Tag Archives: spirituality

Transitions

I will soon take over as Lead Pastor at the church I have served for the past year and a half. During this transitional period, I have been doing some reflecting and think that it is important to take time to do this when we experience a transition. Here is a list, in no particular order, of things I believe are important to consider before and during a transition.

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  1. Trust

I struggle at times with insecurity. Who am I to think I can pastor a church? Who am I to think I should lead a congregation? Who am I to think I should preach or teach? There are plenty of people who are far better at it than I, so why don’t I just stand by and allow others to do it?

This insecurity often sits alongside fear and can paralyze us. We decide ahead of time if we will step out and trust or succumb to our own doubts and fears, and let’s be honest…we all have them!

When I talk about trust I mean that you have an internal desire to do something combined with external voices that confirm this. One of the most beautiful parts of a community is that they will often see the gifts and talents you have more clearly than you do, and a good community will call them forward and encourage you in those gifts. When both the internal and external align, trust means taking the step despite insecurities or fears.

2. Priorities

Leading up to every transition should be a time to reflect and take inventory of where you have been and where you are going. Where have your priorities been and where should they be? What part of this transition will make it most difficult to keep your priorities in line? If possible, try to find the top three or four priorities and list them out in order. Below are mine:

  1. Family
  2. Health
  3. Job
  4. School

While I care deeply about the church I serve, I must consistently remind myself that my family is my top priority. Being a husband and father bring me the most joy and they are the most important thing in my life by far.

If I am not living a healthy life, everything else will suffer. Health is not often on the top of people’s list, but it should be.

It’s important to have a list of priorities because when things get stressful (and they will from time to time), we need to decide ahead of time what will suffer first, otherwise the things that matter most seem to suffer – crazy how that happens!

3. Sustainability

One of the biggest questions my wife and I have been wrestling with is:

How can we do this in a healthy and sustainable way?

If your single this is a little easier. For those in a committed relationship or a family, this becomes not only about you, but also about them. Perhaps you could do more and still be healthy, but will your family still be healthy?

The question is not can I do this for six months or a year, but how can I do this for years to come without running myself in the ground? This is also important to ask on a regular basis, because there are seasons where we need to work harder, but if those seasons last too long we are in trouble. It takes an enormous amount of humility, wisdom, and courage to recognize that the pace you have been going is not sustainable in the long run.

4. Spirituality

Of course as a pastor this is important to me personally, but I think this is important to most people. With every transition brings a change, and that includes a change to our spiritual lives. Will we have time to engage in spiritual practices or practices that connect us to the sacred? Will our practices need to change? How will I be able to tell when my spiritual life is struggling?

This is especially dangerous for clergy because sometimes everything we do can be seen as doing “God’s work.” We even refer to clergy as those “called to ministry,” a phrase I loath because ministry means serving and I believe everyone is called to serve (technically clergy are those who help equip others to do the real work). Spirituality has to do with the health of the spirit, and keeping the inner life alive. This is something our society often doesn’t recognize, but is vital. If we want to do whatever it is we feel called or led to do, keeping our inner life alive will enable us to pour out and serve others in more healthy and meaningful ways.

 

 

Stages of Spiritual Growth

Roughly 5 years ago I began a process that took me into a deep internal struggle. The worldview which was handed down to me no longer worked and as I was pursuing ministry, involved in leadership at my church, and finishing up my undergrad degree in Biblical Studies. It became more and more apparent that the ground beneath me that once seemed so solid was quickly falling.

This experience lasted for more then several years, and if I’m honest I am probably still journeying through bits of it. It was a faith crises of sorts, and through this struggle I have discovered a deeper, but very different way of being a person of faith and spiritual conviction. Along the way, I learned about the stages of faith. Both James Fowler and Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck have written about this spiritual developmental theory. My only regret is that I did not discover it sooner. M. Scott Peck gives four simple and important stages to spiritual development. These stages are as follows:

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Stage I: Chaotic – antisocial.

