Anthropology or Theology?

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If you are not familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel, then let me provide a snippet to acquaint you to the plot. Essentially, this is a tale of one of the first organized construction projects where diverse people come together and make a tower (scholars believe it is a ziggurat). And either the goal was to make it so tall that it reached the clouds, or they viewed the top level of it to be equal to heaven (sacred space). The people didn’t want to be disbursed and they gathered together in order to “make a name for themselves.

“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:5-7 ESV)

Whether this is the first time you are hearing this story or a bible scholar, this story creates more questions than it answers. Most commentaries and sermons I have read treat this as a text that is supposed to reveal something about both the nature of God in relation to the nature of humanity. The common assertion is that humanity had become very proud and unified and deliberate, and God was offended at not being the center of attention and then put the kibosh on the project.

Regardless of how this particular story is spun, the same essential theology is juiced out of it in Judaism and Christianity and even tangentially in Islam. In the Quran a similar story is told but it is placed much later in the time of Moses and Pharaoh and strangely Haman (which was even much later).

The theme that emerges from each story is that humanity has united together in their language, in their culture, in their plans and in their ideas about God. The great human accomplishment in the story is arrogance and pride and even the desire to challenge God eye to eye. Of course God doesn’t like this and becomes the cop at the teenagers party and sends everyone on their way.

My purpose today is to use this story to exemplify something about the bible. Namely that it often tells us much more about anthropology (humanity) than it does about theology (God). And when we miss this important point, we develop some strange beliefs.

For some people, their view of scripture requires them to see this as an historical event. This kind of rigor forces one to also accept a literal theology where God is distant, far off and removed from our works and when “He” comes down to check on us, He is surprised, offended and reactionary. A strict, literal interpretation of scripture forces us to conclude that God is mad if not skeptical of us and stands at the ready to be a cosmic killjoy to our efforts. Of course this just creates more questions, like doesn’t this undermine God’s own cultural and dominion mandate a few chapters earlier? Isn’t this going against the unity that God is seeking in the world? See where I’m going? Literal means you have to defend your turf by making God weird. Is this the God you want to share with the world? If not, then why be so literal? You are not required to. Paul himself says we can interpret things allegorically (Galatians 4:24).

When modern people are presented with this kind of a “Sniper God” is it any wonder they reject the whole thing? Thus I attribute the cultural shift away from the church not to the culture going bad, but to the bad PR that God has been given by the church.

This story is one of countless examples in scripture which are like portals into the theology of the ancient mind. Seeing it as such doesn’t diminish the text in any way. It is a snapshot in history that reveals what they could know about God. God does not change, but as we mature and our consciousness raises, we realize that our past ideas about God (theologies) are no longer adequate or relevant. The way I thought about God as a child was not dissimilar to the story above, but as an adult things are much different.  If this is so on a personal level, it is also the case from a societal perspective.

There are two reactions to this reality that I would like to address.

First, if you feel that this view diminishes the authority of scripture somehow, then I think you may be stuck in a fear based belief system. Notice that I have in no way diminished the scriptures ability to speak ultimate truth such as humanities propensity toward ego, self-reliance, and over appraisals of our power. It’s easy to own the message that the nature of God is humility and thus disproportionate pride is the opposite of God’s influence. This is timeless truth and it touches all people of all time in all situations. That is the power of scripture. This theology is embedded and possible in all stories even without a rigid over tightening of the text.

Second, if you read this and said to yourself, “That is why I don’t read the bible or take much stock in all that stuff.” Then I’m afraid you went too far. This means that those who have introduced you to the text did not introduce you to that which is behind the text. So I don’t blame you for your disinterest. However, a result of this disposition can be that you throw the baby out with the bathwater. You run the risk of learning only part of these lessons. This means you will have stunted growth. Yes, life can teach you that pride comes before a fall, but you may miss just how far you have actually fallen by the time you are full of pride. Sacred texts function like speed limit signs in that they let us know when we are overdoing it and when we can go farther.

God doesn’t live on a cloud, or in a temple, mosque or church or any other building. God is not solely a male, up there staring down from a distant land of perfection with some stink-eye gaze. God is within each of us, we are each his/her image bearers and temple. This is actually good news for us, its called the Gospel. It reframes everything we thought we knew before into a new understanding. It’s the same truth, but wrapped in a new package. It works both ways. Scriptural truth is not just found in scripture.

