Category Archives: Sprituality

Stages of Spiritual Growth

Roughly 5 years ago I began a process that took me into a deep internal struggle. The worldview which was handed down to me no longer worked and as I was pursuing ministry, involved in leadership at my church, and finishing up my undergrad degree in Biblical Studies. It became more and more apparent that the ground beneath me that once seemed so solid was quickly falling.

This experience lasted for more then several years, and if I’m honest I am probably still journeying through bits of it. It was a faith crises of sorts, and through this struggle I have discovered a deeper, but very different way of being a person of faith and spiritual conviction. Along the way, I learned about the stages of faith. Both James Fowler and Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck have written about this spiritual developmental theory. My only regret is that I did not discover it sooner. M. Scott Peck gives four simple and important stages to spiritual development. These stages are as follows:

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Stage I: Chaotic – antisocial.

As an infant we enter into this life thinking the world revolves around us. We all begin in stage I. It is a time of chaos or lawlessness in that we are not sure what is true, good, or right. At stage I we are selfish and seek our own self interests. Some have suggested that prison is a stage I institution in that it places limits on those who don’t or can’t control themselves as part of a larger society.

Stage II: Formal – institutional.

As we grow, we begin to seek stability and a sense of security. This stability is most often given in the form of large institutions and/or a person(s) of authority. We seek to know what should be, what is true, right, and good. We often learn this from religious organizations (or other places such as the military). This stage is helpful and necessary in spiritual development, but unfortunately most religious people and institutions remain at stage II.

Stage III: Skeptical – individual.

While many remain at stage II, some begin to question the institutions, structures, and those in authority. This is often reflected during the teenage years as this person begins to question their parents authority and their rules. Religiously, many who enter into stage III begin to question the doctrines, dogma, and beliefs that have been handed down to them. Many who enter into stage III believe this to be the last and final stage. The college or university are often associated with this stage.

Stage IV: Mystical – communal.

Few people enter into stage IV. One enters into stage IV when they continue to seek out the sacred and walk through the skepticism, questions, and doubts of stage III. People in stage IV may be religious or may not, but they all share some form of deep knowing and appreciation for the divine or sacred as Great Mystery. Instead of clear answers and black and white thinking as seen in stage II, people in stage IV value questions, experience, mystery, and the journey toward discovering more. While often in stage II we are very closed off and dogmatic, in stage IV people are open to experiencing new and different things and working with those who do not see things the same way. They realize that no creed, doctrine, dogma, book, or religion can fully capture the Sacred. Often they are deeply committed to their own particular wisdom tradition, but they are open to learning from others. While stage III people are more individualistic, people in stage IV see the great value of community.

Some thoughts:

Looking back, I can see that five years ago I was pushing back against a stage II environment. I was questioning, wrestling, and struggling – the “institution” (i.e., church) was not giving me answers that worked or made sense to my experience, thoughts, and beliefs. The journey from stage II to stage III often brings a crisis of faith, and many never recover or move past stage III for one of two reasons: either they are sick and tired of the whole “religious” thing and are over it entirely (they chuck it all out or see it as only a crutch), or they have no idea that there is a stage IV and have never encountered anyone who lived at this stage. Often many people at stage III associate religion or spirituality with stage II because often there experiences reflect this.

Some people are at stage I and the traditional forms of religion at stage II are exactly what they need. I believe this is why churches are growing in certain parts of the world – it is a necessary and important step in spiritual growth. But, many in the western world are at stage III and they see much of religion at stage II. In other words, it feels like a step backwards.

What I hope to be growing into (I don’t claim to be there yet) is stage IV. I have struggled with being a pastor because much of what I have known has been stage II religion. I realize that being at stage IV means that you may speak some of the same language as people at stage II, but mean different things. Thus, there is a tension because people at stage II will see you as a threat and people at stage III will often think you are at stage II because of your language.

I believe we are in desperate need of stage IV leaders, pastors, CEOs, business people, parents, counselors, teachers, etc. Our world will grow when those at stage IV have the courage to step out, speak, and lead. These people may be misunderstood, seen as a threat, or even seen by some as naive, but many of the great movements of history have been lead by people who took this risk. Stage IV people are sometimes called the mystics – they see beyond what most can see.

We need people who can see what most cannot. We need people who can help teach others to see beyond stage II or III and into another, more deeper way of being human and brings the heart and the mind together and works toward a more just and generous world.

 

 

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.

