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The Lamp and the Mirror
Illuminating Personal Theology
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26th-Apr-2006 07:51 pm(no subject)
Questions for Reflection:
1. What are your own lenses and biases? What are the gifts and limitations they bring to the task of doing theology?

I have a Biblical lens and bias. I see everything through that lens. Because of that, I have more in common with a fellow believer from Africa or China than I do with any of my immediate neighbors. They are my brothers and sisters. I am a Christian first, and everything else - nationality, race, sex, family role - is secondary. Any biases I may pick up incidentally from my culture have to be examined through that lens and then allowed to remain if they do not contradict Biblical principles or rejected if they do.

If I am intellectually rigorous, this process forces me to examine my thoughts and feelings and enables me to discover any ideas I may have that are mutually exclusive. I can then determine why I am holding conflicting worldviews. It's a good way to keep a check on my heart. I find a lot of people hold conflicting worldviews and don't even know it because they never bother to follow their thoughts and feelings to their logical conclusions.

2. What words do you use most frequently to describe the Divine, your spiritual beliefs, and your ethics? What do these words reveal about you?

The Divine: Jehovah, God, Father, Creator.
Spiritual Beliefs: Truth, discernment
Ethics: Justice, mercy, wisdom, love, humility.

I think they reveal I'm a pretty straightforward person who believes there is an objective truth and it is a virtue to search for it.
25th-Apr-2006 02:08 pm - Lesson 1 Reflections
1. What are your own lenses and biases? What are the gifts and limitations they bring to the task of doing theology?

Ethnic/Spiritual Upbringing: Black Pentecostal. In the past that meant I did not take seriously the spirituality of anyone who did not follow the pentecostal worship style. Now that means I tend to assume the black Pentecostal worship style is empty, noisy emotion that keeps me from truly connecting with God. I connect with the Spiritual current best in stillness, though for years I tried to find it in the noise and emotional outbursts. I connected from time to time, but not consistently. Now that my worship is more contemplative and liturgical, I connect regularly.

That bias against pentecostalism (or even charismatic worship) has allowed me to truly commune with the Spirit on a level much closer to where I've always wanted to be. Now that I am in a liberal, liturgical church, I feel able to think in church and to truly absorb what God is saying to me. The flip side is that I am currently unable to relax and enjoy the more emotional side of worshiping God at this point in my life, because I associate so much negative baggage from my youth with it: the long hours wasted in church buildings instead of being out living, being forced to sing or recite scriptures while other youths sat in the back and slept, and being pressured to emote just like everyone else or risk being accused of being stubborn, just to name a few things. I'm sure God is flexible enough to truly talk to people who worship in the pentecostal/charismatic style; it's just that right now I am not flexible enough to clearly hear God that way. The noise and the ingrained pressure I feel to be like everyone else overpower God's voice.

2. What words do you use most frequently to describe the Divine, your spiritual beliefs, and your ethics? What do these words reveal about you?

I use "God" the most, even though I am having trouble separating that word from the male-only, judgmental, cold, standoffish image of God I grew up with. I have used "The Divine," but that feels more impersonal than I prefer. I have used "Amma," and still do when I call on God in private, but I am concerned about being mistaken for an Amma devotee when I use that term outside of my own head.

My spiritual beliefs/ethics are progressive/liberal Christian: definitely Christ-centered, but with the firm belief God can and does speak to people through other religious traditions. My recent experiences attending an Amma program and a Krishna Das kirtan have confirmed this belief, which I always had but did not often vocalize before I left pentecostal/evangelical Christianity. I am also contemplative/mystic: communing with God via reverent stillness/meditation and via personal experience, rather than via others' interpretations of who God is and how I should relate to "Him".

My confusion on how to refer to the Divine shows my ideas are fully in flux. The confusion isn't new, but my willingness to own and explore it is.
24th-Apr-2006 07:31 pm(no subject)
Questions for Reflection:
1. What are your own lenses and biases? What are the gifts and limitations they bring to the task of doing theology?

My lenses are varied. I think that in a lot of ways I've rejected mainstream Christianity. I am not sure who Jesus is really --although I haven't rejected him per se. He's worshiped in so many ways and perceived in a lot of different ways and some of those have put me off. Others I'm confused by. A lot of the people who are Christians really offend me--mainly fundamentalists, but others as well. I'm offended by the concept that gay people and gayness are evil. I'm offended when people want to start nuclear war because of their religious beliefs. I'm offended by people who think their religion is better than anyone elses or the only way to God. And I'm especially offended by people who think that as Christian Americans we are better than anyone else. I am not comfortable with "speaking in tongues." And I'm not comfortable with people who actively try to spread their religion. I'm much more comfortable with people who want to find a deeper expression of their own faith rather than spread it to others. I'm not comfortable with Christian cliches.

