Category Archives: Life

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.

JOEMARINARO

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.

quote-wall-art_16882-0

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.

 

Engaging Religious Pluralism – Is Jesus the only way? – Part 1

I grew up with the belief that Christianity is an exclusive religion. We have the “one, true, and only way to get out of hell card.” Come to us you can experience God’s blessings.

This raised many questions:

What about those who lived before Jesus? How could they possibly be “saved”?

What about those who died and have never heard about Jesus?

What about those of other faiths?

Here are the simple steps I took in my own journey.

Step 1 – If God exists, then all truth comes from God. This is true not only of all religions, but of science as well. Thus, if science reveals a long evolutionary process of creation then I need to figure out how to read and interpret the Bible in light of this evidence.

Step 2 – I saw truth, goodness, and compassion in people of other religions (and no religions at all) that I believed came from God. If Jesus was the only way, why do I find so much to celebrate in others who don’t claim to have Jesus?

Step 3 – Do I have to believe that Jesus is the only way? I began to wrestle with the Bible, my experience, and my upbringing to see if there was a way to be a Christian without being exclusive.

Two One Way roadsigns indicating opposite directions over blue sky - confusion concept

So first the Bible.

The go to text is John 14:6, Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” 

Plain, simple, straightforward, right?

Only pulling one text (or several) out of context and putting it into another context is not good interpretation.

The way or the path of Jesus is the way to God correct? Then what is that path?

I believe that path is the path of death and resurrection, which, interestingly enough, is a path found in most religious traditions. Paradoxically, the path of Jesus is a path to life, yet one must go through death in order to experience this life (resurrection). Isn’t this what all the major wisdom traditions tell us?

When Jesus talks about death, I used to think he meant that I couldn’t act on any impulses because they were all selfish. I should resist buying nice clothes, food, etc for if I denied these things that was “dying to self.” I no longer find this true or helpful, actually it is quite destructive.

The way of death and resurrection is the way to die to our own ego, our sense of superiority, our need to be right or correct, our need to see the world in black and white, our need to have clear boundaries of who is “in” and who is “out.” What I thought was “dying to self” was actually only bolstering up and feeding my ego and sense of superiority…wow!

This is also the great temptation of all religious people at the immature levels.

Interestingly enough, it was the religious leaders during the life of Jesus who seem to struggle with this the most. They did not want to die to these things for it is ultimately a death of the ego. We learn from them that one can use religion to feed the ego and go against this path.

I find it very fascinating that a religion that claims to follow the way of Jesus-  the way of death and resurrection – has a strong tendency to walk a different path and to create more exclusion, bigotry, racism, sexism etc.

Marcus Borg wrote that there are three ways of seeing one’s religion:

1 – The absolutist understanding – one’s own religion is the absolute and only truth

2- the reductionist understanding – all religion is a human invention

3- the sacramental understanding – “religions are human constructions in response to the experiences of the sacred.”

Eventually, through a long and difficult journey, I have come to the third understanding and would agree with Borg when he wrote, “Each of the enduring religions is a mediator of ‘the absolute,’ but not ‘absolute’ itself.”

If God exists, then God cannot be fully known or captured in any one religion.

The question then becomes, “why be a Christian?”

For me personally, I am a Christian because this is the tradition most familiar to me. It is the tradition I was raised in and it is one I continue to find beautiful and compelling. It is “in my bones” so to speak and is very much a part of who I am. It has and continues to be the way I find a deep connection to God.

That being said, I have little interest in converting someone else. If someone is seeking a tradition, or they are wanting to go deeper, I enjoy walking with them. If they are walking along another path or tradition, I don’t feel it is my job to convince them to “change sides.” Rather, I see my job as reflecting the image of God to them and helping them along their path.

I love the story of a Christian who came to the Dalai Lama wanting to convert to Buddhism. His response was to encourage the Christian to follow his tradition (Christianity) in a deeper way.

What a beautiful story!

 

 

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.

water-flowing-over-rocks

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.

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  • 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.

Changing American religious landscape – what does it mean for pastors?

“In times of great change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer.

Recently, Pew Research Center released their findings of the changing religious landscape (More can be found here).

Changing U.S. Religious Landscape

What is clear is that Christianity is declining in all forms including conservative, progressive, and liberal forms.

The nones are by far the fastest rising group.

