Among the Progressive Christian circles of which I am typically involved, theological stances range widely, from a version of Universalism that looks askance on traditional Christian language to a form of exploration with "ancient-future" practices and traditions. Common throughout these encounters though is the pesky question of what to do with tradition(s).
Whether it be the various flavors of orthodox thought (not even needing a captial "O" here) asking us to maintain certain types of historical interpretation and practice, or radical post-Christian theology suggesting we ought to jettison that which has come before, a significant challenge that faces the modern Christian is to figure out where we stand in relation to the rest of the Christian stream, including the part of that stream that predates us by decades and centuries.
Into this mix, Diana Butler Bass steps with her 2009 book, A People's History of Christianity. A compelling read, Bass's text riffs off of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States with the claim that regardles of what side of the religious aisle you are on, chance are that "the history" and tradition in which you think you need to place yourself is not the only story. That is, whether you want to reject it or embrace it, Bass suggests the questions to ask are not about rejection or acceptance, but about the "it." What history exactly are you embracing? Rejecting? Is that the only history there is? In rejecting much of Christian Tradition do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? In accepting only once perspective on the past do we miss out on equally true means to depth in faith? Yes indeed, to both, says Bass.
The problem, she claims, is that "the" history that most of us refer to as Christian history is a story of domination and conquest, and while that certainly is present within the tradition, there are also many other storied streams that flow right up to the present, paralleling narratives of compulsion with ones of compassion. Once we become aware of this she contends, then we can look to history with a different eye, finding the traces of thought and action that are often overlooked. Doing this then allows us to search out moments and events that, upon contemporary reflection, might become sites of "a vital, hopeful, hospitable, and open faith — a faith that can heal, reconcile, and bring peace." This compelling articulation leads me to an invitation.
In the next few post on TIoF, I will be engaging in my own hunt for hope in history AND I would love to hear about your own: where do you find vitality, hope, and hospitality in moments, figures, events, or streams of thought from the past? Put another way, what particulars of your understanding of tradition point you towards a living faith today and how do they do that? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or, even better, your own blog posts that you share. Writing, video, music, photography… you name it and I'd love to see and share it.