Category Archives: Debate

Is Run the Jewels More Christian Than Toby Keith?

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Run the Jewels. Photo by Tracy May.

[Post credit to guest blogger Marty Solomon]

I’ve often heard folks say that rap music is somehow un-Christian or dangerous.  But that hasn’t been my experience in twenty-five years of listening to it.  Instead, like every other kind of music that I’ve earnestly explored, I’ve found some true poetry scattered among a lot of forgettable efforts.  And I’ve also found some of the finest creative expression that human artists can muster, springing from their own unique, historically-grounded, and God-given perspectives.

As art, rap is often pure fiction. Yet, those who attack it argue that rap is intended to literally encourage sin when it speaks to street-reality, violence, drugs, sexuality, and materialism. There are plenty of rap songs like that, to be sure. (Here is the most offensive example I can recall personally; caution, not only are these lyrics inappropriate for children, but if you’re a self-respecting adult, you may be sorry you heard them).  But, to be fair, there are also plenty of songs by loudly self-proclaiming Christians whose lyrics seem equally repugnant to Christ’s Good News.  And many of them sound to me like they’re intended to be much more literal and realistic than your typical rap.

Test yourself on this. Which of the following is Toby Keith, and which is Jesus?

1.       “[Because of 9/11,] we lit up your world like the 4th of July…[Y]ou’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A, ‘cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”

or

2.       “They say, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But God doesn’t want you to fight and do violence resisting evil people in the material world; if someone hits you on your right check, turn your face and let them hit the other side of your face too instead of raising a hand against them. (Matt. 5:38-39)….Put your weapon back in its resting place…because anyone who uses a weapon for violence will cause injury and death and God might not forgive it. (Matt. 26:52)”? Continue reading

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I Have Seen the Future of Religion, and His Name is Matthew Fox

matthew fox

From his origins in the Wisconsin heartland to his European awakening and from his nature-based brand of mysticism to his eventual split with the patriarchal church of the day, I have consistently felt a deep connection with the life and work of author, theologian and priest Matthew Fox.

I have cited and referenced Fox’s work repeatedly — from my Spring Equinox service to my Thanksgiving Prayer — and consider him to be a primary influence in my practice of entering into a direct relationship with God (not a God that is anthropomorphic or made in man’s image, but God as the Cosmos itself). And as a fellow author and minister, I consider him to be a mentor and spiritual director — an inspiration as I struggle to find a voice of my own and to have that voice connect with a new audience.

The rites of passage that I lead for new fathers in our community are directly fueled by his call for ritual and reclamation in books like The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.

“If we liberate the Divine Feminine,” Fox says, “she is deserving of a worthy consort — a cleansed and detoxified and resurrected Sacred Masculine.”

I first met Fox at a workshop in Sarasota, FL where he preached about Creation Spirituality, Deep Ecumenism (interfaith dialogue and pluralism), spiritual activism and the importance of grieving in our culture. He described a grieving ritual of his own design and demonstrated the process which asked participants to get on all fours and moan until they were emptied of their suffering. I immediately put this process to the test with the chaplains group I belonged to at the time and experienced deep and profound effects.

JSO and Matt Fox

Just two guys from Wisconsin: The author and Matthew Fox at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, 2015.

Fox doesn’t simply want to reinvent worship. He will not be satisfied until the worlds of work and education have been re-booted as well.

In his book A New Reformation, he writes, “We must leave the museum-like Christianity as we would a burning building — seizing what is valuable and letting go of the rest. We take what is best from the old ways and leave behind what is unnecessarily burdensome.”

“Integral to a New Reformation are new forms of worship. The old forms inherited from the modern era are very often boring and deadly, inviting people to pray only from the neck up while ignoring the lower chakras, much as they are ignored in modern education. The new language of the postmodern era — including deejays, veejays, rap, the spoken word, and more — can bring new life and deep spirit to worship, by inspiring dance rather than by encouraging sitting.” Continue reading


Science and Religion: Can We Have Both, Please?

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Have you ever wondered: What is the current role of religion in our society? Does religion do more harm than good? What does the future of religion look like?

Are churches, temples, mosques and religiously-affiliated nonprofits serving the greatest good of the community (or even the greatest number of common values of community members) with their programs and outreach?

