Posts Tagged 'Pentecostal'

Losing My Religion

Last month I had the privilege of joining Callid Keefe-Perry, Jules Kennedy, and host Pastor Nar for the Losing My Religion podcast – outdoor edition!

We were at the beautiful campus of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, at a truly singular event emceed by Steve Knight, communicant extraordinarine at Halogen: TransFORM – East Coast.

This conversation is like a small tasty morsel of the feast that was this ‘conference.’ I use air quotes because, truth be told, I didn’t attend too many of the actual sessions; raging ADD aside, there were just so many people I’ve known for years online, whom I was able to meet in-person for the first time. It was like a “family reunion in heaven” – people whom you’re simultaneously meeting for the first time, but whom you’ve also known forever. (I also had a great time with my Atlanta and Cobb Emergent Cohort peeps, and even a lovely Augusta representative – getting to see them is too long and far-between!) It was a rag-tag conglomeration of emergents and outlaw preachers and missionals and mainliners and meditators and Wild Goosers and Big Tent-makers and organics, all coming from every denomination (or lack thereof) under the sun – lots o’ variety in God’s great big family.

This event was very well-timed for me, personally. I’m at something of a crossroads, both vocationally (great developments, some of which I’ve already shared, as well as some scary-awesome challenges!) and health-wise (I really will get to posting about this in the near-term future); during large swaths of TransFORM I felt quite literally like I was going nuts. And yet the warmth and unconditional presence of the TransFORM folks carried with them the distinct aroma of Jesus. There was a palpable sense of Christ and his Kingdom throughout the weekend, on display in the kindness and dizzying diversity of those present – women and men; black, white, Latino and Asian; Quaker and Wesleyan, Pentecostal and Catholic, Baptist and Reformed.

TransFORM: The Event is but a subset of TransFORM: the Network – a collection of church-planting and pneumatic-community enthusiasts who color outside the lines. If this is you, you should connect with us. As I like to say, there’s more than meets the eye with TransFORM. (Cue groans)

Okay, without further ado, here is the free-flowing conversation, with gentle provocateur Pastor Nar at the helm!

And a little namesake R.E.M. – why not?

Finally – and most significantly – a TransFORM blog-post roundup (If I’m missing some – and I probably am – please put ’em in the comments section below; I’ll list ’em up here):

Adam Moore

Anthony Smith

Brandon Mouser

Callid Keefe-Perry

Chris Rosebrough (note: Chris, from Pirate Christian Radio & Fighting for the Faith, is not a fan. He’s more of a loyal critic, and drove all the way out from Indiana for the main purpose of critiquing. But we love him anyway!)

Darren Rowse (yes, the accliamed ProBlogger was with us via video link from Australia!)

Doug Pagitt

Drew Tatusko

Hugh Hollowell

Jonathan Brink

Joy Lynn- Schroeder

Julie Kennedy

Kathy Escobar

Liz Dyer

Lori Wilson – Part I and Part II (a very thorough recap of the actual sessions!)

Marcus Gibbs

Pete Rollins

Phil Wyman

Shawn Anthony

Sivin Kit (joining us via video from Malaysia!)

– Trans4m in the Twitterverse

Pentecost Prayer

Come, thou Holy Spirit come:
and from thy celestial home
send thy light and brilliancy.
Come, thou father of the poor,
come who givest all our store.
What is filthy make thou pure,
what is wounded work its cure,
water what is parched and dry.
Gently bend the stubborn will,
warm to life the heart that’s chill,
guide who goeth erringly.
Fill thy faithful who adore,
and confess thee evermore,
with thy sevenfold mystery.
Here thy grace and virtue send,
grant salvation in the end, and in heaven felicity. Amen
– From a 13th century Latin Hymn, courtesy Paraclete Press


Guzzling Some Godka – Altered States & Permanent Traits of Spiritual Consciousness

GodkaIntegral musician, actor and all-around hilarious guy Stuart Davis has just filmed a short commercial hawking the latest in potable ancient-future altered states of (higher) consciousness – Godka, or psilocybin-infused vodka.

!!!

StuartAbsinthe what?

I wonder if he’s met our pals John Crowder and Benjamin Dunn – or John Scotland and Emerge Wales and Red Letters crew, for that matter?

Have you missed John since my interview with him last year? He’s YouTubing up a storm…here’s one of the latest, on ‘spiritual exercises’…

In a perfect world, John Crowder and Stuart Davis would get along like gangbusters. Stuart does for sex – on his bleeding-edge Sex, God, and Rock & Roll – what John does for drug culture. Crowder Baby Jesus Toke

If you missed it last year, here’s my six-parter looking at the Pentecostal/charismatic avant-garde, kicking off with Charismatic Chaos or (Holy) Spirited Deconstruction?

…and leading into a five-parter dialogue with Mr. John Crowder himself:

Part I Crowder Blue

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Good times.

What do you think of spirituality and altered states of consciousness? What I’m thinking these days is inspired by and summed up nicely in a piece entitled Mystical Experience or Unitive Seeing? by integral Christian contemplative Cynthia Bourgeault, in Richard Rohr‘s Radical Grace magazine. Money quote (though I could easily take the highlighter of my life and highest aspirations to the entire article):

The word “mystical” is almost always immediately coupled with the word “experience,” and a mystical experience becomes something that you have—or want to have, anyway. It becomes a sign of God’s special favor—a kind of spiritual “peak experience”—and circumstances promising to deliver that experience are eagerly sought after: from sacred chanting and Eucharistic devotion to Sufi whirling, solitude in the desert, or peyote. In the usual way of looking at things, it is an altered state of consciousness, ecstatic, something that takes you far beyond your usual self, a straight shot into divine consciousness.

