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Blog of the Grateful Bear

ramblings of a freelance panentheist {"all things are in God, and God is in all things"} . . . musings on Emergent spirituality, powerlifting, LGBTQueer issues, contemplative prayer, mysticism, cats, music, healing, and more. I like my coffee and my existentialism dark-roasted.

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Location: Marietta, Georgia, United States

I'm an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), in private practice in Marietta, Georgia. My writings on queer spirituality have been published in Whosoever and several other magazines. I live in a house-in-the-woods (Bear's Hermitage) in Marietta with Leonidas (Lenny) and Guy, Mighty Warrior Cats, and way too many books.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

BookLog: Kissing Fish


Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don't Like Christianity is an intriguing book from the moment you see its front cover: a photo of a Jesus fish and a Darwin fish kissing each other, surrounded by bumper stickers like “Christian, Not Closed Minded.” This is an unusual book in that it’s a serious theological work, but it’s also interspersed with deeply personal passages in which the author, Roger Wolsey, shares his own journey of faith. The result is a very readable and enjoyable book that shares theological insights without seeming preachy or overly scholastic.

Wolsey’s mission is to articulate a new understanding of Christianity, which he terms Progressive Christianity, and which differs significantly from the conservative evangelical faith that most Americans think of as “Christianity.” Wolsey’s Progressive Christianity is very similar to “the emerging Christian paradigm” Marcus Borg writes about in several of his books, including The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. In a key passage in chapter 2 of Kissing Fish, which I will quote here at length, Wolsey gives an overview of Progressive Christianity as he sees it:

Progressive Christianity is a post-liberal, post-modern influenced approach to the Christian faith that: proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as Christ, Savior, and Lord; emphasizes the Way and teachings of Jesus, not merely His person; emphasizes God’s immanence not merely God’s transcendence; leans toward panentheism rather than supernatural theism; emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later; emphasizes being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell; emphasizes the social/communal aspects of salvation instead of merely the personal; stresses social justice as integral to Christian discipleship; takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding; emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs); embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery – instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas; does not consider homosexuality to be sinful; and doesn’t claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive).

In Section I of Kissing Fish, Wolsey examines each of these tenets in detail, in chapters like “Heaven & Hell & what about all those other religions?” and “The Bible: Book of Science, Rules, Facts, Myths, or Life?” Section II (which I’ll write about in a future blogpost) is devoted to living a life of love, peace, and justice, including spiritual practices for the progressive Christian.

Here are some questions for my fellow progressive, emergent, and missional Christians (as well as for my post-Christian friends): What do you think of Wolsey’s summary of Progressive Christianity? Are there parts of his summary you disagree with, or might have worded differently? Are such summaries even useful, given the highly individualized nature of progressive or emergent faith? (I think they can be very useful, if only to let others know that there are other, valid forms of Christianity besides the evangelical, conservative versions.)

Kissing Fish is available from Wolsey’s website, www.progressivechristianitybook.com. It’s also available as an eBook from Nook, Kindle, iBooks, and Google eBooks. If you download it from this link you’ll be supporting Charis Books and More, Atlanta’s independent feminist bookstore. You can also check out the Facebook page for Kissing Fish.

Please feel free to add your comments and responses below. Comments on this blog are moderated, so your comments won't show up immediately.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Queer Theology: Outside the Box

The Anarchist Reverend has issued a Call for a Queer Theology Synchroblog on August 11th: “On that day I want people to blog about what queer theology means to them. I want you to share your story of how reading the Bible queerly has changed your life. I want you to talk about how your sexuality or your gender identify has brought you deeper into relationship with God.”

This post is my response to that call. In some ways, I feel like I’ve been answering that call for the past 11 years. From 2000 to 2006 I was a regular contributor to (and I’m still a supporter of) Whosoever, the online magazine for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians. I’ve told a lot of my story in articles on that site, beginning with this one: Journey of Faith, Journey of Acceptance. I’ve also told my story in articles, essays, and poetry for White Crane Journal, Visionary (Gay Spirit Visions), RFD (Radical Faerie Digest), and the Gay and Lesbian Review.

But in thinking about the Anarchist Reverend’s call, I wondered what, to me, the greatest gift of queer theology might be. I think it’s this: our ability to do theology and embrace spirituality “outside the box.” For many of us, this has been a necessity, not a voluntary option, when we’ve been forced outside the boxes of our own faith tradition. Many of us have been forced out by being wounded or rejected by religion, while some of us have simply recognized that our experiences – our reality – doesn’t square with the theology we’ve been taught by our tradition. As I wrote in my article Journey of Faith, Journey of Acceptance: “I began to wonder if a theology that didn’t square with reality was a theology worth having at all.”

Some of us have responded to being forced “outside the box” by leaving organized religion altogether, and I certainly can’t fault or judge my queer brothers and sisters who have chosen to do that. Some of us have found ways to reclaim our religious traditions. Others of us have found ways to reclaim what was good about our religious tradition, while incorporating elements and practices from other traditions into our personal spirituality. After all, if we’ve already been forced “outside the box,” why limit ourselves to just one particular theological box? In struggling to free ourselves from a toxic “either/or” religion, many of us have moved on to a “both/and” spirituality. I've had friends over the years who have described themselves as Christian Buddhist, or Jewfi (Jewish Sufi), or Budeo-Pagan, or “ambispiritual,” or “panspiritual.” One of my best friends describes himself as an animistic Radical Faerie Sufi Pagan Christian.

As an Emergent Episcopalian who is also a student of Sufism as a devotional path, I can relate. I think it’s healthy to explore prayers, practices, and perspectives beyond one’s own tradition. I am not Pagan or Wiccan, but many of my friends and loved ones are, and my own spirituality has been deeply enriched by my connections with them and by my occasional participation in their rituals. I am not Buddhist, but I have learned much from attending Buddhist meditation classes and services. And the writings of the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn have had a profound impact on me – especially his wonderful and profound book, Living Buddha, Living Christ.

I have read articles criticizing this “cafeteria approach” to spirituality. Those who use the cafeteria metaphor are usually purists (or fundamentalists) who look down their noses at those of us whose experiences don’t easily fit into just one religion. The reality is that many of us who are queer have woven together our own individualized spiritualities from bits and pieces of different traditions – whatever works for us and connects us to the Divine.

As Karen Armstrong said in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review (Summer 2003), “The new pluralism is already a fact of life. It is not that we are going to create a giant ‘World Religion,’ but rather that people turn quite naturally for nourishment to more than one tradition. More Christians than Jews read Martin Buber, for example, and Jews read Paul Tillich and Harvey Cox. People call themselves Christian or Jewish Buddhists. And this cross-fertilization could revitalize sagging traditions and infuse them with new life.”

That ability to cross-fertilize, to weave together a vibrant spirituality that revitalizes us personally and maybe even revitalizes the traditions themselves – that, I think, is one of the greatest theological gifts of those of us who are queer, or of anyone else who has been forced “outside the box” of any religious tradition.

To read what others have written as part of the Queer Theology Synchroblog, click here.

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