We depend on religious institutions to grapple with life’s big questions and to provide peace and counsel in times of pain and suffering. We rely on them to connect individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities not only physically through face-to-face experiences and in service to others, but also virtually online.

Can we not also depend on them to evolve — to address the needs, values and beliefs of the world — to transcend and include?

Religious communities convene people physically in rooms together, but let us foster connections between the interior dimensions of those same individuals, families, and neighborhoods. These connections are formed around common values and teachings and this shared, intersubjective space called “we” is where the seed of the greater good can be planted.

Sometimes we are told that the teachings of science and religion contradict each other. But there are plenty of ways that science and religion might exist together, as two dimensions of our very complex reality. These subjects should be taught early and often as our ability to understand and our perception of the world changes over time. Certain amounts of doubt and skepticism to balance out our faith and wisdom can be healthy. Believing something (until we don’t anymore) is good for us — it keeps us flexible, responsive, engaged and alive.

THE SPIRIT OF THE COSMOS

In Sanskrit, the word namaste means that there is a light (Spirit, consciousness) inside of me that is identical to the light inside of you. There have been empirical scientific discoveries that explain this connection (from mirror neurons to quantum entanglement). And we also know from watching episodes of Cosmos that the matter that comprises the universe is at the same time connected by — and cradled in — vast regions of invisible or “dark” matter. Dark matter is involved in both the attractive and gravitational force between celestial bodies (that which keeps our worlds in place) as well as the repulsive force between solar systems (that which keeps our universe expanding). It is that same ubiquitous, unifying, dynamic and regenerative force that some call “God.” (May that force be with us, always).

We are still in the transition from modern to post-modern (hierarchy to holarchy, “text to context”), and we may have a tendency to rely too heavily on the advances and authority of science. We may feel we have outgrown the tribal and magical traditions of our ancestors through thousands of years of transcending and including. New stages always include those that have come before. Matthew Fox, the iconoclastic founder of the Creation Spirituality movement, once said, “we are not born onto this earth, but from it.” If we give ourselves permission to access and honor (even exalt) our tribal/magical roots, it may be through this process that we extend the much-needed consideration (not just behavioral change) to the ground from which we have come — showing our planet the same love and respect that we would show an elder.

Our planet, our people and our future are badly in need of a spirituality that is not rooted in erecting boundaries and “either/or” thinking. Our spirituality should be one of “both/and” — a spirituality that radically includes the forms of masculine and feminine, inner and outer, individual and collective, faith and practice.

There are many forces at work in the Cosmos, many opportunities for us to be over-stimulated or distracted, many different ways to express love. Our spirituality shouldn’t force us to choose sides against men, women or even love itself.

Let us not assume “safe” ways of thinking. And let us never affirm that thought itself is dangerous. Exercising our intellect might even be part of our spiritual practice. We might even embody a spirituality that is both creative and self-critical — a spirituality that holds more than one belief at a time.

But what does this have to do with religion? Can’t a person be “spiritual” but not “religious?” Continue reading


A Declaration of Spiritual Independence

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“When freed from that which binds,
when the lust for life has come to
an end, one is not born again. He
is released now and forever.”

– The Buddha, Dhammapada


Note: Some define “spiritual independents” as those who are unchurched or have left a mainline religious affiliation — like a third-way political party. For our purposes, “spiritual independence” means anyone who insists on critical thinking in religious matters.

On July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating students of Harvard Divinity School. As the ministers-to-be listened eagerly with freshly-opened minds, he told them, “Let me admonish you first of all to go alone, to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

He spoke of an “indwelling Supreme Spirit,” and of a vision, described by Philip Goldberg of the Huffington Post as “similar to that of the Eastern sages, where we are neither fallen nor depraved, and where divinity incarnates at every instant, not just once in the distant past.”

“God is, not was,” Emerson told the students, and each of us is “an infinite Soul” who is “drinking forever the soul of God.”

The graduates (and religion itself) were forever changed — their minds and hearts opened to a direct relationship with the Divine. The parents and faculty were angry and upset, and Emerson was banned from Harvard for over two decades.

If we are to claim spiritual independence for ourselves, then we need to cultivate a similar relationship with our Source. John Dominic Crossan writes about this kind of life in The Essential Jesus, saying it is the life that Jesus died for — a life “of human contact without discrimination and of divine contact without hierarchy.”

