Thursday, August 13, 2015

Action, Contemplation and the "Myth of Progress"

I know many of you like Richard Rohr, O.S.F. I certainly do too. I took a doctoral class with him; I've traveled out to Albuquerque to sit under his tutelage. I have listened to his podcasts and I have read at least eight of his books. I quote him all the time.

Still, as one of the Benedictine brothers at Conception Abbey stated, "When Richard is on, he is really on. And when he's off, he's way off." So here's a little comment on Rohr's recent blog touting the merits of French Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). de Chardin seems to maintain a strong popularity among critically thinking Christians because de Chardin sought to synthesize Christianity and evolution back during the height of Modernism. Everyone seems to want to figure out how to make evolution and Christian thought work together.  de Chardin made it work. Rohr states that de Chardin presents an evolution of consciousness (Rohr's constant theme for the past decade or more). 

de Chardin was brilliant (a scientist and mystic) and influenced an entire generation of Christians (Rohr's generation and the one prior to him - 1950s) by speaking of "the Christ-Omega," where Jesus inaugurates the ascent of humanity in an ever upward evolutionary process ending in a "perfection" of human consciousness. In the very long run for de Chardin humanity will be "in God," as Christ was in the Father (John 17).

N.T. Wright critiques de Chardin as representing the "myth of progress" school of thought. The myth of progress thought is what I anecdotally call "the Star Trek myth:" that someday humanity will gradually "evolve" into a peaceful, diverse, all-accepting, all embracing, 'star-people' - no war, no conflict, no needy among them, no compulsions. We will zoom around the galaxy in a cool ship enjoying the explorer's life, gently correcting evil-doers, awakening them to our "uberman" consciousness, and bring peace and happiness to all. 

de Chardin was necessarily a pantheist because "God" needs to be within this world, that is, part of the essence of all things, and all things have a "god-consciousness." (Simplistically, Pantheism believes God is equal to creation, or God is creation and vice a versa.) By the way, as a mystic myself I am not opposed to conveying some notion of consciousness to all creation like Paul suggests in Romans 8:22 (all creation groans in pain waiting to be redeemed...) But orthodox Christianity keeps the Creator separate from the created - or as I like to put it, 'I never think Monet's Water Lilies is actually Claude Monet'.

Wright's critique of de Chardin asks the question, "What about evil?" How is evil dealt with? de Chardin and the myth of progress school has no answer. As Wright states, "What kind of God would build the eventual kingdom of heaven on the bones of Auschwitz?" Evolutionary optimism cannot deal with nor explain evil notes Wright. Sad news like Michael Brown's death/Ferguson are shrugged off as minor bumps on the road to a beautiful future - some day. But Brown's death cannot be reconciled within the myth of progress. de Chardin has nothing to say to Brown's family.

The myth of progress is the water we swim in within Modernist secularism. Wright states that the news media and politicians assume de Chardin's progress myth all the time, case in point, when the news seems perturbed by the latest mass shooting, as though to say 'we should all be over this sort of thing by now people!' The myth of progress believes that education, technology, and science will bring about a golden age, a human-produced "heaven."

Check your own beliefs: When you read about one of the many conflicts in the Middle East or in Africa or some other "less educated" class of people in the world, do you think 'well, if they just knew what I know, if they just could learn to read, or embrace some technology that would solve their economic woes... they'd see the light and stop killing each other.' If you answer this way then you've been indoctrinated in the myth of progress school.

In the Christian worldview, grace and love, redemption and resurrection will not only usher in the kingdom of God, but answer evil, bringing justice to Auschwitz, natural disasters, trauma, and war. The proper Christian worldview does not believe the world "will burn," but rather be transformed by the power and presence of God. It will be the same earth and heaven but new. See 2 Peter 3:11-13 where far from the earth and heavens being vaporized and gone, there is a new "righteous" creation home. It is not some cartoon heaven with clouds and harps, or even some Eldorado with literal gold streets, but a purified god-filled place we call heaven. I believe we will recognize it. Like all good theology there is continuity and discontinuity: something the same, and yet something different. But this is not a gentle upgrading like evolutionary optimism conjures in the myth of progress school. But rather it is "like the pangs of child birth," sudden and revolutionary (see Matthew 24:8; 1 Peter 1:3; see especially all of 1 Cor. 15 with Paul's multiple metaphors for what the resurrected life and world will be: first fruits, a king subduing enemies, the death and life of seed, Adam and the new Adam). 

