This week Kirk Smith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, my bishop, wrote this on his Facebook page.
“Doing some research this afternoon for my convention talk, I came across this great quote from the always thought-provoking theologian Leonard Sweet: ‘Let me say first of all that for me, New Age rhymes with sewage. I have such a low threshold for Gaia worship that in the middle of the movie "Avatar" I had to take a break, so severe was my attack of Gaiarrhea. In fact, I have challenged "new age sensibilities" (which now are known as "integral spirituality" or "Enlightenment," not "New Age") for the way in which they goddify the self and expect others to orbit in a Youniverse that revolves around them as if they were a god. "The Secret" of the universe is not that you can have life your way. "The Secret" is that Jesus is The Way (Colossians 3). Jesus did not come to make us divine. Jesus came to show us how to be authentically what God made us to be--human. Because of the culture in which we live, I have encouraged the daily ritual of starting the day by standing in front of a mirror and saying: "God is God and I am not."
Indeed, Leonard Sweet in thought provoking, however, I think his quote is a sad commentary on the current state of the church universal. His comments of negation, what he is against, are in response to criticism from some evangelical Christians. They say he is a heretic, a “New Age” mystic. The largest amount of arrows being flung at Sweet, are quotes taken from his book, Quantum Spirituality, which he wrote in 1991. In his post, he writes, now twenty years later, he would have not written the book. That is unfortunate. His early books, along with Brian McLaren, Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart, Teillard de Chardin, and others, kept me in the Christian tribe long enough to find the Episcopal Church. Our Church has allowed me to continue my pilgrimage. Traveling with the likes of J.A.T. Robinson, Rowan Williams, Evelyn Underhill, Martin Thornton, William Countryman, Cynthia Bourgeault, Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, Carl Jung, Ken Wilber, and many many others. They have shined a light on my path. We are all mystical pilgrims in a new age.
Sweet’s critics accuse him of “New Age mystical heresy” simply because he quoted a few writers they have determined are not orthodox. These same critics have also declared that Sue Monk Kidd, Richard Foster, Rick Warren, and Rob Bell are also heretics. Going to war over what others call you is a losing battle.
Sweet’s response sounds too much like a recantation while standing in the flames of the Inquisitor’s fire licking at his feet. Leonard, my friend, it’s too late. No matter what you say, they will not put out the fire. You are a threat. You made Quantum Spirituality available free on your website. The congregants of your naysayers are reading your books.
My humble advice to you is to walk away. Let it go. We are all someone’s heretic. If you want to repeat something daily in the mirror, try this on for size. “God is God, and I am called to be who God created me to be.” Living into who God calls us to be, can liberate others to be who God has called them to be. You wrote your books to set people like me free. You did. Thank you. Keep writing your heresy.
At the end of Sweet’s post, he quoted an old German (unnamed) schoolmaster, who carved these words over his door. “Dante, Luther, Goethe, Barth, Heiddeger, live here.” Sweet says, “I only want to write one thing over the doorpost to my heart and life, “Jesus Christ lives here.” That’s sweet, Sweet, but doesn’t say much.
We are living in a new age. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is also not well liked by those in the anti-Sweet crowd, wrote that we are living in the “World Come of Age.” We live in the age when the world is changing so we cannot keep up with the Tsunami Sweet wrote about twenty years ago. Daily, I would prefer to ask Bonhoeffer’s simple yet complex question. “Who is Jesus Christ for me, today?” The emphasis is on, today. My answer to that question, as was Bonhoeffer’s, evolves continually. Because I learn something new every day about my self and about God, Jesus Christ, and the world in which we live, move, and have our being. I learn from scripture, as well as from those who espouse eco-spirituality, feminist spirituality, and Celtic-spirituality, and yes Gaia spirituality, just to name a few.
Dear Bishop, the anti-Sweet crowd would think you are actually a worse heretic than he is. You’ve vocally supported women’s ordination and gay rights. The list could go on, but that’s enough for many to light their fires (including some in our own Church). My Southern Baptist Christology professor, J. Niles Puckett, would say to his critics, “You may believe whatever you like.” I find his words are often my best response. Instead of defending my faith by identifying what I don’t believe in—I continue to do the hard work of learning and trying to communicate, who Jesus Christ is for me, today? Bishop, at the Convention, I would rather hear you lead us into a twenty-first century exploration of Bonhoeffer’s question, much more than hear you quote Leonard Sweet’s desperate confessional attempt to hang onto his readership.