This bookstudy will begin January 9, 2022 only on Zoom.
This is the first book by an actual theologian that we have studied. This will be difficult for me as a scientist, but should yield some very interesting discussions. From the back of the book:
With immediate impact and deep creativity, Catherine Keller offers this brief and unconventional introduction to theological thinking, especially as recast by process thought. Keller here takes up theology itself as a quest for religious authenticity in a way that helps us probe the meaning of the divine, of divine power and compassion, of our evolving world, and of Christian life in the Spirit.
Through a marvelous combination of brilliant writing, story, engaging reflection, and unabashed questioning of old shibboleths, Keller redeems theology from its often dry and predictable categories to reveal what has always been at the heart of the theological enterprise: a personal search for intellectually honest and credible ways to make sense of the loving mystery that encompasses even our confounding times.
Catherine Keller is Professor of Constructive Theology at the Theological School and Graduate School, Drew University.
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Week 8 Questions
1 – Which of the first seven chapters did you like best (AND worst)? Why? 160
2 – Can you yet imagine a different set of “markers” that would result in a different form of theology than that presented in this book? 161
3 – How do you understand the ‘coming of the Holy Spirit’ referenced in the Acts of the Apostles today? 162
4 – How many have read any of the ‘Left Behind’ series? Comments? 165
5 – What are some ideas you would put into a final New Testament book IF you could replace John’s Revelation? 165
6 – Does Double-Edged S/Word make any sense at all? 170
7 – Suppose some organization, not church related, did the same ecology project as Case 1: Would the theology related ideas still apply? 172
8 – The entire history and mythology of humanity has been US vs. THEM. Do we have a chance of “enmeshing” as our author describes? 174
9 – Does our author do a good job with her Absolute, Dissolute, and Resolute wrap-up? Are you convinced? 176
Responses to Week 8 Questions
1. Which of the first seven chapters did you like best (AND worst)? Why? (p.160)
I liked the first chapter the best, because it introduces just what “process theology” is and is not. Within its twenty-five pages, there are a number of compelling statements about the nature of truth, the purpose of theology, and the gifts inherent within mysticism:
• “Both atheism and theism can play the game of absolute truth.” (p.6)
• “The claim of absolute truth is the greatest single obstruction to theological honesty.” (p.8)
• “Creation itself is in process. Our own way forward has not yet been charted. ...one can only move forward in faith: that is, in courage and confidence, not in a delusional certainty.” (p.9)
• “...truth cannot be extracted or imposed by force. ...we require a radically relational theology. ...what Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘the beloved community.’ ...peace without abandoning the struggle for justice.” (p.11)
• “...we make peace and we make love only inasmuch as we make justice.” (p.12)
• “The truth-process does not eliminate uncertainty or its chaos. It makes visible, in order to release a livelier, more redemptive, order. But such order, like the truth it supports, cannot be imposed: it must emerge.” (p.14)
• “Yet mystery is itself not absolute. ...that is why we use metaphors of all sorts in theology: to realize our relationship to the mystery.” (p.15)
• “Mysticism means, as the word itself hints, not primarily special experiences or esoteric gifts, but a persistent attunement to the mystery...where words point to the silence...[and] cultivate discernment of the unknowable God.” (p.18)
• “Theology then is a truth process, not a set of truths.” (p.21)
• “To discern God in process means to discern at the same time our own participation in that process: ...as individuals who participate in one another and in God.” (p.23).
• “We have only begun to make our connections.” (p.25)
That’s the very nature of “the third way.”
While I think that every single chapter did have something worthwhile to offer, I suppose that the chapter that I least liked might be the final one (Chapter 8). I think that she not only rehashed too much of what she’d already said, she tries – to my mind, unnecessarily – to “rescue” aspects of absolutism as having some “relative” truth. (pp.174-175)
2. Can you yet imagine a different set of “markers” that would result in a different form of theology than that presented in this book? (p.161)
Sure. That’s the point. As Professor Keller points out here:
“...theological traditions...neither demand assent nor exclude non-
Christians and post-Christians from the conversation. ... This theology
of becoming has meant to support a process of discernment that in
turn spirals into your own open-ended interactivity.”
As she says, later on, “The spirit is all about flow. ... Spirit alters con/sciousness, it alters social and theological constructs together.” (p.162)
So let’s keep searching for and talking about the ultimate Mystery of God.
3. How do you understand the ‘coming of the Holy Spirit’ referenced in the Acts of the Apostles today? (p.162)
I confess that I never could accept that phenomenon that’s called glossolalia – “speaking in tongues.” However, I do feel that any of us can have moments of feeling filled with and deeply touched by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, we, too, can have a Pentecost moment. It can happen during a particularly moving part of a worship service, or listening to music that moves into your soul, but it may happen just as well while you’re communing with nature or being deeply touched by another human being. You just know it when it happens as a profound feeling that can uplift you or cause you to weep with quiet joy.
Maybe it could cause you to babble incoherently; but if no one understands what you’re doing or saying or why, it could mean you’re on too much drugs or are simply losing your mind.
4. How many have read any of the ‘Left Behind’ series? Comments? (p.165)
I have not. While I wouldn’t ban them in the ways in which the right wing has banned books about “critical race theory” from their schools and libraries, I just think this series isn’t worth reading. It’s ridiculous – even if atrocious – fundamentalist propaganda.
5. What are some ideas you would put into a final New Testament book IF you could replace John’s Revelation? (p.165)
How about one or more of the 2nd century Christian documents that have been discovered and written about by many of the scholars of the Westar Institute? If I had to just pick one, I’d pick the Gospel of Thomas.
6. Does Double-Edged S/Word make any sense at all? (p.170)
While, yes, our author is all over the place here, her point is made earlier:
...the book of Revelation is itself a double-edged sword. It has
been all too traumatically wielded in Christian violence. But if we
hold the text accountable to the basileic priority, the double-edged
word of the apocalyptic messiah turns against those who wield it in
righteous destructiveness.” (p.169)
That’s why she says “the love we are to emulate shines and streams on both just and unjust” – not only for our kind of people, but for all people. It “cuts” both ways.
7. Suppose some organization, not church related, did the same ecology project as Case 1; would the theology-related ideas still apply? (p.172)
Of course they would still apply – whether you use theological language or not.
8. The entire history and mythology of humanity has been US vs. THEM. Do we have a chance of “enmeshing” as our author describes? (p.174)
We always have a chance; but do we have the will? That’s the question and conundrum presented by process theology. It’s up to us. As our author lines out here:
“...each moment in process recapitulates its history and yet adds its
own fresh becoming...unfurling beyond our knowledge...enmeshed
with other selves...enmeshed with other societies...enmeshed with
other spiritual traditions...[even] enmeshed with other species...the
mystery of an open-ended way still emerges.”
If we, ourselves, don’t believe it’s possible, tragically, it will never happen.
9. Does our author do a good job with her Absolute, Dissolute, and Resolute wrap-up? Are you convinced? (p.176)
While it might be the weakest part of her book, I think she’s right to say that – all too often – “the most redeeming, attractive bits of theology...often verge on absoluteness.” (p.174) For example, I do happen to agree with her that “radical transcendence” is a fundamental aspect of who or what God actually is – “that sense of God as the absolute, the mystery beyond all human beliefs and projections.” (p.175). We will never know all of God, but the journey, the search, I also fervently believe, is still worth taking.
So, yes, I remain convinced that, as she says in closing:
“...the way still bends into the unknown. And yet we may knowingly,
in a trusty wisdom, take that next step. If we have ears to hear what
that spirit is saying – the alpha of beginnings is always now, the omega
of our ends is always just before us. ... The creative process in which
we take part does not end...” (p.176)
If we think it has, we’re deluding ourselves. That has been the greatest flaw of Christian dogma and fundamentalism throughout history – one that began with Emperor Constantine’s summoning of the First Council of Nicaea (325 CE) – and continues to this very day.
