Arrogant Jesus and me.

I’ve had some really interesting experiences lately. I’m curious about what they will teach me.

If you read this blog or know me very well, then you know that I expanded my definition of the Church several years ago. While I was working in the church serving as Executive Pastor I became convinced that the present Church model for doing ministry was rapidly losing favor in our modern world and if the Church was to be an effective light in a dark world then it would need a drastic overhaul. For the church I was attending, that was interpreted as a louder sound system and a few jumbo-trons. Sure the pipe organs were swapped out with a earthy, relevant worship band, but this was not the transformation for which I was hoping.

Statistics indicate church attendance is approximately 30% in urban areas and declines about 1-2% per year. I was hoping for way more than a cosmetic change, a name change, or even a new “missional” stance.  All of these efforts are laughable when I looked at my colleagues at work and asked them why they don’t go to church. None of them said, I need more jumbo-tron.

So I left. I gave it up. I ventured out to engage the world at the most important meeting place possible. The intersection between the mind and heart. The soul of a person has always a been a virtual location. The life they live and each spiritual journey is always unique, thus no need for a one size fits all system. This means that people will find and employ content to affect this virtual juncture in there own way and time. This is the place I would serve as The Church.

That was three years ago. Now I have a small, but steadily growing online ministry. It consists of this blog, some books, a newsletter, and a podcast now and then. All of it is designed to go into the mind and pick off the callouses at the point of a person’s being.  Over time my audience has grown, but not with more fundamental Christians. To me this is what a successful mission (if there is such a thing) should look like. No one begins a spiritual journey in earnest as a fundamentalist. One only gets there after they trade their being for the identity the system provides.

Over time as the fundies dropped off I have noticed that some of them are increasingly asking some questions. I always welcome this because it often means that they are confused by the categories that I am using to explain divine reality. This is like a labor pain in the life of a person. It’s a sign that the roots in their pot are pressed to the max within their container.

While some may listen with interest and even try and be nice, there is an aspect where some will see my perspective as deficient and they are trying to persuade me back “on track.” I truly respect these people and their engagement. They often have questions that are rooted in the win-loose paradigm that they know so well. Some are truly curious about where I’ve come and others are afraid for me. Either way, I deeply appreciate it when people talk about it because it shows they care enough to make an effort. After all, if I really have lost my way, these are the only people who could possibly help me find my way. That is why I always listen and receive now, whereas I used to just argue.

Recently I was told that my content sounded arrogant because I was describing spiritual growth and that people need to graduate at some point from their formative containers. The use of the word “transcend” was particularly problematic. It rubbed them wrong to say that I have transcended some beliefs by understanding them in new ways, while not abandoning them.  I wonder if transcending a drinking problem would carry the same connotation?

Of course I’m not trying to sound prideful  even though I do see what the person was saying. It was as if I now have the right way and all the other ways are wrong. For me, It’s really more about charting our progress. I would never say that 5th grade is right and 3rd grade is wrong. Both are required. But if you stay in 5th grade year after year then from my perspective, something isn’t working. This doesn’t mean that we should ultimately abandon all institutions, rather our institutions need to be built with people who have transcended the majority of its constituents. Kindergartners should not teach kindergarten.

This got me thinking about Jesus and his interaction with the religious leaders in John chapters 6-8. Jesus is using categories for divine reality that people just don’t understand. The things he says are down right offensive to the religious minded. Telling a Jew that they must eat any blood was an abomination, yet to tell them to eat his own flesh and drink of his own blood was a category confusion that went right over their heads.

The fact that he used categories for knowing God that the religious didn’t use was perhaps the worst of all. He goes beyond claiming to know God better than they did and tells them they don’t even know God at all. I’m sure this was like throwing gasoline on a fire. Of course the religious were certain that they knew God and categorized Jesus’ words as blasphemy. They categorized Jesus as being at the height of arrogance. To make oneself one with God was even a capital offense. The nerve.

I don’t claim to be God or to be Jesus and everyone knows I am full of human weakness, and limited understanding and awareness. Yet it can be said that on the spiritual plane of ultimate reality, while we are not God, we are also not other than God as any good Mystic would say. While we are not Jesus, we are not other than Jesus either. While we are not the religious, we are not other than them either. While we are not skeptics, we are not other than them either. While we are not arrogant, we are not other than arrogant either.

As you well know by now, I take issue with a lot that is going on in the church and other controlling systems. My ministry is all about freeing people from the fear and power plays that keep them stuck in these systems. It’s not that the systems are anything other than what they are, it’s just that so long as a person is in them, they tend to overpraise their spiritual condition because of the forced comparisons that come out of the tribal-think on the inside. You can test this easily. Ask any church goer if its ok to be a Christian and never go to church. Immediately you’ll see the “I’m better than you” disposition. This is precisely what I was being accused of too. So clearly this goes both ways.

