Category Archives: Sprituality

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.”

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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.

 

Pre-rational, rational, and transrational – part 2

A few weeks ago I did a post on prerational, rational, and transrational here.

I have since come back to this on a regular basis  as I have continued to wrestle through a very specific question.

Why am I most attracted to a certain kind of person, thinker, author, speaker, or spiritual leader? Some are great thinkers, yet I still feel left lacking.

For me, there are people who have greatly impacted my life who I would say live in a prerational stage. These people focus on the heart (and often, unintentionally neglect the intellect). When questions or doubts are raised, they immediately go into defense mode. For these people, belief or faith is a house of cards – if you pull one card out, the entire thing collapses. As I mentioned, my life has been greatly impacted by many people in this stage and I am very thankful for their influence in my life. Many of these people are very passionate people who love God immensely.

Then there seems to be people who I would say live in the rational stage. They are open to questions and doubts and have very thoughtful answers to many of them. These people tend to embrace critical biblical scholarship, science, archeology etc. I am very thankful for those in this stage who have given me a way to be a Christian as I have moved beyond a prerational stage.

While I have and continue to be influenced by those in a rational stage, I find that those who I am most drawn to, those whom I find most life from, have something more.  So I have been asking;

What is that more?

What do they have that others don’t have?

Why, when they speak, do I feel like they are speaking to me at a deeper level than just the heart or the head – almost at a soulish level?

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A simple answer is to say they combine both the head and the heart, but I still feel like that is lacking. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that they combine the head and the heart and yet move beyond. Somehow, in someway, they engage my heart and my head, yet unlock so much more inside of me.

Another way to say this is to use the Webster definition of transrational –  going beyond or surpassing human reason or the rational.

Those in the prerational stage are often antagonistic toward those in other stages for they see them as wrong, relativistic, heretical, liberal etc. They often say something along the lines of, “stop thinking so much and just accept it.”

Those in the rational stage are often antagonistic those in the prerational stage. They define themselves often by what they are not – they are not prerational (not necessarily always a bad thing). Getting back to my question, those who I am most drawn to are those who are not antagonistic toward others, but somehow transcend and include both the prerational and the rational stages.

As I am thankful to those in the rational stage who continue to shape me, it has left me feeling a little…how do I say it… stale?

To help clarify I can use and example drawing from the Bible. Those in the prerational stage simply accept these stories as literal, historical and factual truth. The story happened exactly as the Bible says it happened for it is the Word of God and must be accepted at face value.

The rational stage cannot except this for it engages the mind through science, archeology, common sense and experience. The story did not happen exactly as the Bible says it happened. In some ways it takes the life out of the story because it is out to prove that the stories are false, which leaves me with the question, “what then does it mean?”

The transrational stage moves through the rational, engages the mind, yet isn’t bothered by the “either/or” statements made by the other stages. The point isn’t if the story literally happened (though they have moved through the rational and understand that it may not be historically accurate), but the truth that the story conveys – it speaks to the human even if it did not literally happen.

Another example is that the prerational often sees the world as divided by the “natural” and the “supernatural”. God is seen sitting back, somewhere in the sky, and occasionally intervenes, i.e. divine intervention.

The rational draws from the intellect and see’s the world as a “natural” state. Since they do not see arms growing or the blind seeing there is not “supernatural”, only “natural”.

The transrational embraces mystery and paradox. The world is not divided into the “natural” and the “supernatural”, yet they realize not everything can be explained by our five senses. God is working, through all things and in all places, yet not in an “interventionist” sort of way, but in another, far more persuasive and evolutionary sort of way – gently pulling us forward toward more love, compassion and inclusion. In other words, the “natural” vs. “supernatural” is a false dichotomy and the transrational embraces the intellect while moving beyond just an intellectual understanding or knowing.

Those I am most drawn to seem to simply be. They choose to widen the circle and to redefine what it means to be a Christian – without the need to push anyone out. In a way, they seem to be paving a third way forward beyond two polarizing options.

