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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?

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.

My prayer today

Empathy – the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings.

empathy

I have read through posts and tweets where people have called for the “whiners” to stop crying because their candidate lost. People have called to end the protests because it just shows that they are sore losers.

What? Seriously? There is that much lack of empathy from people and especially those who claim to follow Jesus?

The thing is that this goes beyond partisan politics. For many it goes beyond not liking Trumps policies (which most of us know very little of anyway). This goes beyond lying or not liking someone’s personality. Many are hurt, offended, and afraid, and they feel the system is unjust. Many are afraid for their friends and family who are Muslim, Immigrants, LGBTQ, and people of color. The only choice for many is to protest, and I think that is a healthy thing. To call for this to end is like asking someone who feels they have been oppressed to shut up and take it. You may not agree, you may see the world differently, but I will assure you they feel very strongly that they have been treated unjustly and if you refuse to listen you are contributing to the division and violence.

I have read stories and talked to people who are very afraid, and deeply hurt by the racist comments that have been made. The more I listen, the heavier my heart becomes. I will be honest, it has not gotten easier with each passing day, it has gotten much more difficult.

My prayer is not to end the protest, but to do so without violence and for all of us to listen to the cries of those who feel marginalized,  oppressed, are afraid. My prayer is not to bring unity, but to allow those who have been hurt by the violent rhetoric to be heard, only then can we begin the long healing process.

My prayer is for those who voted for Trump to actually listen to those have feel so deeply hurt by the rhetoric. My prayer is that those who feel they have “won,” will not gloat or cause more division by telling others to “get over it,” but will learn to extend empathy – to share in others’ experiences and emotions.

And if your thinking that those who didn’t vote for Trump are only causing more division by protesting, then you haven’t listened well enough.

It’s easy to sit in our own bubble and to read only those articles with which we agree with or talk with those who agree with us. This is true on both sides. If you claim to be a Christian, then at the very least you have the duty to intentionally reach out, to listen, and to extend empathy to those who are hurting and struggling. 

As is true of all other things, when you are starring into the eyes of someone who his hurting and you hear with your own ears the very reason why, it is almost impossible to tell them to just get over it or stop whining. When you take the time to listen to their story, I’m willing to bet that extending empathy will be the natural thing.

My prayer for our world, our country, and most especially those who claim to be Christians is to learn to extend empathy to one another and particularly those who are hurting today.

Dear One Church,

Dear One Church,

These past several months have been the most exhausting and divisive  season that some of us have witnessed.

Since the news came of our new president, I understand that some feel excited and hopeful, but we are a progressive, inclusive church, and I know many of you are struggling.

There is now a call for unity, but how can I call for unity when I have sat with and heard from people who have been deeply hurt?

Some are trying to bypass the hurt, pain, frustration, and anger by focusing on the good. I think people mean well, but I don’t think they fully understand. How can I bypass the very real feelings of myself and others by telling people to “get over it?” I cannot.

I try not to let despair win, but I have been on the verge of crying or have cried much these last several days. My heart is so heavy. Not only is our nation divided on politics, but we as Christians are divided – oh so divided!

So what do we do about it?

I am not sure.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I don’t know how hard it will be. I don’t know what this will mean for so many things I believe in and work for. I wish I had a simple answer, I do not.

I struggle to get along with people who see the world so differently than I. I struggle to get along with Christians who seem to be working for things so radically different than I. I think if I am honest, I struggle to love.

Ouch, that last one stings a little.

How do I love those who are so different than I?

Let me be clear, love does not require us to agree, but it does require us to be kind, patient, and open. How many times have I said something unkind? How many times have I posted something on facebook before taking the time to reflect and I regretted it later? How many times have I been in an argument and realized that the more I argued, the more closed off I became? Too many times.

If your like me, you find it all to easy to speak your mind, your opinions, and your thoughts and feel fully justified in doing so. Yet, how often do people on the other side feel the exact same way?

