A New Church

Recently, I’ve been witnessing the growth of a new church. I’m attracted to growing things. Spring is evident everywhere and its outstandingly beautiful in Chattanooga, TN. Today I sit on my back porch looking over the back yard at the vibrate greens embracing my vision. There is a pear tree – probably older than I am – full of new leaves. I just noticed the emergence of tiny little buds that will soon be pears. Much in my life has this quality currently, especially a little community of seekers at a church called White Oak in Red Bank, TN. This particular church holds a great deal of meaning for me. I’ve returned to this church my entire life. My father insisted that I join him there each Sunday during my childhood. His parents were attending and he had grown up there so I too grew up there. I carry this history with me in the present which makes this church’s growth deeply meaningful.

But there’s much more here. Over the past month church has meant more to me than I can remember, at least since I was at Glide in San Francisco over a few years ago. I have been genuinely moved during our services. The critically corrosive thoughts that typically swayed my mind during worship have fallen silent. I have noticed the space in my heart to feel connected and that feeling has a quality of the miraculous.

This past Sunday I witnessed the pastor celebrate a moment of true spiritual experience. She accepted the membership of her father into the church. This sounds nice already, but the history of healing and transformation that stood testament in that moment was much more than nice. It was a miracle. Pastor Amy spent years looking up to her father. Her father spent his entire life as a Church of God minister – a denomination that unabashedly rejected women in ministry. Still, in reverence and faith Amy thought of nothing else but following in her father’s footsteps as a pastor – practically an insurmountable challenge facing the denominational sign that read: “No girls allowed.” This little girl, with a persistent heart, spent years under the shadow of discrimination based on gender and pressed forward in pursuit of her calling despite convention, family criticisms, and religious dogma. Last Sunday our entire congregation witnessed the power of transformative grace and generational healing when a loving father whose heart had been melted by a determined, faith-filled daughter publicly announced his membership and unwavering support of pastor Amy’s ministry.

I haven’t witnessed such a spiritualized event in a church in a long time. It was more than just generational healing. It was an another event that symbolized an entire religious movement to overcome gendered oppression. It was a spring time event in a new church.

 

 

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Thinking About A World View

I’ve spent the better part of an undergraduate degree and two successive master degrees thinking about a worldview. I grew up and still find myself situated deeply within a Christian worldview. Admittedly, it would take the intimacy and care of thinking, loving Christians to recognize me as such. Nothing about my worldview would necessarily be recognized by the majority of Christians as having anything to do with “Christianity.” I’m more rightly sized as a secular-Christian critical pluralist. I think all religions express aspects of divinity, threads of perennial wisdom, and are challenged with problematic dogma. For those initiates, I would sail my boat into the seas of panpsychism, a view that the entire cosmos is imbued with aspects of consciousness or even further, a cosmotheanthropic (Cosmos, Divinity & Human) play of complementary and complex matrices of being and becoming, but I digress.

I’ve been reading a great book recently. Perhaps, its a book that has brought this thinker back to books. I have been on leave from scholarship, research, thinking, and writing for some months. The book’s title is The Road Less Traveled authored by Scott Peck. It was written on the precipice of my birth, in the late 70s, but didn’t find the best seller lists until much later after circulating and reaching popularity through the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rarely do I speak of a book so highly, but the entire book is helpful. It reminds me of the Frankfurt School of thought and of Eric Fromm’s insightful work in particular.

Section III is entitled “Growth and Religion.” I realize that most of my readers will find the following commentary agreeable, even obvious. Those I would like to write for, for whom this commentary would really benefit will unlikely read it. It is largely written for those whose convictions find them in church. I’m learning how to write for those persons whose beliefs still define Christianity and especially those leaders whose voices influence entire congregates of believers. With that confession out of the way, Peck believes, as do I, that despite one’s ideas about religion – whether they believe in the God of Christ, practice Buddhism, or profess agnosticism, whether they “think” they have a religion or not – everyone has a world view, a religiosity. And further, that despite religious affiliations or non-affiliations, world view’s are as diverse as the individuals who hold them. There are atheists whose actions of love outshine the best Christians and there are Christians whose commitment to capitalism is so faithfully blind they will perform the most un-ethical deeds in service of profit motive despite or in advance of Christianity. Often a persons world views are generally unconscious – the atheist is often unconscious that his/her rejection of God is not a rejection of “God” per-say but a rejection of a particular conception of divinity or world view – he ‘rejects’, the God of classical theism or that of Jesus or a ‘Universal Order’. Through and through, Peck finds that one of the largest problems with people’s conception of religion is their narrow perspectives about the world and reality. These limited and limiting views produce all sorts of challenges: unproductive judgments, shame, institutional corruption’s, psychological neurosis, and in some cases violence.

