Beware the Leaven…

In Mark 8:15, Jesus warns his disciples to “Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Of course they didn’t understand what he meant. Likewise, many of us understand what this means either.

In Jesus day, the Pharisee was the middle class religious leader. They were devout in their faith, and extremely conscientious about obeying the rules and social order of the Temple. The similar comparison in our modern world are the Islamic religious police or the devout church-goer. These are the folks who reframe everything in the world according to teaching of the church, temple or mosque. Jesus put it this way; “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition.” (Mark 7:9)

When Christians think of Pharisees, they think it was a legalistic problem for the Jews. The don’t realize that modern Christianity has completely rebuilt the temple system, reinstated moral and purity laws with benchmarks, and built a business based upon hierarchy and separatism.

We all know religious people who go through the motions, but lack inner experience or love. We call them hypocrites (under mask) and so does the bible. The world is full of people quoting the Bible, Torah, Dharma or Quran who are full of hate. This dichotomy is created by splitting everything into opposites (good/bad, right/wrong).

Pharisees are religious people, but not solely found in religion. There are pharisees in education, business, military, sports, the arts, and literally every corner of the world. If you have ever gone to lunch with a food pharisee then you know this is true. This is the leaven of Herod.

Leaven gives rise to bread, and Jesus is warning about that which gives rise to CHURCH and STATE.

Pharisees have social, economic, racial, and political power which stands behind them. Thus alignment with the bigger institution is the path to power. Those who disagree are marginalized. Our world is full of heroic stories of the one person who took on the system. Most of us are facing a system now and are struggling to find our way.

Do you see the leaven now? It’s duality (deeper than hypocrisy) and otherness. Just like yeast, it only takes a tiny bit to take over the whole loaf. This makes duality a watershed feature in how a person thinks. If we get it wrong, everything downstream is wrong.

The question is: What’s our strategy for making our way in the world?

If we come from chaos, then the structure and control of pharisaism is actually a positive step forward. As children, we must learn rules within a binary system to avoid confusion and pain. The military is great for many who came from chaotic, inconsistent families. Being on a team gives us an identity and a common enemy which by default gives us a sense of purpose. People like this a lot.

This is why the leaven of Church and State is so compelling to a hurting and immature world. But we can’t stay binary.

As we mature we learn that the hot stove, which is danger for a toddler, becomes a useful tool for cooking. We also discover our enemy is actually our brother and just like us. Black and white are replaced with gray. We no longer have competitors because our zero-sum game is replaced with a variable, generative playing field with enough for everyone.

Now we can understand why Jesus was reminding his disciples about the miracle of feeding the 5000 and the 4000 and their left overs (Mark 8:18-19). He explained the leaven by reminding the disciples that the miracle was not the feeding of the masses, it was the shift from binary to ternary (possibility) thinking; the feeding is a byproduct of the later, not the former.

Back to the question. What is our strategy for navigating life?  Will we blindly join the rank and file of the masses and surrender our identity to Church or State? I’m sorry to say this is the default mode for most of us. Or can we be aware of the gravitational pull of institutional orthodoxy and compliance?

If so, then there is tremendous freedom for us to work and live within these systems (which can be helpful and necessary) but not be defined by such systems. This is the place of true leadership because without the mask we will have eyes to see (Mark 8:18). This is how we serve as a protective agents (salt) and a positive influence (light) within our world. (Matthew 5:13-16)

May the strategy for our lives be to live freely and to truly know ourselves rather than accept the surrogate identity of Church and State. This is how we move from a binary system of scarcity, to an expanding kingdom of abundance.


Orbits and Molting

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Today I’m going to make two analogies to illuminate spiritual reality.

The orbits of the planets in our solar system vary in length based upon their proximity to the sun. Mercury, the closest planet rotates at ~107,000 mph or 3 Earth months, while Neptune, our farthest planet at ~12,000 mph or 165 Earth years.

Proximity has everything to do with orbit.  Proximity also has everything to do with the growth of our soul.

I don’t believe anyone’s orbit is so far away that it is beyond God’s gravitational pull, but we all differ in proximity based on our orbit. Some people move in and out of sacred space so rarely that they question it’s power or veracity. The sun’s light is dim from such distance. Others are too close and scorch their humanity in a dualistic split.

None of us share the same orbit. My work is to nudge all orbiters to the optimal distance for life to flourish. Fundies have to move back to really live while skeptics must move closer.

Like our planets, our spiritual orbits can, and like them, the change can be slow. With each correct shift in proximity, comes a corresponding flourishing to our life. Despite what religion teaches, there is no single framework to find proximity. Spirituality is not about finding THE orbit, but humbly finding OUR orbit. Only then can we discover the Source of gravity we all surround. Certainty means we are still far off.

