by Tom Thresher
By the time you read this I should have my long- promised book in hand. In the current climate of long-winded titles, it’s called Reverent Irreverence: Integral Church for the 21st Century, from Cradle to Christ-Consciousness. On April 18, we will have a small celebration where I will sign the truck load of books I’m sure you will want to purchase!
On May 4, I will begin teaching a six week class on what I now call Evolving Church (much friendlier than Integral Church.) I hope that many of you will participate in this class. It will begin a long overdue church-wide discussion of who we are as a community. I hope that my book will provide a context for this discussion.
I will be presenting a workshop on Evolving Church at the annual meeting of our conference on April 24; and a more extensive workshop at the Integral Theory Conference at the end of July. I also plan to be on Conscious Talk Radio.
These events and other possibilities are challenging me to explore more deeply the question of why anyone should care about integral or Evolving Church. I am working very hard on explaining these ideas clearly and succinctly… quite a challenge when you are dealing with a theory that purports to explain everything. By participating in my class you all can be a tremendous help, and we will gain clarity as a church as we discuss these issues. Here are some of my thoughts about the importance of Evolving Church as I look forward to presenting at the annual meeting.
I believe it’s fair to say that the big commitments of the UCC are justice and inclusivity. It’s also fair to say that we do them admirably well. Yet all too often, in our quest to be inclusive, we are so intent on not insulting or displeasing anyone it appears we don’t stand for anything. And in our quest for justice we exhaust ourselves, becoming increasingly political … Democrats with prayer.
In 1997, John Thomas, then Assistant to the President for Ecumenical Concerns for the UCC, made the following statement:"Ecumenical partners consistently encourage us to be more articulate and confident in our theology… I hear over and over the desire that we become more bold and systematic in our expression and that we articulate our perspectives and offer our gifts in ways that are accountable to the Great Tradition of the Church catholic, thereby avoiding becoming sectarian in our witness."
In other words, even other denominations want us to stand up for something. This is very challenging for us. To stand for any particular understanding of scripture or any theological orientation runs the risk of alienating some group we seek to include. Two years ago, John Thomas (then President of the UCC) gave the keynote address at the annual meeting. By the time he had covered all of his bases to avoid insulting anyone, there was very little left for him to say or stand for. This is not a viable stance in a world where the most successful and effective churches clearly stand for something.
I don’t believe that our vision of inclusivity and justice is too large or unmanageable. I believe our problem is that we don’t know how to navigate that vision. We lack a map that would guide us into the world we so want to help create: a world that is just, equitable and welcoming to all. My work responds to this issue. It does not suggest that we stand for some particular interpretation of scripture, or even any particular results in the world. I suggest that we can pursue our desire for inclusivity and justice by standing for a process. This process is suggested by the map I create in my book.
And here I have a strong bias. I believe the point of religion, and therefore of church, is the awakening of the divine in each individual; salvation in Christian language. With each step we take into awakening more fully in the divine, into our Christ nature, we become better able to foster justice in our world. With each step of awakening into the divine we become less threatened by the differences between us and more deeply inclusive. Fortunately, this on-going awakening into our Christ nature proceeds in stages that can be understood and nurtured.
Happily, the church has tools unlike any other institution for helping individuals follow the path of awakening into our divinity. Our job is to use them. We then stand for something right at the core of every faith, the process of development that nurtures us into our own awakening, into our own Christhood. I hope you will join me in this exploration.
Many Blessings … Tom