Paul writes - The latest issue (June 2009) of the UK Spirited Exchanges newsletter is out. The theme is “Complicated Evangelical”. John A. H. Dempster’s opening reflection is well worth a read. A PDF of the newsletter is below.
Karl Rahner (1904-1984) has written: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he (she) will not exist at all.” Another post you might find interesting in relation to Rahner can be found here.
Theologian Ulrich Luz in a short essay, titled “Paul as Mystic”, published in 2004 asks if St. Paul is a “mystic”.
Luz, while using different language, names the apparent separation between the experiential and spiritual (“living religion”), and the oft-experienced lifelessness and irrelevancy of doctrine and theology (often popularly understood as “talking about God”). Or, to put it a different way, it is an apparent separation between the external form and practices of religion (e.g. “going to church on a Sunday) and the experiential; the felt experience of knowing one’s self as loved, accepted and ‘held’ by God; the actual ordinary and everyday experience of the transcendent, or what many would name as “God”.
This separation can also be named in people’s experience of emptiness while at the same time longing for depth, meaning, peace, wholeness, freedom, hope and who they most truly are.
After setting the scene, Luz first sketches out a definition of ‘Mysticism’ noting that while there has always been a significant interest in Paul’s theology (what he thinks and believes), there has been less interest in his “religion, his piety, and his religious experiences”. Too often the “spiritual” and the experiential were seen as independent of (and thus of a lower order) Word and sacrament.
He also reframes the question. It isn’t so much, “was St. Paul a mystic?” Rather Luz’s question centres on the ways in which an understanding of Paul’s mysticism becomes a question about the action of God in me, before it is God’s action “extra me”, i.e. outside of me. St. Paul’s transformative experience (as the foundation for his thinking and acting) ignited in his experience on the road to Damascus becomes a means through which I/we actually hold together theology and experience, and religion (narrative/tradition, sacrament, word, (radical) orthodoxy, and practices) and spirituality (experience, orthopathy, longing and becoming).
Though perhaps an even more fruitful question to ask, specifically in relation to this blog, is the question of whether Paul is a mystic is a fruitful one for thinking through new and fresh expressions of church. I think it is.
Paul writes – Pope Benedict XVI has declared 2009 to be the “Year of St. Paul”. Today is the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. At the same time there appears to be an increase in new publications grappling with St. Paul, his thinking, his relevancy, and the implications of both for a diverse range of interest groups and agendas.
Many examples could be cited, but here are two: Anglican Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, has recently published Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision, while Episcopalian Marcus Borg and former Catholic priest Dominic Crossan have co-written The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative IconThis diversity of interest groups, agendas and audiences is further reflected in two publications by Continental philosophers (both, by all accounts, atheists): St. Paul: Foundation of Universalism by Alain Badiou (published in English in 2003 – a useful review can be found here (PDF). Also, here, a 2005 interview (PDF) with Badiou on St. Paul), and A Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans by Italian Giorgio Agamben (published in English in 2005).
Given then this apparent interest, and that St. Paul is my namesake, I thought a focus in this post on St. Paul would be a good thing; specifically I want to explore how St. Paul was a mystic. Indeed, was he a “mystic” at all? And further, if so, in what sense? These strike me as interesting questions to ask, not the least in times such as ours when an interest in “spirituality” is on the increase, while (Christian)“religion” (particularly in its institutional and ecclesial forms) is apparently in decline. A perception reinforced by statistics (that we’re told suggest “the death of the Church”) and popularly expressed by such statements as “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious”.
Paul writes – Andrew Perriman directed me to an interesting article by Sam Kean in which he explores an “open source” model, where rituals and doctrines can be rewritten as easily as computer code. Here are some excerpts:
“…Among the areas of Judaism appropriate for open-source revisions, [Douglas] Rushkoff cited Torah commentary as the most obvious example. (He also cited interfaith studies, including the study of how Judaism originated in relation to other religions.) One area of Judaism not amenable to open-source change, he discovered, was ritual practices. This surprised Rushkoff, since he supposed that actions were less intrinsically part of a person’s religion than beliefs, but he says, “people really depend on it for some reason. People are much less likely to engage in ritual in a do-it-yourself fashion.”
…Limitations aside, followers say that Judaism and paganism are among the religions most amenable to open-source practices. In Judaism, that springs from both the participatory nature of Talmud commentary and the early history of the religion, says Rushkoff. “The more I looked at Judaism, it was largely the result of the invention of text, a religion based on the contract-covenant, writing your own laws instead of living according to preexisting laws.” He sees no reason why Jews today cannot continue to write their own laws. In fact, he feels that “institutional Judaism” often betrays that original ideal…
… Rushkoff … talk[s] about transforming their religious inheritance by updating it with new knowledge and ideas. Other people who practice open-source religion have much different intentions—some aim to found entirely new religions, others simply to tweak a mainstream religion and make it more relevant for the modern world…
…Andrew Perriman falls into the latter set, having, as he says “come out of a fairly normal evangelical background” in Great Britain. “‘Open source’ in this instance is really only a metaphor for a much more transparent and collaborative approach to doing theology within what is to my mind still a mainstream Christian tradition.”
Paul writes – I bought True Religion (2002) when it first came out, but didn’t read it then, and it wasn’t until good friend Steve Taylor started taking about Graham Ward, in his typically accessible way, that I made some time to actually sit down and read him.
