There are no particular teachers of ‘Zen Christianity’, at least none that I know to be using that term. But the ancient exponents of Kenotic or ‘self emptying’ Christianity are very influential, as are a number of contemporary writers and teachers.
So what do I mean by ‘Zen Christianity’?
Realistically I suppose I’m using the idea of Zen in its most basic sense, in terms of placing a particularly high value on meditation, and of stillness, in this case in the presence of the divine (immanent/ here and transcendent/ out there).
I’m using the term ‘Christianity’ here to mean two things, firstly an approach to the divine which is centered upon understanding Jesus as the incarnation of God, and secondly a commitment to following the Jesus way/teachings.
I appreciate that in either case this is not a good enough definition for many people. Zen is a more subtle system of thought than this would make it appear, and Christianity has as many permutations as any other system of religious belief, and that is a vast number after all. But in the first place I want to keep it simple, after all, life is complicated enough.
So what does it practically mean to be a Zen Christian? That, among other things is what I will be blogging about through 2015.
In post 1 of this series, I said that I believe dualism is inherent in the way that evangelical Christians have come to conceive of ‘others’ – those of different belief systems or lifestyles to the standards deemed ‘acceptable’ by the prevailing evangelical thinking.
I want to go to say that I believe this to be a deeply flawed approach, and one which seems contrary to the way of approaching otherness modelled by Jesus.
Jesus approach to those of other faiths, other lifestyles and other social classes is profoundly open and egalitarian. The gospels include stories of an encounter with non-Jewish astrologers and times spent with tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars and centurions.
He was a friend of sinners, and was condemned as a glutton and a drunkard for the way that he ate and supped with others as though he were part of their community. Jesus does not model a dualistic way of living, nor does he model a dualistic model of ministry – his encounters with those other to his own way of life are gentle, peaceful and respectful.
Various people have critiqued dualistic thinking, Julian of Norwich noted that ‘The fullness of Joy is to behold God in everything’; and Bede Griffiths advocated an approach which drew on the teachings of both Thomas Aquinas and Sankara – in believing that in God there is “no division, or ‘composition’ of any kind. He is ‘without duality’.” (Griffiths, Return to the Centre, 1978, 24)
When considering the otherness of different faith traditions, the former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sachs expresses similar views in ‘The Dignity of difference’ where he talks of religion as being “the translation of God into a particular language and thus into the life of a group, a nation, a community of faith.” (Sachs, The Dignity of Difference, 2002, 55)
Read more tomorrow in Part 3.
I presented a paper at a conference recently, where I outed myself as a ‘recovering dualist’.
By this I meant that I find it very hard not to think about God with a classic dualist point of view – you know that idea of God as a person out there somewhere, with a Santa type ‘naughty and nice’ pair of lists? Yeah that. I find it a bit hard not to think like that.
I am by background an evangelical, and although I haven’t used that term to describe myself for some time, it has played an important part in forming the way I think about things.
So in a short series of blog posts, I want to look at the issue of dualism as a way of thinking about God.
My first point then, is that I believe underlying the evangelical understanding of God and ‘others’ is a deep seated dualism.
I suggested that this dualism leads to a colonial attitude towards the way the evangelical church approaches ‘others’. While I recognise that there are significant exceptions to this generalisation, it’s useful as a starting point.
My belief is that the majority of evangelicals operate in a kind of Platonic conception of the world as Ideal and Real. There is a separation for instance between concepts such as ‘science and faith’, ‘Christian and secular’, ‘heaven and earth’ and of course, ‘saved and unsaved’. According to this well ingrained way of thinking, all earthly things are intrinsically inferior to the unseen spiritual.
So there is, for instance, a very dualistic way of distinguishing between the evangelical/Christian ‘us’, (saved, sanctified, believers); and ‘them’ – (the unsaved, those of other faiths, the sinners). This dichotomy of salvation has traditionally been part of a sovereignty paradigm. The threat of exclusion from the company of the sanctified, puts ‘us’ in to a position of power, of declaring the orthodoxy.
This runs, however, contrary to the gospel idea of giving up power, as modeled by Jesus in the Kenotic cross ‘event’, and to what Roger Mitchell has described as ‘Kenarchy’ – the emptying out of power on the behalf of others. (Mitchell, The Fall of the Church, 2013)
A dualistic mind-set is conveniently easy: with a clear us and them divide, ‘we’ know who ‘we’ are, and where ‘we’ are. It’s also very much a warfare mentality which not only appropriates violent imagery for the way it approaches discussion of the issues, but also posits the idea of opposing sides in a battle, ranged against one another. ‘Powers of darkness’ almost equal to, and diametrically opposed to ‘powers of good’ – God and Satan juxtaposed against one another as opposing commanders, and this played out on earth between people of faith and the heathen.
It may be easy, it may even be ‘encouraging’ at times of difficulty, but I believe it is deeply problematic.
Read more tomorrow in Part 2.
there has been an interesting theological/philosophical discussion going on over at Kester Brewin’s blog. It began as a query as to whether the at times avant garde theology propounded by Pete Rollins, Kester and others was running into opposition, but it has become more about the nature of radical and conservative thinking. If you want to read it all from the beginning then it began with Kester’s first post here, which should be read right through down the string of comments.
Richard Passmore then chipped in to talk about Transitology, Kester blogged again and now Pete Rollins has had a little say too, explaining that both radicals and conservatives are fundamentally backward looking.
It’s an interesting exercise to reflect upon what the word radical really means, and how that reflects upon theology and ecclesiology.
I would contend that new monasticism is a radical movement in that it seeks to go back to the root of discipleship, however you might say that in adopting practises which have been modelled by other movements it is also a conservative movement. Pete suggests that to hark back to the early church is to adopt a conservative approach, I suppose it depends what the root is one is seeking to return to. If you’re looking more at practise than theology, then your root may be the early church or certainly Jesus, if your root is theology over praxis, then perhaps it goes even deeper.
Perhaps the radical and conservative split is where I think the difference is to be found between the emerging church and the fresh expressions movement – I think of the emerging church as being inherently radical, wheras the fresh expressions scene has always seemed a bit conservative to me.
Anyway, I’m just muttering, its an interesting converation with clever things expounded by people much brainier than me, apparently it all comes from discussions had at Greenbelt and Wild Goose Fest earlier this summer – neither of which I was at. I reccomend you go read.
My friend Joe blogs.
I suggested ages ago that he should call his blog ‘Joe Blogs’. He didnt, he should have. It’s his own loss.
But the blog he writes these days is pretty darn good- notwithstanding the fact that he has chosen to ignore the best name he could ever have expected to have handed to him on a plate!
His blog is called ‘The Theology of Joe‘ – which is waaaaay less snappy. But at least it does what it says on the tin. Well worth bunging in your reader, or stopping by when you are in blog reading mode.
He wrote yesterday about metaphysical Islam for pity’s sake – now how many people out there are blogging that stuff? Not enough. Check it out!