Mary Strachan Scriver
4 min readJan 29, 2021

These posts coming my way from “”, even just the reviews of books, leave me shaking with excitement and unwilling to sit still. I walk around a bit. That’s just me and they won’t affect others the same way, but in case they do, here’s a link:

The reason for my reaction goes back to my beginnings, which is in part out of fairytales by George MacDonald, a Universalist-inclined clergyman in Scotland. Books like “The Princess and the Goblin” are tales about class and heritage that address “slantwise” the situation of landed gentry versus coalminers. I’ve never read his formal sermons, have never seen them around. But the social pattern still haunts us and it is still about coal.

The three Meadville/Lombard professors were dubious about MacDonald as a theology inspiration. James Gustafson, though Catholic, was more to their taste, since one of their guides was prestige and credentialing. He is highly respected, a U of Chicago prof at that point. The latter’s thought that has stayed with me is a classic Catholic idea that if we want to know what the Creator is like, we ought to study Creation, since that would mirror His nature.

So that brings me to my participation center in Blackfeet ceremonials in the Sixties. Thunder Pipe Bundle Opening is a liturgy based on the east slope prairie. One takes in the world through shared sarvisberry soup. (This is not Communion which is meant to signify Jesus’ actual blood and flesh.) One celebrates a “hymnal” composed of species poems of song and dance, each demonstrated by individuals who perform while holding the skin (wrapped in calico) of the animal they choose. The performers are accompanied by hand drums. The audience may smoke tobacco — not the calumet itself but conventional versions. At least that’s the heart of it. There are other parts, like the opening of the major bundle with everything in it.

People try to recapture this liturgy by imitating it. A description of early versions is in “The Old North Trail” by Walter McClintock, a white man who became attached to people here. As a photographer and a trained botanist, he closely observed but did not much interpret. The ceremony still continues on contemporary terms, though it was forbidden by law for decades. It was underground during those years.

Now this ceremony is honored and lifted up. But what I think is missed is Gustafson’s idea of going directly to the creation, not the bundle but the world it comes from. How can anyone know exactly how to dance and the meaning of the song for — let’s say — a fox without observing for many long hours just what the creature does and how it fits into everything else? In those days of hunting and gathering, paying attention was the business of survival and such close attention was vital.

Today we have come to something like that through the study of ecology which — in spite of Newton, Darwin, the industrial revolution and quantum physics or even DNA research — is still our key to survival as a species, how each being fits into the world. Fossil evidence of as many as a hundred previous versions of hominins sharply remind us that our extinction is quite possible and scientific thought reminds us that we carry our own fate in us.

The exploration of thought about metamodernism is useful because it emphasizes particularity and location. It delves into what it is that seeds theologies and what that has to do with progress, which is the only way to keep from being extinguished by time.

In this quest of mine I’ve finally broken through the silo algorithm that thinks I only care about money and sex. Now I’m getting serious blog posts that I do read. I take it that the computer’s limitation of recognizing only subjects rather than their quality has found some indicator l this stuff and is using it.

The more people realize that it’s possible to recognize around them the beginning impulses of thought that can grow into a “religion” the more they will want to read these ideas. The problem comes when someone wants to start an institution that can so easily become a mafia.

Over the years I’ve tasted “story theology,” “process theology” (based on nuclear physics which is not the same as quantum mechanics), “humanism,” “rational humanism”, “embodiment,” “progressive Christianity,” “Liberation theology,” and so on. A person can buy books about these, take courses, and so on. Not many are the basis of new congregations or denominations, even though the old mainstream versions are emptying.

The newest and most vigorous trend seems to be “spiritual but not religious”, whatever that means, rather like the growing political non-party called “independent.” You can google it and find groups. I’m reluctant to join either a party or a denomination so define myself as an “independent scholar” or “public intellectual” though the general tide is against those categories because they are accused of elitism and “knowing better.”

Technically, if one doesn’t believe in a theos as a big anthropomorphic figure, then one must be doing philosophy instead of theology and one is required to memorize the positions of historical scholars. Since I don’t comply with either requirement, I suggest that I’m looking for new “platforms” or “applications”, but probably not games, which can also become something like mafia strategies. We need a new term for something like weltanschauung but not so hard to spell.

“A worldview or world-view is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual’s or society’s knowledge and point of view. A worldview can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.” Maybe that’s good enough right there. It’s Wikipedia so we can’t ask the author.

If synonyms are your pigeon, here you go.



Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.