What’s so bad about that?

Well, nothing, really. [Mike’s note: And I’d want to emphasize that I agree 100% – there’s nothing wrong with ecstasy and spiritual peak experiences! In fact, I could really use one right now…John, if you’re reading this, could you email me a toke of the Holy Ghost? I’d like Jesus on the mainline, please!] But from the point of view of real spiritual growth, it’s an immature state— a “state” rather than a “stage,” in the helpful language of Ken Wilber. A state is a place you go to; a stage is a place you come from: integrated and mature spiritual experience. It’s true that a mystical experience can indeed be a sneak preview of how the universe looks from the point of view of non-dual consciousness. And it’s true that this consciousness does indeed operate at a higher level of vibrational intensity, which at first can overwhelm our normal cognitve systems. But the point is not to squander this infusion of energy on bliss trips, but to learn to contain it within a quiet and spacious consciousness and allow it to permanently bring about a shift in our operating system, so that unitive (or non-dual) perception becomes our ordinary, and completely normal mode of perception.

Amen and amen. I’ll drink to that.

Is White Conservative America Afraid of Barack Obama?

Racist Obama Sign 1This is a blog post I hoped I’d never had to write. It’s a post about ACORN, Van Jones, Barack Obama, and culture of fear that is festering in our nation during an age of Glenn Beck. Those very ‘key words’ I just used will practically guarantee healthy post views and a long search-engine life for this post, but that doesn’t make me happy. Because I know that many of my friends – and probably even family members – will become a little more agitated with me, a little more distant as time wears on and views clash.

Where is the kid who was scored as the single most conservative member of his AP European History class in high school? Where’s the student that accompanied an elder of his PCA church to John Birch Society meetings? Where the guy who voted for Harry Browne in the 2000 elections?

Buried in the rubble of 9/11. Come of age in a Bush administration era. Watching the dream of Hope being crushed by fear-mongering word-of-mouth media marketers, and their circles of influence. And as a fellow nu-media marketing jockey, I’m pissed. This post isn’t going to score me any points with some of my ‘Christian’ friends, or certain corners of CBA publishing…or with my radical Anabaptist/anarchist I’m-too-cool-to-vote friends either, for that matter. Screw it.

Here goes…what follows is taken from my recent Facebook wall almost verbatim, but it’s mostly my side of the conversation, summarizing certain comment-ers, when appropriate.

First I post The GOP’s Blame-ACORN Game article from The Nation, showing how ACORN community organizers have long been against the predatory lending practices of the Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae types (who names these cabals, anyway? Sallie, Freddie, Fannie…it’s like Dick and Jane books on crack). What follows is some basically insightful back-and-forth commentary from folks of different points of view. But then someone says “The punchline is the same – the GOP has no stomach for Acorn, IAF, and other (Alinsky-style, people-powered) community organizing groups.” Racist Obama Sign 2

I think he’s right about the GOPs intolerance for rabble-rousing, truly populist movements. But I also agree with outrage expressed by many (on all sides of the aisle) about the human trafficking stuff – the Left (and all of us really – the Right too when it comes to gun-toting tea partyers and town hallers) need to realize that The People are messy – they can’t be boiled down an intrinsic, bucolic good. The People have issues, as do The Elite. God help us all…

That said, I continue to be 100% in support of community organizing, with the understanding that people need transformation and development as well as the lower functions on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A conservative friend of mine chimes in and says,

I like to think of myself as a gun-toting, tea partying, town haller!

And I say “Well there you go. And many progressives fear you, fair or not. Just like I’d say many conservatives fear power-to-the-people educated urban poor. Two sides of the same coin, really.”

Someone sounded off on this, saying that s/he found it incredulous that anyone could find value in community organizing organizations like ACORN.

Well, as someone else commented, “My spouse is a Realtor and has seen ACORN offer legitimate and much needed help to low income people. They have provided an important service.” Many other grateful low-income families would agree.  Another friend of mine – who I’m guessing is fairly conservative-leaning politically – conceded that “ACORN is…a good organization with a worthy purpose and great success, but is now being brought down by the actions of a few corrupt, high-profile individuals who were put in positions of power that the should not have occupied.” Probably true. But the overriding concern here is that of media literacy: If the first you’re hearing of ACORN is from ticked-off media pundits blasting it, you’re probably not getting the full story. (And yes, I agree this means balancing my lefty news sources with your fascist ones! Tee-hee.)

Racist Obama Sign 3Then someone brought up this 1999 New York Times story about President Clinton lowering the financial ceiling for eligible home-buyers. What do we make of this? My thinking is that one could construe the desire to make lending easier for poorer families a decade ago as being borne out of a genuine desire to help more low-income folks get into homes – just as one could see the GOP moves toward massive de-regulation as an idealistic move in keeping with conservative principles of minimal government.

Of course, one could also see both of these with a jaundiced eye – Clinton’s move to help Sallie & Freddie share-holders and GOP moves to further line all of their pockets with de-regulated flow. We have choices in how we interpret the motives of others – and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Ah, but polemics never stay in the middle, do they? Some people jumped on board hurling epithets like

“Not all poor people deserve to be able to own a home because they are too irresponsible.”

“In this country, if you are poor there’s a good chance it is because you’re too lazy to work.”

“The actual number of people who are poor for some reason other than it being their own fault is very low.”

“These people need to learn some personal responsibility.”

…and other insults. (I’ve got one question for ya’s: Ever read any Barbara Ehrenreich??)