This is where Wright and I part company with the 19th century dispensationalist 'rapture cult' who believe redemption means destruction instead of real redemption, that is, "to turn something in and make it new and whole again" - not gone. For more on this topic we must get acquainted with Neo-Platonism and the pervasive influence of dualistic thinking, which has effectively split the Christian life from the world, leaving Christians to save disembodied souls to a disembodied heaven, while the creation of God is ignored.

From a spiritual and mystical point of view Rohr is excellent on this topic of non-dual thinking. But Wright is better from a philosophical and theological point of view, which is the arena of de Chardin.

Modernism, dualism, and de Chardin's evolutionary optimism fail to factor in redemption and resurrection states Wright. I always find it curious that popular culture thinks of evolution and its rough adaptation to social evolution mean that "we all gradually get better," where evolution may mean a disease erases the human race, or on a social level the Islamic State somehow really does take over the world, killing off most, creating slaves, sex slaves, erasing history, thieving, and torturing their way to crushing power. Evolution doesn't mean everything turns out better - it can go real bad!

I have now spent the last decade attempting to introduce good Christians to a more authentic understanding of resurrection. I don't really think I've been that successful. People still think in polar terms: they think either the dualistic Neo-Platonic rapture is the world's end; or they think de Chardin's evolutionary optimism (the myth of progress) is how the world will end up. I think Wright is more true to the biblical message.

I will continue to embrace much of Rohr's thought - but not all. I suggest we not conflate non-dual thinking with de Chardin's adaptive Christ-Omega evolution. When Christ returns we will all live long and prosper. Until then we take the journey of the Saint (not the Hero), and love and bring justice, stand against sin, and journey with the voiceless and eschew power.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Subversive Spirituality: Poetry

Eugene Peterson states that poetry is the voice of prophets. It is subversive because it tricks the audience. They think you're saying something to someone else (“There was a man who had two sons...") but you're really talking about them (Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.')

Over the years while on retreat or sitting in a coffeeroom or library I have attempted to write poetry. Someone once said that when we write speeches we argue with each other, but when we write poetry we argue with ourselves. True for me. Here is one of my poems, which I recently dredged up and fiddled with. You should try and write poetry if you haven't yet. (BTW, I have stuff that rhymes too.)


When is it okay to not have good acoustics?   
When you're listening to Vespers at King's College Choir, Cambridge.

When is it okay to not have fancy stage lights?   
When a single candle burns in a darkened sanctuary.

When is it okay to be silent?   
After the burial, walking to the car.

When is it okay to scream and yell at the top of your lungs?   
When you're a fan and it’s a walk-off homer.

When is it okay to cry?   
At the very end of Saving Private Ryan - definitely when Ebenezer Scrooge apologizes to his nephew's wife.

When is it okay to be awake in the wee hours of the morning?   
Shuffling in for Vigils or Lauds or rocking a sick child to sleep.

When is it okay to run?   
When you're all alone in the silent sleeping winter woods at midday.

When is it okay to stare?   
When you're alone in the dark looking into the fire, or when she's your wife.

When is it okay to sink?  
 After Jesus has called you out of the boat.

When is it okay to die?   
Anytime.  Anytime at all.

D.C.W. November, 2007, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jesus Did Not Convert Saul (Paul)

I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

Notice Jesus did not tell Saul he was a sinner. Jesus did not present a plan of salvation for Saul. Jesus said something more akin to 'hey Saul, why are you fighting me? We have work to do and you're hurting the cause and yourself.' I think this is very soft-touch from Jesus for a man who was imprisoning Jewish Christ-followers.

Jesus already thought Saul was suppose to be a part of the mission. But presently Saul was not helping. I like the idea of Jesus quickly sweeping past Saul's objections and blindness. Paul, the new Saul, needed blindness so that he may see. I believe many of us who have been around the church for a good long while should be knocked down and blinded so we may see that Jesus is more for us than we imagine. Jesus thinks we are a part of his team, his mission. We don't. We keep asking thick obtuse questions, "Who are you?" Jesus replies, "Come on! You know me! I need you to get on with your calling, your work. Let's go."

This is not an obedience issue. It is atheism. We do not believe in Jesus, just the same way Saul did not believe in Jesus. But Jesus believed in Saul. But Saul thought he knew better than Jesus what was the work and mission of Jesus. This is the religious false self: "seeing but blind, hearing but deaf."
Jesus said to [the Pharisees], “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains." (John 9:41)
Paul's calling discloses a very generous Jesus. God is more generous than most of us. Take for instance, the 87th Psalm:
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
    Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia—
    “This one was born there,” they say.
Really? Babylon knows God? The Philistines are God's children? Tyre and Ethiopia? They are all born in Zion, in other words 'God's house.' My Christian upbringing told me the Philistines were bad. Those we think of poorly, those we judge as 'outside' may be God's children more than we care to affirm. Why are we kicking against the goads of God? God is goading us to love and care. But we would rather split apart and judge others.

