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.