Soo, then I launch into some heated words of my own – like poor people just don’t deserve a break, eh? Only those who earn favor (or are born into favored conditions) should get opportunities – the rest are ‘lazy’? I guess the Gospel we espouse and the Jesus we worship doesn’t apply so much to the real world, huh? Racist Obama Sign 4

Look, I’m pro personal responsibility. I’m a small business owner who comes from a low-middle class (or high lower-class) family background and all that jazz. Who knows – maybe what I’ve done is that gravity-defying feat of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps! And I’m not naive: In being friends with homeless people for a couple of years now, I know that some have the aptitude to get off the streets and some just don’t – they’ve been acculturated into the streets. But does that mean we de-friend, and give up? The way these things about the poor are said, I’m sorry – it sounds like un-loving, callous disregard. When an organization is trying to lift people up by bringing a community together – I just don’t see how anyone can be categorically against that. I’ve long supported Christians (and others) involved in community organizing, and will continue to do so. Long live the CCDA!

And when I say “I just don’t see how anyone can be categorically against that” – I’m not trying to set up a rosy, pollyanna-ish caricature of ACORN or any other group. I think we’ve established that community organizers are people just like everyone else, and subject to the same foibles as the rest of us. I’m not nearly as convinced about ACORN’s voter fraud as I am that Bush stole the 2000 election via Florida and 2004‘s via Ohio, but I am sickened that anyone – poor or rich, liberal or conservative, black or white – would have hypothetically helped a pimp set up a brothel slavery ring for underage girls. This bears a thorough-going investigation and house-cleaning. But this isn’t where you’re coming from at all – you seem to be saying that community organizers are by definition lazy-enablers. I know too many organizers to know that this is simply not the case.

What’s particularly painful for me is the broken fellowship and lost friendships that are hemorrhaging over all these issues. I think about how politically lock-step I would have been with all of this political-rhetorical haze even 10 years ago, with my Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal/charismatic, and house church sisters and brothers. Though the differences between these sects are many, politically their conservative/Evangelical variants are virtually indistinguishable. (There are many in all of these streams who are politically heterogeneous, but they often suffer in silence as their viewpoints are ridiculed – either from the pulpit or around the living room.) I guess I’m coming from such a different place these days. I’ve said (repeatedly) that ACORN itself should be held accountable for anything that’s substantiated that it’s done, but this needn’t tar all community organizing organizations with the same brush – nor should it stain the reputation of the vast majority of ACORN workers. I think the reason why Beck, et. al’s, hysteria is so ‘believable’ to many is white fear, plain and simple.

(Van Jones Let’s not get started on the Van Jones lynching! I’ve been a fan of Jones for years – we were even wanting to book him for a Christian festival I help organize (there’s that word again!), Soularize, but we couldn’t host it this year due to funding. No honest reading of his excellent book, The Green Collar Economy, could possibly support the claim that Jones is a communist – he’s quite capitalistic, but not in a naive way that gives big business carte blanche do do what they want without factoring in social and ecological costs. If you’re willing to consider another take on Jones, there are other perspectives. And for a clear-headed, factual refutation of Glenn Beck’s deliberate ratings-and-power-inducing spin job, you must read this article and this one.)

But what do I mean by ‘white fear’? I mean what Jimmy Carter meant when he said

“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man,” Carter said. “I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that share the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans.”

Carter continued, “And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”

Racist Obama Sign 7I think that many of my fellow caucasian peeps are afraid of nonwhite people in power. Whether that’s the distributed power of communities organizing for better conditions, Latino workers’ unions, or a person of color occupying the highest office in the land – it’s terrifying many conservative whites.

Some balked at this assertion- was I calling them the dreaded ‘R-word’ – racist?

Not necessarily. I don’t know most people well enough to make such an assertion. I tend to believe that most people aren’t overt racists – not consciously, anyway. And that’s not a back-handed slam: I’ve been in a relationship with a black woman (now married) for over 12 years. Until I was dating her for a couple of years, I had no idea how unconsciously racist I was in so many tiny but cumulatively world-shaping ways.

But let me ask you something: Where were all the spontaneous white/conservative uprisings from 2008-2008. GW Bush, to use an epithet presently applied to Carter, was a complete idiot politically. And yet he surrounded himself with people (like Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld) who weren’t idiots at all – they were ideologues in service to a neoconservative agenda exemplified by the Project for a New American Century, which has as its stated aim to extend a new American imperialism over the entire planet. (Not very conservative if you ask me – hence the ‘neo’ I guess). So we get into a little war that ends the lives of over 100,000 women, children, men and soldiers, and costs $3 TRILLION dollars – money we didn’t and don’t have. Based on half-@$$ed ‘intelligence.’ Let me ask you this: Why was it only the hippie peacenik liberals who marched against the war efforts in 2002-2003? Where were the tea-baggers, and town-hallers then? Heck, where were they when Bush himself, in the waning days of his presidency, authorized the first bailouts?

Nowhere, that’s where.

Racist Obama Sign 5Barack Obama has been president for less than nine months. He inherited, by any sane estimate, a $#!tload of problems from the previous decade. And yet right out of the gates folks are foaming at the mouth to bring him and his associates (and any perceived associates) down, and for what? Trying to fix the economic situation (my conservative friends and I agree on this – I don’t think Wall Street should be bailed out. I’m with this economist David Korten. But tell that to Big Business, the ultimate expression of Late Capitalism – they’re sure as hell not complaining), and trying to provide affordable and effective health insurance to everyone? I can understand political disagreement (and intelligent dissent), but bringing weapons to town halls, holding up signs with Obama’s face and horrible racist screeds?

