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Contemporary Theology that doesn’t alienate our elders


Question & Answer

Roland from Sydney, writes:


How can the clergy educate its members into contemporary theology and attract back the church alumni without alienating the aging conservatives that finance the local church?

Answer: By Rev. Matthew Fox

Dear Roland,

Thank you for your question. I think it is a very big one as it poses many issues of real importance such as the relationship between generations that is often problematic but especially in our time since we have one foot still in the modern era (most of our institutions are still there including the Reformation churches) and another foot in the postmodern era (where so many young people are located and where pre-modern wisdom is welcomed, not shunned as during modern times).

Science and Education also find themselves in this ‘in between’ place today. The British Scientist Rupert Sheldrake told me recently that at Oxford and Cambridge today there is a huge gulf between the professor class and the students specifically around the topic of religion or spirituality. Most professors surrendered all interest in religion generations ago but today’s students are eager to learn more about it.

I have written about the difference between modern and postmodern consciousness at the end of my short book on A New Reformation. You might find some food for thought there. It is, I think, imperative for the survival of our species that we learn anew to develop intergenerational wisdom. This means elders must wake up to their calling as elders and must learn to sit down and listen to the younger generation. The benefit will be mutual I am sure.

It also means that it is past time to establish rites of passage for elders to assist elders to wake up to their responsibilities. Our secular culture likes to put elders out to pasture after they have passed the age of peak consumer capitalism and are “retired.” I insist however that we retire the obscene word “retirement” and replace it with “refirement.” What we are talking about here—recovering true eldership—could constitute a whole new example of refirement in our churches.

In our book on Occupy Spirituality Adam Bucko (who worked for 15 very fruitful years with young adults living on the streets of NYC) and myself interviewed many young adults (ages 21-33) and one of the questions we asked was about elders in their lives. 98% said: “We want elders but can’t find them…..And the few we do find talk too much.” Elders have to get off the golf course and out of their couches and/or playing the stock market and make themselves available to young people. The young today are facing issues of climate change and eco-destruction and gross have/have not discrepancies that are unprecedented. A moral and survival imperative exists to radically change education, religion, politics, economics, art, farming and energy resourcing on this planet. We need all the wisdom they can get. The young and old can and need to put their heads and hearts together in this search for wisdom.

In an elder rite of passage ceremony that Creation Spirituality Communities conducted a year ago the young adults assisted in creating it. Of course the young also need rites of passage (and confirmation, I’m sorry to report, rarely cuts the mustard).

Our Cosmic Masses, going on now for over 23 years, have proven very valuable for bringing young and old together in a post-modern form for celebrating Liturgy, one that incorporates post-modern art forms (and pre-modern ones) including dance, dj, vj, rap and more. It is not enough that elder worshippers are “at home” or “comfortable” with their (modern) forms of worship that are pre-packaged in Liturgical books. Jesus never said “Blessed are the comfortable” (neither did the Buddha).

The question is this: How will future generations—including their grandchildren and great grandchildren—pray? It will not be from merely reading from books and sitting in pews and daring the preacher to keep them awake—that is all very modern because the modern age emerged with the invention of the printing press. It must include the body; the senses; beauty; and grieving together. Yes, there is much to grieve as well as to give birth to.

Our new Order of the Sacred Earth, which launches this month, is another effort to bring old and young together around a new (and ancient) vision of spirituality in practice. The book’s subtitle is “Intergenerational Love in Action.” You might check it out on line as well.

Best wishes in lighting the fire,

Rev. Matthew Fox

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author

Matthew Fox holds a doctorate in spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris and has authored 32 books on spirituality and contemporary culture that have been translated into 60 languages. Fox has devoted 45 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship. His work is inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and has awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. He has helped to rediscover Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas. Among his books are Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the FleshTransforming Evil in Soul and Society, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved and Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest

A new school, adopting the pedagogy Fox created and practiced for over 35 years, is opening in Boulder, Colorado this September.  Called the Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality it is being run by graduates of his doctoral program and will offer MA, D Min and Doctor of Spirituality degrees.  See

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