Friday, February 27, 2009

My way or the highway...

I'm staring down the barrel of another Systematic Theology paper that's due next week, so today I'm contemplating the different lenses through which we view our religious beliefs and the beliefs of others.
We learned in class that theologians divide these lenses into three categories:

Exclusivism: My path is the only true and valid path.
Inclusivism: Other paths are valid because they contain similar truths to mine, but my path is still the only way to 'ultimate truth'.
Pluralism: All paths are equally valid because they all lead to the same truth.

Pluralism seems to be the belief du jour among religious liberals these day. Even the Dali Lama has said it doesn't matter which path we travel as they all lead to the top of the mountain - but for him the top of that mountain contains only Buddhism. See, the problem is we're all looking for different things at the top of the mountain - communion with the one God, salvation through Jesus Christ, nirvana (the complete loss of self), oneness with the Brahman, etc.
These are not just different ways of merging with the 'one' - the Big Cheese that we envision running this dog and pony show - because for nontheistic faiths there is no big cheese to merge with. The goal of Christianity is relational - our self in relation to God. The goal of Buddhism is the release of the self, and as long as we're hung up on having a 'personal relationship with God' we've missed the point.

So what's on top of that mountain? A bunch of selves and non-selves arguing over who has the right to plant their flag on the top and claim THEIR summit as the ultimate truth? (in this analogy the selves would win, because the non-selves no longer exist ;-)

My Systematics professor, a well-known theologian who has written several books on this subject, is not satisfied with the definition of religious 'Pluralism.'
In his mind it still reeks of Exclusivism, because it assumes we're all headed towards the same ultimate truth, which we're not. He fully concurs that Christianity is the only true path to 'salvation', simply because it's the only faith that has 'salvation' as its goal. Do you want to walk the path of Jesus and be redeemed in the presence of the triune God? Then you better follow the path of Christianity because its the only road that leads there. In the same manner, if my goal is to completely detach from my sense of self and thus not be 'in relation' with any 'one,' then I need to follow the path of Buddhism, because I'm not going to get there by climbing the mountain that leads to a relational God.

What my professor proposes, and I concur, is that it doesn't make sense to be Exclusivist, Inclusivist, or Pluralistic, because all three assume that it's possible to know enough about other faiths to judge them as true or false.
There may be one 'ultimate truth' but it's impossible for us to know what it is because we lack 'ultimate knowledge.' It's impossible for us to fully experience any perspective other than our own (the story of the blind men feeling the elephant comes to mind).
Even my professor admits that his belief - that God relates to us in different ways according to culture, time etc. which accounts for range of differing religious beliefs - is tainted. Because it assumes that there is a single theistic 'being' running the show.

So, can the 'ultimate truth' be BOTH a single relational being, and 'nothingness' at the same time? Who knows...we certainly don't.
Which means it makes more sense to view religion as a whole series of mountains, each with their own path to the top. We have no way of knowing which peak is the highest, or closest to the 'truth,' - I suspect that they all fall way short of the mark.

I believe in a religion of 'revelation' - that we pick up on small snippets of the truth, filter that truth through our limited minds, and end up with a vague understanding of why we're here and where we're supposed to be going.
Christianity works for me because I believe that this 'revelation' comes from a single, relational 'Creator' God who came into this world in human form to show us 'the way' to the top.
We all agree that religion is about 'knowing' the truth, we just disagree on what that truth is and how we come to 'know' that truth.

What gets me is that after sitting through a 3-hour lecture on all of the above in class this week, some of my classmates still wear the badge of "Exclusivist' with pride. In their minds, Christianity is THE only way to the top of THE only mountain.
And not just any Christianity, but their form of 21st century, Protestant, North American, euro-centric, middle-class, literalist, Christianity.
The 'narrow way' indeed.
For me, this is like claiming to have the knowledge of God.
It's like arguing over who comes first and who gets to sit at the right hand of the Lord.
I believe I remember our 'personal savior' saying something about humility.

Then again, I could be wrong.
But isn't 'knowing' that we could be wrong the whole point of humility?

Go ahead, wrap your head around that one. ;-)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snow Snow Go Away

Ok peeps, we're praying for the storm that's supposed to hit Boston on Sunday morning to track off-shore so I don't have to walk home from church in a sleety/snowy mess.
I have an interview on Sunday at the church where I want to do my field ed next year, which means I'll have to "dress to impress" rather than "dress for trudging several miles in the snow." So get praying!

It's a great church. I went there for the first time back in January and I liked it instantly. It's about 2.5 miles from school so I walked there on my first visit, although I had to walk in the street most of the way as the sidewalks were covered in about a foot of ice and snow at the time. When I got there one of the members who saw me walking introduced herself, escorted me inside and announced to everyone in the foyer "this woman walked all the way from A*ndover N*ewton!"
Bam! I was swarmed with people introducing themselves, telling me all about the church, inviting me to stay for coffee hour. One woman was impressed at my attempt to reduce my "carbon footprint" by walking instead of driving. Only a tree-hugging lefty liberal would say something like that so I knew that this was a church where I would fit right in. ;-)

The service was great, the building is beautiful with stained glass windows and gothic architecture (it looks more like the Catholic church that I grew up in then a New England UCC church), the pastor was very friendly, and it turns out that I know the woman who is their field-ed student this year (she's in my preaching class) so she was able to put in a good word for me.

I got to know quite a few people at coffee hour and I went back the following week and sat through their 2-hour congregational meeting (which I think impressed them even more then the walking). Then I lucked out - the pastor is taking his Field Ed supervisors course at my school so we met for lunch last week. (In a freaky coincidence, he's also a cyclist and he was wearing the same bicycle chain bracelet that I was). This past Sunday I met with the chair of the committee that oversees the FE program, and this Sunday I'll meet with the whole committee.

Unfortunately, the chair of the committee told me last week that they just had another student from my school apply for the position, so to be fair they'll meet with her right after they meet with me.

Of course I just smiled and said very cheerily "Of course, I understand."
But inside I was saying, "Oh no you di'int!
Did Miss Jane-y come lately trudge through 2 miles of snow, sit through a 2-hour congregational meeting, and does she have the same cool bracelet as the pastor?? I think not!"

I know, I know, competition is a part of life, so I should just get over myself.
But don't you hate when something feels like it's meant to be and then someone/something comes along and throws a monkey wrench into your "sure thing"?
God loves doing that.
We go onto google maps and plan out how to get from point A to point B and then God comes along and moves all the streets around.

Me, I'm just going to keep trudging along, and praying for clear roads and good weather!

These Boots Are Made For Walking...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ashes, Ashes, We all fall down!

Well, it's Ash Wednesday, I've received my ashes, I'm still polishing off the Valentine's Day candy, and I have 50 kagillion things due in my classes the next few weeks, so I thought it was as good a time as any to pop over here and post an update.

My problems is that after much arm twisting by my classmates I finally joined Facebook (yes, I've gone over to the dark side). I've found that updating my posse in short semi-coherent phrases is much easier to do while I'm juggling classes. Finding 5 seconds to write "Maureen is pondering" or "Maureen is referring to herself in the third-person" is more doable than carving out an hour to blog.

BUT (and I got this idea from fellow blogger, Marie), I've decided that in honor of Lent I'm going to make an effort to spend less time on Facebook and more time over here. I've been spoiled here at school - since I'm living with a bunch of theology geeks whenever I'm pondering some deeper issue or have a rant rattling around in my head I have instant sounding boards to bounce them off of. This blog used to serve that purpose for me, now I have real live human beings (I know, horrors!).

I started blogging as a Lenten practice three years ago - offline, and moved it online 2 years ago - so it makes sense to return to it during this time of year.
My goal is to make time for it every day, and to move deeper into my thoughts then Facebook allows ("Maureen hopes she knows what she's getting herself into").

So, keep checking back if you're interested.
Things are about to get busy around here. ;-)