I am a recovering "professional Christian." I'm seeking a community of faith (and of questioning faith) that is more inclusive, radically ecumenical and inter-faith, less bureaucratic, less doctrinal and tribal, more loving, less institutional and denominational, for worship that is more experiential and eclectic, and that seeks wisdom from a variety of wise people and world religious traditions.
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Ethicist Robin Lovin (great name, right?) offers a three-part frame of reference when making decisions about what is right or wrong, moral or immoral, constructive or destructive - decisions about money, politics, law and order, social programs, and cultural divides. While some of this ethical calculus may be conscious (and I'd recommend that), much of it is subconscious, ingrained. or conditioned. All of us consider all of these perspectives at some point in our process, but one of these three values is the starting point or default position of most people. Where you start influences both your perspectives on the other two and where you end up. Think of your starting perspective as the lens through which you view the others.
The three value frames of reference are:
(1) A person who embodies your values.
(2) The "rules" or the law.
(3) A vision for a preferred future.
Let's take an example from the world of superheroes. If you start with admiration and trust in a person who embodies truth, justice, the righting of wrongs, and qualities like courage and compassion for the weak and the preyed upon, you may look to Superman, who stands for law and order, following and enforcing the rules, hopefully leading to a safe, law-abiding, truth-telling and just society.
If you are a person who leads with a vision for the future [a "green" world, a deregulated world, an inclusive and just society, global citizenship, American exceptionalism], you will look for leaders and others who embody the values and choices that align with that vision and you will seek to honor the laws that will reflect those values and work to change the laws and social "rules" that don't.
If your starting point is "the rules" or the law, you will be attracted to a leader who is an enforcer, a "law and order" person, and a person who will seek to root out those who break the rules and make sure they get punished. You will envision a society that is law-abiding and no one is above the law.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, there are examples of people who start from any one of these places - Judges, Pharisees, Prophets, Monarchs, and Zealots. Followers of Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammed, or Buddha (to name a few) often start with a figure who embodies their own teachings. Some within these and other religions, including civil religion/politics, do the same - Lincoln, Kennedy, Obama, Trump or others who lead movements or revolutions - Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth. This leads to their perspectives on law and judgement, crime and punishment, who is valued in a society, and who is considered "the least of these." And they seek to develop and revise a legal system or paradigm of social behavior (laws and rules) that reflect the person they revere as the embodiment and epitome of those values and the vision they cast of the future (like "thy kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven").
So, where do you start your ethical calculus? Is your first question, "What are the rules?" Is it, "Where are we headed, what's our goal or purpose, what does our preferred future look like?" Or are your first questions about who embodies your values, your pent up anger and frustration, or your most cherished dreams for our nation and world?
"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." For us in our tradition (and for others in theirs) it means we will begin with the human incarnation of shalom, the world as it an be and was created to be. From the incarnated, embodied "word of God" who casts a vision for "the Kingdom of God" we will work for laws, social mores, confession and repentance of cultural blindness and historic inhumanity, and a peaceable, just society. You can start on any base in Robin Lovin's diamond and make it home. The questions are, "Who's (or what's) on first, second and third?" And, how do you define "home."
Robin Lovin, Christian Ethics, An Essential Guide, 1999, Abingdon Press
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The following entry completes the preface to my forthcoming book Possible Faith - For Those Who Are Finding It Less Than So.
I am seeking to be Christian in a way that is neither defensive nor divisive – that is hospitable, gracious, and inclusive, and that is humbly possible. I want to widen my understanding of the origins of the universe that is informed by both science and spirit. A theology I can live with is one that envisions the communal and creative nature of God – a faith that looks for God's continuing self-revelation, that embraces post-Newtonian science and post-Reformation theologies.
I want to live into a hopeful future that asks questions like “Where is Creation leading? What does it have to teach us and reveal to us? What is this world coming to?” A future I can live into is one that embraces a “thy kingdom come on earth” vision, co-created with other hopeful people and with God who has chosen not to make a world without us in it.
This book is a testimony, a sharing of my unfolding faith. It is not intended to convince or convert. In the movie The Matrix Reloaded there is a telling exchange between the commander of Zion’s defensive forces and Morpheus, a John the Baptist-type character who believes Neo is the long-expected savior of their people:
Commander Lock: “Dammit Morpheus, not everyone believes what you believe!”
Morpheus: “My beliefs do not require them to.”
My journey of believing does not require anyone, including you, to believe as I do. My journey does require me to receive the way you believe with genuine interest and care.