I have explored other religions and faiths and have found things of value in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Having said that I do attend the Episcopal Church, though I often feel that I'm "barely hanging on" as a Christian. And yet I love the Sunday ritual and the closeness I feel to god in communion.

The gift that those viewpoints gives me is that in a lot of ways I'm able to overcome my early experience and be open to other ways of looking at theology. The limitation that gives me is that in a lot of ways I don't feel I have a spiritual home. I don't feel totally comfortable in the church I was brought up in . And I don't feel totally comfortable in others' churches because I wasn't raised in them and don't know all the background and expectations.

One place where I have recently been experiencing god a lot more is through the lenses of my twelve step groups. I like the fact that I am encouraged to find a god that I personally can relate to--not just one handed to me by religion. I also like the entire process of finding god through reconciliation with god's world. That's something I feel that is missing in many protestant churches.

2. What words do you use most frequently to describe the Divine, your spiritual beliefs, and your ethics? What do these words reveal about you?

Oh, I use a lot of different words. I don't stick to one. I use the term "higher power" a lot since I've found that term in 12 step programs. But I also use a lot of other terms. I've found god in Mother, Jesus, Siva, Buddha, Kwan Yin, Ganesh, and Pan. Each of those ideas represents a different way of looking at the world, and a different spiritual journey I have taken. I am currently seeking to expand my concept of God to one of "Friend."
24th-Apr-2006 11:07 am - The Ethics and Lenses Post
1. What are your own lenses and biases? What are the gifts and limitations they bring to the task of doing theology?

I am nearly rabidly anti-Christian. Despite being one. After a fashion. I am so ready to believe the worst of anyone who is a member of any church. Never mind that I was an active member of my church in Kalamazoo. Never mind that I’d like to find a place now to belong. I think that most “Christians” are Pat Roberts.

I am highly opinionated and if I think someone is wrong, I think they are dead wrong and there is no room for negotiation. I do not have a very open mind when it comes to religion and/or theology. I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the home of the Christian Reformed Church of America. Among the most conservative of religions. It was all over the news a decade or so that they were discussing whether or not to let women talk in church, let alone be ministers. The cloud of CRCA covered much of Grand Rapids and conservative Christianity much of Michigan. Christianity has been used to hurt so many people and to justify everything from murder to slavery to war that I have the hardest time aligning myself with it publicly.

The gift that this brings is that I do not just believe something because I’m told it. The limitation is that I often reinvent the wheel. I want to be more open minded, so that is a gift. I’m becoming more “tolerant.” Well, I guess the truth is, I find that as I age, I’m far less intense. I can hear people more readily who disagree with me.

2. What words do you use most frequently to describe the Divine, your spiritual beliefs, and your ethics? What do these words reveal about you?

I usually think of God in terms of a traditional Christian God: white old man. I’m shifting more towards a gender neutral idea of God. The minister at my former church says “Mother-Father God” or “Sweet Spirit.” I tend to like the Mother-Father God but what that does is leave me with a void where God should be. I can’t visualize a Mother-Father God and I’m a highly visual person. I think because I did not have a good relationship with my father, I look to God to fill that role, which is why I think of God as male. Plus, you know, all that indoctrination.

However, I believe that God reveals God’s self to a person in the way that they can best relate. To me, that’s the WMG. For you, it might be a woman, or something in nature or multiple manifestations.

As for you spiritual beliefs, I think of myself as a New Thought Christian. We are far more progressive that your mainstream Christian, but still have a Christ-centered theology, in a way. We at Unity believe that Jesus was our elder brother and wayshower, both fully human and fully divine. As everyone of us has the ability to be, if we allowed ourselves to fully experience the divine. Frankly, I think that Jesus had to have some “divine intervention” because it’s hard to maintain even a modicum of divinity in my daily life and, by all accounts, he managed it most of the time.

