Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Postcards from Claremont - 5 – Healing the World (Bruce Epperly)

The Disciples of Christ, as I've noted before, have as their motto -- "A Movement of Wholeness in a Fragmented World."  The point of the motto is to express our founding vision of being a community oriented to bringing unity to the Christian community, while at the same time expanding that vision into something broader -- a vision of working together to bring healing to the world.  In today's postcard from Claremont, Bruce Epperly picks up on that theme with a meditation on bringing healing to the world.  It's an important cause, to which he invites us to join him in.  Take a read, and consider how you might be used by God to bring healing to the world.


Postcards from Claremont - 5 – 
Healing the World
Bruce G. Epperly

For many years, I have centered my understanding of theological ethics and social concern around an image from Jewish spirituality – tikkun olam – mending the world.  Imagine my joy when during my first faculty meeting at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University both President Jerry Campbell and Dean and Provost Philip Clayton invoked “healing the world” as essential to the institutions’ missions.  Often, even in seminary education, the focus is solely on the church and its mission; but here at Claremont, the mission is global as well as ecclesiastical.  What happens in the classroom doesn’t stay in the classroom.  It’s intended to flow in the wider community and contribute to national and planetary well-being.

Study is a form of prayer and can contribute to mending the world.  In the words of Jewish mysticism, the energies of creation – the sparks that enliven every soul – have splintered off from each other, creating brokenness and injustice in the world.  In seeking to respond to this alienation, our prayers and actions radiate across the universe, touching even the spiritual realms, and are factors in raising the light of creation toward unity in a world of division.  Jesus’ prayer invokes the same imagery – “thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Our world is intended to reflect God’s vision of Shalom, the beloved community, the peaceable realm, in which joy and laughter, love and harmony, guide the affairs of persons and nations.

I am grateful to be with institutions – even if only for the Fall Semester – where interreligious dialogue and the quest to transform conflict into contrast are at the heart of their mission.  I use the word “contrast” intentionally.  Contrast is a term Alfred North Whitehead uses to describe the relationships of many diverse elements within a healthy and beautiful gestalt.  Rather than polarization, denial, oppression, opposition, or evasion, contrast involves seeing our lives and institutions in aesthetic terms.  It aims at a largeness of spirit that transforms opposition into an opportunity for learning and growth and polarization into the possibility of creative partnership.

“Red” and “blue,” for example, so often invoked in the political realm are not opposites with nothing in common.  In fact, when you join the two contrasting colors, variations of purple emerge and, as Alice Walker asserts, the color purple is beautiful and shouts out for our appreciation and gratitude.

In the wake of the recent violence in the Muslim world and the deaths of an USA ambassador and his diplomatic colleagues, the need to move from conflict to contrast is obvious.  I am grateful that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought immediately to balance security with reducing tensions.  While some who lack foreign policy experience and national leadership criticized their attempts at conciliation as weakness, saber rattling seldom solves deep-seated foreign policy issues.  USA resolve balanced by careful rhetoric opens the door to long term conversations in which all parties ratchet down their vitriol and look for common ground.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if our national representatives saw their current responsibility as working together to create contrasts rather than standing on fixed principles employed to demonize those who differ from them.

Mending the world – healing the Earth – involves honoring diversity and, more than that, recognizing that God loves diversity and has brought forth the many colors of the rainbow and the many religious traditions through a dynamic process of call and response, intentionality and inspiration, in particular cultural and environmental contexts.  Today, in a world of immediate communication, this diversity can be a call to creative synthesis.  This diversity has already transformed the world’s religions, both positively and negatively.  Negatively, some religious adherents among the great religions are circling their wagons, intending to deny or destroy anything that they perceive as threat to their doctrines and way of life whether in terms of science, literature, multiculturalism, or expanded human rights.  Positively, and this is where healing the world comes in, others see their religious traditions as living organisms, growing in stature by deepening their own theological reflection and spiritual practices while embracing congruent visions and practices from other faiths.  This is a religious attitude that heals rifts, forgives mistakes, and moves on in partnership.  This is healing the world in action.

This morning, as I take my daily walk through the colleges on my way to study and enjoy a cup of coffee at a local bistro, I walk through pre-dawn streets, blessing the earth, praying for perspective, awakening to otherness, giving thanks for the opportunity to be at Claremont, where I am daily reminded that one of my vocations is to be God’s companion in “healing the world.”

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the PerplexedHoly 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   He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University.  He may be reached at for lectures, workshops, and retreats.

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