To access your spiritual orbit, start with anything you love, and go deeper with it. It may be a person, a pet, a sport, hobby, or place. At some point, if you go deep enough, you will cross over from the object to the subject.  This is the point where love motivates, not fear or duty. Here the ride supersedes the means of riding.

If you understand what I’m saying then you grasp proximity. Metaphor is all we have here, because proximity is ultimately unsayable. If this seems too nebulous or nonspecific, then you are either too close or too far, suffering may be all that can reorient your orbit.

Everything is connected in a cosmic sense to the Christ gravity (Colossians 1:17). This is far bigger and predates the narrow portrait given by modern Christianity. The Christ connects and completes all religions (1 Corinthians 10:4), transcends all of human history and is not limited to one expression. Anytime, any person, anywhere, has proximity to sacred space, it is the Christ gravity at work (John 14:6). Everyone experiences it, no exceptions, but we call it different things.

Don’t check out because I used the word Christ. This is a fresh perspective, not the fear based religion of behavior modification. The Christ is as wide as the universe AND as narrow as Jesus. Compassion, not judgement, meets our resisting, arguing, defending, and rationalizing.

Our orbit strangely resists the Christ gravity. Pride speeds our orbit and creates tension with proximity. Dying to self (conscientiousness) alters our orbit. Humility slows us and gravity takes over.

Now my second analogy. When an insect molts, it sheds its outer skin because the inner bug has outgrown it.

Prior to molting the bug won’t eat. Sometimes they just hang there near death. The outside can only constrict for so long. While it does, it produces a tremendous discomfort and pressure on the inner being.

I speak to people in various levels of suck. Counselors, coaches, pastors and friends try their best to extricate us from the suck. Wisdom doesn’t do this, it drives us into the suck. Wisdom pressurizes our inner being. If we can imagine the world slightly better than it presently is, then we are ready to molt.

We must shed our outer skin so our inner being can expand. The suck is the antecedent to molting. Let’s not expend our energy to stay in our small, constricted external self. Go deeper and grow from the inside out. Yes it will get tight, but soon we’ll break free into an expanded new self.

This freedom is the function of the gospel. The force of liberation is seen everywhere in human history and is the Christ force, but under countless names (Luke 4:16-21). Liberated captives, those who have overcome obstacles, and those who have eyes to see are a unique community that inspires us. Molting makes great people.

So whether in the macro like an orbit or a micro like a molting, there is a benevolent force that urges each one of us into deeper place. We may call it by different names, or access it by different means, but we know it as that still small voice within us that knows what is right.

The sum of all spirituality is to know this voice and to follow it. May we all humbly do so.


Burden of Belief

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Religion sells salvation. It promises a better life on the “other-side” of belief. Then it gives us a story line to nudge us along the way. Most of us are taught either to question these beliefs or to never question them. Each system of faith has its own assimilation process of turning outsiders into insiders.

Salvation typically implies a threshold. A point at which, unbelief becomes belief. It’s a transition between grave danger and safety. Those in power usually set this bar, which defines the terms for those that will believe. Terms shift the burden of belief to outsiders by forcing a binary choice on each person; will we be “in” or “out?

Does real belief emerge under a threat? Too often it’s: Believe; or else…

If we choose “in”, then the “in”-herd will validate our choice. If we choose “out”, then the “in” herd will pity, reject or even despise us. We can only pick one team in a forced binary choice and “out” must be wrong if you’re “in.”

When faith (belief) becomes The Faith (system of belief) it becomes a competitive social convention. True faith is not an external attestation to the groupthink. Faith is that deep part within us that longs for and identifies with the deep elsewhere. The fact that a deep yearning exists (despite the delivery systems for it) proves there must be a consummation for it. So where do we find satisfaction for this deep kind of thirst?

When belief is commoditized, we begin to doubt that our deep part ever existed. It’s all too easy to gain a religion that puffs up our ego but barely quenches our thirst for inner experience.  Too often, the system that is supposed to point us to God actually becomes a surrogate. (Matt 23:1-33)

True faith starts with humble wonder and grows from there on a path as unique as each one of us. The goal of faith is identification within a single story, not a singular process or system. True belief is not binary. Belief in that something more (which I call God), isn’t an on/off switch that we control, and thus is NOT a BURDEN. It isn’t sold or pressed into us from the outside. Faith is BOTH the question and an answer that arises from our deepest being (soul). It’s both what we know and what we don’t (Hebrews 11:1). A binary framework cannot produce a mature faith.

We are all people of faith. No one is exempt. Faith is putting the weight of our life on various bridges. If they hold us, we gain the distance of understanding. If they don’t, we experience broken promises.

Faith is always in flux. It bounces between certainty and doubt, like toggling between AM and FM to find a clear signal. Sometimes it’s dormant or on life support, but it never really dies though it does play dead. Faith follows our unique flow of life because it’s made from the fabric of God, who is dynamism personified. There is no single path to belief.

