Confused?

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Most of us dismiss our confusion. We don’t like it because it makes us feel like the child in the midst of an adult conversation. However, confusion is really important because it’s the gateway to gaining knowledge, and that moves us closer in proximity to the truth.

It’s all about categories. If we possess certain categories, we can correctly connect bits of information into them. If we don’t possess certain categories, then we don’t know what to do with unconnected bits of information. This is why children require special communication. It’s why things need to be explained.

I know that this blog confuses people. My goal is not entertainment, but transformation. Entertaining blogs treat set the bar low by connecting very closely related categories. I find these very boring and predictable. They follow the typical binary formula that looks something like:

“How to AWESOME without SUCK”

I come along and tell you that SUCK is the path to AWESOME. Those lacking the necessary categories to connect such axioms get confused and dismiss what I’m saying. I’m always connecting seemingly unrelated categories because once we make these connections,our worldview is never the same.

These are two frameworks. One is a binary framework and the other is ternary. People in binary frameworks see the world as black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, valid and invalid. It is the tell tale sign of immaturity. I do not say that as an insult, only that we all begin in a binary framework but not all of us progress out of it.

Maturity is simply the increase in the number of categories that we employ to make sense of the world.  It takes a bit of work sometimes and perhaps that is why some give up. Yet everything that you have ever truly enjoyed and appreciated from art, food, engineering, science, sports, or academics came about by connecting diverse categories. There is nothing wrong with simple. Simple is the lack of nuance.

Back to confusion. If someone is stringing together multiple categories then they will require far more nuance. For example, a cookie recipe with equal parts of each ingredient is not nuanced. A cookie recipe with only three ingredients is simple (not bad) and thus cannot possess as much nuance. An immature cook will see the small amount of baking soda and think it can be omitted. A mature cook appreciates the nuance because it matters.

Confusion then is directly proportional to maturity within each subject matter. In my work I know doctors who are brilliant, but they can’t run the business side of their practice. They are immature in business and mature in medicine. The only way out of confusion is to gain the categories.

Someone who doesn’t want to gain new categories  is what we would call “Stuck in their ways” or those who “think they know better.” Scripture calls such people “the Proud” (Proverbs 16:19). When such a person begins to diminish the categories of another person, this is called “a scoffer.” 

 “A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.” (Proverbs 15:12)

See how this all comes together?  Seeing is understanding (Matthew 6:22). So far in todays recipe I’ve combined confusion, categories of understanding (seeing) , binary and ternary frameworks, maturity and immaturity, and the proud and the scoffer. Some may have already deduced that this post is an object lesson about confusion and pride are directly linked.

Some will need a few more categories in order to see. Most categories require metaphor to be grasped. Let’s not skim over our confusion. Metaphor is the only language of spirituality. We can only access that category via story. If we lack the story, our default mode is to trust the categories we have are sufficient. They never are.

Each of us is like a flame of fire in varying brightness. If I join my flame to yours I do not lose my flame, but both flames are strengthened. When we will not learn from another we are like a flame who thinks we are bright enough on our own. This is scoffing and a rejection of the truth. We not only live in limited light, but we keep the world from obtaining its full brightness by withholding our contribution. This is the essence of pride and it is the greatest sin possible.

Let us learn to warm our hands to everyone’s fire. This will bring forth the necessary questions required to dismantle our prideful fundamentalism, and teach us to see that the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true (Ephesians 5:9).

Seeing by that light will end all confusion and bring unity to our world.

Practice YOUR Practice.

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We all engage in spiritual practice. If you don’t define yourself as a spiritual person, then your practice is probably infrequent or defined another way. Some abandon spiritual practice because it appears ineffective when they don’t get what they want. In spiritual practice, the goal is God, but some people are more comfortable aiming for Truth, Peace, Bliss, Clarity, Perspective or Transcendence. All synonyms.

As a child, wonder and awe were my practice. I didn’t grow up in a religious home so my inner reality was all there was to guide me. Wanting more but lacking skill, I sought out religion to close the gap, much to the surprise of my family.

During young adulthood, my practice was landed in the Pentecostal experience. Here, God is an experience of the heart that inhabits the praises of his people. My practice was to shed off distractions of time, circumstance, and enter an unseen reality of total possibility. It’s a faith that believes “All things are Possible” (Matt 19:26), where God is a gift giver and my practice was to always be asking.

As a young pastor I discovered churches don’t always embrace a possibility mindset. So after three firings and a divorce I was pretty pissed at God for leading me to what I thought were dead ends. My practice pivoted away from my heart which was now broken. My love of scripture anchored me as I retreated into my “Head.” I discovered the Reformed tradition and gained the practice of relearning everything all over again.

My head based practice was not without experience, but experience was secondary to knowledge of the Truth. Biblical study was a perfect fit for my high-drive, type-A, theologically constructed reality. I reentered church ministry with the goal of redeeming the city by arguing deficient worldviews for Jesus. I relearned the original languages of scripture, obtained my PhD, and gained a chapter and verse command of scripture that fed a lock-tight theological grid. My practice was massive output, which created an impenetrable cage of protection and empowerment.

