Archive for the 'ecumenism' Category


July 8, 2012

I was reading today’s Daily Meditation from Father Richard Rohr, and he was talking about his lineage, how he comes to know what he understands and teaches, I guess I’d put it as.

He has started with the natural world, the “‘Bible’ of Nature and Creation” (attributing some of that to his Franciscan training) as a source for his understanding.

I’ve thought about Fr. Rohr’s lineage myself before, only my thoughts went more along the lines of, while I was reading his The Naked Now, “Oh, he sounds like one of those monks who has reincarnated in the West.”  There’s a book about that, called Reborn in the West: The Reincarnation Masters, I once read.

But I think it’s a lot more helpful for Father Richard to be able to explain what he knows and understands in terms of his training and influences in his particular life, because, after all, his audience is not a bunch of people who believe in reincarnation or are looking for a teacher with a pedigree in Eastern religions.

I guess where I come out in all this is that within him, whether through vertical forces (lineage in the sense of previous incarnations) or horizontal ones (lineage in the sense of education and training), East has managed to meet West.  Which I personally think is a wonderful thing.

My only real discomfort is not about lineage but about the prominence of the messenger in relationship to the message.  I suspect we humans demand a charismatic teacher to get our attention and to motivate us, and that a well-run school that employs technology well could be an effective way to reach people, but I worry nonetheless.  Father Richard writes about Jesus’ respect for and embrace of the poor and suffering, and about reading the Bible as biased towards the downtrodden, but to my way of thinking, this misses the point a little: there’s not enough room in us to understand the universe as well as we can if we have too much other stuff going on, that the “physics” of spiritual understanding require clearing out the self, and that most of us seem to do more through suffering (in some combination with love) than through other means.  Suffering and love, on the one hand, and education, on the other, are very different mediums, it seems to me.

I agree with so much of what Father Richard seems to understand, and I am grateful for his guidance and help through his books and his writings on line — I get a lot of benefit out of them.  And he has his calling, I have mine, there’s no particular reason they should be the same thing.  Mine is about promoting self-awareness, if I had to reduce it to one issue.  I think everybody plays and everybody needs to go through what they need to go through in order to develop their own self-awareness, I think what we learn from teachers can give us a road map or sign posts to look for (or clarification after the fact), but it can’t substitute for the experience itself.  Maybe the Living School for Action and Contemplation will do both, foster the experience while setting out some guidance.

Finally, I notice what looks to me as if Father Richard feels a calling that mirrors in some way his own training (a school), while I feel one that seems to mirror mine (random people in situ).  I don’t know what that means.

I should also note that Father Rohr has a lot more of qualities I strive for myself (pacing myself, staying in the moment, for example), so I am mindful that I don’t have it all down myself, and that along multiple axes, he has developed further than I have.  But I still want to say, “I see potholes!  Please be careful!”

The opposite of orthodoxy

January 10, 2012

I do actually understand the pairing as opposites of “liberal” and “conservative,” but what I personally find more helpful is the contrast between people with airtight belief systems and those who are more open and porous.  It’s sort of related to the contrast between ideologues and non-conformists, between the orthodox and iconoclasts.

So, I’m not sure what is really gained when people jump ship from conservatism to liberalism, or vice versa.  The trouble I tend to have is with people’s being doctrinaire and imposing their beliefs on others — that sort of dynamic is quite possible regardless of whether one is for big government or little government, EPA regulations or industry independence.

I think I’ve noted before that someone once said to me that he thought the orthodox of different religions had more in common with each other than with the less observant members of their own religions.  I suspect that’s true of politics, too.  And when people change party affiliations, I’m not sure they change personalities or emotional make-ups, and I’m not sure they don’t use the same attitudes and techniques in their new context.

What I enjoy more is taking off all the labels and disaggregating all the ideas that are usually tied up together and looking for the ideas that work, that make sense of a sort, that hold up to rigorous analysis, that serve the greater good.  I probably have the dubious advantage (or bias in favor of this approach) of being somewhat ignorant of what one is supposed to think — of which ideas are supposed to go together.  Of course, being too much of a free-thinker can leave a person with fewer sure allies and without the kind of community that people who seek group affiliation and are comfortable with it enjoy.  Willy and I would notice this when we would periodically look into private schools for our kids — we fit in nowhere, both because of family composition and our beliefs (or lack of a recognizable package of them).  We would laugh about how we were a party of two.  And we didn’t get that way on purpose, it’s just where our thinking took us, and by chance we seemed to think alike — at least about anything major (not so about things like whether dishes that will eventually need scrubbing by hand should go first through the dishwasher — him, yes, me no — or whether it makes a difference whether you soak a pan in hot or cold water — he claimed cold worked just as well, but I was never convinced, his scientific explanations notwithstanding).

Anyway, I guess I maintain that free-thinking on my own, not so much out of conviction or habit but because that seems to be the way my mind works.

“The deepest layer of reality”

December 16, 2011

I was happy to read in Brian Greene’s op-ed piece in the NYTimes, about the search for evidence of a particle that will support the conceptualization in the Higgs Field theory, that “[t]he legions of physicists, engineers and computer scientists, whose collective efforts created the Large Hadron Collider, will have revealed the deepest layer of reality our species has ever probed,” if current findings are confirmed by future data.  From my point of view, another “blind person” will have felt a part of the elephant and reported back their understanding, and while I would call this “deepest layer of reality” by a more traditional name, there is also the tradition that this “deepest layer” is unnameable.  I wonder whether others, who have made it up the mountainside to the top of the mountain already, through other means, such as art (including music and poetry) and mysticism, might say,”Welcome!  Glad you to see you, glad you made it,” and maybe tease them with, “What took you so long?  Where’ve you been?”  Just as some people are more visual or more aural or more kinesthetic, I think our ways of grokking the universe vary.  And just as I believe different religions are describing the same “deepest layer of reality” in slightly different ways, I believe different disciplines, of which religion is one, are describing the same “deepest layer of reality” in slightly different ways.

All roads lead to ecumenism?

October 25, 2011

I was listening to a segment on the PBS NewsHour this evening about a school of theology that educates Jews, Christians, and Muslims together.  Apparently it used to be a Methodist institution, but took this turn in part due to the need to fill seats that had become harder to fill because of the difficult economic times.  The provost pointed out that the school had always been interested in being on the leading edge of things.

I didn’t see the economic nudge toward increased ecumenism as undercutting the positive aspect of the new orientation or the school’s ideal of creating a sense of “we” out in the pastoral world — it looked to me as if a number of forces are pointing them in the same direction, and I thought it looked like an endorsement of what they’re doing rather than something to feel apologetic about.

Original ideas

August 14, 2011

I’m trying to remember who said it to me, the idea that she didn’t think she had ever had an original idea in her life; she was aware of how her ideas emerged from her interrelationships with others and their bits and pieces, which were also in turn derived from interrelationships with others — the kaleidoscope, if you will.   She didn’t come to this through social science, and she was mildly interested that others did.  In our current culture, coming to it through the social sciences provides a more generally accepted language in which to talk about the phenomenon, I can see, but I am concerned that the language is too limiting.  But maybe not, and maybe ecumenism will turn out to include the systems of our scientific disciplines, too, and we will find that all roads eventually  do indeed lead to the same understanding of the universe and our place in it.