Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Quotes and Comments Trinity Institute 2013

Quotes/Comments from 2013 Trinity Institute
We are engaged, not only with discovering the meaning of religion in an evolutionary context, but with becoming instruments of the power of God.      Otis Gaddis III
Embracing the cross of Christ is a necessary aspect of becoming a good Buddhist.  Chung  Hyun Kyung, Union Theological Seminary
The cross of Christ demonstrates God’s solidarity with all victims of torture and injustice, and God’s commitment to restorative justice, which (unlike retributive justice) seeks to repair and make right the harm done to God’s creation. Derek Flood, author
“The American prison system teaches offenders that you must be violent to survive. You do not learn empathy by being shamed and abused.” Derek Flood
The Good news of the Cross applies to all of creation, not just human beings…”the hope promised by the gospel …has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”  Colossians 1: 23.  Biological life on earth is essentially a Tree, with all living species forming the part above the ground, and the remains of all the dead supporting that life from below the ground. The cross of Christ affirms the presence of God in that colossal death of millions…God in compassionate solidarity with all life, all suffering, all death. Elizabeth Johnson, Fordham University.
The cross of Christ reveals God’s “deep incarnation” into the “tissues of biological life.” Elizabeth Johnson
“Abundant Life” does not mean that I have more than someone else. It means “God wants the best for everything and for  everyone all the time, and the integrity of creation.” The question is, do we trust that God can and will bring this about? Almeda Wright, Yale University
In evolutionary terms, “Abundant Life” means the capacity for adaptation. By virtue of consciousness, humans are uniquely equipped to direct the course of their own evolutionary future. The environment responds to these choices and successfully adaptive traits develop and get passed on. David Sloan Wilson, Binghamton University
“Tight churches” are those that resist diversity and value uniformity. “Loose churches” welcome a wide variety of interpretations. Every denomination and congregation has a “tight/loose” continuum.  “Looseness” increases along with feelings of existential security. The less secure, the more tight.  David Sloan Wilson

“Prosociality”= any behavior undertaken for the welfare of the total group. When prosocials interact with other prosocials there is a high likelihood of success for the group. David Sloan Wilson.

“The goal of the church is to facilitate the gathering of prosocial people who learn how to find abundance even in places of greatest scarcity. “   J Sams

The cross of Christ is not a glorification of suffering, but rather God’s protest against injustice and violence. The Rev. Otis Gaddis III
The world we inhabit has a Trinitarian  shape…”Past/Present/Future”…”Formlessness/Form/Consciousness”…”Father/Son/Spirit”. Christian prayer takes us through the Form (Jesus) to the Formlessness (Father) in Discerning Consciousness (Spirit).   The Rev. Otis Gaddis III, Episcopal Chaplain to Students at University of Maryland
The movement of such prayer is analogous to what we experience in infancy, where language develops as a means of communicating with others, and only then can be used to talk to ourselves in a way we could never have done in our pre-linguistic state. By the same token, the forms (i.e. “language”) of religion can be used to access the formlessness of God, which lies “beyond” any form or language. Indeed, “only those who can utilize the forms are equipped to move beyond them…”. Such persons are, by virtue of the Discerning Spirit, able to themselves become “forms” of the Formless God. This is what is meant when the Gospel of John says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”   Otis Gaddis III.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lonesome Dove: fellow creatures