In our own times, I wonder what American Christian can share Jesus with a Palestinian, a Syrian, an Iraqi or Iranian. Apparently Christians in the West are supposed to have enemies. But like the old monk living in Syria these days said, "We are Christians. We have no enemies." The only enemies of Jesus were the religious "blind," the Pharisees. The Samaritans were not enemies. Even the Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, was not a first-class enemy, but God was using him (John 19:11). Imagine what it would be like to try and share the Gospel with someone in Hamas: "We hate you, and you hate me. I want you to know that Jesus loves you. I want you to become like me." I think he has. Neither has Jesus however.

We need a generous Gospel. I think Acts chapters two, four, and ten reveal that ethnic distinctions were the first boundary to come down. Economic status was there too. Galatians 3:28 expresses the lack of distinction - "there is neither Jew nor Greek." Paul's letter to Galatians and Ephesians are letters of generosity toward the gentiles.

I will not think of Paul as converted any more. Knocked on his butt by Jesus: yes. I am picturing Caravaggio's "Conversion of Saint Paul" (1601). But not converted. Jesus just corrected and told him to go out and be a key player in the game. "Embrace me and your true calling - Paul." May we embrace a very generous Christian family. May we think of our "enemies" as children of God. May all of us get knocked down and blinded so that we may see.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I got my blog back!

Thanks to Doug Johnston, media guru, for getting my blog back. Now he says I should move over to Wordpress. We will see.

Social media is a curious thing to me. I keep thinking of the quote,

"It's always noisiest at the shallow end of the pool."

Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, are so immediate and present. Henri Nouwen had several choice words to describe our culture's milieu: Competitive, Chaotic, and Compulsive. The car may be the single most important American suburban cultural change agent. Suburban sprawl is only manageable with a car. All our life systems depend on the car: first and foremost is groceries. What a complex and fragile system. One huge fuel crisis and we are foodless. (I don't like to ride my bike.)

What we miss is "village space" in suburbia. Media removes the need to gather. We can live completely apart and yet think we are "connected" via this right here: a blog entry. The church was supposed to be village space. (The other two spaces are private space - your living room; and the second space is public space like Walmart and airports.) But church is filled with compulsions: "What time does this service end?"

Facebook is a virtual village space. But like the car, we can leave any time we wish. Hospitality and social obligation (social contract) has lost its body. Social speed has become flighty and flickering like a late night neon motel sign in some unknown high-desert town in Utah. Each of us flickers and flashes online. Then we are gone.

Thank God there is still communion, the Lord's Table. You have to show up, stand in line, dissolve your hurry-sickness, submit to the body and blood of Christ in others. The remembrance of communion includes remembering you are not an island, you are not a sovereign state, your skin is not a national boundary.

I answer social media with one loaf, one cup. Social media is what it is. I don't dislike it. Instead, I study it as a prophet studies the signs of times, watching and turning my face toward God, and asking, "What does this mean?" It means our current cultural norm will not produce saints. Instead it will produce bloggers, talkers, drivers, wait-in-drive-thru-ers, impatience, chaotic time, exceptionalists, entitlement... harried living and tiredness... and not the unhurried rhythms of grace. Jesus walked and listened. We drive and tap.

G.K. Chesterton (1920s, British) despised the automobile. He wasn't too excited about the horse.  He said a proper human (by "proper human" he meant a large British man like himself) is supposed to walk - with a stick. A proper human is supposed to use an ink well and quill to write. Sounds impossible to us nowadays. But image how slow life would be if we walked to a neighborhood market each day, and wrote with ink and quill.

So I got my blog back, and now I can, you know, write stuff quickly. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lent: The 90,000-Mile Major Maintenance

I am thinking about Lent. I am worried that most Evangelical Christians will not participate in Lent because they are worried about exercising shallow, vain, punitive "works righteousness." That's a good caution. We want to live in grace, not works.

Except we need Lent. We need Lent to rattle our cage. We need to be disrupted. We need to "Awake O sleeper, rise from the dead! and Christ will shine on you."