If you are struggling, I invite you to a special contemplative service at One Church this Sunday November 13th. We will not ask you to agree. We will not tell you to get over it. We will not tell you it is wrong to feel what you feel.

Instead, we will provide a safe place to come with whatever feelings you have as we stand together, pray together, and worship together.

If you are not struggling, I invite you to stand with those who are. I invite you to share in our hurt, pain, confusion, and anger. To me, this seems to be the loving, Christlike thing to do.

And then, we will break bread together.

When you don’t know what to do, I cannot think of a better thing than to be reminded that Jesus sat in the midst of pain, suffering, confusion, and loneliness.  Somehow this reminds us that God is in the midst of our own pain, our own confusion, our own anger, and our own loneliness.

We have much healing to do, for ourselves, for our country, and for the world. Healing begins by sharing together in the pain and struggle, and somehow we believe we will find God in the midst of all this.

My heart is with you,

Your Pastor,

Aaron Strietzel

contemplative-service

 

 

 

The power of shame

I believe all people have a strong need to experience love and belonging, but there is a powerful, and yet often unnamed, force that keeps most of us from experiencing this – shame.

img_6142

I have struggled with shame my entire life, but until recently I had no idea, that is until I read Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. What a life transforming book!

I knew I struggled with perfectionism and I knew that it held me back from taking steps forward. I would often feel I was not good enough, capable enough, or smart enough and there was always people I could think of who would do it better than I could. What I did not connect was that perfectionism leads to shame because I am never good enough, which leaves us feeling unworthy.

Can you see the struggle here?

If I could just lose 25 lbs…

If I could just stop drinking…

If I could just keep myself from loosing my temper…

If I could just eat healthier…

If I could just be more compassionate….

If I could just have get an A….

If I could just get a promotion…

If I could could just be as good as….

What I have found is that many struggle with these loops that replay over and over again. In essence, we believe that we are not worthy.

Brene Brown writes, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.”[1]

If I feel an innate need to experience love and belonging, yet feel unworthy of love and belonging due to my focus on perfectionism that leads to shame, then I will be left feeling alone and will continue to spiral down.

Here are four steps that I think we can take to lead us on the path toward freedom from shame.

  1. Surrender our drive for perfectionism.

None of us are or ever will be perfect. We will all make mistakes from time to time and that is actually part of the learning and growth process. The only way we don’t make a mistake is if we never step out and try. Perfectionism paralyzes us and keeps us from taking steps forward. So instead, we should name and own our mistakes. As we do, I think we will find that people appreciate that and are actually drawn to us because they feel they can be imperfect as well.

  1. Separate shame from guilt.
  • Shame tells us we are bad
  • Guilt tells us we did something bad

We can learn from guilt, but we cannot learn from shame. Shame will hinder our lives because what we will hear over and over again is that we are bad, defected, messed up, or broken. Brene Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.[2] Shame needs secrecy and silence to grow and once we name shame and then confess our shame, it’s power over us begins to loosen.

  1. Practice authenticity.

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.[3]

This is a practice, meaning it takes time and the more we practice it the better we become. In order to begin the journey toward freedom from shame, we must journey inward – toward what some have called our True Self. Only after we know our True Self and are able to accept who we are, will we be able to stop the comparing game. I cannot tell you how many times I have compared myself to others, only to walk away feeling shameful because I always found areas of myself where I was not as good as someone else.

  1. Surround ourselves with people who encourage us.

If this is a struggle, it won’t go away over night – it’s a process. Shame is a powerful hindrance to us experiencing well being and contentment in life. Becoming aware of the power of shame in my life is half the battle, but surrounding myself with people who will see who I am an encourage me is essential. The more I experience their love, acceptance, and support, the less shame can hold me and the more freedom I experience.

Once shame is named, exposed, and then these steps are taken, we can walk into the freedom to be who we are and to believe the truth about ourselves – that each of us is worthy!

 

[1] Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 23.

