According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Foundations for a Radical Christianity, Part 2 - Thriving




Everything Must Change

Not many years ago I began my movement away from what I call a "closed bible" and a "closed faith" towards a spiritual hinterland promising a more open bible and open faith. One that might allow the God I knew "to breathe" again away from the specific theological containers and measured borderlands I had come to place Him in through affiliations to the institutions of my youth. What I strongly felt I needed again was a faith that might be "less sure of itself" than what it had now become in its verities and condemnations.

What I didn't see was this same aspect carried through in the corporate religious identities I was associating myself with. In essence, my personal faith identity was not matching up to my corporate faith identity and I sadly knew one or the other must change. By-and-by this discernment became a personal crisis of identity where the God I knew was not the God I was hearing spoken through the voices of a religious America become darkened in its speech and knowledge. One, or both, had to change, and I knew it must first begin with me.

This was the easier route. But it was also the harder route because it necessitated letting go of my former identity to finding a new identity that bore very little similarity to the religious groups I now saw around me. Faith groups that I was familiar with and had grown old with. But faith groups that had adopted a new form of Christian identity than I felt comfortable with. In many ways we both had changed. Curiously, I had become less certain while the other had become more certain in ways that changed their view of God and the Bible in more dramatic tones than I first remembered of them.

Even still, I was not alone. Though at the time I felt very much alone. Had I considered it, I did have a fellowship of equals measured in the lives of those men and women of the Bible who likewise faced deeply personal crisis of faith interpretation with the religious institutions of their day that they had grown up and identified with. Who were then forcibly thrust into the unknown away from friends and family, their religious dogmas, their homelands and occupations they once had known.

Essentially my fellowship was with a broader fellowship than I had first considered. It was not simply mine own woeful burden as I struggled to be released from "the miry pit of clay" which had formed tightly around me that was presently keeping me from breath and light. Nay, others had also trod this unceremonious road of sacrilege to feel despised and alone. Like myself, other destitute men and women of God had wandered foreign lands of idols-and-fear searching for a land not their own through the dark days that seemed to stretch endlessly onwards without end.

For myself, my new faith was as much an attitude shift as it was an epistemological crisis. I felt strongly moved towards a faith that might be more doubtful, less certain of itself, and less strict in its personal dogmas of confidence. A faith which had become quixotically more religious than when I first remembered it as a youth. A faith which now carried a certain kind of Jesus figure, or Jesus cross, or missional message, but had strangely morphed away from what those things once meant to me to become something completely alien to itself in my later years.

Largely, the Christian affiliations I once had identified with seemed to have changed. And as they changed so did my identity as it became something more foreign to myself than when I had first subscribed to it so many long years ago. It required of me to re-think my identity, the message of my Christian heritage, and even the kind of faith I was holding. To find a continuity with my faith heritage that was less dogmatically orthodox and more spiritually orthodox in an updated sense to the contemporary times of my postmodern society.

A Crisis of Faith

I hadn't planned on doing this as I explained in Part 1. But it was a journey requiring me to move forward in quite an unexpected fashion to my previous faith identity. An identity that had been formed in my youth and then, as I grew older, had become caught up with the responsibilities of family and job as it trusted to those in religious authority to keep the Christian faith from an apostasy to dogma and dictum.

Belatedly, I now discovered that my faith required a deep updating to the contemporary institutions I had grown up with and had trusted to adopt and accommodate the Christian faith in positive ways to societal trends and academic findings. But apparently senility is as much a problem for long-lived institutions as it can be for living older adults. For myself, I didn't wish to fall into the category of black cynicism and fear marking older age against a more youthful faith I was observing in the younger generations of my son and daughter's twenty-something world. And yet, a more fearful faith can-and-will fall into this "pit of despair" (as John Bunyan would call it) if it doesn't learn to grow and acclimate itself to its times and seasons of missional opportunity as time will do.

And thus began a very difficult personal journey. But never one that I wished to back away from to the complexity it would require in deconstructing its present formations towards some newer promise filled with God-filled grace and presence. Nor was this task one that I could back away from if I might because with age had come a sense of settledness to who I was, and a belief in what I must accomplish, in order to get past the "me of yesterday" to the "me of tomorrow." The faith groups I identified with required as much breakage and re-fashioning as mine own head and heart. Each pretending the world to lump along in a way that it really was not. My more dogmatic faith only made sense to me in the way that I pretended it to be. But to do this I had to shut my eyes and close my heart to what I read in the Bible or saw of God in His secular presence to the world I lived in.

Moving Forward

Overall, I don't really have any magic formulas to describe how God moved me through this formative time of searching, burden, betrayal, abandonment, and resurrection. All I knew was that my theology had to change if I were to come into a Christian faith more flexible with the times and more intolerant to the folklore theologies that abounded everywhere around me.

More curiously, the presence of God was strong in my life during this time and there was never a silence of His Spirit that I might attest to by His absence or lack of guidance. No, I felt very burden by the Holy Spirit to climb out of the hole my faith had lately fallen into while re-envisioning what it might become for the generations ahead of me. To reconstruct, or re-envision, its theological and religious orthodoxies where the God of the Bible is more present in this life than far away. Who might breathe into us a more open Bible to people everywhere burdened with the quest for spirituality than an arcane faith of nonsense and disbelief.

"Yes," I thought, "Everything must change" and nothing can be left unturned that wasn't dissettled before. In many ways it was my third experience of breaking from my hallowed past. The first was when I left my country family, the gentrified farm I grew up on, and the little one-room country school house I attended, to join a public school system less glamorous than my past. I wasn't concerned about the new subjects I would learn because without attending the public school I wouldn't have been able to learn these newer subjects. But what I actually experienced in my transition was a new kind of agnosticism and disbelief that I hadn't seen in my boyhood years. One that began to drive me to ask the question of why and how and what.

