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Chrysalis: Elizabeth Chapin

posted by xscot mcknight

This post is from Elizabeth Chapin. I’ve had this awhile but last week was occupied with other topics. Elizabeth’s post is serious and stands alone. While Leonard Sweet considers Alan Jamieson?s Chrysalis as ?destined to become a classic? I found the book to be lacking what it takes to rise to classic status in my library. Jamieson himself offers a caution that while he is employing the metaphor of chrysalis in his book, ?human faith is far more complex than the journey of caterpillar-to-chrysalis-to-butterfly.? If this journey is so complex, why limit oneself to such a simple metaphor?
I found many of Jamieson?s stories about his journey and others helpful, but struggled with the metaphor. I also found the use of pre-critical, hyper-critical and post-critical terminology in defining faith stages to be confusing as he does not explain what he means by these terms. Since Jamieson uses this terminology in conjunction with the life stages of a butterfly, I am tempted to conclude his use of the term ?critical? to fall under the definition: ?relating to or denoting a point of transition from one state to another? as the term is used in physics and mathematics. But, I could also see the implications of the definition: ?having a decisive or crucial importance in the success or failure of something.? Perhaps there are some nuances of meaning to the pre-, hyper-, post-critical terminology that I am unaware of that would have helped me.
Jamieson is clear in his caution or disclaimer at the beginning of his book that ?we are all called to walk our own pathway: a pathway that is unique and personal into a deeper understanding and living out of our Christian faith.? I appreciated the themes, stages and descriptions of what a person might be struggling with and frustrated about in their journey of faith transformation. As someone who has experienced ?chrysalis,? ?dark night,? or ?desert? times, I can identify with much of the emotional turmoil, doubts and fears he suggests as normal during those times. In some sense, this metaphor of chrysalis leads us to believe this is a one time happening – that once we emerge from the chrysalis we will never have to go back. This has not been my experience.
While humans certainly go through stages of spiritual life development that lead to a state of maturity, I see those stages as more chaotic in nature than can be likened to the life cycle of any physical being. Spiritual development is far more complicated than physical development and far more mysterious. Jamieson?s Chrysalis is worth celebrating as a guide for those struggling with understanding their own hidden transformation on the journey of faith, as long as the readers heed the caution at the beginning of the book and do not try to simplify their journey or conform themselves to a metaphor but instead allow Chrysalis to inform them on their journey and assist them in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ.



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dopderbeck

posted September 23, 2008 at 7:12 am


Interesting. I took “critical” to mean “subjected to criticism and critique.” In the pre-critical stage, we don’t really question the reasons for or substance of our faith; in the hyper-critical stage, we subject it to intense critical scrutiny; and in the post-critial stage, we have passed through the fires of critical scrutiny and our faith has been transformed in a positive way by that scrutiny.
Another way of thinking of this is that we come to faith based on certain foundations — often the testimony of a credible witness, such as a parent or friend. Faith at this point often is somewhat credulous — we accept various views about things because an authority figure suggests we should. This kind of faith is subject to challenge by other authority figures and by the force of experience and reason. This sort of challenge can strip faith to its foundations. The hope is to come through such challenges with a faith built on stronger foundations, a faith that has adapted and grown and been sharpened as a result of both fair and unfair criticism.



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John Frye

posted September 23, 2008 at 7:32 am


Elizabeth,
I appreciate and affirm your observations of the strengths and short-comings of *Chrysalis.* Jamieson seems cross-grained with himself to write, “…we are all called to walk our own pathway: a pathway that is unique and personal into a deeper understanding and living out of our Christian faith? and then offer a standardized metaphor to illustrate the spiritual journey. A metaphor that seems fixed. Thanks for your reflections.



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Elizabeth Chapin

posted September 23, 2008 at 11:48 am


dopderbeck,
I appreciate your description of pre-critical, critical and post-critical. I think if Jamieson had offered some framing definitions it would have made the book more accessible.



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Elizabeth Chapin

posted September 23, 2008 at 12:09 pm


John, thanks for the affirmation – we all need a little of that every day!



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MatthewS

posted September 23, 2008 at 12:21 pm


good stuff.
Perhaps I assumed too much. Especially towards the beginning of the book, I assumed he was intending to leave the definitions open-ended in order to create various levels of meaning. I had the impression at points that he wanted the metaphors of liquid and goo to apply to his actual theology at hand, not just as images of the people whom he described.
Towards the end, I had the distinct impression that he was linking pre-critical, critical, and post-critical stages pretty closely to the before, during, and after stages of the dark night of the soul, as well as before and during eating the meat of the Word rather than just milk.
I realize that at first I thought he was too open-ended, then later I didn’t like what I felt he was converging towards! In either case, I grew frustrated trying to verbalize my unrest with how these terms were defined because I imagined he would answer the objections by pointing back to the disclaimer that this was only a rough scaffold.



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Anonymous

posted September 23, 2008 at 2:28 pm


Coffee Break « fresh expressions…

[...] [...]



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Elizabeth Chapin

posted September 23, 2008 at 2:37 pm


MatthewS, I like how you say, “Perhaps I assumed too much.” It’s true, we often bring to whatever texts we are reading a set of assumptions – some are helpful, some are not. Those who have experienced a “dark night of the soul” bring a different set of assumptions to this text than those who have experienced multiple “dark nights” or none yet at all. Thanks for bringing this up.



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