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August 24, 2008: “Creative Interchange: The Process of Theologizing”

There is a story about the famous atheist and philosopher Bertrand Russell who was sent to jail during W.W.II for being a pacifist. As he was being processed the clerk had to ask him many personal question and finally he asked: Religion?
Russell answered him defiantly: Atheist.
The clerk , not too bright, and remember this was a time when the term wasn’t as commonly used as today, looked at him quizzically and asked What’s that?
Russell again said, Atheist.
The clerk, not being very religious or intelligent wasn’t sure he had ever heard of that religion, so he asked Russell to spell it, and Russell did.
The clerk, still not understanding, finally smiled gently and said; Well it doesn’t really matter, does it? We all believe in the same God anyway.

Actually, not only do we NOT all believe in the same God anyway, many of us have no idea  what the other even means when we use terms like God and believe! Indeed, I read somewhere  I think that something like 50% of all atheists pray once a day!  I have said before that when we talk about religion we talk in generalities or even a continuum of beliefs, opinion, histories, cultures.

We hear about interfaith events these days, but some religious conservatives have problems participating, because they sincerely believe that theirs is the only true religion, therefore, there is no reason to worship with anyone else. Fortunately, recent surveys show that more people are now believing that there are more than one path up the sacred mountain, and while they might believe that their path is the right one for them, that other paths may also arrive in heaven as well! Perhaps they might take longer....At one Interfaith Concert, a pastor told about an incident that had taken place that morning in a fourth-grade Sunday school class. He was telling the children about the Interfaith Concert to be held that afternoon. He explained that all of the religious communities -the Catholics, various Protestant groups, the Unitarian and Jewish congregations--were going to gather at Temple Israel to hear choirs and so forth, to raise money for the homeless.

“So, what do you think of that?” he asked.

One little girl said, “It’s going to confuse God.”

It is confusing talking about different ways of thinking about religion. The term Creative Interchange is one that is popular among my colleagues, and was coined by philosopher and process theologian, Henry Nelson Weiman,; I think that the term seemed to fit what we trying to express in our religious search for meaning, and for our building up of a transformational beloved religious community of people, turned off by traditional religion, but inspired to worship together, even when we weren't quite sure why. Or when we speak of God and aren't sure what or who we mean. The French Enlightenment philosopher, Baudelaire. perhaps with theological tongue in cheek said:- Even if God did not exist, religion would still be holy and divine...God is the only being who does not have to exist in order to reign.

Lets start with talking briefly about  a contemporary and let's say, progressive or maybe liberal Christian theology,  called Process Theology, popular also among many UUs and which has leant it itself to a psychological  movement. My colleague, Suzelle Lynch, describes it this way:

. Process theology evolved in the 1920s from the process philosophy or of British mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (who ) sought to shape a philosophy that would respond to the discoveries of post-Newtonian physics which shifted the perspective of science on the nature of matter. … Process theology, posits a God that is not different from all other reality, a God that is not “unmoved mover,” not static and unchanging; a God that functions as the lure which draws all things, all persons, all realities toward their ultimate fulfillment and unfolding. Another way to say this is that God is that which sustains the processes by which the world is continuously being created. …For Weiman, …God occurred in relationships, in the intersections of beings and events. God, he said, is the integrating process at work in the universe. God, is the growth which springs anew when old forms perish.”

So, one way of thinking about God, then, says Process Theology is as a verb, not a noun. God as PROCESS!.. Weiman saw part of that process as creative interchange, a relationship, a communication on a deep and profound level that went beyond just the human, but not to supernaturalism.  Religion, and especially worship is about a special kind or relationship and interchange, one that if life changing, one that is what I call the religious dimension.

Marvin Shaw, Professor of Religious Studies, Montana State University, writing about Weiman and Creative Interchange in an article The Moral Stance of Theism Without the Transcendent God says:     Weiman agreed with the American critical naturalists, Santayana and Dewey in rejecting the supernatural metaphysical vision, but he did not adopt their humanism. Among those who accepted the naturalism and pragmatism dominant in American thought in the second quarter of the this century (20th), the Chicago school stood apart in rejecting humanism and in insisting that human life is fulfilled not through intelligence and effort alone, but through commitment to a source of creative transformation which is beyond human knowledge and power, yet within nature.

