Welcome to the Hollister Institute

The Hollister Institute provides opportunities for stimulating discussion and thoughtful exploration for everyone, whether or not they are members of a church.  Courses are offered at St. Benedict’s Church in Los Osos.  For more information about Hollister courses, contact Donna Ross at donnaross@charter.net .

Winter 2015 Programs

Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy: Richard Rohr on the Legacy of St Francis
Tuesdays at 7:15 pm, starting January 13

Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love
Thursdays at 10 am, starting January 15

Learning to Walk in the Dark
Thursdays at 10:30 am; February 26, March 5, 12, 19, 26

(descriptions of these programs are below)

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Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy:
Richard Rohr on the Legacy of St Francis
Tuesdays at 7:15 pm, starting January 13

(This program was offered in October-November 2014 on Thursday mornings.)

Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher, the author of numerous books, and a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province, and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque.

In this series Richard Rohr introduces us to what he calls “an alternative orthodoxy,” lost to much of contemporary Christianity.  A provocative teacher, Rohr can help us glimpse new perspectives for faith and practice in the Christian community in our emerging global context.  He chooses five basic areas with which to investigate an alternative orthodoxy that he describes as rooted in Franciscan theology and practice, biblically grounded, personally challenging and ultimately liberating.  Through engaging video segments and the use of the Participant’s Workbook as a guide, we’ll embark on an exploration of faith that is simultaneously ancient and modern.

The topics for these five weeks are planned as follows:

Jan 13: Session 1 – Atonement Theology
800 years ago, Franciscans had a minority view of the atonement that was never deemed heretical by the Church of the time.  The majority view, largely inherited by Protestantism, is based on language and metaphors inherited from the Jewish tradition about sacrifice.  It is summed up in the popular phrase, “Jesus died for my sins.”   The import is that the death of Jesus is a transaction, ransom, or satisfaction to satisfy God’s righteousness.  The 13th century Franciscan theologian, John Duns Scotus introduced the minority view: “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, but to change the mind of humanity about God.”  Atonement is a unity to be named.  Jesus is not God’s Plan B to mop up a fallen human race.  Jesus is God’s Plan A, the image of the invisible God for all eternity.

Jan 20: Session 2 – Eco-Spirituality
Christianity is the only religion that concretely believes the Divine took on human flesh.  But much of our history has been more about “ex-carnation” than “in-carnation,” how to get out of this world than to live in it.  We have considered Incarnation in only a very narrow sense.  Now we are paying the price for this with the huge dying off of species and the pollution of the Earth.  We’ve misinterpreted the scriptural tradition that says God cares about a new heaven and a new earth.  Instead we’ve emphasized an individualism that says God cares about “just us” and not very many of us actually.  Yet, we cannot give up on religion that grants inherent sacrality, holiness, goodness, value and worthiness to the material world and no religion does that better in theory than Christianity.

Jan 27: Session 3 – The Cosmic Christ
Christian views of Jesus Christ have missed the difference between the two names, “Jesus” and “Christ.”  To use the two names together should bring us to the “non-dual” essence of Christian faith, the Divine and the human joined together.  For 2000 years we’ve fallen in love with the person of Jesus, the personal incarnation of the Christ mystery.  Franciscan John Duns Scotus draws our attention to overlooked biblical passages that speak of Christ as the first idea in the mind of God.  That is to say, that the Christ mystery has been available since creation.  We may speak in the language of contemporary cosmology to say that the first incarnation of the Christ mystery was the Big Bang, 13.6 billion years ago.  If we don’t balance out our views of “Jesus” with “the Christ,” our theology is going to become a very limited world view in competition with other world religions.

Feb 3: Session 4 – Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy
It is ironic that the very religion that believes the Word became flesh, has put so much credence in words and right belief.  Most especially, Western Christian theology has been about clarifying ideas.  This session is about a return to Jesus’ emphasis on a lively practice.  St. Francis, the most popular saint of all time founded his order as “mendicants,” living among the people and taking Jesus’ directions to his disciples seriously.  Francis put his entire emphasis on how you live.  You can live yourself into a new way of thinking,…but you cannot think yourself into a new way of living.  Christians have largely followed the human history of tribalism up to modern times and turned much of faith into belonging and belief systems.  We must move instead to a practice based religion as the emerging global spirituality is making practice essential.  People don’t believe you unless you’ve done it.

