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Progressive Christianity Part 1 of 8

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Galatians 5:16-17

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11:29-30

 

As we begin our eight week reflection on the essential points of Progressive Christianity, let’s set the tone for the conversation by suggesting that none of this is definitive. Progressive Christianity is a part of the evolutionary project of rendering afresh in every generation, the language and understanding between culture and the Divine. The worst thing that can happen to healthy theological exploration is that it becomes a persisting dogma, rather than a part of a living relationship. These eight points merely form a framework for expressing both the ideas emerging from current conversations, and the ideas hoped for as we look at a renewing Church.

The first of these ideas is stated in the ensuing way. Progressive Christians are Christians who believe that “following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred, and the Oneness and Unity of all life.” A deceptively simple statement, surely, it lifts up several interesting distinctions from what we might think of as a more traditional position. To begin with, this is not about what we say we believe, so much as it is about how we live our lives. It is about following, and not about the propositional statements to which we assent. Faith can often find itself reduced to a series of theological assertions that we are called upon to hold verbatim, that we might enjoy a righteous entry into the joys of a heavenly afterlife. Following, on the other hand, has everything to do with enacting the approach to sacred living that we can see in the gospel accounts.

In the gospels we see Jesus healing, feeding, caring, extending compassion even to enemies, and striving to help even the most obdurate folk understand the distinction between the Divine presence and that presence mediated through human politics and power. The Jesus of the gospels challenges systems of oppression and the misuse of wealth, while inviting everyone to live in the reality of a present kin-dom, a new life that has everything to do with this life, and not the next life. He also spends a great deal of time in prayer and meditation, withdrawing from activity in order to spend time in G-d’s presence, without unnecessary distraction. Jesus is, unavoidably, a servant leader in the synoptic gospels.

Choosing to follow this Jesus is a radical act of cultural reorientation. It is certainly easier to simply continue to live as we are, embedded in cultural expectations, and cling then to an orthodoxy of thought, but that is hardly life giving. In choosing to follow Jesus as an example and a path setter, we are orienting our own lives in a different direction, one that calls us to live more deeply, with more awareness and intention. The experience we derive from such a practice can indeed help us to sense more palpably the deep bonds that connect us to Life in its every form. The supposition here is that this, rather than an E-ticket to heaven, is the point of life.

You might note here as well, the care taken in making this statement to avoid a dogmatic appeal to universal truth. If one chooses to follow one may experience… it presages what is more explicitly stated in point #2.

 

“God is willing to walk the earth again incarnate in us.”

Eugenia Price

“The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now.”

Henri Nouwen