To the prerational stage, the transrational seems like the rational in that it engages the head and is seen as – false, heretical, liberal etc. To the rational, the transrational seems to much like the prerational in that it seems to focus more on the heart (though the transrational does not neglect the head) and accepts that not everything can be explained by the rational mind.

In a sentence, those whom I am most drawn to are those who have moved beyond the prerational and rational, engage the heart and the head, and yet live with wonder and awe as they experience the great Mystery I call God.

What do you think? Does any of this make sense?

Is the universe benevolent?

What kind of world are we living in?

Are we living in a universe that is against us?

Is God on the edge of a throne somewhere just waiting for us to mess up so that God can smight us?

For some, God is someone to be feared.  God is a righteous and holy being who cannot stand to be around us when we mess up. This view of our world, God, and the universe affects people in very real ways.

angry-god

I have been in several conversations  where it has become clear to me that some people see God, the world, and the universe in a very different light than I do.

Now, before I even get to far into this, let me say that this view of God can be and is often defended using the Bible. But then again, so many hurtful and destructive things have been defending using the Bible so it really shouldn’t surprise us all that much. The Bible, like religion, can be helpful or hurtful. It can be used to speak life or death. The Bible, like religion, can be used to feed the ego and enhance our sense of being right or superior – it can create more boundaries of who is “in” and who is “out”.

Often, people who see God as an angry tyrant ready to destroy the “wicked” are fairly uptight themselves – after all if you have this view then you are constantly walking on egg shells – how exhausting!

I know this to be true because I lived much of my life here and can speak from experience. Everything needs to be defended and seen as a threat. The world is a terrible place and “Satan” is out to get you if you let your guard down for even a moment. This can take many forms; the Muslims are trying to take over the world, the liberals are out to get you, atheists are evil, evolution is deceiving our children etc etc.

When I am in conversations with people who see things differently – this can be concerning the LGBTQ community, evolution, science, hell, judgement, holiness, the Bible, righteousness, what salvation means, if the Christian truth is exclusive,  etc – what I have become aware of is that

beneath all of this is our view of God.

Is God benevolent or is God an angry tyrant? Does God’s holiness mean God cannot stand to be around us “sinners” – what an awful picture of God that paints – no wonder people are rejecting that god, I do to!

As I mentioned above, this is an exhausting way to live. The good news however, is that you don’t have to live this way. God, Reality, the Universe (however you define the Divine) is wholly and completely benevolent. God’s dream is for the world to flourish and God understands that you and I will make mistakes and occasionally mess up in the process.

So, it’s going to be ok. You can breath easy and don’t need to be anxious or fearful but can trust that God is working through your life, your decisions, and yes, even your mistakes.

I think God is best defined as love. Fear or anxiety do not exist in the domain of love. Where there is love, perfect and complete love, there is no fear.

Another way to say this is when one becomes fully conscious and awaken to God, they will no longer live in fear. Instead of seeing the world as a threat, one actually walks through it with eyes wide open in wonder and awe. God doesn’t need to be feared, but rather can be trusted because of God’s benevolence.

God is on your side and wants the best for you – how great is that!

Formation vs transformation – how do you see God’s work?

Formation – an act of giving form or shape to something or of taking form.

Transformation – a complete or major change in someone’s or something’s appearance, form, etc.

I grew up with an obsession about transformation. As a Christian, this word maybe best described  what I felt was the point of the biblical story in general and the gospel in particular. I deeply resonated with stories such a Paul’s (then Saul) transformational experience on the road to Damascus where his life was instantly and drastically changed. This is what I longed for, hoped for, and even spent many hours praying for.

In fact, there was several years of my life where I spent hours every week praying for revival, which is best described as an instantaneous transformation of a large group of people who have somehow had an encounter with God. Stories of past revivals captivated me. What has been called the Great Awakenings in America are perfect examples of this. Reading about people like George Whitefield, John Wesley, Charles Finney and Jonathon Edwards captivated my imagination. My heart longed to see a great movement like this!

I was deeply shaped by people and groups that shared this perspective. In fact I was a leader in a local youth conference we put on called “Transform”.

It has been years since I have gone to a conference like this and my focus has changed.

Why?

I began to become more aware of God’s work in my life and the world around me in a different way.