Too often though we confuse the truth with its delivery system. If we are in love with and constantly defending the containers, then it means we haven’t fully opened them or grasped what is in them. Spirituality is the ability to see the thing behind all things.

I say all of this as a grateful beneficiary of thousands of years of revelation, evolution, and enlightenment of thought. This was always the plan. Even Jesus said that the new world can’t fit in the old containers, wine skins (Matt 9:17). He also said that we would do greater works that he did (John 14:12).  We are progressing. Not regressing. (Thus rethink your eschatology) We are going beyond here. We are moving toward a new world where all sad things become untrue (Rev 21:4).

This will only be possible if we learn the skill of placing the timeless truth of sacred texts and putting them into new categories that allow modern people to understand in a fresh new way. This doesn’t mean we get rid of anything, it means we expand our grasp of them. Just like a fourth grader builds on the third grade instead of jettisoning all they learned the previous year, so we must build upon the ideas of the past with new ideas.

Scripture can and does teach us about theology, but that theology is always first placed within an anthropology and then reflected through it. We error by either being too literal or too casual. Both are required for a life of meaning and yet the means to this is diverse and varied. Consider this: Our anthropology is so important to our theology that God was and is pleased to inhabit us.  And that changes everything.


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The Dimmer Switch Principle

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Most houses have two types of light switches within them. The most common is the binary or on/off switch. This type has only two positions, you guessed it, on and off. The other type is a dimmer switch. This type uses a rheostat to modulate the amount of current to the fixture, this gives us multiple levels of on, or variable amounts of light.

There is no greater, deeper, or more meaningful subject than that of capitol T-Truth. I’m talking about Absolute truth, Total Truth, Higher Truth, Universal Truth. Every atom of the universe is coming from and pointing to this BIG Truth. Every subject, discussion, or topic, if pressed to its origin or completion is a discover of or pursuit of Truth. This is as true for laying drywall as much as it is for theology or physics. 

This means that every subject has the possibility of going deeper, of learning more, of discovering progress, or creating advancement. The process of going deeper into any subject is the process of doing spiritual work because it is the discovery, apprehension and application of Truth.

If this idea is creating confusion or seems off somehow, then try looking at it from the opposite perspective. This is another way of saying that no single person can possess ALL the Truth. The smartest person on their very best day only grasps a part of Truth. The same is true for the most simple person on their worst day.

Back to the dimmer switch.

Most of us approach Truth with an on/off switch or a binary way of thinking. Once we gain a measure of Truth in a particular area, we usually say that we “know” it. If we have mastery in a subject we like to see ourselves as knowing all there is to know. Since we think in binary ways, if someone doesn’t possess a similar amount of knowledge we conclude that they “don’t know” the Truth.

This binary “switch” causes Republicans to think Democrats are stupid and vice-versa. It causes Atheists to conclude that people of faith are unaware of the Truth, and vice-versa. It is the disposition that companies use to create differentiators for them selves in the market. It makes religions exclusive and competitive. It is the basis of all competition and war.

Furthermore, in personal applications, the binary switch is the mindset that stalls our progress by telling us we don’t have, or can’t do, or it won’t work because we lack ______. We look at a big life as all or nothing instead of an incremental advancement to it.

If any of us pause long enough we will realize that ultimate reality operates on a dimmer switch principle. All people have varying degrees of light within multiple subjects. This is another way of saying that all people are partial believers in Truth.

The dimmer switch principal works in two directions. The more light we have, the more light we can use to get more light. The less light we have, the less capable we are of obtaining more. Jesus said that whoever has will be given more and whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.(Mark 4:25). Like a flywheel, greater intervention is required at lower levels. At higher levels, truth integrates and tensions resolve between seeming opposites. As we lose categories, we lose any possibility of integration. This is our clue that ultimate reality is not binary, but singular, and that it is drawing us toward itself, as evidenced by our deepest yearning for Truth.

This is something that both the Theology department and the Physics department have been saying for a long time, namely that all things come from a single source and are returning to a single source. Quantum physics is now claiming that consciousness (nonphysical reality) cannot die (because it is energy) and thus goes to an alternate plane of energy. Religion has called this Heaven, Nirvana, Transcendence, or Paradise.

I hope the dimmer switch principle inspires you to go deeper. Go deeper into anything that inspires you. As you do, you will learn the very basics of spiritual practice. It’s a great place to start if you are typically a surface only type person. After a while, you’ll discover that the subject to which you dive deeper will only satisfy for so long, until you recognize that it is the pursuit of truth that really satisfies you. This way, your interests get you started, (they get your dimmer switch turned on) and then the deeper questions of reality, Truth and life will emerge. You’ll discover as you answer them that your love and pursuit of the Truth has the power to take you the rest of the way.