I’ll ask again: Where was all this anger, vitriol, hysteria and fear these past 8 years? Why is (yes, I’ll name it) conservative, white America literally up in arms now when it was pacified as a contented mewling lamb during the Bush years? Why was W tolerable, even laudable, whilst O is Obaminable?

I’m helping raise an interracial family in a multiethnic neighborhood, so it doesn’t please me to ‘play the race card.’ It doesn’t make me happy to consider the possibility that this current state of affairs is fueled by racial fears and tensions, because to acknowledge such a potential pits neighbor against neighbor in my community – the ideas involved pit my little girl’s own blended genetics against herself. I don’t toss ‘white fear’ out there lightly. Racist Obama Sign 6

But let’s compare the previous eight years with the past nine months, shall we? Did each administration…

  • Take polarizing stances on social issues? Check.
  • Increase the size and power of the Federal government? Check.
  • Earmark lots of money for an initiative unpopular with a sizeable chunk of America? Check.

So: What’s the difference between GWB & BHO that has made these very different spiritual climates to live in? I have to say, the color of our Leader-in-Chief’s skin – with all the historical, cultural, and power-related pain this entails – is the most glaring difference.

This reality isn’t up for debate in my mind when I look at the barely-contained rage of so many indignant whites. My question is: What are people of faith, hope, and love to do given this reality? Are friends and followers of Jesus – and people of goodwill everywhere – going to turn a blind eye to this steadily-creeping phenomenon, much like Europe did toward Jewish people in the 1920s and 30s? Or are we going to confront this head-on, name it with love but resolve, and seek to diffuse these tensions by polemic-free debate that focuses on policy and not identity politics, and that throws parties rather than keeping locked up behind barred doors and picket fences? Me and my house, we choose the latter – God help us.

Panentheism – Perichoresis – Christology: Participatory Divinity

perichoresisAs usual, my blog readers are brilliant. My last ‘spirituality’ post, on Panentheism, Interspirituality, and Jesus invited a ton of insightful comments – and, as is about to be made abundantly clear, a new post. So here it is, response-style:

Nathaniel, you’re calling me a Calvinist! I don’t know whether to feel honored or slapped in the face. 🙂 Taking it from your vantage point, I’ll consider it an honor. I get what you’re saying about the ‘slipperiness’ of the term ‘panentheist;’ though I didn’t qualify it with hypens, I think the strong subtext of my post was that I’m not for a squishy, one-size-fits-all pluralism. Specifically, I said “I believe that the Divine which permeates all reality is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.” With that said, true disclaimer: in the intervening years since writing the piece, I am more inclined to nod in Dena‘s direction, that when Einstein or Hawking are sensing the permeating divine, they’re sensing and touching something real – more Way Three than Way Two (in my previous post).

Bert, I hear you! Theodicy (‘the problem of evil’) is with us almost no matter what we believe, and panentheism does not come out unscathed – indeed, it’s even more vulnerable, I think, because (unlike Deism or a highly ‘Sovereign’ removed God concept), panentheism seems to implicate God rather intimately in life’s hurts as well as joys. It’s one thing to say God is in the sunset, dancing in the rays of light; its quite another to say that God is holding the molecules together in the rapist’s knife blade. I want to avoid what I see as the weakest link of Hindu & Buddhist cosmology, that is, “Evil is just illusory,” but I am open to CS Lewis’s idea (developed in The Great Divorce) that evil is perspectival; that all truly will be made well once we have a new way of seeing. The jury’s out for me in how evil fits into panentheism – and yet, I can’t get away from the ‘All in all’ language in Scripture. I think that process theology will have a lot to teach us on this in the coming years.

Hi Bram – I know I probably focused on immanence here, but a robust, biblically-informed panentheism certainly includes God’s transcendence. God is ‘the Beyond in our midst,’ a Mystery even in self-disclosure. Jesus of Nazareth obscures as much as he reveals, I think.

Dena, I love your thoughts here. I think you hit on something key when you said “Christ is the focus for me … and *yet*, I notice that the goal of Christ is to bring us to the Father — to show us the Father.” This is freakily foreshadowing my interaction with Sweet & Viola’s ‘A Jesus Manifesto.’ I think I’d stop short, though, at saying “Ultimately, it’s all about the Father.” I think I’d say “Ultimately, it’s all about perichoresis, a five-dollar word for the relationship within the Godhead, expanding to embrace humanity & the cosmos. That is to say, when Jesus speaks, he’s always speaking of the Father. But when the Father speaks, he’s always speaking of the Son. And the Father sends the Spirit to reveal the Son, so that we might connect to the Father; the Spirit is our Comforter and our True Self, inviting us into the divine fellowship. At least, that’s my read. And it needn’t be so technical – to me, it’s all about the Triune relatedness of God as depicted in The Shack.

Ross, absolutely! Starting in the 1960s, when the West began discovering Eastern cultures & meditation practices – that’s when Christians (and possibly Jews too, though I can’t be certain) began rediscovering their own contemplative traditions – don’t let anybody call ’em ‘New Age,’ either; they’ve been around in one form or another for at least 1700 years – and arguably, embedded in the culture of those engaged in penning Holy Writ itself. I think that one of the greatest losses of our time is that of ‘contemplative mind,’ the ability to both focus and enjoy the spaciousness of God’s unfolding present moment.

David, are you saying that Jesus’ divinity is too much or too little involved in the panentheism discussion? I think that Jesus’ divinity is one of those pesky spiritual themes that panentheism handles exceptionally well, better than contemporary so-called orthodoxy or anemic liberalism.