I see God’s work more as a slow process than as an instantaneous  transformation. This can be seen all the way from nature, to the growth of an individual human, to the growth of the human species, to the growth of the universe. It seems to me that God is not in a hurry.

Take creation for example. Scientists believe that the universe has existed for approximately 13.8 billion years. Try to imagine waiting that long for creation to evolve!

Humans are amazing, but when we begin our life we spend about 10 months in the uterus of our mother as we are formed. Then, when we finally take our first breath, we are still fully dependent upon others to take care of us. This continues for many years as our minds, emotions, and physical bodies mature.

The individual formation of a human also reflects the overall formation of humanity. I have mentioned before that spiral dynamics has been a helpful tool to me. According to spiral dynamics humans first entered the beige stage about 100,000 years ago. This was the basic survival stage. What we believe are the two most recent stages (Orange and Green) has only come about in the last 150-300 years. Right now, we have more stages represented than at any other time in history (and we wonder why we struggle to get along).   The development and evolution of humanity has been a slow process.

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This is also reflected in my own experience. As I grow, I see God’s work in my life like water flowing over a rock. It takes years for the water to smooth the rough edges. Likewise, God’s work takes time. In my experience, God is gentle and persuasive, not harsh, forceful or coercive.

Unfortunately, what many understand and believe to be Christianity is the interpretation of a harsh and coercive God who gets angry every time you mess up. It is very easy to be a Christian, read Scripture, and believe this is who God is. For many, the choice is either to accept a wrathful, coercive, tyrannical god or reject Christianity.

Also, many are quick to make clear judgements and to give an enormous amount of detail about life after death. In reality, if we are honest, we have no idea what happens when you die.

What we do have, as NT Wright has pointed out, are signposts that can help give us a rough direction. Part of this, I believe, is gaining from our own experiences. My experience, and the Reality I see around me, points to a God is has an enormous amount of patience. My experience is that God has patience for each of us as we develop and mature – both as individuals and as a species.

Lastly, I personally experience God’s love and patience in my own life. I do not think God asks or expects instant transformation, but true to the way the universe seems to be hard wired, I experience God to be most patient with me. While I do hold open the times where I believe people do encounter a real Damascus experience, I also believe these are rare times and God’s most common way of working in the world is gentle and gradual.

If one seeks solely after a transformational experience it often leads them to believe in a coercive and domineering God who controls everything. This will also be reflected in our own lives and will affect the way we treat others. We will tend to be less patient, a little more harsh, will see things as black and white and will push others to see things they same way,  and will often pressure people toward a transformational or conversion experience.

If we understand and experience God’s slow, formational work in the world and in our own lives, this will be reflected in the way we treat others. We will tend to have more patience, more love, and will be less domineering because this is how we understand God’s work in the world. Rather than pushing for a conversion experience, we can be aware that God is always working, everywhere, through a slow, gentle process.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time. 

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

Construction – Deconstruction – Reconstruction

Construction –  the act or process of building something

Deconstruct – to take apart or examine in order to reveal the basis or composition of often with the intention of exposing biases, flaws, or inconsistencies

Reconstruct –  to construct again:  to establish or assemble again

This is almost like a part three of an unintentional series. If you are reading this, you probably have recognized the fluidity of the last three posts (part 1 here, part 2 here) and have also recognized that much of it is me thinking out load and wrestling through some thoughts.

I realize that by doing this it can seem disjointed, but I really started this blog to reflect upon some things I am learning, growing in, and wrestling with.

Construction

This is a phase of life where the individual builds or puts together a world view, belief system, or way of seeing the world. Everyone begins with construction as we each need a way to see and engage the world around us.

Deconstruction

Some move past the first phase and begin to take apart their world view or belief system to examine it. In my experience, this often happens because of a crisis or tragedy of some sort, but can also happen when someone enters into a critical thinking process and begins to raise many tough questions. Often people find the answers they were given to be lacking. This is a healthy phase of life as one takes apart the “system” to analyze it and find areas that just don’t work anymore.

