There is more to the world than meets the eye. That's the point of Bruce Epperly's second postcard from Claremont, California where he's teaching process theology this fall. Whether or not you're a process theologian, and I'm not, this form of theology makes us think about the way in which God is active and present in the world of creation. It reminds us that neither God nor the things of God are static. There is life and there is opportunity. In this piece, a vision of a Double Rainbow triggers a conversation. So, I invite you to join in the conversation about theology and the world we inhabit.
Postcards from Claremont – 2 –
A Double Rainbow over Claremont
Imagine the scene: you’re sitting outside conversing with seminary and graduate students about Jainism and animal rights, eco-feminism, process theology and evil, and their dreams after graduation. Then, one of them exclaims, “Look there’s a rainbow.” We turn our heads to fill ourselves with beauty, and then to our surprise, there’s a double rainbow, hovering in our vision just over the seminary chapel. Abraham Joshua Heschel once asserted that radical amazement is at the heart of religious experience and surely that was the case on a warm summer evening at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University.
While there are scientific explanations for double rainbows, none would fully exhaust the wonder and appreciation we experienced that evening. Albert Einstein once noted that there are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle or you can live as if everything is a miracle. While the contemporary world has exiled the supernatural from causal explanations, still there is something ecstatic about a double rainbow. It amazed the ancients and it still amazes us. The everyday world of causal relationships is surely miracle and wonder enough without bringing in unnecessary supernatural explanations.
Here at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University, I am Visiting Professor in Process Studies. Claremont is the heartland of North American process theology and process theology shapes everything including dinner table conversations and coffee breaks. Process theology affirms pluralism: there is no one final pathway to truth. There are many healing paths and visions of the world, but they find their fullness in conversation and growth with one another.
Years ago at Claremont, my professor Bernard Loomer described size or stature as the scope of reality a person can embrace while preserving the integrity of her or his growing personal identity or faith. Loomer had no use for “small” religions and visions of life. They may be growing in numbers but they simply aren’t interesting, nor will they help us respond to the challenges that face us in terms of global climate change, human diversity, and economic well-being for all. There are many megachurches with mini-theologies; there are also scores of small congregations with large-spirited theologies.
I am honored and delighted to be back home in Claremont. Maybe, it’s my age and maturity, but the pluralistic environment sets me free to imagine big things without looking over my shoulder for the thought police or the imagination guards. At Claremont, you can think big. You can imagine a conference on Jain Spirituality and Bioethics and bring scholars from around the world to share wisdom in an interfaith context. (http://jain.claremontlincoln.org/2012-conference-2/) You can imagine the integration of process theology and Christian faith and then create a center whose reach is global. (http://processandfaith.org/) You can imagine a new kind of graduate school that seeks the common threads among the religious traditions while affirming the unique gifts and identity of each and then create space for its inception at Christian seminary. (http://www.claremontlincoln.org/about/)
This is process theology at its best. Wherever the holy is present – which is everywhere – revelation and inspiration can be found. Divine vision touches every moment, invites us to be creative, and cherishes our gifts. Diversity is a reflection, not of a fall from grace or turning from the one true faith, but the generous wisdom of a creative spirit. Divine diversity brings forth wisdom in each cultural context and period of history. Divine wisdom concretely inspires great teachers for a particular time and place. We can hope – and I humbly affirm – that divine wisdom is at work in the pluralistic hospitality and creativity I am finding at Claremont. Despite movements backward to parochial and nationalistic visions, the future lies in religious and ethnic dialogue and common cause. Knowing that divine wisdom parents forth diversity invites us to become pilgrims of pluralism, comfortable in our spiritual homes but inspired toward transformation through visiting, honoring, and embracing the spiritual homes of others.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith Lectionary and Patheos.com. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at email@example.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats.