Community, Transformation, and Transcendence, v.0.1

November 10, 2008 at 1:34 am (Introspection, Musings, Social Networking, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

Am I walking a fine-line, a broad path, or a narrow road? 

This is something I’ve been pondering for the past couple of months.  I walk in two communities.  One is spiritual-religiosity, the other is secular-humanist.  One community is open, tolerant, and accepting; the other is closed, exclusive, and controlling.  One community values excellence, the other values tradition.  Once community values eclectic and creative social networks, the other values conformity.  One of these communities values freedom over obedience, the other values obedience over freedom.

In various arenas, I land for a time.  Sometimes gravitating between two communities, sometimes wandering.  At times you’ll find me squarely in the middle, but other times I’ll be here or there.  Much like the geolocation services I’m experimenting with, sometimes where I appear to be is not where I actually am.  Recently, Fire Eagle told me I was in New Orleans, when in reality I was thousands of miles away.  Sometimes what I appear to be to outside observers, is not who I actually am inside.

I am open to new ideas, but I treasure the absolute truth of my God, my Creator, and my Savior.  I accept people in my life who don’t agree with me, but I am not easily pulled away from the spiritual disciplines that enable me to better follow God.  I am a disciple of Jesus’, but I am have no enmity towards unbelievers.  I value spirituality over religiosity, but I have no enmity towards helpful religion.

If pushed, I will admit to being a Christian, but I’d rather define myself (If labels are necessary) as a disciple, or an apprentice of Jesus Christ.  Christianity, as a political entity, as an institution, and as a club, has gotten off track.  Christianity, as practiced in the New Testament, looked very dissimilar to today’s organized, religious apparatus.

To take the best of both of my worlds, I could foresee a graceful community of openness and inclusively.  Not a place, but a network of eclectic, thinking, believers who like to be together – in thought, action, deed, and place.  Believers on various continuum, that accept those who have not progressed at the same pace, nor at the same place as one another.  Obviously, for a network to exist, there would need to be a common theme, that theme would be to reflect the character of Jesus.

Imagine a network that is seeking the enlightenment of God’s character and wants to reflect the original values of His Kingdom.  A network that would pursue growth over behavioralistic modifications.  A Network that would value relationships over uniformity.  A network that would value others over self.

I have a problem with one of my communities.  In spite of the creative openness and the tolerance of diversity, there are still overriding issues of selfishness, power, and the politics of popularity.  People tend to be valued for the value they add to “my” life, not necessarily because someone has value inherently within themselves.  Because of this, there is great pressure to produce, succeed, and contribute.  If I’m having a bad run, I may be left by the wayside and discarded.

I have a problem with my other community.  It seems that despite the desire to be followers of Christ, as Christians, there is great pressure to focus on behavior.  It isn’t a high standard that is set, rather, it is fairly mediocre standard.  Metaphorically, if I don’t smoke, drink, sleep-around, or swear (along with a few dozen other random rules), I can be a part of this community.  But if I should step out of the community standard norms, I will be quickly ostracized.

The first community strives to accept all people, but in reality, they are only tolerant of those who are free-thinkers like themselves.  They want to be accepting of all peoples, but there is an inherent selfishness that creates a dichotomy in their values.  This tends to breed a self-centered, narrow-focused group.  Moral standards are relaxed and socio-economic strata is not very wide.  This leads to a club-like mentality, not much different than my latter community.

Face it, we are tribal beings.  My struggle lies with the fact that one tribe pays my wages and has biblical values more in line with my personal beliefs.  The other has societal values more in line with mine.  This gives me unique opportunities to evangelize both communities.  I strive to bring my Christian community towards the creative, open, and inclusive conversation; and I strive to bring my secular community towards a better understanding of what Jesus was really trying to say.

I believe the secular community isn’t rejecting Jesus as much as they are rejecting the Church.  And I don’t blame them.  The Church doesn’t always give a very relevant representation of Christ’s values.