As a seminary student I am well aware that I am pursuing a vocation in a rapidly changing world where fewer people will be going to church. Also, I personally know many people who have ceased to go to church. While some of them would consider themselves “nones,” some of them just think the church is not what it is suppose to be. Some view the church as to dogmatic, hierarchical, opposed to questions or doubts, anti-science, homophobic, etc. (I honestly resonate more with this group than most people who go to church).

Many of these people are close friends, and I have little desire to pressure them into going to church. It may actually be the best thing for someone to stop going to church because they may need to detox from some bad theology. Maybe they have been hurt and they need some time to heal. Or maybe they have been taught neatly packaged answers that no longer work for them and need to find other ways of seeing things. That being said, I still believe that there is much formative power found when people gather together, share life, and pursue the divine.

What does the study of the decline of Christianity in America mean for me and for those of us who sense a call to be pastors in a shifting culture?

The shifting culture forces us to be creative, and I think that is actually a good thing.  I am really excited to continue the journey of learning how to be a Christian in the 21st century and how to find ways to speak about spirituality in new and fresh ways.

We must either change, or we will die.

Change is difficult and complex. Often, in the church, we want to find clear answers and create neat boxes for everything, but change forces us to rethink, to ask questions, and to be open to different ways of seeing. Some have been given a static belief system, but God is not static.

“In times of great change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer.

Here is one of my struggles. Too many Christians, (and I am still guilty of this I’m sure) speak the language of the Bible without translating it into the 21st century. We have answers to questions that either no one is asking, or the answers no longer make sense. Many are equipped for a world that no longer exists.

Part of the shifting culture is generational. From my experience, there is a growing number of young people, primarily millennials, who do not relate to “business as usual” in the church. We want a gospel that is really “good news” and is not just transactional theology. We want to be inspired to partner for justice and peace, and to be given places to do that. We want something that doesn’t feed our ego and create distinct tribal boundaries of who is “in” and who is “out,” but is open, inclusive, and willing to work with diverse people. We want a God that matters now, not just sometime when we die.

Above all though, I think many are frustrated with a religious tradition that is suppose to cultivate an awareness of the sacred in everyday life, but has actually done the opposite. Much of religion has actually pushed people into binary ways of seeing.

So “going to church” is sacred, but “going to work” is secular. Evangelism means proselytizing, but working for justice and peace is seen as something else. Trying to escape this world to go to heaven instead of finding ways to bring heaven to earth. Claiming one religion contains absolute truth while all other religions are completely false. Having to choose between science and evolution or the Bible.

Many feel forced to choose as if it has to be either/or.

I have recently struggled with my calling, and much of this has been because of the shifting culture, but also because of the shift happening internally. Right now, I sense more than ever, that I am called to be a pastor, but that is both frightening and exhilarating in light of the declining church membership. Frightening, because for the last few generations at least, pastors were entering into a fairly stable and growing field. A person knew what they were getting into, and knew what it would look like. Now, those of us entering into this vocation have no certainty, other than the certainty that things will look very different in the future. This is also exhilarating because we get to be a part of the change. That means we get to help shape the future in ways that were not possible a generation ago. Religion, Christianity, and Church, will look different for our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren and we get to be a part of this shift.

I don’t know what that all means or what that will all look like, but I suspect that a big part of this will be bringing together binary views. I think the future will embrace questions and doubts and will not see them as opposed to faith. I think the future will embrace the sacred in all of life. I think the future will bring together the heart with the head into an intellectually honest, but deeply spiritual way (I wonder if this will mean bringing together the intellectual and the mystical traditions – in a way bringing together the East with the West?). I think the future will bring together science and faith in a beautiful way. I think the future will bring together people of different beliefs and religions to work toward a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

In many ways, the church and culture in America is in a liminal space where the old doesn’t work, but the new is unknown.

So while Christianity and church attendance may be declining, I believe that God is moving in very powerful ways (maybe in ways that force the church to change). I think the question for those of us who are leaders, is if we will be open to embrace this movement or if we will be closed and thus will become more and more irrelevant.

So, the future is bright to those who are willing to be flexible and find creative, new, and fresh ways of living in a changing world. While many of us have been equipped for a world that no longer exists, if we are open and curious to explore new ways, we can be a part of creating something new and different.

I believe the future is very bright!

 

Stages, states, and spiral dynamics – this has changed the way I see the world

Richard Rohr recently wrote a meditation (it’s very much worth the read here) concerning the differences between stages and states.