My problem was the city wasn’t listening. Only the zealous find God by winding life so tight. I had no love for anything but my spin on the bible. My wife nicknamed me the cold hearted bastard, the Apostle Paul called me a zero (1 Cor 13:2) and quite a few called me an asshole. I thought the gospel was theological grid that required my constant defense. My practice morphed into duty, obligation, specificity, doctrinal precision, and obedience.

The Gospel did not feel like good news to me. It was work. Something was wrong.

My mission became correcting everyone’s deficiencies. I understood this as my “apologia” or defense of the faith (1 Peter 3:15). The tighter my sphincter became, the more my inner experience cried for freedom. It was my love of scripture, not its abandonment, that freed me from the gravitational pull of fundamentalism.  It was in its discovery that I discovered my self. Love required me to let go of low-level motivators like duty, obligation and status. With them went the approval and validation of the tribe.

I had to recapture that inner experience that was there from the beginning. With the humility of my inner little boy, scripture opened through a contemplative view.

I’m now back to wonder and awe. I used to place so much value on the practice itself, as if it defined me. Now I understand that our practice is only a transport system. The farther we perceive God from our inner experience, the more elaborate the system becomes. When we lose our bearings of inner experience, we quickly adopt religious behavior because judging externals makes us feel better by comparisons.

True spirituality is transformation from the inside out and behavior is the byproduct of inner experience. Religion controls the outside and pits us against the honest but immature aspects of our self. Behavior modification is not transformation.

There is no single practice that fits all people. Our proximity to God is directly related to our proximity to the present moment. Any practice that grounds us in the present (Presence) is our delivery system of choice. Some systems are better than others and religion sells them (prayer, meditation, study of sacred text, service to others, walking, conversation, etc…) Don’t let anyone invalidate what is between you and your maker (Romans 14:22).

Whatever your practice is, practice it. Be intentional. Let the inspiration that bubbles to the surface in our sacred space set our agendas. Keep doing this. As we are pulled by the gravity of the past or the future, remember that salvation is that which redirects our course.

Below is a spiritual practice menu.

Prayer, meditation, reading or study of scripture, singing, chanting, yoga, walking, hiking, being outside, drawing, painting, sculpting, building, creating, song, dance, expression, solitude, conversation, journaling, writing, poetry, physical activity, stillness, fasting, engage with animals, eating, drinking, living your life (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I encourage you to find one that resonates and really give yourself to it. Then look again at your city. It’s far more spiritual that you thought.

The Open Floor Plan

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Old houses have far more walls that new houses. Walls separate space. It’s all about connection or isolation. In ancient Israel, the people set up a tabernacle that was all about connection and isolation. The tabernacle, and later the temple designed after it, was the dwelling place of God. It had three levels of separation; the courtyard, the holy place, and the holy of holies (Exodus 26).

The only piece of furniture in the holy of holies was the Arc of the Covenant (a box containing the ten commandments and Aaron’s staff). Its lid had two angels carved with wings spread out, creating the seat of God, called the Mercy seat (Exodus 25). There were four giant pillars to hold up an extremely thick and heavy veil, a partition so huge that it kept this isolated room pitch black inside. God dwells in thick darkness (1 Kings 8:12, Psalm 139:12)

The Christian story says that after Jesus died, an earthquake caused this immense veil to be torn top to bottom (Matt 27:51). A literal/historical interpretation of this event is not nearly as powerful as its mystical/symbolic experience. History and archaeology do not reveal the symbolism of this renovation project. Namely, a new theology, where God isn’t isolated from us.

  • Religious infrastructure: Gone
  • God / Sin separation:  Gone
  • Rituals and pathways to access God: Gone
  • All the pomp, order, ego and ranking: Gone

Dogma, order, ritual, and process are now replaced with ambiguity, flux, flow and freedom.

External pet projects were scrapped for internal self criticism. Indirect access has been replaced with direct access. It is the very end of religion.

Of course we don’t like ambiguity and freedom and flow. Even though Jesus ended it all, the church has reconstructed it all again in his name. Structure is required to organize people, and organizing people allows some to gain power over others. Next thing we know God has limited access again. I believe this is exactly the trap the modern church has fallen into.

We’ve brought back the buildings which we see as sacred. We brought back rituals and people wielding power. Back also is separation and protocols to access God. The herd always wants a king to rule over them (1 Sam 8:6).

Scripture says our bodies are now the temple or the dwelling place of God’s spirit (1 Cor 6:19). The temple was gutted to create an open floor plan, each of us being the mercy seat of God. A gathering of all people without the dividing walls that create hostility (Eph 2:14). A God that dwells in all people is the precursor to peace, yet we watch religion incite war after war.

Look at our world right now. Nearly everyone has picked a team. Be it country, state, religion, or political party. This “divided room” floor plan is flawed. It sees different as “other” and other is always wrong, bad, deficient, and needing to be eradicated. The war starts in our hearts and we go through life anesthetized by our own hatred and ego.

