October 17, 2007

Shaking Hands & Second Order Spiritual Maturities; Propositions for a Responsible Syncretism

The following was a response to Father Wade’s blog “He Wouldn’t Shake my hand!” – http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=150797169&blogID=319679538
He Wouldn’t Shake my hand! ?Category: Life
Last week at a prayer meeting, I was introduced by a Pastor friend to an older gentleman who was participating in the prayer service. I extended my hand – a typical greeting – but he declined to respond. Since I was ready to start praying, I really didn’t have time to get offended. ?

?The sequence of thoughts that ran through my mind were:?

1) Maybe he has had a stroke and can’t shake hands. (He seemed friendly enough.)?
2) Maybe he has a thing about germs and avoids shaking hands.?
3) No big deal. Let’s pray!??

Today my Clergy friend called me to apologize for the behavior of his church member. He told me that this elderly gentleman had a thing against Catholics. (Hmmm. Wow!) I shared with the Pastor that I hadn’t given it much thought, but I appreciated his call. His words encouraged me. In retrospect, I’m just thankful to God that I passed up a perfectly good opportunity to get upset and offended. That must have been the grace of God!??

Then I started thinking. If this gentleman had met me at a business meeting or at a Kiwanis luncheon, would he acted the same way? How many times to we act civil towards one another until we put our ‘religious’ hats on?

What would Jesus do???Think about it.??


?Father Wade+?an Old Catholic Priest

Not too long ago I was standing in the checkout line of a Christian Bookstore that was going out of business, my arms heavily laden with deeply discounted theological books – and I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who had asked me about one of my acquisitions; the nature of the question and the specific book are long passed from my memory. And while I do not recall the specificities of what brought about out our short dialogue – I do distinctly remember asking him if he was in Seminary; to which he responded “yes,” and further if he had ever read any Tillich; to which he responded, in something of the manner of, “is it really worth reading anyone who denied the Resurrection?”

I remember being somewhat put off by the statement – and looking back now – I know that it was the grace of God that he said it as he was walking out the exit; because I came so very close to chasing after him, while saying; “how can you consider yourself a student of theology – and not read Tillich?!?”

I did not do that. Rather I just acknowledged that if he was truly serious about his studies and not just content to just flow down a preordained, purely denominationally-oriented theological mindset- he might actually expose himself to those he did not necessarily agree with, and in doing so – discover an advancement had been incurred in the interaction; one of a nature that he would not anticipate and a depth he would never think possible.

I understand and appreciate the idea of ‘bad company corrupting good morals’ – and I especially know that value of studying under those who you have a sense of harmony in the fellowship between with; and it should be inserted here that I am proud to have grown up “AG” and to have ‘grown up theologically’ within it’s care – but I have come to see the initial statement I made about “bad company” as one of many guideposts towards a sense of a responsible syncretism and away from truly useless influences; which as a general rule of thumb – but not as an absolute – are inversely proportional in their prevalence to the depth of authentic spiritual maturity and wisdom that one has in grown into and that therefore exists within one as a moral/spiritual being. The less you know – the more potential bad influences exist for you – and the more you need protected from. With strength comes the potential for meaningful exposure; and with that – a subsequently secondary – or perhaps “second order maturity” growth in maturity having necessarily dependence upon an authenticity of the first . Unity with wanton abandon is useless, if not dangerous; but unity with chosen purpose and responsibility; an ability to come to disagreement and find mutual harmonies guided and wrapped in the fabric of responsibility – avoids the disjointed dissonance of irresponsible unity; as Francis Bacon, I believe once said: “all colors agree in the dark” – but with care and concern – we can take those same colors and paint of masterpiece of humanity.

I certainly do not agree with Tillich nor Rudolf Bultman in their mutual assertion that the “Christ Event” took place purely in the spiritual dimension – I see that as a Gnostic Dualist condescension of the physical, merely at work in the soteriologic dimension. I had so wanted to grab the young seminarian by the hand and say – “So Paul Tillich’s Gnostic Dualist Condescension of the Physical within the Soteriologic is Bad – while your denomination’s Gnostic Dualist Condescension in the Cultural sphere is OK? It’s ok to disallow drinking, smoking, dancing, card playing, and movie watching, as long as your sense of the physical dimension’s state of being as being intrinsically bad does not extend to the value of Christ having a physical death/burial/resurrection?!? If the physical dimension is so bad and worthless –why did Christ bother to live, die, and resurrect within it – contra Tillich – anyway? Huh??? Why dude, Why?”

In regards to being Neorthodox theologians, Tillich/Bultman asserted the necessity of a “Christ Event/Figure” – I think their fellow Neorthodox brethren Brunner/Barth got it right fully; it need more then just “have happened:” this notion being central to the Neorthodox school of Theological identity; but that it happened not just spiritually – but physicality. But to ignore Tillich/Bultman – because they foundered on that critically important point? Yes, it was a critical misstep; but would I not shake their hand? Certainly I would; and I would certainly keep a seat often warmed in their lecture hall as well.

We may state disagreements with our Christian brethren; and there well may exist issues that preclude a genuine sense of union; but those things that would bring clear disunity and a full disavowal of fellowship – may they be few and far between and rarely exercised; for in the eventual use of them – may such action be acknowledged as not just drastic but well thought out and done so with clear intention – for to separate ones self from almost everybody makes such measures ultimately meaningless and oneself ultimately irrelevant to the conversation at hand. I may have marked disagreements with Father Wade; but I can walk with him, and the fact that I can walk with him makes not just the things we agree on more valuable – but it further also does not discount, but rather affirms those things we do not, as no less important – but rather more so also. This is the point of all truly responsibly Syncretism; in understanding our similarities – we more closely understand those things that make us unique and different; and in appreciating and respecting those differences; a true and authentic hegemony emerges – that is both self-balancing and self-regulating and self-authenticating. Both irresponsible syncretism and it’s polar opposite isolatory secessionism serve as destabilizing forces in a theological/ideological cultural conversation dialectically.

I have chosen an aspect of Tillich’s theology for the subject of a paper I am writing of for my Ancient Philosophy class; one that has deeply impacted me theologically. Some would suspicion that influence, and if they are still “spiritual juveniles” then such a reaction I could readily understand. But if you grow in maturity and wisdom and spiritual strength/integrity; to me it follows that you will find that the greatest advances in your knowledge/wisdom/academics will not come from those who look and think and act just like you do; but they will come from the community of believers that you will – necessary to those things having actually taken place with actual authenticity – find yourself immersed within.