This is what is called Naturalistic Theism, but could also be related to 19th century Transcendentalism and even spiritual religious humanism. Emerson: "There is a deep power in which we exist whose beatitude is accessible to us. Every moment the individual feels invaded by it is memorable. It comes to the simple and lowly, it comes in the form of serenity... when it breaks through the intellect it is genius; when it breathes through the will it is virtue, when it flows through the affections it is love."  Some might describe it as nature-centered and it begins to sound somewhat like paganism! Remember, that when we UUs are exploring this we play fast and loose with definitions, but when we are dealing with professors and seminaries they have their careful definitions. It makes it confusing, but don't worry; we are not worried about right definition; we are concerned with the creative interchange involved! As I have often said that when someone asks me to categorize myself theologically, I hesitate, because I am a spiritual seeker, trying to remain open, but when pressed say that I am a mystical humanist on the cusp of naturalistic theism with a bit of Emersonian Transcendentalism thrown in for good measure. I know that I have been turned off by the traditional Protestant Congregational Trinitarian belief of my youth, that I don't believe in the teachings about Jesus, but I try to live the teachings of Jesus with all my heart and indeed my life's work as minister!

Creative interchange, Shaw continues, is a kind of communication. It begins in the candid expression of one's unique, personal perspective, and thus goes beyond superficiality of much conversation. This perspective must be expressed without the desire to impress or to manipulate the other, so that does not elicit a defensive or rejecting response. The one who hears must b free of self-preoccupation and not project feelings or interpretations onto what is said. If in addition, the hearer does not cling to the present state of self, but is open to change, the new insight can be integrated, perhaps with modifications, into the mind, and this addition of a new perspective or pattern of interpretation enlarges the minds and increases what it is able to feel and know. Nice the speaker and the hearer now share something of each other, further creative interchange may occur more readily...

Creative interchange is a description a religious relation that could, indeed, should apply to interpersonal ones as well. It is not specifically Christian, either, but universal. One of the reasons I like to use other religious teaching is that they often don't have the psychological baggage that traditional gospel story do for some of us, having heard them either over used or even abused. In her inspirational book, Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine, another religion professor, Val Webb    , writes: The Hebrew shalom means comprehensive well being, wholeness, completeness, or as a longer version whose origin I have lost says, may you have all that is necessary for your material well-being and may you have harmonious relationships with yourself, within yourself, with others, and with God.

I have said before that one of my basic beliefs as well has been what I call, You, Me and the Universe-I  believe that developing caring relationships with people (you), self (me), and the mysterious and mystical process of Life (the universe), is what life and religion and ministry is all about. If I were to postulate a simple mathematical formula of religious relativity,(remember that I did my internship at the Princeton UU Church) it would go like this: the relationship of you, plus me, plus the universe, equals God or love or the Good, the interdependent web of all existence. (God may be seen as the x in the equation, the unknown which we can find by using the other factors. Y+M+U= X)

The purpose of this religious relationship is to create a special kind of spiritual community, indeed, even world, to learn how to seek, and yes, even find the religious meaning of life, to learn how to live life to its and our fullest potential, and to learn how to live in peace and harmony with all the world. When one begins to speak f religion, words begin to often get in the way more than they help explain, because they are loaded with previous meanings from our past, and each of our pasts, of course, are different. That’s why all religion must be at its heart a search for meaning for the individual in relationship with others and the sense of the holy.

Any theology will become meaningless if humanity ends up destroying itself through nuclear, environmental, military, or economic .mismanagement or war. Therefore the responsibility of a religion, a theology, is to create the opportunity for the salvation, not of the individual’s soul, but of the world — and not for a nebulous next life, but in this life. I believe that there is a survival instinct within us that makes life sacred, holy. I believe that a theology of caring relationship with you, me, and the universe, not only satisfies, but religiously promotes that sacred survival instinct, while also providing the possibility and the hope of saving humanity from self-destruction. No longer can we afford the luxury of a humanity divided into religiously or economically warring factions, for there is no us versus them anymore, there is only US– You, Me and the Universe. Religion as relationship within a beloved community. Even the sense of getting to know our true selves, of course, might go to different levels as well- as we grow spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and especially, as we age!

Simply then: I believe in and try to live by the transforming power of love which is often called by many divine names, in all my relationships.  I believe that religion is about right relationships with what I call, You, Me and the Universe, and what I have come to call, the religious dimension.