As an infant we enter into this life thinking the world revolves around us. We all begin in stage I. It is a time of chaos or lawlessness in that we are not sure what is true, good, or right. At stage I we are selfish and seek our own self interests. Some have suggested that prison is a stage I institution in that it places limits on those who don’t or can’t control themselves as part of a larger society.

Stage II: Formal – institutional.

As we grow, we begin to seek stability and a sense of security. This stability is most often given in the form of large institutions and/or a person(s) of authority. We seek to know what should be, what is true, right, and good. We often learn this from religious organizations (or other places such as the military). This stage is helpful and necessary in spiritual development, but unfortunately most religious people and institutions remain at stage II.

Stage III: Skeptical – individual.

While many remain at stage II, some begin to question the institutions, structures, and those in authority. This is often reflected during the teenage years as this person begins to question their parents authority and their rules. Religiously, many who enter into stage III begin to question the doctrines, dogma, and beliefs that have been handed down to them. Many who enter into stage III believe this to be the last and final stage. The college or university are often associated with this stage.

Stage IV: Mystical – communal.

Few people enter into stage IV. One enters into stage IV when they continue to seek out the sacred and walk through the skepticism, questions, and doubts of stage III. People in stage IV may be religious or may not, but they all share some form of deep knowing and appreciation for the divine or sacred as Great Mystery. Instead of clear answers and black and white thinking as seen in stage II, people in stage IV value questions, experience, mystery, and the journey toward discovering more. While often in stage II we are very closed off and dogmatic, in stage IV people are open to experiencing new and different things and working with those who do not see things the same way. They realize that no creed, doctrine, dogma, book, or religion can fully capture the Sacred. Often they are deeply committed to their own particular wisdom tradition, but they are open to learning from others. While stage III people are more individualistic, people in stage IV see the great value of community.

Some thoughts:

Looking back, I can see that five years ago I was pushing back against a stage II environment. I was questioning, wrestling, and struggling – the “institution” (i.e., church) was not giving me answers that worked or made sense to my experience, thoughts, and beliefs. The journey from stage II to stage III often brings a crisis of faith, and many never recover or move past stage III for one of two reasons: either they are sick and tired of the whole “religious” thing and are over it entirely (they chuck it all out or see it as only a crutch), or they have no idea that there is a stage IV and have never encountered anyone who lived at this stage. Often many people at stage III associate religion or spirituality with stage II because often there experiences reflect this.

Some people are at stage I and the traditional forms of religion at stage II are exactly what they need. I believe this is why churches are growing in certain parts of the world – it is a necessary and important step in spiritual growth. But, many in the western world are at stage III and they see much of religion at stage II. In other words, it feels like a step backwards.

What I hope to be growing into (I don’t claim to be there yet) is stage IV. I have struggled with being a pastor because much of what I have known has been stage II religion. I realize that being at stage IV means that you may speak some of the same language as people at stage II, but mean different things. Thus, there is a tension because people at stage II will see you as a threat and people at stage III will often think you are at stage II because of your language.

I believe we are in desperate need of stage IV leaders, pastors, CEOs, business people, parents, counselors, teachers, etc. Our world will grow when those at stage IV have the courage to step out, speak, and lead. These people may be misunderstood, seen as a threat, or even seen by some as naive, but many of the great movements of history have been lead by people who took this risk. Stage IV people are sometimes called the mystics – they see beyond what most can see.

We need people who can see what most cannot. We need people who can help teach others to see beyond stage II or III and into another, more deeper way of being human and brings the heart and the mind together and works toward a more just and generous world.

 

 

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.

Spirituality is about seeing

All religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. That’s what religion is for. That’s why the Buddha and Jesus say with one voice, “Be awake.” [1]

It is unfortunate that for many religion has tended to teach people “what to see rather than how to see.”[2] Some people are drawn to religion because they are trying to make sense of the world. Some want security, and often they believe this is found in certainty. Thus, we see in our world today, a whole lot of religious people who “split hairs” over theological issues, doctrine, and truth claims, all the while missing the point entirely! Religion is not the same as spirituality, but healthy religion develops spirituality – they are not mutually exclusive.

What is spirituality?

