what is feralchristian?

The picture at the left was taken one rainy afternoon while I was hiking on Mt. Tamalpais just north of San Francisco. I had just come over the crest of a hill, and there, in the swirling mist of incoming clouds slamming into the mountain, I saw a forest of several hundred little stone monuments. Rather than being an intrusion on the landscape, their presence seemed to honor the rock-strewn ground with the sort of thoughtful human interaction that was deliberate, attentive, and resonant with the givens of the environment. I almost immediately felt that I had come into a sacred space.

I remembered the stories of Jacob and his rock monuments. The audacity (to our domesticated sensibilities) of anointing a stone and pronouncing it “none other than the house of God,” “the gate of heaven.” His setting up a pillar and declaring, “this is the house of God.”

So I wanted to touch these stones, to feel their weight, texture, temperature; their intransigent resistance to my flesh. I longed to experience the directness of encounter with their unmediated presence, and perhaps to feel a bit of what it was like for our forebears to find God in a monument of stones.

I moved from small stones to large boulders, touching, even caressing them. I tried to allow their tactile meaning to be exactly what it was, without applying interpretation or looking for symbolism. And in the company of these stones I was jarred awake to a sensual presence that was indistinguishable from the presence of God.

This was not a God revealed in some inner chamber of my mind while my body was surrounded by plush carpeting, supported by a comfortable pew; my senses manipulated by electronic effects and a contrived and organized presentation.

This was the God of unhewn presence. The same God who long ago said that “to hew the stone is to profane it.”

That particular gem is found in Exodus 20, hidden in the narrative we have come to know as the Ten Commandments. If we look carefully, we find the rest (and the best) of the second commandment-the part that somehow must have fallen off the truck, was erased from the inventory sheet, and so never really found a place at the core of our tradition.

In Ex. 20:22-25, a composite of the first two commandments is restated, but with an important addendum: “The LORD said to Moses, Thus you shall say to the Israelites: 'You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it… But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for to hew the stone is to profane it.'”

Any sculptors, architects, builders out there? Relax. This passage is not about carving or forming per se. It is about how we can anchor our intention, and our perception, in the actual (versus the referenced) reality of God. It also anticipates and attempts to immunize us against the peculiar problems that arise when we relate to God via a mediating ritual.

As a metaphor, the unhewn stone has no specific reference; it confronts us with its opacity and blankness; it is a mystery that is unshaped and unknowable, yet fully present. To hew the stone defiles it because it specifies its usefulness and constrains its referentiality to the limits of our small wills and temporary building projects. But it is upon this altar of unknowability, of disutility, that we are to encounter the God who is as opaque and unconstrained as these stones.

The unhewn stone thus stands as the metaphor for God's holiness, which, in Walter Brueggemann's words, “always subverts and destabilizes our best settlements, our most certain certitudes, and our preferred power arrangements.” It incarnates the energy of the first and second commandments by confronting, with tangible presence, the universal root of idolatry–our primal addiction to our own exploitative ingenuity–and by demanding the recognition that the only altar worthy of God is the one that God has made, and that we cannot control.

This altar of unhewn stones is a sign of the altar of creation, the absolute ingenuousness of the world-as-made, the edenic economy of unmitigated graciousness that is the unyielding point of reference against which we are called to measure the entire human endeavor.

Worshipping God upon the altar of creation as found signals a return to a feral perception, with which we can finally acknowledge the coinherence of the life of God within the life of the world. Brueggemann has referred to biblical worship as “constitutive metaphor,” in that it both forms and feeds the heart of the community. The feral encounter with God's unhewn presence both reorients and repatterns our perception, and so has the capacity to reform our ways of knowing and being in the world. No longer do we need to impose an imagined distance between God and creation–one that can only be bridged by the elaborate religious structures of our Egyptian captivity. The unhewn stone sets us free from the self-imposed constraints of our own religious expertise. No longer can we objectify the creation as “resource” to be exploited and used as if there were no life in it. And no longer can we regard any other person as “alien,” since we are all indigenous to this earth, to its gracious provision, its inherent wisdom and the imbuing presence of God within.

This is the starting point of what we're calling feralchristian–the assumption that God and creation are mutually indigenous, and that we are called to reclaim our own indigeneity within that reciprocity of grace. Indeed, we're convinced that at the core of what is called “salvation history” is God's persistent effort to draw humans back into their own indigeneity; pleading for people of faith to disengage from all dominant structures of alienation, and to re-engage with God's own way via the revelatory metaphors of God's good creation.