It’s all right, though,” Augustus said. “It’s mostly bones we’re riding over, anyway. Why, think of all the buffalo that have died on these plains. Buffalo and other critters too. And the Indians have been here forever; their bones are down there in the earth. I’m told that over in the Old Country you can’t dig six feet without uncovering skulls and leg bones and such. People have been living there since the beginning, and their bones have kinda filled up the ground. It’s interesting to think about, all the bones in the ground. But it’s just fellow creatures, it’s nothing to shy from.”
It was such a startling thought—that under him, beneath the long grass, were millions of bones—that Newt stopped feeling so strained. He rode beside Mr. Gus, thinking about it, the rest of the night.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Notes on David Sloan Wilson from Trinity Institute, 2013 (author of "Darwin's Cathedral")
From evolutionary standpoint- "a group of individuals who are good to each other have an advantage over a similar group who are not." GOOD="behave for the good of the group, not just the individual". This trait is called "Prosociality".
True in all biology, not just for humans. Evolution selects traits that support this. This occurs on the level of species, groups, and cultures as well. CULTURES EvOLVe as well as individuals. It occurs in a multi-level hierarchy, and traits that are "good" at one level may not be so at a higher level. Natural Selection occurs at the level of groups.
Major Evolutionary Transition is rare...social insects originated only a few times/places, but now 1/2 insects are social, and can form a "group mind" and "think" as a single individual.
Human ancestors, unlike other primates, "suppressed disruptive selective techniques" and passes on traits for hunting, child rearing, cooperation with non-relatives, and symbolic thought, and team work...ability to "transmit information across generations in symbolic forms" thus enabling "rapid cultural selection". The same species could, under different circumstances, "eat seeds or whales, and pass on information without a single book." Humans, by virtue of consciousness, have the capacity to CHOOSE THE COURSE OF THEIR OWN EVOLUTION before the fact. Or, at least, influence that course.
Culture receives environmental information as input like a body does in a landscape or a brain does in a head.
REDUCTIONISM tries to explain everything re individual self-interest.
What Geno-type is to individuals, Symbo-type is to cultures . [did I get this right? it seems like it would be important].
Epistemology- Factual (scientific) knowledge=accurately describes (in a provisional way) observed data
Practical knowledge- enables humans to survive and reproduce (factual or not). [is this Immanuel Kant revisited? He uses such language, I think, to describe "noumenal" realities that  can be inferred, but not observed]
"Adaptive Fiction" - versions of reality developed by human beings to cope with reality- without reference to facts. Not limited to religion...
Different forms of religion evolve in different environments and are adapted to those conditions.
SYMBOtypes for the future?
1) support behavior oriented toward highest planetary good and maximum degree of teamwork
2) small groups proliferate as people are most at home in these.
3) strong reliance on factual (scientific) knowledge... Avoid adaptive fiction. [questi on: how distinguish be tween "adaptive fiction" and "practical knowledge"? Or are they the same thing?]

NOTE: avoid the language of "divine intervention"...a THIRD WAY between theism/mechanism="adaptationism" not the same as 19th century Materialism=do justice to malleability/plasticity/generative quality of biological (and anthropological ) reality. [is this equivalent to "post modernist" and even "2nd Naivite" thinking? Just wonderin']

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pervasive Irony?

"...the pervasive irony that Ricoeur sees emerging through the task of interpretation." Rowan Williams, "The Suspicion of Suspicion:Wittgenstein and Bonhoeffer."
    "Verbal irony" is when words are used to express an opposite, or unexpectedly different, meaning from what they literally mean. An obvious and common use of verbal irony is uttered every time a priest hands out a piece of bread and says, "the Body of Christ". Taken literally, the words are nonsense. Used liturgically for 2000 years, they work to evoke a strangely resilient presence. Does this amount to a massive exercise in self-deception, or a classic example of "dramatic irony," where the audience knows the meaning of what is happening and the actors do not? The "audience" in this case would seem to be the church, which discerns a presence where others see only bread and hear only some very peculiar worlds being spoken. Even more, it is God who is the "audience", and who alone truly perceives the reality of whatever transpires.
     I am not speaking from the perspective of a detached observer, who examines the phenomenon of religion from afar and pronounces it meaningless. That would constitute analysis, or possibly ridicule, but not "irony". Irony requires that one be engaged with the play, whether as actor or audience. Perhaps this is what Paul Ricoeur means by "Second Naivite", that we know we are part of a "play", but we allow ourselves to suspend disbelief enough so as to experience the reality which the play is seeking to express.
     Irony requires humor and empathy, and (ironically) some degree of commitment. If we can't identify with the characters and the plot, the play will collapse, because there will be no incentive to watch it. When the church engages in Eucharist, it had better be prepared to both laugh and cry. I'm pretty sure that God is doing both.
    The irony is "pervasive" because it extends all the way into the funny bone (and tear ducts) of God, which (as we know) are body parts God does not possess. Irony that extends into the non-existent? My, that is pervasive...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Rowan Williams on "The Suspicion of Suspicion"