Faith like this is a like a desert exile. There are countless religious leaders who want to enroll us in their particular WAY, but few spiritual directors who are a resource to those finding THEIR OWN WAY. It takes a wide-angle lens to lead people into their faith without imposing one on them.  Dead-ends, detours or failings are not derailments to authentic faith, they are requirements.

Faith is the inner experience of transformation from the inside out by way of all things in life. It’s the constant adjustment of our life’s knobs to ensure we are tuned in increasing conformity to the signal being sent.

And then one day it dawns on us that the purpose of faith isn’t the signal at all; it’s the sender. We look over our lives and ask: “What is the Sender saying by all this?” We are now in close proximity to satisfying the deep thirst of our life. We exhale the questions and inhale the answers. Our being creates our doing, not vice-versa. (James 1:25) So don’t worry what your faith looks like, it’s between you and God (Romans 14:22).

Experience replaces process as our heart awakens and faith matures. We gain beauty from our ashes (Isaiah 61:3). New life emerges from the midst of our necessary mess. Once our eyes open, we see the community of faith surrounding us who have all suffered, died and risen again and again in the Christoform pattern.

Each unique life is retelling this same story over and over again. The Sender IS the Story and all who can see beyond their life experience this story as: salvation.

Body and Soul

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Last week I proved the existence of non-physical reality. For some of you, this required a frame-shift in your worldview, but not in how you live. We all presuppose non-physical reality even when we insist only empirical things are real. Each one of us goes back and forth between dimensions without thinking much about it.

This week we build upon this principal as we look at our amazing bodies. Consciousness is another form of non-physical reality which is interdependent with the physical reality of our bodies. The body needs consciousness (spirit) or it is a corpse. Consciousness needs a body or it is like a radio wave without a transmitter. Here again, non-physical reality (spirit) is presupposed.

The interplay between consciousness (spirit) and our bodies has been a focus for all fields of study, yet for many of us, it barely pings our radar as we go about our day. This causes suffering in the world. We are not just a physical being. Nor are we a physical being that has spiritual capacity.  Our mortal life is the hybridization of spirit within a “body of limitation” so that the two are interdependent.

The limitations of our bodies are purposed to grow our spirit and the spirit shapes the works of our body. Human suffering is the breakdown in this interplay.

The physical lines in our faces form around our smiles, frowns, and squints which originate in non-physical reality. Our bodies move into increasing conformity to our attitudes and dispositions of the heart.  The proximity of our soul to Truth (ultimate reality) forms the habits which govern our intentions with our bodies.  Low awareness or apathy produces poor physical health. The economic burden to care for the sick is first and foremost a spiritual concern.

The limitations of our unique body become the access point for the growth of our soul.  Our physical inequality reflects the unique journey of our soul. A child joys in the discovery of what her body can do and the aged fret over what it no longer will. The disabled often inspire us by displaying a huge soul not despite, but because of their limitations.

To enjoy life to the fullest (John 10:10) we must be intentional about right living (righteousness).  At a deep level we all know those things we need to change if we are to improve our lives. Our struggle is supposed to hard, but not avoided. We are not free to indulge our various appetites at will. The body must be tempered by the soul our healing will forever escape us. Neither should the body be repressed and our humanity diminished. Enjoyments are to be enjoyed.

Our greatest freedom and our greatest healing will arise when our limited body and our limitless spirit join in the perfect design of both. Our bodies are the present reminder of just how amazing or how horrible we can be. This hybridization means we are not spirit seeking to be free of our bodies, nor a body that has no spirit, but as Paul says we are an earthen vessel carrying a precious treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7).

This is why I come back again and again to the Christian story. Faith is not about evacuating our bodies into some disembodied spiritual experience. Faith is about thriving within the confines of struggle and imperfection (exile). A design so counterintuitive that God took the form of a man and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This elevates humanity and its potential. We now have an icon for what ultimate humanity looks like.

Humanity that is governed by spirit is compassionate. It understands suffering and heals it. It faces dark impulses and overcomes them. It stands against systems that oppress and offers a better way. This kind of humanity knows how to free the captive, open the eyes of the blind, and bring us good news (Luke 4:18-19). It’s all around us, in every nation, tribe, tongue and religion (Revelations 7:9-10).

Our limited bodies teach us to be patient with each other and ourselves. Compassion rises as we recognize others as ourselves.  As the soul and the body shape each other, then and only then do we learn to love. We learn to love ourselves as the body which is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16).  We learn to love others as the temple they are.

From here, we learn that everything belongs, there are no dead ends, detours, or derailments. There is only a frail humanity that is striving to find its way and an ever present beneficent force that if allowed to govern will heal us. The brokenness of our body is the portal of beauty because it is the path to new life.