To summarize, he was specifically referring to the dessert fathers and mothers in the Christian tradition who, while being at a more enlightened state, where still very much at an early stage (per-critical).

This has caused me to reflect upon the connection here to Spiral Dynamics.

Spirals_0_380

If your not familiar with spiral dynamics, it speaks to the different stages (consciousness) of humanity. Each stage transcends and includes the previous stages, and as you travel through the stages each one brings more complexity and inclusion. This has really helped my understanding of the current religious climate esp. as it concerns the conservative/liberal polarities and all the stages in between.

Basically, one can be at any stage and yet become a spiritually mature or enlightened person. As someone who is personally more open and inclusive in my perspectives, it is easy for me to write off someone who is less open or who is conservative as spiritually immature, but this would be inaccurate. Usually, conservatives are at the blue stage and they tend to see the world as black and white. At the blue stage certainty, doctrine, and dogma are very important (Most AA programs are at this stage). That doesn’t, however, mean that they cannot have a deeply spiritual life or connection to the divine – in fact if someone is coming out of the red stage they are in desperate need of the blue stage.

Each stage is important and even necessary.

Confused? Let me try to clarify.

One can be in the blue stage (I think that this is the stage that most of the conservative church is at), see the world as clearly black and white, yet can be racist, prejudiced etc. We have probably all known people like this. (Blue stage, early state)

One can also be in the blue stage, see the world as clearly black and white, yet can be loving, forgiving, full of grace and understanding – even though they will likely see the world very differently than those at other stages in life. (Blue stage, enlightened state)

One can be at a green stage (I think this is the stage that most of the world, at least the modern western world is currently at), be inclusive, loving, tolerant, and yet lack spiritual depth and can easily get frustrated at those in earlier stages. (Green stage, early state).

One can be at a green stage, be inclusive, tolerant, and loving, while extending grace to those who are at earlier stages while experiencing a deep connection to the divine (Green stage, enlightened state).

Hopefully this helps, as it has truly revolutionized my thinking and has helped me understand the world we are living in.

Here a couple of ways this plays out today.

With the recent Pew Research Center religious landscape survey, it is clear that Christianity in the U.S. is in decline. I think the reason for this is complex and I do not consider myself an expert, but I think spiral dynamics can speak to this.

I think most of the church, esp the conservative church, is at a blue stage or level of consciousness. I think most of the rest of the U.S. population is at an orange or green stage. Thus, Christianity seems archaic, out dated, and irrelevant because it speaks to a world that no longer exists for the majority of the western world (where Christianity is growing, I think it is at least partially because they are at a red or blue stage). No one in a orange or green stage thinks it is better to be in a blue stage as that would mean going backwards, and it can feel like regression. But this also goes the other way. Most of the conservative church  see those in an orange or green stage as walking down the road to relativism or secular culture and is thus fighting against it. Interesting isn’t it?

A second example can be taken from how one reads the Bible. The Bible is an outdated, archaic book that oppresses and marginalizes people right? Well, it depends on how you read it and if you can understand at least some of the the different stages of the people living at that time – remember this was 2,000-4,000 years ago, of course it seems archaic! Many of the author’s were living in a beige, purple, or red stage, yet that does not mean people living in the 21st century need to be pulled back to this stage. Yet, simultaneously, many of these people were living at an enlightened state, so it can still speak to us today. In other words, they were progressive for their time and had a deep understanding and connection to the divine.

Some may object and say that God was clearly working in and through these people. I agree, yet that doesn’t mean that God approved of that specific stage as if that was the stage we all need to remain at. I think God is far more inclusive and transcendent than that and I think God realizes that God must work in and through people at whatever stage they are. I think this is exactly what God continues to do today.

I think God is pulling us forward into deeper stages where we can transcend and include previous stages. Unfortunately, we can work against God’s movement in the name of church, truth, religion, or the Bible. I think the invitation is to have grace to people who are at different stages, yet also realize that everyone can have a connection to the divine or the sacred at whatever stage they are in. Maybe for leaders, the key is not to push people to other stages, but to be aware of their stage and to help bring people to deeper states. Of course, this takes an integrated leader who has grace and patience which is no easy task.

Evangelism – the dirty “e” word

“The word evangelism still sends shivers down the spines of many people” says N.T. Wright.

I would say it does that to me.