Reconstruction

This is a phase that one enters after they have deconstructed their world view of belief system. In many ways this is putting back together a system using the remaining fragments or pieces that are left over. This is not a neat or easy phase and it can feel awkward, almost like a young teenager whose body has grown so fast that they are still trying to learn how to walk and run without tripping.

dandr_0

  • Here’s how this looks in my own life

Construction – I was given a great religious foundation from a loving and caring family. I am very grateful for my conservative upbringing. The problem with remaining in the phase of construction is that it can become merely a belief affirmation system. In other words, we simply welcome and learn from those who think like us and if someone thinks differently they are quickly rejected or worse called a heretic and thrown out.

One can see this played out in the conservative/liberal divide within Christianity. Conservatives are great constructors, but are very cautious of entering into the deconstructive phase – usually because of fear. Fear that one will “loose their faith”, become liberal, be deceived by “the devil”. All of this fear is based upon their belief in hell and that if one doesn’t believe the right things then they will spend eternity here.

Deconstruction – believe it or not, I entered this phase while completing my bachelors degree in Biblical Studies at a conservative evangelical college. While my program was primarily focused on the construction phase (belief affirmation), I found that the answers didn’t make sense. What was actually meant to enhance the construction phase, propelled me into the deconstruction phase. So, while those around me were bolstering their belief system, I was finding it just didn’t work for me anymore.

For me, it wasn’t a crisis or tragedy, but an intellectual curiosity – the world was this great big place and if God did exist than I have nothing to fear!

Here’s a summary of some questions I was deconstructing:

What about the obvious errors in the Bible? What about the human aspect of the Bible’s authors that was becoming so clear to me as I studied Scripture in more detail? What about the influence of other religious traditions and cultures on people who wrote the Bible? What about the fact that the Bible doesn’t always agree and it’s authors say different, sometimes conflicting things? What about the violence (esp in the Hebrew Scriptures) and how does that align with Jesus in the Christian Bible? Do people really go to hell who haven’t heard about Jesus? Are gay people condemned? Why does science point to evolution and it seem like we have to throw it out to believe the Bible? What about the good people I have come to know of different religions? How could we (Christians) be completely right and they (other religions) be completely wrong? Why do so many people who hold this view seem judgmental? Why do I seem so judgmental? Doesn’t it seem that Jesus loved, embraced, and included people while I am doing the opposite?

As you can see, I was given a black and white world view but the world was quickly becoming multicolored. This was frightening. Most of the people I knew at the time looked at me with concern – again they feared for my eternal security. I was walking down the slippery slope to relativism. Despite this, I saw something new, and I could not stay in the phase of construction any longer – I was quickly thrown into the deconstruction phase and found that so many answers and ways of seeing the world no longer worked for me.

Reconstruction – I think I entered this phase in my first year of seminary, but to be honest I probably bounce back and forth from deconstruction to reconstruction on a fairly regular basis – at least in the last two years.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I claim to be far along in the reconstruction phase. If anything I am in between. Sometimes I dip my feet in this phase only to leave it because I have again found something that doesn’t work and I need to deconstruct it.

That being said, here is my hope and intention as I reflect upon this.

The construction phase is helpful and necessary, but someone living in this phase lives in fear and feels threatened by anything different or unknown – I was just to curious to stay here and constantly being “against” everything else was exhausting. Often conservatives never enter the deconstruction phase and instead insulate themselves and reinforce their beliefs, values, and world view. On the flip side, progressives can get hung up on the deconstructive phase and never move beyond. My hope is to move beyond. I have spend the last two years in a deeply formative deconstructive state and have read from many great thinkers, but I have also found that many of them lack something. It’s hard for me to put my finger on what exactly they lack. I would say depth, though not intellectual depth – something beyond this.

I think this is why I have been drawn to contemplative spirituality, but I don’t mean to suggest that this is the reconstructive phase. In part, I think the reconstructive phase is more open than closed, is ok with tension and paradox, moves toward a more non dual understanding, embraces differences and different faiths, and while engages the intellect understands that one cannot know or explain everything. In this regard, they are open to mystery and are people of wonder and awe. They find the sacred in ordinary life and seem to see all of life on a deeper level.

