A Christian response to Orlando

This morning I awoke to the news of what is now being called the deadliest shooting in American history.

There are 50 known people who have died and 53 injured as a result of the shootings in Orlando at a Gay nightclub.

As most people, I was horrified, shocked, and deeply angered. This shooting has been on our minds all day as we try to make sense of it.

I am part of a wonderful church community called One Church located outside of Phoenix in Chandler AZ. We are a church that includes all and tries our best to follow the life, teachings, and path of Jesus in ways that make sense to 21st century people. We are also a part of a larger movement called Open, which focuses on bringing about a more just and generous expression of faith. (We are not alone in this!)

Some have thought our church to be watering down the truth, the Bible, or the gospel. I  get this picture that they believe we have a sort of hakuna matata attitude that thinks all we need is love and we do very little work in the world. Usually this mindset is reflective of fundamentalist and conservative Christians who think that because we are open and affirming and focus on relational work in the world instead of a transactional salvation message where we escape this world, that we somehow don’t take the life and teachings of Jesus seriously.

I actually take the life and teachings of Jesus very seriously and I believe they are more difficult and challenging then I have ever before imagined!

When someone steals from me, my automatic response is to want to steal from them. When someone steps over me, my response is to want to step over them. When someone mocks me, my response is to want to mock them back. When someone belittles me, my response is to want to belittle them back. When someone hurts me, my automatic response is to want to hurt them back.

Violence begets more violence.

To think that violence will somehow put an end to violence is, as Walter Wink has said, the myth of redemptive violence. It is easy for me to paint with a broad brush and condemn a whole group of people because of one person’s actions. It is easy for me to judge others for something someone else did. I have done all of these and more plenty of times, but when I act out of violence, hatred, or bigotry I create more violence, hatred, and bigotry.

According to the gospel account of Matthew, Jesus states:

 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.  – Matthew 7v14-15

The way of Jesus, the way of love, forgiveness, and compassion is a very narrow and difficult way. My automatic instinct is to take the wide, easy way and react out of hate or violence. In the same gospel Jesus says that we are to love our neighbor and our enemies. No one can tell me that this is an easy task!

One of the biggest ways we do this at my church is to learn from others. As someone told me today, it is easy to throw darts at people from the outside. In other words, it is easy to cast judgment and to view the other as wrong, violent, or “sinful” when you don’t actually know them and haven’t heard their story. Because of this human tendency (of which no one is exempt), our church has invited a Rabbi, an Imam, and many other religious leaders to speak and share not only wisdom and insight, but also their stories and experiences. Not only does this begin to break down walls that divide us, but we actually find they have so much to offer and so much to teach us!

In light of the shootings in Orlando, as a religious leader and as a Christian I must state the obvious – this is an unjust act of evil. Yet, I must also state the less obvious – hate and violence will only perpetuate more hate and violence. My hope is that this act of evil only exposes this truth.

Darkness-cannot-drive-out-darkness-only-light-can-do-that.-Hate-cannot-drive-out-hate-only-love-can-do-that.-9

When we take the words of Jesus to love our neighbors and our enemies seriously, this leaves no one to hate. We cannot hate Muslims, Gays, Atheists, or even people we disagree with inside our own tradition.

I believe the way forward can only be through love and compassion and that begins as we better understand others.

Instead of judgment, hate, violence, or bigotry – something we all struggle with at times – Jesus invites us to take the narrow path – the way of love, forgiveness and compassion. It is a narrow, more difficult way, but it does lead to life.

 

 

The seminarian’s unexpected experience

It’s been five years since I went back to school. The goal was to finish up my undergrad so I could attend seminary. Now, three years into seminary and only 6 classes left, I have experienced some major shifts.

CST

I chose Claremont School of Theology (CST) for several reasons. First, I was attending a Methodist Church so it made sense. Second, I was attracted to Process Theology. Third, I wanted to attend a progressive seminary that was not only open but also inclusive of LGBTQ person’s. Fourth, I saw that CST was engaged in interreligious dialogue and education and felt this was important for any spiritual leader in the future.

The biggest part of that decision was attending a place that was open, diverse, and liberal leaning. I wanted to find a place where I could explore, question, and feel free to challenge and/or change any beliefs I needed to. I know this should be the goal of any religious education, but sadly it is not.

I have gone through a major theological shift since I first went back to complete my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies five years ago. It seems like an eternity ago, but in the scheme of things five years is not all that long.

Yet, the theological shift has not been the most surprising to me. I had been on a journey for quite some time, and even though I was raised in a more conservative tradition, I had been drawn to people who were pushing the boundaries, asking tough questions, and inviting dialogue. Engaging in theology was not new.

The most surprising experience has been an introduction to contemplative spirituality and the idea and importance of spiritual formation. I had spent several years wrestling through many beliefs and views (my embedded theology) and had largely lived in my head. I think that was necessary for a time, as many of the beliefs I was given as a child no longer made sense to me. I grasped for something that worked and eventually realized that my beliefs, views, and ways of seeing the world will always be changing, evolving, and growing.  I think I’m coming to a point where I’m ok with that, and I think that is largely due to contemplative spirituality.

One of the first classes I took at CST was a class called Spiritual Practices. We engaged in different forms of prayer, meditation, and ways of engaging with Scripture that I had not done before. This opened up a lot for me. I always felt that meditation was for the few “elite” or those monks, and was never all that interested. Then I realized that true formation comes much more from surrender, from mystery, from experiencing wonder, and from releasing my attachment to all things (including my beliefs), than from developing a clear and systematic theology. My spiritual formation classes have become the one’s I have most enjoyed so far, and I look forward to taking a couple more before the end.

I understand that everything forms us. Education forms us deeply, and that has been a large part of my spiritual formation, one I am very grateful for at CST. How one is educated is a part of spiritual formation, and I have been educated alongside of those with diverse views, diverse ethnic and geographic areas, as well as people of different religions than mine. Surely this has all shaped me deeply. My beliefs have shaped me, my experiences have shaped me, my lifestyle (including diet) has shaped me, my friendships have shaped me and the list goes on and on. Yet, at the center of all this is contemplative spirituality, and I am becoming more convinced that this is perhaps the most needed thing in our polarized world of conservative/liberal, religious/non-religious, republican/democrat, etc. At the very least, it is what I seem to most need.

The idea of trying to “convert” others to my way of thinking is less and less interesting. The idea of arguing or debating about the correct doctrine, belief, or religion is less and less interesting. Sure, I still think there are destructive views out there that should be exposed, but what I am finding even more interesting is the idea of becoming a more healthy, whole, and compassionate human and helping others do the same. Instead of seeing different religions as either right or wrong, I see within each system either healthy or unhealthy – mature or immature – ways of being. The healthy or mature ways bring about a more loving, whole, and compassionate human…no matter what religion, belief, or world view they come from. My experience also suggests this to be true. I have met plenty of prickly, judgemental, and self-righteous Christians and some loving and compassionate people who are not Christian.

So, despite a theological shift, the thing that has most surprised me has been a curiosity and formational experience with contemplative spirituality. I went to an education center to realize that education, while being a part of formation, is not the only part or even the main part of spiritual formation.

I plan to write in the near future why I believe contemplative spirituality is so important.