I’m not in this to have a fight or an argument. I’m trying to point out observations about the system, in the hope that I can help people (whether inside or outside) to actually see themselves as part of a single organism-the church. This is where it pains me. Why would anyone who seeks to follow God give years of their life to a surrogate? I spent 25 years in the system and my spiritual growth was always despite the system, never because of it. Think about it, once you become a pastor, where do you go to church? The present model is designed for a few to broadcast and many to receive, but where does the broadcaster receive? The answer is; despite the church system.  Once a person can see the difference and know the voice, they should be free to go back into the system if they desire or free to not enter if they desire. Either way the system is healthier for it so long as it gets rid of it’s either/or perspective.

If it sounds prideful that I would liken myself to Jesus, then I guess I have to accept that and go on. Sure, I can work on my delivery because I know words can be hard to use correctly sometimes. Either way, this is kind of my personal life’s version of John chapter 8. I think we all ultimately have these experiences.

I think that the part of me that hopes I’m not sounding full of myself is actually more prideful than anything I may have actually said. Only the prideful false self is concerned with what all the rest will think. It’s the false self that desperately wants the approval of all people. If I produce content that is inspired by the juncture of my faith and life, than I should find no need to defend it. I may ultimately be wrong, and I certainly can’t ever claim to know all that is true. But after it is all said, I am actually trying to be like Jesus so I guess there is a sense where I need to accept that those who love their systems will reject me and retreat back into their safety zone. It may sound prideful for me to be outside and calling people out of the huddle, and I can totally see how that looks.

But I think I’m finally growing up enough to where I am actually good with that. I trust that what I’m saying will resolve itself in time, and those who are meant to benefit from it certainly will.

The Wider Perspective

As a child develops self awareness, they inevitably come to a point where they wonder about their origin. When my kids were growing up we made a commitment to tell our children the truth about all things, but to limit the detail of that truth to be proportionate to the age and maturity of our kids.  This meant that when they asked us; “Where did I come from?” we did not tell them that the stork dropped them off on the porch. We answered with, you came from mommy. As they got older and asked the questions we gave them the appropriate amount of detail.

The key here is that learning the new thing did not diminish or erase the old thing. We transcended yet included it all.

Some of you will hate me for this, but I also refused to lie to them about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Instead we told the stories as stories, not as real life. Then we explained that the spirit within the stories is real. The anticipation for waking up to presents or money under your pillow is very real, but instead of the parents being in on a grand deception,we were part of the expectation and mystery of it all.  Surprisingly, our kids were just as happy to wake up Christmas morning and see the special presents that mommy and daddy had added to the pile as any kid who thought a fat man magically squeezed through the chimney. What is the experiential difference between the tooth fairy and the tooth daddy? None.

As children we have two categories: “Touch” and “Don’t touch.” Those turn into hot and cold, good and bad, right and wrong, up and down. We all develop in a framework between two opposites, much like ditches on each side of the road. This promotes what is called dualistic patterns of thinking.

During adolescence we enter a period of “formal operations” where we begin to think much more abstractly and less concretely.  As these horizons open up for a young person, they begin to question everything in a new way and often press the original boundaries as a way of finding their bearings.

In my book “OBLIVIOUS” I prove how seemingly opposites resolve themselves with wider perspectives. For example: It may be true that it is day time right now. It is also true that it is night time right now. Both experiences are equally true from a greater distance. But prior to gaining that perspective, these two opposites seemed impossible to reconcile. The church is kind of stuck in this pre-awareness phase where it insists only one thing is true.

This wider perspective is the function of Truth-something none of us possess completely. It is something beyond hot and cold, night and day, good and bad. It’s a third thing, that is higher up and further back.  Learning to think according to this third way of thinking is the function of spirituality.

  • Empiricism cannot get us there because the third thing is outside of measurements. It’s transcendent truth.
  • Typical logic cannot get us there because appealing to opposite ideas breaks down into arbitrariness without the third thing.
  • Only spirit and metaphor are big enough to contain this third thing.

The third thing is not illogical, but trans-logical. It’s ways are not our ways. It’s thinking is not our thinking. It is higher than our thinking. Sound familiar? (Isaiah 55:9)

So what am I getting at here?

People are leaving the church delivery system at an alarming rate. Some have concluded that people are leaving the faith. This isn’t the case.

People are maturing. Advancing. Evolving. 

There isn’t the stomach for Santa stories or tooth fairies once we know the truth. (Most atheist point to these parts of religion as the basis for invalidating them) People are leaving the church because the modern church is still convinced that it possesses only one valid experience and as a result it works very hard to ensure that each week every church in this land produces essentially the same experience. It’s not an invalid experience, its just a single (tired) experience.

The third thing has caused people to realize that there are many experiences with God. This begs the question as to why anyone should spend so much time and money pouring it all into one system when that system is no longer relevant to the culture.

It’s a big world out there and as people are growing, and progress is emerging, they are experiencing God in countless ways that are all valid and that are all vital. People have learned that there is no experiential difference between an experience with God in the pews and an experience with God in business or the mountains or in music. The good vs evil, heaven or hell, win or lose narratives are being viewed through the third thing now and the us vs them story is growing old. If the church wants to serve people into the future, it has to gain the wider perspective. It has to evolve to a higher from of consciousness. If it doesn’t, the doughnuts in the foyer are just not enough to reach the city with its message. This doesn’t mean it must abandon anything it is doing, it must also transcend yet include if it will remain a vital part of our experiences with God.