Introducing Process Theology

artson-photo
Rabbi Bradley Artson
God of Becoming and Relationship

A summary of Artson’s introduction, pp. xv – xvi: 

Process Philosophy is a  systematic approach to making sense of the world –
not just one aspect of it, but the world as a whole.

Process Theology integrates religion and science in a way that respects both disciplines as valid ways to relate to the world – and to each other.

Process methodology is based on the following convictions:

about the world: 

The world and God are expressions of continuous change, which is dynamic and relational.

We and the world are not solid substances, but recurrent patterns of energy; we change continually, but also maintain continuity from moment to moment.

To exist in this world is to be self-determining, interconnected, and creative to some degree.

*  We relate to each and all creation instantaneously and intuitively, responding  to the decisions of others – and to the events of the world around us – even as we ourselves are re-created in each instant.

*  We are interconnected, each to each and each to all.  Therefore, all creation has value and dignity.

about God:

* God is the One who makes all relationships possible.  God creates the openness of a future of real novelty and the variety of its possibilities, and God relates to each of us in our particular individuality.

*  God’s communication with human beings is a living, growing process. Therefore, God’s revelation is relational, ongoing, and continuous.

*  God’s revelation calls us to make decisions which will maximize justice, compassion, and love.

* God’s primary mode of power is persuasive, not coercive.  Therefore, we too are called to be persuasive, not coercive.

* God is the One who invites us – and empowers us – to make the best decisions for our personal flourishing and for our mutual flourishing.

* God invites us – and everything in the cosmos – to be co-creators in fashioning the present, out of the possibilities offered by the future, and out of the constraints imposed by the past.

About faith:

*  Commitment to this creative process requires faithfulness, which rises above any faith (doctrine or creed).

 

 

 

Who should read this book?

artson-cover-better

from the Introduction to God of Becoming and Relationship
by Rabbi Bradley Artson

I wrote this book for you if you want to be able to locate your life in a single, encompassing story, one that includes everything from the first moment the universe began until yesterday, a narrative that embraces deepest personal meaning, a yearning to love and be loved, a quest for social justice and compassion.

I wrote this book for you if you feel wounded by conventional religion, with its domineering God and not infrequent assaults on common sense, scientific method, and human dignity, or if you feel wounded by combative secularism and its not infrequent assaults on any real sense of purpose, transcendence, or belonging.

I wrote this book for Jews who are seeking a way to integrate their admiration for Jewish values and ethics with a spirituality that cannot put on blinders and forget what their minds learned in science labs and history classes.

I also wrote this book for non-Jews who are interested in what wisdom Judaism might contribute to their lives but cannot endure yet another system of counterintuitive faith and mandated obedience. And I wrote this book for all of us, beyond labels, seeking a way to celebrate the dynamism and unity of this marvelous, mysterious, awe-filled world.

Finally, I wrote this book for myself, so I could continue to hold onto Torah as a way of life without abandoning or betraying my best values and the people I love most.

Rabbi Artson begins the book…..

I live in west Los Angeles in a home that was built in the 1950s. Our dining room has wood paneling along its four walls. When we first bought the house a decade ago, the room was painted a sickly green, presumably in the late ’70s during the high-water mark of the aesthetics of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. The actual wood grain and tone were covered; I think in that era people thought such a look was cutting-edge. With that greenish coat of paint, the walls looked fake and cheap. When we finally got around to repainting the upstairs of the house, we asked our painter if he could just coat the paneling a simple white because the green was hideous. He pondered for a moment, then took his thumbnail and scratched on the paneling. The paint peeled away, and he said, “You know, I think that under this green there is actual wood.” His team spent three days sandblasting and varnishing. At the end of the week our dining room was transformed! The wood appears rich and the patterns in the grain are magnificent; it is now my favorite room in the house. I had thought, erroneously, that the wall itself was that sickly green when, in fact, that trashy look was just the coating that someone had painted over the shimmering wood.

Modern Westerners often approach religion as I did the paneling: they assume that the only way to be religious is to accept the sickly green overlay of Greek philosophy. They take neo-Platonized Aristotelian scholastic presuppositions and filter religion through those ideas. Then, because they have insurmountable problems with those assertions, they assume that the quandary involves religion itself, or the Bible, or the Talmud, or observance, or God. What Process Theology offers is the opportunity to sandblast the philosophical over lay of Hellenistic Greece and medieval Europe off the rich, burnished grain of Bible, Rabbinics, and Kabbalah so that we can savor the actual patterns in the living wood of religion, the etz hayyim, and appreciate Judaism for what it was intended to be and truly is.

