Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser
What’s new these days? We go about saying that Niagara is one of the most advanced dioceses in the country. Really? Well, if so, how do we explain these new ideas to our families and friends in laity-land?
First off, determine your priest’s theological bent by checking out the office bookshelves. Do the authors include such as John Spong, Marcus Borg, Mary Jo Leddy, John Dominic Crossan, Tom Harper, Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler-Bass, Rob Bell, Gretta Vosper?
Ask to borrow a few books. Do so and you will have found your way into exhilarating new concepts. If you are surprised by what you read, book an hour with your priest who will, one hopes, welcome your curiosity.
Be aware, however, that many priests are leery about teaching laity how liberal theology works. Are priests afraid to rock the boat, to upset parishioners in the pews, to lose their jobs?
Preserving the beauty and sanctity of traditional liturgy guarantees that a priest is delivering the real goods. Some priests intimidate lay people, suggesting that years of study are necessary to take part in theological discourse.
On the other hand, we have been blessed of late in Niagara with priests who encourage the discovery of new perspectives. In the past few years, Bishop Michael recommended Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward, Desmond Tutu’s In God’s Hands and Wab Kinew’s The Reason You Walk for our Lenten study.
What kinds of books will Bishop Susan recommend? What is she reading? Niagara has a new Bishop for a new season.
Do you feel a need to tune up your theological expertise? Let’s do it. Mark your responses as you move through the following quiz. By answering a question easily, you will indicate familiarity with the terminology.
- What do “interfaith” and “ecumenical” have in common?
- What’s the significance of the Jewish refusal to name Yahweh?
- What are some differences between the Eucharists beginning on pages 185 and 230 in the BAS (Book of Alternative Services)?
- What is the main limitation of the Revised Common Lectionary?
- Why do many Christians have difficulty saying the Nicene Creed?
- Do people in your congregation who resist change threaten you with eternal damnation? How does this jive with your sense of worshipping a loving God?
- How many Commandments did Moses give the Israelites? How many did Jesus give his disciples?
- What is the difference between a literal and a metaphorical interpretation of the Bible?
- “Don’t mix politics and religion.” Did Jesus follow that advice?
- Are the following also acts of worship? “Donating to good causes.” “Taking a child to an art gallery.” “Speaking truth to power.” “Pursuing justice.”
The point is lots of modern theological approaches have been around seminaries for decades, and the average layperson knows nothing about them. Why is that? Do lay people not want to hear new ideas?
There are many spiritual blogs offered free, e.g. by Diana Butler Bass and Richard Rohr. There is a long list at this website: progressivechristianity.org/blogs-we-love/
There must be frustration on both sides of the theological divide. But surely, laity and clergy can explore questions of faith together in a respectful, non-confrontational manner.
The Reverend Canon Dawn Davis, Faith Formation Coordinator for the Niagara Diocese, has introduced a new spiritual study program, Revive: Equipping Lay Leaders to be Spiritual Leaders. Whether it’s Alpha or Living the Questions, small group discussions can offer worthwhile opportunities for mutual support and growth.
Bonus Question: How did you respond to Bishop Curry’s sermon at the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?