LAST EVENING I pre-ordered Diarmuid O’Murchu’s next book In the Beginning Was the Spirit: Science, Religion and Indigenous Spirituality though it’s not due to be published until the end of October. This man’s writing matters to me. His Adult Faith, Growing in Wisdom and Understanding is one of the books I most frequently recommend to seekers who’ve “had it with the Church”, and to committed churchwomen and men too. And I give fellow clergy-friends his Jesus in the Power of Poetry simply because I think they’d be the long-term poorer without a copy on their shelves.
Trouble is, a bit like Jesus of Nazareth, O’Murchu doesn’t sound very “orthodox” in 2012 – one commentator today has even spoken of some “seriously weird essays on [O'Murchu's] website”. That’s the magnet for me though. I’ve always been drawn to prophets, and to Jesus amongst these, because of what appears to many at first to be weirdness, and – in the case of Christ – his all-embracing inclusiveness and invitation to lift up eyes and open ears. And it turns out that Jesus is a mega-Prophet, to say the very least of Him!
The judgmental intransigence of a great deal of so called “mainstream” Christianity drives me round the bend at times. “Gospel” (Good News) too often looks like bad news for many people, myself included, and it’s supposed to be precisely the opposite – for ALL people – regardless of religious affiliation or the lack thereof. The Gospel of Jesus is an invitation to mature, liberated Life – and all the consequent pushing out of boundaries and stretching human imaginations that evolving Life involves.
So I was delighted to wake up this morning to Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines’ post about his Diocesan Clergy Conference …
When you have grown up with a particular framework for understanding the world and theology, it is not a simple task to listen through different ears to a different vocabulary. But, this is, in fact, what Jesus asked his friends and enemies to do – just read the gospels and this is the story: who dared to listen and look at God, the world and us through a different lens, and who could only try to shut out the heresy?
The Bradford Diocesan Clergy Conference began today at Swanwick in Derbyshire. I guess it’s one of those things – like preaching – where you just have to be there to ‘get it’. We began with an utterly human session with David Runcorn on ‘keeping faith in a time of change’. Then we had a first session with Diarmuid O’Murchu on the developing cosmological context of human spirituality. It is in this context that we explored the implications of human belonging to the interconnected web of relationship with people, creation and the cosmos.
… delighted because I’m convinced that listening “through different ears to a different vocabulary” is of vital, utmost importance at this moment in history. This gifted linguist of a bishop, in company with people like Diarmuid O’Murchu, recognises the profound importance of language, and today’s “interconnected web of relationship” involves the daily use of more languages, metaphors and memories than we’ve had hot dinners. And “memories” are not straightforward facts. Writing about having no memory of the 1969 moon landing Christopher Burkett says
My not remembering the Apollo 11 landing illustrates how plastic memory is. Memory is always something we construct and not simply retrieval of pre-existent, pre-formed files. It’s a disarming fact that memory making is often as easy as forgetting.
Another daily encouragement comes to me from the pen of Fr Richard Rohr – who offers daily meditations in the form of snippets from his prolific writings. Yesterday’s brought forth a whole series of Alleluias in me
The Reign of God has much more to do with right relationship than with being privately right. It has much more to do with being connected than with being personally correct. Can you feel the total difference between these two? The one encourages an impossible notion of individual salvation and creates individualists, the other introduces cosmic salvation and creates humans, citizens, caretakers, neighbors, and saints.
The Reign of God is not about a world without pain or mystery but simply a world where we can be in real contact with all things, where we can be inherently connected and in communion with what Mary Oliver calls “the daily presentations.” Then the whole world is our temple and your church. Then we can realistically hope for both “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) as the Bible finally promises.
Jesus is a consummate Jew and he was quite aware from his own Scriptures that God was saving history itself, and all of us in its sweep—and all of us in spite of ourselves, just as he always loved Israel in spite of its constant infidelities. Salvation for the Jews was a social and historical notion, not this much later regression into “How can I personally go to heaven?” This gross individualism pretty much defeated any real notion of God’s victory and “reign.”
Adapted from Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount, p. 11
In the evening of the 11th May 1985, as the smoke still poured forth from the tragic fire at Bradford City Football Stadium, that great city knew itself changed forever. I was working at the time as Chaplain to one of Nick Baines’ predecessors and I remember as though it were yesterday a young Muslim teacher addressing the bishop at one of the crowded Memorial Services in the Cathedral: “today our religions have matured, my Lord Bishop. We’ve discovered languages beyond our own.”
Today Nick Baines has replied to a too-quick dismissal of Diarmuid O’Murchu with these words
Should we only invite people who say what we want to hear in words that make us comfortable? Or is there a virtue in listening to people who come at things from a different angle? We don’t have to agree with him. In fact, the clergy are so mature here that pretty well everyone engaged with what he had to say and asked some excellent critical questions. Several of the more conservative clergy were grateful that we got someone left-field whose language alone makes you think hard about why we think the way we think about what we think. Maybe you can’t cope with that, but we can.
And I thank God.