Spirituality is about seeing

All religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. That’s what religion is for. That’s why the Buddha and Jesus say with one voice, “Be awake.” [1]

It is unfortunate that for many religion has tended to teach people “what to see rather than how to see.”[2] Some people are drawn to religion because they are trying to make sense of the world. Some want security, and often they believe this is found in certainty. Thus, we see in our world today, a whole lot of religious people who “split hairs” over theological issues, doctrine, and truth claims, all the while missing the point entirely! Religion is not the same as spirituality, but healthy religion develops spirituality – they are not mutually exclusive.

What is spirituality?

Spirituality is about seeing. It’s not about earning or achieving. It’s about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows. You don’t need to push the river, because you are in it.[3]

Spirituality is about seeing, and religion should be the forms, rituals, and communities that help people see.

See what?

See the Divine, Ultimate Reality, the Sacred in all things, to see that everything is connected. To see that we are all living in this Sacred Presence or this Flow.

Religion should help foster this awareness, informing us that this already exists, but much of religion has instead produced forms, rituals and communities that try to control what people see, how people see, and what they cannot see. In essence, some feel the need to control and push “the river” rather than inviting people to see and enjoy the river. You don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops, pray for hours each day, attend church every Sunday, or read Scripture ever day in order to see and enjoy the river. Your don’t need religion in order to be spiritual, but healthy religion can deeply enhance this “seeing.”

The difference between healthy and unhealthy religion has to do with control. Unhealthy religion tries to control what you believe and what you see. Healthy religion understands that whatever the Source of all things is (God, Ultimate Reality, the Universe, the Sacred), it is ultimately Mystery and cannot be contained.

Religion…has not tended to create honest humble people who trust that God is always beyond them. We aren’t focused on the great mystery. Rather, religion has tended to create people who think they have God in their pockets, people with quick, easy, glib answers. That’s why so much of the West is understandably abandoning religion. People know the great mystery cannot be that simple and facile.[4]

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Perhaps God is not so much a “being out there” who can be clearly defined, contained, understood, and controlled as much as God is a flow – or a dance – we are all invited into. Perhaps God is more like a sunrise on a beautiful morning. When those first rays of sunlight hit your face, something beautiful happens. For a moment, you feel at peace. You feel connected, centered, and invited into something far deeper than yourself. It is Mystery – you cannot describe, contain, or control the Sun. It’s simply there for you to enjoy.

 

 

[1] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, 29.

[2] Quote taken from Richard Rohr.

[3] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, 33.

[4] Ibid., 35-36.

The False Self

We all have both a True Self and a False Self.

Being able to tell the difference is everything.

Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves…There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular. Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness.               – Thomas Merton

falseself

My spiritual journey has lead me to contemplation, which seems to be the best route (the only route I have found) that exposes the False Self and helps you walk into your True Self – the core of spirituality.

According to one of my favorite authors, Fr. Richard Rohr, In contemplative prayer we move beyond language to experience God as Mystery. We let go of our need to judge, defend, or evaluate…During contemplation we come to know that there is no separation between sacred and secular. All is one with Divine Reality.

The spiritual journey is meant to be a pathway to discover our True Self – that self that is hidden within, often behind the mask of our False Self. The False Self is that part of us that we prop up that makes us look good to others, hence the image of a mask. It is not actually who we are (our True Self), it is something we hide behind, but it is something we unconsciously fight to keep propped up so we don’t have to deal with all the junk within. If I can’t be as good, smart, or successful as I want to be, I at least want others to think that I am.

The path to uncovering the False Self means we have to be honest and vulnerable in order to expose the weak part of us – no one likes this!

In The Gift of Being Yourself, Psychologist David Benner writes Our false self is built on an inordinate attachment to an image of our self that we think makes us special…Initially the masks we adopt reflect how we want others to see us…Few things are more difficult to discern and dismantle than our most cherished illusions. And none of our illusions are harder to identify than those that lie at the heart of our false self. The false self is like the air we breathe. We have become so accustomed to its presence that we are no longer aware of it.”

The False Self is an illusion, an illusion that is prevalent in every person, and is largely unrecognized. While many non religious people are unaware, religion can actually be a place that bolsters the False Self. I think this happens more times than not.

Immature or lower levels of religion prop up the False Self by creating more labels, divisions, doctrines, and dual (either/or) ways of thinking. Contemplation slowly breaks down these walls and divisions and brings a non dual (both/and) awareness. Often the False Self is that part that feeds off certainty and security. No wonder the False Self is well fed in the religious mind!

