questions of life

[A passage from a soon-to-be-released book appealing for a newly invigorated role for theology in helping us live a good life:]

The most theological thing I have ever done was to plant a church—a community in which Bible scholars, ethicists, philosophers, and, yes, a stray “theologian” proper, have done theology as we have lived theologically. A community in which graphic designers, poets, musicians, sociologists, and even lawyers and medical doctors have become “accidental theologians.” It began almost imperceptibly and quite by accident. We should have known something theological was afoot when we found ourselves spending evenings on a back porch listening to a friend—a Christian Nietzsche scholar perched, with not a hint of ironic self-consciousness, on a stump in the backyard—call us to live lives that amounted to more than a never-ending quest for ever-greater degrees of comfort. I remember waking up at 3:30 a.m. to walk with that friend three miles across town to the train station—simply because walking was more life-giving than driving and the conversation along the way was worth the effort. Summer evenings were spent poring over Karl Barth, Søren Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis, Kwame Bediako, Marilynne Robinson, and, yes, Nietzsche, with the visceral sense that our lives depended on the words on the pages. The questions of life were theological because theology was the question of life. Where to live—and with whom—was a theological question. We bought houses together; we shared cars. How and whether to own at all was a theological question. Rhythms of work and rest were a matter of deep theological reflection. Art and beauty were perhaps among the most theological questions of all. Theology was a question about the nature of the life we were living together.

building community

I have learned that when plants put roots into the soil, their roots do not simply suck water and nutrients out. They share. They build community. They put out sugars, proteins and carbohydrates—“cakes and cookies”—
that gather and feed a communion of microfauna, whose activities hold and return nutrients that the plants themselves cannot make, at just the rate and amount that they require. The most important thing in good soil is
not nutrition, but biology. Or, to say the same thing: the richness known to plants is not an abundance of stuff, but an abundance of relationship.

– Marcus Peter Rempel, Life at the End of Us Vs. Them: Cross Culture Stories

celebrating difference

Working for an inclusive community of love and justice doesn’t mean throwing all of us with our various beliefs into a big blender so that our believing and belonging become homogenized. It means being able to celebrate difference and argue for our point of view without wanting to imprison or kill those who differ from us.

  • Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity

school of contemplation

[At SSU today, we started a new experiment that we’re calling the “School of Contemplation.” Here are two quotes that were discussed at our first gathering:]

  • All that we can do with any spiritual discipline is produce within ourselves something of the silence, the humility, the detachment, the purity of heart, and the indifference which are required if the inner self is to make some shy, unpredictable manifestation of his presence.

– Thomas Merton, The Inner Being

  • For a religion is known from the inside. Catholics say this of Catholicism, but it is true of every religion. Religion is a form of nourishment. It is difficult to appreciate just through a look the flavor and dietary value of a food that one has never eaten.

– Simone Weil, Awaiting God

(Thanks to Peter Fitch for including the second quote in a sermon at the St. Croix Vineyard yesterday.)

practical art of the mystics

[This fall at SSU, we are starting a 1 credit hour course that we hope to run continually called the “School of Contemplation,” honouring the wisdom and practices of the contemplative tradition. Here is Evelyn Underhill on mystics]:

One and all, they demand earnest and deliberate action, the insertion of the purified and ardent will into the world of things. The mystics are artists; and the stuff in which they work is most often human life. They want to
heal the disharmony between the actual and the real: and since, in the white-hot radiance of that faith, hope, and charity which burns in them, they discern such a reconciliation to be possible, they are able to work for it with a singleness of purpose and an invincible optimism denied to other[s].

This was the instinct which drove St. Francis of Assisi to the practical experience of that poverty which he recognised as the highest wisdom; St. Catherine of Siena from contemplation to politics; Joan of Arc to the salvation of France; St. Teresa to the formation of an ideal religious family; Fox to the proclaiming of a world religion in which all men should be guided by the Inner Light; Florence Nightingale to battle with officials, vermin, dirt, and disease in the soldiers’ hospitals…

  • Everlyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism A Little Book for Normal People