If we are to be truly free, we need to equip ourselves with the appropriate support on all levels and lines, and surround ourselves with the right types. We will need access to sound spiritual teachings, a free-standing system outside the mainline institutions, the right spiritual tools necessary to do the actual work, and the benefits of a rich community of practice.

Teachings

We’ll need teachings that help us to seek inspiration and guidance, and live with heart, for the road will be rough. They will need to be teachings that consider the health of the whole person (body, mind and spirit); that encourage not just temporary epiphanies and insights, but continual freedom (or moksha), spiritual liberation and unfolding, allowing us to “transcend and include” what has come before. They will need to be teachings that remind us to look within for the answer. Teachings that promote right behavior, right action and right speech; that allow for and encourage highly-developed lines of ethics and morality. We also need new stories, updated myths and well-drawn maps of the spiritual territory. Continue reading


A Brilliant Matrix: The World of Religious States and Stages

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The “Faith of the Seven” in the capital of Westeros (Game of Thrones).

Game of Thrones is a sprawling violent, bloody snapshot of a medieval fantasy world where different kingdoms and bloodlines struggle for control of the much-coveted “Iron Throne” — a seat in the capitol that rules all Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

It’s also a detailed glimpse into a fictional world in spiritual transition — from ancestral nature religions to a mythical/numerological polytheism to an emerging (and much-contested) monotheism. If you watch Game of Thrones, you’ll notice that there is a lot of time spent explaining the religious motivations of the characters. It’s as if religion itself is a character in the story. The characters may offer “seven blessings” to their loved ones or curse their enemies to the “seven hells” — the number seven representing a set of archetypes based on social and spiritual virtues (Father, Mother, Warrior, Maiden, Smith, Crone, Stranger). At the same time, some characters are bent on appeasing the “one, true God” — the nascent and wrathful “Lord of Light” — through the blood and fire of human sacrifice.

Throughout the story, what the characters believe and how they interact with and interpret the actions of others begins to change based on what they begin to see with their own eyes. And to hear this kind of religion described, you might think that these forms of worship, these outdated modes of spiritual expression, so rooted in mythology and superstition, have long passed from our society. I can assure you, that in some corners of our planet, these types of nature-based and/or polytheistic religion (or variations of them) are still very much alive.

“Integral” Spirituality is part of a lineage that is woven through many teachers (Sri Aurobindo, Haridas Chaudhuri, Alan Watts, Ken Wilber, et. al.). And very recently, religion (or the interpretation of religious experience) that is rooted in post-modern and pluralistic structures has done much to synthesize some of our more sacred and socially held values that have long been viewed as opposites — ideas like east and west, science and spirituality, inner and outer, masculine and feminine, the individual and the collective, grasping and sitting — it is an emerging spirituality, not of either/or, but of both/and.

However, it’s not all rose-colored radical inclusivity. Implementing pluralism as its own practice, while avoiding the accusations and actual pitfalls of syncretism has proven to be difficult. Integral spirituality needs to honor the differences we find in the various religions and it does so not by comparing the human experience of gods and goddesses to the experience of blind men with an elephant, or minimizing the paths of tradition by winding them up the same mountain of “spiritual Oneness.” It succeeds by making a clear distinction between things like cultural history, creativity and mythology, human rights and freedoms, communities of practice, states of awareness, stages of consciousness, lines of development or intelligence, personality and gender types, and so on.

We will look at two of those here — stages and states — and hopefully gain a better understanding of how Integral spirituality allows us a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the relationship with our Self, with those around us and with the Divine, or Spirit-in-Action.

Stages of Consciousness

First we’ll look at stages of consciousness. These stages have been imagined as a vertical line (or nested hierarchy of circles).

This is how cultures have mapped the development or unfolding of our own worldview as we move from birth to death. These stages, according to Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, move us from egocentric (care and concern for the self) to ethnocentric (care and concern for the family or the community) to worldcentric (care and concern for all beings).

It’s best illustrated with something called Spiral Dynamics. Developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, this model proposes the idea that the consciousness of all beings (as well as all societies or groups) unfolds in a spiral that oscillates between self-interest and concern for the group, and is continually expanding while incrementally including more and more perspectives.

