All posts by thestrietzels@hotmail.com

My story, I am learning, is more and more common. I was raised in a conservative/evangelical Christian tradition and began to see things differently. Christianity, I believe, is more about a way of life than right or correct beliefs or doctrines. This means the spiritual life is messy and full of adventure, not a neatly packaged set of ideas one buys into. One can be a deeply committed Christian, can attend church every Sunday, pray and read Scripture daily, and can remain more or less unchanged where their ego's are still in control. The way of Jesus is a way of death and resurrection - death to our ego or false self, and life to our true self. This is the journey I am on.

Where Christianity Got it Wrong

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  (John 12v24)

Today is Good Friday, the day Christians remember the death of Jesus on the cross. What does this mean for us today?

Christianity has tended to focus on correct beliefs; if you believe the right things about Jesus or God then you will go to heaven when you die. The more I read about Jesus, the more this seems off, and not just a little off – way off!

During our Lenten series at One Church, we have been exploring the idea of the True Self and False Self. Most of this language comes from a Monk named Thomas Merton, but Richard Rohr has also been influenced by Merton and has written extensively on this topic.

Rohr defines the True Self as the part of you that knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconscious.[1]

The False Self is who you think you are,[2] and is driven by our ego.[3]

Our True Self/False Self is about our identity. Our False Self can be seen as a mask we wear – usually as a result of our experience with suffering or humiliation. Our False Self isn’t inherently bad, it’s just not accurate – it’s not who you actually are.

Where did Christianity get it wrong?

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that a large part of Christianity got it wrong. There are healthy and unhealthy forms of Christianity, just as there are healthy and unhealthy forms of all religion. Unhealthy religion gets it wrong in that instead of revealing the False Self (our ego), it enhances it!

Rohr argues that our central task as humans is to “consciously discover and become who we already are and what we somehow unconsciously know.”[4] Jesus taught us that our True Self is “a treasure hidden in a field,” and the False Self is “a house built on sand.”[5]

The goal of healthy religion is to reveal the True Self and uncover the False Self, or as Rohr writes, “almost all religions say that you must die before you die.”[6] This, I believe, is what Jesus was getting at in the gospel of John where he talked about how the grain must die in order to bear much fruit.

Christianity, however, has tended to enhanced our False Self – what many call the religious False Self (I often joke that the religious False Self is like the False Self on crack – it’s nasty!). Concerning the religious False Self, Rohr writes:

The religious False Self is the best and most defended self of all. When God has become our personal and group lackey, we can hate, oppress, torture, and kill others with total impunity. The religious False Self can even justify racism, slavery, war, and total denial or deception and feel no guilt whatsoever, because “they think they are doing a holy duty for God” (John 16:2). The ego [False Self] has found its cover, so be quite careful about being religious. If your religion does not transform your consciousness to one of compassion, it is more a part of the problem than any solution.[7]

We can easily see the religious False Self throughout history at it has caused a great amount of pain, suffering, violence etc., all in the name of God. We can see the religious False Self at work in Christianity today in the way that Christians hold their views. When a person believes their way of interpreting, believing, understanding something is the “one and only way” then you can be sure the religious False Self is at work. When a person feels compelled to tell someone else why they are wrong, deceived, or heretical, you can be sure the religious ego is at work.

The religious False Self wants to appear right or correct and will take any differing view as a threat – in reality it is a threat to their ego. (Note: when most people react negatively against religion, I believe they are reacting against the religious False Self. They see through the masks and don’t want any part of it.)

What does all of this have to do with Good Friday?

As I mentioned above, healthy religion invites us to die, but it isn’t a death to our physical bodies, but to our False Self. “Anything less than the death of the False Self is useless religion. The False Self must die for the True Self to live, or as Jesus himself puts it, ‘Unless I go, the Spirit cannot come’ (John 16:7).”[8]

Good Friday reminds us that death precedes resurrection.

Yet, we must also be careful about resurrection, for our beliefs about resurrection can also reflect our False Self.

Up to now, it has been common, with little skin off anyone’s back, to intellectually argue or religiously believe that Jesus’ physical body could really “resurrect.” That was much easier than to ask whether we could really change or resurrect. It got us off the hook – the hook of growing up, of taking the search for our True Selves seriously.[9]

Unhealthy religious bolsters our False Self (religious False Self) instead of leading to the transformation of our identity (discovery of the True Self).