I believe the Christian community isn’t rejecting the unchurched as much as they are rejecting the mediocrity of moral standards.  The generalized acceptance of hurtful values and practices can lead to some serious problems in people’s lives.

When the two communities come together, they clash.  The churched people seek to control the unchurched – through legislation, liturgy, lectures and logic.  The unchurched want the Christians to lighten up.  The Christians trust God’s wisdom that certain behaviors can be harmful, unhealthy, and hurtful – not to mention, not conducive to positive spiritual development.  The unchurched see nothing wrong with a little playful “imperfection” in their lives.

And thus comes the balance.  Imperfection is a part of human nature.  Accepting that in others is a powerful, and scary, influencer.  For Christians, we are afraid that if we accept someone in their sin, we will be condoning the sin and propelling someone towards eternal damnation.  Worse, we are afraid for ourselves.  We know we are weak, and thus, we are afraid the so-called “sinner” will pull us down with them.

For the unchurched, who very well may be believers, there are very real fears to be reckoned with.  We are afraid that if we give the so-called “Christian” an inch, they’ll take a mile.  Afraid of the control, we reject the spiritual formation and disciplines that could actually speak into our lives.  We are drawn to the spiritual high ground, but we reject the mediocrity we see in the cultural Christianity of everyday society.

This is why Buddhism, Scientology, Kabbalah, TM, and other Eastern/New Age spiritual disciplines have such an attraction for Western Society.  Many have a cafeteria style spirituality, they take what works for them, and they leave the rest on ice.  People build their personal spirituality, much like they build a salad at their favorite restaurant.  

It isn’t a bad conglomeration, and usually it is quite satisfying.  But best of all, it doesn’t involve conformity.  Yet, often accountability is sacrificed as the price for ultimate freedom.  Sometimes, for growth to occur, we need accountability in healthy doses with transparency, authenticity, and relevance.

On the flip side, the Christian community sometimes sacrifices acceptance of others and freedom of thought for the sake of accountability and conformity.  It is my opinion however, that we set the bar too low in the Church.  Not that we need more rules and not that we need more behavioral standards, but that we need to raise the bar on spiritual formation and the disciplines that will accomplish this.

It isn’t enough to achieve certain moral behaviors, what the Church needs is a true heart connection with the God of the Universe.  It is only through absolute surrender that we can best reflect the love, grace, tolerance, openness, inclusivity, creativity, relevance, and authenticity that best reflects the character of God.  The behavioral standards of the church are in place to protect us from the slippery slope of selfish depravity, but morality shouldn’t be our highest goal.  

Morality is for selfish reasons and leads me to greater health (emotionally, spiritually, socially, and physically).  I need more than temporal health however.  I need transcendent spiritual growth that leads me to a greater connection with an infinite God.  If my religion doesn’t bring transcendent transformation, then it is useless.

Unless one is a complete sociopath, they still operate within certain norms of morality.  That standard just happens to be different than those who claim to be Christians.  The unchurched person may not subscribe to certain “organized” religions, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a spiritual seeker.  However, if the spirituality in a persons life brings greater transcendence than they have previously experienced in a church, that should give pause to those who attend churches, but aren’t experiencing transformation.

This doesn’t mean that Christianity is wrong, it just means we may be missing some elements.  What are we missing?  How can we be followers of Jesus, without sacrificing our chosen standards of morality?  How can we be citizens of the world, while still seeking, and finding, transcendent transformation?  Maybe we need to put the Eastern disciplines back into Christianity?

I wouldn’t bounce between these two communities, if I could find one that had the best of both.  What is so hard about finding a community that is true to the principles in God’s Kingdom?

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12 Comments

  1. Rob said,

    This is certainly a sticky wicket, now isn’t it. I wonder if it needs to be so compartmentalized?

