Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Order, Disorder, Reorder

I've been thinking about a comment I heard recently from Richard Rohr - that we have to go from order to disorder to reorder. This is the spiritual journey. But a lot of us get stuck along the way.

Order is the first instinct that everything should be neat, tidy, clear, in proper categories. It is the dualistic thinking that things are right or wrong, true or false; that people are saved or unsaved, included or excluded.

A lot of conservative religion gets stuck in the order stage. It rejects any level of nuance, complexity, ambiguity as a sign of "back sliding". And people who think that are right in a sense - if you start to question things, start thinking "does this really make sense?" you may well end up leaving conservative religion as it will become too constrictive for you. You begin to pick the order apart. You start to do this because you want order, but your questions don't lead to clear answers, but just to more questions. It may start with a question about a thing that doesn't make sense in scripture, or a question about how religion relates to science, or a question about sexual ethics, but once you start looking into this stuff you're confronted with layers and layers or complexity and it starts to fall apart.

Disorder is when it falls apart. You reject order because you know it is simplistic or just plain wrong. You know there are not simple answers. You begin to value the questioning, the curiosity, the freedom to explore. You begin to build a sense of identity on that freedom. You don't know what you believe, but you know what you reject.

A lot of liberal religion gets stuck at the level of disorder. It develops a weird relationship with conservative religion - in that it knows it is opposed to conservative religion - but it gets its sense of identity from that opposition. It rejects conservative religion - and yet it spends more of its time talking about conservative religion that anything else. Take away conservative religion and it has nothing to talk about. This kind of stuckness does not represent any kind of freedom from conservative religion, but rather a significant dependence on it. People get stuck in a repeated pattern of the same argument, rehearsed over and over again. It's like ending a relationship with someone but doing nothing but talking about them, and all their faults. It's understandable for a while, but you shouldn't get stuck in this stage. Eventually a friend's gotta take your hand, and say: honey, MOVE ON!

Reorder is when you move on. You know there are no simple answers, you know life is messy, but you know you have to find a way to get on with it. You know where you stand, where you don't stand, and there is a sense of comfort and ease in that.

What I would call "mature religion" (for want of a better phrase) is about reordering. It is no longer conservative religion, but neither is it obsessed with opposing conservative religion. It can even, from a place of distance and maturity, see things that are valuable about conservative religion. It knows that there is mystery and nuance in the world, and it doesn't try to impose order upon it, but it does know you have to find a place to stand, find a path to walk, and it does so with joy. It is at peace with itself, with where it lives, while remaining curious about other paths. It has gone from order to disorder to reorder and it lives with the maturity and wisdom of the journey.

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