[2] Ibid, 39.

[3] Ibid., 50.

An open letter to the founder of One Church

This Sunday at One Church there will be a special ceremony where I will be ordained and installed as the Lead Pastor. This will be a special day for me, but I wanted to take a moment to share an open letter to Pastor Ryan Gear, the founder of One Church who has shaped my life in so many ways.

Pastor Ryan,

We first connected through facebook when a mutual friend introduced us. You reached out and made sure we scheduled a lunch. We met at Thai Basil in Tempe and I shared my story with you.

At that time, I was in a very liminal space as I had become theologically open and progressive, but was currently struggling with the high liturgical church we were a part of. I found the liturgy beautiful, yet culturally very different from the evangelical tradition I was raised in. I was frustrated and lost, seeking a way to be theologically progressive and yet wanting to hold onto the evangelical feel of the tradition that formed me so much.

I found all that and more at One church, the church you planted and worked so hard to see flourish.

When I first started at One Church, I was wrestling through a sense of calling. I was frustrated with organized religion and wondering how I could be a pastor – all this while in the middle of seminary. I had experienced so many negative aspects of religion and church and had little motivation to continue. You listened patiently and empathized with many of my concerns which, I believe, is a huge part of what it means to be a good pastor.

After listening, you asked several clarifying questions, again the mark of a good pastor, and then asked a question that has stuck with me and one I go back to on almost a weekly basis.  You asked:

Is the answer to unhealthy religion no religion or healthier forms of religion?

This was the exact question I needed to be asked and I need to ask myself on a regular basis. Thank you!

Now, I’m not an overly religious person and I have great respect for those who seek to bring about a just and generous world outside of religion, but have come to realize that I feel called (at least that seems to be the best word to explain it) to work toward bringing about a more just and generous world by promoting more healthy forms of religion – at least as best I can. I owe a lot of this passion to you.

Not only did I wrestle with that question, but at One Church have experienced how healthy religion can be helpful for people. I have heard many stories of people seeking a community that is a safe place to wrestle with faith and not feel coerced or pressured to see things a certain way. I have had people come up to me after a church service, so thankful that they found a community that was open and inclusive where they would feel not only welcomed, but affirmed for who God created them to be. I have seen many serve others and see God work in and through them. I have seen how the church can serve the community without the pressure to convert everyone, but to simply work toward bringing God’s kingdom to earth. At One Church people discover Jesus in new and refreshing ways.

If it were not for you and your hard work, I would not have experienced this!

You have also encouraged me through many doubts and fears I have had. Not only have I experienced being part of a community that seeks to create healthier expressions of religion, I have felt more confidence to step out in my gifts as you have encouraged this in me. You have been patient and so very encouraging every step of the way. Thank you!

I know that planting a church and nurturing it is no easy task. Your heart, passion, courage, and perseverance are inspiring! If it was not for your determination to work so hard, to sacrifice so much, and to continue to persevere, One Church would not exist. This community exists because of your faithfulness to God’s leading in your life. Thank you!

Finally I admire your sensitivity to know when the time has come to step down and to follow God’s leading in a different, but similar way. Many people stay at a place far too long and struggle to release what they have worked so hard to create. It takes just as much or perhaps more courage to entrust this to someone else.

You have become such an encouraging part of my life and it will be hard for me to see you go from One Church. Yet, I am so very excited for the future of One Church as we continue to move forward as God leads us. I know you desire to see One Church flourish and it means a lot that you have entrusted this to me (or trusted God to work through me). I am fully confident that God is working and will continue to work through One Church in great ways.

Thank you for pushing through all the obstacles and overcoming the barriers in order to create such a wonderful community. Thank you for allowing me the place to learn, grow, and develop as a pastor and leader. Thank you for all your encouragement. One Church would not exist without you, and I would not be here without you. You will be missed, but are so greatly appreciated!

with love,  admiration, and appreciation,

Aaron

 

 

Bridge building & non-dual seeing

Our world is doing violence to us. How? By pulling us apart, by pushing us to see in dual or binary ways, and suggesting that we must always choose a side.

