All posts by thestrietzels@hotmail.com

My story, I am learning, is more and more common. I was raised in a conservative/evangelical Christian tradition and began to see things differently. Christianity, I believe, is more about a way of life than right or correct beliefs or doctrines.
This means the spiritual life is messy and full of adventure, not a neatly packaged set of ideas one buys into. One can be a deeply committed Christian, can attend church every Sunday, pray and read Scripture daily, and can remain more or less unchanged where their ego’s are still in control. The way of Jesus is a way of death and resurrection – death to our ego or false self, and life to our true self. This is the journey I am on.

Divine Mystery

So, my first post was about what I used to think the good news was. I will continue this post next week, but I wanted to share something a little less theological and more spiritual and recent (the other post was something I wrestled through several years ago but of course I continue to bump up against since many link penal substitutionary atonement as the gospel).

I have been on a faith journey. Actually, I think we are all on faith journeys (even if you’re an atheist or agnostic), but mine has taken some very unexpected twists. Like all exciting journey’s, I have found myself in unfamiliar territory – heck if it’s all familiar it’s not very fun is it?

I am taking several classes through a Hybrid MDiv program and loving them. My favorite class has been about spiritual practices and spiritual formation (i.e. meditation, centering prayer, etc). This has led me to engage in contemplative theology and experience something I cannot fully express in words.

What contemplative spirituality has taught me is that there is a way to be religious and yet remain in a dualistic either/or mindset – in fact most people have! In this lower level religion (as Richard Rohr often puts it) everything is clear because the ego demands this. Everything is easily defined, easily recognized, everything is black and white and it is clear who is “in” and who is “out”. This way of believing, often found within many different religions, only feeds the ego and the need to be right and to try to convince everyone else to think the way you do. In other words, I have the one and only key and if you want it you have to go through me to get it. Within Christianity this is most easily seen with those who feel the need to argue their way every single time they disagree – what an exhausting way to live!

For a while I could not explain why I thought the way I did because I did not have the words to articulate my experience. I knew it had to do with Divine Mystery and how to be a Christian without being exclusive, but I had never witnessed this before. This is difficult because many believe Christianity must be exclusive even if they are not Christians themselves. I am no longer convinced of this, but that does not mean that I do not think Christianity can be a beautiful thing…I still very much do and I am still very much a part of the Christian tradition.

As part of the class we read through a book titled Will and Spirit which was very insightful, and toward the end the author gave words to my experience (when this happens it’s like a release valve).

Much of the book was about surrender and about this topic the author writes, “I would pose that surrender is dangerous whenever there is any known, definable cause, group, person, or other substantive and limited entity that is used as an object of surrender.”[1] Later he continues, “This is true even if the object of surrender is called God, as long as God remains an object that one presumes to know and to understand”.[2]

Now if you were raised in the Christian tradition like myself, you’re probably thinking that of course God can be known and to think otherwise is ridiculous – this is not Christian. I too have thought this.

The author continues, “It is only when one can surrender to the ultimately unknowable Mystery behind the images of God that the act of surrendering can result in less self-definition rather than more”.[3] My focus here is on the ultimately unknowable Mystery part.

This is where I began to understand what I was experiencing. It is easy to remain at a lower level religion (dualistic thinking) where God has been clearly defined, articulated, and packaged. Then all one needs to do is convince others of that specific package – the problem is

God is always bigger than the package we place God in!

This thinking, I believe, is driven by the ego. Those who are “in” are those who agree with me. There is a clear box, but what happens when that box no longer works and you have experienced something bigger? It may be that we all need to begin at this lower level, but to remain here is like, as I recently heard, arguing about the menu instead of experiencing and enjoying the most delicious meal.

Now, the author is not suggesting that God cannot be known, but he is suggesting that God can never be fully known.

There is a difference and it’s big.

“God can become very real, alive, and active in a personal way. The first is through images that are acknowledged to be incomplete, expedient tools”.[4]

In other words, we can experience God, and understand God but it is like peeking through a small crack or hole, you can get a glimpse but it’s incomplete. I think it is important here to acknowledge them to be incomplete, if you do not then we develop a sense of superiority and feel a need to convince others that this is the way to experience God.