Lemme explain. Contemporary self-confessed (Western, propositional, truncated, radio) orthodoxy sees God – and by extension God’s self-disclosure in Jesus – as someone (?) to be admired, and trusted in for God’s benefits, sure – but pretty much kept at a remote pedestal. Jesus is the ‘only’ Son of God, who did certain things on our behalf (namely, changing the Father’s mind about us, supposedly) and we worship him in response. This produces a lot of gratitude but very little life-change in my experience. And eventually, the gratitude (read: ‘worship’) turns to boredom.

‘Progressives,’ on the other hand, in attempting to correct the problems with the above view, fall into the opposite ditch – they pit ‘the Jesus of history’ against ‘the Christ of faith,’ place the Synoptics against John’s Gospel, and emphasize (their interpretation of) ‘The son of man’ against ‘The Son of God’ and certainly against ‘God in the flesh.’ Now don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for most of the scholarship that’s come out of historical Jesus studies – in particular, related to the socio-political culture of Jesus’ day (both Roman and Jewish), which sheds amazing light on both Jesus’ message and the unique set of circumstances that led to his death. I love me some ‘The Human Being by Walter Wink (for instance). But at the end of the day, a confused, solely-human Jesus who’s vaguely ‘connected’ to ‘Spirit’ only to die ignominiously and benefit from a dubious ‘spiritual’ resurrection isn’t too exciting to me. While it might be easier to follow such a Jesus, one isn’t quite sure why or where to follow him!

A third way, it seems, has been with us from the beginning. If Rita Brock and Rebbecca Parker are to be believed (and I think their work speaks for itself), the earliest Christians had “a high Christology and a high anthropology,” summed up in Athanasius’ maxim “God became man so that man might become God.” (He meant you too, ladies) Panentheism says that Jesus is the ‘uniquely’ begotten son of God, not the ‘only,’ echoing Scripture’s affirmation that Jesus is the firstborn among many ‘sons’ of God.  Jesus is glorious, divine, and there are certain unique and unrepeatable things Jesus does on our behalf, but overall, the earliest Christian spiritual thrust was one of participatory divinity. We, too, are to realize full divinity amidst (and because of) our full humanity – just like Jesus.

This might sound like ‘New Age’ quackery to the modern ear – but in ancient Christian faith, this was known as theosis or divinization – participation in God via the activity of God in perichoresis – that is, the intent of the Father, the work of the Son, and empowerment of the Spirit. Through theosis, we are partakers of the divine nature – we become incorporated into the very life of ever-flowing Godhead, a dance that goes on from eternity to eternity. If the terminology makes you uncomfortable, think what we might mean by ‘discipleship’ or ‘sanctification’ – only giving much more glory to God and to a full-awakened humanity. If this all sounds rather airy-fairy pie-in-the-sky to you, consider that, historically speaking, the vast majority of temporal transformation happens when people are inspired by, and anchored in, a sense of the transcendant. The recovery of a this-worldy, suffering-servant son of man who nonviolently confronts the Powers is a desperately needed image and motivator – this is the gift of liberation theology. But a revelation of the Son of God, vindicated by the Father in peaceful, powerful resurrection, and inviting us on the same path of death and resurrection, this is the gift of the Eastern church and the mystics. Perhaps the call we’ve so often framed as ‘discipleship’ or ‘sanctification’ can be helpfully re-adjusted as a lifeLet us embrace both of these gifts fully – they are our inheritence.

Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It?

I’m working on my response to Frank Viola & Len Sweet‘s A Jesus Manifesto. Before I (finish &) post it, however, I wanted to share this blast from the past with you – something I wrote for TheOOZE blog about three years ago, right after Jasmin and I got married. Carl McColman & I have become quite good friends since then, and some of my inclinations & language have doubtless changed. But I think I’ll preserve it as-is for the sake of its integrity…let me know what you think; this is relevant to my upcoming intereaction with A Jesus Manifesto..!

panentheism logo

This is my response and interaction to wonderful and incisive questions raised by Carl McColmnan’s post, Notes on Manifesting a Truly Interfaith Spirituality. (You should definitely read it first) I hope that I can respond as an “interfaith-friendly post-evangelical.” In Carl and I’s correspondence, he mentions that “a core issue for me personally is the ongoing question of where the balance point is between the old-Pagan-me, the new-Catholic-me, and the overall-Christian-me,” and I suppose it is very much the question of where does pantheism stop and panentheism begin–a core dilemma of Christian mysticism.”

Panentheism In Brief

It is indeed a core dilemma! I think of myself as a panentheist, and probably have for the past half-decade or so. I first encountered the notion through the post-denominational contemporary Christian mystic, Norman Grubb. If you’ve never read Grubb you really should; he’s fascinating. He began his life as a missionary, biographer and publisher. He never really left these passions, but lived them all out from a Center of what he would call “fixed awareness of union with Christ.” In the last several decades of his life he was a wanderer. He’d go anywhere and life for awhile, with anyone who would have him–he spent years with house churches, Messianic Jewish synagogues, all-summer camp retreats, and I learned a few years back that he spent several years at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rome, Georgia where I went to school! His life exemplified his conviction that God was truly present in all things as the All in all.

I have more recently encountered the panentheist message in the writings of Marcus Borg and others, such as in books like The God We Never Knew. And I appreciate these writings, I truly do. But I suppose a significant difference between the vision of panentheism that lives in my heart and the interspiritual vision that informs Marcus, Matthew Fox and others is that I believe that the Divine which permeates all reality is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

[Ouch! In the intervening years I’ve read both Borg & Fox more, and have to interject that this statement is rather unfair. While I don’t align with either of them ‘jot and tittle,’ they are both committed to the person and spirituality of Jesus.]