In order to discover our True Self, we must expose our False Self and allow it to fade. When you have met someone who has allowed their ego (False Self) to fall away and has discovered their True Self, you have found a person who is more open, forgiving, patient, kind, compassionate and who is able to act from a place of peace because they are grounded (they have build their house on a rock – the True Self – and not on the sand – the False Self). Anytime we react to something, we can be sure that it is the False Self. Anytime we take offense, we can be sure that it is the False Self. As we become more aware of this False Self, we can consciously choose not to react or take offense – this is the path to maturity.

Healthy religion leads us on a path toward maturity, toward the transformation of the self. It is much easier to argue about theology or correct beliefs than it is to do the hard inner work of transformation (exposing the False Self). Let’s be honest, it’s a painful process – hence why Paul called all who follow Christ to take up their cross.

 

Questions:

  1. How have you seen the religious False Self at work in the world?
  2. How have you seen the religious False Self at work in yourself?
  3. Are you willing to do the hard work to expose the False Self and allow your True Self to emerge?

 

Remember: this is a long process. As you begin this journey you will become increasingly aware of your False Self (usually seen when you take offense or feel compelled to argue). If your like me, you will see this religious False Self all over the place – know you are not alone! Just remember, God is patient with all of us. Have compassion on yourself and others for this is the path toward transformation.

 

 

[1] Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond, vii.

[2] Ibid, viii.

[3] Ibid, xvi.

[4] Ibid, 12.

[5] Matthew 7:26

[6] Ibid, 59.

[7] Ibid, 61.

[8] Ibid, 62.

[9] Ibid, ix.

 

Guest post: The Beautiful Empty

Below is a Lenten devotional written by a good friend of mine, Mark Johnson. Mark, along with a core group of people, will be planting a new church in Scottsdale, AZ and are planning to launch in September of 2017!  (You can learn more here.)

The Beautiful Empty

Life is supposed to be happy, isn’t that what we are told? As Christians that idea is especially true, because Jesus came to give us life, and life MORE abundantly, (John 10:10). Not only are we supposed to be happy, we are to be happier than all those non-believing skeptics in the world out there.

But if the truth be told, there is an unquenchable gnawing in the pit of ourselves that we all feel. No manner of religious duty or thought can seem to remove it. No sporting events, shopping sprees, sexual experiences or eating binges can touch the pulse like reminder of that lost feeling on the inside of us.

For the bulk of my life I ran to some sort of sexual experience, whenever that emptiness was agitated.

In early December of 2007 just months after a colossal crash and burn in my life, I was offered the opportunity to go to a counseling center in the mountains of Colorado where a renowned Christian therapist had a thriving practice and ran group and individual meetings on a daily basis.

I was there for two weeks.

It was beautiful there, also cold and more snow than was believable. I actually saw an Elk walking down the street of the small town of Buena Vista, Colorado as I drove in for my therapy session one morning.

On the third day of my sessions my counselor asked me if I had ever seen the movie A Beautiful Mind, I told him I had, but not since it had come out some six years previous.

He gave me this homework assignment.

“Go back to your room tonight and watch this movie about a crazy genius and as you experience it, do it in the context of where you are in your life right now.”

I did not know if I should be offended, flattered or worried, but nonetheless I took on the challenge. I mean how many times in therapy are you asked to do nothing more than watch a movie?

The film is about John Nash (Played by Russell Crowe) a Nobel Laureate in economics who we see struggling with schizophrenia in his early days at Princeton University. It follows his life forward as he marries, has a child and continues to spiral into his grand delusions.

You do not realize until later in the film, (spoiler alert) that some of the characters in the movie are only figments of John’s imagination, they are friends that only his mind can see.

When that part of the movie became clear to me, I began to cry, which turned to weeping, and ultimately ended in sobs that sounded like I was harming an animal, of some sort, on my side of the cabin.

 

This deep emotional response came as I realized that there was a reason for John’s “friends” that although they were a result of serious mental illness, they were in fact still helping John cope with a life that he could not deal with. His pain was so intense that he made up another reality to make everything feel better.

In keeping with my assignment, I did as I was asked to do and related this to the situation I found myself in that day.

For the first time in my life I saw that no matter the pain and misery my addiction had caused, in a very real sense, it was a secret friend that had helped me attempt to deal with the realities of my life.

Not in any sort of healthy way mind you, however, when I was beginning to feel worthless, stupid, out of sorts (empty) my old friend helped me steer clear of what was insurmountable pain.

This realization was one of the many crucial truths I embraced that led me towards freedom over my crippling addiction.