Ethics are always evolving for me as I gain new information. I suppose I can sum it up as “don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see plastered on the headlines.” Spiritually speaking, I strive to be Christ-like and loving, but I fall short of that quite a lot. If I think of God as a father, then I want a good relationship with my Father. I want to learn from Him and model myself after Him, much the way small children learn about the world from their parents. Since I’m ever-learning, my sense of ethical behavior evolves as well. For example, the abortion debate. I’m staunchly pro-choice. I had an abortion when I was 16. I will be eternally grateful that option was available to me. Now, though, at 39, I know that if I got pregnant, by whatever means, I would not have an other abortion. The dilemma for me is that I believe that women have the right to control their own bodies but I feel sad for the life that doesn’t get to live. Not that long ago, I wouldn’t have even considered the fetus. Things are simply not as black and white as they once were.

It’s taken me quite a while to respond to this post! I hope my life settles down enough for a while that I can do things more promptly.
16th-Apr-2006 07:37 am - Lesson #1 response
1. What are your own lenses and biases? What are the gifts and limitations they bring to the task of doing theology?

*White male, working class mostly secular upbringing in a historically Christian society - the idea (and reality) of powerlessness before the ultimate is hard to accept for us guys, I think

*Postgraduate education - and thus fond of thinking (too fond) and a certain vanity about what my intellect can achieve even if that same reasoning tells me otherwise.

*Skeptical nature (in-built bullshit detector, the alarm is in the back of my neck which gets tense and itchy and makes me irritable in the presence of bullshit or bullshitting) - that's good for not being credulous, but can be a barrier to new ways of thinking and of experiencing faith.

*But equally, "I want to believe" - part of me has always sought to escape from the extremities of my cynicism

*Some (limited) study of comparative religion, plus the conclusions so far of my own faith journey make it hard for me to subscribe to "a faith" with their exclusive dogmas and/or practices. There's a freedom and an honesty in this, but also a risk and a price to pay - the support, challenge, and learning potentially available from a spiritual community are not present in my life currently. It's easier to get lost in the wilderness when you're wandering on your own.

2. What words do you use most frequently to describe the Divine, your spiritual beliefs, and your ethics? What do these words reveal about you?

*I call the Divine "God" mostly.

My instincts are monotheistic. To me, if God makes any sense at all then it's all God, whatever manifestation or face you meet or wish to ascribe to God. So I guess I think I may as well just cut to the chase. For me, "God" is as good a name as any - seems shorter and less clumsy than some alternatives like "the Divine" "Ground of all being" "Ultimate Reality" etc. etc.

Also, God is not so descriptive...I try not to get into being too specific in describing or conceptualising God, because I feel that the description or conceptualisation can become an idol, and whatever I come up with God will be beyond it and can confound it. I like though, the echoes of tender compassionate Jesus-God, and terrifying awesome Yahweh-God that the word has in my society.

I don't know what to say about the other parts of the question, except that I've always known that it's not enough to turn away from the world with all its flaws and suffering and say "God, take me away from all this" - for me, it's always been clear that I am meant to turn to God for the strength to face the world, and to respond actively and compassionately, even if I don't always want to so I keep asking on the other hand for a quiet normal comfortable life of love and family!
5th-Apr-2006 05:03 pm - Internet Access Interruptus
Due to unexpected complications with home improvements being done by my upstairs neighbors, I'm going to be living away from home for the next couple of days. It's nothing serious, but there's going to be plumbing shut-offs, lots of noise, and other inconveniences I'd prefer to avoid.

This means my internet access will be irregular. I had hoped to post at least two more segments of this week's material this evening, but that may not happen.

I ask your patience, and I'll get the next installments posted as soon as I can. I haven't yet tried a HotSpot, and may use that for access.
Thank you, everyone, for your introductions. I feel awed and blessed by the diversity of experience you all bring, and the common thread of the clear importance your spiritual lives have for you.

I'm going to be posting the lessons in small chunks: in part to give you time to reflect on each section, and in part as a reflection of the constraints of my own life.

Each lesson will be followed by questions for reflection. You need not post these, but I encourage you to spend time with them. If you do post your reflections, please do so as a new entry to the group. If you have questions about the lesson itself, please post as Comment, and I will reply in a new post.

1. Doing Theology: Basic Concepts

What does it mean when we refer to “doing theology”?

If we go back to the Greek roots of the word, we find theos, which means ‘god,’ and logos, which is most frequently translated as “word.” So theology is “god-talk” or “talk about god.”