Resistance seems like the right thing, but we gain nothing for resistance is just a counter war against another “other.” It’s really not the open floor plan it thinks itself to be. So what are we to do?

The dividing wall is no longer a heavy, four inch thick curtain. It’s an invisible, sleepy mindset, that vaporizes the moment we wake up the fact that two no longer exists, only one. That’s the goal of the open floor plan. One people. God uniquely dwelling in all. God and humanity bound perfectly together. Christ is the premier example, but not the only example. I’m an example. You are an example. We are all examples.

All religion hates this. It’s too easy they say. It just can’t be true.

The state hates this too. It’s too idillic they say. It’s just impossible.

This is why both church and state always kill the icons who find this freedom. That seemingly small voice within us, that guides us, warns us, inspires us, and awakens us IS ENOUGH. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, it is no wonder his/her voice sounds so much like our own. If you are aware of this voice, then follow it, know it, and love it.

The result will be that “others” turn into sisters and brothers. We become the mercy seat.

May we care enough to find it so the promised new world may emerge (Rom 8:19).

 

 

 

 

Updating Gods Profile Picture.

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Mainline religion is in decline. In a recent Barna study only 2 in 10 people under 30 believed church was important and 96% of young people will never go to church. Another study showed less than 30% of Americans attend a religious institution more than 1 time per month and that number declines at 1-2% per year.

These startling statistics beg the question: “Why?”

The church’s response is to blame the culture. As moderns opt out of the Sunday show, the church interprets this as a rejection of God. But is this really the case? While some churches adapt their music, preaching, and programs to suit modern families, the changes are mostly superficial. Most are the same old cake with different frosting.

We all know a devout church goer who insists that their church is not like all the others. We see the posts of pastors who fight back by doubling down on their theology of fear. We’ve all been to the coffee shop that turned out to be another ministry. We’re tired of hearing about community for the sake of community. Why aren’t all these things working?

While good things can happen through the present system, they often mask the fundamental problem, namely, the portrait of God depicted is flawed.

I quit going to church 5 years ago not because I lost my faith, but because I could clearly see that the church delivery system was not a solution for most modern Americans. I couldn’t reconcile a belief for Sunday that was unbelievable by my peers during the week. I’ve learned that people love to talk about God, but not with church goers. This was my clue that the culture hadn’t moved away from God, but from any religion that tried containing God in a box. God has to be larger than present consciousness and for most of religion, it’s not.

We can’t update our kitchen without taking out the old one. In like manner we cannot update God’s profile picture without replacing the one that’s there. This may sting a bit, but these are the beliefs that make God unbelievable: 

  1. God is always a him.
  2. God is like a cosmic super parent, who monitors behavior by looking down from a distant place.
  3. God loves us no matter what, unless we don’t believe in Jesus. In which case he will torture us forever in a fiery hell.
  4. All religions are ultimately invalid, except Christianity.
  5. God hates science.
  6. God cannot accept homosexuality, but now He’s good with tattoos.
  7. God wrote everything down in a book and if you don’t know the book you can’t know God.
  8. If you pick God’s team, then He will pick you instead of others.
  9. In the future God will destroy everyone not on his team.

I know I’m picking off the scab here, but hang with me.

God’s profile picture is regressive, tribal, threatening and his love is conditional. Is it any wonder that outsiders with questions encounter this and say: “I’m out.” 

But doesn’t the bible describe God in this way? Yes it does. But is scripture depicting God, or is scripture depicting the way an ancient culture depicted God?  Literal translations make people weird. Better interpreters know how to contextualize scripture’s essence into a modern framework, yet most churches are a mix of literal and figurative translations. This is another way of saying that nobody believes everything in the bible.

If we remove the institutional bias, a new image emerges from the bible, tradition, and experience. We understand why a religion thrives on the feedback loop created by its literal interpretation and cultural distinctions, but modern people don’t require this.

Each of us has a God story. For some it has led to deeper belief and for others to what we thought was unbelief. Religion is losing its ability to lead people because it has traded influence for authority. Being fearful of change it has been stuck in the past and once the consciousness of the culture expands, people can’t go back into a regressive system.

What the world needs now is for ministry experts to emerge who have a deep understanding of tradition but who are not confined by it. People need spiritual leaders who understand all sacred texts and traditions but who don’t invalidate the unique experience of the individual. That way guidance can be provided which will empower the seeker to grow on their own path rather than press them into an historic mold.

The goal is no longer conversion, but completion (Phil 1:6).

Most people I know are curious as well as cautious. We want to learn more about God and truth, but we don’t want to get sucked into something. We want spirituality without a label. We are all in flux, we just need to know how our diversity resolves itself.  The goal of spirituality is to start where we are and go deeper. No more. No less.

Religion may be on the decline, but true spirituality is on the rise as people wake up to  what’s inside. The matters of faith are between oneself and God (Rom 14:22), and this radically changes the picture of God from the guy up there, to the power within. Turns out this invisible power is anything but invisible, it has manifested in a concrete way as our very life, and no one is exempt.