Much like what the sandblasting did for our perspective on our dining room, this book offers the tools to relate to the world anew: not as the bumping together of solid substances in absolute space and time, but as a world of shimmering particles of energy that interact constantly and eternally. Every creature is a resilient pattern of interlocking energy, each in a developing process of becoming. Because becoming is concrete and real, and being is only a logical abstraction, the distillation of becoming in pure thought, Process Thought focuses on becoming as the central mode of every creature, of all creation, and indeed of the Creator as well. The universe is recognized as a series of interacting, recurrent energy patterns, but not one that endlessly loops in the same repetitive patterns. Instead, the surprising miracle of our universe is that it seems to generate novelty with each new moment of continuing creation. New stars, new galaxies, and new elements combine and create new possibilities. At least once, a galaxy with sufficient stability and diversity produced at least one solar system with at least one planet on which the slow and gradual evolution of self-conscious life could – and did – emerge.

In such a worldview, God is not outside the system as some unchanging, eternal abstraction. Rather, God permeates every aspect of becoming, indeed grounds all becoming by inviting us and every level of reality to fulfill our own optimal possibilities. The future remains open, through God’s lure, to our own decisions of how or what we will choose next. God, then, uses a persistent, persuasive power, working in each of us (and all creation at every level) to nudge us toward the best possible outcome. But God’s power is not coercive and not all-powerful. God cannot break the rules or unilaterally dictate our choices. Having created and then partnered with this particular cosmos, God is vulnerable to the choices that each of us makes freely as co-creators.

JOIN OUR NEW HOLLISTER DISCUSSION:

A RABBI LOOKS AT GOD:  God of Becoming and Relationship
by Rabbi Bradley Artson

Meeting on January 12, 19, 26 and February 2
10-11:30 am at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church
(Los Osos Valley and Clark Valley Roads, Los Osos)

PURCHASE God of Becoming and Relationship at your local bookstore or go to:  

https://www.amazon.com/God-Becoming-Relationship-Dynamic-Theology/dp/1580238769/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481242191&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=Bradley+Artson+God+of+Becoming+and+Belonging

 

 

Thoughts after our meeting – December

Necessary Suffering
(see Falling Upward, chapter 6)

stable-lamp-is-lighted
The tragic sense of life
(see Falling Upward, chapter 4)

A stable lamp is lighted *

A stable lamp is lighted whose glow shall wake the sky;
the stars shall bend their voices, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry, and straw like gold shall shine;
a barn shall harbor heaven, a stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city shall ride in triumph by;
the palm shall strew its branches, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry, though heavy, dull and dumb,
and lie within the roadway to pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken, and yielded up to die;
the sky shall groan and darken, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry for gifts of love abused;
God’s blood upon the spearhead, God’s blood again refused.

But now, as at the ending, the low is lifted high;
the stars shall bend their voices, and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry in praises of the child
by whose descent among us the worlds are reconciled.

sign-stumbling-stone
Stumbling over the stumbling stone
(see Falling Upward, chapter 5)

* To hear the carol, “A stable lamp is lighted”
(Words by Richard Wilbur, music by David Hurd)
go to
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHuq5ungxUI


 

Necessary suffering and the church

Rohr pictureRichard Rohr writes (in chapter 6)…

Note:  Remembering that Falling Upward was first published in 2011
(at the end of a decade of rising pain over sexual abuse in the Church),
let’s listen to Richard Rohr:

Anyone who wants to save his life must lose it… Matthew 16:25f
Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me… Matthew 14:37f

The Church teaches us the message of necessary suffering:

To explain why I begin this chapter on necessary suffering with two hard-hitting quotes from Jesus of Nazareth, let me explain a bit about myself.  I must start with my birth relationship with Catholic Christianity…because in many ways it has been the church that taught me – in ways that it did not plan – the message of necessary suffering.  It taught me by itself being a bearer of the verbal message, then a holding tank, and finally a living crucible of necessary (and sometime unnecessary!) suffering. 

