Reflections on The Divine Quest, East and West (Part I)

The Divine Quest East and West (Ford)A few weeks back I noted Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West (SUNY, 2016). Over the nest few posts, I want to offer a couple of reflections on this work, which I hasten to note I generally appreciate and find helpful for facilitating inter-religious dialogue and understanding.

In Acts 2 and 3 of The Divine Quest, East and West, Ford outlines conceptions of the ultimate found in Mahayana and Chinese Buddhisms, arguing that emptiness and Buddha-nature, respectively, serve as the Ultimate reality for these strands of Buddhist thought. In this reflection, I wish to engage the topic of textual authority and revelation within the forms of Buddhism discussed in these sections. Continue reading

The Value of (Television) Narratives

TelevisionsAt the risk of shocking some of my readers, I want to start this article with a confession: I was raised in a household that did not watch television. Or, at least, did not watch television that was anything other than the Olympics, Presidential speeches, or the occasional Chicago Cubs playoff collapse. Although the primary reason for our not watching television was because of scheduling (we simply were too busy with other things to make watching TV any sort of a priority), we would also occasionally hear about the dangers of watching TV, especially the immoral values that it promoted. Continue reading

The Early Church and the Trinity

This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday for many Christians, very often the day of the year when the Trinitarian nature of God and Christian theology are most clearly discussed. This post reflects on how the early Church grappled with the complexities of Trinitarian theology.

TrinityThe doctrine of the Trinity–espoused by the Cappadocian Fathers as “God is one object in Himself and three objects to Himself”–is commonly understood to be one of the more difficult concepts to grasp in Christian theology. Much of Early Church history revolved around debates concerning the Person of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father, and doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit was often not explicitly discussed. However by the time of the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine, an explicit doctrine of the Trinity was emerging in Christendom (Kelly, 252). In her essay entitled “Why Three?” Sarah Coakley engages the Maurice Wiles’ perspective on the Trinity as espoused in his The Making of Christian Doctrine. Continue reading

Ultimate Reality in Chinese Religion

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the manner in which world religions understand the divine. Today’s reflection engages the perspective of Livia Kohn on ultimate reality in Chinese religion.
Kong Fuzi (Confucius)

Kong Fuzi (Confucius)

While finding Kohn’s treatment of the complexities and uniqueness of Chinese religions insightful, I was again struck by the important role of texts in the development and practice of the religions this course has considered. This reflection seeks to note the central role that texts and textual appeals seem to play in Chinese religions, as alluded to throughout Kohn’s essay. The essay begins by noting that ultimate reality is often considered in philosophical, practical, and mythical ways (10), and that through these lenses religious claims about the resolution of the human predicament are made (11). In the Christian tradition at least, philosophical, mythical, and (though to a somewhat lesser extent) practical doctrines and exhortations are almost always recorded and appealed to within the context of a text (at least the ones that are influential in the long-run). This paradigm seems to hold true for Chinese religions as well, with Daoist texts and Confucian sages functioning as the best sources for thinking about Ultimate Reality in the Chinese context (12-13). Kohn also directs us toward considering the problem of language in conceiving of Chinese religions. Not only are there no terms that correlate to the idea of “ultimate reality” (11), but the language that can be used to point towards that idea is confronted by the paradox of Chinese thought, where “If it’s the Dao, you cannot see it; if you can see it, it’s not that Dao” (12). For practioners of Chinese religion, the experience of ridding oneself of passions, emotions, and individual consciousness and seeking to align one’s conscience with the order of the cosmos appears to serve as the path for realization the “Ultimates,” the pluriform ways in which the “unreal, invisible, and intangible” ultimate may be experienced (31). Continue reading

Church Search: Beginning the Second Phase

This post is part of our ongoing Church Search. For more information, please click here or visit the Church Search tab above.

PENTAX ImageFor the past year (with some interruptions), Hayley and I have been visiting different churches, some for only a week and others for more extended periods of time, as part of the “First Exposure” phase of our Church Search. These visits have been to a purposefully broad range of churches, both to denominations we thought we might seriously consider, as well as several visits which were primarily aimed toward experiencing other forms of Christianity and gaining an appreciated for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. As a result of this “First Exposure” phase, we have learned lots and gained some insights into where we should investigate further as part of our “Serious Considerations Phase.”

In this second phase, we intend to engage several churches/denominations more intensely as we seek to understand where we will best fit in the People of God. This investigation will involve two primary steps: First, extensive research on the churches we are considering. This means engaging additional written works theologians, pastors, and teachers within each respective denomination that we are considering, as well as seeking in-depth conversations with pastors and members of the local churches that we are visiting. A second step will be multiple visits to the churches/denominations we are considering. Here we intend to visit not only specific churches multiple times, but also to visit multiple churches within the denominations that we are considering. Where possible, we hope to visit at least three different churches in each denomination, at least one of which we will visit three or four times.

After much thought, prayer, and conversation, we have narrowed down the churches we are considering into three broad categories: Orthodox, Lutheran, and Episcopal/Anglican. We have come to recognize the internal diversity within each of these labels, and thus again emphasize that these are the broad denominational categories which we are considering. That said, the central theme that we have found to be important in our faith lives is the balance of ancient truth and tradition with contemporary applicability and service. That is, by-and-large these churches (or certain parts of these churches) seek to balance scripture, liturgy, tradition, worship, and living Christian love. It is for this reason that we have decided to focus our search on these three groups of churches.

Through our experiences with each of these churches already, we have already experienced that no church is a perfect church, primarily because we are there. Yet we are excited to learn and experience more fully how God and His people are learning, living, and loving in these churches. Though we have learned much already, we recognize that God is but beginning His work in our lives, and eagerly await this next phase in our journeys, including the part where we leave Winston-Salem (NC) and move to St. Louis (MO) in a few weeks time. We ask for your prayers and guidance as we continue this search, and look forward to sharing more with you in the months to come.

C. S. Lewis on Meaning and Joy

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

How many times have you sat down after a good meal and thought about how good it tasted? Or how often after an enjoyable evening with friends do you sit back and think about the true meaning of your conversations? While most do not consider themselves philosophers reflecting upon the deeper mysteries of the universe, many people contemplatively enjoy live in less abstract ways. We go through our days enjoying the food, the beauty that we see around us, and the pleasant conversations, while at the same time failing to explicitly contemplate why we enjoy certain things in life. Why does a good meal seem to make the world better? Why is a sunrise so appealing to us? What is it about well written poetry that makes it so good?

C. S. Lewis offers us an example of how we may reflect upon our meaningful experiences in his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed,” where he discusses the difference between simply enjoying an experience and the deeper contemplation of said experience. Lewis once was standing in a dark toolshed and saw a sunbeam come through a crack above the door. He says that while looking at the beam, he was “seeing the beam, not seeing things by it” (Meditation, 212). This is similar to many of our everyday experiences. We see activities and enjoy them for what they are without looking deeper. This is not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the pleasurable things in life, but we ought to examine our lives and experiences closely in order to capture more of the joy that they offer.

Lewis goes on to explain what he saw when instead of merely looking at the sunbeam, he looks through it, out into the world beyond the dark of the toolshed. He says, “Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun” (Meditation, 212). There is a difference between simply looking at an object or experience, and using that experience to see something greater, a facet or characteristic of an experience that would is often lost on us when we do not examine closely the lives that we live. Continue reading