A Brilliant Matrix-Spiral Dynamics

VALUES SYSTEM COLOR DESCRIPTION
Archaic Beige Primal, instinctive, survivalistic. Food, warmth, sex and safety.

Origin: 100,000 years ago.

Tribal Purple Loyalty to the tribe, magical/animistic beliefs, family rituals and blood oaths. Observe customs and cycles. Sacrifice is made for the tribe.

Origin: 50,000 years ago.

Warrior Red Impulsive/egocentric beliefs, self-interest, self-expression, only the strong survive, domination and rebellion, kingdoms and heroes (negatives: gangs, the “terrible twos”). Creates change through the use of power.

Origin: 10,000 years ago.

Traditional Blue Authoritarian beliefs, law and order, good and evil polarized, mythic/literal interpretations, ethnocentric, “my country right or wrong.” (positives: ordered meaningful existence, absolute truth, rightful living). Sacrifice is made for truth.

Origin: 5,000 years ago.

Modern Orange Self-reliance, rational/scientific worldview, achieveist/strategic beliefs, “life is a game,” risk-taking. (positive: the Enlightenment, industrial revolution, negative: capitalist exploitation, environmental devastation, mechanistic view of life/the universe). Creates change through manipulation.

Origin: 300 years ago.

Post-modern Green Communitarian/egalitarian, worldcentric, social justice, world peace, deep ecology, human rights, religious pluralism, multiculturalism, communes. (positive: birth of the internet, negative: hatred of hierarchies, disdain for competition). Sacrifice is made for consensus.

Origin: 150 years ago.

Integral Yellow Integrative, enlightened self-interest; flexibility, functionality and responsibility; all value systems are valid, holarchies, value-based hierarchies (good, beautiful, true), systems thinking, “Third Way” politics. Creates change using knowledge.

Origin: 50 years ago.

Mystical Turquoise Holistic worldview, a balanced system of interlocking forces, body/mind/spirit approaches to experience, global networks/global solutions. Identifies with collective mind or unified, evolving whole. Sacrifice is made for the planet/all beings.

Origin: 30 years ago.

States of Awareness

States of awareness are simply the layers of what we call the “self” or the “body.” They have been taught by the world’s faith traditions to be viewed as concentric circles or sheaths (i.e. the koshas) that begin with the physical body and expand (or deepen) to include more energy (i.e. prana), more matter, more Spirit.

  1. Gross Body – Sensory awareness, waking state
  2. Subtle Body – Extra-sensory awareness, energetic body (Qi, shen, prana), dreaming or altered states
  3. Causal Body – Formless awareness, the Soul, the Overmind
  4. “State that is all states” – Non-dual awareness, Turiya, Divine Milieu, Spirit, Atman

A Brilliant Matrix-States-Alex Grey

The thing to be aware of here is that someone can be at the highest peak state experience — blissed-out, in a state of rapture — yet themselves be at a Traditional (ethnocentric) stage, a blue value system or lower. And the opposite is also true (higher value systems, and a lower or more narrow energetic body). An example might be the “enlightened” Zen master (inhabiting higher states of awareness) with a highly-developed line of morality and ethics, who is generous and humble, yet who holds strong cultural biases — racist or homophobic beliefs. Continue reading


Foolishness and The Kingdom of the Bad

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The archetype of the fool or the clown shows up in most every well-known story with a beginning, a middle and an end. This character appears in dramatic work in various forms from the “Wise Fool” of the Greek Tragedies to Shakespeare’s spritely Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Dori in Finding Nemo.

These “foolish” characters provide comic relief and a sense of conscience to the protagonist (as they do not follow society’s ways, are usually not the most fashionable, and always speak the truth). They invite us to wear masks — or to take off our masks and live a life free of labels and ideals. And they are usually a “lowly” character, and sometimes a blank slate, that will reveal the character of others based on how they themselves are treated. Sometimes an antagonist we thought was our friend will show their true colors by betraying or mistreating the fool, usually in the final act.

In Shakespeare and the Human Mystery, J. Phillip Newell writes, “The fool is calling us to be truly ourselves and points out the falseness of what we have become. He is not, however, over and against his hearers. Rather, he invites them to discover the fool within themselves. In All’s Well That Ends Well, when Paroles says that he has found the fool, the clown replies, “Did you find me in yourself, sir?”

