Monday, November 29, 2010

What Makes a Spiritual Community Christian?

Here's a good follow-up from my last post:  what makes a spiritual community Christian?  What seems obvious to some has been completely un-obvious to me.  Let me meander through this question a moment.

Years ago the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical group comprised of nearly all current Christian denominations said that be be a member of the Council a church was only required to affirm the statement "Jesus is Lord."

That was until the MCC, a predominantly gay and lesbian church, tried to join.  The MCC was perfectly willing to affirm and declare that "Jesus is Lord".  Suddenly, our good friends at NCC had a problem.  The net-net is, at that time, MCC was denied membership into the National Council of Churches.  I don't know if that has changed but either way, my point is taken.  There is more than one idea floating around about what it means to be Christian.

To me, the affirmation "Jesus is Lord" is difficult to make sense of in a democratic society where none of us has lived under a feudal system or functioning monarchy.  We don't swear fealty to an overlord who protects us.  We really don't have any experiential idea of what lordship looks and feels like.  I know some folks say that "Jesus is Lord" means that Jesus is in charge or that Jesus is the thing we most value in our lives or that we follow the way of Jesus above all other ways if there is a conflict of interests.  But the phrase doesn't emerge out of our life experiences as it did in the time of Paul up to the Industrial Age.   However, it remains one understanding of what it means to be Christian and what it means to be in a Christian community.

Another understanding of what it means to be Christian is the affirmation of the phrase: "Jesus Christ is my lord and savior."  "Isn't this the same?" you might ask.  Well, yes and no.
Having chatted with many a 'missionary' on my doorstep I have discerned a distinct, rather than nuanced, difference between the two statements.  This statement infers that one believes Jesus is saving one from eternal damnation, otherwise known as 'hell'.    If you believe in Jesus as the son of God, if you believe he came to atone for the sins of all humanity throughout all time (including yours) then you are saved.  This understanding often encourages blind faith, the accepting of things that don't make sense or that appear, in and of themselves, unbelievable.  

For some, it is a matter of believing the tenets of the 'true faith'. The 'true faith' is always the faith purported by the makers of the statement, which have been varied and many.

Finally, there are those who call themselves Christian who consider themselves 'followers in the Way of Jesus'.  They follow the teachings of Jesus and seek to live in the manner that Christ lived and taught.  Now, I'm not saying that those with different understandings of what it means to be Christian don't do that, I'm just saying that this is how some Christians define their Christianity.

So, the question: what makes a spiritual community Christian?  I guess the answer is: All of the above.  At Circle of Grace we try to make room for multiple understandings of what it means to be a Christian.  For some, atonement is essential.  For some, the lordship of Christ is pivotal.  For most of us, being Christian is following in the Way of Christ (Jesus).  For all of us, it is essential that we remain respectful of one another's understandings.   I guess the one understanding that wouldn't make it here is the idea of a 'true faith'.  It excludes the respectful possibility of differences.

So are we Christian?  I am sure some would say not.  And some might think, "Well some of you are and some of you aren't."   Some of us hesitate to be called Christian because they hesitate to be identified with the dominant cultural understanding of Christian as intolerant and judgmental.  But Christian we are, in most of its permutations.  What makes us a spiritual community that is Christian?  

Okay,  the bottom line is that I don't have an answer to what seems to be a profoundly easy question.    

Friday, November 19, 2010

What makes a spiritual community feminist?

My friend and our non-resident theologian, Dr. Monica A. Coleman, recently visited a feminist church at a conference at which she presented.  She then posted an idea on facebook inviting all feminist churches to hook up.  I snickered and posted back, "What, all two of us?"

There may be more but we are so far apart and disconnected that it is hard to find one another.  On some level we may not believe that the other exists.  And then there is the question of what makes a spiritual community feminist.

First of all, there are a lot of understandings about what it means to be feminist (among feminists as well as outside the feminist community).  After lengthy discussion Circle of Grace distilled our understanding down to a short paragraph:
Circle of Grace is a feminist Christian worshipping community.  We are non-doctrinal and seek to re- imagine understandings of language and stories, symbols and metaphors.  Our commitment is to inclusivity.  We honor each one’s truth and each one’s journey and feel called into community as a way of faithful response.  We understand feminism to be a critique of power.

Spelled out it means: 

 1-we don't all have to (nor do we) believe the same things. Nothing is written in stone.  For us the journey of the spirit requires a certain fluidity (uncomfortable at times).  Theologically, members of our community range the gamut of understandings.  Biblical authority, atonement, - you name it.  This hooks up with the last sentence in our statement: we honor each one's truth and each one's journey.  As in, I can't tell you what your experience of the Sacred is, nor will I try to dissuade you of it.  Need I say that making room for many truths is a challenge?  But we are committed to this endeavor because It is central to feminist thought.

2-  Our images, stories, symbols and metaphors are not limited to the images, stories, symbols and metaphors available in the biblical text, though we do 're-imagine' those in ways that, we hope, opens us to new understandings of Godde.  As feminists, we find any symbol that becomes rigid and/or absolute to be unhelpful and sometimes harmful to the journey of the spirit.  It is one thing to say Godde is like a father (or mother or eagle or bridegroom, etc.) and quite another to say Godde is father,etc.

3-  We feel called to community as a way of faithful response.  All of us at Circle of Grace come together because we believe or intuit that sharing spiritual community both grounds and grows us.  It is the challenge of being (or trying to be) who Godde calls us  to be in the world and with one another that draws us together in worship, prayer, meals, time, relationship...     It is faithful (and feminist) to build community that is radically inclusive.  It is faithful (and feminist) to live our one's journey of spirit informed by those who are not like us but offer new wisdom, insight, challenge and hope.   For me, at least, and others I believe, the call to community is the call to kin-dom living, the call to embody the kin-dom in real time as a beacon of hope for the world.  Each week at Eucharist we say something like this to one another as we pass the wine, "Drink in and become the promises of Godde."

4- We understand feminism to be a critique of power.  We also understand the Way of Jesus to be a critique of power.  They go hand in hand.  As feminist Christians we speak a critique of the power of the institutional church.  

So for Circle of Grace being spiritual feminist community is about opening understandings of the Divine to include many images, it's about making room for all kinds of differences and it's about living out our understandings (and our struggles to understand and our inability to make sense) together.  It means that we get comfortable with not having all the answers.  It means that we make room for one another.  It means we critique power used and misused in both the culture (patriarchy) and the institutional church (with love...).

So here's a shout out to all the other feminist spiritual communities/churches out there (they are there, right, Monica?) - "what does it mean to you?"   

And isn't it great that it can mean so many different things?