  • How do you expose the False Self?

Ask yourself what you feel the need to constantly defend and there you will find the False Self.

Those things, ideas, beliefs, images we are attached to are sure signs of our False Self, hidden within. Dr. Benner writes, “the false self needs constant bolstering. Touchiness dependably points us to false ways of being. And the more prickly a person you are, the more you are investing in the defense of a false self.”

Do you feel the need to consistently defend your own self-importance, self-worth, intelligence, success, views, or beliefs?

Those things we are attached to  are obstacles to finding our True Self – that part that doesn’t need to defend, compare, divide, or fight against. These attachments keep us from becoming vulnerable and keep us from dealing with our own shame, insecurities, and feelings of inadequacy.

My own journey as lead me to uncover my False Self in unexpected ways – in my own insecurities and feelings of inadequacies. I want so badly to appear smart, intelligent, accomplished, and put together. I constantly, and most often unconsciously, compare myself to others who are smarter than I, more charismatic than I, and the list can go on and on.

One of the most helpful tools I have discovered along the way is something called the Enneagram (I will share more about this in the future). I will also share steps to take to enter more fully into your True Self, or at least the path I am on, which is largely a path of knowing and accepting.

Stay tuned!

 

 

Post charismatic?

I grew up in the charismatic Christian tradition, which basically means I saw a lot of crazy stuff. I still remember my parents talking about the “Toronto Blessing” in 1994, and while I was very young, it altered my life. My family switched from a Baptist church to a charismatic church and then the real fun began.

What does it mean to be a charismatic?

On one hand I have no idea. On the other hand, and in my definition, it means to focus on God’s Spirit – particularly the “baptism of the Spirit” – which resulted in something we called “speaking in tongues.” We were the right, correct, and highly blessed ones who really got it (sound familiar?). On top of that we often prophesied over each other (by prophesy I don’t mean what I now think it means, I mean speaking insight about the persons personal life or future events), laid hands on each others (something I still think is powerful, but for different reasons), and sometimes were “slain in the spirit” or “drunk in the spirit.” Yes, it is all just as weird (or weirder) than it sounds.

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I still remember a time I went to a “revival” meeting in the heart of the Bible belt – Oklahoma City – and seeing many fall to the ground as the speaker “blew” or “breathed out” (drawing from Scripture – though in a very odd way) God’s Spirit on people. I also recall the speaker sharing how his wife was “drunk in the spirit” more often then not, which caused me to wonder why God would cause such a peculiar thing to happen. For some reason it was not ok to get drunk on alcohol, but it was ok to be drunk off God, even though both people acted the same way? Bizarre.

Needless to say I left that tradition, and quite honestly I don’t speak of it often because it’s truly a phenomenon.  So I have been a closet post-charismatic for some time.

Someone recently asked me how I have handled my former charismatic teachings and experiences, which has caused me to reflect on ways it has influenced me and informed how I live today. I’m sure I don’t know many of the ways this tradition has influenced me, but I’m certain it has.

I have always been drawn to “experiencing” God – what I would have formerly called “intimacy with God” – and still feel fairly comfortable with that language, though I don’t think I would use it myself. As I reflect upon my upbringing, knowing that I am deeply formed by my tradition, I realize that there has always been this drive to “know” God. By “know” I mean somehow experience God, God’s presence, God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Perhaps this is also part of my personality, in that I am a “feeler” and deeply intuitive, though I don’t always have the language to articulate the “what” or “how” of my feelings. I also have a deep longing for depth, holistic living and seeing, and understanding the interconnection of all things.

I have been drawn to the Mystical tradition, finding people like Thomas Merton, Rumi, Richard Rohr, and others fascinating. I see that many of the great mystics were bound by their consciousness, their culture, their worldviews, and their language, yet I find something deep and peaceful in their writings. It speaks to me on a deeper, almost soulish, level.

I recently listened to a podcast by the liturgist here, where they interviewed one of my favorites, Richard Rohr. Rohr reflects on ways the charismatics may have gotton it right, and ways they may have missed it, but it was insightful for me to hear.

I don’t use the word post-charismatic, though I have undoubtedly been deeply influenced, for good or ill, by this tradition. What I am most thankful for is that this has caused a longing within me to experience the divine in my life, but this tradition would have never have known all the ways I might have experience the divine that would not fit neatly into their theological boxes, labels, or categories.