I know I have left this vague and have deliberately left this open ended. I also know that this will bug some of you. I have not named the Truth because if what I’m saying is true, then I don’t really have to, do I?

If you like this subject, I think you will like my new book coming this year called Oblivious.”

PowerBall and Possibility

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On Saturday, the PowerBall hit a record high with a jackpot of over $900,000,000. There were no winners and now the jackpot is $1.3 Billion. The odds of winning used to be about 1 in 175,000,000 but now that they added more numbers to pick from the odds have gone up to 1 in 292,000,000. The purpose for this was to make the jackpots higher and attract more people to gamble their money.  Mission accomplished. The billion dollar jackpot is bringing people out in droves selling over a million tickets per hour.

Big odds. Big Money.

Look closer.

Not only are we at a historic moment where our lottery will produce its first billionaire, that in and of itself is something to give us pause. But the lottery frenzy brought people together and hundreds of millions of people were discussing over dinner on Saturday night what they would do with all that money.

Two camps emerge.

The hopefuls vs the naysayers. Those whose chance was as good as anyone else, vs those who see the conversation as a waste of time.

Look even closer.

The lottery exposes, perhaps better than anything else, profound underlying spiritual realities. A billion dollars changes all the rules for the winner. This is at the heart of the spiritual thread. The frenzy goes to show just how hungry people are for a new life.

Every person who stood in line did so because they can imagine a life better than the one they have.  Buying a ticket is an act of faith. It illustrates so clearly what I’m always saying in this blog, namely that all people are believers. We are all people of faith. We all engage in religious activity.  The Lottery authorities became our worship leaders, they created an infrastructure where all comers could get an equal chance at being blessed or chosen, and the one commandment is that you must pay for a ticket to get your chance.

Now, if you add to this all the superstitions and behaviors and thoughts that accompany the moments before the big drawing, you will have all the makings of a religion. Do you see it?

Try this exercise:  Buy a ticket before this Wednesday’s $1.3 Billion dollar drawing.  Look at the numbers and consider for a moment the possibility that you hold the winning numbers or even 5 of them ($1 million). Then watch what happens. Pay attention to your thoughts that emerge. You’ll probably see a strategy emerge, or a set of people or priorities, and eventually it will expose your generosity or disposition to those in need or lack thereof. But then what? A billion dollars goes much further than most people’s imagination. If you can’t get that far in your thinking it is because the defeater voices (you may call it realism) in your life won’t let you.  Either way you are engaging in spiritual practice, either following the voice of possibility or the voice of unbelief.

Matthew 10:26 says that with God all things are possible. This is a different kind of possibility thinking.  It offers a new life, and a new set of rules just like the lottery. However, the spiritual path is not like the lottery because the odds are one in one and the means of winning are totally different.

With the lottery, change is from the outside-in. This means you immediately gain status, power and options and you never even have to look at your own heart. Not surprising, most lottery winners either go broke, or are extremely depressed, or anxious and regret ever winning. Most of us try and convince ourselves that we would become more generous, or philanthropic, or that the money wouldn’t change us, but the reality is that if those aspects are not present before the winning, they most certainly won’t be after and so the condition of the person worsens. Outside-in wealth simply doesn’t produce freedom, in only allows you to quit your job and become worse.

With the spiritual path, change is from the inside-out. This means all comers gain profound insight into their lives, their power and their options. It changes how a person spends their time and money because energies are redirected to serve others and in so doing, they are always satisfied and fulfilled. Well-being is not based upon tangibles, so a person can possess freedom immediately regardless of health, age, economic status, racial status, or geographical location. Inside-out wealth produces freedom and no amount of money can change it.

So this week as you join the hundreds of millions of people who collectively look down at a losing ticket, I hope you will consider that there is another path to possess all for which you were really hoping. It’s a narrow path and not a wide highway. It’s a much more demanding and difficult path but it leads to life and freedom (Matt 7:13-14) rather than disappointment and destruction.

I also hope you never give up on your possibility thinking. All things really are possible and they remain that way despite the lottery. It starts by wanting our best life enough to actually get into it, to get honest with it, and to be diligent with it.

Our best life never comes from trying to escape the one we have, but by transforming it and bringing as many with us as we can.

