A United Methodist pastor with over thirty-six years of pastoral experience, Rev. Wayne Plumstead describes what he has learned about the aesthetics of religion from the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel.

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Location: Bloomfield, New Jersey, United States

The Rev. Wayne Jack Plumstead holds a BA from Drake University and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. Ordained a minister in the United Methodist Church in 1973, he has served since 1991 as Senior Pastor at the Park United Methodist Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Prior to that time he served pastorates in Lower Berkshire Valley, Bayonne, Arlington and Jersey City, all in New Jersey. Rev. Plumstead credits the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel, with having an invaluable influence on his theological formation. He has given many public seminars at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. In 1994, the Board of Global Ministries invited him to give a presentation at a consultation on Developing Multicultural Congregations in San Antonio, Texas to assist national church staff in developing strategies for congregations in transitional communities. In 2000, he was invited to give the opening sermon at the first meeting of clergy in the newly formed Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. And, in 2002, the United Methodist Publishing House printed an article he authored in its national magazine for United Methodist clergy, Circuit Rider.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Marcus Borg Gives Evidence for the Aesthetics of Religion

In recent days I have been reading a very fine and scholarly work by Marcus Borg titled The Heart of Christianity. Throughout this book Borg is giving rich evidence for Eli Siegel's statement that "the making one of opposites is the beginning of meaning in religious fact."
Here, for example, is what he says about the Bible:

The Bible is thus both sacred scripture and a human product. It is important to affirm both. To use stereotypical labels, both conservatives and liberals within the church have sometimes been reluctant to do so. Conservative Christians resist affirming that the Bible is a human product, fearing that doing so means it will lose its status as divine authority and divine revelation. Liberal Christians are sometimes wary of affirming that the Bible is sacred scripture, fearing that doing so opens the door to notions of infallibility, literalism, and absolutizing. But a clear vision of the Bible and its role in the Christian life requires seeing it as both sacred scripture and human product. It is human in origin and sacred in status and function. (Borg pg. 48)

Is not Borg saying here that in order to understand the Bible correctly and gain all the meaning from it we can, we must see it as BOTH a creation of the human mind AND a creation of the Divine mind at once? And that to see the Bible as only one or the other is to profoundly misapprehend scripture? He is!

And here is Borg writing about the meaning of sacrament:

In Christian language, a sacrament is an 'outward and visible sign' that functions as a 'means of grace.' Sacraments are 'doors to the sacred' as well as bridges to the sacred. Something finite, something of this world, becomes a means whereby the sacred becomes present to us. (Borg pg. 58)

I have thought very much about the sacraments since, as a minister, I preside over them often. I have always been deeply stirred by the richness of meaning and spiritual significance in these seemingly simple and everyday acts (breaking bread, sprinkling water). Through them I have experienced God in profound ways. Here Borg is pointing to the opposites that explain the mystery and beauty of the sacraments. The sacraments are, in themselves, finite acts. But through them the invisible and infinite God is present and deeply felt by our human spirit. Only the principle of the opposites can adquately explain the power and meaning of the sacraments!