Of course these questions could not be settled right away. It took me some dozen years to re-calculate a more contemporary faith than I had held from the good earth days of my boyhood. My simple, sheltered faith, had become filled with an admixture of Christian and non-Christian thought asking more questions that I could answer. Nor did this go away after high school graduation as I studied the sciences, math, and engineering, through an academic scholarship at a major national university. At the last, the profundity to which I was becoming disturbed caused me to finally complete my senior year at a bible school twice over a two year time frame. Afterwards I needed a little time off and found myself teaching out-of-state at a Christian high school for one year before choosing to return to complete a 4-year Master's program in Divinity without ordination. All along I was active in my local churches (GARB Baptist and IFCA Bible), singing, evangelizing, visiting homes, teaching youth, while asking the Lord what next.

Eventually, I settled down, married, took 3 more years of night school towards a partial MBA degree and called it quits on the schooling front. I was laid-off from my financial analyst job at a major Christian publisher and decided to form my own IT consulting firm for the next 27 years where I could explore IT trends and processes, several business entrepreneurships, and generally help small businesses with the then curious world of technology.

During this time I stayed active in my church but stopped reading theology and trying to figure things out because I no longer knew which way to press forward. The best I could do was use what I knew while trusting the Lord to bless the college/career and single adult ministries I was leading and pastoring at the time. It really wasn't until long years later, once I had left those ministries, that my boyhood years of curiosity and passion began to stir again asking the questions I once was asking.

Mostly, I think I had delayed this more fundamental period of investigation because I knew the hard work it would require of me if I should stop and ask those questions. And, more specifically, how disruptive it might become if a father and a husband starts to ask questions which were very-unlike what my wife and children had come to expect of me. And so, I plodded along until discovering one day I could no longer be content with where I was personally. I began asking questions, and then, trying to answer those questions, to discover that my answers may be disruptive to the faith tradition I had become part of. My faith dilemma suddenly became a deeply orthodox dilemma so that what I feared would happen, did. Over past several years it would require the wisdom of God to put it back together quite unlike the Humpty-Dumpty which had fallen off the wall.

The Ground Fell Away to Discovery

It seemed the epistemological grounds which the Lord had been sowing in my life had lain fallow inside of me until the seeds of my discontent must burst forth lest they became more rigid and inflexible with the passing years of old age. A new kind of faith now echoed within my once youthful vigor. But one now that could finally seek more meaningful direction having learned how to handle the upheaval of technology having worked to integrate new with old to past old-line business clientele.

A new philosophical direction inhabited me. One I couldn't give to my questions before but had, with the passage of time, learned to become more able to discern and read among the newer, more promising, trends and directions seen within Christianity. It dawned upon me that the times of silence in life might not only have been the best answer to unknowing, but perhaps the best solution during those times of unknowing.

Surely, the process of epistemological tension requires the patience of decades as much as movement, shout, and roar. Now I had the advantage of contemporary postmodern history-and-event to show me the way forward... and the way out! The way forward into a postmodern Christianity more developed than it once was years earlier. And the way out of a secular Christianity more at odds with itself than it ever was in the past.

And so, being part innovator, part creator, I knew I had to set aside time to think, research, pray, and write of these new developments. I began with writing poetry for two years from dawn to dusk and eventually this task slowly gave way to a conscious need to write of a more open faith which might rest upon a more open theology. A theology both of my past (the good parts) as well as a theology of the future.

One that might move away from its more linear edges I was now observing within American Christianity. An open faith and theology that might re-embrace God's grace with the good spiritual sense He has given His followers to be gracious in witness and humble in prayer. Less agitated with sin and judgment and more agitated for mercy and forgiveness.


For me, it was a spiritual constitution that I could no longer be patient with what I was seeing from the lips and actions of a harsher brand of Christian faith than I once remembered. My faith of yesteryear had grown up from the whips and chains of fear-mongering to seek a more open Christianity at peace with itself and with the world it lived within. What I had learned from my fundamental conservative church experience was the love of God for all men and women everywhere, as curious as that now sounds to me when looking back on those impressionable years of youthful faith development.

And so, today, I wish to present a new kind of faith. One more rounded to its future possibilities and more jagged to its present-tense assembly of itself through the fiery pulpit and stereotypical media. One that embraces people with God's love and forgiveness as much as one that calls down God's holy judgment upon the self-proclaimed false prophets of our day and age.

I have felt then, as I do now, a holy prophetic calling of God to preach salvation to both the unbeliever as much as to the believer. That the roots and foundations of our dogmatic chains must fall off if we are to behold the light and beauty of the gospel of Jesus as it reclaims this wicked world from the bondages of its misery and woe. That evil comes in all forms - even that of well-intentioned Christian religion. And that like all sin, must be burned up and thrown on the trash heap of bad theology as readily as any farmer would to save the soils of his land from biological rape and destitution.

My calling now is to discover this new homeland where the Christian faith might breathe again in the postmodern airs of disruption and upheaval. And if it can, than I have met my calling and answered my burden enough to allow others the opportunity to carry forward what I and others now sense among us in the great halls of hallowed orthodoxies once bourne by dissembling faith-bearers to the times and cultures agitating for God's truth and worship.

Faith-bearers we now know as the great saints of the Christian past though differing from the churches and cults of their day. Who strove for both precept and principle by letter and by deed in the grace and mercy of Christ their Lord. Even so do we as we pick up the broken glass shards of theology lying everywhere on the floor around us to reframe a new window upon the Lord of the universe allowing for bluer skies and brighter hues by sun and moon.

Peace be with you, my brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

R.E. Slater
April 30, 2015
revised May 13, 2015