The Church is a crucible of necessary suffering:   

A crucible holds molten metal in one place long enough to be purified and clarified.  Church requirements force you to face important issues at a much deeper level.  Catholicism became for me a crucible…  The pedestrian and everyday church has remained a cauldron of transformation for me by holding me inside both the dark and the light side of almost everything, and by teaching me non-dualistic thinking to survive. 

Refusing to split and deny reality keeps me in regular touch with my own shadow self, and much more patient with the rather evident shadow of the church.  Catholicism is the ‘one true church’ only when it points beyond itself to the ‘one true Mystery,’ and offers itself as the training ground for both human liberation and divine union. 

The Church as parent

Like all limited parents, the church has been ‘good enough,’ and thus has taught me how to see that goodness everywhere.  So the church is both my greatest intellectual and moral problem, and my most consoling home. 

All the churches seem to crucify Jesus again and again by their inability to receive his whole body, but they often resurrect him, too.   And I am without doubt a microcosm of this universal church.  The church has never persecuted me or limited  me in any way.  The formal church has always been a half-hearted bride for me, while the Franciscans have been considerably better. 

But the Gospel itself is my full wedding partner.  It always tells me the truth, and loves me through things till I arrive somewhere new and good and much more spacious.  I quote Jesus because I still consider him to be the spiritual authority of the Western world, whether we follow him or not.  And many of the findings of modern psychology, anthropology, and organizational behavior give us new windows and vocabulary into Jesus’ transcendent message.

What Jesus means by ‘hating’ family

How consistently the great religious teachers and founders leave home, go on pilgrimage to far-off places; and how often their parents, the established religion, spiritual authorities, and even civil authorities fight against them! And of course, ‘church family’ is also a family that one has to eventually ‘hate’ in this very same way.   We all must leave home to find the real and larger home. 

Jesus uses strong words to push us out of the family nest and to name a necessary suffering at the most personal, counter-intuitive, and sentimental level possible.  It takes a huge push for people to find their own soul apart from Mom and Dad; so Jesus pulls no punches, saying you must ‘hate’ your home base in some way and make choices beyond it.  It takes therapists years to achieve the same result and reestablish appropriate boundaries from wounding parents and early authority figures, and to heal the inappropriate shame in those who have been wounded. 

What do you think?

Rohr writes, “How consistently the great religious teachers and founders leave home, go on pilgrimage to far-off places; and how often their parents, the established religion, spiritual authorities, and even civil authorities fight against them! And of course, ‘church family’ is also a family that one has to eventually ‘hate’ in this very same way.   We all must leave home to find the real and larger home. 

Reflections on the reading – chapter 6

Necessary suffering and life on earth

sign
Those who want to save their lives must lose them…Matthew 16:25

All creation groans:  The natural world experiences suffering as the very cycle of life.  The natural world has no choice in the matter; it just lives the message without saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to it.  Human beings always have the freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

We must lose our lives in order to gain them:  Jesus tells us we must ‘lose our lives’ – and Rohr tells us we must lose our ‘false selves.’  The false self is the role and personal image that we have largely created in our own minds.  Our false selves will – and must – die if we want to achieve our true selves.

The True Self is who we are from the beginning, in the mind and heart of God. The True Self is our absolute identity, which can be neither gained nor lost by any technique, group affiliation, morality, or formula.   ‘Necessary suffering’ forces us to surrender our false self in order to find ‘the pearl of great price’ that is always hidden inside this lovely but passing shell.

But we can refuse to say ‘yes’ to our necessary suffering:  Much unnecessary suffering comes into the world because people will not accept the ‘legitimate suffering’ that comes from being human.  Ironically, this refusal of the necessary pain of being human brings to the person ten times more suffering in the long run.   It seems we grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing right. (This is the only workable meaning of ‘original sin’.) If there is human perfection, it seems to emerge from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.

By denying their pain, many have kept themselves from their own spiritual depths.  The human ego prefers anything to falling or changing or dying.  (The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo, even when it isn’t working.)  Because no one wants a downward path, we have to get this message with the authority of a divine revelation.  So Jesus makes it into a central axiom – the last really do have a head start in moving towards first.

Yet two groups are very good at denying or avoiding reality’s surprises: the very rich and the very religious (see next post).

