Play, Art, Thawing and Melting of Dogmas and Ice, continued

Yesterday, in response to a candid assessment by Pope Francis about the “suicidal’ conservatism of too many American bishops, whom he recognized as “closed up in a dogmatic box,” I offered a DM with an invitation to play in the sandbox of dogmas.

The German game of “Catan” (aka “Settlers of Catan”) allows players to build a civilization from scratch, based on negotiation instead of conquest. Photo by Yonghokim. Wikimedia Commons.

Dogmas, ideas, as playthings. Toys in a sandbox. Or at the beach. That’s what ideas are. We are to play with ideas—not lock them in a box, but share them playfully, working them over with imagination.

We can use dogma as a springboard to something suggestive and surprising, even as we respect some modest boundaries.

How different history would have been, had European missionaries since 1492 chosen to play with the stories of Jesus, rather than force indigenous peoples into believing them—or else.

I believe that the intellectual life (as distinct from an academic life) is about playing with ideas. Theology too is about playing with ideas. Try them on. See where they might take us. Mix them up with others’ ideas. 

Keep a sense of humor. Laugh at the similarities and likenesses. And also differences.

Australian aboriginal art, painted on bark. Artist unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

Eddie Kneebone, an Australian Aborigine, came to our ICCS program with a large duffel bag full of aboriginal paintings. He explained that his people do not put paintings on walls, but on the floor, so all observers can sit around it. Thus, each has different stories to tell about it, because each sees it from a different angle.

When I was a student in Paris, I got a job chaperoning 72 American college students on a trip to Russia. One event was a party of Russian and American college students. It was 1969, and the air in the gymnasium where we gathered was filled with suspicion and coldness from those Cold War days. All the Russians gathered at one end of the room and Americans at the other. Cold. Ice. 

The “Kalinka” is one of the best-known Russian folk dances. Video by Marx Olberg/The BBC Newspaperman.

It was the worst party I had ever attended—until someone on the Russian side struck up a song and the other Russians joined in. Then we on the American side struck up “Leaving On a Jet Plane” which was new at the time. 

Then the Russian side started dancing a Russian dance; then our side danced. Everything thawed. The dogmas we had learned about each other melted. All came together and danced. 

Never underestimate the power of art. 

All art begins with play.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest, p. 94.

See also Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.

And Fox, Whee! We, wee All the Way Home: A Guide To Sensual, Prophetic Spirituality.

And Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality, pp. 178-250.

Banner Image: Sandhill Cranes on melting ice in the San Luis Valley, Colorado. Photo by the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Wikimedia Commons. 

Queries for Contemplation

What memories and experiences are triggered in you by these stories of the power of play? Do you agree that play leads to creativity that in turn leads to breakthroughs?

Recommended Reading

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

Whee! We, Wee All the Way Home: A Guide to Sensual Prophetic Spirituality

Years ahead of its time when first published in 1976, this book is still bold and relevant today. Perfect for anyone who thinks mysticism needs to get out of the head and into the body. Matthew Fox begins the Preface to this book by stating, “This is a practical book about waking up and returning to a biblical, justice-oriented spirituality. Such a spirituality is a way of passion that leads to compassion. Such a way is necessarily one of coming to our senses in every meaning of that phrase.” One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, this title explores the importance of ecstasy in the spiritual life. Fox considers the distinction between “natural” ecstasies (including nature, sex, friendship, music, art) and “tactical” ecstasies (like meditation, fasting, chanting); he goes on to consider that a truly authentic mysticism must be sensuous in its orientation, so to cultivate the maximum amount of ecstasy for the maximum amount of people.

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

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5 thoughts on “Play, Art, Thawing and Melting of Dogmas and Ice, continued”

  1. Avatar

    Let’s talk about what might be happening or going on at some capitalistic enterprises that are populated in the majority by everyday people, and not just ‘the dreaded, greedy people’ that we see rightly or wrongly, sitting at the top.

