Defining Religion While Thinking Of the Difference between Change and the New

At the 2014 American Academy of Religion, David Morgan, of Duke University offered an excellent presentation on religion and media, suggesting that over the past two decades the intersection of religion and media have altered definitions.  Religion is less about  “systems of ideas to which believers assent” and more about “embodied practices that cultivate relations among people, places, and non-human forces—nature, spirits, ancestors, saints, gods—resulting in communities and sensibilities that shape those who participate.”   (Paper, “Religion and media:  A critical review of recent developments,” presented at Religion and Media preconference event, November 21, 2014, AAR, San Diego, Ca.)   Media is no longer understood as channels for targeting receivers in order to deliver messages “to shape opinion or achieve certain effects,” rather, media is “technologies of sensation, as embodied forms of participation in extended communities joined in imagination, feeling, taste, affinity, and affect.”

I do agree with the shift in definitions Morgan provides, very much so.  Does this change Christian faith and belief?  Does it account for shifts within institutions which seek to embody communities of faith and practice?  Probably not, though what these definitions open up is a way of understanding what is taking place on a wider scale and how then it brings confusion.  Together, these redefined actions have caught faith traditions, belief systems, and institutions off guard.  We’ve not been prepared for this kind of change.  And so seminaries, churches, communities are seeking to catch up, to find a new equilibrium..   Though I am for change when it is needed and I am for openness to new approaches and to what is defined as being willing participate in adaptive change more than technical change, I do have a theological reflection to share. What is important, theologically, is to participate in these shifting definitions not for the sake of change itself, but because we are in an ongoing narrative which invites us to the new, to the creative edge, to the ever fresh reality of life.  In other words, change for the sake of change does not necessarily result in transformation, or in the new life always before us to which we are invited, called, challenged.  And at times, I fear that we settle for change and consider it as theologically “new” when it isn’t.  Change is constant; the new is transformative, deep, life-giving, and brings to mind the term re-newal.

We are invited to a life of redecorating thought beneath and above it all we are invited to a life of discovery of whole new rooms. (St Teresa of Avila)

We can wander around in the wilderness for a very long time, upset because we haven’t found the change we were or are looking for.  This powerful biblical story is less about change and more about being open to a new way, to a new understanding, to a new form of trust.

It may be easier to wander around and search than to stop and pay attention.  Recall the early monastics, who rushed to the desert to prepare for the end—that change they so wanted.  Years passed, stillness, rhythm and pattern set in—a set of practices, an adaptive approach to food, water, sleep, and deep listening.  The change, that is, the new faith, was within them.  I believe as do many that we are in an indefinable moment.  I see possibility possible in this liminality; that is to experience the new because it is being offered to us.  This is the heart of a life of faith.  My prayer is not to be so focused on change to miss the deeper voice calling forth a whole new thing.

The DMin Program of Pittsburgh Seminary seeks to be open to the new sense of faith to the real thing; to call; vocation; ministry.  If this appeals to you, tugs at your heart, taps into your longing—this is an invitation to consider—seeing the new through the thicket of change; the fog of the ordinary; the addictive pace of change.

Posted in blog post | Comments Off

Comments are closed.