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Entries in certainty (1)

Sunday
Oct282018

Pyrotheology - searching for certainty, and embracing our doubts

The Irish theologian, Peter Rollins, was part of a unique Church community in New York City called 'IconNYC'. If I understand it correctly, it was a year long experiment in Christian community that sought to consider the Christian journey, indeed the Christian community, in ways that held the tensions of doubts, uncertainties, and the realities of our struggles with belief.

Having some understanding of how the brain works, I realise how difficult it is for us, as human beings, to live with uncertainty. Our neuro-evolution has formed us to want patterns, to create certainty and predictability, for the sake of our survival. This can be seen in how we seek out communities of belonging that we understand (what in inter-group contact theory is called 'in-group' identity). We can understand how persons of a certain race, culture, economic class, religion, think and behave. So we seek sameness, and become afraid of difference. This leads to inter-group contact anxiety between the self and the other. It is not surprising to me that Americans want to build a wall, that European countries are trying to keep migrants out, and that racism and identity politics continue to thrive in South Africa. None of these things is just, right, or even desirable. Yet, we fall into the traps of self interest, and self protection. We are wired for it to a certain extent.

However, we soon find that even in the in-group there are differences. White protestant women in Chicago, IL see the world differently from white protestant men in Birmingham, AL. Not all South Africans see the world in the same way... You get the idea.

In my experience, the pursuit of certainty is painful, it is limiting, it binds us to our fears, instead of releasing us for freedom.

The 'IconNYC' community, and Peter Rollins' 'Pyrotheology' speak to me as I contemplate these issues. I am currently in Gothenburg in Sweden. Here I am the cultural, linguistic and geographical stranger (not to mention a stranger to the climate! I realised yesterday as it snowed, that my body was formed from the African soil, and baked in the African sun!) Yet, the difference, the strangeness, the doubts, can be OK. I can learn about others, and about myself. I can slow down and listen - paying a little more attention to unfamiliar people, places and experiences. And the difference becomes a gift. I don't have to collapse it into my world-view, or contain it in my understanding or experience. I can just participate, observe, experience, and know what I can.

It is a sacred experience. It reminds me that God is Swedish... And also African... And Asian... You get the idea? We are because of who God is. Our diversity is an expression of God's creativity.

Here is what Rollins had to say about uncertainties, doubts and pyrotheology:

 

The good news nestled in the heart of Christianity is not that which gives us certainty and satisfaction, but rather is that which helps us embrace our un-knowing, our doubts, and our dissatisfaction… Instead of seeking a burning bush, a place where God is, we will discover that every bush is burning, that everything is sacred and full of depth, if we only have eyes to see.
- Peter Rollins, Pyrotheology

If you have 3 minutes more, you may want to listen to him speaking about this in his wonderful Irish accent! See the video below, or at this link: https://youtu.be/gY-VITTf7k4