolving to take new information into account. We are always believing our way into different ways of perceiving, and perceiving our way into different ways of believing. What we see is a function of how we see, and the challenge is always to see in ways which take what else there is to see into account.
So, I believe we tell our children things that open them to the truth of their own experience, that ground them in confidence to trust themselves unknowing to questions that are not quickly dismissed as improper or heretical, or blocked with answers. And we need to do that in a spirit of playfulness and easy-going-ness and good humor that, itself, calls into question the seriousness with which we are prone to take things, and asks, of itself, “Is the seriousness with which I am taking things justified?” How we treat our children, and what we tell them, and how we tell them what we tell them is crucial to the future that we are creating. We have always heard in the church, “Our children are the future of the church.” That is not true. The future of the church does not depend upon the children of the church but upon the perspective of the church. The perspective of the church is the future of the church. How we treat our children is a reflection of that perspective. How we treat our children is the future of the church.
It is important that our children learn to think. Not that they think what we think, but that they think. And, that they think about their thinking. Toward that end, we need to provide our children with experiences that develop their creativity and open them to a sense of wonder and joy. We need to connect our children with what brings them to life and makes them alive, and enable them to trust their own voice, and learn to discern the voices within, so that they might perceive and follow their own sense of direction, their own guide. And we need to give ourselves permission to start over in developing our own understanding of the world, the universe, life, and our place in them all.
There are six statements that turn Christian theology as we have received it on its head, and open the way for new way of understanding ourselves and the way things are. We have talked of them before, here they come again:
Our idea of God is not God. What could be more scripturally sound? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9), and, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36). Even Lao Tse gets into the act with, “The Tao that can be said is not the Eternal Tao.” Yet, we act as though our idea of God IS God. We declare our beliefs to be “true beliefs.” And we excommunicate people, or call them heretics, or declare war on them because theirs is a different idea of God than ours.
The Garden of Eden did not have latitude and longitude. There was no primordial Paradise from which we were expelled for disobeying God, and hence no Original Sin which requires the atoning death of God’s only Son to patch things up with God and get us back in God’s good graces if we confess, repent, and believe. The whole thing goes with the Garden of Eden, and we have to start over, and create “out of nothing” the perspective with which we view the world, the universe, life and our place in them all.
The church was before the Bible. Of course the church was before the Bible. The Bible was the creation of the church. The church decided what was to be included in the Bible and what was to be excluded, and when part of the church disagreed with the officials of the church, the church declared itself to be the infallible voice of God and that was that. And the church said everything it said was true because it was in the Bible, yet the church decided what was in the Bible. Surely, you see the illogic at work here, even if your name isn’t Shirley.
We are the ones who say so. We believe what we believe because we believe what we believe is worth believing We are the authority by which we declare something to be authoritative, believable and true. Of course, we say we have to “take it on faith,” but why do we take “this” “on faith” and not “that”? We are the ones to decide. God is who we say God is.
Every step forward is a step into heresy. Everything that we believe with such fervor and proclaim with such gusto was, at some point in the past, rank heresy, the embrace of which was punishable by death or exclusion from the circle of orthodoxy of the day. Some present heresy is the hope of the future.
The ants find the picnic, the flowers turn to the sun. We are perfectly capable of evaluating what we experience and determining what truth is. We know “it” when we see it, and we know “not-it” when we see it. “The truth will out.” “The truth shines through.” It’s only a matter of time. All it takes is time. And attention.
We find the way forward in fits and starts. Hits and misses. Rights and wrongs. Who knows what we should do? What we should care about? How we should express our caring? Just care about something! Just start caring! And keep our eyes open. The way will open before those who are open to the way. We don’t have to figure it all out before we start walking!