But logos has other nuances of meaning as well. Our experience and our perceptions of the world are strongly influenced by our language. When we speak about something, we create a conceptual framework. We give it order. So how we talk about ‘God’ influences what we think about God. When we do theology we “talk about” a vast subject – Ultimate Reality – and try to understand it, try to create or discern ordering concepts.

We are all theologians, thinking and talking about the Divine and coming to conclusions that become the basis for our faith.

Except when we work from the opposite direction and come to conclusions about the Divine based on our faith.

The task is to be conscious of the direction you are moving.

Post-modern scholarship – and theology – has discarded the concept of the detached, objective observer as authoritative. Now it is recognized that we all bring biases and “lenses” to our perceptions and reflections. We don’t strive to be “objective,” to try to divorce our personal beliefs and attitudes from our thinking (which is ultimately an impossible task), we try to be aware of our biases, the limitations and gifts of our experience, and be honest about how they influence us. For example, my lenses include the fact that I am a highly-educated white woman who has lived all my life as a middle-class American. I can try to be sensitive to elements of life – or a text – that have different implications for people from different backgrounds, but sometimes I just can’t see them, or can’t fully grasp them. I have blind spots. Everyone has blind spots. The challenge is to be alert to them, and open to the perceptions of those who aren’t blind in this area. We don’t have to agree with them, but we need to be open to hearing them. (Which is itself a biased statement!)

There are also lenses or biases of beliefs. I approach theology acknowledging the fact that I am a feminist, and that my spiritual roots are in liberal Protestant Christianity but that I have been strongly influenced by Neo-Paganism and Swedenborgian theology. When studying the Bible or other scripture, I tend to favor narrative criticism over other methods, but I hold that academic approach simultaneously with an openness to the inspiration of Spirit on the level of personal devotion. My studies in Comparative Religion have made me conversant with a range of beliefs, and I often key in on symbols, rites, or other elements that appear in a variety of religious traditions, so I can understand where their meanings are the same (or similar) and where they diverge, and what implications this has for my own understanding of how humanity interacts with Spirit.

It should already be clear from reading everyone’s introductions that this group is blessed with a wide variety of spiritual and life experiences. One of the advantages to doing theology in a group is that we can benefit from the questions and the insights of those whose lenses are different from our own.

Questions for Reflection:
1. What are your own lenses and biases? What are the gifts and limitations they bring to the task of doing theology?

2. What words do you use most frequently to describe the Divine, your spiritual beliefs, and your ethics? What do these words reveal about you?

3. If you have time, skim back through the introductions and identify one or two people whose backgrounds are very different from yours. Try to pay special attention to their contributions as we go forward. You may not agree with them, but try to be open to the illumination of their different perspectives.
3rd-Apr-2006 02:25 am - Introductory
Hello to everyone. I am glad to be able to join this experiment. I am not sure what I will be able to contribute but the unlikely path through a friend's comments that I took to get here makes it an easy chance to take--the convergence of my finding this and the start up being right now is another good reason. Some of the relevant details about me.
I was raised Lutheran-Missouri Synod in Minnesota and Iowa, an area where the type of Lutheran was important. The Missouri Synod was as close to high church as there was. I took comfort as a kid thinking that we practiced a "purer" Lutheranism--whatever that was. What was instilled me that survives to this day was a deep appreciation of the lonely heroics of Martin Luther against the Church/State as an expression of his personal quest. His translation of the Bible into German and his preaching of a self-directed journey of faith inspired me, then and now. Where I struggled was understanding the morality of religious imperialism being practiced at that time and the chain letter math of a out-spreading of converts. Little did I know how it would become national policy in my lifetime. Oh, I am a grumpy left-wing Democrat on a pragmatic day. A disaffected silence on a bad one.
I have had several personal illuminations or reconciliations of faith with the Lutheranism that I remember, even though I can no longer invoke them. At the ages of eight, eleven, thirteen, and seventeen. I have been mentally arguing with sermons since the age of eight or so, once I realized it would keep me awake.
My practice of faith is shaped by zen stuff and an active seeing presence, my devotional work is based on contemplation of Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer and understanding the edge that is my consciousness between good and evil, horse flies and hummingbirds, sadness and joy, acceptance and anger. Making that list is one of the ways I pray. As is making and eating a good meal or being a seducer and the seduced. I have been without a church since college, although I recently have been attending Friends' Meeting and am drawn to sharing "waiting for the light" with these like-minded people. Their activism scares me in that my own sense of political activism is reactionary and might not even drive me if Bush and the Christian Talibanate hadn't been elected.
Since high school, my primary expression of faith has been self-directed study, decidedly non-academic or structured, that goes where I want to go. I have read some texts cover to cover: Merton, Watts, Castanada, Eliot, Dillard,Jung, William Irwin Thompson among others. But my primary reading is cherry-picking from sources like Psalms, I-Ching, Bhagavad Gita, R.H. Blyth, many poets, some theologians and philosophers, etc. I am deeply aware of how much I could read that I will never even know about.
If you believe, as I do, that the nature of God/dess is inherent in everything and everybody, including me, there is always something close by that I can turn to to further my faith and understanding. I believe that thought and contemplation are my highest use.
There is so much that I could say. This all sounds so self-centered and self-satisfied, but I hope that is really due to trying to be brief and clear. Neither are strengths.
I am attracted to this group because of the use of the word "Personal". I have misled myself during my lifetime in pursuit/no pursuit of personal faith, considering or embracing almost every apostasy, heresy, or speculation possible. I should mention that after thirty years, my use, once upon a time, of psychedelics still unshapes the world for me. I have no desire to add to the experience base anymore, though.
I also would like to add that the book The Sword of Constantine profoundly affected me about four(?) years ago. I did not read the final sections on the internal issues faced by the Catholic Church.
I hope that this will help form an image of me. I am sure that as soon as I send this, I will be thinking of all the missing things that have to be said. I guess if they are relevant later, I can add them later. This is long enough.
31st-Mar-2006 01:36 pm - Barbara's Introduction
When I was a child, my parents sent me to a Baptist Sunday School. Not, I suspect, out of any fervent desire to instill in us a spiritual tradition, but because the Baptists sent a bus ‘round and picked us up. Thus, my parents got a couple of hours of peace and quiet. I enjoyed church, but even as an 8 year old, I was far too inquisitive for the Sunday School teachers. They were basically interested in rote memory, not questioning theology.