Feb 10: Session 5 – Mysticism Over Moralism
People initially attracted to religion often are interested in social order, about laws that can tell me what I should do or not do.  The Ego needs this to create a moral buttress for ourselves in the first half of life.  Yet, the saints all say that religion is not to make us perfect, but to bring us into unity with God.  Pursuit of perfection drives us back to individualism.  What undoes this legal based moralism is a moment of “unitive consciousness,” a moment of grace, a moment of unearned love or forgiveness.  Only this will break down the “quid quo pro” world of morality and move to a level of consciousness where the soul can overtake the ego.  Unless you come to the mystical level of consciousness, an experience of God, you will obsess about moralism.  Most people have these kind of God experiences but there is no one to tell them they just had it, like the moment of enjoying that wild flower and feeling the joy in your heart. That’s it!

Each 30 minute program in this series features a presentation of Fr. Richard Rohr and interaction on site with a small group of adults.  Our own group discussion will follow the format of the Participant Workbook containing all the material needed by class participants.  The Participant’s Workbook, entitled Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy is available from Cokesbury.com for $18.52 which includes tax and shipping.  Or, we can make bulk orders for $13 per person with preregistration by or before Dec 28

Sessions led by the Rev. Barry Turner. Contact Barry at carltonba@gmail.com and mail checks for the workbook (made out to Barry Turner) to 891 Vista del Brisa, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405.

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Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love
Thursdays at 10 am, starting January 15

To register for this discussion, email donnaross@charter.net To participate online, go to http://faithmatters.us/category/beasts/

This series of discussions at St. Benedict’s will encourage a fruitful dialogue between science and faith, discussing themes presented by Sister Elizabeth Johnson in her newest work, ASK THE BEASTS. Dr. Johnson outlines Darwin’s theory of evolution in a way that non-scientists can understand, and then builds a theological foundation for a Christianity that can work with – not against – science.  For a taste of Johnson's book, go to http://faithmatters.us/category/beasts/

A plea from scientists: As long ago as 1990, a group of scientists led by the atheist Carl Sagan issued a public appeal to religious groups, asking them to join scientists in a dialogue committed to preserving and cherishing the earth. Sagan wrote on behalf of the scientists, Problems of such magnitude and solutions demanding so broad a perspective must be recognized from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension… As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred.

Join the dialogue: In the past century religious institutions have proved themselves very influential on issues of peace, human rights, and social justice. Now scientists have called religious groups to make the same bold commitment, this time to safeguard the earth. Elizabeth Johnson invites us to join this critical conversation. Discussions led by a team of scientists and theologians, artists and environmentalists, clergy and laity. Thursday mornings – January 15, 22, 29 and February 5, 12, 19 10 am at St. Benedict’s.

January 15 Introduction to "Ask the Beasts"
January 22 Charles Darwin: the man, the scientist, the author
January 29 Darwin's book is published, 1859
February 5 Understanding Darwin's theory
February 12 Darwin's theory evolves
February 19 After Darwin, can we still see the earth as the dwelling place of God?

For more information contact Donna Ross at donnaross@charter.net or Carol McPhee at slofitz@charter.net To purchase your copy of Ask the Beasts, go St Ben's shopping page, click on the Amazon icon, and search for ‘Johnson Ask the Beasts’.


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Learning to Walk in the Dark
Thursdays at 10:30 am; February 26, March 5, 12, 19, 26

This study over five Thursday mornings in Lent will explore themes of darkness in culture, spirituality, psychology, and experience. Led by the Rev. Faye Hogan and Lorienne Schwenk, the class draws inspiration from the book of the same name by Barbara Brown Taylor and we ask that folks dive into the book before we begin. We will look at metaphors of blindness, darkness, and nighttime to discover what they truly mean. We will examine scripture and hymns, popular culture, and our own lives for how those metaphors are used and how they blind us further. We will look for newer understandings and fresher language.

Please read "Learning to Walk in the Dark" by Barbara Brown Taylor before the class begins. It is available at bookstores and the library.

Continuing Programs

Dream/Spirituality Group
first and third Thursdays, 7:00-8:30 pm

St. Ben's Drop-in Dream Group meets every first and third Thursday at St. Benedict's. The format is similar to twelve-step meetings: confidentiality is required regarding any dreams shared with the group, and sharing is not required (everyone supports by their presence). The group is "open" to newcomers but there is no commitment to attend on a regular basis. There are no instructional or workshop-related activities unless noted in advance. The interpretative assumptions and language are Jungian (see Robert Johnson's Inner Work).

Anyone who would like to be notified of future meetings should send an email address to Bob Pelfrey (bobpelfrey@charter.net).

For those interested in a year-long study

see the Education for Ministry program