"Him that pisseth against the wall..."

A friend of mine emailed me a link to this video today, and I nearly DIED when I watched it.

It's a sermon by Steven L. Anderson, a Baptist preacher who got some media attention a while back for saying that he prayed for Barack Obama's death.

This is about a rather different topic. And it has to be seen to be believed. If I didn't know this guy was a sincere believer, I would have thought this was a parody (proving, once again, Poe's Law).

Watch it, it's hilarious.

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The Problem is Orange

People often speak of "polarisation" in the Catholic Church; this term denotes a widening gap between two opposing groups, and these two groups are usually called "conservative"/"traditional"/"orthodox" on the one hand, and "liberal"/"progressive" (as well as a number of less flattering epithets) on the other. There is also a tendency, I think, for people to see these as two sides on a horizontal axis.

The reality is, as I've argued before, rather more complicated than this, and I'm going to explain a bit more how I understand this conflict in the light of developmental spirituality.

It is probably safe to say that the large majority of adults in the Church today fall into three of James Fowler's six stages of development (and the corresponding altitudes in Ken Wilber's thought, as mentioned in a previous post). These are "Synthetic-Conventional," or amber-altitude; "Individuative-Reflective," or orange-altitude; and "Conjunctive," or green-altitude. There are some adults at the "Mythic-Literal"/red-altitude stage, and others at the "Universalizing"/teal-altitude stage, but these are probably small minorities.1

Fowler himself has noted that individuals at the (amber-altitude) Synthetic-Conventional stage tend to be the "orthodox" believers; this stage of faith, he says, "can be seen as having rootage in and preserving important elements of pre-Enlightenment forms of cultural consciousness" (emphasis in original; Faithful, 161). Beliefs at this stage are held tacitly; individuals at this stage are generally non-reflective -- or, at least, not very reflective -- particularly when it comes to matters of faith. Additionally, authority is located externally at this stage. Wilber would add this stage is typically ethnocentric, which is manifested in the triumphalism and exclusivism of conventional Christianity.

The orange-altitude "Individuative-Reflective" stage emerged with the Enlightenment, and reflects a "modern" consciousness. It is characterised by a more reflective awareness of one's faith, and a more critical approach to one's beliefs. Orange faith also features a "relocation of authority within the self" (Fowler, Stages, 179). Fowler identifies this as the "progressive" stage (Faithful, 161ff.). It was this type of spirituality that eventually precipitated the "modernist crisis" in the Church in the late 19th century, which provoked an aggressively amber response from the Magisterium. It also brought us rigorous biblical criticism, and made a measure of openness to non-Christian religions possible for the Church. (The documents of Vatican II are essentially a mishmash of amber and orange ideas, with, perhaps, an occasional sprinkling of green.)

I would argue that most of the really committed progressives in the Church are more likely to be at the green-altitude "Conjunctive" stage. Green faith moves beyond the dichotomous rationality of orange, and embraces a more dialectical form of reasoning. It can move beyond a merely critical approach into a post-critical position (Paul Ricoeur's "second naiveté"), and is more experiential and pluralistic. It reflects a more "post-modern" consciousness.

If, as I've asserted, most committed progressives are at green, then what is orange? Who do we find there?

One well-known type of orange spirituality is that promoted by the retired Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong. This is not to say that Spong himself is at that stage (I don't presume to know what stage he's at), but his work is very much aimed at converting late-amber Christians into orange faith. Spong, at least in his works that I've read,2 follows an aggressive demythologising approach. It's not uncommon for people to read Spong and ask why, if what he says is true, anyone should bother with Christianity?

And that is the problem with orange. It simply isn't very appealing. Orange is the stage where many people say their goodbyes to the Church (and religion in general), and many never look back. Some will regress, and re-embrace, often with great fervour, an amber-level spirituality. Still others will ride it out, continue to develop, and find a much more satisfying spirituality at green, or higher.

The lack of an appealing orange spirituality is, I think, the great unrecognised cause of the so-called polarisation within the Church. Many progressives look at their conservative co-religionists and wonder, "Why do they have to see everything in black and white?" "Why can't they just think for themselves, and trust their own experience?" "Why is it so important for them to believe their religion is the only way?"

