Friday, August 10, 2007

Crashing the Christian Party

I was at a wonderful conference last week in Arizona where I attended an academic presentation on interdisciplinary approaches to religion. One scholar (a psychologist) presented a paper on the neuro-plasticity of the brain and how the thoughts we choose shape our experiences. A second presenter was a bible scholar who argues for a symbolic/allegorical approach to biblical interpretation (instead of the more widely accepted historical-critical method in which I was trained). A third scholar was a theologian who presented a paper on the Gospel of Thomas showing that early Christian communities were more diverse in opinion and experience than the institutional church would have us believe (the Thomas gospel did not make it into the Christian canon, but some of us believe it should have).

It was that third scholar who said of the defenders of orthodoxy, those who say that only people who accept certain doctrines or dogmas can be Christian, that she tells them, "I am the resurrection of the people you tried to kill." That is, she represents the faith experiences of those who did not get their views in the canon of scripture or in the creeds but who represented healthy and vibrant faith communities faithful to their understanding of Jesus.

I thought of that brilliant scholar and her wise retort when someone accused me today of holding (and sharing) views that were simply not Christian. I understand my Christianity to be both positive and progressive, but I was informed that my spirituality wasn't progressive Christianity, it was not Christian at all. I thought that was rude, but more than that, wrong.

My retort was neither as succinct nor as clever as "I am the resurrection of the people you tried to kill," but the spirit of that retort was very present with me when I replied, "Christianity may be broader, richer, and more diverse than you are willing to believe. People who who share my beliefs were written out of the canons, denounced by councils, and silenced in the creeds. But that only means they lost the political battles, not that their views didn't have merit. They were Christian, they just weren't the Christians who wound up with the power. The ones who wound up with the power and privilege are the ones who have always felt they had the right and authority to pontificate what and who was (and wasn't) Christian. Their experience is real for them, but their experience is not the only possible experience. Whether you believe it or not, Christianity really does have room for people like me, and at least on the margins, it always has."

I am a Christian with a "low" Christology. I am a Christian with a panentheistic understanding of God. I am a Christian who follows rather than worships Jesus. I am a Christian who does not feel that the world was lost and required a savior to bring it back into relationship with God. I understand where those beliefs originated, but I don't believe they were the views of Jesus, they are not the view of every Christian in any time period, and they are not views that I need to uncritically accept in order to be a faithful member of the community that finds Jesus to be a particularly important symbol of faith.

I am a Christian with a high regard for the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Agnostic, the Taoist, and the Wiccan (and others). I am a Christian who does not believe that anyone is damned (least of all for the religious opinions that they do or do not hold). I am a Christian who loves the Judeo-Christian scriptures (and non-canonical bits that didn't make it in), the Christian sacraments, my particular Christian community, and the Galilean God-filled prophet who my tradition considers to have been anointed with God's spirit and grace (Christ means "anointed").

It would be OK if I weren't a Christian (there have been times when I didn't feel much attachment to that label), but today I glady affirm my place as a Christian Metaphysician and I invite anyone else whose critical mind and adventurous spirit leads them to Jesus but not necessarily to the "traditional" teachings about him to claim their place as a "progressive" or "questioning" or "New Thought" or "liberal" or "non-traditional" Christian.

Before the institutional church and the Roman empire merged in the 4th century, there were actually a number of Christian centers, and they each had different tones and outlooks. Some of them would later be called heretics, but in the beginning, they were just followers of Jesus as they understood him and his message. They didn't win the political battles that came later, but their faith was real and was part of what kept the Christian spirit alive before the Christian church evolved into a powerful institution. Some of us may not look like what the institution says is "orthodox," but that's OK. We may just be the resurrection of the people they tried to kill, and that's pretty cool too. Afer all, what is a Christian if not a person living in resurrection power? :-)

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