In a way, it taught me how to see; then when I began to see things in different ways, it had no idea what to do.

So, my charismatic upbringing has prepared me to launch into the deep, to experience God in unexpected places, and to see things in new and deep ways. While I may not be a charismatic, and I may not have a worldview that aligns with theirs, I have realized that it is a part of who I am and while it is something I may have moved through, it is also something I have included. For that, I am grateful.

Why Vegan?

Several months ago I decided to take the step and become a vegan.

What is a vegan?

A vegan is someone who abstains from consuming meat and meat products (including eggs, cheese, milk, etc) – some go even further and abstain from buying anything that was made using animal products (e.g., leather).

The question is why vegan? There can be a number of reasons someone decides to become vegetarian or vegan. Here are the top reasons why I choose to make this lifestyle change.

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1. Ethical 

Factory Farming is a major reason why I became a vegan.

If you are not aware of the harms of factory farming you can watch a 12 minute video by clicking here (this video has disturbing images).

Because people have such a high demand for meat consumption, animals are now raised under the following conditions in most factory farms:

  • Animals are packed into spaces so tight that most can barely move. (seriously have you seen this!)
  • Farms are often not properly maintained and are breeding grounds for many diseases.
  • Animals are treated poorly (understatement), and deserve better.

And this is just a couple reasons. To read in more detail many of the unethical ways animals are treated click here, here, here, or here.

Bottom line – the vast majority of meat (roughly 99%) in the U.S. come from factory farms. Factory farms treat animals as commodities in unethical ways. Eating meat that has been raised on a factory farm contributes to the violence and unjust treatment of these animals.

2. Environmental

The second major reason I became a vegan is for environmental reasons.

  • Water

1. Meat production wastes a ton of water.  – 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat.
2. Raising animals for food takes up half of all water used in the U.S.
3. You’d save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you would if you didn’t shower for six months.

  • Rain forest

1. For every meal eaten with meat, 55 square feet of rain forest has been torn down to produce that meal.
2. Every six seconds, an acre of rain forest is cut down for cattle farming. (roughly 14,400 acres a day!)
3. In 2004–05, 2.9 million acres of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil were destroyed in order to grow crops to feed animals on factory farms.

But what will a vegan lifestyle do?

1. If we actually ate the foods we feed to farmed animals, we wouldn’t need to grow nearly as many crops, and we could eliminate the need to decimate the rain forest.

2. A 2008 study concluded that a meat-eater’s diet is responsible for more than seven times as much greenhouse-gas emissions as a vegan’s diet is.
3. A vegan is responsible for the release of approximately 1.5 fewer tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year than is a meat-eater.
4. It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein.
5. Animal agriculture is a leading source of carbon-dioxide, nitrous-oxide, and methane emissions – these are the top three greenhouse gasses.
6. And the University of Chicago found that going vegan is more effective in fighting climate change than switching from a standard car to a hybrid.

The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined.

One study shows that reducing global meat consumption will be critical in combating global warming.

3. Spiritual

Yes, spiritual. I believe one can cultivate compassion in their life and one way I have chosen to do this is by not eating meat or meat products.

  • Compassion is the concern for the suffering of others.

Animals suffer greatly because of the high demand of meat in our lifestyles. Every time I chose to eat something other than meat, I am using this moment as a way to reflect upon how my choices affect others and how we are all connected. Animals are sentient beings, not mere commodities. Each time I choose not to eat meat I am saying, “I value their lives and realize that I share this earth with them and have a duty to help preserve this world and live in a sustainable way.”

GBarks-Slider-Images-Gandhi

Should everyone go vegan?

Probably not. There are reasons why one would choose not to become a vegan and I respect many of those reasons. While I have chosen to become a vegan, I am not a vegan advocate. I do, however, believe in advocating that people eat less meat, know where the meat comes from, and know how it was raised. For me, this is more important than becoming a vegan and is perhaps the best way to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and ate vegan food instead, it would be like taking 500,000 cars off the road….think about that!

 

 

 

 

Convictions for life

  1. God exists and desires all things to flourish.
  2. We grow spiritually by becoming more fully human – the best test is love and compassion.
  3. Practicing non attachment to beliefs is vital.

I have been trying for some time to condense my most basic life convictions – those that are most central to my worldview – into three or four convictions. This is the result of that process.

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  1. God exists and desires all things to flourish.