I think that we also ought to address at least one of those seven questions “For Reflection and Discussion” on p.186 – how about this multi-layered #5?
5. How do Christian ideas about the kingdom of God and the work of the Spirit of God figure in a process-influenced vision of the human future? What difference might this make to Christian discipleship, Christian community, and Christian presence in the public sphere?
In some ways, I’ve already answered these questions in my responses to questions #2, #8 and #9 above. I think one thing’s clear: in process theology, God does not have – nor never has had – unilateral and/or coercive control over everything in the universe. At most, the presence of the divine within and among us lures us into a better way of living. But, again, it’s up to us to envision and act upon it. God does not override any person’s freedom, nor does God perform miracles that violate the laws of nature. Self-determination is at the heart of this vision of the human future. The most significant difference this will make in the evolution of the human community is for us to finally recognize that God is not in charge. We are.
Week 7 Questions
1 – Compare the first page of this chapter with the first page (more or less) of any previous chapter. 133
2 – The four (canonical) gospels may form a picture of Jesus. What have you learned from other gospels that has changed your picture of Jesus? 135
3 – What do you think is the biggest obstacle to the basileia tou theou? 135
4 – Why do you think the creeds left out the life of Jesus? 136
5 – How good a job do you think the “disciples” did of ‘becom[ing] adept in a new discipline of thinking and living.”? 138
6 – What do you think about the idea that the people of Jesus time were less “embedded” in their culture (than we are) and were thus better able to envision (and perhaps live into) basileia tou theou? 139
7 – Is it bad for people to receive more than they earn? 142
8 – Did you notice in the last few sentences before “Heaven, Hell, and Here” how our author pastes a platonic world view (soul + body) over Jesus’ Jewish view of the whole person? 143
9 – How often does your (our?) charity come with pressure to conform to the current empire? 144
10 – Compare our final potluck (NEXT WEEK!) to salvation. 148
11 - Have you previously read the beginning of John as inclusive rather than exclusive? 152
12 – “Glory is redistributed along with the incarnation.” How would the world / universe be different without God? 152
13 – Where did the idea of the Second Coming come from? 153
14 – How do you understand Jesus as the parable of God? 155
Responses to Week 7 Questions
1. Compare the first page of this chapter with the first page (more or less) of any previous chapter. (p.133)
Yes, it’s all about the “process” of revealing the mystery, lure and purposes of God – especially in and through one Jesus of Nazareth. As Professor Keller wrote at the outset of this book:
“The way of this mystery, the wonder of its process, is not justified
by its endpoint. It wanders ahead in time and in space by no terribly
linear path. Yet each step matters. The mystery draws us onward.
We are always trying to figure it out; to discern our way.... Along the
way we solve one problem after the next.” (p.ix)
And yet, just as soon as we think we have one of our questions about theology answered, we’ll be invited into considering a deeper one – if we’re paying attention. It’s about the journey, not any single destination. As Gandalf said to Frodo (in Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien), “Not all those who wander are lost.” We continue to live into and in search of the Mystery.
2. The four (canonical) gospels may form a picture of Jesus. What have you learned from other gospels that has changed your picture of Jesus? (p.135)
All of these ancient authors are seeing him as if in a clouded mirror, dimly, even if face-to-face (cf. 1 Corinthians 13: 12). The picture formed of Jesus, then, is only conjecture expanded with hyperbole. So, I can’t say that my own image of Jesus has changed all that much. He’s still as he’s always been for me: a Jewish peasant and carpenter’s son – even if extraordinarily blessed with a remarkable intellect and compelling desire to see social, religious and economic justice for his people. He was still a human being and never any more an aspect of divinity than you or I might be.
3. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to the basileia tou theou? (p.135)
The biggest obstacle to its realization is our own preconceived notion that it will never be possible for us to actually achieve it – that we don’t have it in us.
4. Why do you think the creeds left out the life of Jesus? (p.136)
They were attempts by the institutional church to make him larger than life – godlike – in response to those same kind of claims being made by the rulers of the Roman Empire that they were up against. Regrettably, by following that vaunted way, we lost Jesus.
5. How good a job do you think the “disciples” did of ‘becom[ing] adept in a new discipline of thinking and living.”? (p.138)
As Professor Keller points out there:
“It is not a new elitism Jesus is advancing. It is a way to communicate
with a complex multitude, with all their inevitable prejudices.”
I think that his early disciples saw this. It must’ve been one of the aspects of Jesus’ wisdom teachings that they found so compelling and, so, worth following.
We do have a world-wide religion now, after all, followed by billions of people because of these first disciples. So, they must’ve done something right. Unfortunately, far too many of those who came after them have come to the conclusion that there’s nothing else that anyone really needs to do except accept Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior – that’s it; they’re in.
6. What do you think about the idea that the people of Jesus time were less “embedded” in their culture (than we are) and were thus better able to envision (and perhaps live into) basileia tou theou? (p.139)
I think that they were every bit as “embedded” in their culture as much or more than we are. But there were never enough of them to fully embrace the vision Jesus gave them to realize it – to live it out – in all of the ways in which Jesus intended and did himself.
7. Is it bad for people to receive more than they earn? (p.142)
If it gives them a false view of their importance, then, yes – Donald J. Trump would be a prime example.
8. Did you notice in the last few sentences before “Heaven, Hell, and Here” how our author pastes a platonic world view (soul + body) over Jesus’ Jewish view of the whole person? (p.143)
Not really. Jesus simply – yet profoundly – cared for the whole person.
9. How often does your (our?) charity come with pressure to conform to the current empire? (p.144)
If we “buy in” to the empire’s conclusions that “people should help themselves” or, its corollary, “if you work hard enough, you can achieve your dreams,” then undoubtedly we’ve been co-opted by empire. As we’ve all learned, it isn’t that simple.
10. Compare our final potluck (NEXT WEEK!) to salvation. (p.148)
I do agree with Professor Keller when she says: “Salvation is in process or it is not happening.” (p.147). Yes, it is a present thing – as our potluck will be – but it’s much more than just enjoying the company of like-minded friends. As she points out, “It is an open-ended inter-activity and a mystery in process.” So, as much fun as we have together, as blessed as we are to have this group and to “break bread together,” I don’t see how we actualize – in all of its fullness – the salvation envisioned by Jesus by just coming together for a social. When Professor Keller concludes that it’s “Now or never” she leaves out the “not yet” – the recognition that we still have work to do. As long as some are still lost, we’re not there yet.
11. Have you previously read the beginning of John as inclusive rather than exclusive? (p.152)
While I’ve always had problems with that one-and-only-son-of-God language in the prologue, it did lay the foundation for the development of what’s been called “realized eschatology” in the Fourth Gospel – that, in Jesus, the eternal God and source of all life from the beginning is present among us for that very purpose. The testimony of the writer is that, in Jesus, God enters into all of the ambiguities, hardships, and trials of the human condition. In Jesus, God comes to live among human beings as one of them – revealing God “first hand” you might say – and offering new life that actually has been the source of all life everywhere from the very beginning.
12. “Glory is redistributed along with the incarnation.” How would the world / universe be different without God? (p.152)
Our universe – and so our world itself – would simply not exist.
13. Where did the idea of the Second Coming come from? (p.153)
Early on, the followers of Jesus came to recognize that Jesus did not fulfill the promises that the Jews expected from their Messiah (“Christ” – the “anointed One”). So, it must mean that a second coming would have to happen to finally get it right. Many are still waiting.
14. How do you understand Jesus as the parable of God? (p.155)
As Professor Keller pointed out earlier, “Jesus was always deconstructing the operative absolutes, the do’s, don’ts, and I believe’s” of people’s assumptions. So, he, himself, was like “a wisdom story that interrupts presumptions with an open-ended interaction.” (p.138). That’s also the way a parable works.
