How (Not) to Speak of God conveys a third alternative to fundamentalist certainty or lethargic ambiguity, pointing toward a new way of being authentic, humble and passionately committed to becoming Christian. Dogma is out; paradox is in; yet the mysteries of God are held in a sacred way, understood in the context of loving Someone whom we can never pin down with definitions, yet for whom we give ourselves entirely, without regard for personal gain or loss, but simply for Love.
Drawing heavily upon the classic Christian mystics, Rollins is not concerned with changing Christian tradition, but rather with adopting a new way of holding and encompassing that tradition that actively acknowledges that our religion is at best a response to an encounter with God, rather than a pure representation of God as God truly IS. Rollins writes, "This is no then a revolution that seeks to change what we believe, but rather one that sets about transforming the entire manner in which we hold our beliefs" (p7.) A/theism in this context is not a rejection of God, but a rejection of absolute certainty of what exactly God is; heresy, interpreted by Rollins is simply acknowledging that as Christians, we understand that our theologies are not adequate for God. In revelation, concealment is there too, because God is hyperpresent, hypernonymous...and who knows? Maybe God's just plain hyper! ;)
Two central themes of the book that stand out to me are, "God, rid me of God," (a quote from Meister Eckhart,) and loving/giving all for Jesus for the sake of love, rather than benefit, either earthly or heavenly. Rollin's reflections are profoundly philosophical, and at the same time extremely incarnational, challenging those on a journey of becoming Christian to walk as Jesus did, loving and offering ourselves to God and other sacrificially, simply for love's sake alone. Clearly, Peter is a romantic -- but not of the cheesy Hallmark variety.
Pete opens up a great discussion of biblical truth. First he works to tear down the bible as a conceptual idol, noting that "The only significant difference between the aesthetic idol and the conceptual idol lies in the fact that the former reduces God to a physical object while the latter reduces God to an intellectual object" (P 12.) Later Rolllins writes, "Truth is God and having knowledge of the Truth is evidenced, not in a doctrinal system, but in allowing that Truth to be incarnated in one's life" (p 56.) Rollin's argument for Truth as Relationship is carried over into his excellent discussion of Christian ethics, pointing out that "we can never rest easy, believing we have discovered the foundations that act as a key for working out what we must do in different situations: for the only clear foundation laid down by Jesus was the foundation of love" (p 64.)
Peter also addresses some topics we've been struggling with recently in terms of how to frame our own perceptions and experience in connection with brothers and sisters whose views and convictions seem to fight with our own deep values, leaving us wondering how to stand for our convictions without letting our egos, wounded places and insecurities get the better of us. There's a great discussion on "Being evangelized,” including a fascinating piece dealing with the scenario where two different people experience the same situation (even a church) in starkly different ways, because of what they bring as unique individuals to the experience. Pete uses a cool camel analogy to explain how both people's experience can be correct given their individual burdens. You can find the camel on page 67.
In part two, Pete invites the reader to witness (second hand) some of Ikon's services, which represent some practical worship outworkings of the ideas discussed in part one of the book. I highly recommend reading through these services; even if you don't resonate with Rollin's approach; the services are quite provocative, creative, and I would go so far as to say even sacramental (in the liberal sense,) with plenty of fertile depth to plumb.
I could quote this book for days, but really you should read it yourself, if you haven't already.
Please feel free to take this discussion anywhere you like; I've posted below some discussion points/questions for a place to begin.
1. Describe your initial response to the book and what went into your reaction. How then did your thoughts/feelings evolve throughout the reading and reflecting time you spent with How (Not) to Speak of God?
2. Was there any time where this book served as an icon, as in a place where you encountered God? How so?
3. What most confused, irritated or challenged you? What happened next?
4. On pages 33-35 Peter describes the beauty of faith expressed in a time of profound doubt. He writes about the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. "A love that requires contracts and absolute assurance in order to act is no love at all...it is precisely in the midst of a Holy Saturday experience that the decision to follow Christ becomes truly authentic" (p 34.) What are your thoughts and experiences with this way of embracing doubt as faith/love?
5. On page 53 (Being evangelized) Rollins explores the nature of loving dialogue. He states of healthy of emerging conversations: "This dialogue replaces the standard monologue of those would wish to either clone the other, making them into a reflection of themselves, or exclude the other, making them into a scapegoat who embodies all our fears and insecurities." In what do you feel you personally and Emerging Women collectively have succeeded and struggled with this way of being in conversation with different viewpoints? Where do you sense God leading you/us?
5. There is an incredibly beautiful story on page 63 about a priest living during the holocaust who feels his Christian faith compels him to lay down his life for his Jewish friends by becoming a Jew. Rollins comments, "The most powerful way for this priest to affirm his Christianity is to lay it down...and so this priest gives up his Christianity precisely in order to retain his Christianity." What thoughts does this bring to mind?
6. In his final chapter (service 10 on page 131,) in the context of talking about making Ikon a safe and accepting place for people of all religious/non-religious/liberal/conservative persuasions to come together in spiritual community, Rollins writes this: "One way to think of Ikon relates to the idea of a doughnut. Just as a doughnut has no interior, but is made of entirely of an exterior, so Ikon has no substantial doctrinal center." What do you make of this idea?
7. What's your favorite quote from the book?