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Process in Talking Things Out

April 19, 2012

I have long had high interest in Christians of various traditions and persuasions learning to communicate more deeply and productively with each other…. And that leading into better communication with those of other religions entirely, as well. 

Now I don’t mean just between denominations or major theological systems (like Calvinism vs. Arminianism).  No, I mean between or among  spiritually-oriented people who might not even agree that their conversation patner is Christian.   Or maybe one partner has been Christian and is no longer identifying as such. 

This is important for a whole bunch of reasons I won’t go into now.  I know it is also on the minds of many other people.  You can see a lot of them in dialog with each other at a blog I find very interesting, run by a young woman just a few years older than my kids… Rachel Held Evans (.com, for the blog).  I’m going to paste in below the comment I just posted on her blog, but let me give a little context so it makes better sense. 

In referring to the last week-end and Process Thought, I mean the Celebrating Reenchantment conference at the Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University which I attended and have written about in the last two posts.  Now, I have had some education in Process going back to the early ’90s, but sadly not gone much deeper or involved myself directly until again just recently.  I say sadly because I sensed then and realize more vividly now, that Process Thought holds some keys to resolving stand-offs and wasteful, often counter-productive divisions in our society and the world.  These keys have incredible potential for creating personal and interpersonal harmony, and even potential intercultural and international harmony! 

Without detailing how at this point, I will now insert my comment made on Rachel’s blog after this additional context: I say I know Rachel is familiar, at least some, with Process because I met her a year ago February at the Big Tent Christianity conference in Phoenix, which was sponsored jointly by a few Process people–mainly Philip Clayton from Claremont–and some Emerging Christian folks (I don’t recall who to mainly credit among them).  The very convening of such a conference was extraordinary (and it went very well!).  It was a tribute to both more “formal” Process thinking and the progressive style and aspirations of other (mostly youthful) Evangelical Christians.  Now here is what I said on Rachel’s blog:

“Another great post, Rachel.  I love your summarization and the very concept (needing to become common practice) of talking about the PROCESS of our communication, as well as the content.  AND, talking about Process (as in Process Thought/Theology), I have been vividly reminded this past week-end that there IS a highly developed “model” (hopefully not too “jargony” a term) that can be extremely helpful in communication about religion, theology, church, etc.  

 I know you know about Process Thought but both the term and the large body of literature and other materials, conferences, etc. based on it may be unknown to most of your blog participants, or only known OF.  There are a number of points, from Process, relevant to the current discussion, but I will focus on just one–that seems most foundational.  Process is the only well-developed (and not “new on the block”) system of philosophy/theology which is capable of providing both helpful groundwork (broad-base stuff) and detailed discussion that is capable of bridging naturalism and supernaturalism.  In our natural way of binary (one-or-the-other) thinking, this might seem impossible.  But, for purposes of discussion at least, it is not!

Now the significance for the current topic is this: I’m convinced the most basic tension and puzzlement that gets expressed as doubts about God, one’s theology or church, etc. is the question, not of God’s existence, but of what KIND of God exists.  (Of course, there are tons of other important issues, often around “fitting in” and relationships, sub-points of theology, etc.)  For example, if (as I believe) God does not pre-determine events and has only persuasive, not coercive power; and does not intervene in what we call “natural” processes, yet is personally experienced, it has profound implications for how one views and treats the Bible, among other things.  Unfortunately, it DOES quickly get a bit complex, but not hopelessly so….

 One might say in response to the statement I just made that I must then be a pure naturalist (matter is all there is) and/or a pantheist (Buddhist, e.g.).  But no…. Process people have been showing, for some time, that we CAN explain seemingly contradictory things like evolution and life-after-death in ways that do not discard God and do not side-line the scientific method and its data.  I won’t go further into how, as this is plenty long already… I just wanted to point people in a direction to look and maybe do some exploring.  Perhaps the core website would be, or for some commentary on the recent conference, I have a couple postings on my blog (linked from my name) and plan on more.” 

Do you agree with my rather sweeping statements? If not, how do you see these issues? What practical directions are you taking Process, or envisioning?

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