To be articulate within how the term usually functions, authority is the rub around which discussions and debates fly. For me, for the unfolding path of Christian devotion I know and, on a good day, surrender to, authority is at best a secondary force, a rudder by which I can move in currents that are way over my head. Like nuclear-war, there is no way to win a debate centered around authority. These debates have left us and "the common good" in fragments, shards of light unable to reconnect with each other without deciding beforehand whether the 'other' meets our internal norms or is professedly outside criteria of true/false, right/wrong, humanity/inhumanity. I'm getting close to simply not playing that game, stacked with those cards, anymore.
What I have to offer is therefore not helpful to those who yearn for wisdom clarified by terms like progressive. I have little establishment method or social-scientific criteria to offer systematization of a Progressive Christian movement. What I am learning, what I do have to offer, is a tried-and-true method to discover what kind of faith-practitioner you may be, or may want to be. Whatever your faith leanings (or none) may be, root deeply in that which you know . . . then release it for what you may come to know anew. Take your most impassioned conviction, and surrender it to your opposite, your opponent. Trust that your body will hold the truth of your previous conviction, that it can never be taken away from you in the end. Then breathe in the possibility that your opponent is more like you than you ever imagined.
In every face and every political discourse, commit to seeing the humanity yearning to be free, to breathe deeply into what is most desired. In the Evangelical voice, listen for the progressive heart with deep passions. In the progressive voice, listen for the one able to speak and live the good news to even the most disagreeable, wounding, and wounded of us. A dear friend of mine calls this listening for the partial truths in every position/side of any debate. I call it a contemplative empiricism: being in the physical environments in which you find yourself, and engaging the awakening, attentive, and surrendering practices in order to see the shards of light that are all around you (Cynthia Bourgeault, with a little Jewish wisdom thrown in).
Ultimately, if you want to assess my own practices within more familiar terms, I find scripture to read me regularly as I chew on it lectio divina style. I confess its unique and authoritative witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we Christians call the Christ. I stand within my Presbyterian Church community, subject to their/our polity and discipline, as long as Spirit sees fit to pave my way. Prayer, for me, is corporate and personal, highly liturgical and quietist contemplative. I am a progressive Christian loved by evangelicals and an evangelical Christian with politics paradoxical enough to irritate self-claimed progressives.
Being more recently shaped by rooted practitioners in other religious traditions, however, I'm content to relinquish the adjective completely. It rarely matters to them, and I'm learning to care about what matters to them, to us together, for the good of a world hungry for new life. What we call resurrection.
Lisa M. Hess listens, teaches, and writes as a Presbyterian minister (PCUSA) and practical theology professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. She is the author of Artisanal Theology: Intentional Formation in Radically Covenantal Companionships (Cascade, 2009). Visit her Expert Site at Patheos here.
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