Progressive Christianity

Since I didn’t preach this Sunday, let me offer a few thoughts on a controversy that has come to my attention.anti-progressive-xnity-banner-440x330 In Fountain Hills, Arizona, there are eight churches from the Fountain Hills Ministerial Association who have joined together to attack (my word, they claim they are just answering questions regarding the difference between “true Biblical Christianity” and “Progressive Christianity”) the one progressive church, The Fountains United Methodist Church, in their midst. These eight churches have taken out advertising and posted banners that say: “Progressive” Christianity: Fact or Fiction. And on May 17 they started preaching a six-week sermon series with messages like “Why does it matter that the Bible is Reliable?”, “Why Does it Matter That Jesus is God?” and “Why Does it Matter That Jesus Was Born of a Virgin?”

Honestly, I take my hat off to Pastor David Felten and the congregation of The Fountains UMC. They stepped out of the traditional, conservative, Christian box to allow people to question, explore and evolve and they did it well enough to scare a whole bunch of folks into defending themselves and their ancient belief structures. Why should this scare anyone? Because questioning rocks the very foundations of belief systems. If the Bible isn’t inerrant (never mind the mental gymnastics required to accept the many contradictions in a literal reading of Scripture), then how does one know what is true and what isn’t? If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin (never mind that neither Jesus, Paul or the author of Mark says anything about this) then the church has been lying to us for centuries, and what else didn’t really happen?

As far as I know, Sacred Journeys is the only Christian community in the Racine area that advertises itself as “progressive.” What does that mean? In a nutshell it means these things:

  • We take the Bible seriously, not literally.
  • We welcome and encourage questions and exploration of our faith journeys
  • We believe that other world religions are valid paths to the Divine and that we can learn from them
  • We are okay with many expressions, names, and understandings of the Divine
  • We are an inclusive community where all (yes, all) people are welcome and accepted (not tolerated) as sacred
  • We know that all life is interconnected and strive to reach out in mission, ministry and social justice to heal and enhance these connections
  • We believe that God is still speaking, that the Divine is not only around us, but within us, and that psychology and spirituality are intimately connected.

What we will not do is tell you what you must believe in order to be a Christian. We will not burden you with fear-based theology laden with guilt and shame. And we will not give you a set of hoops to jump through in order to get to Heaven (most of us don’t believe in hell, except in a figurative sense.)

While no one really like confrontation, I’m hopeful that this confrontation happening in Fountain Hills will bring more exposure to Progressive Christianity. Hopefully the word will spread that there is more than one way of being Christian. The movement began long ago, but perhaps this will spur growth and interest. I believe the tide is turning and you can’t put the squeeze cheese back in the can. Change is coming. Change is here. We are that change.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Death by Familiarity

That something is familiar seems like it should be a good thing. We’re more comfortable in familiar surroundings with familiar people. We can relax. We know what to expect. But John O’Donohue, in his book Anam Cara, suggests that maybe being familiar with something isn’t always the best thing. He asserts, “When we are familiar with something, we lose the energy, edge, and excitement of it… Familiarity enables us to tame, control, and ultimately forget the mystery.”

Sad, but I think, true.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

When I was in churches with buildings, I remember that some of the advice about making sure visitors felt welcome was to either put yourself in the place of the visitor and try to see things with new eyes. Or better yet, have someone you knew and trusted, but who had not been to your church, visit one Sunday, walk through the building and report back. You see, we got so used to seeing the same space every day or every week, that we didn’t see it anymore. Did things look worn out? We didn’t notice it. Were there outdated notices on the bulletin board? Were there piles of crap around – lost hats and mittens that had been sitting there for 6 months? We didn’t even see them anymore.

When you start a new job you notice all sorts of things that you think could be improved. You mention them, but no one else sees the problem, or the opportunity. They are fine with everything just the way it is, while you are questioning, “Why do we do this and why do we do that?” You may be able to make some changes before you succumb to the familiarity of the place. But eventually you are sucked in as you become more and more familiar with the place, and then you don’t see the need for change either. It’s like a drug that wears off the excitement and the edge.

The same thing happens with relationships. At the beginning you are excited to learn everything you can about another person. You ask lots of questions, have great conversations. But then once you become familiar, your conversations become maintenance and maybe even superficial. How’s it going? How are your kids? How’s work?

And when it comes to a partnership relationship, it can be even worse. You can get to a point where you don’t even need to talk because you believe you know how the other will respond in any given circumstance. You know their history, you’ve been with them 30-40-50 years, what is there to talk about? But the big question is: do we really know them anymore? What are they thinking? What are they worried about? Who are they at their core.

O’Donohue says we lose the wildness and mystery about the person. We’ve reduced them to what we see and what we know, believing that we know it all.

It makes sense to be that we are apt do the same thing with God.

Let me tell you how I got here.