  • Either Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter.
  • Either you are pro life (against the legalization of abortion) or you are against life.
  • Either you believe the way I do, or your “out.”
  • Someone/something is either good or evil.
  • You must be either for or against something.

The pressure to choose one and reject the other is taring us apart – from each other and from ourselves. Not only do we feel pressured to choose sides, it then temps us to see the other side as evil.  We are drifting further and further apart to the point that we no longer listen to the other but rather we lob verbal attacks from opposites sides of the room.

The further apart we are the louder we must yell,  and the louder we yell the harder it is to listen. Last week at One Church we talked about the idea of bridgbuilding (you can watch here), something I am more and more convinced is so important.

Building a bridge doesn’t mean you agree with the other. It doesn’t mean that you throw away personal convictions or opinions. Building a bridge means you actively seek to understand the other, work in areas where you have common ground (there is almost always ways to do this), and build relationships with that person.

Most of us know that it is easier to demonize a faceless group, but once you get to know an actual person from that group, once you swap stories, ask questions, and better understand why they hold those convictions, it is much more difficult. You find yourself closer to each other.  You no longer need to yell, but can have an actual conversation – even if you don’t fully agree.

Uniformity isn’t the goal, listening and understanding is.

Here are some practical steps each of us can take to build bridges and begin to see the world in non dual ways:

building-bridges-paulo-zerbato

  1. Ask questions

When you meet someone who sees the world differently than you, whether it is political, religious, economic, or it is specific issues such as health care, parenting, education, if your like me, you are tempted to jump to all the reasons why their view is wrong. Asking questions is the first and most difficult step because most of us have very strong opinions and and are passionate about why we hold those opinions. Someone shares a different opinion and often we see red; our blood pressure begins to climb, and our heart feels like it’s going to jump out of our chest. These are very real physiological changes that take place. Perhaps taking several deep breathes to engage our parasympathetic nervous system may be a practice we can all engage in to help calm this “flight or fight” response that is hardwired into each of us.

2. Research

If there is something you don’t quite understand, it is natural for us to fear that thing/idea/person. The more we understand, the less we fear. The less we fear, the more open we become. This is one reason why education is so important.

Fear closes us off to others, but understanding opens us up.

3. Develop relationships

What would the world look like if we all took one meal and invited someone we least understood to share that meal with us? Maybe it’s a person of another religion, political view, ethnicity, or sexual orientation than us. How often do we ignore or pass by these people? If your like me, you try to not to engage with others you don’t understand. This will only contribute to the dual ways we see the world and perpetuate violence.

What would the world look like if every religious person took time to visit a different place of worship? What if they did so strictly to ask questions and learn and refused to share their thoughts, opinions, beliefs or reasons why they disagree. How great would that be?

Most likely, we all have people in our lives, people we interact with on a weekly basis with whom we know little or nothing about. Taking time to ask questions, do a little reading, and be intentional at developing relationships are practical ways to build bridges in our world.

Personality type and spiritual formation

If you know me at all you know that I am pretty obsessed with personality typing. I often catch myself talking to others about their Myers Briggs or Enneagram type. Sometimes, I confess, I take it a little too far and have to remind myself (or more accurately my wife reminds me) that there is more to the person than their personality type.

Some people believe that personality typing places people inside a box, but I have found that it actually exposes the boxes I put myself in and gives me ways to get out of the box – this is especially true of the Enneagram. Here are two ways that understanding personality has helped me grow.

  1. It brings compassion.

I heard someone talk about the Enneagram recently as a tool that increases your compassion toward others because you begin to understand that other people don’t think like you. I cannot tell you how many “discussions” (ok sometimes they are more than “discussion”) my wife and I have had concerning trite things like toothpaste, where something belongs, or how to go about cleaning the bathrooms. While at the time they always seem important, they are usually very small things, and they often reflect how we see the world differently. In hindsight I can see that our approaches differ because we have different personalities – thank God!