Like a good post-evangelical (Over the cultural and political commitments of this particular epoch but cherishing Scripture and good news nonetheless) my panentheism is biblically informed. I see unmistakable cadences of the all-inclusive Christ in such passages as (you’ll forgive me for not citing precisely) –

“I am God, there is no other,”
“God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike”
“There is a Light which enlightens everyone”
“God is the all in all”
“Christ will be the all in all”

…and of course that pagan poem that Paul quotes to pagan friends at Mars Hill in Acts, appropriating for Jesus Christ–“In Him we live, move, and have our being.”

This break with functional Deism came to me as liberation–very good news indeed! Not only did Christ’s spirit indwell me (a message which was good news enough after hearing from Calvinists that God only “positionally” indwelt a regenerate person–whatever that meant–and the Pentecostals who seemed to treat the Spirit like a rather elusive guest), but God was in everything in some sort of real and compassionate way. I like panentheism because it emphasizes immanence while still preserving transcendence and awe. Certainly many of my conservative Christian brethren squirm at such an understanding but I have to to go with what I’ve discovered.

Interspiritual Relevance

CoexistBut now I’m afraid that some of my progressive Christian and interspiritual brethren and friends might likewise squirm at my working understanding of “panentheism.” I know how much well-intentioned people wish to see panentheism as the vehicle for all interfaith dialogue and even interfaith worship, as some Great Core Spirit that, when you get right down to it, is shared by all the great faiths or life-paths. But I think this is more of a deus ex machina than it might at first appear, and I hope that I can respectfully explain why I feel this way.

I think that dialogue, learning, and appreciation among faiths, spiritualities and religions is crucially needed in our day and age–I will elaborate more in a moment. I am significantly less comfortable, however, with co-worship and integration as it seems to transgress something, and disrespect all faiths involved. Further, syncretism of this sort seems as if it would have the fruit of only further dividing people, giving them yet another religious option (interspirituality) to embrace or reject.

Does this make sense? You get a bunch of nice, open-minded progressives together to share their hearts considering their journeys as Pagan, Christian, Sufi, Unitarian, Buddhist, or Snake-handling sex cultist. Wonderful. But then if someone says, “These are all vital emanations from the same Source,” many in the room nod solemnly, but a few people look up like “Wait.” Then what? A new multifaith dogma has just formed in the room, and everyone has to either accept or reject it. Call it the curse of Martin Luther’s endless fragmentation.

Education and mutual understanding through interfaith dialogue might seem a whole lot more modest (read: lame) than constructing a bold new interspiritual outlook, but I think its small gains can do much to build mutual esteem and trust in our shakily pluralistic world, all without going the “all roads lead to the same path” route.

Getting back to the internal integrity of one’s faith, and speaking from my “Jesus-y” (as Anne Lamott puts it) perspective, where does fidelity to God come in? I consider myself thoroughly postmodern, but do postmodern people of faith always need to put ironic, self-effacing quotation marks around everything they “believe” to be “true”? I am personally struggling to live life through the Jesus Way–not the pop culture, American Jesus, but the Jesus I see in the Gospels and New Testament and mystics and marginalized church history through the ages. One thing I’ve come to discover is that Jesus loves everyone but he does not agree with everyone. He embraces and forgives the Woman at the Well but–before acknowledging the universality of the coming eschaton where God can be known everywhere, in Sprit and Realit–he engages her in a little Jewish versus Samaritan debate about the appropriate place for Temple worship!

My friend Brian McLaren says something like this: “Jesus is the Way to God and abundant life, it doesnt mean he stands in the way to divine access!” I believe that “Jesus is the savior of the world,” whatever that ultimately means, I can only speculate and hope. I cannot limit the meaning of this to a particular model of atonement, or a particular scope of redemption. All I know, based on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character and intention, is that the Godhead loves his enemies, forgives those who persecute, and practices restorative justice. I have every confidence, with Julian of Norwich, that “all will be well.” Please keep this in mind as you read, knowing that I’m not coming at this to Bible-beat dissenters into submission or condemn anyone to eternal flames! I’m simply talking about faithfulness to the light we’ve been given, and how that light might be unintentionally dimmed or blurred.

Clearly Carl feels more free than I do to “play with the poetry of an interfaith spirituality,” no doubt owing to your diverse background. On an intrafaith scale I am similar–I grew up equal parts Baptist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian, and was always more willing to integrate the best of each of these denominational traditions. What was effortless to me in this regard always seemed like a huge sticking point to some of my friends, who grew up in a particular denomination. Perhaps because of this, there are ways that I can appreciate a “humble model” of interfaith interaction:

I value interfaith dialogue because it’s educational. So many people of all faiths are fearful of “the other.” We have no idea what our neighbors hope for, believe, or practice, and we tend to draw the worst possible conclusions because they’re not following Jeee-suz (or ‘the Prophet,’ be it Muhammad, Joseph Smith, or Elizabeth Clare). In an integrated society with a pluralist public square, this simply will not do. I love to participating in interfaith sharing times–whether formal sessions or conversations with friends and neighbors–to gain understanding about the diverse religions of the world.