  2. kmcdade said,

    [moved my comments from elsewhere over here]

    Oh, lordy, I could write my own essay about this. My first response is that I cannot separate the two communities within my life like that. The reality, however, is that I AM more likely to interact with people from these two categories separately. But my view is that we shouldn’t be separating things like this. Also, I’ve been decidedly moving out of the “tradition” group(s). I do maintain a connection to a traditional church, but I no longer play the church games; especially the church leadership game. We haven’t totally figured out where we’re going with this yet, but trying to love God/love neighbor WITHOUT being tied to “traditional” church.

  3. Ryan Bell said,

    My instinct, after reading your very good description of reality, is that this is PRECISELY where God wants you and needs you…between these “worlds.” In reality, we all live our lives in these worlds. The goal I have for my life is, as the others have said, integration. So I try to invite those in my religious community be with me in my community life, etc. Little by little, others are beginning to experience integration in their lives. My personality is such that I wouldn’t be happy living in one compartment or another. As religious leaders, my sense is that we are called to be these bridge people, helping people integrate their bifurcated worlds.

  4. kmcdade said,

    Right on, Ryan! I’ve been doing a bit of that as well — inviting church people to volunteer for a bike event, but not turning it into a Church Event. I really like your description of bridge people; that definitely resonates with me.

  5. Robnlori said,

    Bravo 🙂
    First of all, thank you very much for DMing me this post, I would have hated to have missed such a deep, beautiful topic. I have never been put into any specific religion, I have never really gone to church, because of this, I have become confused at times of what is right, what I should believe in, even who I should be. I have struggled with this but, as I get older I have come to believe that there are many Gods for a reason, to give humans faith, hope, something to believe in when times are bad, when we are sad or alone.
    I too love the spirituality of many religions and believe that no matter who or what your God may be, he/she or it will be there for you and protect you if you live your life as a decent, loving and caring human being, which sometimes may mean looking out for only you and yours and not your neighbor. In this day and age your neighbor may need all of your prayers but can only help themselves.
    I too wish for a community that could share their creative minds, speak their religious thoughts and still remain comfortable with who we are and not what we should be yet, still support one another despite religious, scientific, or off the wall beliefs. I was married for 15yrs. to an Atheist, my mother and I are spiritual beings without a name, it was very, very hard at times when I would hear his ignorant comments, I taught my children the values of having an open mind to all beliefs, not just one, they have grown to be very beautiful, kind and thoughtful human beings 🙂
    I have recently found myself feeling very insecure lately because of lack of knowledge of the blogsphere or politics or not knowing how to respond intelligently about something around a group of people.
    This post however, has made me realize that I need to believe in myself, believe that it is okay to be me and to live a life of contentedness, peace and not worry of conformity. My life has become very peaceful and gratifying, I never hurt others, I give to my community, and have proved to be a good influence to my children, and most of all to love not only my family but the little things in life, I do not need to list any, you know many 🙂
    I say be comfortable with whatever it is you believe, enjoy your life without guilt or pain of not being able to conform to what others believe and most of all continue loving everything and everyone that makes you happy.

    P.S. I hope this wasn’t too drawn out, I did enjoy spilling it, it is kind of one of my favorite topics because it really is a strong and powerful one-well said!

  6. Been There said,

    I appreciate what you’ve said about the church. You have been so much more open then so many of the posers out there. I really respect you for that and I hope you hear and understand that from me.

    There are a couple things that really challenge me, things on opposite ends of the spectrum that are difficult to reconcile.

    First, if the church really finds out who you are, they will spiritually murder you… Understand me here, it’s not a risk you’re taking. It’s a certainty. They will try to destroy you. They will not like you. I just have an honest human, brotherly fear for you in that area. It is painful (I have a little experience in this area) and I do not wish that on you.

    But second, if we don’t take the risk to really speak out (since no one else will), or do something different, we can be sure nothing will change.

    So what do we do?

    I’m reading Luke 3 this week. It’s clear what decision John the Baptist made – and his cousin backed him up all the way. Both were murdered.

  7. Ryan Bell said,

    Been There,
    Love this one sentence take on Luke 3 and subsequent events. So perfect. “Both were murdered.” We could add, “Is the servant greater than the master?”

