Well the whirlwind of 25 lectures in ten different cities and towns has just ended, and with it just in the rear-view mirror, I am writing to tell you how much your wonderful hospitality meant to me during my time with you. Thank you so much.
The whole event ended up being quite meaningful to me and was received very well. Since you are one of my official hosts, I am attaching a two page reflection on the whole time and an overall thanks to all of my direct hosts. I thought you might like to know how our time together related to the rest of the work I did in these two countries. Let me know what you think.
Again many thanks to you, and here’s hoping we meet again.
November 9, 2017
Dear Colleagues and Conversation Partners in Australia and New Zealand—
Yesterday I finished my 25th lecture or reflection to groups of people in your two countries since I arrived on October 5. So it’s finished, and I am writing first to thank you and second to report to you on how the whole process looks to me.
Here are the primary expressions of my gratitude to you. First, your deep, genuine, labor-intensive, and personal hospitality to me. I was new to this part of the world and far away from home, and you all made me feel at home and cared for. Second, even though we did not really know each other at all, you were individually, but even more importantly, collectively deeply open in our exchanges. I could feel your heart-strings loosen, your minds brighten and think energetically, and our wheels turn together as we worked on important issues. This was consistently very moving for me, and a great gift from you. Thirdly, thanks for your two (quite different) nations and all that is in flowing in your respective national gifts and graces. I did not know what I was in for on this trip, and come away wonderfully alive and thankful to all of you.
I do want to report to you on my thoughts on this work we did together. Not in too much depth, less it become burdensome to read. Of course, It is also important to acknowledge that although there were significant threads that we wove together in all of the locales where I met you, there were also some differences. By and large here, I just focus on common threads of work.
We worked a great deal on re-thinking meanings and issues of the first two hundred years of ancient Christ movements. I pushed strongly for us all to do real re-thinking, to be less cynical and more imaginative about those first centuries, even while continuing to be rigorous in our critical approaches. You consistently brought your clear questions, thoughts, and puzzlements to the discussions. Although we mostly focused on possibilities of claiming new meanings from those ancient times and texts, it turned out that we also needed to hold in common our secret hopes, our slightly below the surface investedness in ancientness, our pain at a loss of coherence relative to ancient Christ movements, and lack of resources in working on history’s multiplicities in the current world. There was no final outcome in these discussions, but a sense of re-awakening as we worked together.
I was surprised at how many times our work together dove deeply into issues and possibilities concerning the decline of Christianities in our respective countries. You all heard me say that I am not sure my American experience is worth much to you Australians and New Zealanders, but it turned out that we were able to honor our differences and have some significant conversations. I wish you well as you all continue to think about these matters, and invite you to stay in touch when it might seem worthwhile.
In several places you wanted me to talk about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I was glad to think about it with you as a metaphor for ways we can make changes in Christianities, churches, groups, and selves. By and large, I am not interested in the Protestant Reformation, but it seemed to me that your “Reformation” initiative helped many of us assess where we are in our larger processes of activism, active waiting, and cynicism about Christian futures.
I did talk with most of you about my work of the past 15-20 years on all the recently discovered texts from early Christian groups, even though at first it was not clear that you were all that interested. I was happy to see that a substantial portion of you did have some engagement and I noted where for you these texts might play a role in a lively de-centered Christianity or simply in your own meaning-making processes.
It turned out that there were very different takes on how much or little you folks were engaged in active reconfiguring and renewing your own individual and collective spiritual practices. It seemed that this set of issues was often just below the surface and that we did not really have enough time to unpack it. It was clear that I myself am very active both in my own spiritual practices and actively participating in local and national work to create conscientious and affective modalities for such practice; and that I draw on ancient texts, artistic experimentation, and relationality. I found myself wondering how sufficiently invested conversations might go in a next round or two.
“Theism” was for many of you a more active issue in your lives than it is in mine. It is less active in mine because I deconstructed it in the 1980s and actively reconstructed different thoughts and experiences of God that are now central for me. So occasionally we found ourselves puzzled at my broad and active theologizing, praying, and relationship to divinity alongside your worries about theism, deconstructionism, and what other alternatives might be. It was unclear to me whether these exchanges had much value for you.
It seemed that where I spoke on early Christ group festive meals, these subjects by and large interested and surprised you. What happened there, I think, was mostly our being collectively startled about the emotional openness, expressive power, and this-worldly vitality of this very different approach to “worship” in those early groups.
My best to each of you.