For now, I notice that parishes where there is life, vibrancy and growth, seem to approach their surrounding contexts positively rather than defensively.
This doesn’t mean they can’t criticise those contexts; indeed the capacity of a church to critique its surrounding culture is far greater, not less, when it does it from a positive relationship, not fear. Interestingly, some such places seem to be running services where they begin with coffee, not end with it — a new trend?
I am taken back to some words of Richard Rohr about the need to see everything (in the tradition of Hugh of St Victor) contemplatively, not simply in terms of our preconceptions about it. God’s vision is surely fresher, and more understanding than ours. So he says
Philosphically and psychologically, a certain assent precedes all true knowing. If you watch closely, you will often see that an initial change of heart or attitude precedes any willingness to change your mind. In my own Franciscan philosophical tradition, both St Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus thaught that love or willingness were higher than mere knowledge. You only really know that which first you love, they felt, because otherwise you invariably distort and divide your sight and eliminate any bothersome or threatening information. Then you do not love it but (at best) only your idea of it. How often we see this in our relationships; Romance instead of real love, and infatuation (“false fire” in Latin) instead of genuine fire. Words and thoughts are invariably dualistic, but pure experience is always nondualistic. Think about that!
Fundamentalism suffers from the same false seeing. It is basically a love affair with words and ideas about God instead of God himself or herself. But you cannot really love words; you can only think them. You cannot really love reaity with the judgmental mind, because you’ll always try to control it, fix it, or understand it before you give yourself to it. And usually it is never fixed enough to deserve your unprotected gift of self. So you stay on Delay, Paue or Still forever. We see this fear of intimacy in most people, but in particular with men, who tend to have a more defended ego structure.
The fact that some form of loving must precede true knowing helps us appreciate why the prophets used the intimate word for carnal knowledge or sexual intimacy when they spoke of “knowing” God (see, for example Hosea 2:21, 6:6, and John 10:14-5, 14:20, 17:3). This is a tremendous insight, but one that comes only from inner realization and not from books. So many of the mystics and the Song of Songs had to make use of sexual imagery to describe the relationship of the soul to God. From inside experience, you know God’s love is a tender dance of give-and-take, rescue and holding.