Spirtuality


I had a challenging…disturbing…slightly ‘hot’ conversation with an old friend recently. She’s great lady who has a deep faith. We came to heads over a few things but I felt particularly ‘miffed’ when she appealed for me to ‘come back to the old way’ to ‘interpret the bible the right way’ (my interpretation of her words). I felt like I was being called back to a faith I had that was very isolationist and exclusive, excluding ‘sinners’ and people of other religions, people who are not like heterosexual me, not welcoming of difference. I felt a feeling that my faith had shifted in some way. No, I’m no universalist. I just feel we can spend our time and energy as believers highlighting ‘difference, and wrong’ rather than pointing out common ground and places of connection. Then today I read these words by Richard Rohr in a daily reflection that encouraged me. Maybe they will you, or even unsettle you, who knows;

As we’ve explored over the last several weeks—through reflections on the Cosmic Christ, Nature, and the Perennial Tradition—there is no meaningful separation between sacred and secular, physical and psychic, human and divine. They are two sides of one coin. There is within every being an inherent longing for and capacity to experience this union. Everything really does “belong” because all things are finally connected to the same Creator and thus to one another. We bear a family resemblance, as it were!

Why then are humans so prone to excluding and separating? Why do we spend so much time deciding who does not belong in our religious, political, and personal worlds? How can we get everything to belong in our own heads and hearts?

Let’s first understand this: Humans have a deep and legitimate need for an identity inside of this huge cosmos. To develop a healthy ego, we must differentiate and individuate; we must know we’re special and find a place where we are loved and where we belong without needing to prove ourselves. This is our launch pad. [1]

Ken Wilber suggests that religion has two very important and different functions to support human development. First, religion creates meaning for the separate self. [2] It offers myths and rituals that help us make sense of and endure what Shakespeare would call “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” You need to first feel special and chosen to launch beyond yourself. This feels like a paradox, but it really isn’t. It is the nature of all growth.

But if we stop at this level we do not come to higher levels of consciousness, love, or transformation. For that we need the function of mature spirituality (which I’ll discuss tomorrow). Many people stop at this first stage of fortifying the separate self. Being part of a superior group, ethnicity, or class, and having correct religious or moral beliefs often becomes a cover for remaining basically selfish and narcissistic. Such folks end up re-enacting the first half of life over and over again, perpetuating exclusion and violence to protect their small field of self.

Some kind of law, structure, loyalty, and a sense of chosenness (very old fashioned virtues) are usually necessary to create a strong ego “container” and this is the appropriate task of “the first half of life.” We see God, for example, forming special covenants with the people of Israel and giving them many laws, which finally show themselves to be quite arbitrary and sometimes even destructive if taken too seriously.

Good parents do everything they can to validate and affirm their child’s specialness, which ideally gives children the dignity and self-confidence to move beyond the need for outer sources of belonging and identity. Now that is a paradox! A good parent (or any leader) eventually puts himself or herself out of a job.

Unfortunately, many people never move beyond the need for more infilling and never get to the outpouring which should be the natural result of a healthy ego. Basically, they never get to love. As long as they remain in this self-enclosed and self-referential position, all “otherness” is a threat to their specialness. They will need to prove and make sure that others do not belong, so they can hold center stage. They spend their whole life protecting their boundaries, which isn’t much of a life. The container becomes the substitute for the contents.

 

project-manager-or-scapegoat

Blaming people is as old as history. The poetic stories surrounding the creation account found in Judaeo/Christian writing shows the story of God asking Adam, “who ate the forbidden fruit?”

It was the woman who you put here, it’s her fault!” (Man has blamed God or women for most of their issues since…I’m told ;-))

There is the ancient Hebrew story of sacrificial goats, one is killed and the blood poured on the other which is sent out to die in the wilderness, representing the taking away of blame and guilt of the people. This is where we get the term ‘scapegoat‘.

  • Mobs and individuals have ‘scapegoated’, laid blame on, (not just) innocent people forever.
  • Kids in the playgrounds gang up and bully the ‘looser’.
  • Insecure bosses lay their ‘issues’ on a worker,
  • Workers gang up and lay their blame on a peer.  
  • We often seek to blame and shame/scapegoat through gossip and criticism.

It’s feels easier than owning it, easier than dealing with our ‘shit’ – just lay it on someone else and I feel better…for a while. This happens in mobs from Egypt to Baghdad, it happens in workplaces from New York to Balcatta.

The cross of Christ was all about scapegoating, the Romans and Jews all had something to lay on him, but as it turns out, all of man-kind did. Violence seems to be our default position, this was exposed in the cross of Christ. “No more”…is what the cross says.