Lent is like taking your car in for a 90,000 mile check up. We don't just need the tires rotated and an oil change, we need the values set, and the timing belt replaced. Yes that's right, our timing has become sloppy. We just don't know what time it is. Perhaps we are just getting up and doing the same drill each day. By "time" I mean 'what season are we in?' 'What "right-time" is it?' (Greek: kairos) "Wake up!" The worst place to be is to not even know we are living each day without Jesus. We are sleep walking. The clock just ticks. The car is - just a car in slow disrepair.

Lent is a time of self-examination. We ask, "Am I close to God?" "Does God have my full allegiance?" "Have I bowed my knee to King Jesus?""Will I go with him to the cross?"

There are many ways to draw close to Jesus during Lent. Giving up soda or chocolate has to be some of the most silly ideas. Scot McKnight has the best book about this sort of false thing. He book is simply called Fasting. Rather than punishing one's self with abstinence (dieting?), we do better to read a book like this one. Or how about read the entire Gospel of Mark?

Lent follows the Gospel path of Jesus: a) into the desert where he is tempted and he resists; b) ministry and the journey toward Jerusalem even though everyone thinks that's a death-wish, but Jesus has a bigger story to follow; c) the cross, d) the Sabbath sleep, e) resurrection, and f) the participation of heaven, and heaven on earth (new creation and the church).

This note is but a brief cage rattle. We need the transformation of the mind (Romans 12). We need new thinking but we get there with new bodily disciplines - not only information. We need resurrection, but we should follow Jesus and go through the desert and the cross (death to self) to get there. Our aim is resurrection.  So I will leave off here with a thought from Augustine. (4th c. AD)
The body is dead - why is it dead? - because of sin. But the spirit is life, because of justice. So do we leave the body dead, then? No, but listen: But if the Spirit of of him who raised Christ from the dead dwells within you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies. So you see: now the body receives its life from the soul, but then it will receive it from the Spirit.
Get it? Now our mind, heart and strength (the soul) fight sin. But at the resurrection the Holy Spirit gives us our life. That is why we no longer sin. That is how we are physically and bodily resurrected.

Lent is the season to chew on such thick thoughts. Take the journey. Put on your boots, grab your backpack, cinch up the belt, take hold of your walking staff, set your eyes on the path, and step out your front door.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Does "Faith" mean "Belief?" No.

When I was a young Christian my relationship with Jesus was based on his atoning sacrifice on the cross, to rid me of my sin problem. I talked much about a personal relationship with Jesus. I had a personal relationship with Jesus. That relationship was based on gratitude for his atoning death on a cross. Jesus Christ was my substitute. I should have been on that cross.

This relationship with Jesus was fortified by the nature of Jesus as both God and Human: God became human and died like one of us. Christ was sinless, and that made his atoning sacrifice "perfect" because Jesus was the only sinless human, and thus his sacrifice was effectual. My understanding of Christianity was further fortified with a hope that when I die some day I will go away to heaven to be with Jesus for all eternity. My Calvinist Reformed Theology told me salvation was "a grace," a gift I never deserved nor earned.

I still believe all this. But these days it feels rather thin and cool - not very relational for all my prayers and thoughts about a personal relationship with Jesus. Something shifted within me. I grew old.

In my first half of life "faith" meant "belief." "I believe in Jesus Christ" was my very loaded faith statement. When I said those words, I meant everything I just said above. "I believe in Jesus Christ" was a creed, a doctrinal statement, and a summary of all my beliefs.

In my second half of life "faith means "trust." Sure, I trusted Jesus in the first half of life. But now Jesus and I sit together in much silence. Jesus is not my friend. Jesus is my King. I wait for him. I wait at his feet. I am his servant... and it appears I have become a favored servant. Not because I did anything special. Jesus just likes me. I don't need to prove anything anymore. Funny thing, because in my first half of life, despite all my talk of grace, trust and relationship, I still performed for Jesus; I still replaced trust and relationship with a set of beliefs.

This is all fine. I wouldn't really change much even if I could. For the first half of life Faith is called Foundationalism. We build a foundation. Or as Richard Rohr likes to say, "We build a tower." We argue doctrine and the true meaning of Greek words in the New Testament. We are right, they are wrong. In the first half of the Christian life, we have enemies.

But in the second half of the Christian life, we must jump from our tower, lose the arguments, embrace the triviality of most everything we thought was so important that it caused us to leave churches, renounce Christian leaders, pick favorite parachurch ministries, and take pride in how dog-eared and highlighted our Bible had become. We were in love with ourselves, and Jesus helped prove how lovable we were (which is a strange irony of depravity and grace). Genuine Christians have no enemies.

