Alternative Orthodoxy

The Wisdom Tradition

Alternative Orthodoxy
Thursday, January 8, 2015

Most Christian churches have spent an awful lot of time concerned about maintaining verbal and ritual orthodoxy—the official doctrines and liturgies (when even the Roman church legitimates at least 16 forms of the Mass in all of its Eastern Rites!). We must be honest and admit that it has focused much less on the practicals of the Sermon on the Mount or what Jesus spent most of his time doing: touching and healing people, doing acts of justice and inclusion, teaching and living ways of compassion and non-violence.

Franciscanism, insofar as it actually imitated Francis of Assisi, emphasized an “alternative orthodoxy,” a different view on what really matters, which had much more to do with orthopraxy (right practice) then merely believing the right words. (Read Jesus’ parable about the two sons where he makes this same point in Matthew 21:28-32.) While not rejecting the traditional orthodoxy of the church, the Franciscan “alternative orthodoxy” was a parachurch viewpoint on the edge of the inside of organized Christianity. It often seems this is where wisdom has to hide, as Proverbs says, “Wisdom builds herself a house” (9:1). It became the entire history of Religious Orders in the Catholic and Orthodox churches: we went to the edge and emphasized different things, often to protect neglected Gospel values and teachings.

Brian McLaren uses the words “a generous orthodoxy” to describe something similar, a marriage of thinking and practice. Brian identifies a generous orthodoxy with “a consistent practice of humility, charity, courage, and diligence. Humility that allows us to admit that our past and current formulations may have been limited or distorted. Charity toward those of other traditions who may understand some things better than our group…. Courage to be faithful to the true path of our faith as we understand it, even when it is unpopular, dangerous, and difficult to do so. Diligence to seek again and again the true path of our faith whenever we feel we have lost our way… ” (A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 34).

Franciscanism’s offering, similar to the Quakers, Shakers, Amish, and Mennonites, was a simple return to lifestyle itself: including the outsider, preferring the bottom to the top, choosing social poverty and divine union over any private perfection or any sense of moral superiority, and an attitude of non-violence instead of religion as forced compliance, which invariably leads to a warlike mentality. Any alternative and generous orthodoxy can be found, if you look with non-dual eyes, in all sacred texts and traditions, and surely in Jesus, as we’ll discover in this year of Daily Meditations. An alternative orthodoxy is never stingy with grace or inclusion because it has surrendered to a God who is infinitely magnanimous and creative in the ways of love and mercy.

Gateway to Silence:
Wisdom pervades and penetrates all things.

Image Credit: Stringing Pearls by Vanessa Guerin
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