Cage-Free Christianity

The confinement of the early Christian movement to a set of authorized beliefs in the 4th century CE was a stroke of genius from the point of view of making it the official religion of the Roman Empire.

This “Romanization” of Christianity, achieved by force, claimed one way of understanding Jesus as legitimate, and designated other ways as “heretical.” Lost in the process, however, was any sense of Jesus as a Jewish teacher and storyteller, rooted in classic Jewish modes of interpretation and debate, called midrash. 

The shadow-side of dogmatic belief as required is well known. Many suffered under even the suspicion of non-conformity: Jews, reformers, mystics, Muslims, women, pagans, Gnostics, atheists, scientific observers, astrologers, etc.

Although the political structures that enforced “belief” have largely vanished, Christians remain in many ways captive to a sense that orthodox beliefs are central to their identity as Christians. In this seminar we will consider the ways in which “beliefs” held in this way have been humanly and spiritually problematic. We will explore the possibility of Christianity “beyond beliefs” by considering its roots in Jewish storytelling, before such beliefs were required and enforced.

Texts (selections from):

  • Elaine Pagel’s Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.
  • Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg’s The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus.
  • Martin Buber’s Two Types of Faith
  • Amy-Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus
  • Richard E. Rubenstein’s  When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ's Divinity in the Last Days of Rome.

The Myth of You

Who are you? This little question is perhaps the most profound one we can ask ourselves. What comprises our sense of self, of being-here as a “me?” This series explores how we perceive ourselves in terms of narratives—both our personal stories and the big stories of our shared myths of culture and faith. (“Myths” here are understood appreciatively and respectfully as the basis of human imagination, and not as something either true or false.)  Our starting point is the assumption that our larger shared myths shape our personal stories, regardless of whether we consider ourselves adherents of those larger myths or not.

To jar and open our imaginations, we will place ourselves outside the ordinary confines of a classroom. Places we’ll meet as a group:

Cemetery: The first of our four sessions will take place in a cemetery so that we begin by imagining life and our individual lives from the point of view of our death.

Cave: Cave myths and metaphors are older than Plato and fresh as today. We can each easily tell a story of “being in a cave.” Caves are places of shadow and revelation, of death and of rebirth. “Cave” locates major moments in our lives. We will spend session two in a cave.

Peak: High places are experiences of seeing far, though they are often fleeting and difficult to hold onto. What are the mountaintop or pinnacle myths and where are they in us? Session three will be up high.

Birthing Room: Stories of creation set the stage for the rest of any mythology, that of a person or of a whole culture. Creation stories are awesome and beautiful, but also contain elements of danger, of emergency, and of deliverance. How are we—and how are you—shaped by the story of your creation/emergence? Session four will take place in a birthing room.