Tag Archives: doctrines

The seminarian’s unexpected experience

It’s been five years since I went back to school. The goal was to finish up my undergrad so I could attend seminary. Now, three years into seminary and only 6 classes left, I have experienced some major shifts.

CST

I chose Claremont School of Theology (CST) for several reasons. First, I was attending a Methodist Church so it made sense. Second, I was attracted to Process Theology. Third, I wanted to attend a progressive seminary that was not only open but also inclusive of LGBTQ person’s. Fourth, I saw that CST was engaged in interreligious dialogue and education and felt this was important for any spiritual leader in the future.

The biggest part of that decision was attending a place that was open, diverse, and liberal leaning. I wanted to find a place where I could explore, question, and feel free to challenge and/or change any beliefs I needed to. I know this should be the goal of any religious education, but sadly it is not.

I have gone through a major theological shift since I first went back to complete my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies five years ago. It seems like an eternity ago, but in the scheme of things five years is not all that long.

Yet, the theological shift has not been the most surprising to me. I had been on a journey for quite some time, and even though I was raised in a more conservative tradition, I had been drawn to people who were pushing the boundaries, asking tough questions, and inviting dialogue. Engaging in theology was not new.

The most surprising experience has been an introduction to contemplative spirituality and the idea and importance of spiritual formation. I had spent several years wrestling through many beliefs and views (my embedded theology) and had largely lived in my head. I think that was necessary for a time, as many of the beliefs I was given as a child no longer made sense to me. I grasped for something that worked and eventually realized that my beliefs, views, and ways of seeing the world will always be changing, evolving, and growing.  I think I’m coming to a point where I’m ok with that, and I think that is largely due to contemplative spirituality.

One of the first classes I took at CST was a class called Spiritual Practices. We engaged in different forms of prayer, meditation, and ways of engaging with Scripture that I had not done before. This opened up a lot for me. I always felt that meditation was for the few “elite” or those monks, and was never all that interested. Then I realized that true formation comes much more from surrender, from mystery, from experiencing wonder, and from releasing my attachment to all things (including my beliefs), than from developing a clear and systematic theology. My spiritual formation classes have become the one’s I have most enjoyed so far, and I look forward to taking a couple more before the end.

I understand that everything forms us. Education forms us deeply, and that has been a large part of my spiritual formation, one I am very grateful for at CST. How one is educated is a part of spiritual formation, and I have been educated alongside of those with diverse views, diverse ethnic and geographic areas, as well as people of different religions than mine. Surely this has all shaped me deeply. My beliefs have shaped me, my experiences have shaped me, my lifestyle (including diet) has shaped me, my friendships have shaped me and the list goes on and on. Yet, at the center of all this is contemplative spirituality, and I am becoming more convinced that this is perhaps the most needed thing in our polarized world of conservative/liberal, religious/non-religious, republican/democrat, etc. At the very least, it is what I seem to most need.

The idea of trying to “convert” others to my way of thinking is less and less interesting. The idea of arguing or debating about the correct doctrine, belief, or religion is less and less interesting. Sure, I still think there are destructive views out there that should be exposed, but what I am finding even more interesting is the idea of becoming a more healthy, whole, and compassionate human and helping others do the same. Instead of seeing different religions as either right or wrong, I see within each system either healthy or unhealthy – mature or immature – ways of being. The healthy or mature ways bring about a more loving, whole, and compassionate human…no matter what religion, belief, or world view they come from. My experience also suggests this to be true. I have met plenty of prickly, judgemental, and self-righteous Christians and some loving and compassionate people who are not Christian.

So, despite a theological shift, the thing that has most surprised me has been a curiosity and formational experience with contemplative spirituality. I went to an education center to realize that education, while being a part of formation, is not the only part or even the main part of spiritual formation.

I plan to write in the near future why I believe contemplative spirituality is so important.

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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