I need to warn you that reading Ward wasn’t /isn’t an easy ask. Ward (b. 1955) is very bright and his works, to date, have been written for the academy. However, I persevered, had some of Steve’s observations and the back of my mind as I read, and low and behold I’m now starting to “get him” and to make my own connections between his work and my own areas of interest. Hopefully some good thinker/practitioners like Steve will help us make the necessary connections between Ward’s methodological / theological work and the realities of joining in on what God is doing in our various and everyday local contexts for the sake of mission and cultural transformation.
Ward has written what I hope will be a more “popular” engagement between his thinking and discipleship and mission. The book is in the excellent “The Church and Postmodern Culture” series from Baker. It is titled: Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens. It’s due out it Sept. 09.
“...Now where does the church fit into the late capitalist dreaming? Well, in many ways the church woke up to the management culture that pushed this particular capitalism through, and in some way it has actually bowed down to it, and to some extent I think this is absolutely right. The church is an institution, and like any institution it needs to be run efficiently. It needs to be run transparently. Therefore, it needs to manage what it’s got effectively. But at the same time, what the church must do is emphasize that it has different values, and those values have got to inform everything that Christians actually do, including what we do with our money, what we do with our savings etc...”
Paul writes – A recent article in “Congregations” the Alban Institute journal (articles themed around the topic: “Creativity in Crisis: Responding to Community Hardship from Congregational Health”)
“When congregations, with all good intentions, make plans for change but don't seem to get anywhere, they may be experiencing the very common phenomenon that some have called the "knowing and doing gap." You know what you need to do, but can't seem to do it. The situation is not hopeless, however. There are approaches that we, as leaders, can take to get beyond this tendency.
First, change that endures mines the best of what has been in the past, responds thoughtfully to the challenges of the present, and discerns wisely and prayerfully a future among possible scenarios. If we attempt to solve present problems myopically—that is, without this broader perspective of the interrelationship between the congregation's past, present, and future—we may be cutting ourselves off from the congregation's enduring strengths. If we focus only on solving present problems, we may not ask ourselves what is possible. Instead, we need to be able to evoke the possibilities within the congregation that are inherently self-motivating. The following practices, drawn from an "appreciative inquiry" approach to leading, may help…”
Paul writes – Ian Mobsby, now well back in his home city after a fruitful recent visit to Cambridge / Hamilton offers some more thoughts on one aspect of what I think is an important missional theme – the rise of the experiential (vis-à-vis “mysticism”), to which I’d add: self-help (a grappling with the deeper questions and struggles of our lives and living), and the search for sanctuary (peace, place, safety, and renewal).
All three are centred on a rise of interest in “spirituality” and its associated practices.
“…It is for me, unsurprising that people in our post-modern (or what ever else you want to call it) and post-secular culture are now seeking (in my opinion) both an 'I-It' relationship to things and an increasing search for an 'I-Thou' relationship, but where people are seeking spirituality rather than religion. So our challenge then is to consider how we engage with this seeking of the 'I-Thou'. For me, this requires Christians to have a deep understanding of a Trinitarian Mysticism that enables such a reframing of world views drawing on a deep expression of the divine, and the challenge the identity of God gives to human community…”
Paul writes – I know we’ve left Autumn and are now in Winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but I thought some of your might find a short podcast from Palmer Palmer useful as he reads about Autumn from his excellent Let Your Life Speak (I highly recommend this book if “mid-life” or “life transition” or “boredom with life” is a place where you find yourself at present. His insights between vocation, the inward journey, and its outward expression are incredibly important).
In this podcast, we hear from Parker Palmer on three timely topics. In the first segment, he reads his essay on Autumn, which appears in Let Your Life Speak (Jossey-Bass, 2000). In the second segment, he speaks about the relationship between the inner and outer lives, and in the final segment, reflects on the study Trust in Schools by Tony Bryk and Barbara Schneider.
Right-click on the bold text in the preceding paragraph to save as an Mp3. You’ll find this and other podcasts by Palmer here.
“...If God is not encountered then worship is mute.Everything that a worshipping community is, does, thinks, etc. flows from its continued encounter with the living, Trinitarian God.This is why liturgical theologians such as Aidan Kavanagh understand worship to be “primary theology”.Theological discourse is then “secondary theology”, which is discourse on the experience of God and everything else that flows from out of that encounter. In a sense, worship must be prior to prolegomena.
Perhaps this is why liturgy and postmodernism make great conversation partners.Many of the issues that are raised within continental philosophy of religion such as language, alterity, hermeneutics, human subjectivity and aesthetics can all begin to be answered by a consideration of Christian worship.
Take for example the father of liturgical theology, Alexander Schmemann who once claimed that in contrast to modernity’s understanding of the human subject as an autonomous interior entity, the human person actually exists as “homo adorans” – a worshipping subject whose humanity is both constituted and fulfilled in the act of worship.In the language of Catherine Pickstock, the subject participates in the object of its praise and is defined by it.The subject, therefore, is always defined by its relation to the Other, in this case God who is wholly Other.It is an identity which is always received from the outside and cannot lay claim to self-possession. Worship teaches us that subjectivity is received and we are “defined by doxology”...”