I was taught to evangelize using the four spiritual laws which was a way of proselytizing or trying to convert the other. Often we would do this with complete strangers or sometimes at church as we tried to convince others that if they would just mentally check off the right box, then God wouldn’t send them to hell.

evangelism

Is there another way to think of evangelism?

I think there is, though in all honesty I don’t think I would use the word in my personal vocab because it has to many negative connotations.

I am doing some research for a paper and I dusted off a classic book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright – probably the single most influential book in my life…next to the Bible of course.

N.T. Wright suggests that there is a different, more accurate way of evangelizing than the traditional framework of heaven and hell. In my own mindset, I struggle with the idea of a loving God punishing humans for eternity because they did not accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. I think the good news is much better and more inclusive than this.

Drawing from Wright, I would paraphrase evangelism as saying

God’s new world is breaking in right here and right now and we are invited to be a part.

Yes, it’s that simple, and yet so inspiring for several reasons.

First, it states that God has a vision, a direction, a hope, a dream for the world. It’s not random or accidental.

Second, it states that this world matters. It matters to God and it should matter to us. In fact, while many misinterpret the Scriptures to give Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (BIBLE), or to give us an evacuation plan, the story told in the Bible is ironically the exact opposite. The story is about this world, how God cares for this world, and how God is working to bring a just and peaceful world. Yes, global warming matters (shout out to Pope Francis for making sure this is on the forefront of our minds!), the global economy matters, the life of plants and animals matter, equality for all matters.

Third, we are invited to be a part. We can hinder the hope or the dream of God, or we can be a part of seeing God’s hope and dream come to fruition! As N.T. Wright puts it, “saying no to the things that diminish human flourishing…saying yes to the things that enhance them.”

I suspect that there are whole swaths of people who would not call themselves a Christian or would never set foot in a church that are actually doing a better job at working toward God’s hope and dream than some of us Christians are.

N.T. Wright concludes this section by writing, “And, of course, evangelism  will flourish best if the church is giving itself to works of justice (putting things to rights in the community) and works of beauty (highlighting the glory of creation and the glory yet to be revealed).”

Justice and beauty!

What a great way to see evangelism!

And the greatest part is that this can be done in numerous, creative ways. Through health care, education, politics, religion, business, photography, art, design, science, study, writing, building, law, teaching…the list is endless.

Is evangelism a dirty word? Perhaps, but I think there is a different, and I would argue, more accurate way of understanding this in light of the Biblical story.

May we sense the invitation to work for a more just, more peaceful, and more sustainable world and may we be able to see the ways that we are already doing this and to continue find creative ways to continue to do this into the future.

Same sex marriage equality

In light of the Supreme Court hearings and future decisions about same sex marriages in the states, I wanted to reflect on this personally. I wrote a little about my personal journey toward LGBTQ inclusion here, and someday I may write about how to understand same sex marriage in light of Scripture, but today I felt like writing something more from the heart than the head.

Same-sex marriage supporters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The rights of married same-sex couples will come under scrutiny at the US Supreme Court on Wednesday in the second of two landmark cases being considered by the top judicial panel. After the nine justices mulled arguments on a California law that outlawed gay marriage on Tuesday, they will take up a challenge to the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The 1996 law prevents couples who have tied the knot in nine states -- where same-sex marriage is legal -- from enjoying the same federal rights as heterosexual couples. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

While there are many nuances, there are clearly two major sides to the LGBTQ argument.

First, you have the conservative side who believe same sex marriage is a compromise, a redefinition of traditional marriage that God instituted to be between one man and one women. This group also see’s itself as defending truth (actually, somewhat ironically this is true of both sides), but more importantly they see themselves defending the Bible and 2,000 years of church tradition.

Second, you have the more progressives that see same sex marriage as a civil rights issue. Just like slavery and racial issues, it is about equality. This group wants to see equal rights given to all those in same sex marriages that are given to those in heterosexual marriages. While many are not religious, this group also contains a growing number of religious people that believe God has created each person, gay or straight, in God’s image. They do not interpret the Bible to condemn same sex marriage, but believe it is God’s desire for everyone who wants to be in a committed relationship to enjoy this.

Let me be up front, I’m a progressive – no if’s and’s or but’s about it!

But, I haven’t always been.

I vividly remember about 7 years ago a good friend suggesting that same sex marriages is the slavery issues of our day. This was the first, of many times I would hear this. Sadly, I didn’t know how to respond. I’m going to be honest here, I was raised to see homosexuality as a sin and I had never questioned this and I was in my mid 20s! When my friend said this, I was speechless. I wonder what he thought as I starred at him not knowing what to think or to say. He handled it well, but it left me with many questions.