"Why," we might as well be asking, "can't they embrace a green-altitude spirituality?"

The problem is orange. It's a massive stumbling block -- that is, until you've cleared it, at which point it all but disappears.

I'll talk about some of the implications of this, as I see it, some other time.


[1] Wilber and Fowler match up quite well in the stages up to Conjunctive/green-altitude, but the next stage in Wilber, which he identifies as having reached "Integral" consciousness, is probably a more common achievement than Fowler's Universalizing stage. I've indicated in the past that I have some problems with Fowler's Universalizing stage, which he identified in the 1970s, long before Integral philosophy began to find a following.

[2] I haven't read a book by Spong since his autobiography, Here I Stand, was first published in 1999. I read several of his books prior to that, with Why Christianity Must Change or Die, which I also read in 1999, sticking out in my mind as particularly memorable. I suppose he might have changed his approach in the decade since then.

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The Colours of Spiritual Development

I’ve written a fair bit in the past about James Fowler’s theory of faith development, and I’m going to be picking it up again in the near future. I’ve decided that I need to clarify something about how I’m going to refer to the different stages in future posts.

In Fowler’s early work, his stages were numbered. In his more recent work, he has avoided numbers. I think there are good reasons for doing this, so I’m going to avoid using numbers as well. However, because the names for the stages are sometimes long enough to be unwieldy, it is helpful to have a shorthand name for each, and for this I will be borrowing Ken Wilber’s practice of using the colours of the visible light spectrum.

The line up like this:

Wilber’s use of colours, which began (as far as I can tell) in his 2007 book Integral Spirituality, struck me at first as being somewhat gimmicky, but I’ve since realised that it is a very helpful way of comparing the levels across different lines of development. Basically, there are corresponding levels in the various lines (cognitive, moral, spiritual, values, etc.), and levels that correspond might be said to be at the same “altitude.”

For a more detailed (and more adequate) explanation of the concept of altitude, I recommend reading “What Is Altitude?” from Wilber’s Holons internet newsletter.

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A house in Nazareth

Interesting news story from Haaretz:
Israeli archaeologists said Monday that they have uncovered remains of the first dwelling in the northern city of Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Jesus.

The find sheds a new light on what Nazareth might have been like in Jesus' time, said the archaeologists, indicating that it was probably a small hamlet with about 50 houses populated by poor Jews.

The remains of a wall, a hideout and a cistern were found after builders dug up an old convent courtyard in the northern Israeli city, said archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Some skeptics have insisted that Nazareth was uninhabited in Jesus's time, precisely because no first-century homes had never been found. And, naturally, if none have been found yet, then that means none will ever be found in the future, because, as we all know, everything that could be discovered by archaeologists has already been discovered.

So naturally one of the commenters on the Haaretz article writes,
This should be challenged because there is no evidence in any documentation or serious archeology that there was a town of Nazareth in the first century.
Yes, this archaeological evidence that Nazareth existed in the first century should be challenged because there is no archaeological evidence that Nazareth existed in the first century! Think critically, people!

I sometimes wonder how much evidence people expect there to be of a first-century hamlet with a population of about 200? A hamlet that, by the way, would be now be covered with not only several feet of soil, but a city of over 65,000 people? "But surely Josephus would have mentioned it!" (Really? Why?) Some people have no sense of perspective.

Anyway, here is an AP video about it that was posted on the America blog by James Martin, SJ:

Martin writes,
I've always wondered why some Christians find the search for the "historical Jesus" so uninteresting, even threatening. For me, it's absolutely fascinating. Thus my enthusiasm for books like John Meier's magisterial A Marginal Jew (the granddaddy of the genre, with everything about his life and times that you might wish to know, and now approaching five volumes), Albert Nolan's provocative Jesus Before Christianity and Daniel J. Harrington's judicious Jesus: A Historical Portrait. Any information that adds to our knowledge of the early life and the "hidden life" (between ages 12 and 30, unaccounted for in the Gospels) will help us better understand Jesus of Nazareth, his life, his time and his teachings better. Why would you not want to know as much about Jesus of Nazareth as possible?
I've sometimes wondered that, too.

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A good idea that will inevitably be rejected...