I do pray for the person who does win this jackpot. I pray they have the spiritual maturity to not be destroyed by such a windfall. Of course, that is probably the person who would never buy a ticket.

A Winch and a Soundtrack

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I’ve been following some of our countries most famous and popular life coaches to observe what they would say or offer at the turn of the New Year.  I’ve also noticed countless ads for personal trainers, diet groups, health club memberships and so on. We all know why. These are businesses that offer services that are most attractive to people who are seeking to make changes during the year. There is a ton of great advice, services and products out there to help us.

I’d like to prime your attention to something that I think will serve you as you navigate the field of options. Each available offer will help you in a unique way, but will come at the cost of other offers. So how can we pick the right thing without lunging for another set of fitness DVD’s.

The truth is, the change in the New Year is not incidental to our humanity, our society, and our systems of faith. We just went through the Christmas season, which was conveniently laid over the winter solstice, and now as we start to see the days get longer, we start to mover our eyes towards a warmer brighter day rather than the cold dark days of winter. We are no longer focused on the short-term year end, but on the long term again.

If we pull back we can see that the thing that changed was the anchor point to our life winch. We moved the winch farther out, and now we are less myopic and more hopeful. This is a vital key for future transformation. It is also the best way to move beyond painful experiences.

I really like this time of year for the above reasons, because a change of our life-anchor point is the closest thing we have to a reset button.

The type and location of ones life-anchor has everything to do with making lasting change. For example, maybe you are taking a beach vacation in the Spring, or a wedding, our class-reunion, or some other life event that you are using to pull yourself into better health and appearances. These are all short-term anchors that can serve you well. They are like training for a marathon, a century bike ride or having other fitness goals. But what happens once that special day passes?

If you grasp the concept of the life-anchor, then my advice for you is to pick your anchor point wisely. The farther you put your anchor point out, the more soul-searching and self-discovery you will have to do, but it will allow you to move beyond distractions and setbacks far easier.  Picking a close anchor point can give you short term wins but it is like flying by landmarks rather than using destination coordinates.

 My second offering is to evaluate your life-Soundtrack. We all have one. We all have life messages that play over and over in our minds. These are the messages that keep us stuck, or fearful, or procrastinating. They also keep us optimistic, hopeful, and energized. Again, if we are to have lasting personal change, we must do the soul-work of identifying our life-soundtrack that is on rotation. If you have a lot of bad soundtracks, then you likely have a very short winch cable. Can you see how these two go together?

I can’t underscore how vital it is to know your life-anchor and your life-soundtrack. These are spiritual realities that fuel the outcomes of our lives.  I’d like to give you a fun way to make sure you are keeping these realities consciously in front of you:

Change your real soundtrack.

Look at your song library and make deliberate changes. Make a commitment to add one song per week that brings your attention back to these vital aspects of life. This exercise can help enlarge your spiritual space.

Music is powerful. Lyrics are often poetry in that they get us at a heart level. Pick a song based on content. Pick different artists with different styles of music and begin to look for it out there. You’ll discover a sea of people who are talking about and anchoring to the same big thing, but each in their own unique way. Not only will you have a new song each week that brings inspiration, but you will teaching yourself how to see the Thing behind the things.

If you need ideas, you can go back and sign up for my newsletter where every week I offer a new soundtrack.

Now if all this seems like a distraction from your real or practical goals, then it might be that you are not yet connecting the dots. That’s ok, this takes some time. You see, our practical goals are not end products, like we think they are, they are actually by-products. Only the best coaching will tell you that.  We only want better fitness and better finances because ultimately we want well-being or Shalom even if we are not aware of it. Our true wanter is not Buns of Steel, but acceptance or adoration. Our wanter is  not a million dollars, its options or freedom.

The Truth is that health and the right disposition toward money flow FROM shalom and not TO shalom. Yes, I know that the worlds soundtrack says otherwise, but that is why I’m offering you this FREE timeless wisdom.

One anchor and soundtrack says a great life comes from having a lot of money or health or privilege, and another anchor and soundtrack says a great life can be had in the midsts of any money, any health and any status or privilege. The choice between the two is made by our faith.

We can chase the Good Life or live it but not both. 

Our sorrow is knowing that a good-life exists, but despite our best efforts we can’t possess it. Sorrow means we are living incongruent to our faith. I invite you to test the veracity of these claims. They have been taught for a very long time.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity…Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” Ecclesiastes 5:10,18