Spirituality is about seeing. It’s not about earning or achieving. It’s about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows. You don’t need to push the river, because you are in it.[3]

Spirituality is about seeing, and religion should be the forms, rituals, and communities that help people see.

See what?

See the Divine, Ultimate Reality, the Sacred in all things, to see that everything is connected. To see that we are all living in this Sacred Presence or this Flow.

Religion should help foster this awareness, informing us that this already exists, but much of religion has instead produced forms, rituals and communities that try to control what people see, how people see, and what they cannot see. In essence, some feel the need to control and push “the river” rather than inviting people to see and enjoy the river. You don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops, pray for hours each day, attend church every Sunday, or read Scripture ever day in order to see and enjoy the river. Your don’t need religion in order to be spiritual, but healthy religion can deeply enhance this “seeing.”

The difference between healthy and unhealthy religion has to do with control. Unhealthy religion tries to control what you believe and what you see. Healthy religion understands that whatever the Source of all things is (God, Ultimate Reality, the Universe, the Sacred), it is ultimately Mystery and cannot be contained.

Religion…has not tended to create honest humble people who trust that God is always beyond them. We aren’t focused on the great mystery. Rather, religion has tended to create people who think they have God in their pockets, people with quick, easy, glib answers. That’s why so much of the West is understandably abandoning religion. People know the great mystery cannot be that simple and facile.[4]

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Perhaps God is not so much a “being out there” who can be clearly defined, contained, understood, and controlled as much as God is a flow – or a dance – we are all invited into. Perhaps God is more like a sunrise on a beautiful morning. When those first rays of sunlight hit your face, something beautiful happens. For a moment, you feel at peace. You feel connected, centered, and invited into something far deeper than yourself. It is Mystery – you cannot describe, contain, or control the Sun. It’s simply there for you to enjoy.

 

 

[1] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, 29.

[2] Quote taken from Richard Rohr.

[3] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, 33.

[4] Ibid., 35-36.

The False Self

We all have both a True Self and a False Self.

Being able to tell the difference is everything.

Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves…There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular. Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness.               – Thomas Merton

falseself

My spiritual journey has lead me to contemplation, which seems to be the best route (the only route I have found) that exposes the False Self and helps you walk into your True Self – the core of spirituality.

According to one of my favorite authors, Fr. Richard Rohr, In contemplative prayer we move beyond language to experience God as Mystery. We let go of our need to judge, defend, or evaluate…During contemplation we come to know that there is no separation between sacred and secular. All is one with Divine Reality.

The spiritual journey is meant to be a pathway to discover our True Self – that self that is hidden within, often behind the mask of our False Self. The False Self is that part of us that we prop up that makes us look good to others, hence the image of a mask. It is not actually who we are (our True Self), it is something we hide behind, but it is something we unconsciously fight to keep propped up so we don’t have to deal with all the junk within. If I can’t be as good, smart, or successful as I want to be, I at least want others to think that I am.

The path to uncovering the False Self means we have to be honest and vulnerable in order to expose the weak part of us – no one likes this!

In The Gift of Being Yourself, Psychologist David Benner writes Our false self is built on an inordinate attachment to an image of our self that we think makes us special…Initially the masks we adopt reflect how we want others to see us…Few things are more difficult to discern and dismantle than our most cherished illusions. And none of our illusions are harder to identify than those that lie at the heart of our false self. The false self is like the air we breathe. We have become so accustomed to its presence that we are no longer aware of it.”

The False Self is an illusion, an illusion that is prevalent in every person, and is largely unrecognized. While many non religious people are unaware, religion can actually be a place that bolsters the False Self. I think this happens more times than not.

Immature or lower levels of religion prop up the False Self by creating more labels, divisions, doctrines, and dual (either/or) ways of thinking. Contemplation slowly breaks down these walls and divisions and brings a non dual (both/and) awareness. Often the False Self is that part that feeds off certainty and security. No wonder the False Self is well fed in the religious mind!

  • How do you expose the False Self?

Ask yourself what you feel the need to constantly defend and there you will find the False Self.