Later on, Keller notes that one commentator (whom we know), Amy-Jill Levine, says “Jesus assumes Wisdom’s roles.” We only get a glimpse of the man behind the message – in much the same way that we are no way near knowing what the fullness of God actually is. But we get enough to keep seeking more of the Mystery. I’ve felt much the same way about this Jesus of Nazareth; there is so much more that I wish I knew about him.
Week 6 Questions
1 – I try to have a question on each section of the chapter. For the Liberating Com/Passion section, is there any reason to include everything except the last sentence? None of it made any sense to me. 113
2 – Where in you life have you wanted justice as a ‘shift in the structures of power that block[ed your] possibilities’? 114
3 – Can corporations love? 114
4 – Give an example of how the Network of Mutuality section describes your life. 117
5 – As I read this chapter, I have a floating feeling as if there is no ground beneath my feet. There is no connection between me and her writing. For example: ‘Therefore the structures themselves must always be in a process of social evolution.’ What can I (or You) do with that idea? 120
6 – Can you imagine dispassionate love? What might an example be? 127
7 – Why has God moved from changeless to constantly responding? 127
8 – How much do you think the success of the Jesus movement at 0 CE was due to the spiritual / ethical development of humanity at that time? 128
9 – Have you ever felt you would rather die than forgive? Can you share what happened? 131
10 – At ¾ of the way through the book, can you say how your ideas of God have changed? 131
11 – Be sure to take a look a the questions at the back of the book, as I feel mine are barely adequate.
Responses to Week 6 Questions
1. I try to have a question on each section of the chapter. For the Liberating Com/Passion section, is there any reason to include everything except the last sentence? None of it made any sense to me. (p.113)
I think that the “com/passion” Professor Keller is presenting here is encapsulated in this statement:
“We experience the loves of our life, in all their intensities and
their extensions. From them we draw the best metaphors possible
to us for language about the mystery that exceeds language.” (pp.112-113).
I do like that. It seems to me, though, that Professor Keller, herself, often just says too much. But, then again, maybe that’s what sells books.
2. Where in your life have you wanted justice as a ‘shift in the structures of power that block[ed your] possibilities’? (p.114)
I began to identify with the need for such justice while I was an officer and platoon commander in the Marine Corps at the height of the war in Vietnam. I vehemently opposed that war and came close to losing my commission in disputes about it with my company commander while I was stationed at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. From then on, though, I’ve felt like I needed to at least try to “shift” the “structures of power” that featured any kind of totalitarianism – systems of governance that demanded complete subservience to their dictates. I’ve been blocked (in so many ways) because, by myself, I haven’t had the power to affect such a systemic change. I could only start with those closest to me and go from there.
A further irony is that this has come very close to how I began to experience the dogma and doctrines of the institutional Church. So, I was labeled a heretic – a label, as you now know, that I’ve come to embrace in its original context in Koiné Greek, αἵρεσις (hairesis) – which actually means a “choice” or “opinion.” I am convinced that it was the Church that came to declare any heresy with which they disagreed as a “wrong belief.” But, again, I’ve been blocked, chastised, or simply ignored, in much of my efforts to shift that power structure.
3. Can corporations love? (p.114)
No. Only people (or other sentient beings) can give and receive love. Corporations are only able to love as the administrators and employees of that organization express it – individually or collectively – and act in loving ways. Sadly, even though that kind of behavior should start from the top with those who have the real power; all too often, it doesn’t. Name one corporation that loves in that way. The Salvation Army might think of itself in those terms, but it only happens when people within such an organization concretely act in loving ways.
4. Give an example of how the Network of Mutuality section describes your life. (p.117)
For me, it began from within my family and circle of closest friends – and then radiated outward from there. In Professor Keller’s words, it is “the entire network that is my past, my world, my relations.” (loc. cit.). To a lesser degree, it’s happened within most of the churches that I’ve served – except one.
5. As I read this chapter, I have a floating feeling as if there is no ground beneath my feet. There is no connection between me and her writing. For example: ‘Therefore the structures themselves must always be in a process of social evolution.’ What can I (or You) do with that idea? (p.120)
Professor Keller is a process theologian; everything, for her, is in a state of flux – hopefully in good ways – even the structures and institutions that surround us all are capable of evolving through a process of “collective well-being” (p.117). Process theologians believe that it’s possible, then, for us, too, to evolve in loving, positive ways. But it’s going to take constant effort from all of us to make it happen. In that, it remains to be pretty idealistic. But then I’d rather be an optimistic idealist than a pessimistic cynic.
6. Can you imagine dispassionate love? What might an example be? (p.127)
No. So, I don’t see that Thomas Aquinas’ solution here makes any sense. What’s more, who would want to love – let alone worship – such a detached god?
7. Why has God moved from changeless to constantly responding? (p.127)
I don’t find Keller’s conclusion in this next section all that helpful either – i.e., requiring “a God who suffers with our suffering, who shares our vulnerability” even while “consistently responding.” To my mind, it wasn’t “God” who moved; it was us. We are in the process of becoming all that we were created for and meant to be.
Professor Keller seems to want to justify (and so seems stuck in) most of the Bible’s imagery for God – which, as we know, is almost consistently anthropomorphic. Her position remains that...
“...there is no immutable or impassive deity in the Bible. There is no metaphysical changelessness.
There is to the contrary ‘steadfast love’:not absolute immobility but resolute relationality.” (pp. 127-128).
That phrase “steadfast love,” by the way, is how biblical scholars have translated the Hebrew concept of חֶסֶד (ḥeseḍ). It’s all that Judaism considered to be the positive attributes of their God: embodying love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty – in short, offering us acts of devotion and loving-kindness that go far beyond the requirements of duty.
I still do find myself, however, intrigued by the notion of God as a “metaphysical Being.” All that means is that God, in many ways, is a Reality way beyond our ability to fully comprehend. I’m still not convinced that God, then, is – in any way – a “being” as you or I am. The biblical portraits of God still seem to me to be over-simplified anthropomorphisms taken from the authors’ own limited cultural views. At this point in my life, I think of God as more like a disembodied life-force at the heart of creation. So, it remains a Mystery.
For me, then, God is far more than simply “a process of becoming.” That’s where I part company with most process theologians such as Cobb and Keller. It is we who are in the process of becoming, not God. In my imagination, God – profoundly and mysteriously – simply is as God has always been.
8. How much do you think the success of the Jesus movement at 0 CE was due to the spiritual / ethical development of humanity at that time? (p.128)
At the very least, for such a movement to thrive – or even exist – it had to have the kind of leadership and followers who were both deeply spiritual as well as ethically motivated.
9. Have you ever felt you would rather die than forgive? Can you share what happened? (p.131)
Absolutely not. As long as I live, I want to be on the side of love and forgiveness – and the endless possibilities that they evoke for new life and new beginnings. To choose death is to admit defeat. I will never do that.
10. At ¾ of the way through the book, can you say how your ideas of God have changed? (p.131)
I can’t say that this book, itself, changed my ideas of God. Much of it affirms my belief. Some of it does not (e.g., that God is some kind of being who responds to the love that God’s-self lured out from us to begin with, etc.). Regrettably, in my opinion, Keller and Cobb continue to use anthropomorphic images for God that take away its Mystery while continuing to use, for the most part, only biblical imagery – and archaic ones at that.
11. Be sure to take a look at the questions at the back of the book, as I feel mine are barely adequate. (p.184)
I think that I already managed to squeeze in my own responses to both of these two questions from that page:
3. “How does process theology envision the workings of ‘the creative love of God’
in relation to “the responsive love of God”?
6. “How does process theology react to the traditional concept of the Unmoved
Mover? In what way can God still be seen as God?”
What do you think? Ask yourself, “What is my own image of/for God – and why?”