In ancient Egypt (as early as 2400 BC), clowns served a socio-religious and psychological function in the court, with the role of priest and clown traditionally held by the same person.

In Native American traditions, the Trickster God is represented as Coyote, a sacred clown. During certain ceremonial performances, masks were made of clay and worn for each direction of the medicine wheel and a Heyoka (a mystic, a medicine man, an outsider) plays the role of the backwards clown, doing everything in reverse.

There is within Christian circles those known as “Holy Fools” or “Fools for Christ.” These are the ascetics, mystics, saints, outcasts. The Hindu equivalent would be Avadhuta (The Sanskrit word for people who “do not identify with their mind or body, names or forms, a person held to be pure consciousness.”). In Islam there are the Qalandariyya (whirling dervishes) and Malamatiyya (Sufi mystics with a staunch belief in self-blame).

The first card of the Major Arcana Tarot deck is that of The Fool. It shows him in all his youthful innocence stepping off a cliff and into the unknown without judgement, but also without wisdom. He is the embodiment of a new beginning. He is actively sacrificing his past. And he is represented by the number Zero. As George Leonard writes, zero is “the fertile void from which all creation springs, the state of emptiness that allows new things to come into being.” The fool represents what is known in Zen Buddhism as shoshin or “beginner’s mind,” the attitude that makes real learning possible. Continue reading


The Birth of Ego, The Fall of Man

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One of the key concepts in many religious traditions is the idea that man has fallen or broken away from God. It’s considered by some to be the “ascending” form of religion — where we reach up or return to a state of Oneness with the Divine, as opposed to “descending” forms of religion where God is present or manifest in Nature and heaven is on the ground at men’s feet. This state of “falling away” or brokenness is commonly illustrated with the idea of Original Sin, or as it is called in Tibetan Buddhism alaya-vijnana (translated as Store Consciousness or consciousness that “contains all the traces or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future potentialities“). This is the birth of the ego and the point at which our mind itself starts to distance itself from its true (or original) nature.

We are born clean, perfect and brand new, filled with light and unwrapped for all the world to see. We are born without language, without memories, without bias and without prejudice. We are born fearless. It is the world around us that attempts to work its way inside our mind, bringing along with it the concepts (and in some cases contagious ideas) like fear and bias.

George Leonard in his book Mastery, writes that a baby learning language for the very first time exists in a state of playfulness, a state of nonsense — throwing every manner of random sound against the void — until certain sounds are positively reinforced by the community around them. If there was no positive reinforcement, language would not develop as it does. He also states that the opposite is true, that by trying to control or negatively reinforcing sounds created from this state of blissful awareness, we instill self-doubt and fear in the child, and slowly begin to chip away at this state of blissful awareness. This sense of playful exploration, of pure creativity and imagination is eroded away by those around us simply through the act of (sometimes unconscious) positive and negative reinforcement.

It is only when we reach the post-conventional stage of psychological development (adolescence into adulthood) that we have the opportunity to unlearn this conditioning.

There are those who read scripture and sacred texts literally (33% according to Pew Research). Those that think Jonah literally lived in the belly of a whale for three days or that Noah was able to corral two of every living animal onto a boat. And, there are those who think that a piece of fruit may have contained all the knowledge of the world. Picture an apple packed tightly with not only the sugary flesh of the fruit itself and all its nutrients — its DNA — but also with the entire alphabet of your respective language, the entire number line in both directions all the way to infinity, entire systems of knowledge like law and medicine, potential systems of knowledge (that didn’t yet exist) like physics and astronomy. There are those who believe that when Eve took a bite of the apple, it was this knowledge that infected her. That she now possessed a download of ethics — a framework for interpersonal relationships, when according to myth itself, interpersonal relationships beyond that of our two protagonists weren’t yet known. This moment according to scripture was a transgression of spiritual law, attempting to take knowledge from the tree, the source of life, from higher spiritual planes, from God himself and use it for human ends. However, there are hundreds of ways to interpret this scripture.

There are those who may read it politically, and as an attempt for the patriarchal structure of the time to control the existing (and still very much emerging) storehouses of knowledge in the world. There are those who may read it as a fable to their children, encouraging them not to overreach their boundaries or expectations or not to elevate themselves above their spiritual station or social class.

