Today, the hop, skip, and jump that got me to the UK on the first Sunday after of the historic “Brexit” vote is now continuing along a long ribbon of track from London’s Euston Station to Manchester’s Piccadilly Station. It took just over two hours to travel 200 miles to the start of the industrial revolution (the Spinning Jenny 250 years ago), the world of Manchester United Football Club, and the home of very special friends, Alan Heckman and Shelley Hung. 120 miles per hour is one fast train. I fly to Rotterdam and a final hop by train to Utrecht. Next week I’ll attend an introduction to Old Catholic Theology in an Ecumenical Context at the Old Catholic Seminary at the University of Utrecht.
When I first thought about this opportunity, I had to ask why I would do such a thing? Theologian John S. Dunne wrote that there are only three important questions in life and theology: What is God doing in the world, who knows what God is doing in the world, and who is doing what God is doing in the world? I appreciate the holistic simplicity and coherence of this focusing framework. I decided to inquire into “Old Catholic Theology” because I am looking for ways to develop eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing in the world we live in today.
So here is one way of rehearsing a meaningful story within such a framework of inquiry—based on the notes I made when I first applied for acceptance by the seminary faculty earlier this year.
My life has been gifted, since childhood, with openness to my own evolution. I’ve been shaped by: (a) a Sunday School experience that related the Sermon on the Mount to daily care for the people around me; (b) a progressive United Methodist school of theology; (c) work with the Ecumenical Institute Chicago/Institute of Cultural Affairs, and a shared common life in the Order Ecumenical; (d) travel and work in India, Egypt, Australia, Russia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina; and (e) an American vision of an ecumenical Catholicism that in its breadth and depth creates the sense of a vast and marvelous ocean in which a seeker might swim and sail with great passion and fulfullment for a very long time.
I’ve remained alert to the currents of history and changing world views. My life experience led to a quest for a larger and deeper spiritual ocean to swim in, within the Episcopal Church in the early 2000s, and now within the Ecumenical Catholic Communion. I prize friends and mentors among Roman Catholic religious, Buddhist priests, Jewish rabbis, and spirit-filled lay persons. My closest friend is a Russian man who is a profound humanitarian and servant leader of no particular religious heritage.
Much of my learning as a young man no longer serves my needs. I’m impatient with the anthropomorphic language of past generations and eager to experiment with new language and new forms suggested by human development, modern science, and spiritual experience. When I entered seminary 52 years ago, I still hadn’t formed the life and death questions that might have grounded my study. Last year I had to say out loud for the first time that I had become a non-theist.
As a mature adult I feel a need to reground myself in the ancient Judeo-Christian heritage that permeates my consciousness about life so that it addresses the puzzles I wrestle with today: the urgency of the shift from carbon-based to sustainable global economies, the confusion of people who are fed up with anachronistic belief systems, the collapse of traditional mainline Western denominations, the irrationalities and inequities of many contemporary societies, and the rise of fundamentalist regressions in politics, economics, and religion in America in particular.
I want to be a part of the Spirit’s work in our world amidst a learning community that is rooted in ancient tradition but open and drawn to the future. I hope to help recreate the received teachings and practices so that they can serve the human journey of our own time.
The Brexit vote in the U.K. and the Trump candicacy in the U.S. seem to be expressions of a kind of socio-political astigmatism—a skewing of vision and blurring of focus—arising amidst the psychic crunch of global warming, the death of anachronistic belief systems, the collapse of institutional arrangements that favored the well to do and the irrationality of ignoring the less well off, and the rise of fundamentalist regressions in political processes, economic systems, and cultural values.
In a time when nearly everyone has the gut sensation that something precious and inalienable is falling apart in real time before their eyes, John Dunne’s three questions (“What is God doing, who knows what God is doing, and who is doing what God is doing”) must be translated to be instructive:
- What emergent creative process is universally and visibly operative in our world?
- Who clearly has eyes to see and hearts sufficiently open to sense promise and opportunity amidst fracturing, collapse, and reconstruction?
- Who is passionately engaged in discovering and reinventing themselves, their relationships, their engagements, and the institutions that touch their lives?
The leaders and adherants of every religious tradition and institution face this central question: how will we transform the teachings and practices we have received from our founders, reformers, and prophets so that they illuminate and mobilize all of humanity in common cause at this moment in history? This is the question that I bring to the study of Old Catholic Theology in an Ecumenical Context in Utrecht this year.
Beginning July 3, I’ll trace the courses and the conversations that take place in Utrecht. Between now and then, I’ll report and remark on the experience of being in England in the aftermath of the Brexit vote