I think the author puts it well when he writes, “But in all such cases it is important for me to remember that these ways of seeing God, while real, are never complete”.[5]

Those who believe they have the complete or full picture of God are not really that interesting nor are they fun to be around. Usually they argue and push back against everything and seem extremely dogmatic and defensive. Who wants to live like that?

In the Hebrew Scriptures it talks about God’s ways being so far above our ways…in essence we cannot completely understand God for God is so far beyond, so much greater, so much more inclusive, loving, forgiving, and beautiful than we can possibly imagine!

I think if we begin here, we can enter into a more fruitful dialogue with those we disagree with and with those of other religions because we don’t have the one and only key. As I have experienced this, I have seen God at work in all kinds of beautiful ways. I am more curious than argumentative, engaged in exploration and not defense, and more interested in conversation that dogmatic debates. I have learned from others whom I do not agree with and have become a better person and have seen God in different ways because of this.

  • Is there a way to be Christian without being exclusively so? I say yes, I am an example of this and I know I am not alone.

I invite you to see God, not as easily defined, but as Divine Mystery which can never be fully known. Then we are free to see God in so many ways we never imagined possible.

[1] Gerald, G. May, Will and Spirit (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1982), 304.

[2] Ibid, 304.

[3] Ibid, 304.

[4] Ibid, 305.

[5] Ibid, 305.

Is this good news?

I grew up in a tradition where I was taught and believed that the good news (we called it the gospel) was that everyone has sinned and thus was separated from God, yet God sent God’s one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sin so that when I die I can go to heaven instead of being tortured for all eternity.

Now this is problematic on many levels, but to put it simply it’s not really good news for the following reasons:

1 – It begins with sin management

First, the story of the Bible begins in Genesis 1 where God creates and calls everything good. Where is the action? Here! Notice there is nothing about heaven, an afterlife, and most especially going somewhere else…the action is all here, on earth.

Second, sin (ie anything that is destructive) does not come into the story until Genesis 3.[1] If you start in Genesis 3 it becomes about sin management. Like every story one should begin in the beginning.

2 – It is primarily concerned about the afterlife

Notice the good news (gospel) I was taught is primarily concerned about escaping this world and going somewhere else – this has most definitely led to all kinds of destructive behaviors most recognizably the lack of environmentalism among many Christians. Thankfully the importance of earth care is gaining traction in theology and in faith communities around the world.

Back to the afterlife. As mentioned above the story begins here, on earth, with no mention of anything out there somewhere else.

Where does the story end?

In the book of Revelation (one of the most difficult to interpret and probably the most misinterpreted book of the Bible) we get this beautiful picture of a holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven as a picture of heaven coming to earth.[2]

In what has traditionally been called The Lords Prayer Jesus taught his followers to ask that God’s kingdom and will be done here as it is in heaven.

See a pattern?

The movement of the story is always about heaven coming down here and not us going up there.

3 – It paints a horrific picture of God!

This is one of my biggest struggles and concerns with the way I was taught the good news. This good news paints a picture of God who cannot stand to be around us (God’s good creation?) and needs  blood  in order to forgive. Now the imagery of sacrifice is sprinkled all throughout the Scriptures, but it seems to be the need of the people and not God (more on this topic later).

Now to the main point

God needs to send God’s one and only Son who must be tortured and killed in order for God to forgive? Many have already pointed out the multiple ways this understanding can be destructive, but it does raise many difficult questions and points to a divine child abuser who treats His/Her son in a way no sane parent would deem humane.

I am currently finishing a very good book by Richard Rohr titled The Naked Now where he raises two important points about this topic

  1. “The individual Christian is told to love unconditionally, but the God who commands this is depicted as having a very conditional and quite exclusive love himself or herself! The believer is told to love his enemies, but ‘God’ clearly does not; in fact, God punishes them for all eternity.”[3]
  2. “Even my less-than-saintly friends, the ordinary Joe’s on the block, would usually give a guy a break, overlook some mistakes, and even on their worst days would not imagine torturing people who do not like them, worship them, or believe in them. ‘God’ ends up looking rather petty, needy, narcissistic, and easily offended”.[4]

So what then is the good news?

 

[1] For a great teaching on this subject click here

[2] Revelations 21.

[3] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2013), 80.

[4] Ibid, 81.