We will feature on this site an increasing number of biblical reflections, as well as stories, poetry, imagery and media. We'll look more closely at many of the foundational stories in both the Hebrew and Christian traditions, many of which thoroughly interrogate the tensions between the made and the found, the bureaucratic and the liberated, the constrained meanings of utilitarian/totalitarian symbols and the multiple resonances of the metaphors of creation, the systems of social and political oppression and the delegitimization of wealth and power that leads to justice. Each of the images and stories that will appear are like MRI's that reveal the connective fascia where a scarcely noticed lattice-work of metaphors link together the broad and disparate witness of the Bible to intimate a way of being-in-relation to God, the earth, and our communities; a metaphoric substructure upon which hangs the very muscle-system of the Bible.

We'll also discover along the way that metaphoric understanding is at the heart of comprehending the Christian gospel. The processes of God's own self-disclosure, as we locate them both in the Bible and in creation, most directly address not the didactic/abstractive intellect, but instead human metaphoric consciousness, which is the consciousness that is generative at the root of any urge to create or believe. It is with our metaphoric consciousness that we are really able to metabolize the gospel.

It is likewise the consciousness that imbued Jesus' interaction with the world. Why did Jesus teach only in parables? Because, being one himself, he thought in metaphors.

feralchristian means trying to follow Jesus as he leads us back to our indigeneity; as he deconstructs the shaped edifice of religion and restores us to the joy of the unhewn altar of creation.

As Jesus said to Nicodemus in old John chapter 3: think of what the wind looks like; then you'll start to get the picture. In that simple encounter Jesus leads the professional theologian beyond the boundaries of his assumptions, to what might be called a theography.

feralchristian agrees with Jesus that theology must invariably lead to theography. While a theology seeks to construct finely nuanced structures of language that reference a set of ideas about God, a feralchristian theography seeks to encounter the living contours of the Spirit in the very shape and substance of the world, and in the dynamics of human emotive, physical, social and intellectual interrelationships. In other words, the world can no longer be regarded as an object, a landscape about which we reflect, a screen upon which we project our theologies. Instead, it is itself a theography, a disclosive reality as close to the nature of God as our skin is to us. This is a theology of the shape of things–a theology that aims at reclaiming the revelatory nature of this vast and minute creation of which we are part. How it holds us and nourishes us; how it speaks to us in forgotten tongues of the very contours of God's own character. It is a theography that might lead us into a fully sensed participation in the unfolding processes of creation, and into some greater congruity with the real plan of God for the healing of the world.

Jesus calls us to become re-sourced (born again) from the dynamics of grace. Grace is a complex little word that connotes free, surprising gifting. This Gifting is the engine of God's love for creation and all its inhabitants and ecosystems, and constitutes the Great Economy of reciprocal offering. Perhaps the deepest orthodoxy is to be found in God's unflagging call for humans to be reindigenized to our lost, but native, consonance with creation; and in the realization that Jesus is the human face of the coinherent wisdom of God and God's universe. This is the wild depth and authentic center of feralchristian discovery.

feralchristian is therefore about a journey of recovery, a kind of Christian U'Mista.

U´Mista is a Kwak'wala word that describes the return of people taken captive in raids. It also means the return of something important that was almost lost. The Kwagiulth people of Vancouver Island use this word to refer to the recovery of indigenous ways that were nearly obliterated by colonial conquest. May we respectfully borrow this word to name our journey as people of faith toward recovering a way of being in grace upon the earth, rather than living in alienation from the Creator's expressed ways of being. May it name the struggle for our own possible return from captivity to all the colonizers of our imaginations, religious and cultural.

A feralchristian U´Mista celebrates the possibility of our forgotten selves' return from exile to ways of seeing and knowing and acting that are at home with the fearless surprise and daring beauty and restorative justice of God.

Perhaps we can dare to look for a present and future shape of “Church” unbound from its many manufactured traditions, arbitrary conventions, and conformity mechanisms, and converted back to the one deep and abiding tradition of God's self-expression in the multi-sensual forms of the world, and through human creative communities imbued with prophetic imagination, expressing God's own life in acts of beauty, compassion, justice, and celebration.

All this is not to say that feralchristian is any sort of “movement” that one can join, nor a way of returning to some imagined form of “pure” Christianity. feralchristian is rather a conversation, probably taking place right now among people we don't know, about how it might be possible to walk with Jesus in the wildness and authenticity of his way.

peace,

david fetcho

next: the first steps of our U'Mista

...and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house…(Gen. 28:22)
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