I’d like to build on Ilia’s latest blog describing the need for Christianity to become a planetary faith. But first: let me share a little about myself and why this, the cause of the Universal Christ, is of such great import to me.
I am on the older first wave of millennials. Born in 1982, I grew up with the advent of the internet, and barely am able to recall a reality in which computers did not exist in the home. My childhood occurred overseas while my parents faithfully served as Baptist missionaries to Catholic Spain. While the mission’s goals were no doubt to save Catholics from hell (yes, the irony and humor of this mission is not lost on me now), my parent’s vision was to awaken in the hearts of a cultural Catholicism a personal connection to Christ as the animating force of love and life. I grew up as a “third-culture kid,” a phenomenon of trans-cultural fluidity reserved for us missionary or military kids: because we grew up in one culture, knowing we were from another one, there is no “national identity” that gets shaped in the formative years, leaving us rather acutely aware of belonging nowhere and everywhere at once. These three facts of my life, while unique, were also part of the growing tide-shift afoot in our world: the dawn of the internet brought us a system of communication that crossed all distances instantaneously. No longer bound by national boundaries, the internet carried with it a new generation who—like those of us who had been third-culture kids—could no longer exclusively identify in national terms…how could we possibly, when we grew up instant messaging across countries and feeling instantly impacted by news on the other side of the world?
Like it or not, the age of a trans-national planetary identity has arrived. In every generation that follows mine, the need for us to begin building planetary understandings and constructs of belonging will only grow in urgency.
For me the timing of this paradigmatic shift combined with the unique experience of being born into a limited theological framework, and my growing encounter and experience of the Cosmic Christ was often in direct and dissonant contrast to the small Christ being handed to me by my evangelical Christian religion.
Surely, my best friend’s sister wasn’t going to go to hell because she wouldn’t do the Romans road with me and convert to evangelicalism. Surely, the throngs of people who walked the little cobblestone streets of my town in procession with Mary and the beautiful and out of tune band were not lost. I also knew cultural Catholicity—understood as a quaint nostalgia of belonging and tradition—was equally not a substitute for the authentic, animating, and imaginative faith that can move mountains and topple hierarchies of power through Love.
I remember even at age five having my first internal disagreement with the mandate that women could not preach…this internal disagreement, as you can imagine, only grew as I got older. More dissonance was felt as I became a teenager: surely my growing love of the natural world, of science and evolution, couldn’t be incompatible with the diaphanous life force that shone through it all that I understood as God. Surely this created order that I loved so much, in all its messiness, contradictions, complexity, uniqueness, and beauty wasn’t fallen.
These are all the seeds of a growing planetary intuition that Christianity has been germinating for some time…an intuition that has now outgrown its container and needs to be birthed.
What we need, now more than ever, is to relinquish the exclusionary, limited, small-group ideologies and corresponding cosmologies that, as Teilhard predicted, have become a “straight jacket” restricting not only Christianity, but our planetary life as a whole.
I firmly believe that the example and embodiment of Christ in Jesus was the annunciation of a radically inclusive (of the entire cosmos!) order of Love that was never intended to become the means by which we exclude, condemn, and perpetuate limited and antiquated cosmologies.
Do we really think that there is nothing new for us to say now—in our planetary age, and with the advent of discovering quantum reality—in the way of expanding the horizons for how we think about God?
Who is the Christ that is bigger than Jesus, that Jesus fully manifested, but that Paul declares is All in All…animating the cosmos and embodied in the shape of you and me?
That is a Christ big enough for the entire planet to believe in and be sustained by. That Christ is the one I believe in and encounter in every facet of my life as the very animating energy of my life:
Christ when I do the dishes, Christ when I go to a concert, Christ when I make love, Christ when I weep alone, Christ when I hold my children, Christ when I lay on the ground and look up at the stars. That Christ is the face of my neighbor, Christ in the face of Trayvon Martin, Christ in the anger of Emma Gonzalez, Christ in the immigrant crossing the desert, Christ in the stunning beauty of the transsexual sitting next to me on the train, and, yes, Christ even in Donald Trump. That Christ is the ground, the particle and the wave, and the up, down, sideways of quarks. The Christ that doesn’t need to be called Christ in order to be animating every bit of our reality for all time.
Ilia described for us some of the questions that AI is seeking to answer, that the tech world believes are the answers sought in religion: immortality, happiness, intelligence via more information.
I don’t know about you but those aren’t the answers I’m seeking, and I frankly think they are last year’s questions for last year’s (or millennia’s) religion.
I don’t want immortality, I want to learn how to accept the beauty, fragility, and transience of this created order, so that I can truly learn how to be fully alive my lifetime. I want to learn how to be so radically present that I can feel my own being in concert with the symphony of the universe, and so that I can reflect that presence in how I can imagine new possibilities for our world with others. And as for happiness? Happiness is ephemeral! But joy? Joy is what comes when we stop running away from the messiness, complexity, and anguish of being human. Joy is what comes when we have the courage to descend into our grief, when we are oppressed and yet not defeated, when we are broken but given new names in the breaking. Joy is a lifetime of meaning earned in service to mystery…and meaning cannot be commodified or sold in pixels.
Information is also bankrupt. Information cannot bring me the meaning I seek, with its cheap barrage of distraction and temporary rational padding to keep me in the illusion of certainty as “knowledge.” But really now, what can any of us know but through love, which itself is a form of unknowing? Perhaps instead of “Artificial Intelligence” with its “artificial” needs, we need to look at Christ as the “Originating Intelligence” animating the heartbeat of all reality at the depths of who we really are and can together become.
Presence over immortality.
Joy over happiness.
Meaning over commodification.
Wisdom over information.
These are not just my rebuttals to A.I.
What I am describing are the outlines of a generational hunger for a new Christian theology (of a very ancient one that can unmoor itself from limited cosmological and philosophical linear frameworks) that also speaks to the needs of our growing technological age. A planetary faith that doesn’t provide rational “answers” but is willing to live into the questions. One in which Christ isn’t the redeemer of a world that a hungry woman in a garden “broke,” but the animator of all life, and the end to which all things are being woven together toward. I want to serve a Christianity that offers an alternative view in which Christ becomes, in the words of Fr. Richard Rohr’s new book title, another name for everything.
It is precisely toward synthesizing this theological work that I have been working over the last year and a half at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in New Mexico. The CAC is teaching this kind of theology in its Living School for Action and Contemplation, but there is much work still ahead of us to make this more broadly accessible and understood in the Christian spiritual landscape. Systematizing an “Alternative Orthodoxy of the Christian Contemplative Tradition” represents my deepest hope to make the theological lineage embodied by people like Ilia Delio, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley and Barbara Holmes—more Christianity capable of transitioning us into a planetary faith.
Together with the Omega Center, I see the work I am part of as addressing our world in the spirit of Teilhard:
What if there was a Christianity most of us never knew existed? One that transcended the exclusionary, vindictive, fear-based versions that we grew up with?
What if Christianity wasn’t incompatible with evolution, science, or other spiritual traditions?
What if Christianity was always intended to be universally inclusive and evolutionarily creative?
What if Christianity wasn’t driven toward colonizing conversion but on the authentic transformation and subversion of false identities and systems of power?
What if Christianity wasn’t intended to just tolerate our being human as a fault…but celebrate our becoming even more fully human, in all of our beautiful complexity?
Isn’t that a Christianity that stirs your heart?
I know it stirs mine.
I sincerely hope you will consider exploring this topic further at the first ever Omega Center Conference, July 20-21, 2018. Join us as we continue to live into the questions burning within our hearts.