Assembling a Convidium

Nope. Not a word (yet) so far as I know. I hope to have the better known “colloquium” after all the members of the convidium see the movie clips.

So, for instance, there are two reflections on forgiveness that I value particularly. Inconvidium 4 Invictus, President Mandela (Morgan Freeman) instructs his head of security, Jason Tshabalala in the need for white people in the security detail. “Forgiveness starts here,” says Mandela. In the second one, Pay It Forward, Arlene McKinney (Helen Hunt) comes to the railroad yard where the homeless gather to offer forgiveness to her mother, who lives there. There are more than 40 seconds of wordless images, showing first the mother’s face, then the daughters, as both women realize what has been done.  Here is Angie Dickinson as the mother, talking to the reporter who broke the story.

I would like to show those two clips to my convidium and host a discussion afterwards around what that means to us. I don’t have any aspirations about controlling the colloquium (more about that shortly), but I am going to begin with Christian presuppositions, myself. It is what Christianity teaches about forgiveness that will form the background of the contributions I will make to the discussion.

How that will serve as a conversational initiative will depend on who else is there. That brings me to the question of who else might be there. Well…I live in a retirement community that is full of people who have different attitudes toward Christianity. [1] There are non-Christians here, as well as anti-Christians, and post-Christians. There are atheists and agnostics. There are members of other faiths who would be welcome, but I would imagine would not come. And most challenging of all, there are members of the “spiritual, but not religious” stripe. The Pacific Northwest is the “spiritual but not religious” capital of the U. S. and very likely of the world and they are richly represented here.

So those are the pools I will be drawing from. None of those, I imagine, will react against sitting down with neighbors and watching a video clip or two (the convidium part). But as we move to the discussion (the colloquium part), everyone will appropriately claim the freedom I claimed, to place the video clip in the context of his or her own faith or unfaith or anti-faith. [2]

There are two kinds of atheists. There are those who take the position that we know there is no God—also that there are no gods; and then there are those who hold that as a personal view. It is not something to be shown to be true for this second group. It is just a personal dead spot.

Similarly, there are two kinds of agnostics. There are those who say that the existence and character of God [3] cannot be known. Then there are those who say that they, themselves, do not know; they leave aside the question of whether anyone else knows.

convidium 2I have found very few people in the category I would call “non-Christian” who are not members of some other faith. But there are some–really, there are– who have had so little contact with Christianity than they have no feelings for or against it. They are the missionaries’ dream of primitives who have no religion at all.  Blank slates waiting to be written on.

There are a few people I would call pre-Christian. These are people who imagine that they will begin to take the Christian faith seriously when they get around to it. They imagine some status as a Christian to be in their future, so they have not rejected anything, really. They have just not accepted anything yet.  I couldn’t find a picture of old people watching a movie in any groups larger than two.

The three largest groups, I am guessing, will be the anti-Christians, the post-Christians, and the “spiritual, but not religious” (S minus R, or S—R) people. People representing these choices will come to the convidium in numbers proportionate to their populations here and they will have things they want to say. And, of course, I will have things I will want to say, too. How is that going to work out?

The S—Rs will say that forgiveness is a very good idea, that it is championed by spiritually enlightened people all over the world and that there is no reason to entangle it with religious dogma. [4] Nothing in the video clips they will just have seen will conflict with that because nothing in the clips will suggest anything at all about religion. One is about politics (Mandela) and one is about the restoration of a lapsed relationship by means of an ethical imperative.

The anti-Christians will say that Christianity teaches the need for forgiveness, but… What they follow the “but…” with will point to why they are anti-Christian. Hypocrisy is the common charge. Christianity preaches forgiveness, but doesn’t practice it. There is often some Sunday School teacher in their pasts who has prominently violated this standard.

The post-Christians will say that forgiveness, as it is preached and practiced in the churches, is only a crude and specific form of some much more sophisticated position. This position, which is, not coincidentally, the position they currently hold, has some historical roots in Christianity as it is preached and practiced, but any particular guidance [5] has been dropped out. The post-Christians wind up at the same place as S—R, but they push off of some established Christian practice—something to be “post-“ from, that needs to be transcended.

That leaves the Christians. You would think that would be the largest group, and I convidium 6think it will offer the largest challenge. A bunch of Christians with different backgrounds, different traditions of scriptural interpretation, different ways of making their faith make sense, will see these simple film fragments differently. And these differences may be fanned into disagreements. There is no way of telling, really.

My hopes for this colloquium—the discussion that follows the convidium—is to keep my own view clear in my mind, to say clearly what it is, and to allow it to be sharpened and focused by the other views. That’s what I want for myself.

My hopes for this colloquium more generally are that a place will be provided where the starting point of the film can be taken seriously—these film clips are our “text”—and the meaning of the clips for each of the views represented. Naturally, I want for my own view not to be dismissed out of hand. I want it to be considered in the same way the others are. On the other hand, I don’t want to win anyone over to the view I hold…at least, not exactly.

If there are people who would like to be where I am—to hold the views I am convidium 5describing—and have thought there was no way they could get there with integrity, I’d be happy to offer my own experience to them as an encouragement. [6] I can do that because I am aware, more than most people, of how I got where I am. I like being where I am even while I know it won’t do for everyone what it has done for me.  Robin the Brave, here, with Princess Melora.

So that’s my hope. A convidium followed by a colloquium. Everyone who is willing to be respectful of the view of the others is welcome. We will watch the clips that I have chosen as “texts” and follow the logic of the discussion wherever it leads us.

I have, for instance, a really good video of the “kenosis” poem in Phillipians Chapter 2 (The Muppets’ Frog Prince) and a good one of the “red pill or the blue pill” scene from The Matrix (Nicodemus in John Chapter 3). we’ll see how those go.

[1] I have different attitudes toward it myself. I feel sometimes that what I think and convidium 1what I feel and what I know and what I do are always in some kind of tenuous balance—very much like the BOSU ball shown here.
[2] The most common response of all will be that questions like this don’t really matter to “real life.” I will not be considering that point of view because those people will not return to the group once they find out what it is about.
[3] Just to simplify things for me, let’s take every reference to “God” to mean “or the gods, of whatever type they might be.”
[4] Not everyone knows what “dogma” means, but everyone knows that it is bad. So people who want to say something against “religion” can make a very appealing case by saying they are against “religious dogma” instead.
[5] Like “seventy time seven,” Jesus’s response to Peter’s question, or “don’t go to bed angry,” Paul’s very practical counsel about anger and getting over it.
[6] The thing about “positions” is that you can’t get there from just anywhere. I got there by starting where I had to start and by being willing to thrown certain things overboard along the way. If someone else in the group is starting somewhere else and/or is unwilling to throw the obstacles overboard, then he or she just can’t get to where I got to—where I am—even if they want to.



About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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