Week 5 Questions
1 – Last week I compared power to a hammer. As we talk about the power of love, what tool do you compare to the power of love? 91
2 – Why is so much of the writing about love poetry rather than prose? 93
3 – Compare ‘love in terms of power’ with ‘power in terms of love’. 94
4 – When have you ‘practice[d] love in the image of God’? 95
5 – How can the power of love displace the love of power? 98
6 – What do you think of vegetables being called vegetably? 100
7 – Why do you think the ‘Song of Songs’ ‘was subject to all manner of allegorization’? 102
8 – The lure of god is pulling in some direction (correct?). What other lure has been most attractive to you in your life? 105
9 – Give an example when you ‘heeded the lure’ and describe what happened. 107
10 – How would you connect the content of this chapter (if any?) with my ‘Meaning is Homemade’? 109
11 – How would you describe the difference between my questions and those at the end of the book? 183
Responses to Week 5 Questions
1. Last week I compared power to a hammer. As we talk about the power of love, what tool do you compare to the power of love? (p.91)
To think that some implement like a “tool” can “fix” love, or manipulate it in any way, would be a mistake. It assumes that “someone” wields it and uses it to change the structure of what was first there. The ways in which “the power of love” work, it seems to me, is more like the power of gravity, or the ways in which emptiness is filled, or negativity becomes positively charged. These are not tools; they’re fundamentally a part of the ebb and flow of creation.
2. Why is so much of the writing about love poetry rather than prose? (p.93)
Prose is simply everyday writing, while poetry opens up a style for more profound meaning and vivid imagery with the sole purpose of arousing our emotions. While prose uses normal language patterns that make it easy to understand, poetry takes some pondering to understand its deeper meaning. I think that using poetry also calls for developing a deeper perspective, creates more empathy, and prompts us to look at the world from a variety of perspectives – which, in turn, fosters greater empathy and expands our view of the world.
So, for all of these reasons, I think the mystical power of love is much better revealed in poetry than it ever could be through prose.
3. Compare ‘love in terms of power’ with ‘power in terms of love.’ (p.94)
As our author points out, here, the latter is more about the establishment of a relationship, while the former is more focused upon control. Again, her point is that “love is the power, the energy, the style of influence, of God” – it’s never a controlling one. It is, fundamentally, whatever nurtures and sustains life. So, “to practice love in the image of God, ...is to stream like the sun and the rain, to shine, to flow, out into the other” (p.95).
4. When have you ‘practice[d] love in the image of God’? (p.95)
I like to think that it’s happened when I’ve been centered upon paying attention to and nurturing that image in another sentient being – i.e., even our pets and the wildlife around us deserve to experience the lure of its flow every bit as much as human beings can. So, I’ve tried to start within those circles of influence which begin with my family, friends, colleagues, and the members of my own community. Even so, as our author points out: “It is infinite in its intimacies, embracing the full range of embodied experiences and sensitive feelings” (loc. cit.).
5. How can the power of love displace the love of power? (p.98)
We need to learn how to step back from our own ego needs and think of the need for goodness, compassion, justice and nurturing self-actualization within others – and not about such things only for ourselves. Above all, we should avoid the kind of “hardness of heart” that inevitably leads to such things as selfishness, spitefulness, too much privilege, injustice and violence.
6. What do you think of vegetables being called vegetably? (p.100)
Well, our author’s just talking about the ways in which all of life is called to thrive. Human beings respond one way, animals another, and yet plants do as well. Her use of the word “vegetably” – while a bit odd – is just her way of pointing out that plant life needs nurturing and caring in much the same way we do. If none of us gets it, we all wither and die.
7. Why do you think the ‘Song of Songs’ ‘was subject to all manner of allegorization?’ (p.102)
It’s probably because it arose from within a culture that – in many ways – was sexually repressed and dominated by males.
8. The lure of god is pulling in some direction (correct?). What other lure has been most attractive to you in your life? (p.105)
At this point in my life, it’s hard to separate the two. When I was younger, I thought one had little or nothing to do with the other; but as I grew to become an adult, I’ve seen them all come together. Now, I claim that all of the loves and passionate desires throughout my life – my constant longing for the More – have come from the same Source that, I feel, is God.
9. Give an example when you ‘heeded the lure’ and describe what happened. (p.107)
Not surprisingly, all of my initial vocational choices seemed to be missing that centeredness of purpose – until I entered seminary and became an ordained pastor in The United Methodist Church. And even though I’ve been disappointed in my denomination’s barriers and roadblocks in the name of orthodoxy, my final vocation has felt like what it was supposed to be: living out a response to a profound calling – the very “lure” that Professor Keller and other process theologians always talk about.
10. How would you connect the content of this chapter (if any?) with my ‘Meaning is Homemade?’ (p.109)
If you could tell us just exactly what you mean by your phrase, Peter, maybe I could. We’re all in search of meaning. If it ends with the kind of discovery that meaning is whatever we want it to be, then we’ve missed the point. Just as soon as we have one question answered to our satisfaction, we will be invited (or, as Keller would say, “lured”) into a deeper one. The search for meaning, then, never ends. If it doesn’t, we’re not paying attention.
11. How would you describe the difference between my questions and those at the end of the book? (p.183)
Professor Keller is a process theologian and mystic; you, Peter, are neither of those. Your knowledge is based upon unadulterated science and the knowledge gained by such systematic study.
Week 4 Questions
1 – What’s wrong with the syllogism on pg. 71?
2 – Is divine power an oxymoron? Comments? 72
3 – Before reading further, how do you understand ‘theological power’? 72
X – If you have time (and it will take a while) you may want to read Job (again?).
4 – Where do you think Calvin got his idea(s) of predestination? 78
5 – Does God move from a ‘Strict Father’ to a ‘Nurturing Parent’ on pg. 78? Comments?
6 – So Calvin’s God does NOT love? 79
7 – Does Calvin’s God seem way too anthropomorphic? 81
8 – What can you say that explains the last paragraph on pg. 84? I didn’t understand it.
9 – ‘This God will lure good from evil whenever possible.’ Can you give an example of this? 86
10 – What would you provide as evidence that NOT everything that ‘happens happens through the complex combination of indeterminacy, chance, natural law and human freedom’? 87
11 – Did your childhood resemble the friend’s process or would you describe it differently? 88
12 – Could your ‘God step in at any time’? 89
13 – Compare the power of coercion to the power of persuasion WITH our national political scene. 90 / 196
Responses to Week 4 Questions [in part]
1. What’s wrong with the syllogism on pg. 71?
Nothing. Maybe you’d prefer that the conclusion is that God is neither omnipotent nor good, but that end would be a god nobody could believe in – in effect, no such god exists.
2. Is divine power an oxymoron? Comments? (p.72)
It depends upon your definition of “divine,” of course. If an anthropomorphic image of God persists, it’s a flawed understanding and – as theodicy points out – one is left in a quandary why God would choose to selectively use “His” power for good sometimes but not all the time. On the other hand if you view “divine power” as it’s manifested across the universe and in all of creation, it’s not at all an oxymoron but a visible and scientific fact.
3. Before reading further, how do you understand ‘theological power’? (p.72) X – If you have time (and it will take a while) you may want to read Job (again?).
To begin with your suggestion to read the Book of Job, Peter, I think its author’s primary reason for writing that narrative was simply to pose the question: “Will a good man continue to serve a God who no longer blesses him?” Regrettably, the book just puts Job in his place – even if he remains feisty to the very end. He never gets an answer to his original question. We’re left with the message that none of us is wise enough, or worth enough (the Hebrew authors conclude), to presume to question the mind of God.
A secondary message seems to be that no one should blatantly confront God in the way that Job does. That will only lead to silence or a further experience of the total absence of God. The book never does give a clear, logical answer to its hard questions. It just reaffirms the mysteries of existence in our faith relationship to a Creator who’s supposed to be our Redeemer, but all too often appears to be more distant than beneficent.