This highlights what I call the beautiful empty

There is something within all of us that remains empty no matter our attempts to fill it.

This includes God, work, people, and any and everything else.

I grew up believing that accepting Jesus in my savior was the one thing that would cause me to be completely fulfilled in my life. Unfortunately that is just not true.

The truth is, as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, 12 At present we are people looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face-to-face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth.”

We all have questions that are unanswerable, and deep longings that remain unfulfilled, even if we tell ourselves otherwise.

We have an empty place that will never be filled.

There remains an unmentionable sadness in the inner workings of every human being that is mostly ignored, but we get glimpses of it in art and music and poetry, or when tragedy hits us right between the eyes.

I believe that people with extreme addictive issues simply feel the world too deeply, or in other words, try as they might they cannot drown out the voice of that empty place.

So, what in the world would possess me to call that emptiness beautiful?

In my personal experience it is ONLY when we begin to embrace that emptiness, and see it as a beautiful part of our existence, that we can more fully become the people God wants us to be. A people who have less regard for themselves and more for those around them, a people who can and do experience God, not only through the ancient writings but in the faces of the humans they see everyday.

A people, who have swollen, bleeding hearts of compassion for every other person on earth, no matter their station, sexual preference, color or crimes.

It was the musings of the undeniably brilliant Blasé Pascal that gave

C.S. Lewis the quote “We live with a God shaped hole in our hearts” the full quote goes like this:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
– Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)

It appears that the empty feeling is not unique to modern culture.

And though I love the sentiment, I disagree with the notion that God has any desire to fill that infinite abyss within us.

It is the Beautiful Empty that constantly reminds us of our frailty and our equality with the rest of human kind.

If we allow it to, it will keep our prejudice and judgmental attitudes in check. It will fuel our compassion for one another and we can truly be the people of a second and third and fourth chance for others.

This is what happened to me as I reimagined what I considered to be my ugly emptiness and began to see it as a beautiful thing.

If we begin to see that longing as less of a life sucking black hole that we constantly try to ignore, and begin to see it as a beautiful reminder of who we truly are I think we will be of all people, most happy.

Lent, is of course the perfect time to do that. Let the suffering of Christ that is highlighted in this season allow you to embrace that painful, beautiful emptiness, that is the constant of the human condition, and find God there.

Lenten Fast from Facebook

Below is a reflection from Lindsay Fowler who has inspired me by deciding to fast from Facebook during Lent!

Lindsay writes:

Before Lent began I noticed that I was checking my social media pages very frequently and also wasn’t doing things that I had on my self care list as much. I could feel some tension, anger, fear and issues with comparison creeping in. I knew that in order to refocus I needed to eliminate social media. During this time I have focused on a quote from Bob Goff :

We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated with purpose.

I also focused on Col 3:2 “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” I wrote out my prayer lists, kept books and art supplies at my desk and every time I wanted to take a 10 minute break to check social media I took that time to pray, read or do art. I’m half way through my fast now and I feel so much lighter and positive and focused. I realized how easily our minds are distracted and how 10 minutes every hour or two ends up being hours a day that we are watching other people’s high light reels instead of praying or doing things that uplift our spirits.

It has forced me to start actually calling and texting people to check in instead of assuming I know what’s going on in their lives and it has given me a deep peace not focusing on what others are doing. I encourage everyone- even if it’s just for a week to take the time off of social media and use it to refocus your energy and time and priorities.

Some questions that might help you:
1) Do you find yourself comparing your lives to others when you check social media?
2) How often are you on social media each day? Each week?
3) What practices or activities could use more attention in your life? Could you use that time away from social media to pour into those areas?

The experience of love

This past Sunday One Church celebrated our four year anniversary. I am grateful for both the work of those who have gone before me and for the work of those who continue today.

As part of our service (which you can watch here), we listened to several people share a little about their spiritual journeys. Most people find One Church for one of two reasons (or both). Either they are looking for a church that is open and affirming to all LGBTQ persons, or they are looking for a church that is more open and allows space to question, disagree, doubt, or see things differently. As the pastor, I hope everyone feels the freedom to disagree with me at times. I am certain of very few things in life, but one of the things I am certain of is that I surely don’t see Reality, Truth, God, or anything else through a perfect lens.

A consistent theme as people shared at One Church was the idea of unconditional love and acceptance. One Scripture that was shared is the well known John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

There is a lot here to explore, too much for one short Lenten devotional, but one thing to point out is that when many read this they assume that “eternal life” means “going to heaven when you die,” which is does not. The message translation more accurately describes this by stating, “anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”

Like I mentioned, there is a lot here to unpack, but let’s move to the following verse, which is often overlooked.