These days for me Faith means Trust, not Beliefs. Spirituality is more important the older we become. In the second half of life we gain a real relationship with Jesus, because we stop performing for him. We finally understand grace, and "good works" now flow out of identity with Jesus, instead of grasping control of mission, leadership and morality.

For the young Christian: beware! Beware of clipping off genuine trust and relationship for the sake of being right and trustworthy. Beware of turning Faith into Belief instead of Trust. Follow Jesus and empty yourself. Become nothing so that you may be filled up with Christ... so that you may be "In Christ."

Wait before you speak. Sit before you stand up. Pray before you think. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lakeland's Redemptive Communities

In Lakeland's context, a Redemptive Community is a midsize group - around 20 or 30 people. Redemptive Communities accommodate families, especially families with younger active children.

A Redemptive Community has three features:

Common Cause
Common Meal
Common Prayer

"Common Cause" is the most powerful of the three features. Other groups, small groups may gather around information like a book or a teaching. They may gather around relationships and attempt to gain some meaningful friendships to do life together. But a Redemptive Community (RC) begins with a cause. In Lakeland's case, there are two active Redemptive Communities that fit this definition: Anapra's Rice and Beans Community and the China Redemptive Community.

Each RC begins with a called passionate pastor or pastor-equivalent leader. They rally the vision and keep the flame burning for the cause. Others join who embrace the cause. A typical meeting of the Redemptive Community includes updates about the cause and strategies to build the cause and do something productive for the cause. Laurie and I help lead the China RC. As a part of our ongoing effort to support Jack and Hannah Liu in China, and their training up of young emerging leaders, the group members take turns and Skype the class on Sunday evenings. So we talk about how the classroom teaching time is going.

"Common Meal" is a theological point. Food is fellowship. So we break bread together and Christ is revealed, just like in Luke 24:13ff where the two disciples of Jesus are joined by the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Over dinner Jesus breaks the bread and reveals his identity to them. While we may ignore this bread-breaking epiphany of Christ, it is still true for those with the eyes to bear witness to it. The Redemptive Communities should acknowledge this truth: food binds us to each other and to Christ.

Redemptive Communities may or may not have deep personal relationships with each other. The size of the group usually keeps it from being all-inclusive intimate. Folks may have private conversations, and personal interaction and learn and care for each other, but it is not necessary. The mid-size group includes more numbers, but doesn't worry about intimacy. So for those who want a small-group experience or a covenant group experience, or mentoring, the RC is not that. In fact, the RC may feel "thin" or superficial. Kids run around and "tag" mom or dad. It is noisy and disruptive. If you want Bible study then it will be hard to accomplish at an RC.

It is better to have activities rather than information. Create activities for the kids to pronounce the gospel's presence in the RC's midst, and the hope of the gospel in the cause's location, like China or Mexico.  Language lessons might be appropriate. Plays and skits work. Kids can create presentations. The Common Meal is the gathered space, the village time and space. And RC's function more like a village than a Bible study or support group.

"Common Prayer" codifies the cause. Our China group meets for dinner once a month on a Sunday evening. So we use Vespers, or Evensong (Evening Song) prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. We adapted the prayers to include missional prayers.  And there is a time for intercession on behalf of the coworkers in China and cause. The children are asked to participate in the prayers. The prayers are liturgical, so they may start out dry. But over time liturgical prayers gain power and sway because they are repeated, which forces reflection and depth - even if they are not emotive and exuberant or heart-felt the way spontaneous prayers feel.

Evensong is nice because candles are lit during the prayers and the kids can participate. Lakeland is not very good at gathered prayer (there, I said it). But we are learning. Evangelicals value spontaneity but sacrifice depth of prayer for feelings. We don't confess, we don't give thanks, we don't pray for the world - usually Evangelicals pray for themselves. They self-appropriate the Spirit. That's permissible but it is narrow and Existential. We love to love ourselves. Yes, that's a harsh critique.

Evangelicals need a depth of mission, a self-denying, self-effacing, settled, stable, and secure groundedness. Liturgical prayers are "dry" because they don't indulge us (the private person.) Gathered liturgical prayers include everyone. Liturgical prayers are about "the we, not the me." There is nothing more beautiful than when the children join us for the Lord's Prayer and they know it by heart.How do they know this prayer that Jesus taught? Repetition.

Redemptive Communities are gaining traction at Lakeland. We are figuring them out on our own. I am sure there is a workshop on them, or some big time church is selling their best practice of mid-size group. But I'd rather we own this one ourselves. I don't want to think, "Oh man, we are not as cool as that church's midsize group program." Let us continue to explore and experiment with the Redemptive Community posture, and see where it takes us.