Trusting our own experience...

How ironic that on a day when I am totally exhausted, Fr. Richard Rohr
shares a post re: trusting your inner experiences. Got to love the divine humor of the One who is Holy, yes?  Here is his post and then three comments on it:

Paul trusts his experience of God and of Christ over his own upbringing, over the Twelve Apostles, over Peter, and over the Jewish Christians. Paul doesn't follow the expected sources of outer authority in his life, neither his own Jewish religion nor the new Christian leaders in Jerusalem. He dares to listen to—and trust—his own inner experience, which trumps both of these establishments. It’s amazing, really, that institutional religion makes him the hero that it does, and almost half of the New Testament is attributed to him, because in many ways he’s a rebel. He’s not by any definition a “company man”—anybody’s company in fact! In terms of human biographies, he is almost in a category all his own.

It is ironic that the ability to trust one’s own experience to that degree has not been affirmed by the later church, even though both Jesus and Paul did exactly that. They trusted their experience of God in spite of the dominant tradition. And the church came along and domesticated both Jesus and Paul. We were never told to trust our own experience. In fact, we were probably told not to have any experience. It was considered unnecessary! (Yet the Church still produced people like Augustine, Francis, Teresa of Ávila, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Teresa of Calcutta—who trusted their own soul experience against the tide.)

Once you know something, you can’t deny that you know it. You don’t need to dismiss outer authority—its intuitions are often correct—but you’re not on bended knee before it either. The church’s fear of inner authority has not served the Gospel well and has not served history well either. I am afraid this has to do with those in charge wanting to keep you co-dependent. I don’t think Paul wants to keep you dependent upon him at all. He is the great apostle of freedom—a scary freedom that much of tradition, and most clergy, have not been comfortable with at all (Galatians 5:1-12, Romans 8:20-23).

+ First, while he is absolutely right in noting that the "Church" has not honored the legacy of Jesus and Paul - Rohr calls them rebels who trusted their own inner experiences in ways that challenged their status quo - that isn't true for parts of the Reformed Christian tradition. In fact, my own non-conformist and Congregational background actually celebrates the importance of experience. For this small part of the greater Body of Christ, we speak of "honoring the testimonies of our faith rather than demanding tests of faith." We are a non-creedal church. We recognize and respect the wisdom and truth of the historic creeds, but we refuse to make them a "test" of faith. Rather, we want to include our experience along with Scripture and tradition.

+ Second, my tradition has become too self-congratulatory about our modest renegade history. We love to tell ourselves how progressive and creative we are - and have been - but very few people in the United States seem to care. We have a charism for this moment in time that is largely being ignored mostly because of our arrogance.  Too often  we come across as elitist, superior and demeaning to other traditions: "Thank GOD we're not like..." (fill in the blank with Catholics, Fundamentalists, Baptists.) To be sure, we're not the only part of the Reformed Christian tradition that does this - my Presbyterian cousins do a pretty good job of excluding others when it comes to matters theological - but we in the United Church of Christ just can't get enough of ourselves. And, at least for me, this arrogance is off-putting and dishonest. My experience suggests that one of the reasons we are in such profound decline is because too often our eyes and thoughts are upon ourselves rather than the Cross. 

+ And third, Rohr's list of experiential non-conformists is too limited. Where are the English and German mystics? The Quakers? The Pentecostals? There is a long history of experiential Christians that are missing in this short posting. And while I know you can't include everything in one short essay, I like the wisdom of J. Philip Newell who is working at what Matthew Fox used to call a "deep ecumenicity." Newell (and perhaps Diana Butler Bass and Phyliss Tickle) speak of "the emerging church" or a "Christianity for the rest of us." Even Pope Francis articulates a more broadly inclusive vision and casts a wider net when it comes to honoring our experiences.

Well, that's enough for this morning. Time to head to church and prepare for today's midday Eucharist. Then it is back to my study re: the origins of modern Jewish Zionism for next week's study/discussion group.


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