I never did like the book or its messages anyway.
As far as “theological power” is concerned, again, I don’t think it should have anything to do with that traditional anthropomorphized image of God. God is not a being in the way that we are. Whoever or whatever is the source behind the power of creation, remains to be a Mystery. I’m just thankful that it remains to be there. I continue to believe in it and want to remain a part of it.
4. Where do you think Calvin got his idea(s) of predestination? (p.78)
I’m tempted to say, “from his mother.”
But facetiousness aside, it just comes from his misreading of scripture that God is able to do anything “He” wants.
5. Does God move from a ‘Strict Father’ to a ‘Nurturing Parent’ on pg. 78? Comments?
Not really. God just moves from being omnipotent to some kind of deity who assures us that human beings will always have a choice as to what to do or not to do – always. But, then, we don’t need any god to tell us that. It’s just a fact.
6. So Calvin’s God does NOT love? (p.79)
No, he just says that his god has predestined us to eternal damnation. The only place anything like love is shown is through Jesus. While Calvin may say that is love, it’s certainly an odd way of showing it and seems more like divine child abuse to me.
7. Does Calvin’s God seem way too anthropomorphic? (p.81)
Yes, it does; but then the theology of Jean Calvin has always been understood to be traditional – if not even fundamentalist.
8. What can you say that explains the last paragraph on pg. 84? I didn’t understand it.
I think that its meaning is encapsulated there in this sentence: “But an honest embrace of our vulnerabilities may turn them into sources of empowerment.” For example, in the early 1930s, the British seemed far more powerful than one man named Mohandas K. Gandhi, and yet that little man’s movement of nonviolent resistance took down a nation. In many ways, the life of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is another example of seeming “weakness” overcoming huge obstacles of injustice. If we had the will, the same could be true in our own lives. As Keller points out in the conclusion of that paragraph,
“Our worst vulnerability can become, rather than a site of personal
dissolution, the opening into an illimitable interactivity” (p.85).
9. ‘This God will lure good from evil whenever possible.’ Can you give an example of this? (p.86)
It sounds good, but the only ways in which that would happen is if we, ourselves, do the work. In short, it’s up to us to confront evil – in whatever its guise – and replace it with goodness. That’s the only way “God will lure good from evil” – through us.
10. What would you provide as evidence that NOT everything that ‘happens happens through the complex combination of indeterminacy, chance, natural law and human freedom’? (p.87)
As our author points out at the end, there will always be room for “open-ended interactivity” – wherever that activity comes from.
11. Did your childhood resemble the friend’s process or would you describe it differently? (p.88)
I wish that it had. In the fullness of it all, our mother was always trying to reshape my brothers and me into her image of ideal sons. Maybe it’s because her life was a product of direction from a Christian fundamentalist father and her own domineering mother. While my father and I – along with all of my brothers – always remained close and I felt his nurturing love, his enabling and empowering us to become all that we could become, sometimes felt frustrating to everyone concerned because none of us seemed to ever quite live up to what I think his dreams for each of us were. In the end, though, his love for us, and ours for him, remained deep and powerful. I’ve tried to at least be that kind of father to my own sons and daughter.
12. Could your ‘God step in at any time’? (p.89)
As “my” God is not at all contained in such a traditional and anthropomorphized image, the question is simply a non sequitur. God is either always present or doesn’t exist at all.
As a process theologian, myself, I’ve always felt “lured” by God toward the kind of “self-actualization” that our author speaks about in that last paragraph (It also reminds me a lot of Abraham Maslow’s take on the “Hierarchy of Needs” that all human beings have – moving from not just surviving, but thriving, so that we most nearly become all that we were created to be. See one explanation at https://www.thoughtco.com/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-4582571)
13. Compare the power of coercion to the power of persuasion WITH our national political scene. (pp.90 / 196)
Regrettably, as a nation, we’ve never held on long enough in the use of the “power of persuasion.” When we get angry or frustrated at our opponents’ unwillingness to even consider our point of view, we’re then thrown back into combat where only raw power and coercion are what “seems” to work. Again, as Walt Kelly’s cartoon character, Pogo, always said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Week 3 Questions
1 – When (and/or how) has your life felt like swimming through the swells? 46
2 – How are you participating in creation? 48
3 – Why do you think our author switches to foreign languages when she talks about complicated ideas? 48
4 – When have you spent time in the wilderness? Was it an enjoyable experience? 49
5 – Do you prefer creation from existing chaos or from absolute nothing? Why? 50
6 – Can you state your general position about science VS. religion? 52
7 – Why do you think creation stories have spirit creating the material rather than the material creating spirit? 53
8 – Does our author’s idea that darkness is light (and vice versa) make any sense (to you)? Explain. 56
9 – What is wrong with the strong arm of the Divine Warrior coming to the rescue? 58
10 – Why do you think Original Sin, rather than Original Blessing, is embedded in Christianity? 58
11 – Take a wild guess at what will emerge next. 60
12 – Where do you stand on Intelligent Design? 62
13 – Will capitalistic economics be the downfall of humanity? Comments? 65
Responses to Week 3 Questions
1. When (and/or how) has your life felt like swimming through the swells? (p.46)
I think that it began while I was an officer and platoon commander in the Marine Corps at the height of the war in Vietnam. I vehemently opposed that war and came close to losing my commission in disputes about it with my company commander while stationed at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. A severe injury led to my medical discharge right before I was to “ship out” to Vietnam. My mother commented that “the hand of God” must have intervened – to which I responded, “If that’s true, Mom, I wish God had been a bit more gentle.”
From then on, though, I felt like I needed to “swim against the tide” of totalitarianism – within any such system of governance that demanded complete subservience to its dictates. A further irony is that it came very close to how I began to experience the dogma and doctrines of the institutional Church. So, I was labeled a heretic – a label that, as you know, I’ve come to embrace in its original context in Koiné Greek, αἵρεσις (hairesis) which means a “choice” or “opinion.” I became convinced that it was the Church that corrupted it into a “wrong belief.” And I’ve been “swimming through the swells” – or shall I say “against the currents” – ever since.
2. How are you participating in creation? (p.48)
Alongside my wife, I’ve tried to be a creative influence in the lives of all three of our children and five of our grandchildren. Beyond that (in the image of that African proverb that “It take a village to raise a child”), I’ve been a public school teacher, psychologist, and pastor doing much the same thing. I’ve also been a longtime member of The Nature Conservancy.
3. Why do you think our author switches to foreign languages when she talks about complicated ideas? (p.48)
I think that she simply wants to show what those words originally meant – especially those in Hebrew – and how different varieties of translations often have changed their meaning. So, yes, it’s complicated things. As theologians and biblical scholars have long recognized, “Every translation is an interpretation.”
4. When have you spent time in the wilderness? Was it an enjoyable experience? (p.49)
It depends upon how you define “wilderness.”
If it’s “a wild and uncultivated region inhabited only by wild animals,” I’ve been in both deep forests and the open ocean and thoroughly enjoyed both. They were profoundly mystical experiences that I’ve found are difficult to duplicate anywhere else.
If it’s “a desolate tract of wasteland,” that would be when I spent just one day-and-a-half along the shores of Pyramid Lake northeast of Reno during what was supposed to be a “spiritual retreat.” I nearly fried my brain it was so hot – even late in the evening I’d bake inside my own tent! So, I left, took my kayak and all of my camping gear, and spent the rest of my time paddling around Lake Tahoe where I could actually have a “spiritual” experience without having to struggle just to catch my breath. Only then did the joy come back.
I cannot imagine ever enjoying an extended time spent in an arid desert environment – say, like the Judean wilderness east of Bethlehem which overlooks the Dead Sea. While we were there with Ginnie and Larry Pearson, many years ago, I found that Masada was fascinating in its desolation, but I wouldn’t want to spend a whole lot of time there.