Richard Rohr suggests,

Describe what you have observed in nature that you would call ‘necessary suffering’. Does seeing necessary suffering as part of the natural order of things have an impact on you as you observe the suffering in your own life?  (Companion Journal, p. 72)

Reflections on the reading – chapter 5

Stumbling over the stumbling stone

sign-stumbling-stone“God comes to you disguised as your life.”

Sooner or later something always comes into life that we simply cannot deal with. We soon discover that our present skills, our acquired knowledge, and our strong willpower won’t help us.  Spiritually speaking, we have been – we will be – led to the edge of our own private resources.

That’s why Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” And why Richard Rohr says, “ So we must stumble and fall (and that does not mean reading about falling, as you are doing here!)”

Three of Jesus’ parables are about losing something – the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son (see Luke 15:3-32).  It seems that in the spiritual world, we don’t really find something until we first lose it – and in the end, the stumbling stone will lead us to discover a significantly new self.

For Jesus and for his followers, the crucifixion became the dramatic symbol of that absurd but necessary stumbling stone.  Medieval Christianity made Jesus’ suffering and death into God’s attempt to solve some cosmic problem.  But Jesus’s cross solved our problem by first revealing our real problem – our refusal to acknowledge the tragic sense of life, and our universal pattern of blaming – and then sacrificing – others.

Every Beauty is sleeping, it seems, before it can meet its Prince.   Half of the world’s fairy tales of the world are some form of sleeping beauty, ugly duckling, or Cinderella story – telling of the little person who has no power or possessions who ends up being king or queen, prince or princess.

The duckling must be “ugly” or there will be no glory.  Jesus must be crucified, or there can be no resurrection.  It is written in our hard-wiring, but can only be heard at the soul level.

Richard Rohr suggests,

Write about a time when a situation took you beyond your resources to deal with it.  Did the experience bring you to a new awareness of your capacity for surrender?  Did you feel free when you realized you were not in charge of the ‘falling’?  (Companion Journal, p. 58)

 

Reflections on the reading – chapter 4

The tragic sense of life

sign-dangerous-curvesLife is a collision of opposites

We hope for order in life.  We want to find consistent patterns – so we can make sense of things – but instead we find disorder and even chaos.  Only faith – not logic – can help us accept life’s opposites and contradictions and hold them together.  Having faith means trusting in an underlying life force so strong that it can even include death.

Who (and what) has the most to teach us about this kind of life?  Richard Rohr points out that the exceptions and the contradictions – those creatures (including humans) who are on the edge of what our culture defines as normal, proper, or good – teach us more and more about life and about God.  Each time we bump into these ‘exceptions to the rule’ (these ‘dangerous curves’), we are being led to new knowledge and spiritual growth.

color-outside-the-linesGod doesn’t reject those who ‘color outside the lines’

Jesus had no trouble with people on the edge of normal, proper, or good.  He ate regularly with outsiders (to the chagrin of the religious stalwarts, who loved their version of order over any compassion toward the exceptions).  Jesus was never upset with sinners; he was only upset with people who didn’t think they were sinners!    For Jesus, religious rules never mattered as much as the relationship God wants with us.

This means that sin and failure are the raw material for our redemption.  Salvation is NOT sin perfectly avoided (as our egos would prefer), but sin turned on its head and used in our favor.

So the Bible promises us wholeness, but refuses to deny the dark side of life.  The Jewish Scriptures offer few theological conclusions that are always true.  The New Testament offers many theologies – about God, about Jesus, about human history – not just one. The Gospels demonstrate that life is tragic, but then proclaim that – following Jesus – we can survive and even grow from tragedy.  The only consistent pattern the whole Bible offers us is this: God is with us and we are not alone.

And so what is the “tragic sense of life”?  It’s just a humiliating realism about life – and  faith is the ability to simply trust that God is found within the real.

Accepting this fact of life demands a lot of forgiveness, because we bump into annoying exceptions, regular stumbling blocks, and devastating tragedies – but this is the price we must pay to keep our hearts from closing down, to keep our souls open for something more.

Richard Rohr asks,

Do you gravitate toward the ‘never-broken, always-applicable rules and patterns’ of life?  How do you deal with things that don’t ‘fit the mold’?
How can you free yourself of the need to adhere to specific principles in every situation?

(from the Companion Journal, p. 46)