Models of Pluralism in Christian Perspective

ConnectionFurther, I believe that I can truly learn, spiritually, from the world’s religious traditions–things that Zeus or the Vishnu decreed can give me an altogether fresh perspective on an obscure passage of Scripture or way that I reach God. But this is a qualified learning. I was talking about this with my friend Frank Viola, who’s an author and house church planter. Frank is definitely a conservative evangelical theologically, though he’s a pretty open guy considering these caveats–he has a special love for church mystics in particular. Right now he’s reading Cynthia Bourgeault’s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. Because she’s coming from an “apophatic” contemplative perspective, she quotes freely from what she’s gained from her Buddhist background. As I was talking to Frank, I asked:

“I’m curious: Do you, personally, feel put off by Bourgeault’s references to Eastern spiritual practice? I personally feel like she’s simply giving credit where credit is due: she has a background in these practices and she feels like they have wisdom to illuminate the Scripture and our own tradition. I don’t feel like she ever says “Buddha is just as important/relevant as Jesus Christ,” or any such thing. It’s fascinating that, as people of different faiths began getting to know each other, you see this “borrowing of wisdom” take place. You see it all over Merton as well. It seems like there are several different ways professing followers of Christ have related to those of other faiths:

  • Way One: All other religions are simply false. (Their “gods” or philosophies are nonexistent and irrelevant.)
  • Way Two: All other religions are demonic. (Their gods or philosophies are real and dangerous to body and soul)
  • Way Three: All religions contain shades and gradations of the Truth. (Their gods or philosophies are incomplete revelations, tainted by the humanity’s fallen and fractured state, that nonetheless contain glimmers of the story of Christ)
  • Way Four: All religions lead to a singular (or at least similar) path. (There is a beneficent Force governing the cosmos that none of us can quite grasp; this Force communicates to people in different times and cultures in different ways, but there’s no significant qualitative difference between them)”

I then continued, “As for my .02, the First and Fourth Ways seem too black and white and simplistic, though they stand on opposite poles. Even though later Judaism seemed to view all gods who weren’t YHWH as nonexistent, Jesus makes much of genuine spiritual forces who were nonetheless malevolent. And of course in Daniel you have the angels doing battle with the Prince of Persia, etc… The Third Way, advocated most notably by CS Lewis, is the one I want to believe most–that God has not just communicated in symbols and shadows not just to the Hebrew people, but to all times and cultures (See, for instance, the contemporary East Orthodox book Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene.

Common sense and experience, though, suggests to me that Way Two is frequently the case– humanity being what it is sometimes, faith becomes so twisted as to be demonic and dangerous, as is the case with televangelists and Vodou and fundamentalist Islam.”

So, to recap: I think that I can learn about communion with God from a Buddhist or a Sufi, but I inevitably see God’s clearest speaking in Jesus Christ. Jesus does not always negate the spiritual experience of other faiths, but–and this seems unkind and un-PC for interfaith dialogue–he sometimes does. When Christ calls us to conversion, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “He bids a man come and die.” We’re called to die to different things–different ingrained mindsets, different patterns of being, different destructive religious and cultural beliefs. I am not comfortable dictating what beliefs and practices are to be abrogated by people whose cultures I do not belong to–that is between them, God, and their Christian community.

Thank God for Pagan Christianity! 🙂

Born Again PaganFor this reason I don’t have any beef – sacrificed to idols or no – with Carl engaging in “folkloric Irish practices (that have been practiced by Irish Catholics for centuries) that are clearly Pagan in origin.” I believe that when the Holy Spirit came to Ireland, God wasn’t pissed at the Irish for being who they were. Since I believe that Jesus’ call to make apprentices of the Kingdom of God applies to all people and cultures, and don’t think any culture has imperialist preference in YHWH’s book. God’s great transition was from one chosen people to “every tribe, tongue and nation,” and so when the Spirit brooded over Ireland, God lovingly extricated the Irish people from harm and embraced, and transformed everything else. God loves the beauty of worship from every tribe, people group and culture. This is, though, a break with a certain pluralistic orthodoxy that insists that every region will have their own inherent cultural religious expression, and that expression should never be tampered with. At this point any attempt at sharing another point of view becomes verboten from the start; I simply don’t think this is fair.

Of course I realize that missionary history has a definite dark side, where financial opportunism and cultural imperialism can run rampant. But what many of my non-Christian friends (and even some Christians) might not know is that missional or apostolic work among indigenous people can and does take place with care and respect to the cultures involved. I’d recommend reading Roland Allen, Leslie Newbingin, or even my own church’s planter Gene EdwardsThe Americanization of Christianity to see how Christ can authentically incarnate into a culture in an authentic way.

Anyway, at this point your many readers of other faiths are reading all this talk about conversion and Jesus coming into other cultures and you’re either offended or colossally disinterested. “When will this exclusivist bigot be finished?” you tire. Okay, well let me see if I can bring this to a close and earn just a bit of your continued interest. Carl asks, “What are workable, creative boundaries for interfaith spirituality?” Can a “druid with a rosary” really work? How can we all be “friendly” to faiths with which we might (and indeed must at some point) disagree? And, “Where is my ultimate loyalty?”

Sharing Faith

Clasping the ShadowsI resonate with shunning the “smarmy sales job” of snake-oil evangelists out to sell a quick conversion. And yet…I’m not averse to sharing Good News, or the conversion of heart and priority that may result. I suppose, working with my appreciation of interfaith dialogue, I always respect the space that I’m in. To me (like a good Calvinist) conversion is God’s job, and being open and engaged with others is my job. Because of the love of Christ within me, I’m naturally drawn to hang out with people and spend time with them, with no particular agenda. But the Spirit being who s/he is, I am “always ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope,” as the first-century church planter Peter encourages (in 1 Peter 3:15). I don’t necessarily think I’ve earned the right to knock and a stranger’s door and bombard them with a plastic gospel. As my favorite faith-sharing group, Off-the-Map, says, Christians should “count conversations, not conversions.”