5. Do you prefer creation from existing chaos or from absolute nothing? Why? (p.50)
I cannot imagine creation arising ex nihilo – literally “out of nothing.” That sounds scientifically impossible. It makes no sense. All creation begins with a kind of coalescence of “something” that precedes it – even if it’s completely chaotic.
6. Can you state your general position about science vs. religion? (p.52)
They are two different disciplines entirely. Religion has come to mean a collection of beliefs, morals, ethics and lifestyles. Science, on the other hand, is all about collecting knowledge of natural phenomena – even human behavior – that can be proved or disproved through analysis and evidence. So, science doesn’t deal with morals or beliefs that can’t be proven. But that doesn’t mean that morality and systems of belief have no place; they do.
7. Why do you think creation stories have spirit creating the material rather than the material creating spirit? (p.53)
The short answer would be that most of these “creation stories” have a religious origin so, quite naturally, they are spirit-centered. That random material could create spirit is simply a non sequitur.
8. Does our author’s idea that darkness is light (and vice versa) make any sense (to you)? Explain. (p.56)
Well, all of that comes from the fifteenth-century mystic, Nicholas of Cusa, so it doesn’t surprise me that his explanation of “a luminous darkness” seems to be a bit of a conundrum. As our author points out, “for Cusa the only predicate that can literally be applied to God is the negative ‘infinite’” (p.55) – in short, a Mystery. This is how he interprets Genesis 1: 2 – the supposedly uncreated “darkness of the face of the deep.” It’s theopoetics not science.
Theopoetics suggests that instead of trying to develop a “scientific” theory of God, we should instead try to find God through poetic articulations of our lived experiences. In the end, it suggests that both the divine and the real are ultimately mysterious, so irreducible to both literalist dogmas or scientific proofs.
If that still doesn’t make any sense, at the moment, it’s the best that I can do!
9. What is wrong with the strong arm of the Divine Warrior coming to the rescue? (p.58)
This imagery from Isaiah just keeps us stuck in that patriarchal imagery of the divine that’s given us a distinctly masculine concept of God – which in that ancient culture is the most powerful force known. However, it then perpetuates the concept of the helpless female who can only be “rescued” by the “strong arm” of a male, so (as Professor Keller notes) is yet another form of misogyny. What’s worse it justifies “a brutal order” hovering over everything.
10. Why do you think Original Sin, rather than Original Blessing, is embedded in Christianity? (p.58)
We would have to begin the blame with the author(s) of Genesis – particularly Chapter 3. It was Augustine, however, who came up with the interpretation that the “original sin” of those first human beings was passed on genetically to all the rest of us. It didn’t become official church dogma, though, until the Council of Orange in 529 CE. From then on it was considered bedrock dogma in the western church.
Of course, I’ve been a fan of Matthew Fox’s seminal book Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality ever since I first read it (sometime in the late 1980s). In that re-read of the Genesis story, we’re reminded that God called all of us good and beloved before we were anything else. So, sin is not the heart of our nature, blessing is. We’ve just lost our way.
11. Take a wild guess at what will emerge next. (p.60)
What needs to emerge is a fundamentally new understanding of Jesus and the real heart of his teachings. Let’s begin by finally disposing of the doctrine of sacrificial atonement – which has done irreparable harm to the Christian Church. While it is true that for most biblical scholars, it’s unquestionable that Paul thought that Jesus’ death on the cross was central to the redemption of humanity. Romans 3: 21-26 seems to attest to that, so I think that he did believe that Jesus had died for the sake of sinners. That idea seems central to Paul’s teaching.
The deeper question, though, is whether or not Paul, himself, thought that God purposefully sacrificed Jesus to atone for human sin(s). Regrettably, this idea has been viewed by the Church as the heart of Christianity – and all have pointed to Paul in support of this conclusion. Along with many others, I think that it’s a repulsive idea. In fact, Paul may not have meant it that way. Still, we’ve got that one troublesome passage from his letter to the Romans. But, hold on, in many translations from the Greek, the word “atonement” isn’t there. The KJV uses something like “propitiation” and the RSV uses “expiation.” There are even more ways of reading this, but all of these translations seem to suggest that God did, indeed, sacrifice Jesus so that we could be “reconciled to God through faith.”
But what do we mean by “faith?” The word in Greek here is pistis. But the Greek reads just as easily (I claim, more naturally) to refer to the pistis of Jesus (pistis tou Iesou) instead of the pistis of us fallen sinners. There’s even a footnote in the NRSV that offers this alternate reading. Many biblical scholars claim (as do I) that the better translation of pistis here, then, should be “faithfulness,” not simply “faith.” That kind of faithfulness was and is “a way of being in the world” and not about having a particular belief (back to our discussion of the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, most often translated as “repairing the world”). A person cannot be “faithful” apart from how he or she acts – lives it out in the world. I would claim that the word pistis, as Paul is using it here, then, does mean “the faithfulness of Jesus.” Moreover, our conclusion should be that the very righteousness of God has been revealed through the faithfulness of Jesus. It would be true for all who had this kind of pistis (again, usually mis-translated as “for all who believe”).
This is what should emerge next. But do we have the will and the faithfulness exhibited by Jesus to continue his legacy? My conjecture (wild or otherwise) would come from this line of Professor Keller’s near the bottom of that page: “...our embodied life is an intensely relational process.” Our history, however, has not yet taught us the importance of this. We are a global community and must begin to act like one – or we will destroy ourselves and the environment in which we all live and depend upon for life. My fervent hope is that the kind of faithfulness shown by Jesus will finally emerge in us.
12. Where do you stand on Intelligent Design? (p.62)
I agree with Keller’s conclusion that...
“...the old picture of a Creator God...does not account for the
spontaneous interactivity of the creatures with each other and
with the creator. ... it cannot take into account the self-organizing
complexity by which life in fact emerges.” (p.61)
And on the next page she concludes:
“In the interplay of formlessness and form, chaos and order,
emergence and collapse, the possibilities in what process theology
calls the ‘divine lure’ find actualization. The genesis collective thus
continues, moment by moment, amidst all its losses, to emerge.” (p.62)
You might say that the “intelligent design” isn’t over; we’re part of it. And if we’re smart, we will finally do our part – or fail due only to our ignorance and self-centeredness.
13. Will capitalistic economics be the downfall of humanity? Comments? (p.65)
As long as economic systems remain controlled by private owners for profit without regard to the betterment of society and the environment in which we live, we will fail as a species. There must be a balance between “free enterprise” and the “common good.” Failing to achieve that balance, while it might not be the cause of our “downfall,” society will remain as crippled as it is today.
Week 2 Questions
1 – Can you be satisfied with conditional scientific truth, or do you need (require?) Absolute truth of a different kind? Comments? 28
2 – Who flogged / scourged Jesus?
3 – How do you understand “belong to the truth”? 31
4 – Compare Jewish truth “repair the world” with the Christian “I believe.” 31
5 – Why didn’t Jesus say (according to John) I am A way, A truth and A life? 36
6 – Where would you put your life on a scale from relationality to cognition? 37
7 – What do you think is the difference between Jewish and Christian religious discussions such that the former seem to advance and the second seem to fracture? 39
X - You may want to watch “Brazil”.
Y – Consider the six questions for chapter 2 at the end of the book. Which one(s) resonate with you and how do you respond? 181
Responses to Week 2 Questions
1. Can you be satisfied with conditional scientific truth, or do you need (require?) Absolute truth of a different kind? Comments? (p.28)
I’m assuming that by “conditional scientific truth” you mean that if something else happens – i.e., that if this condition exists – then this or that will happen. It’s something that scientists call the “zero conditional” when they talk about permanent truths – scientific facts. So, if something or other is a scientific fact, I don’t “need” or “require” anything else.