Rowan Williams, the recently- retired Archbishop of Canterbury, is a rigorous academic theologian who has written extensively on the intellectual viability of Christian belief in our post modern context. He is also a respected commentator on the history of Christian spirituality. 
    I am intrigued by a chapter titled "TheSuspicion of Suspicion" that appears in "Wrestling With Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology," where he looks at the way Freud, Wittgenstein, and  Paul Ricoeur address critical issues in contemporary philosophy. Freud's weakness,  according to Williams, is his tendency (in common with much of modern thought) to see "truth" as lying "underneath" the surface of reality, as being a matter of complexes, syndromes, drives, and pathologies that are hidden from ordinary view and accessible only to experts, analysts, and technicians. Freud's strength, on the other hand, comes from his appreciation for the symbolic value of dreams as a legitimate"language" of its own. "Our lives," writes Williams,"thoughts, acts, imaginings...have the nature of a dramatic script being enacted." 
   A great part of my formal education was spent in learning the particular methods by which  the various disciplines "dissected" their subject matter so as to explain the "objective truth" that always lay "beneath" what meets the eye. 
Freud's notorious version of this was to explain almost all human activity as disguised sexuality. Reductionism of this sort is recast in every school of thought that systematically regards reality with suspicion, whether it  looks for the "true story" in terms of economic forces, sexism, communist or Zionist conspiracies, or the work of Satan. 
      In a careful, academic way, Bishop Rowan, along with such intellectual heavyweights as Wittgenstein, Ricoeur, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is calling us to a new appreciation for "the profundity of surfaces", to what Ricoeur has famously called a "second naïveté," and to do so without compromising a commitment to scientific method and the achievements of modernity. This calls for "the suspicion of suspicion," a kind of ultra-skepticism that leads to something like faith. 
   Perhaps we need not"...suggests Williams, "...be left with the bald alternativest of false naïveté...and manipulative reductionism." Ricoeur leads us, he believes, to a place of "fruitful and irresoluble  puzzlement." 


Friday, November 1, 2013

Benedictine Stability: More "Practical Spirituality for Dummies"

Benedictine monks take a vow of "stability", meaning that they promise to stay put in the monastery where they are. In our 4-session study of "Practical Spirituality for Dummies" at Christ Church Cranbrook we learned about a community of families and single people who have undertaken to live Benedictine-style together in Durham, N.C., and "stability" is one of their key principles. They have renounced the hyper-mobility of contemporary life, and promised to stay put where they are.
         I get their point, but I think it cannot be strictly a "geographical" commitment. I just spent the day rearranging my office at home so as to allow the unpacking of books and papers from my office at St. Stephen's. They had  been sitting in boxes on the floor for 2 years! That is not a sign of "stability", but rather of "gridlock". I have accumulated so much stuff it has me pinned to this spot like Gulliver, tied down by the Lilliputians. 
        That can't be what st. Benedict had in mind. Too many possessions blocks our view of the space around us. "Stability" requires an intentional appreciation for wherever it is we find ourselves. It means sharing the blessings and the pain of that locality, that neighbourhood, that landscape. 
       But the gospel is portable, and only nomads can hear it. Even stable old Benedictines in their monasteries are essentially pilgrims, wearing their stability more lightly the more deeply rooted they become. What we must seek to renounce is the impulsive urge to flit from place to place, to consume the produce of a place without putting anything of ourselves back into it. It's easier to be a tourist than a pilgrim. 
      I guess one has to have a dose of Benedictine stability in order to understand what it means to surrender control over one's surroundings. And the converse: only a pilgrim appreciates the true value of a hospitable house, a warm welcome, and a familiar path. 
     Benedictines place a high value on marking the rhythms of daily life with prayer. At Christ Church Cranbrook we have our own modest version of this monastic pattern: at 8:30am each weekday we ring a bell, observe silence, and then recite the rhythmic verses of psalms, much as St. Benedict taught his monks to do 1500 years ago, and as they still do, whether in monasteries, or in emergent communities like the one in Durham, or in St. Paul's Chapel at Christ Church Cranbrook. 
"They shall be like trees planted by streams of water, whose leaves do not wither." Psalm 1, if I'm not mistaken.