Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘Peter Rollins’

Communal Seeing

Luke 24:13-16; 30-35

Image result for seeingOkay, let’s be clear here. If you identify as a Western Christian, you’re just a couple of weeks removed from April Fools’ Day—I mean, Easter. The dyed eggs are old and crusty, you’ve finished all the jelly beans, and Peeps are on sale at the grocery store.

And yet, the story in the NT Gospels is stuck on that first day of the week, you know that day when Mary Magdalene and others found a cave-tomb empty and told other disciples who didn’t believe a word of it. People are still lost in the story, mourning the death of their teacher and friend, Jesus of Nazareth. Some are locked behind closed doors for fear of the Romans or the Sanhedrin. Pretty much everyone [besides the women in the story] is befuddled, sad, confused, and lost.

And why is that? Well, think about it. Imagine you have been following a teacher or a mentor for a considerable amount of time. This teacher spoke to you in a way that moved you to action, filled you with confidence and love and encouraged you to live a full life.

You were changed by this teacher.

And you had such plans. Such plans you had. You would conquer the evil and injustice, make things right, restore harmony to creation!

Image result for superhero justice

And now your teacher is dead. Gone. Nowhere to be seen. Nowhere to be felt.

The dream is over.

For those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, they had found a purpose. Prior to meeting and following Jesus, they had been asking those questions that humans often ask—existential questions that are quite annoying because they never have an answer. It’s like what Peter Rollins discusses in his book The Idolatry of God. He labels these questions as existential grievances that occupy the human heart.

Question one: why does the universe exist?

Question two: what is our role within this universe?

Those who followed Jesus most certainly were asking these questions—both of themselves and of Jesus. But in following Jesus, they embarked on a journey towards Jerusalem–a purposeful one that involved justice-seeking, forgiveness, healing, and hope. This had meaning for them.

But…things went sour in Jerusalem. And once Jesus was dead, they had the same questions. Why does the universe exist? What is my role in it?

And so, it’s no surprise, is it—that in this chapter of the story, on a road to a town called Emmaus, that ex-followers of Jesus are still mourning and wondering whether there is any purpose left and if the world really should exist at all. Neither is it surprise that all of a sudden, Jesus [although the resurrected Jesus] starts walking with them and they have no clue. They are still living in their existential crises and do not recognize Jesus at all.

I would argue that it’s because they were stuck in the old paradigms. After all, those two existential questions are circular, aren’t they? I don’t know the reason the universe exists off the top of my head. And day by day I’m still trying to figure out my place in it.

Image result for existential questionsIt’s easy to get stuck in the cycle, stuck in the fixated dreams that the Emmaus walkers had for themselves and for Jesus and now it was all gone. They felt like they had nothing left; they had no purpose. So of course they wouldn’t recognize the resurrected Jesus.

And a quick word about this whole resurrected Jesus business. I’ve gone on record to say that I don’t think it’s really, really important for you to believe or not to believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead in bodily form. There’s a lot of history behind the Gospel stories about that, and certainly a LOT of interpretations over the centuries. They are all guesses.

So instead of running around in circles or taking a polarized view of resurrection, i.e. he fully resurrected or he didn’t at all—I find much more meaning in viewing the Gospels as unique stories and voices that are not necessarily trying to prove something physical or scientific. Instead, the Gospels on the whole present the resurrection of Jesus as both mystical and spiritual in nature. The focus is less on the physical body and more on what the people seeing Jesus need to see, need to touch, need to hear. But as always, don’t take it from me. Think critically and decide for yourself.

And now, back to story…

Eventually the ex-followers of Jesus made it to a village where they needed to stop for the night. They invited the stranger walking with them to come and stay. Then they sat down at the table to eat and then…they finally saw Jesus’ resurrected form. After seeing, they changed direction completely [I guess Emmaus didn’t have much to offer] and headed right back to Jerusalem. The existential, circular questions were irrelevant now. They had found purpose, a reason for being.

And they found it in community.

They didn’t find the comfort and peace they were looking for by getting their existential questions answered. They didn’t get to lean on their limited and nostalgic view of Jesus; they couldn’t see the world [or themselves] in the same way. They were pushed back to Jerusalem, the place of death and betrayal and cowardice and hopelessness and injustice.

Because that’s real. That’s life.