I still think that it’s acceptable, however – even a good thing – to speculate about theological mysteries as our author does. We should never confuse process theology, though, with “absolute truth” as so much of orthodox doctrine does.
2. Who flogged / scourged Jesus?
Since Pontius Pilate was a Roman prefect (or governor), he wouldn’t bother to do it himself; one of his many Roman guards would. So, even though he may have turned Jesus back over to members of the Sanhedrin (Jewish chief priests and elders) who were plotting against Jesus, Pilate was always in control of the situation and its outcome.
3. How do you understand “belong to the truth”? (p.31)
I agree with Professor Keller that “Jesus doesn’t seem to think truth belongs to anyone.” Belonging to the truth, I think for her, is “to abide in the ‘Spirit of truth’” – to look for it, listen for it, even embody it. As she sums it up at the end of that paragraph,
“Testify to it, belong to it, do it, dwell in it, even in Jesus’ case to
enflesh it ... each sign of Johannine truth touches off a happening,
a revealing interaction, a step on an open-ended way.”
4. Compare Jewish truth “repair the world” with the Christian “I believe.” (p.31)
The Jewish “truth” (if you wish to call it that) to which you’re referring is, of course, the Hebrew concept of tikkun olam – and I’ve always liked this idea. But it seems more aspirational, to me, than anything like a doctrinal “truth.” It’s come to connote the kind of social action that would actually lead to social justice – anywhere and by anybody in the world.
So, yes, it would be a very good thing for us – individually as well as communally – to repair the brokenness that we see all around us, instead of arguing all the time about what we do or do not believe about the nature of the Sacred. I would include the brokenness that we have within ourselves and within our own families; so, let’s at least start there before we presume to try and fix the brokenness in others or in the society at large. What’s more, let’s be humble and wise enough to not let our reach exceed our ability to grasp what needs to be fixed. But, again, let’s begin within our own sphere of influence and only widen it, as we may be able, with like-minded allies – no matter what our separate faith statements might be.
5. Why didn’t Jesus say (according to John) “I am A way, A truth and A life?” (p.36)
I think that it would be a very odd “way” for Jesus to say what he was actually testifying about – which was a larger Way, a Sacred truth that all people could align themselves with as Jesus does. So, never mind what you might think of the Gospel According to John, I do like how Professor Keller reinterprets that quote. It might even come closer to what Jesus meant – if, indeed, he actually said it.
Whatever Jesus said – in this context or some other in his life – what I think he meant, all along, was something like this: “I am on the Way, a seeker after the Truth that will lead to a Life worth living; won’t you join me?” To that question, I’ve replied, “Yes, but give me your hand; there’s no way I can do this on my own.”
6. Where would you put your life on a scale from relationality to cognition? (p.37)
I agree with Keller’s closing statement in that last paragraph:
“This ‘truth’ has little to do with right or wrong belief or dogma
... it is a truth of right relation, to be embodied and enacted.”
So, I think just knowing the truth isn’t as important as living it out – relating to it in some very concrete ways and so making it a part of who you are or who you aspire to be.
7. What do you think is the difference between Jewish and Christian religious discussions such that the former seem to advance and the second seem to fracture? (p.39)
This assumes that Jewish religious discussions never fracture into sharp disagreements. They do – witness the, often profound, differences between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews. Even the Orthodox population, itself, is quite diverse and with a number of different subgroups which disagree with one another. As Christians we just appear to be more splintered as we, quite publicly, always seem to be “throwing rocks” at one another in spiteful ways that most Jewish groups do not.
So, to conclude that Judaism is “advancing” while Christianity is “fracturing,” is a bit of an oversimplification. I like to think that we’re both evolving – even though the ultra-orthodox among both religions probably would never accept such a concept.
For our further consideration:
While all six of the questions from p.181 of the book might be well worth opening a dialogue about, the two that seem to be the most compelling – so “resonate” with me the most – are #s 5 and 6:
5. “In this chapter, the Bible is used in specific ways to illumine religious and theological truth. What is the interpretive role of the Bible? Does it embody ‘absolute truth’?”
The Bible is just one way a specific people and culture related to their experiences of the Holy – of Ultimate Reality, you might say. Other great religions of the world have done the same. None “embody ‘absolute truth’” as many of their interpreters have come to claim.
When it comes to Scripture, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from that consummate biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan, as he talks about its creation:
“My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal
stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically,
but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough
to take them literally.”
6. “What religious shibboleths worry you?”
(1) that God damns all unbelievers (agnostics as well as atheists) to Hell
(2) that far too many people continue to believe Jesus is at the heart of
that script – claiming that he is the only one capable of saving us from
such a fate
(3) that the Bible contains all of the answers to this issue of salvation
(4) that the Bible contains all that anyone needs to know about the
nature and reality of God
(5) that only orthodox theologians have the right answers to such
questions as these – all lay people remain woefully ignorant of the
Truth so should follow the instructions of these theologians without
Responses to Week 1 Questions
1. “We bring so much baggage to the concept of God….” What is some of the baggage you bring to this question/discussion? [p.x]
I think that it’s self-evident that my “baggage” comes from a lifetime of living within an Anglo-European viewpoint of Christianity – a Western and privileged position at that. What’s more, I “grew up in the Church” so was deeply immersed in its faith and traditions from infancy. However, I was also blessed later to be given more “luggage” having earned a Master’s Degree in Theology from Duke University and to become an Associate Member of the Westar Institute. So, I actually do know more about the Bible and the history and traditions of Christianity than the average lay member of most churches. The result, I admit, is that it has come with a bias in favor of post-modern progressive biblical scholarship. In the end, I believe that we don’t know what we’ve concluded that we think we know about who or what God is. Much of it remains to be sheer speculation. That’s why, at least for me, Professor Keller is correct in concluding that the concept or being of God is actually – if not fundamentally – still a Mystery.
2. I find ‘absolute’ much easier to understand than ‘dissolute’. What do you think our author means by dissolute? [p.xiv]
I think that she means something like “intemperate” or “unrestrained” – often, then, wildly speculative. At the bottom of p.xiii she uses the phrase “nihilistic dissolution” which would mean an extreme form of skepticism bordering upon “belief in nothingness.” It’s the polar opposite of the immobility of “God as Unchangeable Absolute” (p.xiii) – which has been, for millennia, at the center of the orthodox Christian tradition.
3. Do you yet understand that there even can be a “third way” between absolute and relative? What might it be? [p.4]
Yes, I think that there is. This is the thesis of Keller’s book and at the heart of her understanding about process theology. As she says, “Despite the binary either/ors that back us into corners, there are always more than two differences” (p.3). There is at least a third. For Keller it’s the alternative theology that “takes all our beliefs into the evolving perspective of its interactive process” (p.10). It’s open ended. That is her understanding of the “third way.”
4. Tolerance of intolerance. Intolerance of tolerance? Can you state where you stand on tolerance? What happens when you even think about it? [p.5]
As our author quotes Sam Harris, here, when we continue to tolerate irrationality in matters of religion and faith we “betray faith and reason equally.” I agree. By accepting the premise that people should be free to believe whatever they want about God, we’ve mistakenly tolerated some absolutely outrageous conclusions that have come from such free-wheeling – even, so-called, traditional and orthodox – belief systems.
5. How can a creed be an open statement of truth? Don’t they always lock their truth to the present age? (p.7)
We should all be seekers after the Truth – not just a convenient “truth” locked within any age in history. That, it seems to me, is one tenet of process theology. Let’s not make up a creed until we absolutely know it’s true. That’s why one might conclude that, all too often, creedal statements are “locked” into some place in our history.
As far as I’m concerned, however, to say “I believe love is better than hate,” could be a creed that is an open statement of truth. The inverse is false – a lie. But to say that the God revealed in the Bible is absolutely true, unfortunately, is an historical anomaly – an aberration of the real truth. So let’s keep looking (which is the “third way” of process theology).