His point strikes a resonant cord, especially as I begin a professional path as a life coach in the heart of the Bible Belt. Over and over I witness the cultural and individual challenges created by the confusing relationship between religion and reality. Easter pasted recently and churches all over the planet, especially in the Southern United States celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The story has captured the faith and convictions of countless believers for over two millennia, but while the rest of the world moves on to reinterpret this story in light of the last 500 years of conscious evolution – thoughtful science and information – the majority of churches are simply being left behind.

In an interesting aside: The Left Behind series was super popular among Christians all over the US, but not for the reason you might expect. The series was entertaining and made a great deal of money for its authors, making Hollywood out of the the Book of Revelation. But, if we look deeper into the success the series tells us another story. With a little insight into the collective unconscious we see that the entire Left Behind series is the externalization of a collective Christian unconscious fear – that it has been and continues to be literally “left behind” by contemporary culture. It functions as a piece of entertainment kitsch, a psychological catharsis for an entire Christian community blinded by the very symbols they claim save them, a collective character defect of unwillingness and lack of humility at the heart of its own decline. For more on the churches decline see here and here.

What’s more is that the faith as a whole is generally unconscious as to the reason why their popularity is declining. They find themselves curious why their numbers, on the whole, have been steadily decreasing over the last few decades. “More Jesus” has always been the rallying cry to spur growth, yet “More Jesus” is a call to again embrace an old world view, one that consistently asks the believer to compartmentalize reality for the sake of their faith.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the problem I had with the Christianity I grew up with was that it wasn’t big enough to hold space for the history of science and human diversity. I heard over and over that all “others” – non-Christians – were going to Hell. I saw countless of my peers outright reject biological evolution because they couldn’t fit the science into their faith. Whereas so many chose to ignore the science, indeed all voices that challenged their faith, I sought to enlarge my faith. My faith would include and transcend reality – the history of science and religious diversity all became ground work for the development of my faith.

Change is hard work, and especially difficult when what’s changing was supposed to be absolutely foundational and unchanging. It took years of education to change and it was frightening at times because I knew I was “leaving the fold” of my community, family, church, friends. I had to risk alienation and suspicion to develop my faith. What I discovered was an entire culture that had already made the leap into an entirely new kind of discernment – a new world view. I had the privilege of an education with nurturing, critically rigorous instructors guiding me step by step into a new world view. I worked hard to clear the baby from the bath water and re-integrate – resurrect – my faith after criticism.

The average churchgoer is still frightened by rigorous honesty. Reflecting back on Easter again, when I say that I don’t believe that Jesus’ body literally rose from the grave it is in fulfillment of my faith, not despite it. I respect my faith far too much to burden Easter with the fallacy of literalism. My faith reads the Easter story as a powerful archetypal mythos that communicates some of the deepest human revelations about God and our universe. My faith stands in awe of science, not against it, and it celebrates the inherent mystery which ties me to a common humanity and Christian legacy.

It is the case today that far to many Christians are desperate to make the Easter story, indeed all of Christianity, determinately literal, final, and authoritative – a fixed statement of faithful superiority over all other world views nicely securing every believer’s place in Heaven. The rallying cry has barely changed from the pulpits: “You must believe in the risen Christ to go to Heaven!” – a message that looks more and more like the fundamentalism popping up in Islamic factions – growing more and more radically uncompromising in their beliefs the more the world around them leaves them behind. And History – with a big “H” has and will continue to leave them behind. ‘History’ is a professional at separating the wheat from the chaff, and it dispassionately vanishes what refuses to transform.

All over the interwebs there were zombieism memes about Easter. Do the faithful find them curiously insulting? Or do they get the joke because they secretly know themselves: “It’s not really true… just symbolic.” I have to imagine those lost to comedy have judgements of their own, feeling pity for the world of “non-believers” surely going to Hell – paradoxically succumbing to their own judgement as more and more people leave the church because the enlightenment they offer fails to outweigh the ignorance.

I have to be careful here. In the past I have been prone to throw stones and yell “WAKE UP!” from the ivy towers of academia. I have to remember that honesty without compassion is brutality. It’s an easy judgment against an entire religion – easy to depersonalize. When I reflect compassionately, it took years of education to let go of inadequate ideas and emancipate my faith filled world view. Please check out the book, The Fight of Peter Fromm for an outstanding read through the evolution of Christian thought out of deep fundamentalism. The book is grounded in arguments that span the 20th centuries most competent and persuasive theologians.

To conclude: Peck writes, “To develop a religion or worldview that is realistic – that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality – we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world. We must constantly enlarge our frame of reference…Most of us operate from a narrower frame of reference than that of which we are capable, failing to transcend the influence of our particular culture, our particular set of parents, and our particular childhood experience upon our understanding. It is no wonder , then that the world of humanity is so full of conflict.