17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Or, as the Message translates this:

17 God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

While Christians are well known for being judgmental and condemning, our Scriptures instruct us to do just the opposite. As this text was shared I couldn’t help but think how important this is for us to reflect upon during Lent. As we journey inward toward greater self awareness, perhaps we should be exploring the following questions:

  1. In what ways am I critical or judgmental of myself? (We tend to treat others the way we treat ourselves. If we are critical of ourselves, this will be reflected toward others.)
  2. Who do I tend to judge? (Let’s be honest, we all struggle with judging others. The question then isn’t do I judge others, but who are those “others” that I judge.)
  3. In what ways do I feel invited or called to partner with God to help put the world right again?

 

Additional thoughts to reflect upon:

I was reading some of Julian of Norwich’s writings this past week. Julian was a Christian mystics who lived in the fourteenth century and wrote the first book written in English by a woman. Thomas Merton called her one of the greatest English theologians!

In Julian’s writings, she refers frequently to God as Mother. While this might be a stretch for some, I find her writings to be refreshing because her focus is on God’s nurturing, motherly love. This is most clearly seen in chapter sixty and sixty-one of the Showings. Below is just a couple of quotes from these chapters:

The kind, loving mother who knows and sees the need of her child guards it very tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will have. (Chapter sixty)

But often when our falling and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so much afraid and so greatly ashamed of ourselves that we scarcely know where we can put ourselves. But then our courteous Mother does not wish us to flee away, for nothing would be less pleasing to him; but he then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to the mother for help with all its might. (Julian exchanges the masculine pronouns he/him with Mother to refer to God.)

It seems to me that God is beyond gender, yet I think we should be aware how our words influence our views. I think many people have rejected the masculine, domineering, demanding, Zeus-like-deity, but are still open – and perhaps longing – to receive the kind of nurturing love that Julian experienced and wrote about.

  • Have you experienced this motherly love?

Perhaps this week is an invitation to open yourself up to see God in new ways and experience God’s nurturing love. I believe it is this very experience that forms us and allows us to become less judgmental.

As we experience love, it transforms us and we are better able to extend love toward others. 

Christ is all and in all

If your walking through Lent, right about now it is becoming difficult, redundant…dare I say boring?

Every time we make a decision to enter into a new season and make changes, it is exciting at first, but usually several weeks into it, that shine wears off. As I continue to journey through Lent, that time is right about now and I doubt I am alone.

I stumbled across a text from Scripture that spoke deeply to me.:

In that renewal, there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian[1], slave and free; but Christ is all and in all![2]

Amazing how many times I have read that text and yet not realized how progressive – even provocative it is! I was recently listening to a podcast on the progressive nature of the Bible[3] and it became even more clear how the Bible itself is a movement, a journey, a migration.

It is a human tendency to create lines – an us-vs-them mentality. Unfortunately, religion is often used to feed this desire. When religion does this, I would call this unhealthy forms of religion. We see a healthy form of religion above because it is tearing down any walls, anything that separates, there is no us-vs-them – there is only us!

Christ is all and in all?

What this is saying is that there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. Christ is in all things. There is no place and no person where the sacred does not permeate. No exclusions! There is not a single person, a single nation, a single ethnicity, a single orientation, a single religion where the sacred cannot be found.

This also means that the sacred is found in mundane things like folding laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, running errands etc. Being a pastor is no more sacred than being a teacher, working in an office, or being a stay-at-home parent. As a pastor, one of my jobs is to continue to point out the sacred in all this things – to remind people that God is found in all places and to encourage people to become more aware of this sacred invitation available to all people at all times.

Here is an ancient prayer that I leave with you for today:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

May you become increasingly aware of the sacredness of each moment.

 

 

 

 

[1] Scythians were ancient nomadic people commonly thought of as the ultimate barbarians. Let’s just say they were not thought highly of.

[2] Colossians 3:11

[3] Pete Enns podcast with Rob Bell which you can find here.

Knowing Self

The goal of the spiritual journey is the transformation of the self.[1]

I have wrestled with the idea of knowing self much the last several years – it often feels selfish. Yet, as Thomas Kempis once wrote, “A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning.”

Let that sink it for a moment.

Often, we strive for more information, thinking that if we can just check off all the boxes or answer all the questions correctly then we are spiritually mature. This mentality has caused so many to strive to be seen by others as righteous, knowledgeable, and all together; yet it has caused many to lack in humility.