There are also those that, in an attempt to frame this story biologically, view it as partial at best when considering our homosexual, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers. Is this a story that they can identify with? And, if this is a partial picture of the biological diversity and sexual/gender identity — if it’s not “true” biologically, then what else might it be about? Maybe it’s the polarity of the male/female or masculine/feminine drives in all of us. Maybe it’s about the battle being waged by God and the devil over the souls of our illustrious couple in that garden paradise. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Some interpret all scripture figuratively. There are those that perceive the whale as a construct of Jonah’s unconscious mind or a symbol of something larger than himself. There are those that perceive the initial bite of that apple as the first appearance of what we have come to call Ego. Eve was immediately self-aware, and immediately perceived herself as something other, something other than perfect, something that needed work. And this is one of the many effects of the ego, it convinces us that we are not our true or original nature. It convinces us that our mind can fix it, that our mind is in control, that there is a “self” to be preserved in an impermanent world.

We must find a way to inoculate ourselves against these effects. Fear and self-doubt and attachment are all viruses of the mind and highly contagious. And unless we have in place a rigorous practice that is constantly renewing and strengthening our spiritual and psychological immune system, we are at risk of being infected by the idea that we are broken or sinful, that we are anything less than connected directly to God, anything less than apertures of light and energy and Christ Consciousness, of formless Buddha Mind, energy that as it evolves, assists God himself in becoming self-aware. Continue reading


Gay Pride and the Plank in Dr. Pritchard’s Eye

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Last week, I received an e-mail from Dr. Ray Pritchard warning of a “coming evangelical divide” over gay rights.

He assures us the divide will not be over homosexuality or gay marriage. Pritchard claims that when this line is drawn in the sand, it will be over “biblical authority,” and will mean “splitting denominations, the leaving of churches, and in some cases, the division of families.”

Pritchard says this issue is a “deal-breaker,” that there is “no middle ground,” and that “the people who think it’s okay for two guys or two girls to get married and then come and lead Awana on Wednesday night will never be accepted by the rest of us.”

Can’t we all just get along?

“No, we can’t,” he says.

“No one can be happy about the very real pain involved” in this coming split, he continues, but it’s “better that we should separate than stay together and pretend at a unity that does not exist.”

I’ll return to that in a minute. He goes on:

Pastors, church leaders, Christians, and those with influence who admit to “struggling” over the issue from the “seductive voices calling us to ‘rethink’ our position,” you’d better pick a side in this battle, he says, because in the end, “we all get to decide where we stand.”

So be it.

Really, Dr. Pritchard? Do even our lesbian, gay and transgender brothers and sisters get to decide for themselves where they will stand?

You say the divide will be over Biblical “authority,” but I wonder if what you really mean is biblical “interpretation.”

I understand that you’re approaching this topic from a strictly Christian perspective (though I’m sure Jewish and Islamic fundamentalists would totally have your back on this). But, unfortunately it seems that the “authority” in you that drafted this letter is rooted in your own ego and self-preservation, as well as the preservation of the organization that trained you — the old tried-and-untrue concern of the Orthodox church that accepting homosexuality will somehow erode the perpetuation of our species. Your authority is not rooted in love, it is rooted in irrational and paralyzing fear. And that’s a form of man-made “authority” we need less of in this world, not more.

You claim in your letter (or shall we call it a tract?), “it may be that we will be the ones leaving some churches because we are the minority.” I pray that this is true. I also pray that those who count themselves in your number continue to dwindle, as their hearts and minds inversely expand in a blinding compassion for all of humanity. I pray for a world where minorities (actual minorities, not just minorities of the mind) can learn to love and respect one another, and do away with the borders and boundaries that continually seek to define them. In this regard, this line in the sand you propose may very well serve to benefit both parties. We (since we’re at least temporarily choosing “sides”) only want for you to hold more love and understanding in your heart. For in the stages we move through on our road to devotion, we begin in ignorance, before moving on to disquiet, insight, surrender, transformation, understanding, and ultimately, unification. Your letter is rather disquieting, so I can at least congratulate you on being slightly less ignorant than you were before you wrote it. Continue reading


Is Christianity (as we know it) dying?