For a while then, I did nothing. Then, in high school, I started going to church with my best friend, whose family happened to be Episcopalian. I loved it! I loved the ceremony, the ritual. It was a great time for me. I was baptized and enthusiastically embraced being an Episcopalian.

When I was 15, my family moved to a small town about half an hour away. There was no Episcopal church and several of my friends were Catholic, so I went to church with them. Seemed similar enough. Still, I liked it and was confirmed when I was a senior in high school. I even went to a Catholic college, went to mass every day. I guess I felt I needed to atone for all my drinking and carrying on. Still, it was a warm welcoming place, the Catholic Church.

Then, I came out. I was 20. I struggled with it, so I went to see the priest on campus, who had been a source of comfort and great counsel. He gave me no sympathy, no empathy. He told me that I’d better try to get my boyfriend to marry me or I was going to burn in hell. What? I thought surely he was wrong. This place that had been such a sanctuary for me couldn’t possibly teach such things. Boy, was I wrong.

I read, I researched and I came up with this: The Catholic Church didn’t make any sense, if one gave it any thought. The Bible itself was full of contradiction and mistranslations. It had been heavily influenced by the translators. When asked why the Church does things, the answer was often “church tradition” or “church doctrine.” Basically, “because I said so.” That didn’t work when I was a child and it surely didn’t work now.

I sort of threw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than try to find a spiritual tradition that worked for me, I decided I was an atheist. A loud-mouthed atheist who thought Christians were stupid and blind. Yeah, that was me.

About 8 years ago, something odd happened to me. I started feeling a call to ministry. Not to pastor a church but to somehow serve those who seek God. What? I didn’t *believe* in God! How could I serve those who seek Him? I started to think about it and reflect. I “tried on” a couple of religions before I found
Unity fits me, somehow. There are many people who have never heard of it or who think I’m Unitarian.

I still haven’t found my path towards that ministry, but at least I’m going in the right direction. I’m learning to make spiritual practice more a part of my daily life and that’s the first step right?

I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you and learning more.

Barbara (who will be gone until Wednesday, so may not get a chance to check email or LJ)
31st-Mar-2006 07:35 am - Gina's Intro
Hi everyone!

I'm a cradle Catholic, but left the Catholic Church as an adult. I didn't want to be part of a church that did not accept women into the priesthood. I also didn't want to be part of a church that didn't allow me to follow my own religious feelings.

Since then I've developed an interest in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Paganism. I don't believe that people should be stuck in just one religion.

I want to be part of this group to define what I want to believe a little more fully. Thanks!
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