First a word about flourishing; then a word about God.

For many, God is judgmental, angry, wrathful, tyrannical, anti (fill in the blank – gay, black, Muslim, sex, etc). The idea of God punishing a bunch of people for any of these reasons is unfathomable to me. I don’t see God as against anyone except that which restricts flourishing. Love, acceptance, tolerance, inclusion, forgiveness, mercy, justice, health, healing, wholeness, plenty of food, clean water for all, enough money for all basic necessities – these are what I believe God is for.

God.

For some, God is some being “out there” (often in heaven). Occasionally,  this God suspends natural laws and acts in supernatural ways only to go back “out there” shortly after. This view of God no longer makes sense. What about my friends whose lives have been cut drastically short? What about the holocaust? What about 9/11? What about Paris? What about mass shootings that continue to take the lives of innocent people? Is it just for God to act at some times but not others?

For me, I am comfortable with different words for God; the Universe, the Divine, Allah, Ultimate Reality, the Sacred, the Spirit or Great Spirit, the Creator, or any other attempts at capturing the ineffable Source of all life. I find Paul Tillich’s definition of God as the “Ground of all Being” to be the most helpful (it defines God enough, but leaves a ton of room for mystery). God cannot be defined, grasped, or completely understood, though that doesn’t mean God is not personable or cannot be experienced. I find comfort in the Mystery (for more about God as Mystery click here). At the same time, I try to understand God in ways that make sense to me, to my mind, and to my own experiences. It seems to me that God is beyond being, beyond male or female, and is not a being somewhere out there, but is rather the Ground of all Being – God is that Source which permeates all living things.

2. We grow spiritually by becoming more fully human – the best test is love and compassion.

We are not physical beings trying to become more spiritual, we are spiritual beings trying to become more fully human. The best way to become more fully human, I believe, is to better understand our True Self – who we actually are. Self discovery, self realization, self compassion and acceptance leads to greater love and compassion for those around us. To become awakened or enlightened means we see Reality more clearly. For me, this has been a slow process that continues to develop mainly from contemplative spirituality. One doesn’t have to be religious for this, and sometimes religion can even get in the way of this if one becomes overly concerned with the afterlife, with correct beliefs (while neglecting love and compassion), and with a constant need to label who is “in” and who is “out”.

When I encounter or read from someone who is truly, deeply spiritual, they have a ton of depth, but also a great width (acceptance/tolerance of others). This has happened no matter what religion that person is a part of or if they are religious at all.

Cultivating spirituality can take many different forms. Explore, experience, learn, grow, and find what connects you to your True Self.

3. Practicing non attachment to beliefs is vital.

I could have placed a number of things in the third conviction, but as I journey through life, I am realizing more and more the importance of non attachment. People, esp. religious people, have an unhealthy tendency to become far to attached to their beliefs or views. Unfortunately, history shows us that when people become to attached to their beliefs, they call others “heretics”, they become more rigid, dogmatic and oftentimes persecute or even kill those they don’t agree with. Buddhism does a great job at teaching non attachment.

Our beliefs matter, but they don’t matter that much.

There are more important things such as acting with love, compassion, generosity, tolerance, inclusion, and working for justice in the world. It is more important how a person lives in the world, then what religion they are or if they are religious at all. Of course, as my first two convictions reveal, I think it is best to experience this God who seems to change lives, but I don’t want to limit God’s work to involve only those who acknowledge God. I have seen far too many non religious people living a life worthy of admiration and far too many religious people struggling with bigotry, judgmentalism, self righteousness, prejudice, or hate to believe one has to be religious.

It is helpful to be reminded that our beliefs are mere fingers pointing to the moon. Our beliefs are our best attempts at pointing to Reality – it would seem wise for us to understand that: a) all of our beliefs are subjective b) they are not Reality itself, but only point to Reality as best we can. Thus, beliefs and views will change based on new experiences and insights. We will grow (hopefully), and will see things differently. We may realize the finger we once thought most accurately pointed to the moon needed to be replaced with another one that we feel is more accurate. Our beliefs matter, but more important is how we live in the world.

The goal of healthy religion is to promote the flourishing of all things by growing individuals and communities in love and compassion through connection with our True Self. 

The interconnectedness of all things

I haven’t written a post in quit some time. I think the reason being that I started a blog mostly to hash out a lot of things that I was going through and to help me navigate new information and beliefs and to put them into a more coherent model.

