Meanderings with McLaren: In Quest for a Dancing God (Bruce Epperly)
Brian McLaren, who has attempted in a variety of ways to lay out a generous orthodoxy, a vision of God that doesn't get caught up in dead end pursuits of minutiae recently wrote a book that invites persons from across the religious landscape to come together for fruitful conversation. (My review can be found here).
The question that perplexes so many concerns how we engage each other faithfully but with a vision of hospitality. Bruce Epperly returns with a three-part series in which he engages with Brian. In this first piece, he envisions the Dancing God (Trinity), a vision of movement and interdependence. I invite you to engage in the conversation with Brian and with Bruce on ways in which we can enter into the fullness that is God.
Meanderings with McLaren:
In Quest of a Dancing God
Bruce G. Epperly
If God was a dancer, what types of dance would God prefer? I applaud Brian McLaren’s latest book, Why Did Jesus,Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road. It affirms robust faith and equally affirmative hospitality toward otherness. It proclaims a generous pluralism, “a wideness in God’s mercy,” and a breadth in divine inspiration. McLaren dances forth from the popular motto “What would Jesus do?” to the serious question of “How would Jesus respond to Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed?” He asks us to consider as a model for our own attitudes for other faiths, “Would the friend of sinners, the alleged party-goer, and champion of unorthodox spiritual practices, denounce them, or welcome them and their followers to a celebration with libations appropriate to each tradition?”
Brian McLaren and I affirm the vision of a dancing Trinity, what some describe as “perichoresis” or the indwelling, social, interdependent, and dynamic vision of God. If God is dancing, I wonder what kind of dances God is doing these days. I wonder what kind of dances faithfulness to invites us to enact.
Dancing involves liveliness, interdependence, otherness, and variety. You dance by yourself and even solo dancing involves variety, innovation, and liveliness. But, dancing with partners truly involves steps and patterns and also innovation. It also involves accommodating yourself to your partner’s style and skill level. Dancing is quite personal and dancing with someone for the first time is an expression of trust and vulnerability as well as flexibility. In the course of an eclectic evening, you can do hip hop, swing, freestyle hippie, fox trot, waltz, Scottish country, electric slide, tango, Macarena, and of course the swaying slow dance most of us learned in junior high school.
Dancing is an apt metaphor for divinity and God’s ways in the world. Dancing is about movement, process, liveliness, and otherness. A Dancing Trinity is on the move and many- faceted by definition. With each turn on the dance floor, a new aspect of divinity emerges. A dancing God is never complete, never predictable, and never determines the outcome in advance. The Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or what I prefer to call Creator, Healer, and Inspirer, are the ultimate affirmation of variety and transformation, and the ultimate and ongoing source of variety and transformation in the ongoing creative process.
God obviously loves diversity. God’s dance steps are infinite and new ones are emerging all the time. In the interdependent, multi-causal evolutionary process, God inspires galaxies beyond number, each unique in stars and planets; God brings forth a solar system with unique and unrepeatable planets; and a planet (our own Earth) with biodiversity, ethnic diversity, and religious diversity, and with Genesis, all we can do is proclaim, “And it is good.”
Like the many possible dance styles available, diversity of faiths, ethnicities, races, genders, sexualities, and spiritual practices is not a problem but a wellspring for possibility and creativity. Diversity and variety add zest to life, both for creatures and for God. Do you think a dancing God would be satisfied with just one step? Do you think the Holy Trinity mirrors each other absolutely and changelessly or in the deep divine imagination, might the various personas improvise and innovate surprising one another with new steps and tempos?
Well, this is all play, but play has a role in today’s multi-religious world. Yes, we need to be serious – in a playful way. Playfulness reminds us that the path is still unfolding, new possibilities are emerging, and missteps can become new steps. Playfulness humbles us, especially in relationship to the religious dance steps of others. A dancing God is serious about play – and invites all of in our diversity to sing our songs, dance with joyful, and applaud the dance steps of our companions on the dance floor of faith.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty four 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 in the Postmodern World. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventerous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He recently served as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healingand Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).