Those things, ideas, beliefs, images we are attached to are sure signs of our False Self, hidden within. Dr. Benner writes, “the false self needs constant bolstering. Touchiness dependably points us to false ways of being. And the more prickly a person you are, the more you are investing in the defense of a false self.”

Do you feel the need to consistently defend your own self-importance, self-worth, intelligence, success, views, or beliefs?

Those things we are attached to  are obstacles to finding our True Self – that part that doesn’t need to defend, compare, divide, or fight against. These attachments keep us from becoming vulnerable and keep us from dealing with our own shame, insecurities, and feelings of inadequacy.

My own journey as lead me to uncover my False Self in unexpected ways – in my own insecurities and feelings of inadequacies. I want so badly to appear smart, intelligent, accomplished, and put together. I constantly, and most often unconsciously, compare myself to others who are smarter than I, more charismatic than I, and the list can go on and on.

One of the most helpful tools I have discovered along the way is something called the Enneagram (I will share more about this in the future). I will also share steps to take to enter more fully into your True Self, or at least the path I am on, which is largely a path of knowing and accepting.

Stay tuned!

 

 

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.

interconnectedness-quotes-3

 

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.

Health and spirituality – part 2

You don’t have a spiritual life, you are a spiritual life. – Rob Bell

At the very core of my convictions, I whole heartily believe this. This has major repercussions that I am still working out in my own life.

Some people compartmentalize their life. They have their work life, their family life, their hobby life,  and their spiritual life. This is helpful to be able to examine the different areas of one’s life and reflect on how they are finding meaning in each area. That being said, this can easily lead one to see life as distinct from spirituality. I think this is a mistake.

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All of life, every aspect, is spiritual.

Your work is spiritual, your family is spiritual, your school is spiritual, taking care if kids is spiritual, doing laundry is spiritual, grocery shopping is spiritual, and yes…cooking is spiritual. In fact, the table may be seen as an altar that binds people maybe more than any other act. Think of it, deep relationships are often built by eating together and sharing stories.

Health is spiritual.

Health is not separate from spirituality, but it is part of who your are as a spiritual being. I’m not at all against western medicine, but one of the things I find most compelling about naturopathic medicine, is that at it’s core it correctly understands that everything is connected – your nutrition, exercise, sleep, work, stress, and overall happiness not only affects your attitude, but it affects your mental state and your overall well being including health. Naturopathic medicine looks at the whole person and seeks to bring about healing in a holistic way.

As I am learning about health, how my individual body reacts to certain foods, what is most nutritious for me to eat and not eat, and learning how to be disciplined in these areas (work in progress), I am learning that this is a spiritual act. In fact, it may be one of the most spiritual acts a person can do and this is why.

The best gift you can give to the world is you.

You can offer a healthy, whole you, or you can offer an unhealthy, broken you. Of course we are always a work in progress, and I don’t think we ever fully arrive, but I think you would agree with me that there are clearly healthy people and unhealthy people – and that can be understood on a number of different levels (emotional health and maturity is also impacted by physical health).

I have talked to a number of different people lately who have shared their journey to becoming more healthy and how that has changed their life. This has inspired me and made me more passionate. I have a conviction that one’s overall health is a deeply spiritual thing. Depression, anxiety, stress, fear, heaviness, motivation, can all be helped by living a more healthy lifestyle.

We live in a culture that is working against us in this way. Our lives are so busy and the fastest cheapest food is often garbage. Who hasn’t been in a hurry to get somewhere and grabbed the quickest thing? Becoming a healthy person is a process and it takes time, but I believe it is one of the most worthwhile endeavors we will make. In the process, I think it’s important to take small steps and celebrate these. I think it is also important not to judge others or look down upon them, we don’t know their circumstances, history, or story. You are trying to be the best you. You are not trying to be better than someone else.

My hope in writing this is that it helps you realize the spirituality of health, and I hope it may inspire you to make small changes. This is not a selfish act, in fact it is just the opposite. Becoming a more healthy person is, I believe, one of the most beneficial things for our world. We need more healthy and whole people. We need you to be the best, healthiest  person you can be.