When we own our insecurities, when we discover the pointlessness of the ‘blame game’, the pointlessness of repeated violence, when we grow in awareness of our ‘murderous ways’ – then and only then do we really get along and get some serious living done!

6a00e54ecc070b883301b7c78443ea970b-115wiBeyond the Walls by Brad Chilcott

Who would’ve thought that one photo could cause so much trouble?

It wasn’t the first time I’d been criticized for my friendship and solidarity with the Muslim community, in fact I’d had some threats of violence when I spoke up about Halal certification but this one took it another level. Had I renounced the gospel? Sure, being friends with Muslims, but praying in a mosque? Did I even believe in Jesus anymore? The beard didn’t help any.

Had I taken the instructions “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love your enemy” too literally? Too far?

1 John 3. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

We know what loves looks like by only one measure. Jesus Christ. We only know what loves looks like because we know Jesus and what it looked like for him.

And if I had a Bible for every time I’ve heard a Christian use their love for everyone as an excuse to be bigoted, hateful, insular, selfish, fear-mongering, greedy and self- interested I’d be the library at the Vatican.

You’ve heard it like I have. This flippant Christianese about loving people for whom we hold our deepest prejudices and ugliest hatreds.

Let me say this –

If it sounds like hate, feels like hate and makes people feel hated then it’s certainly not love

There’s not some special form of love that only Christians get to know about that looks and feels a lot more like hate for those that it is directed towards, but in some super spiritual secret way is still love.

If it looks like prejudice, feels like prejudice and keeps us as far away from people as prejudice does, then it’s prejudice.

There’s not a special form of Christian love that looks like prejudice, feels like prejudice and distances and dehumanises people like prejudice but in actual fact is some secret kind of love that only Christians know of.

There’s no special kind of love where you get to be horrible to people, or pretend they don’t exist, a kind of love where you stay in your insular and ignorant world, judge people you’ve never met, protect yourself from difference and religiously maintain your privileged way of life and self-righteously sheltered paradigm.

There’s a reason that doesn’t sound a lot like love.

Because it isn’t love. It’s prejudice wrapped up in faith.

It’s ignorance wrapped up in religion.

It’s bigotry masquerading as Christianity.

It’s selfishness appropriating the name of the selfless one to excuse greed and insularity.

It’s our rampant desire for a comfortable, self-interested life using the one who gave up the trappings of heaven to set us free as an excuse not to give a damn about anyone except ourselves, our situation and our perspective.

That’s not love it’s blasphemy.

But seeing as that little rant doesn’t relate to anyone here in this room I want to move on and talk about some things that are a bit more insidious, a bit less overt and obvious but are nevertheless important to reflect upon if we are to apply this wild measure of love to our work in the community and world.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us.” There’s a CS Lewis quote that I find helpful to explain it in practice

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” ―C.S. Lewis

Another way of putting that could be “good intentions are not the same thing as love”.

Why? Because if we don’t do the hard work of turning good intentions into real outcomes for people then it’s likely that the “good” in “good intentions” is more about how good we feel about what we’re doing.

There’s a danger that we’re in fact congratulating ourselves for the intention to do good deeds, the videos we made to celebrate them and the likes on our Instagram account of ourselves with poor children rather than doing whatever it takes for the good of the people we say we love.

The phrase in CS Lewis’ quote “As far as it can be obtained” is key for us, I think. Love seeks the ultimate good of the loved person “as far as it can be obtained”.

Here are some very practical things that love does when love has the intention to work for the “ultimate good … as far as it can be obtained”.

1. Love intentionally escapes the echo chamber. In love we realise that it is easy to be surrounded by people, ideas, books and stories that affirm what we believe, the way we think, our theology, missiology and ecclesiology and we end up in a situation where we think anyone who isn’t doing it like us, or with us, must be naive, uneducated or willfully incompetent.

The echo chamber is when we find a bunch of like-minded churches, with similar culture to our own, and so do what they’re doing – it must be the right thing because they had a sick video and their people love it.

Love is not an excuse to be uneducated, or narrowly educated. Love is a steady wish for the loved one’s good as far as it can be obtained. As far as it can be obtained means being aware of the danger of the echo chamber where all our ideas, practices and projects are constantly being affirmed by those who we have become mirrors of.

2. Love is teachable and actively seeks out learning and critique. Love makes sure we’re at the cutting edge of community engagement, aid and development and have made every endeavor to learn from the best practitioners in the world about how to maximize our engagement with the people we say we love.

Love is not an excuse to do things badly. Love is not an excuse to be ten years behind. What I mean by this is that love won’t just send money, people and hours to any foreign aid and development project, or local community development work, driven by an emotional response we call love.