There were no tidy answers to make them feel better or any spiritual experience that would ease their doubts. Like Thomas the twin, who doubted freely that Jesus could be alive after dying, the Emmaus road walkers were given an opportunity—to be resurrected. To start anew. And the way to do that was in community.

For when we are in authentic community, i.e. with people who accept us as we are—flaws, scars, craziness, and all—when we are with such people, our existential questions become less important and we stop running around in circles seeking meaning and purpose. In community, around a table even—our eyes open. We see new life—in ourselves, in others, in the world. We notice the possibility of change. But at the same time, we don’t ignore the pain, the suffering, injustice, the mourning, the lack of hope.

In community we hold all of those things together and embrace them all.
We become lovers of doubt and we embrace new questions.
We become students of people’s lives and explorers of new ways to show love and compassion, new paradigms with which to tackle the injustices all around.
And we do this in community.

I’m interested, friends: how has community helped you to find purpose?

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A Doubting Faith

John 20:19-31

Image result for embrace doubt
It’s the story of Thomas. Have you head it before? Doesn’t matter if you have or haven’t. Please keep reading, because I would love to discuss with you the active and essential role of doubt in our lives [feel free to comment!]. I will present to you the thought that  doubt is not something to fear. That doubt faces death, suffering, pain, uncertainty. And honest doubt leads to curiosity and beautiful questions, and transformative discoveries. And doubt can even lead to a living faith.

When we doubt, we question things. And people. It’s not about always having a conspiracy theory for everything, though, it’s critical thinking. When we ask how did something come to be or how did I get this idea we are engaging our brains in an active dialogue that leads to growth and perspective. Doubt also helps us see the bigger picture and initiates progress, because when we doubt, we question the current state of things and wonder: can it get better than this? It’s questioning the status quo.

Let me introduce you to Peter Rollins.

Image result for peter rollins

I had the opportunity to see him at World Café Live in Philly a couple of weeks ago. One of his books, Insurrection: to Believe Is Human, to Doubt Divine, takes a close look at the role of doubt in our daily lives, and how obsession with life after death causes great anxiety and much trouble in the world. Rollins presents an alternative theological vision—one that nurtures a faith that is not concerned with the question of life after death but rather the possibility of life before death.

Rollins is more concerned with how we act than how we believe. He writes about our Facebook Selves. Essentially, the selves that are based on what we believe. We often think that our beliefs are who we are, but Rollins argues that our true selves can be discovered not in what we think, but in how we act. And that this should prompt us to ask questions about ourselves, like:

  • How do I spend my time?
  • What would other people say are the most important things in my life?

Such questions, of course, can provoke some uncomfortable answers.

So let’s continue our conversation about doubt and faith with a look at the difference between anxiety and fear.

Anxiety, surely a complicated subject in psychoanalysis, is broadly connected to the idea of loss. Fear, however, is directed at some thing in the world, while anxiety expresses a feeling experienced when you lose something or fear losing it.

Doubt, then, can threaten those of us with anxiety, because doubt shows us that our present worldview doesn’t give us answers; we start to wonder if any system of belief could give us answers. What we do often then, when doubt is present, is to come up with ways to erase or at least lessen the doubt, by assigning rules to life, therefore making meaning that shields us from the destabilization.

An example: a religious person becomes obsessed with apologetics [i.e. the systematic defense of a religious doctrine like proving of the existence of God or the bodily resurrection of Jesus]. See the many, many preachers and churches that coerce you to sign “faith statements” or espouse to “core values.”

A person who becomes obsessed with apologetics will rehearse arguments, gather evidence and memorize their “elevator speech” to prove their religious point. Cognitively what is happening is that this person is trying to combat the doubt they have by constructing a wall of certainty that they can build again and again when things get uncertain or anxious.

It doesn’t have to be religious. We do this in many areas of life. Have you tried recently to talk to a family member colleague, or friends about the current state of the U.S. government? Chances are, if that person voted for the administration in office today, and you didn’t–there will be a lot of back-and-forth truth claims with evidence-called-fake-news and plenty of elevator speeches thrown in for good measure. Why? Because we suck nowadays at embracing doubt. We don’t want to even consider the possibility that things are not black and white, that we don’t have all the answers, and that insistence on certainty can lead us to totalitarianism and isolation.

But what if we don’t have to combat doubt?

What if we could embrace it?

Friends, we all face personal, religious, political, and other anxieties. In other words, to doubt is human, or as Peter Rollins would say, to believe is human, to doubt, divine.

What do you think?

 

 

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