Tag Archives: Christianity

A Christian response to Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violence begets more violence.

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

According to the gospel account of Matthew, Jesus states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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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.

 

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.

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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.