Peter Rollins Confronts "The Decay of God" at 2013 ESR Willson Lectures

“Religious experience at its core is not an experience of anything,” according to Peter Rollins. “It’s what transforms your experience of everything.” Rollins shared this during his opening lecture as part of the 2013 ESR Willson Lectures. A widely sought after writer, lecturer, storyteller and public speaker originally from Belfast, Ireland, Rollins delivered a series of lectures on the ESR and Earlham campus and participated in worship and group discussions as part of this year’s Willson Lectures on April 8-9th.

“What I want to argue is that Christianity is apocalyptic in that it doesn’t offer us a solution to our brokenness and unknowing, but wipes that away as a problem,” Rollins continued. “The idol is utterly meaningful until you grasp it and realize it’s meaningless. Sinful activity is anything you do to get [the idol] – from taking drugs, getting drunk, going to church, doing charity work, having a kid – whatever it is you think will make you whole, whatever it is you’re striving for that will take away your brokenness and escape your humanity. Christianity is an invitation to break this whole frame. Christianity is what says this whole structure is broken. The good news of Christianity is that we don’t know the answers, we’re broken people, we’re not whole and complete, but come on in because we’re a community of people who are broken together."

Why is this? Rollins explains, “Christ was never talking to the dead…he’s not coming to the dead people and saying, ‘I come to bring life,’he’s talking to the living who live in a form of death. That fullness of life, that quality of life is the ability to experience depth and density here and now. If God now has died as this object we’re striving to get…God is found in the act of love itself. God is found 

where the naked are clothed, where the thirsty are given water, where we find a tree and don’t just see it as fuel but as something that causes us to write poetry, where seeing another person is not just seen as a person that fulfills a function, but seeing a real person with real struggles and real joys and real loves and desires and fears."

So what do we do as churches, meetings, and organizations as we confront this reality? Rollins argues, “The radical move, which also allows you to work within yourdenominations, is to take the very potentiality which is already bubbling within your already existing organization. Now I will be honest with you that there’s a good chance that when you do that you will still implode your organization, but you’re imploding your organizations with the event that’s housed within them. To betray your institution with your institution’s own bubbling event is a faithful betrayal.”

Thanks to Peter and those in attendance we were able to wrestle with these ideas both on our own and in anchor groups as we worked to develop plans of action for our organizations. We then shared our plans for action during Tuesday's Common Meal. We hope that the conclusion of this year’s Willson Lectures will not be the conclusion of our conversations together, but a fruitful beginning. Many thanks to all who attended!

-Matt Hisrich, ESR Director of Recruitment & Admissions