  8. martyt7 said,

    It seems to me that Jesus was at home in any community. And I mean “at home”. Woman at the well, wedding feast, Church leaders homes, Synagogue, adulterous stoning party, healing a man who entered through the roof. He went everywhere possible and lived there, not just visited.

    I suppose the disciples were at a loss for words more than once as they watched Jesus talk with people that they would avoid. But it seems to me that he had the hope and intention that they(disciples) would cross over too. That they would learn that all people are God’s sheep. Jesus did not spend His time separating out the good sinners from the bad sinners so that he could model separation. He went into all sinners homes and felt at home there. His love for all was His religion.

    I can’t imagine a servant of Christ who does not feel the same way. They might claim to be a servant but building exclusivity into their churches and groups is not serving God at all. It is only building a liturgical life saving club that saves no lives.

    We might feel the pressure to come back to the club so that we can remain safe and secure and in the club and its policies, but people are still in danger of drowning on the outside. Sadly, unless club members realize their exclusivity, they too are in danger of drowning in their own pools.

    I used to drive my kids into the city(NYC) to look at life. It shocked them, to see the dumpster divers, the bums on the subway grates where the heat rises in the winter, the panhandlers, the prostitutes and so on. I wanted them to see the other. As they saw societies so called worst, they were not afraid to see the rest of society; people anywhere anytime. They saw it and have never forgotten it. They are not afraid of it nor do they attempt to hold it off at a distance. I hope they do not become what they see, but become servants of a God who see’s what they see.

    I appreciate you as a pathfinder in this love affair with your larger community.

  9. Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

    Thanks everyone for the great comments.

    @Ryan, you are right, this is just a description and not a prescription. Bringing groups together is what Jesus was all about. However, @beenthere is correct in the assessment that there are people who will fight to the death to keep us from changing their worldview.

    Thank you @kmcdade for your comments. I think you’ve clearly stated the unhappiness of those who are unchurched, yet are still seeking God.

    @robnlori Thank you for diving in and representing the more secular viewpoint.

    Stay tuned for the next installment

  10. Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

    @martyt7 Thanks for sharing. While it should be inconceivable for any follower of Jesus to not make their place in society, unfortunately, that is the norm, not the exception.

    There are multiple reasons for that:

    1) The Church/Clergy has done a poor job of keeping the laity involved in the “work” of the church as outlined by Jesus.

    2) People are inherently scared to step out of their comfort zones.

    The purpose of my discussion is to discover ways around, through, or over these challenges. How can we move past the reality and into the future?

  11. martyt7 said,

    I think your comments above are largely true and your last statement is on target.

    I’m convinced that our members want to see the church grow and maintain good health. But they are living in their comfort zones and they are afraid to venture out of them. This is of course the same problem that the disciples had. Jesus answer was discipleship.

    He did, they watched
    He did most of it, they did a little
    He did a little, they did a lot
    They did, He watched.

    That is the transfer of discipleship. Our members want to see Jesus in action and then they can begin to model Him. That’s why pastors cannot continue to do the ministry on their own, they must share every part of it with willing members. They must disciple them.

  12. Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

    Interesting perspective @marty7. I’m not so convinced that the members of churches are interested in creating an exclusive club of like people. I think there are some who express some interest in healthy growth, but I’m not sure they are willing to pay the price for that growth.

    In fact, I see more interest, and less fear, of spiritual matters outside of Christianity – and this is where the paradox washes over me. I joined a spiritual community, in order to grow in my faith, but I’m finding that community restricts my growth. On the other hand, as certain readers of this blog can attest, that my unchurched friends can be very inspiring – plus, they give me the freedom to be myself.

    When I talk about deep spiritual matters in church, people look at me like I have a third arm growing out of my nose. I’ve actually had people tell me to stop the “God Talk.” However, I can be very authentic in the day-to-day world and people are fine with me talking about how God talks to me.

    Just so paradoxical…

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