Wouldn’t It Be Nice if Christians Became Taoists? "Hope for the Emerging Christian Church" By Bruce Epperly and Jay McDaniel
Wouldn’t It Be Nice if Christians Became Taoists? Hope for the Emerging Christian Church By Bruce Epperly and Jay McDaniel
The emerging church in the West – the church of spiritual seekers who seek to share in the journey of Jesus but not impose it on others -- is already Taoist in tone. What remains is for participants in this new and emerging church to turn eastward, learning from Asian Christians and the cultural traditions they bring with them, and thus learning to gentle their enthusiasm with the humility of stardust. What remains is for them to realize that one of the best ways to “proclaim the gospel” is not to proclaim at all, but rather to travel a path of gentleness, which is its own proclamation, its own good news.
This good news need not be named. Like the lilies of the field it becomes and shows itself in humble actions, like faith itself. The Taoist-inclined Christian is one who trusts (1) that Christianity is a way of living not a set of answers; (2) that the winds of the spirit blow in many directions, and that humans can be refreshed by these winds even if they are not Christian; (3) that we live and move and have our being within the larger context of the Ten Thousand Things, each of which deserves respect, (4) that the good life lies in living simply and honestly, without pretense and needing to be noticed; (5) that spontaneous actions, which are natural and devoid of self-consciousness, can be a form of spirituality in their own right; (6) that one key to understanding life is to imitate water, with its freedom to adapt to new circumstances in fresh ways, (7) that blind ambition is a dead end and gentleness of spirit a high ideal, (8) that the people who are closest to truth are those who don’t speak about it at all, because they know the wisdom of silence.
These Christians have a process metaphysics, too. They find themselves a little troubled by the wordiness of Christianity and find themselves rephrasing the Gospel of John to read: “In the Beginning was the Tao and the Tao was with God and the Tao was God?” Along with Taoists they find themselves thinking of all things – even God – not simply as nouns or even as verbs that we behold in our mind’s eye, but also as adverbs: that is, as entities whose being is partly formed by how they become. Here they resemble Whitehead, who writes: “How an actual entity becomes constitutes what that actual entity is.” (Process and Reality, 23)
Wouldn’t it be nice if all Christians became ever more sensitive to howness and not so preoccupied with whatness, especially with what people believe? Wouldn’t it be nice if they, like Jesus, learned from the lilies of the field and became more flexible and spontaneous, without regard for tomorrow? (Matthew 6:28) Wouldn’t it be nice if, in learning from Taoism, Christians became more….Christian? We can hope.
We find grounds for this hope in the small but growing group of Christians in the West called the emerging church. We stress in the West because we realize that Christianity is now a post-Western religion, with more Christians living in Asia, Africa, The phrase “emerging church” is now used by a variety of well-known thinkers: Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell, many of whom begin in evangelical or conservative Christianity, but discovered that being a Christian required a more flexible understanding of faith. This church is not denominational; its participants come from many traditions: Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, Non-Denominational, and Post-Denominational. Admittedly only a few of these Christians draw upon East Asian traditions in an explicit way, yet their spirit is East Asian -- and perhaps even Taoist -- in certain ways. They see themselves as transforming Christianity from the inside in dialogue with postmodernism, social networking, and the arts. Here is a description:
New Religious Worlds
“All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born. All around us life is dying and life is being born….Look well to the growing edge!” These words from African American Christian Howard Thurman capture the spirit of the emerging church. It is different from the old Christian world in many ways.
The old Christian world sometimes saw faith and spirituality in terms of clearly articulated doctrines, purely rational understandings of scripture and theology, a focus on one path to salvation, and a clear distinction between orthodox and unorthodox and saved and unsaved. The answers were clear, and applied to everyone, regardless of culture and ethnicity. Authorities knew what was best; ordained by God, they spoke God’s unchanging world, meting out God’s rewards and punishments like little gods themselves.
The old Christian world provided a tradition, a boundary, an identity, and a universal narrative that shaped Christians for centuries, and there is much good to the wisdom of the past. But, many people today are discovering that they must go beyond the old worlds – old worlds whose claims of authority, universality, and absoluteness are dying. New worlds are emerging, claiming the creative spirit that animated institutions of the past, often energizing them in spite of their traditionalism. Even dry bones can rise again, clothed in new colors and shapes.
A new Christian world is being born, emerging from the experiences of seekers, mystics, synthesizers, and globally sensitive Christians. Even the old ways are being claimed with a new spirit. The experiences that gave birth to traditions are being birthed in ways appropriate for our time. As Howard Thurman emphasizes: “Look well to the growing edge!”
The growing edge, emerging and emergent and bearing fruit, calls those of us who are Christian to “make it up as we’re going along,” like the warm and windy faith of the first followers of Jesus, described in Acts of the Apostles. The growing edge, always in process and always building on the past, like the Tao flowing through old structures in new ways. The growing emerging faith recognizes the promises of post-modernism and goes beyond them in a faith that can be experienced and shared without fear of punishment or exclusion.
Emergent faith takes seriously the post-modern critique of absolutes and universality and discovers an affirmative faith within what first appears as destructive of the foundations of faith itself. Postmodern critics challenge universal stories; emerging faith discovers the power of personal and community stories. Postmodern critics revel in relativism; emerging faith rejoices in relativity that allows a thousand flowers to bloom. Postmodern critics deconstruct old ways; emerging faith creatively transforms old ways in light of God’s dynamic new creation. Postmodern critics challenge abstract rationalism; emerging faith seeks holism in which knowledge embraces mind, body, spirit, and relationships and affirms that to know is to love and heal. “Location, location, location” -- cry out postmodern critics; emerging faith rejoices in the holy here and holy now, the intimacy of seeing each place as a revelation of the divine. Location is everything, but each location emerges from the universe that gives it birth. We are not alone isolated in the universe; we are children of stardust and divinity. Look well to the growing edge!
Emergent faith embraces the senses: mind is embodied, and bodies are inspired. Worship involves color and taste, word and silence, touch and smell. Preaching invites dialogue and inspires the community to taste, see, and practice what is preached. Christ-centered faith – finding Jesus on the thoroughfares of life – centers everything and enlivens the wisdom of koans, yoga postures, and Tai Chi. Jesus is here, traveling the path of Christianity but also companioning Buddha and Lao Tzu, Mohammed and the Earth Mothers. Ruling by humility, Jesus lets go of power to uplift all creation, and all creation discovers its glory.
Emergent faith joins mysticism with mission. Experiencing God in the quiet hour, we discover burning bushes everywhere and see God in the least as well as the greatest. God speaks to us in the cries of creation, grieving parents in the wake of earthquakes and aftershocks. God feels the frustration of the marginalized, inspiring our own prophetic restlessness. God speaks in our hungers and we discover our meager provisions – perhaps just a few loaves and fish – can feed a multitude. Emerging faith is healing faith – healing hearts and minds, sharing in God’s dream of healing the earth and all its creatures. This is the growing edge incarnate! But maybe it’s not really an edge. Maybe it’s more like a river that flows, or a lily that bends with the wind. Maybe it is soft rather than hard. Maybe its name is love. We can hope.