6. What happened such that abuse in a family context went from acceptable to unacceptable? (p.12)
The patriarchy of our tradition was finally exposed as a fraud. Some might say, “Thank God!” However, I would thank generations of courageous women for that exposure.
7. Do you see the relationalism of everything flows fitting well between absolutism and relativism? Any issues? (p.14)
To begin with, I think that it’s important to note what our author said earlier about “relationalism” and “relativism.” She cautions that “we must not confuse relationalism with relativism, in which every relationship is equally good” (p.13). A “livelier, more redemptive order” she says, “like the truth it supports, cannot be imposed: it must emerge” (the “flow” of the third way that she’s talking about). I agree. So, whenever tradition or orthodoxy tells us that we must believe or do this or that, without question, nothing new will emerge – we remain stuck in the “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” mentality that, tragically, has kept the Church from changing, growing, and emerging into something far better, healthier, and more honest than what has existed for well over a millennia.
But the “flow” must never come to a single imposed end that assumes that we’ve finally arrived and have all the answers. Doctrines and tradition tend to do that and so have disrupted our search for truth. There will always be more that we should know; and the pursuit of that knowledge is the third way that our author is talking about and which is unique to process theology. Again, just as soon as we satisfactorily find an answer to our questioning, we will always be invited to consider a deeper question – always. If we see no reason to question any further, we’re no longer paying attention – and the flow toward more of the truth ceases.
8. Are “we chattering about God”? What is the difference between what we do here and what Eckhart criticizes? (p.18)
For me, it’s never been about “chattering” but about sacred conversation – of contemplating the Holy within the context of community. And yet, as our author rightly points out here, “...all our concepts and names [about God] are finite...and so radically different from the mystery ‘God’ names.” So, “the difference between what we do here and what Eckhart criticizes” may only be that we’re continuing to try to “understand God” without concluding that we will ever have all of the answers. Yes, as Eckhart notes, “God is beyond all [of our] understanding,” but we can still posit possibilities – just as long as we do not, then, claim that our ideas are conclusive and, therefore, all that we need to know. Regrettably, that is what the institutional Church has done. Like Keller, and process theology, I think that here in the Lutz Book Group we’ve agreed to talk about God but keep our minds and hearts open to the experience of this Mystery – knowing full well that we’ll never have all of who or what God actually is. It’s more about the journey than it is the destination. As one of my favorite authors put it, “Not all those who wander are lost...” (Gandalf to Frodo in Book 1, Chapter 10 of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien). That has been my mantra for most of my life.
So, as this book, On the Mystery, unfolds, my own theology continues to resonate with Keller’s here when she says, “The only proper name for God...is the infinite... [and] to mistake the infinite for the finite...is idolatry.” (Ibid).
9. How long should the “moment of silence” be in the service at Napa First United Methodist Church? (p.20)
I’m tempted to say, “after you’ve heard three different people coughing from three different locations in the sanctuary.” But, of course, there simply is no correct length for a “moment of silence” – it will always be different for everybody. Contemplative types, who’ve become comfortable with silence, will long for more. Those who don’t, however, are not simply “thoughtless,” they’ve just become more comfortable with the liturgy of the church that provides them the focus and direction that they’ve come there for.
You could refer the question to a committee (a very Methodist thing to do) or even, then, take a congregation-wide vote. All that will reaffirm, though, is that “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all the time.”
10. Many years ago I decided that God was what happened in the interaction of members of a community. Comments? (p.23)
Interesting, Peter; how did you reach that conclusion? It sounds like your own take on the Mystery is the concept of “Emmanuel” – which, as you may know, is the Hebrew name that literally means “God is with us.” Sounds a bit, too, like Joshua 1: 9 where it’s said:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be
dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
It also reminds me of God’s supposed response to Moses when those quarrelsome Israelites doubted the presence of their God in their midst, so in Exodus 17: 5-7, we read:
5 The Lord said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some
of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which
you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on
the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that
the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites
quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
And, coincidentally enough, that question – with Christian finality – appeared to be answered in the words of the opening of the Gospel According to John (1: 14), yet another revelation of the presence of God within at least one of the communities of the early Jesus movement:
“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen
his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”
Yet, somehow, Peter, I don’t think that any of this was what you really meant to say about God interacting with or within members of a community, right?
For our further consideration: I think two additional questions (from “Reflection and Discussion” of the “Teaching Resources” on p.180 of this book) are worth noting and discussing: questions #5 and #6
5. “Keller claims that ‘Truth, like the manna, cannot be hoarded.’ How then does she relate truth to God, faith, metaphor, and mystery in her process theological model?”
In this section that Keller (or her publisher) entitles “Attractive Propositions,” she began the above quote by, first, saying this:
“All that has been revealed, thought, understood, and rethought is
the basis and background for a faith that is still, always, seeking; but
none of it adds up to the truth.” (p.20)
And that’s the point, finally: when it comes to the reality of God, we’re just guessing. We’ve come up with propositions, not fixed conclusions. As she says just following the above quote:
“Theological truth, in other words, cannot be captured in propositions,
no matter how correct. But neither does it happen without propositions.
... To propose is not to impose – but to invite. ... These will be doctrines
in process: on trial and in movement. ... Theology then is a truth-process,
not a set of truths.” (pp.20-21).
It’s like the ongoing conversations that Jewish rabbis came to call the Mishnah (which, in Hebrew, literally means “Repeated Study”) – and that went on for at least two centuries before it was ever compiled and written down! It records the views of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim (from the Aramaic “tena” which means “to teach”). But these propositions and conversations didn’t end there. Further development occurred in midrash (which means “investigation” or “inquiry” – better known to us as “biblical exegesis”). That’s the branch of rabbinical learning comprised of oral interpretations of the Tanakh (those books of law, the prophets, and other collected writings that make up the Hebrew Bible).
So, like Judaism and its own processes such as this, it remains right – and a good thing – that we continue to state what we believe or don’t believe about God in the formation of our faith. But it all remains to be metaphor and mystery – an ongoing process of revelation.
6. “How might the model of the third way be related to received church teachings or doctrines?”
This “model of the third way” is what the historically patriarchal church authorities have feared from the beginning – from Emperor Constantine and all of the popes and bishops that came after him. This is the reason why they declared anyone questioning their teachings or doctrines to be an anathema and guilty of heresy. They would not accept any other way.
It’s long past time that we reopen the conversation and for us to rethink what’s long been “received church teachings or doctrines” and make them open to reconsideration, to have a real dialogue, without the threat of excommunication. It’s either that or we will continue to witness the death of the Church as we’ve come to know it.
So, there’s still hope. There is such a way for us embrace a deeper truth into the reality of the Sacred – a “third way.” As our author states at the end of this first chapter:
“Between the absolute and the dissolute, arises the resolute. ...
We have only begun to make our connections.” (p.25).
Week 1 Questions
1 – “We bring so much baggage….” What is some of the baggage you bring to this question/discussion? x
2 – I find ‘absolute’ much easier to understand than ‘dissolute’. What do you think our author means by dissolute? xiv
3 – Do you yet understand that there even can be a “third way” between absolute and relative? What might it be? 4
4 – Tolerance of intolerance. Intolerance of tolerance? Can you state where you stand on tolerance? What happens when you even think about it? 5
5 – How can a creed be an open statement of truth? Don’t they always lock their truth to the present age? 7
6 – What happened such that abuse in a family context went from acceptable to unacceptable? 12
7 – Do you see the relationalism of everything flows fitting well between absolutism and relativism? Any issues? 14
8 – Are “we chattering about God”? What is the difference between what we do here and what Eckhart criticizes? 18
9 – How long should the “moment of silence” be in the service at Napa First United Methodist Church? 20
10 – Many years ago I decided that God was what happened in the interaction of members of a community. Comments? 23