Transcending Polarity

I had to republish this, because the server fell over mid-save. Also, because it’s Pentecost this weekend, as the image of the window reminded me.

A mystic, an evangelical pastor and a fundamentalist preacher die on the same day and find themselves outside the Pearly Gates, where, traditionally, they are greeted by Peter. He informs them that before they can get into heaven they must be interviewed by Jesus about their doctrine. The first to be called forward is the mystic, who is quietly ushered into a room. Two hours later, the mystic reappears with a sad smile, saying, ‘I rather thought I might have got it all wrong.’ Then the evangelical pastor is invited into the room. After a full day had passed the pastor reappears with a frown and says to himself, ‘How could I have been so foolish!’ Finally, Peter asks the fundamentalist to follow him. The fundamentalist picks up his well-thumbed Bible and walks into the room. A whole week passes with no sign of the preacher, then finally the door opens and Jesus himself appears, shaking his head. ‘How could I have got it all so wrong?’

When the Church stops speaking and listening, in other words, the dialectic slows to a crawl, it is in mortal peril.  I am slowly coming around to the view that  both absolutism and relativism are idolatrous, hiding their human origins behind a myth of reason. Instead of following the Greek notion of orthodoxy as right belief, I rather  wonder whether the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox believer in God as one who believes in the right way – that is – believing in a loving and sacrificial manner is a more appropriate mindset. The difference between ‘right belief’ to ‘believing in the right way’ is by no means a polarisation of opposites – as we were taught at theological college – more a way of transcending the polarity altogether. So, orthodoxy is no longer conceived as the antithesis of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world. To my astonishment, on reading this over, it really does sound terribly Jewish, doesn’t it… Learning to wrestle with moral dilemmas is quite a good thermometer for our belief systems, I thinkA mystic, an evangelical pastor and a fundamentalist preacher die on the same day and find themselves outside the Pearly Gates, where, traditionally, they are greeted by Peter. He informs them that before they can get into heaven they must be interviewed by Jesus about their doctrine. The first to be called forward is the mystic, who is quietly ushered into a room. Two hours later, the mystic reappears with a sad smile, saying, ‘I rather thought I might have got it all wrong.’ Then the evangelical pastor is invited into the room. After a full day had passed the pastor reappears with a frown and says to himself, ‘How could I have been so foolish!’ Finally, Peter asks the fundamentalist to follow him. The fundamentalist picks up his well-thumbed Bible and walks into the room. A whole week passes with no sign of the preacher, then finally the door opens and Jesus himself appears, shaking his head. ‘How could I have got it all so wrong?’

When the Church stops speaking and listening, in other words, the dialectic slows to a crawl, it is in mortal peril.  I am slowly coming around to the view that  both absolutism and relativism are idolatrous, hiding their human origins behind a myth of reason. Instead of following the Greek notion of orthodoxy as right belief, I rather  wonder whether the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox believer in God as one who believes in the right way – that is – believing in a loving and sacrificial manner is a more appropriate mindset. The difference between ‘right belief’ to ‘believing in the right way’ is by no means a polarisation of opposites – as we were taught at theological college – more a way of transcending the polarity altogether. So, orthodoxy is no longer conceived as the antithesis of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world. To my astonishment, on reading this over, it really does sound terribly Jewish, doesn’t it… Learning to wrestle with moral dilemmas is quite a good thermometer for our belief systems, I think

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