In my quest to find cures, rather than only dealing with palliatives, for the world’s problems, I have drawn on experiences arising from my 59 years of wearing a ‘dog-collar’. By participating in a Christian ministry, I grew to acquire several basic insights which I believe are of fundamental importance in charting a new course for life on planet earth. These insights are available to all believers in the life-affirming, universally applicable ethos to which the Christian faith points or leads. They are simple to state. But I acknowledge that, in the face of a ‘culture of socially acceptable cheating’ in today’s ‘traumatised global society’, they are extremely demanding of heart and mind.
These insights require a persistent willingness to keep in creative tension certain ideas that often seem opposite, but which are of quintessential apposition. They are manifestations of a primal relationship in the co-evolution of life on earth. They are equal in value while also contrasting in perspective.
1. The most comprehensive, simple to state, and difficult apposite pair to keep in mind and express in action is the ever present, often loosely recited, wisdom of the inseparable commitments to ‘love God and love Neighbour’. God is an anthropomorphic metaphor for the mysterious essence of life. This essence is spelled out in a vast number of different personal ways in a range of different traditions and global zones. Neighbour represents the getting right of all the relationships throughout this symbiotic planetary life.
2. ‘Yin and Yang’, springing originally from the sunny and shady sides of the day, are equal and apposite in significance to each other.
3. Prophetic and Pastoral. There is immense danger in attempting prophetic critique without pastoral sensitivity. Critiques, alone, degenerate into insensitive judgement. They are as dangerous and counter-productive as pastoral care offered without a prophetic implication. That division of inseparable attributes explains the decline in the relevance and influence of so much institutionalised religion. Pastoral entails sensitivity to genuine need. Prophetic is the constant reminder of the inclusive context of planetary life in every local happenstance. A reminder that things intimate, socially complex, and having time-lapsed global impact, are all oscillating in a synchronised manner in the thrust of co-evolution, which is now a 13+ billion year process.
4. The Drive and Drag of Institutions. The orderly and ‘efficient’ process of institutionalising human tasks has an initial evocative drive; but in time they develop a rigidity – in the form of dogmas and rituals -that emerge as a deadening drag on authentic evolution.
5. Wisdom is not an authority but a free offering of its own authenticity. Whistle-blowing challenges embedded hubristic authority. In the collaborative search for the nature of systemic change, it’s vital that we adhere to the idea that ‘nothing is impossible if you don’t mind who gets the credit.’ If thoughts or actions are examined for their actual content, there is an increased chance that we might all open our minds to new paradigms that tackle ingrained mortal, cultural, political and economic bias. Attribution may be in order when the wisdom or its opposite has sunk in.
6. Many Palliatives and one integrated Systemic Curative. In terms of human health, we know the difference between care of the dying body and the research, discovery and application of a cure for either the present patient or as future hope for others. This distinction must be constantly born in mind when interrogating problems, and then developing appropriate forms of action, in the cultural, political and economic arenas; that is in the conscious house-keeping or stewardship of the planet.
7. Cosmos and Chemistry. Quantum physics is leading to a renewal of indigenous wisdom in philosophy and mature globally oriented theology. This reminds us of the symbiosis that defines the chemical reactions across the vast eras of the planet’s existence and evolution.
8. Birthright and Covenant. The service we render to others is the rent we have a responsibility to pay for our passing tenancy in the earth community. The biblical concept of Covenant with ‘everything under the rainbow’ is about the dignity of all creatures when a creative tension is maintained within the evolving realities of change that is founded in constant values. Covenant concerns gift, gratitude, tenancy, responsibilities and the inter-generational flow of all these values. Rent is a return of resources to the system itself as its common wealth that all life inherits with responsibility to pass on. Otherwise, it becomes a form of theft from the commons
9. Rights and Responsibilities. The United Nations Charter of Human Rights does not express the essential need to keep a creative tension between individual rights and the communal and co-operative responsibilities we have to recognise in our temporary tenancy within the gifted life of this earth.
10. Praying and Prayerfulness. Praying consists of many derived or invented disciplines around the creative tensions of which this reflection speaks. Prayerfulness is the all-day, in every way, outcome as a state of mind arising from and fortified by the disciplines with which we go about our responsibilities.
11. The Human Jesus and the Title Christ. The man Jesus made manifest in his short mortal spell on earth the godliness or eternal validity of the life nurtured in the cosmos over 13+ billion years ….and on Earth only latterly. Those who recognised that, gave him the title of the Christ – a traditional description and expectation of one making manifest the nature of the kin[g]dom of God. The title is one that could be bestowed on anyone witnessing in their life to the validity of the need to maintain the creative tensions outlined in this list.
12. Professional and Amateur. It is vital to societal and personal sanity that professional training and practice should not erode a continuing amateur curiosity, where amateur means a lover of intrinsic values. This is the way that the personal aspiration deep in almost all of us – the quest for communal harmony – is not eroded by positional arrogance; by hubristic human conceits about one’s self-importance.
WHEN WE engage creatively, we depart from the fixed world of our own highly conditioned experience, of daily routine and opinions of grounded facts. We enter into a kind of ‘genesis foyer’ where something that is not yet in sight might begin to edge its way forward from silence into word, from the invisible into form designed for effective action.
Recently I publicised some wise words attributed to Pope Francis. One response was not far short of a tirade about the Pope’s ‘hypocrisy’. There was no sympathy or pastoral sensitivity towards age-long entrapment of basically good people. There was no acknowledgment of the Pope’s prophetic courage in permeating quite a few dogmatic boundaries.
The Christian Church should observe exemplary standards as an agent of the creative and inseparable tension between God as Cosmic and therefore Planetary impulse and all right relationships needed for the emergence of peace and the kin[g]dom of inclusive justice.
If we recognise and act together on the creative tension of life, we may yet find cures, rather than only dealing with palliatives.
* Canon Emeritus Peter Challen is an Anglican chaplain who says he never retired, merely ‘retreaded’. He feeds and is fed by a network of serious searchers for inclusive justice, nurtured by the Christian ethos as a universal approach to the integrity of truth as revealed in the evolution of human experience. The network invites association. [email protected]