May 27 talk
Dr. Watson’s Wednesdays @ Whenever about Whatever
One day, when I was a young man working at my parents’ mom and pop store in a small West Texas town, a customer that I knew (because I knew everyone in that town), said something very condescending to me. I was a Southern Baptist at the time and she was a member of the local Church of Christ (often confused with my present-day denomination, the United Church of Christ), and she actually said to me that she had also been a Baptist until she saw the light.
I have been turned off by religious arrogance and dogmatic certainty ever since. Her “witness” to me was counterproductive at the time, although I must thank her now, posthumously, because her words set me on a path to a different kind of religiosity.
Other than a blank look and a forced smile, I didn’t have a response for her on that fateful day in my early 20s, but now, in my early (early) 60s, I have, let’s just say, more responses than there are McDonald’s restaurants.
I may not have yet seen the One True Light (as she believed she had), but I’ve got a very large collection of light bulbs, flashlights, lighthouses, headlights, floodlights, green, yellow, and red lights, star light, sun light, torches, and candles in my theological repertoire . . . which I’m happy to share with you all (if you have enough time).
With a long summer staring us in the face, I thought I would spend a fair amount of time sharing some of the “light” I have “seen” in my almost 40-year spiritual odyssey (emphasis on the odd part). I think that lady from my hometown would be surprised, appalled, agitated, and maybe even a little enlightened by what I have learned over the years.
When I think back to what most distinguishes my 60-year-old self from my 20-year-old self, the one word that comes to mind is the word “progressive.” Theologically speaking there is no question that I have become more progressive as the years have gone by, because I do not think I was all that progressive when I was younger. I was certainly uninformed about many things.
I have heard people claim that we are supposed to become more conservative and less open to new thoughts and ideas as we get older, but the opposite has happened to me (so far). I have no idea why this has happened to me, although I am sure a therapist would have a field day. Nevertheless, what I will be talking about this summer are some progressive theological perspectives that I have picked up and occasionally absorbed over the years.
I would like to begin with a list I came across a number of years ago, which has since been updated. This list comes from The Center for Progressive Christianity. The CPC is a resource center for Christians that prefer, as they say, “an open, intelligent and collaborative approach to the Christian tradition and the life and teachings of Jesus that creates a pathway into an authentic and relevant religious experience.” Sounds good, right?
I would like to share with you their “8 Points of Progressive Christianity.” As I read this list to you, please remember that this is only a list, words on a piece of paper. They mean nothing if they are believed but not lived. That is true for any list, no matter how progressive, liberal, conservative, traditional, or any other label a person might want to use to describe their religiosity or worldview. At the end of the day, “faith without works is dead,” which might be the most important statement in the entire Bible. If a person does not walk the walk, then who cares about their talk.
So, without further ado (which I am good at), here is the 8-point list from the Center for Progressive Christianity: By calling ourselves “progressive Christians,” we mean we are Christians who:
- Believe that following the path of the teacher Jesus can lead to healing and wholeness, a mystical connection to “God,” as well as an awareness and experience of not only the Sacred, but the Oneness and Unity of all life;
- Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience “God,” the Sacredness, Oneness and Unity of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom, including Earth, in our spiritual journey;
- Seek and create community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to: Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, believers and agnostics, those of all races, cultures, and nationalities, those of all sexual orientations and all gender identities, those of all classes and abilities, those historically marginalized, all creatures and plant life;
- Know that the way we behave towards one another and Earth is the fullest expression of what we believe, therefore we vow to walk as Jesus might have walked in this world with radical compassion, inclusion, and bravery to confront and positively change the injustices we experience as well as those we see others experiencing;
- Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning with an open mind and open heart, than in absolutes or dogma;
- Work toward peace and justice among all people and all life on Earth;
- Protect and restore the integrity of our Earth and all of Creation;
- Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love on this journey toward a personally authentic and meaningful faith.
Those are the 8 points of what it means to be a progressive Christian according to the Center for Progressive Christianity, at least in the year 2020. You might like none of it, some of it, or all of it. Regardless, I think this is a good list to go over with a fine-tooth comb.
I hope, at the very least, that sharing some of the “light” I have “seen” since that lady held my feet to the fire almost forty years ago will inspire you to think more deeply about what the essence of your faith does, or should, look like. We will pursue this matter further next Wednesday.