While this is a process that continues on, I have arrived at a place where I believe this will never cease, and I’m ok with that. I have wrestled out, or through, a lot of ways of seeing and thinking that no longer works for me and have found new ways of seeing the world that make more sense and that resonates with my experiences. (Two books that deeply resonated with me in this way were The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg, and Without Buddha I could not be a Christian by Paul Knitter – both fantastic books!).

More recently, I have been much more interested in spirituality than beliefs. Unfortunately, Christianity has tended to focus (often completely) on beliefs (though I would argue it should be more about a way of life). If you believe the right things then your in good with God. Compile that with the almost unlimited differences in beliefs found within Christianity (or religions) and it just quickly becomes absurd. While I agree beliefs are important, they are not the center and right beliefs alone do not lead to true enlightenment, compassion, or transformation. Further, if they become the focus, they can actually lead to more Egocentric self-righteousness, and more destructive views because now I have arrived at all the right beliefs and everyone else needs to see things exactly like me – not going to happen! We live in a diverse, pluralistic world where we are learning that differences are not a negative thing, but should be celebrated.

I used to think that maturity just meant I believed certain truths more firmly, which, I am finding, is actually not true. In a great book titled Being Peace, Buddhist Monk and proponent of Engaged Buddhism Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Sometime, somewhere you take something to be the truth. If you cling to it so much, when the truth comes in person and knocks at your door, you will not open it.” In other words, if we cling to too tightly, we do not leave ourselves open to seeing things differently and thus when truth presents itself, we will not be able to accept it.

What I have been finding more and more interesting is how people can become more healthy and whole as they realize their full humanity (this begins with self discovery). How are people formed? How do people heal? How do we move toward more health? How do people become more mature? More compassionate? More enlightened?

What does this all mean?

I have been drawn to introspection in hopes to realize more about myself in order to help serve the world and to live a life of meaning and fulfillment. Strength Finder’s test shows that my top strength is Futuristic, which basically means I am always looking toward the horizon and am fascinated by the future, where we are going, and what will happen. This is most apparent when it comes to issues of spirituality and religion. Where are things headed? Where is the Church headed? Christianity? Religion? Spirituality? Clearly we are experiencing a massive shift and whether you call it the second axial age, growing consciousness, or something else, we are evolving into something new and I find that extremely exiting!

So what’s around the corner? What’s on the horizon? I have a few hunches, but ultimately no one knows. I do believe, however, that we have the potential to bring about love, peace, and compassion to our world and to end poverty, violence, and evil. It will mean being flexible, being open to learn from others, especially from others who view the world differently. It will mean religions joining together with non religious people to work toward this future. Exclusivism, bigotry, prejudice, and hate will not be able to survive the way it has.

When we become more compassionate and enlightened, we realize that in order to bring peace we must first be peace. When we come to the awareness that we are all interconnected, and that we are even connected to all animals, plants, and all living things, then…then…I think we will see some major breakthroughs.

At the center of all this change is becoming more aware that we are all interconnected.

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Progressive Christianity – a critique

This is a post critiquing progressive Christianity.

First off, I don’t consistently label myself as a progressive Christian (mostly because this means different things to different people). While there is diversity within this group, most Progressive Christians would affirm evolution, the humanity of the Bible, they would be LGBTQ inclusive, and would tend not to see Christianity as exclusive. There is a lot more that could be said, but this is a very brief summary that would describe the majority.

Second, it is a critique from within. In other words, it is a critique coming from inside – not to show it is wrong, but to point out what I see as a weakness.  It is a critique to share what I believe is most lacking within.

Progressive Christianity rightly embraces science, critical biblical scholarship, the intellect, and accepts truth wherever it is found.

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My biggest critique?

Progressive Christianity has a tendency to play the same game as conservative Christianity – i.e. it is all about being right, correct, and can be a mere exercise of the mind. As Richard Rohr writes, “it is the same game on the other side of the playing field.”

As one who would best fit within the progressive camp, I think they have a political correctness and an orientation toward social justice, esp. concerning the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, that is often lacking in more conservative groups. Interesting that much of the Biblical narrative is a prophetic critique concerning those who mistake the means for the end – the religious acts (e.g. sacrifices, fasts, prayers, services) for the point. This is never the end point, but only meant to help us to become more compassionate toward others esp. and those on the margins.

