Sunday, February 8, 2009

How can we live together (in our postmodern world) with peace, justice, and mutuality?

There's a group of folks trying to set up a conversation between formal theologians (PhDs) and folk theologians (non-PhDs). Their group is called Transforming Theology. This group's project is exciting because for far too long there has been a gap - perhaps more accurately, a great chasm - between the theologies in seminaries and the theologies in local congregations. Many people have discussed this issue. John B. Cobb has suggested that we need a re-vitalization in lay theology in his book Reclaiming The Church. Christian education resources, such as the video series Living The Questions, attempt to strengthen the theology of laypeople by exposing them to a variety of different theologies. So the good news is that the chasm between seminaries and congregations is beginning to be bridged. And the conversation that is happening through the Transforming Theology project will help with that as it seeks to bring the two sides together for a mutually transformative dialogue. In that vein, they have asked for questions to spark this conversation. The question I would like to ask is simple yet complicated.

How can we live together (in our postmodern world) with peace, justice, and mutuality?

With advanced technologies in communication, our world is simultaneously coming together into one common web, yet fragmenting into like-minded strands. So, we're exposed to much more diversity than ever while also being more easily able to divide ourselves into common groups. This makes the world into one large tossed salad of theologies, cultures, races, etc. We're all mixed together in one bowl, yet retain our individuality. We're all sharing one city, yet remain in our respective neighborhoods. Well, you get the idea. We're all living together, separately. Said differently, we live in communities-in-community. And it's tough to live in such close-yet-separate proximity.

Let me use religion as one example of our close-yet-separate diversity. We share our world with communities of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc. But even among those groups there is much diversity. Christians, for example, come from many different theological perspectives: Liberation, Neo-Orthodox, Feminist, Process, etc. Yet even those groups have diversity. Case-in-point: the different Process Theologies are represented by people such as: John B. Cobb, Catherine Keller, John W. Riggs, Rebecca Ann Parker, etc. So not only are there many different religions, but also many different perspectives within each of those religions. In a world of such radical diversity, it seems that one of the fundamental issues facing our world is to try to figure out how to live in our shared Earth Town Square with peace, justice, and mutuality. Otherwise we'll continually have Mainline Christians vs. Evangelical Christians vs. Sunni Muslims vs. Shiite Muslims vs. Agnostics vs. Atheists vs. Reform Jews vs. Hasidic Jews and so on. One could easily add examples of our diversity in regard to class, race, gender, etc.

Again, my specific question: How can we live together (in our postmodern world) with peace, justice, and mutuality?

To expand my question: With peace as a goal, how do we stop killing each other (literally and metaphorically) and live together with grace? With justice as a goal, how do we stop forcing one perspective on a world of complexity and attend to contextual detail when discerning and working for justice? With mutuality as a goal, how do we stop the tradition of social Darwinism and start a new practice of collaborating more effectively? How do we come together without losing our individuality? How do we listen to people whose voices have traditionally been marginalized? How can we live with healthy conviction in our world of differing convictions? How do we navigate the space between idolatrous certainty and nihilistic relativism? How can we live together as divergent communities-in-community?

How can we live toward a vision of unity-in-diversity (c.f. I Corinthians 12:12-26) in a world marred by idolatrous universalism (c.f. Genesis 11:1-9) and harmful tribalism (c.f. Luke 10:29-37)?

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