The connections of health and spirituality – part 1

A little over 2 weeks ago I made a drastic change to my diet.

Here’s some reflections from this journey I’m on.

Health, like spirituality, can be done a number of different ways.

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1) One can choose to fly at 30,000 feet by taking a path toward the most common ways of better health.. Basically this means that someone can cut out the major junk foods in their life and exercise on a semi regular basis and they will likely see an improvement.

2) One can fly at 10,000 feet and try a slightly more specialty diet. About a year in a half ago my family and I greatly reduced gluten, sugar, and many processed foods. We also bought much of our food organic – esp the dirty dozen. I also tried to exercise on a regular basis, but I admit it was usually fairly light. Better a little exercise than none. In our experience many people are actually doing this as health, esp. nutritious eating, is a growing awareness.

3) One can choose to fly at 1,000 ft by creating a diet that is specifically geared toward you. This is what I am currently attempting to do. I wanted to get healthier, and even though I felt I was already more healthy than the average, I just felt I needed to take another step. I needed to lose weight and as I increased my exercise regiment I became more aware of my body and it’s reaction to food. Since my wife is a naturopathic medical student (bonus!)  we receive a discount when we see an ND (Naturopathic Doctor). I decided to take advantage of this and establish a patient history and take a food sensitivity test – I was also inspired by some great friends who have testified to the effectiveness of this. I figured I was likely sensitive to a few things that I was eating and was hoping to find out what they were so I could cut them out, but to my surprise my test came back with a little more than just a few foods (and I was fairly healthy…or at least thought I was).

What does this have to do with spirituality?

Similar to health, one can pursue a deeper form of spirituality by using the most common approaches or by slightly modifying them, but I have become increasingly persuaded that we are each individuals and must find our own unique path. Of course, just like health, there will be many commonalities that will overlap between everyone, but finding one’s own path I think is important and most beneficial.

Just as we may need to detox our body by getting ride of foods we may be sensitive to, we may need to detox our lives from things that have just gotten a hold of us a little to much.

Someone may benefit from eating tomatoes, but for someone else (myself for example) it may cause a reaction or inflammation because of their sensitivity. For some of us 10 or 20 minutes of Scripture reading (or other reading) may be most beneficial, but for someone else 10 or 20 minutes of contemplative prayer or meditation may be most beneficial. For someone it may be most beneficial to attend a church service, but for someone else it may be most beneficial to spend time in the outdoors or serving at a food pantry. As I write this, I also want to include that I whole-heartily believe that community is important, but I do not think that just by attending a church service makes one “spiritual” – sometimes, as Richard Rohr recently said on Oprah, “Religion can be the best place to hide from God”. Maybe journaling is helpful? Maybe seeing a spiritual director would be helpful? Maybe just setting up a meeting with a friend to be brutally honest about a struggle would be helpful?Maybe serving at a local food pantry or something similar would be helpful? Maybe a two or three day retreat would be helpful?

The list could be endless.

What I hope to convey is that just because someone spends longer in prayer, doesn’t automatically make them more “spiritual” than someone who doesn’t. Maybe someone spends time gardening and finds that it centers them deeply. Just because someone attends church every week, doesn’t automatically mean they are more “spiritual” than someone who doesn’t. Just because someone reads Scripture for an hour doesn’t automatically mean they are more “spiritual” than someone who doesn’t.

So the question then becomes what is your path? What do you do that helps you feel centered, grounded, connected, awakened?

Relating this to my own tradition, Jesus invited others to follow him. This was a journey, a process, and not a cookie cutter template for all – though of course there will be some commonalities. I think it may be helpful early on in our journey’s to have guidance in a more generalized approached, e.g., read Scripture for 10 minutes and journal for 10 minutes. Eventually though, I think the journey will take each of us to a better understanding of our own individual spirituality and what things help us grow the most. For example, in the last year I have found contemplative prayer to be one of the most meaningful things in my life. Before it was journaling, though I still engage in this from time to time. Also I have begun to see a spiritual director which has helped me on my path.

Here’s my conviction.

Spirituality, like health, is not a one size fits all, but is something that is unique to each individual.