This is the second post in a series that I started by saying that I know in my heart what I mean, but I may express it so poorly that I will be misunderstood. The first on contemplative community is found by clicking here.
I am trying to, in this current post, make a connection between the centrality of contemplation, of the committed journey into God, and connecting this to the contemporary need (requirement?) for – and here I’m struggling for a word – I might settle for, “flexibility”. Instead of flexibility I might have originally chosen the word “liberalness”. But “liberal” is now such an emotionally-laden word that using it is too easy to be misheard. And, as I say, I think I’m in danger of that already.
In part, this post springs from reflections by others that “liberal” (the word they use) Christian communities are not thriving and vibrant. For many, Butler Bass in books such as Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith and The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church shows this to be untrue. She writes about the power of intentional Christian practice transforming communities and helping them not merely to be vibrant but to grow numerically. I also know of “liberal” communities that are thriving and growing. [And “conservative” “evangelical” communities that are not.]
The intuition I have is that, when people talk about liberal communities, what is being talked about are communities that are strongly connected to our contemporary culture. But when such communites are not thriving, there may be, IMO, a central dynamic missing. The communities may be at the cutting edge of contemporary scholarship and thinking. People there may be very nice to each other – and to others beyond their community. They may be consciously and explicitly inclusive, open and accepting to all comers. Yet, the particular community may not be thriving and vibrant.
And my intuition is: why would people come merely for these above qualities? Cutting edge scholarship is available in books, online, and in discussion over coffee at wonderful cafes. People are very nice in any number of contexts (the church has no exclusive patent on nicenes). But if such a community made a conscious commitment to, together and alone, embark on the contemplative journey into God, it is my conviction that this is infinitely attractive.
And before some, (maybe with the group of people who use the term “liberal” pejoratively) start firing emotive comments about the dangers of “New Age” spirituality (etc.), let me be clear that IMO within our inherited pre-modern Christian spiritual disciplines and practices lie the practices that are adequate (and attractive) for our post-modern context and needs.
Finally, IMO this is a two-way dynamic. As we grow into God and the contemplative life, we become more flexible (“liberal”?), accepting, and inclusive. We become more humble, more prepared to say, “maybe I am wrong”, more able to see both sides of a discussion and an issue. As God becomes the fulfilment of our need, we find less necessity to substitute this with arrogance and the constant requirement to have everyone agree with each other and us on every point.