So, a few weekends ago we hosted 12 students from the Heroic Leadership Institute (at the Pathway Vineyard) down here in the Baltimore/DC area for a Justice-intensive. I think it was really great, but I wanted to share some centered-set thoughts that were flying around our conversations, with you all here at the NTRT blog.
At one of the teaching sessions, I taught through material mostly based on a book I had recently read: Unclean: Meditations of Purity, Hospitality and Mortality by Richard Beck. Below Dr. Beck goes into what it's essentially about:
Interesting, huh? I would highly recommend the book to any of you, as it does indeed tackle the thorny issue of the psychology of purity and holiness that faith communities struggle with as they engage, well, The Blue Ocean. One principal issue Dr. Beck goes into is our disgust triggers, and that in an American culture that has a billion dollar industry in anti-bacterial hand-sanitizer, you’d think we'd have some issues with disgust, right? More-so than other cultures… that’s for sure. The interesting thing about disgust triggers is that they are qualitatively different culture-to-culture, unlike happiness triggers or anger triggers which are fairly normative culture-to-culture… but not so with disgust triggers that are programmed into a person as they mature and grow up in a certain society. (This is pretty obvious to anyone with children, who know that infants and toddlers - and beyond - have no triggers for disgust until Mom and Dad imprint them).
Beck has framed some of his conversation in Walter Brueggemann-ism ways, seeing clearly the profound tension between our 'Purity' tradition and 'Prophetic' tradition in scripture and how those shape us. Now, it can't be terribly surprising that we struggle with these traditions and our culturally-conditioned disgust triggers, and tend to choose sides: Either a bounded-set 'purity/holiness' or a more centered-set perspective through 'hospitality/justice'. But I'm wondering - and struggling myself - with what a centered-set holiness might actually look like to, say, people new to faith or new to relationship with us and Jesus, because Jesus was always scandalizing the religious boundary-keepers of his day and told them to go learn what this scripture means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
My hunch is that purity is not irrelevant, as some 'libertine' traditions within the Church would argue, but my own thoughts move toward--hopefully in a Jesus-kind-of-way--a more centered-set perspective on holiness, that reads the trajectory of "progressive revelation" in scripture moving along a path in which 'purity' categories are trumped or at least interwoven-as-leitmotif with 'justice' founded in relationship (Dr. Beck actually wrote a paper about this trajectory here). I think this trajectory can and should be roughly correlated with what we call here the contemplative/Stage-4 kind of faith that isn't based on Stage 2 'rules-keeping' but has as a primary guide, a more difficult-but-discerning center--Jesus Himself. I keep coming back to the fact that, for me, "moral stands" and "taking positions/sides" have much less weight than actual relationship... and I think that's key and helps me a lot in swimming and fishing the Blue Ocean for what Jesus is up to with me and other people. What do you all think?