Bishop_John_Shelby_Spong_portrait_2006    a new christianity for a new world

Soon after I finished The Gnostic Gospels by Dr. Elaine Pagels (1979) — a richly detailed and historical page-turner — I stumbled across a colorful book called A New Christianity for a New World by Bishop John Shelby Spong (2002). I was familiar with Spong’s reputation for controversy, but I grabbed it up and started in on it right away, somehow thinking it would be lighter in tone and more inspirational in nature. Little did I know that this new book was a dramatic and emotionally significant call to action, asking Christians around the world to put down the outdated, theistic (Father) concept of God and embrace a new vision of the church.

Not what you’d consider light reading.

In fact, I spent hours re-reading certain sections in an attempt to truly unpack the implications and revelations contained inside the words.

This is a book I wish I had discovered much earlier, as it has illuminated for me the necessary steps I must take as an individual in honoring the death of the theistic God — thanking “Him” for his service, and putting him to rest once and for all. It also shows me that there is still much work to do in lovingly and respectfully engaging in open dialogue with Christians who are seemingly uninformed about the history of their own Orthodox Church and also in rehabilitating those Christians in exile — who have become disillusioned with their faith as they, as individuals, have changed and grown so much, only to see their creeds and institutions (once viewed as a reliable bedrock) become insufficient, small-minded and small-hearted.

What was exciting for me, and divinely-timed, was that the book also offers a framework of not only Spong’s call for reformation and a new “Ecclesia” (Greek for “assembly” or “those called out”), but references the writings on “Creation Spirituality” by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox and the picture of the historical Jesus drawn by the work of John Dominic Crossan. This framework examines the life of Jesus, the teachings of The Christ and the gospel of the resurrected Christ Jesus in a truly integral way.

Spong’s call for reformation is heartfelt and well-researched, and is clearly written by someone who has lived and loved his own faith for many decades. It is a cry for change and reform from an insider of the Orthodox Church — someone the world would agree is an expert on the subject. I find it interesting that this book follows a previous work entitled Why Christianity Must Change or Die (1999). As if the publisher said, “Jack, we just need something a little more positive. A little more upbeat.” Indeed, we need the “antidote to toxic Christianity.”

For those that identify as practicing Christians and those that have been frustrated with the bloody and barbaric rhetoric hurled from the pulpit, reading this book may very well cause you to walk out of your home church once and for all. For church leaders, reading this book should be required. It could very well start significant changes within the organization — baby steps to be brought up at the next board meeting — and at the very least, it has the potential to create conversation.

Most likely, though, it will be met with scorn and indifference by the institution we now know as the Christian church. And therein lies both the problem and the thesis of this book.

It breaks down like this, the teachings of the historical Jesus (shared eating, charity, compassion, indiscriminate love for humanity, a direct communion with God as the source of Being), have been taken out of context or ignored outright by the orthodox Christian church we know today. The orthodox church opts instead to teach conditional ideas like salvation (most times only through the Christ figure, or the church itself), baptism (primarily to cleanse one from Original Sin), reinforces the concept of a wrathful Father God (the punitive parent demanding a blood sacrifice), as well as presents a distorted or inaccurate version of natural history as historical fact.

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Does Our Name for “God” Really Matter?

cosmic mandala

Being a religious studies major in college, I studied Buddhism, Taoism, paganism, and all sorts of other ‘isms’ that helped me to fully let go of the idea that “God” is some transcendent, dualistic-thinking, bearded dude up in the sky judging everybody.

I used to get into debates with Christians over terms and definitions and I moved away from using the term “God” for a long time in order to refer to the source of all that is.

I believe ‘it’ is within us and around us. We are part of it and it is us. ‘It’ is everything and we can influence how it shapes our lives through the power of our thoughts and feelings in regard to it.

That said, I recently reconnected with two traditionally Christian friends whose belief in that higher power — that source energy — is so unfailingly strong and beautiful that I was reminded again that our concepts of it are really no different, despite the fact that we describe it using different terminology.

They too see that my faith in energy and the magic of the universe is really the same as their faith in “giving it over to God.” They pray. I meditate. They go to church. I go to the ocean. It’s the same however and wherever we find it and whatever we choose to call it. Coming to that realization has allowed us to have some of the most incredible, heart-warming conversations and moments I’ve ever shared with anyone.

I say all this to justify my newfound use of the term “God.”

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