You see my friend and I were on very similar pages in almost all theological, political,  and ecological issues so this surprised me. I am very thankful for this conversation, and many others since, that have forced me to think more deeply upon this.

As I mentioned, I grew up in a conservative Christian environment and viewed homosexuality as a sin. It was wrong and God hated it. I remember frequently using phrases growing up such as, “what are you gay?”, “dude, that’s so gay”, etc. Though it was done in  ignorance, I regret these things. There very well may have been someone wrestling with their sexuality, and I was only adding to the pain and confusion.

This also lead to a feeling of self righteousness within me. I felt I had the truth and gay people needed to hear it. It was the loving thing to do, or so I thought. I spoke out against homosexuality in ways I believed were in line with the ways God would speak out against it. I argued with those who were from the LGBTQ community, and I am ashamed to say, I added to their pain and marginalization. I alienated them. Deep down inside I felt righteous because they were wrong and I was right.

Our culture is shifting and American’s are more likely to be inclusive. This is also reflected in the religious shift where many denominations that once opposed same sex marriage have now become inclusive. There is also a growing number of evangelicals who have shifted their understandings.

Here’s what I predict.

Same sex marriage will be legal in all 50 US cities (this seems pretty clear).

Conservatives, while becoming less influential, will entrench themselves and try to stake out as much area as possible. They will continue to believe that they are standing for God’s truth and will see themselves as many have in the past who have stood against the greater secular culture.

This is where we, as progressives, have a choice.

I shared a little of my background in hope to show how conservatives think. They truly believe they are right, and progressives are wrong. They truly believe they are defending God’s truth, God’s word, in the face of relativism and increasing secularism. While I do believe this group will decrease, they will continue to push for influence and power for they believe they have a righteous cause. I think they are wrong, but I also relate to them because I understand what it is like to be in their shoes.

Here is my hope.

My hope is that as progressives, we do not debate or argue in hurtful ways. My hope is that as the consciousness shifts and we sense momentum on our side, that we exercise restraint and keep from lashing out at those who make us angry or hurt us because of their words. My hope is that we don’t take all of the pain, hurt, frustration that we have felt (Esp. those from the LGBTQ community who have been most affected) and unleash it upon conservatives. While we are tempted to do this, I suspect this temptation will only increase. I think there is a better way – the way of Jesus.

In a recent interview, one of the leading and most influential theologians,  Walter Brueggemann, was asked about the LGBTQ community and acceptance. He responded:

The only thing that will change people’s minds about this is getting to know people who happen to be gay or lesbian or bisexual, and what you discover is that they’re people just like us. To overcome our fears, I think it is basically fear, means getting to know people and to see that they are not a threat.

I think there is a time for clear, thoughtful, Biblical instruction, but that is most helpful when someone is open and seeking. In my experience, the majority of the time we are firing missiles back and forth and arguing biblical texts in a way that misses the point. If someone asks, we should be able to have an answer, but the majority of conservatives are not asking but are seeking to persuade. Does this mean we sit back idly? Absolutely not! But it does mean that in our dialogue what stands out above all else is not how persuasive we are or how firm we are or how convinced we are, but how loving and compassionate we are – yes our actions do indeed speak louder than our words.

I changed from one who was extremely opposed to same sex marriage to one who is fighting for it. This change was a slow process, and much of this change was influenced by those who I knew that were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.  l began to see these people as…well…people just like myself.  I believe all people, gay or straight,  are loved and accepted by the God revealed in Jesus.

If you are a part of the LGBTQ community my heart is with you. You are not in an easy place. While there is a shift, it will take time and you will no doubt continue to experience pain and frustration. For whatever it is worth, I stand with you. We can have sound, thoughtful reasons for fighting for same sex marriage equality. While we continue to press forward, as progressives, let’s rise above the angry and hostile debates and seek to offer gentle and loving answers. Let’s allow our lives and actions to speak (along with our words), for our actions do speak louder. Let my story be an example that conservatives can change, but this change will not be brought about by anger or bitterness but by people seeing love within us.  Conservatives believe they are on the right side, fighting for truth and for God, let’s allow our lives to show that the divine love is shining in and through us.

May we have grace in the midst of this difficult and exciting time as we look forward to a future where our children and grandchildren will not know a time where this was ever an issue!