I cannot help but notice that when religious people focus on the external, they quickly become rigid, judgmental, and hypocritical – I must confess that I have seen this within myself more times that I would like to admit!

This struggle also seems to be the great struggle Jesus had with the religious leaders of the first century. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus confronts this tendency by saying the following:

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,  so that the outside also may become clean.

27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[2]

I think it is easy for us as humans to focus on other people’s junk – in fact it’s not only easy, it boosts our own ego and sense of self-righteousness. It is easier for me to see the places and areas where others should grow or change than it is for me to notice, see, and accept the areas where I have messed up or have room to grow; accepting the shadows within us is a necessary part of our transformation.

Genuinely transformational knowing of self always involves encountering and embracing previously unwelcomed parts of self.[3]

Once we begin to notice things within ourselves, the second and even more difficult step is to accept these things. This is painful for several reasons. First, I would rather ignore these dark places. Second, once I am willing to look at and notice these areas, I struggle with shame and unworthiness, in other words, I struggle to accept these parts of myself.

Brene Brown writes:

We protect ourselves by looking for someone or something to blame. Or sometimes we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or by immediately going into fix-it mode.[4]

She continues to explore the relationship between self-acceptance and extending acceptance toward others:

The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.[5]

 

Questions:

  1. Do you struggle to accept yourself?
  2. What parts of yourself do you struggle to accept? Why?
  3. Do you believe that God accepts all parts of you?

 

 

 

 

[1] David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 14.

[2] Matthew 23:25-28

[3] David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 52.

[4] Brene, Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 16.

[5] Brene, Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 17.

Week 2 of Lent

I hope that gives some of you permission not to like some Scriptures. Frankly, I think many of them are regressive and small-minded. – Richard Rohr (p 53 of the devotional)

I appreciate Rohr’s honesty in today’s meditation from Wonderous Encounters. I grew up in a tradition that taught that all parts of the Bible are without error and speak the very thoughts or words of God in all things. Because this way of thinking was so built into my mind (theologically speaking it was part of my embedded theology), it was extremely difficult for me to question some parts of Scripture. I was to accept all of it – if I rejected any parts of it I was rejecting God. You can see why this was such a serious thing!

In our One Groups (our version of small groups) we are reading through Brian McLaren’s newest book called The Great Spiritual Migration. It has been so refreshing and the conversations enlightening! McLaren echo’s a similar sentiment as Rohr when he writes:

I could leave the genocidal God of some biblical passages behind and honor the generous God revealed in Jesus…the exclusive-we Supreme Being God of conventional religion can be found in the Bible, controlling, excluding, harming, killing, and animating various forms of oppressive human supremacy – religious, racial, political, gender based. But repeatedly, insistently, from Genesis to Revelation, the exclusive-we God is challenged, and a grander vision of an infinitely compassionate, generous, and gracious God rises into view…a God ‘who would never murder or kill anyone.’[1]

Some might argue that there is one, correct way of viewing God (and ironically their way is always the one, correct way), but it seems like nothing in life is static. Life itself is dynamic – that’s what it means to grow! Our view of God has evolved since the beginning of time. Why would we somehow think that would stop now?

  • Perhaps this Lenten season is an invitation to let go of outdated or violent images of God, and exchange them for new, non-violent images of a more inclusive God?

If you have experienced this evolution or change in how you view God (what McLaren might call a shift from God 4.0 to God 5.0), why did this happen? What would you say to someone who is struggling with older, more violent views of God, but want to find new, more accurate ways to see/understand God?

 

 

[1] Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration, 121.

Second Sunday of Lent – Rev Bill Schnell

This past Sunday at One Church, Rev Bill Schnell gave a wonderful sermon (you can watch here).

Many things spoke to me, but perhaps one of the things that jumped out at me was the idea that humans use different words to speak about the same thing. Rev Schnell gave an example of a chair. There are multiple ways to say chair in English and on top of that we have different languages – each one with different words that are trying to define or point to the same thing.

  • Could it be that different cultures, religions, and wisdom traditions use different words to all point to the same Ultimate Reality?

For some, this question is challenging because they hold to a belief system that argues it is the one, true system. I was raised in such a tradition, but it now seems to me to be arrogant to think that any one faith tradition could have it all right. Even people within this kind of tradition will usually admit that God is indescribable or beyond comprehension. Doesn’t it seem reasonable then to conclude that God may be working in faith traditions other than one’s own?