In a way, I have a growing sense that at least part of my calling is to help people through the deconstruction and reconstruction phases of life. As someone who is a pastor and in seminary, I am faced with the reality that culture, society, and religion is shifting. We seem to be moving through a major transition that none of us can fully comprehend.

People will need new ways to think about God. People will need new ways to understand what it means to be a Christian. We can’t remain in the deconstructive phase forever. Something is pulling us forward. My desire is to be a part of this process of rebuilding and reconstructing.

 

 

 

Pre-rational, rational, and transrational

I don’t usually write a post that is sort of me “thinking out loud,” but this post is just that.

Last week I wrote a little about stages, states, and connected that to spiral dynamics. I don’t think I can overemphasize how much this has helped me makes  sense of the world, where different people are at, and why people think the way they do. This is especially true concerning the current religious climate.

Now, on top of that or along side of that, I recently heard someone speak about about three different stages and named them –

Pre-rational

Rational

Transrational

pre-trans-rational

As I am learning about this and reflecting on these three stages, as well as where I am at personally, I thought I would share a little about my thoughts currently – just remember they are developing and in no way do I claim they are right, but are just the way I am piecing this together.

Pre-rational– this is sort of a pre-enlightenment (pre-modern) state. When I think of pre-rational, I think of many people who accept the status quo, or accept truth, religion, facts, from people in authority without thinking through it themselves. As far as Christianity, many people read the Bible literally and when scientific or archeological evidence suggest something different, they are quick to reject this because the Bible must be accepted as completely true in every way.

I think for many in this state, critical thinking, asking questions, or being open is seen in a negative light for we should just accept our faith and beliefs. We all start out in this state.

Rational – this is an intellectual state that often pushes against the Pre-rational mind. In other words, the rational state understands that the mind is a wonderful tool and critical thinking is more favorable than blind obedience or acceptance. I would say this is a modern or enlightenment understanding that draws heavily from science and technology. People in a rational state tend to try to explain everything with the intellect and to reject anything that cannot be explained or proven. As far as Christianity, progressive or liberal leaning people often fall into this state (some moderates do as well) as they emphasis that we have a mind and thus should be able to think critical to help us make sense of the world.

Transrational – people in this state have moved from pre-rational (pre-modern) and rational (modern), into something deeper (something along post-modern, but even that doesn’t fully capture this). These are the few people who engage both the mind and the heart, yet hold open that which cannot be fully explained only experienced. Though they accept mystery and that which cannot be fully explained (pre-rational), they ask critical questions and use modern disciplines such as science, archeology, cosmology, etc (rational) to engage the mind as well. I think many mystics from all religious traditions have moved in this state, though I’m not sure someone has to be a mystic in order to be in this state.

I think those in this state have a very deep awareness and appreciation for the other states. While the rational often pushes against the pre-rational and vice versa, the transrational is not antagonistic or against the other states, but simply sees them as necessary for growth.

I think those in the transrational state are more inclusive, non anxious, non dual and don’t fully side with either of the pre-rational or rational – though they resonate and understand both they both include and transcend them. While they can engage with people on both states, there is something more, something deeper that they carry that is often difficult to explain.

So, taking this more simplified three states and reflecting upon spiral dynamics here are some of the questions I have been wrestling with.

Which state am I in?

How do I better understand where people are at? Where religious people are at? Where the world is at?

How do I allow for space for people at other states or stages? (I think a lot of this comes first by understanding the different states or stages)

How do I move to a place where I understand other states as necessary? (I think a lot of maturity comes from recognizing the goodness and influence of the previous states and thus doesn’t force or try to push people to other states – that being said they do continually hold open the invitation to move deeper)

In my own religious tradition, how do I bring together the mind and the heart in a way that includes critical thinking, science, and modern biblical scholarship as well as contemplative spirituality? (How do I allow critical scholarship while also being open to that which cannot be fully explained?)

How do I move from a dualistic way of seeing and thinking to a non dualistic, inclusive, and more holistic spirituality and way of living in the world?

Anyway, something I have been chewing on a lot recently.