In the Christian calendar, there is one Sunday that is designated “Trinity Sunday.” So, there are churches all over the place reading passages like the one we read yesterday which lift up the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our Inclusive Bible is a little different and says, “Abba God, and of the Only Begotten, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I have never preached on the Trinity, because the traditional concept of the Trinity simply frustrates me. trinity 2I was looking for images of the Trinity on the internet for our Facebook Cover photo, and you know what I found? Pictures of an old white man with a beard (God the Father), a young white guy with a beard (Jesus, the Son) and a dove (Holy Spirit). Or it was a picture of three men (never-mind that the Spirit was feminine).The word Trinity is not in the Bible, but the concept developed throughout the years. Matthew is in step with late first-century Syrian Christianity that is developing these rudiments into liturgical formulas. Trinitarian doctrine states that there is only one God, but these three persons, or substances exist consubstantially. They are co-equal and co-eternal.

As my theology has moved further and further from being theistic to being non-theistic, I’ve had an even harder time with the Trinity.

Then last week, one of Richard Rohr’s (priest, theologian and contemplative) daily email messages was on the Trinity. After reading his reflection, I realized that I’d become so familiar with the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that I’d stopped seeing the more expansive understanding. I’d taken the wildness and the mystery out of the concept… with the help of the church and tradition.

Rohr talks about how the Eastern church saw the Trinity as an Infinite Dynamic Flow (I love that), while the western church had a more static view, which he said may have been “theologically ‘correct’ but largely irrelevant for real life, more a mathematical conundrum than invitation to new consciousness.”

Western theology has tried to rationalize the Trinity, to cement the doctrine into place. And they’ve succeeded. They’ve made the Trinity thoroughly familiar and, in my opinion thoroughly irrelevant and not understandable. Who exactly is God the Father? Who is Jesus now that he’s elevated to one person of the Trinity? And most confusing and least talked about… what or who, really, is the Holy Spirit?

If we do what Rohr suggests and look creatively at the Trinity, if we see it with new eyes as metaphorical of how God works in the world. In Rohr’s words, “Trinity invites us to interactively experience God as transpersonal (“Father”), personal (“Christ”), and impersonal (“Holy Spirit”)–all being true in different stages of life.”

I’d take this even one step further, because some of us need to look at this even broader and in a less theistic way, and suggest that the Trinity relates to us the mysterious way that the Divine is transcendent, yet personal, yet immanent all at the same time. In other words, God is bigger, greater than and beyond all things, yet personal, yet is also present within and around us every moment.

In this, for me, the Trinity now becomes more relevant. We’ve moved beyond static names to concepts, to mystery. This takes us back to the edge where things are not set in concrete, but speak inherently of flow, of being, of movement and presence.

I’ve focused on the Trinity, but there are many other ways that God is in danger of dying by familiarity. Whenever one believes they no longer need to learn, grow and ask questions about God, we become stagnant and stuck. If we believe we know all that we need to know about the Divine, our relationship with God will experience a death by familiarity.

Still, let me emphasize that the message for today is over-arching… yes, it is about God, but it is about everything that has become too familiar that we don’t really see it anymore.

Look into the eyes of those you love and see them again as if for the first time. Sense the deep mystery of their soul that lies within… don’t assume to know it all, but set out to learn, to explore, to not take for granted.

Look around at your house, your yard, your workplace… what has become so familiar that you don’t see it anymore?

Live life with curiosity, with the sense that what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Recover the edge, the excitement and the energy of life. Find the wildness and the mystery in your relationships with yourself, with God and with one another.

Love & Light,

Kaye

 

 

 

 

Love in action and truth

Jesus stood clearly on the side of the disinherited – the outcast, the sick, the poor, the disabled, the marginalized, and the oppressed. CLEARLY. Why has that attitude and behavior seeped down to every last Christian?LoveInAction-logo-1

In 2012, 77% of adults in the U.S. identified as Christians. Why has that not created a world of peace, love and equality?

I know we’re not supposed to “should,” but it seems to me that in a primarily Christian country, we should not be having race riots. Women and men should be equally valued. Our LGBT youth should not be bullied. Children should not be beaten, starved and sold into sex trafficking. In a primarily Christian country we should pride ourselves on our ability to work out our problems peacefully, we should be work toward understanding and accepting our differences, we should err on the side of love.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

I am sad to say that it seems the prevailing impression of Christians out there today is that we are judgmental, rigid, and stuck in a belief structure that is no longer relevant. We may be for the poor, but we are not for women, women’s equality, or women’s right to choose. We are not for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks… not to mention queer, intersex and asexual. We are not for the immigrant, nor do we value other religious paths. How did that happen? Because Jesus, his teachings and his example had nothing to do with that. And, frankly, I’m thinking of coining a new name for us Christians who don’t fit this description. Maybe we’ll be the Neo-Christians.

At the last church I served, there were folks who wanted to just be a “middle-of-the-road” church. Jesus wasn’t EVER middle of the road. He was very clear about what side of the road he stood on and that was clearly with the disinherited. I have no doubt that if he were to show up today, he’d be working to reform Christianity and take it back to its roots in the spirit of love, the same way he was trying to get Judaism back to its roots in the spirit of love.

You know all this, I know, I’m preaching to the choir.

But I know that you and I aren’t perfect either.