As I have journeyed from a more conservative tradition I have found that sometimes (not always) there is still something lacking in many progressive places. Progressives can be passionate for social justice and fight against systemic evil (things conservatives often neglect), yet it is their approach that often doesn’t sit well with me.

Richard Rohr states, “I’ve seen far too many activists who are not the answer. Their head answer is largely correct but the energy, the style, and the soul are not. So if they bring about the so-called revolution they are working for, I don’t want to be a part of it (especially if they’re in charge).”

This speaks to my experience of some within progressive Christianity. If I’m honest, this has also been true of myself on more than one occasion. Progressives can sometimes have the same harshness, egocentricity, antagonistic attitude that comes from the other side.

What then is the answer?

I don’t pretend to have the answer, but something that I am finding extremely important personally is spiritual maturity. A maturity where the ego is no longer in control, and there is little need to defend one’s position – this is no easy thing! (This is also not the same as passivity!)

“Jesus and the great spiritual teachers primarily emphasized transformation of consciousness and soul.” – Richard Rohr.

In other words, both conservatives and progressives are tempted to work from the outside in. If we only legislate our beliefs then it would be better. If we only expose how ignorant the “other side” is then they will see.  If they are just more informed then they would understand.

Actually, seeing is more of a spiritual process that begins from within.

Both conservatives and progressives are often playing the same game.

It’s all about right beliefs.

Conservatives focus on individual salvation, and on having correct doctrine, and progressives focus on knowledge, information or reason – as if this is what brings about enlightenment!

Neither correct doctrine, nor mere knowledge or information will really transform a person. Either side can be harsh, judgmental, egocentric, and arrogant.

What is needed is healthy spirituality, something Rohr says comes more by subtraction than addition. It’s not about more; more Bible, more correct doctrine, more truth, more information, more science, more church, more Christians. All these things can be helpful, but they do not, in and of themselves, create mature, healthy people. It’s about surrender, release, and liberation – primarily from our own egos.

What does this look like?

I think that an enlightened person does not need to constantly defend their beliefs, doctrines, or worldview. Of course they will still believe certain things, but they will hold these beliefs in a very different way – they will hold them lightly. Their ego is not in control. They will work for what they believe in, but don’t feel the need to exclude others, or judge others based upon their beliefs. They will not feel superior, more intelligent, or more correct. They see that God is working in all religions, in all people, in all places. They see life as a gift and it is theirs to simply enjoy. They live in the present moment or the now.

Being conservative or progressive isn’t the point. In fact, it can be a practice in missing the point entirely.

What’s the point?

The point isn’t addition (more), but subtraction (less ego)!

Calling – what gives you life and what frustrates you?

  • What gives me life?

Well lot’s of things. Family, friends, coffee…even a good movie. But I think the thing that gives me most life is the following:

I get the most life when I see someone experience an understanding of a God (the sacred, transcendence, the universe) who is absolutely and unconditionally loving, forgiving, and inclusive of all.

  • What makes me most angry/frustrated?

Again lots of things (prob too many). Stubborn people, stupid people, racism, oppression, our health care system, our food/nutrition, bad coffee. But I think what frustrates me most is the following:

I get most frustrated when people use God, Religion, Jesus, the Bible to promote oppression or violence, to marginalize people, to excuse their own hatred or bigotry, and ultimately to promote their own ego’s sense of needing to be the right group, the “in” group, and to exclude others.

Not sure what this all means, but somehow and in someway I think it has a lot to do with my calling/vocation. For some time I have felt a sort of “calling” to be a pastor, yet organized religion, bureaucracy, hierarchy, doctrine, dogma, and being more orthodox are not interesting to me.

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I have no interest in arguing which religion is right and which one is wrong. I have little interest in building a big church, or in even making good Christians. I have little interest in arguing what theology is more “biblical”.

My interest is in seeing people become healthy, whole, and mature people who find peace and meaning in life, esp the everyday ordinary life. I am interested in the connection of all things, in working toward a more peaceful and just world, and in somehow bringing together individual spirituality (contemplation) and social justice (action) as the dance partners that they should be.

I don’t care if someone is a Christian, a Buddhist, Hindi, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, or other. I am interested in what I can learn from them, if they have found peace and meaning, and how we can encourage each other to bring more inner transformation and outer compassion into the world.

Still wrestling through what this means for me, for my calling or vocation, but in the mean time:

  • What gives you most life?
  • What makes you most angry/frustrated?

I think answering these two questions will help you figure out your calling/vocation.