For example, I am an idealist who lives in my head and dreams of the future. My wife lives in the here and now (something that takes me a lot of practices to do and thus a trait I greatly admire) and takes the world in through her senses. She is much better at remembering street signs or where a certain grocery store is located. When we drive, I am daydreaming about what someone said, what I heard, what I read, or trying to make connections concerning some theory or model concerning the future of the universe (Yes I somehow tend to avoid collisions as I have only totalled one vehicle). My wife, on the other hand, is taking in all the information that is passing her by in the immediate “here and now.”

I also dislike (well actually cannot stand!) clutter. If it were up to me, my car would always be washed, waxed, and vacuumed and our house with minimal things inside. For my wife, clutter isn’t near as big of a deal as having fun, making memories, and enjoying whatever the present brings – I wish I were more like her and I am hoping that she will wear off on me.

Understanding that we don’t take in information, we don’t process information, and we don’t make decisions in the same way can bring about greater compassion for your spouse, your parents, your children, your boss, and all your relationships. I heard someone recently say that the different Enneagram types is similar to wearing different glasses – it greatly influences what we see and what we pay attention to. The struggle for me is reminding myself this on a regular basis as I so quickly forget.

2. Others experience/see the sacred differently.

This is one area I have been thinking about (or daydreaming) a lot recently. I often ask people their MBTI or Enneagram and I have noticed that some are more naturally drawn to things like contemplative spirituality while others find it much more difficult and less helpful.

For example, many NFs (particularly INFx’s) are almost mystic by nature. If someone is an Enneagram type four this is also true (and even more pronounced if they are a type 4 and an NF!). Many believe Thomas Merton was a type four and he is often seen as an example for many modern mystics. It is much more difficult for an extrovert (though obviously not impossible) to engage in contemplative practices and if that person is an S (sensing) or a T (thinking) on the MBTI it is even more likely they will find contemplative practices more difficult.

role-proportions-chart

I use contemplative practices as an example because as an INFJ I have found it very helpful, yet my tendency is to think that everyone would benefit from it in the same way I do and thus herald it as the thing.

What I have noticed in myself and in plenty of others is that we tend to think that how we view the world is how others do. As spiritual people we also tend to think that what works best for us may work best for someone else – this often leads to cookie cutter approaches to spirituality.  We can see this to be true in many others ways, e.g., exercise, diet, politics, education, parenting, leadership etc. I think we tend to forget that other people see the world differently and an exercise or diet that may work great for me may not work all that well for someone else.

In the end, the more I understanding the different personalities the more it opens me up to see and appreciate diversity – diversity of thoughts, opinions, worldviews, choices etc. I do still struggle, however, often thinking that my own opinions are the correct ones and that since I love yoga everyone should. Yet, I am reminded that while yoga may work well for me, some people just need an intense, high energy workout. While contemplative practices may be a more natural fit and very beneficial for me, others may need a place to serve, a place to share, or loud music to just let it all go. Sometimes I wish my wife saw the world exactly how I do, but would I really want to be married to myself? (just i case there is any question let me answer this clearly…hell no!)

There is beauty in diversity. Diverse foods, people, places, and things. I have much room to grow when it comes to compassion toward others and understanding that others may see and approach the sacred differently than I, but understanding the different personality types has helped me.

Perhaps you feel frustrated because others connect with the divine in a certain way that does not work for you.

Perhaps you found that certain spiritual practices, books, teachings, etc work well for others, but they just don’t work well for you.

Perhaps you wonder if you are odd because you don’t see God the same way that many around you do.

Spiritual formation, while leading us all to greater love and compassion, may look radically differently from person to person. As we better understand that we are all hardwired a little differently, maybe we can have more grace for the way others think and be more open to different ways and approaches to life and spirituality.