T he great 20th century Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, had a profound effect on Protestant theology as well as UUism, ; he talked about relationship with God also and his term has become so popular one hears it constantly in sermons and writings today on spirituality ;  the I-Thou relationship, as contrasted to the I-It. The word, Thou implying sacred form of what we just call you today, but once held a more formal meaning. God, in Bubers thinking, is not an It, a being out there, but a relationship, a sacred interaction, if you will, one that we seek out all our lives.

This could fit into what Weiman calls creative interchange, a process of theologizing, relationship building that goes beyond just you and me and others, goes into the sacred, the divine, that is within nature, that might be described within us, but not only us, not us alone; indeed, only when interconnected, interdependent.

Creative Interchange occurs within people , according to Dr. Wieman, when we find one or more people with whom we feel comfortable enough to engage in that kind of interchange which creates in each an awareness of the original experience of the other person." In other words, we must be in sincere and deep relationship with another person in a spiritual way that we don't find in other places, and that is the reason we also seek out worship as part of that experience. There is even church leadership meetings where we find creative interchange if we are truly willing to give up the ego needs for the greater good of the community, not always an easy task, especially for we rugged individualist UUs. All elements of church life are involved in that interchange- , there are small groups, there are discussion groups, intimate conversations, children, youth, adult religious education, social justice, choir, committee work, pastoral care and especially worship!

One of my favorite poets, Robert Frost, who attended a Universalist Sunday school in his youth by the way, and lived for any years in my home state of New Hampshire was bit of country skeptic theologian, which is probably why we UUs like him so much. In his poem, REVELATION, look for the idea of creative interchange:

We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
Till someone really find us out.

‘Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Creativity, Weiman says, is not God in the traditional meaning of that word. But neither does it operate under the control of human p[purpose.(RI28) Creativity, not in the sense of a power of the human mind but as a term for that which creates and transforms the human mind, is a natural and observable event in human life; yet since it is the source of human good, it does for us what God was said to do in traditional supernaturalism.

The 20th century civil rights prophet, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Ph.D. Dissertation on the work ok Weiman and the German Theologian Paul Tillich. "Creative interchange" becomes part of the civil rights movement and if one goes to the web and enters      "Creative interchange" one finds three different organizations using that term. One based on the teachings of MLK and a civil rights, activist group, the second, a creative business consultant group and the third an environmental group! So, there is a very practical side to     "Creative interchange" as well!

David C. Oughton in "Wieman and One of His Disciples" in the winter-spring, 1997, issue of Religious Humanism explains Wieman's concept of "creative interchange": It is a way of integrating diverse perspectives so that people can understand each other, learn from each other, be corrected by each other, form a community with each other, and live in peace with each other. Wieman called it "the creativity that creates the human mind and personality after the first days of infancy, creates human culture and history, and creates the universe as known to the human mind. The universe as known to the human mind has been in the process of creation for thousands of years and is now being recreated more radically than ever before."

We are truly co-creators of our lives, never fully in control. of course, indeed, never knowing exactly how much or how little in control, and there are times when we feel like we have absolutely no control! There are times when we speak of good luck, bad, luck and other times when we continue  to say,  good luck, bad, luck, who knows,; it's too soon to tell!  What we know is that we need each other if we are to get through whatever it is we are going to get through, whether or not we are in control. And that goes for the good times as well as the bad times. All religions teach of the interconnectedness of all life, and Weimans "Creative interchange" is one way to describe a way of thinking about it, of acting on it, participating in it.  For to be a true participant, one must be willing to give up the charade of ego, must be willing to truly and deeply share of all that one has, and how many of us can really do that? Maybe we must do it in degrees. Maybe we must dip out toes in first. How much will we give?

If all our lives "Creative interchange" is at the heart of what we do, of how we work and play yes, of who we will vote for in November, maybe we will change the world.    Love is at the center of all this, I believe, so, go therefore, and love one another, truly, deeply, profoundly. Spread the good news. No one has to convert to anything. To give up their church and come only to ours. We don't have the only answer. We only have an answer if it makes sense to us, and it is not the final one. Go therefore, and love one another, truly, deeply, profoundly.

Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. Vaya con Dios is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is Go with God, SO I adapted it to say Vaya Con Su Dios, Go with your idea or interpretation of God.