Here is an exerpt from a courageous and entirely reasonable article by Rev. Michael J. Ryan, from America magazine:
It is now 45 years since the Second Vatican Council promulgated the groundbreaking and liberating document on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. As an eager and enthusiastic North American College seminarian at the time, I was in St. Peter’s Square on the December day in 1963 when Pope Paul VI, with the world’s bishops, presented that great Magna Carta to the church. The conciliar document transcended ecclesiastical politics. It was not just the pet project of a party but the overwhelming consensus of the bishops of the world. Its adoption passed overwhelmingly: 2,147 to 4.

Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have.

For evidence, one need look no further than recent instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool—some would even say as a weapon—to advance specific agendas. And now on the horizon are the new translations of the Roman Missal that will soon reach the final stages of approval by the Holy See. Before long the priests of this country will be told to take the new translations to their people by means of a carefully orchestrated education program that will attempt to put a good face on something that clearly does not deserve it.

The veterans who enthusiastically devoted their best creative energies as young priests to selling the reforms of the council to parishioners back in the 1960s will be asked to do the same with regard to the new translations. Yet we will be hard put to do so. Some colleagues in ministry may actually relish the opportunity, but not those of us who were captivated by the great vision of Vatican II, who knew firsthand the Tridentine Mass and loved it for what it was, but welcomed its passing because of what full, conscious and active participation would mean for our people. We can see the present moment only as one more assault on the council and, sadly, one more blow to episcopal collegiality. It was, after all, the council that gave to conferences of bishops the authority to produce their own translations (S.C., Nos. 36, 40), to be approved, it is true, by the Holy See but not, presumably, to be initiated, nitpicked and controlled by it. Further, the council also wisely made provision for times of experimentation and evaluation (S.C., No. 40)—something that has been noticeably missing in the present case.

This leads me to pose a question to my brother priests: What if we were to awaken to the fact that these texts are neither pastoral nor ready for our parishes? What if we just said, “Wait”?

* * *

What is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church’s credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful. During a recent dinner conversation with friends, the issue of the new translations came up. Two at the table were keenly—and quite angrily—aware of the impending changes; two were not. When the uninformed heard a few examples (“and with your spirit”; “consubstantial with the Father”; “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”; “oblation of our service”; “send down your Spirit like the dewfall”; “He took the precious chalice”; “serene and kindly countenance,” for starters), the reaction was somewhere between disbelief and indignation.

* * *

The reaction of my friends should surprise no one who has had a chance to review the new translations. Some of them have merit, but far too many do not. Recently the Archdiocese of Seattle sponsored a seminar on the new translations for lay leaders and clergy. Both the priest who led the seminar (an accomplished liturgical theologian) and the participants gathered there in good faith. When passages from the proposed new translation were soberly read aloud by the presenter (I remember especially the phrase from the first eucharistic prayer that currently reads “Joseph, her husband,” but which in the new translation becomes “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin”), there was audible laughter in the room. I found myself thinking that the idea of this happening during the sacred liturgy is no laughing matter but something that should make us all tremble.

There’s more: the chilling reception the people of the dioceses of South Africa have given the new translations. In a rare oversight, the bishops of that country misread the instructions from Rome and, after a careful program of catechesis in the parishes, introduced the new translations to their people some months ago. The translations were met almost uniformly with opposition bordering on outrage.

His proposal is, as I said, quite courageous:
What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, “Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people”?
Whoa! Priests standing up to bishops with a reasonable proposal to help avoid damaging the Church? The details of how this might work -- not reproduced here -- include trial runs in various parishes and consultation with the laity! Imagine!

It is an entirely sensible idea that would, if it was implemented, help to limit the fallout that is sure to follow the introduction of these awful translations.

Of course, the chances of it making a difference are slim, given the way the bishops are ruling the church. And if there are any lay people whose voices register with them, they are the ones who support the new translations -- which they support, of course, because their knee-jerk reaction is to support anything opposed by progressives in the church.

I have a feeling they'll get their crappy liturgy, and with it the smaller, "more faithful," and more flock-of-sheep-like church they so desire.

You can read Fr. Ryan's whole article here, or check out the petition site here.

I don't understand the purpose of on-line petitions, especially when they do not require the signers to give contact information. Apparently some people who have signed don't even see the need to leave their name, as many signed it "Anonymous."


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