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Richard Rohr’s Seven Themes of Alternative Orthodoxy

The programs and resources of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) are grounded in the wisdom of the Christian contemplative traditions with a special emphasis on Father Richard Rohr’s Franciscan heritage—especially its alternative orthodoxy.

The Franciscan tradition exemplifies an alternative orthodoxy through its emphasis on the importance of praxis over theory, or orthopraxy over orthodoxy. While orthodoxy is about correct beliefs, orthopraxy is about right practice — more to do with the way we live our daily lives and treat other people than making verbal or mental assent to this or that idea.

The Seven Themes of Alternative Orthodoxy

About ten years ago while working on the curriculum for the Living School, Richard identified seven themes from among his many teachings that he hoped would provide an “honest statement about the underlying foundations of what I teach.” Listen to Richard Rohr provide a brief synopsis of each theme by clicking on the links below.

  1. Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by Tradition are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview (METHODOLOGY).
  2. If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side (FOUNDATION).
  3. For those who see deeply there is only One Reality. By reason of the Incarnation, there is no truthful distinction between sacred and profane (FRAME).
  4. Everything belongs. No one needs to be punished, scapegoated, or excluded. We cannot directly fight or separate ourselves from evil or untruth. Darkness becomes apparent when exposed to the Light (ECUMENICAL).
  5. The “separate self” is the major problem, not the shadow self which only takes deeper forms of disguise (TRANSFORMATION).
  6. The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines (PROCESS).
  7. Non-duality is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (GOAL).

Go Deeper with the Seven Themes

The fourth season of our podcast Another Name for Every Thing focuses entirely on the seven themes of alternative orthodoxy. Listen as Richard Rohr, Brie Stoner and Paul Swanson explore each theme indepth:

  • What is the Alternative Orthodoxy?
    In this introductory episode, Richard unpacks what the Alternative Orthodoxy is, where its roots can be found, and how it creates a trustworthy dynamism for humanity and God.
  • Methodology | Alternative Orthodoxy (Theme 1)
    This foundational theme is the launchpad to whole of the Alternative Orthodoxy. Join us as we reflect on how we relate to scripture (even during the dry seasons), steadily learning to trust our experiences, listening to the multivocality of the Tradition, and the interplay between all three creates a unified field.
  • Foundation | Alternative Orthodoxy (Theme 2)
    This second theme lays the groundwork for relating to the shape of God within the Alternative Orthodoxy. Join us as we share personal stories that elucidate this theme, nuance the theological language, and seek understanding in how this fits within an evolutionary perspective.
  • Frame | Alternative Orthodoxy (Theme 3)
    The heart of this theme is about allowing what seems to be separate to become one; often through deep connective experiences of love and suffering. Join us as we share personal stories that embody this theme, discuss the importance (and often gaudy art) of the sacred heart, the sacramental depth of reality, and live a life of mystical incarnation in the here and now.
  • Ecumenical | Alternative Orthodoxy (Theme 4)
    This tenet has been a hallmark of Richard’s teachings – everything belongs. Join us as we share personal stories that seek to put flesh on the bones of this theme, examine the tendency to scapegoat or exclude others, and seek to understand how this relates to Liberation Theology and prophetic action.
  • Transformation | Alternative Orthodoxy (Theme 5)
    There is a subtleness to this theme that takes some sussing out. Join us as we share personal stories that exemplify our wrestling with this theme, distinguish between the ‘shadow self’ and the ‘separate self’, look at the ways that shame snakes its way into our lives, and ultimately how the connection to the whole entices personhood.
  • Process | Alternative Orthodoxy (Theme 6)
    This theme can be heavy to hold in ourselves and bearing witness to the experience of others. Join us as we share personal stories on the path of descent, appreciate the gifts of vulnerability and forgiveness, hold our mortality with a loving gaze, and work towards detaching from the storylines that dictate or bind our growth. 
  • Goal | Alternative Orthodoxy (Theme 7)
    This final theme holds the center of spiritual desire; Divine union. Join us as we share models of those who exemplify non-duality in their life, the nagging habits of pursuing private perfection, the four splits that those in the first half of life need to overcome, and how prophetic action can flow from non-duality.
  • Embody | Alternative Orthodoxy (Conclusion)
    The final conversation of this season enters the tension of how one embodies these themes and values out in personal and communal ways. Join us as we seek ways to better understand how we can embody our beliefs, wrestle with our shortcomings, and play with the interrelatedness of the 7 themes with Richard’s broader work.

The seven themes of alternative orthodoxy have also been explored in the Daily Meditations. Here are a few examples:

  • A Holy Balancing ACt (Theme 1)
    At the CAC, we affirm experience, Scripture, and the big “T” of tradition. We as: What keeps recurring? What keeps coming back, century after century, in mystics, saints, and councils of the church? What do wise people keep saying?
  • Considering the Trinity (Theme 2)
    Many Christians have viewed the Trinity as an unapproachable, unfathomable concept. At CAC, we believe that when we really understand Trinity, however slightly, it’s like we live in a different universe—and a very good and inviting one! 
  • One Sacred Universe (Theme 3)
    Richard affirms that we can no longer divide the world into natural and supernatural or sacred and profane. It’s all supernatural and sacred.
  • The Weeds and the Wheat (Theme 4)
    This Daily Meditation from Richard shows that we are all a mixture of “weeds and wheat,” good and bad, and accepting our messy reality is how we learn to love.
  • True Self/Separate Self (Theme 5)
    Richard and many mystics use the language of true self to describe our deepest identity in God, and the separate self is who we are when we are disconnected from divine love.
  • Suffering in Solidarity (Theme 6)
    This theme teaches that we find God in the midst of suffering, because the crucified Jesus reveals that God is suffering love.
  • The Communion of Saints (Theme 7)
    We’re convinced that true mystics and saints see reality in its connectedness and wholeness.
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