    In planning & strategy sessions, and the like, to create new opportunities and overcome issues related to obstacles to growth, we see creativity in motion. Often there are ‘ice breakers’ and other forms of non-business team building exercises to open up trust, have fun and get participants to think differently. When the business at hand begins, we often see business cards and titles being left ‘at the door’. No idea is a bad idea. Tough, but respectful conversations are welcome. At the end of the day, at the end of a number of days together, something new and better is agreed to and available to create and act upon once the session is over. What did not previously exist has now been ‘birthed and brought to life’ by the group acting together. Those are breakthroughs and that is what is required to say, reduce emissions, move from fossil fuels, develop a better health delivery system and on and on. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    As we spiritually mature with Wisdom on our spiritual journeys, I am reminded of the importance of keeping alive the Spirit of our inner child/True Heart Self who also represents our innocence, Faith, Love, Creativity, Joy, with others and All ongoing Beautiful Creation in the Sacred Process/Flow of the Eternal Present Moment in LOVING DIVERSE ONENESS…

  3. Avatar
    Martina Nicholson

    PLAY. That is a marvelous verb for what we are doing, with our wonder and our curiosity, and our creativity! I fell 4 days ago and hurt my hip, and am icing it and resting and praying I am going to get on the plane to go to the Creation Spirituality gathering in Orvieto– I want to spread flowers all around the altar in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas! And watch the dancing! I love mystics, and I love your reflections. I have been reading Ilia Delio’s book about Carl Jung, and Teilhard de Chardin, and “The NOT-YET God”. I love that God is being, with infiinite plasticity and abundance, and a fountain constantly spilling into the future. We cannot box this energy and consciousness and love into any box of dogma. I really hope Pope Francis HEARS you, and is thinking that the main pastoral function is to forgive, and to bless. If someone is so stuck-up in their rigid self-righteousness that they cannot bless, their pastoral role should be taken from them. I love that you invite play and creativity. THANK YOU!

  4. Avatar
    Happy Go Lucky

    In school, all intellectual endeavors were so serious; there was no play or levity whatsoever. It was more like drudgery and deep boredom. That is why this idea was originally so startling to me. Then I remembered my first forays into true intellectualism, in my early 20’s. Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”. This book changed everything. Linda had a very positive, mystical take on all the 12 signs of the zodiac. Her outlook on relationships amongst the signs was enchanted. This is a big, heavy book, too, there is a lot of information and ideas in it, that Linda gave freely to her readership. I would play with those ideas, the signs in relationships, and enjoyed myself no end, while learning so much. I went through my present relationships, and past ones, analyzing and having insights into the people involved, like never before. I was able to put these ideas to work in my life and they have helped me greatly, and also, it’s been a lot of fun.

  5. Avatar

    The God of the Bible, the God of mystics, was never meant to be turned into such a small, exclusive, judgemental, intellectualized “thing-in-a-box.” If the church has made a “box/idea of God” as a replacement for the Living, Loving One, it has substituted a cheap idol for the awe-inspiring Reality. And by males ponderously shoving a deeply misogynistic interpretation of God instead of the joyful, flowing, UN-gendered/ALL-gendered One, it has created a weapon of male power to control people, rather than sharing the beautiful dance of Love that God invited everyone directly to join in.
    The God-in-Mystical Revelation is not owned by any single denomination or religion, nor is God’s Transcendent Revelation graced to males only. God/Jesus does not bring a message of exclusivity.

    God is not small.

    THIS God is the ONE transcendent, non-dualistic, radically mind- and heart-stretching Awe-filling God.

    THIS God will NEVER be stuffed into small, jealously guarded boxes.

    THIS God, the Mystical God of my heart, soul, and mind, is Truly Beautiful.

    THIS God is the One I try to share, in my admittedly inadequate words, and hope to inspire some of the awe and love that I found as a mystic.

    Blessed be all during this holiday weekend.

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