Love will, in seeking the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained, actively seek to understand what it world’s best practice today and invest in that best practice.

If you don’t know what results-based accountability, asset-based community development or collective impact mean, it’s time to learn.

When we’re still behaving like the white Saviours who can solve all the world’s problems for them the photos look great but It’s not love.

3. Love maximizes outcomes no matter what the cost – because it’s about the recipient and what they get out of our love acting towards them and not about us and our desire to feel like we’re good people.

In a small church community like mine, hundreds of people hours and thousands of dollars are invested in helping the people we love. In larger churches it’d be thousands of hours and tens or hundreds of thousands.

Across this room, across Australia, it’s incredible to think how much human and financial resource flows from our love for others.

Love, seeking the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained, pays the price of ensuring this investment does the most good it possibly can. That sometimes leads to conflict when we learn that our favorite projects aren’t aligned with good development principles, or that our community engagement isn’t helping but is feeding a dependency mindset.

Love sometimes means educating people that there are better organisations, projects, activities to invest their time and money into, and others that need to be abandoned, or radically re-imagined.

Love is not an excuse to avoid the conflict that comes from assessment, accountability and education. In fact, love makes those things essential because love doesn’t ask, “How does this activity benefit me and my church?” or “How does this keep people in my church happy and comfortable?” love says, “How can I best obtain the ultimate good for these people we say we love?”

This is how we know what love is – Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. What would you give up for love of people?

Changing the way it’s always been done? Escaping the echo chamber and being challenged by new ideas and paradigms? Being willing to take your people on a journey towards world’s best practice despite the uncomfortable changes on the way?

Maybe it’s risking your reputation, like Jesus being seen with sex workers, tax collectors and sinners as we do whatever it takes to make our community engagement about them and not about us and our church-culture measures of success.

This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. Thanks.

Brad Chilcott

[Source: World Vision’s National Church Leader’s Summit – February 2015]

 

The Federal Government are reviewing the funding of Chaplaincy in schools around Australia. Mission Australia chaplains were asked to comment on the white paper. My comments were sent in via an email, but not included in our final submission, I didn’t get feedback, maybe they were not in line with the overall MA feedback.  But my comments were similar to this article I read recently from an ABC website by Scott Stephens.

No government funds, please: we’re

Christians!

There is no surer way of bringing the simmering debate about the role of religion in Australia to a full boil than by invoking the money and tax concessions given by government to fund certain religious activities. In no time, what already tends to be a fairly uncivil argument devolves into bitter invective against the supposedly theocratic designs of the churches from one side, and dismissive assertions of a kind of historically legitimate Christian “exceptionalism” from the other.

I believe that both extremes in this debate are wrong: the “secularists” because they assume that once religion is removed from public-political life, and consigned to interiority (where they assume it belongs, if anywhere), the secular space that is left will be neutral, benign and inherently just; and the Christian “exceptionalists” because they think that God’s providential care of the world can be mediated through political coercion, and because they do not believe that being on the payroll of the State is hazardous to the soul of Christianity itself… [read full article here]

It not be significant to many, but I thought it worth a mention. I finished a book this morning by Richard Louv. The book was called Last Child in the Woods. The significant part is that Richard (a guy who lives in the USA) is in Perth just for this morning speaking at a conference! Anyway I did not get to hear him but I finished his book instead. It was a great read for all people interested in the benefits of growing up with the outdoors in your blood. Good for teachers and parents and lovers of wild things and spirituality! Here’s what Louv’s website says of the book ;

n this influential work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation—he calls it nature-deficit—to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.

I think Matty B emailed this to me once. I now must be reading a book he was reading then and so I too have come across this great quote, and I publish it for you (probably again, I am sure I put it in here once before!)

Parker J Palmer says;

…the soul is [ ] shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance. We may see it only briefly and only out of the corner of an eye – but the sight is a gift we will always treasure as an end in itself.

A Hidden Wholeness (58/9)

Question of the Day:
What is it that makes the universe friendly?

St. Bonaventure (1221– 1274) took Francis’ intuitive genius and spelled it out into an entire philosophy.

God is “within all things but not enclosed; outside all things but not excluded; above all things but not aloof; below all things, but not debased.” Bonaventure was the first to speak of God as one “whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

Therefore “the origin, magnitude, multitude, beauty, fullness, activity and order of all created things” are the very “footprints” and “fingerprints” (vestigia) of God, according to this Doctor of the Church. Now that is quite a lovely and a very safe universe to live in. Welcome home!

Adapted from Hope Against Darkness, Richard Rohr (p. 136)

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