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.