Others may struggle with this because they have experienced something that has formed them deeply and have a great desire for others to experience this as well. I get this, but should we discredit the very real experience of people from other faith traditions and ways that tradition has formed them?

I think we can be true to our tradition, while simultaneously being open to people of other traditions.

Let’s take the image of a bicycle wheel. A bicycle wheel has many spokes, but each spoke is leading in the same direction.

  • Could it be that all the wisdom traditions lead us in a similar direction?
  • If all the wisdom traditions lead us along a similar path, why be a part of any one singular tradition?

If we keep with the image of the bicycle wheel, what happens when we take one spoke and follow it for a little while, but then quickly jump on to the next spoke? If we continue to do this we will find that it is not actually taking us anywhere – we restart at the beginning every time.

Perhaps being rooted and grounded in a single tradition allows us to journey long enough and deep enough to find the center point that we have been searching for.

In a similar way, the deeper I go into my own faith tradition, the more I see similarities from people of other traditions (notice how the distance between the spokes decreases the closer to the center you get!). Entering into religious dialogue does not mean watering down our own traditions, rather it opens us up to the beauty and truth found in other traditions as well. For Christians in particular, it may be helpful to remember that Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew. The very person Christianity claims as its founder was actually a part of a different religious tradition!

Questions:

  1. Do you struggle to be open to truth found in other religions? If so, why do you think this is?
  2. If God is beyond description, why should we even bother trying to describe God?
  3. What words do you use to describe God, Ultimate Reality, Truth, or the Sacred? How do these descriptions hinder or enhance your view of God?

 

Spiritual growth is more about subtraction than addition

If your following along the Lenten devotional by Richard Rohr, yesterday you read that the spiritual journey is more like giving up control than taking control.

I have been thinking about spirituality and the idea that we grow through subtraction and not addition (I can’t take credit for that analogy as I first heard it from Richard Rohr).

This was difficult for me to grasp at first because I viewed people who were spiritual mature as those who could pray, fast, and read boatloads of the Bible. My experience, both personally and what I have seen of others, has led me to believe that you can do all those things and yet not become spiritually mature, i.e., transformed (particularly into greater love).

Perhaps spiritual growth happens more by becoming aware of our false self and letting go of this self – our fears, insecurities, desire to defend, our creation of us-vs-them, shame, anger, etc.

  • Is there something in your life you are invited to give up or let go of?

In today’s reading Rohr writes, God is always much better than the most loving person you can imagine…

For many of us, the good news was what we had to do to get God to love or forgive us. Yet Jesus suggests God’s love is unconditional. I would summarize the Good News as, “You and I are each loved by God.” Our job, our work, is to become aware of this and to walk into this.

  • Is the good news something we have to do, or is it something we simply become aware of and receive?

If Jesus tells us to “Ask and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock and it will be opened…,” perhaps today you might ask for a deeper knowledge of God’s unconditional love for both you and those around you. If you are really bold, perhaps you might ask for a greater understand of this love even towards those whom you dislike.

I invite you to meditation on these texts. Allow them to wash over you as you are reminded of God’s intimate love for you and for those around you.

Romans 8v38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3v18-20

18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Reflections on the first Sunday of Lent

This past Sunday we celebrated the first Sunday of Lent.

At church we talked about the “inner life” and the “journey inward.” Both of these phrases are not frequently used and in modern western culture are usually confusing to most people.

A New York columnist sheds some light on this when he writes:

We live in a society that encourages us to think abut how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life. The competition to succeed and win admiration is so fierce that it becomes all-consuming…We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character…Years pass and the deepest parts of yourself go unexplored and unstructured. You are busy, but you have a vague anxiety that your life has not achieved it’s ultimate meaning and significance.[1] 

I look at Lent as an invitation to cultivate the inner life. I understand this “cultivation” as spiritual formation. I love Renovere’s website which states:

We are all spiritual beings. We have physical bodies, but our lives are largely driven by an unseen part of us. There is an immaterial center in us that shapes the way we see the world and ourselves, directs the choices we make, and guides our actions. Our spirit is the most important part of who we are. And yet we rarely spend time developing our inner life. That’s what Spiritual Formation is all about.

Spiritual Formation is a process, but it is also a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.

Questions:

  1. What are some ways/practices that you use to cultivate your inner life?
  2. What does spiritual formation mean to you?
  3. How do you think people are spiritually formed?
  4. What is the result, goal, or aim of spiritual formation?

 

 

 

 

 

[1] David Brooks, The Road to Character, 92.