Last week in our scripture reading from John 15, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Live in me as I live in you.”  Completely distilled down it is as simple as live in love. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Period. Jesus didn’t call names. Jesus didn’t judge. Jesus didn’t throw stones.

First John 3:18 this week says “our love must not be simply words or mere talk – it must be true love, which shows itself in action and truth.”

Love in action and truth. BE love and give it authentically from your heart. That is what Jesus did. To the end. That in and of itself is the most amazing miracle.

Love in action and truth – that is what we struggle with every day of our lives. (Or, at least I do and I’m assuming you do, too, so I don’t feel so alone.) I know the good person I want to be, but I find that I’m not always who I want to be.

What is the struggle? Why is it so hard to come consistently from a place of love?

These are some of the answers I’ve come up with:

  • We have become jaded and critical and we’ve learned not to trust.
  • We believe the worst in people instead of the best.
  • We fear for our safety and the safety of others.
  • We are afraid that if we reach out we’ll be rejected, or betrayed.
  • We retreat to a safe distance where we then give money which is less risky.
  • We don’t get involved, we don’t get to know others’ stories. We don’t want to know. We could call it selfishness… but it hurts too much and we feel too helpless.

Still, we can’t stop trying. That’s what Jesus would say, “Live in me as I live in you. Ground yourself in my example. In my relationship with God. In my love of others.  Love in action and truth.”

The first, and perhaps biggest step to doing this is not to live in isolation. We need to open to other people’s stories, to listen to their pain. Remember that everyone has some struggle in their lives. If we lead with that foot forward, with the assumption that we never know the full story, never see the closet full of hurts someone is keeping under lock and key, we will lead more often with love and compassion than with skepticism, criticism and fear. And perhaps if we listened, we might begin to build bridges.

 

We can’t just say it. We need to live it. In action and truth. Then all might know the Divine through each of us.

Peace & Love,

Kaye

 

 

Stay Connected

I finally got rid of the power strip under my desk that I plug my laptop into and got a new one. Why? Because there was something wrong with the cord and the power would cut out if it was moved the wrong way (and I tend to kick it a lot with my feet). It was unreliable. I need a stable, constant supply of power and energy to my laptop or I can’t function in my job or my life. (Sad, but true.)

The same thing can be said about my connection with the Divine. For me to function at my best, when I feel most balanced and at peace, I need a open stream of energy from the Source. I tend to be the bad cord in my own analogy. Some days I maintain a pretty stable connection, other days I lose it. I get distracted, I get caught up in fear and worry, I get sucked into someone else’s drama or negativity, I get too busy, and then it is gone. I tend not to realize it right away. Like my laptop, I have a battery that keeps it running for a bit without more power, and then suddenly I’m down to a 10% battery!

(For the full audio version, click here.)

In John 15, Jesus tells us that he is like the vine and we are the branches and Grapevinesencourages us to stay connected. To stay connected means that we are self-aware enough to know when we are not connected and then do what we need to do to reconnect. This is where Jesus also suggests that some pruning might be good for us and help us to produce more “fruit.”

I’m not terribly keen on the pruning part of the metaphor… but I think the oversensitive part of me reads it like: “God is cutting off parts of us that aren’t good enough… our sinful parts.” Julie and I have a pretty big yard, and we do lots of work in it. Pruning is not my favorite thing… it just seems wrong to cut something that is growing and alive. But I know that in order for trees and plants to grow and be healthy some pruning has to happen. All the little sucker branches have to be cut off. I’m not the expert, but we help the trees and plants produce more if we help direct the energy and get rid of the parts that don’t serve it well.

So, if I’m really connected to the Divine, then I will see clearly that there are certain things in my life that do not serve me well. It may be a negative person in my life, it may be a volunteer project I’ve taken on that isn’t suited for me, it may be my job, it may be an attitude I have, or a fear or worry I am obsessing about. Staying connected meant that I am paying attention to those sucker branches that sap the energy from me and I take steps to let them go.

If you could prune one thing what would it be? Is there a valid reason you’re holding back (because I know we all hold back on these things)? Self-reflection about this stuff is important for our spiritual growth.

Here’s one more piece for the metaphor…

In Secrets of the Vine, Bruce Wilkinson shares an insight that he learned from a vineyard owner in Southern California: “New branches have a natural tendency to trail down and down along the ground, but they don’t bear fruit down there. When branches grow along the ground, the leaves get coated in dust. Then when it rains, they get muddy and mildewed, and the branch becomes sick and useless

“What do you do?” asked Wilkinson, “Cut it off and throw it away?

“Oh, NO!” he exclaimed. “The branch is much too valuable for that. We go through the vineyard with a bucket of water, looking for those branches. We lift them up and wash them off. Then we wrap them around the trellis or tie them up. Pretty soon they’re thriving.”

Sometimes there are valuable parts of our lives that we’ve neglected or let go. They may be people or things that lift us up, places where we feel freedom and joy, or spiritual parts of us we’d like to reclaim and reintegrate into our being. Just do it! This is important, as well, to our spiritual health and wholeness.

It’s all about staying connected to that which is expansive and life-giving.

Blessings,

Kaye