I agree whole-heartedly with what Carl says about not selling people with chaos and fear. And yet! I affirm this even as the purifying fires of hell could be relevant, and God just might care about how we relate to others with our genitals. I like living in this tension. In another paradox that I’m going to have to chew on and digest, Carl says:

“As a Christian, I am in fact called to be an evangelist; but I understand that to mean that I am called to spread good news. And in today’s world, and especially among Neopagans, talking about the Christian religion is the quickest way to subvert “good news,” instead sounding like a tired old purveyor of religious negativity.”

I think you’re absolutely right, and I think that Jesus would agree with this completely. In fact, in one popular translation of scripture, Jesus says:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

When you talk about being faithful to your values, I feel you…obviously you don’t want to embrace so-called “spiritualities” that are hurtful, selfish, or unloving. I feel like a lot of Christians don’t understand that God doesn’t care about “Jesus” as some sort of abstract cosmological category; Father is in love with his Son because of his beauty and character. Jesus said “Whoever is not against me is for me.” When some people at the end of their lives stand confidently before the Big J and read off their religious resume, he tells them “I never knew you.” I think the Christian family’s views on “who’s in” and “who’s out” are out of sync with an intimate knowing of the risen Christ.

I like what Carl said about cultivating the positive and embracing the contributions of other faiths. Forgive me for pushing back a little, though: is there ever a place in interfaith dialogue to loathe aspects of faith–starting with your home faith to be sure–and repent, or turn from these patterns of being? I mean, in the physical realm most of us have no problem telling a friend they’re engaging in destructive and life-threatening habits, from “You should really quit smoking” to “self-immolation is not the way!” Yet if the realm of spirit is at least as real as the material realm, couldn’t certain cosmological choices have dire consequences?

Carl closes his reflection with the statement “I am free to love.” It echoes my interview with Anne Rice a few months back, a Gothic horror writer-turned eclectic Catholic. When I asked her what she’d like to share with fellow Christians, she told me:

We need to stop being so afraid that the devil is winning. The devil’s not winning–we are winning. Jesus is winning. God is winning. We have the strength and the time to open our arms to absolutely everyone. Rushing to judgment, condemning whole classes and groups of people–that is not in the spirit of Christ that I see in the Gospel. I can’t find that spirit. I see the spirit of love, taking the message to absolutely everyone.

Amen?

Update

Well, that wasn’t the final word, thankfully. Carl had a great follow-up, and Jon Trott did too. Here are the comments from the original Ooze post. It also opened me up to a fair bit of heresy-hunting, which I’ve covered extensively. Carl has re-published a classic of his dealing with all of this material, titled Spirituality: A Post-Modern and Interfaith Approach to Cultivating a Relationship with God – I highly recommend it. One of the most significant voices I’ve discovered in the intervening years exploring panentheism (and its implications for science & spirituality) is Philip Clayton of Transforming Theology. Since writing the above post I’ve discovered both the Interfaith Youth Core and Faith House Manhattan, which are living experiments in putting flesh on the bones of interspiritual engagement.

Enough rambling by me, past or present. What do you think?

The Future of This Blog: Where ‘Confessions’ Are Going

VulnerabilityHappy Monday! Thus begins my more intensive season of blogging on the fourfold themes of True Confessions, Whole-Health Journey, Book Revue & Freebies, and The Future. Today I want to preview a little bit of where Confessions will be going.

Childhood.

Yep, I plan to begin at the beginning, from my days as a precocious homeschooled geek; my formative years of Baptist and Pentecostal spiritual upbringing and my wonderful-yet-madcap family life. And the beginning of my love affair with comic books.

Teen Years

My transition from being homeschooled to public high school, and my transition from the Assemblies of God to PCA Presbyterianism was a time of identity-searching, metamorphosis, insecurity, childhood bad habits blossoming, my love of polemics, church power plays, and the beginnings of my self-identified sense of being a compiler, peace-maker, and spiritual synthesizer. Oh yes – and the first time my being ‘in love’ isn’t unrequited.

College Years

My immersion into small-town private liberal arts college with all its peculiarities; the discovery, in the same year, of both ‘house church’ and the Internet’s vast potential; the first rays of individuation; college romance (or the lack thereof); and the full genesis of my pathologies.

Early Adulthood

Bookstore retail! Epistemological doubt! Panic attacks! Marriage and madness! And the continuing development of my own, personal Jesus.

Approaching 30

Married with child, quixotic businessman, beautiful and failed attempts at community life, and my continuing descent into insanity. (Sense a theme here..?)

So in general, I plan to sketch my life – at times overviewing, at other times detailing (with Actual Written Artifacts from these different eras), my days – looking at some broad themes of humor, spiritual exuberance, and love; as well as the shadow-side of specific (and at first relatively minor) phobias mutating into full-blown anxiety issues, along with how I’ve dealt with them (or not). Laying myself out there like this – and how my spirituality, theology, and community praxis have transmorgified throughout this process – who no doubt open me up to a lot of criticism from drive-by third-party observers, heresy-hunters, and armchair psychologists. I am prepared for this. On the other hand, I am even more prepared for (and wide open to) the experiences and ideas of the vast majority of my readers, who have proven to be nothing less than kind, generous and surprisingly insightful over the years.

The journey will begin tomorrow, with a very contemporary conversation among three very different friends.


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  • Friend of Emergent Village

    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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