Monthly Archives: March 2009

Integrating Evolution and Spirituality

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Have you seen this icon on a bumper sticker lately? In the past, I found it to be totally offensive. I saw it as a desecration of an ancient Christian symbol and the breastplate for the “liberal agenda”. I’ve since changed most of these viewpoints and interestingly enough, Christians may be on the way to embracing this symbol as a whole. Convincing scientific evidence, logic, and a holistic approach to Biblical interpretation have been shedding new light on the way we understand the Theory of Evolution as people of faith.

Lately I’ve began to study those who have integrated Evolution into their spirituality. Growing up with a strict and literal seven day creation approach, this has been a challenging task for me. A few weeks ago, I heard Fr. Thomas Keating speak and he was incredibly fluent on the topic. He talked about how consciousness is a new thing in the mammal species, and since thought is seen as light or a spark of the divine in spiritual/philosophical terms, evolution can be seen as one long process which is bringing creation closer and closer to divinity. Anyhow, it’s a challenging paradigm to shift so if anyone knows of any solid resources on the subject, please let me know.

“Long live Gravity!”

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JS favorite Wendell Berry is having some of his poems put on stage! Here’s the story and below is an excerpt from the poem, Some Further Words. Berry’s critique of western progress is staggering. As always, he procures incredible insight with a sort of blunt wisdom that reaches beyond rhetoric and our flimsy presuppositions. 

The world is babbled to pieces after
the divorce of things from their names.
Ceaseless preparation for war
is not peace. Health is not procured
by sale of medication, or purity
by the addition of poison. Science
at the bidding of the corporations
is knowledge reduced to merchandise;
it is a whoredom of the mind,
and so is the art that calls this “progress.”
So is the cowardice that calls it “inevitable.”

 Written decades ago, the poem is incredibly poignant, mystical, and even prophetic:

When I hear the stock market has fallen, 
I say, “Long live gravity! Long live 
stupidity, error and greed in the palaces 
of fantasy capitalism!” I think 
an economy should be based on thrift, 
on taking care of things, not on theft, 
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin. 
My purpose is a language that can make us whole, 
Though mortal, ignorant, and small. 
The world is whole beyond human knowing.

(Painting by Robert Shetterly)

Richard Rohr and Robert Bly

179717As the two sat side by side on stage at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul MN,  it was obvious there was a little more than just good chemistry happening. Renowned poet Robert Bly was playful, inquisitive, and witty; often offering poetry from various authors, reading each poem a couple times. Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr was thoughtful, tender, and intent about communicating clearly the intricacies of the soul. Together they were a magical duo. They packed the auditorium, often taking input and questions from the crowd. Anyhow, if you are interested, here are some highlights from the notes I took:

Rohr: Wherever you find the place where you realize there is more than your ego- that is the soul’s initiation. Our soul’s journey will not begin until our first world has fallen apart.

The Soul knows not by knowing, but by presence, naked presence. Pure presence is wisdom.

Quoting Emily Dickenson: “Tell the truth, but tell it slants.” You understand truth on its edges, or not at all.

Responding to a question where someone wondered how a person prevents from getting stuck on the “decent”, Rohr pointed out that any authentic decent innately includes the essential elements needed for authentic ascent. They are interconnected- during a real decent, the spirit is already conspiring for a real ascent. We find these principles in the resurrection story. 

Everything that happened to Jesus must happen to the soul. 

Rohr spent some time talking about “liminal space” as this place in between rooms, where all transformation happens. Speaking of spiritual direction: What you do as a spiritual director is teach people to stay in the new room. Faith is not about believing in propositional truths, it is about learning to stay on the threshold and being patient with mystery. 

bly1At one point Bly asked Rohr to talk about the differences between soul and spirit. This made for a lively discussion with lots of participation from the audience. Rohr spoke of the soul as the decent, and the spirit as the ascent. Many times the soul is forged out of suffering and sorrow. It is very individual to us, our specific blueprint or DNA. The spirit connects us to the big picture- God, humanity, and earth. Here we find universal truth, clarity, and expression. Here are some metaphors that were give by both the crowd and the speakers: 

Soul is inhale, spirit is exhale.

Soul is receptor, spirit is animator. 

Soul is crucifixion, spirit is resurrection. 

 

 

Sorry for the randomness of the notes, there was a lot to take in during the two-hour session. All in all, it was an amazing time to learn more about the journey of the soul from two articulate and incredibly spiritually attuned people.

Also, I personally haven’t read much of Bly in the past and I would love some recommendations to get me started!

Father Rohr on the Emerging Church Movement

For those of you following the recent “Why I’m An Evangelical” posts on JS, here are some interesting thoughts from Fr. Richard Rohr on the characteristics of the Emerging Church movement. A friend spotted this video on emergentvillage.com today and I thought it was very relevant to some of our recent discussions, especially his point that the “new community mechanisms can make this [new reformation] possible, because we don’t want to form a new denomination”. It seems to be a strategy for spiritual formation for the religious institutions themselves. 

Why I’m An Evangelical, Part 2

As Americans, we have countless and endless choices in front of us. We love to talk about freedom and opportunity. We have the “right” to choose whatever we want, when we want it. But how has this so called freedom impacted our religious institutions? I wonder if it has in fact stunted the spiritual development of the institutions themselves. I think this is especially true for the Evangelical Church. 

Most Evangelicals are very particular about the community in which they choose to worship. They need to hear the right music, be in the right building, have an entertaining sermon, and agree with every little bit of theology. Enter one or two people that you just can’t seem to get along with and its over. I along with many others have been guilty of finding one little fault in a church and using it as an excuse to leave and find a new one. Generally I think this turns into a dysfunctional pattern which continuously repeats itself. Pretty soon our churches become revolving doors where everyone is either coming or going and nobody really knows each other. I can’t imagine a more futile place to experience spiritual formation or authentic worship.

What if church was so much more than having all of the ducks in a row? And what happens when people (like you and me) get frustrated and leave our congregations? What would it look like for you to stay at a church where you hated the music but you loved the people? What would it look like for you to stay at a church where you hated the people and you realized that was actually in direct contrast to the Gospel? What would it look like to stop pointing fingers and practice some introspection?

One of the pastors at my church says that any two people can make a marriage work– as long as they refuse to quit. That doesn’t mean passively and mindlessly continuing a dead marriage with dead patterns and a loss of love. I think it means professional counseling, painful conversations, confrontation, tenderness, compromise, and change. It means actual hard work. 

I wonder if the same could be true with our relationship to church. If we just keep church hopping and denomination swapping then no one experiences transformation. We aren’t talking about our favorite restaurant or department store here; we are talking about real communities with real people who live real lives. 

With a resolute commitment to being an active and loving presence, doing our best to embody the character of Jesus, we need renew our dedication to the communities in which we worship. This will not only change the character of our religious institutions, but as with most things in the kingdom, it will be the best place for us to grow as well.

Why I’m An Evangelical

Over the past few years I’ve toyed with the idea of converting to a different Christian denomination. There are a lot of obvious reasons which prompted this desire: watching friends/family convert and having transformative experiences, resonating with other theological views (i.e. Liberation Theology), wanting a connection to ancient spiritual practices and liturgy (as found in Eastern Orthodoxy), and most importantly– searching for a place where I could raise my daughter around people who really knew how to love each other and the world around them. 

If you’re like me and have considered such a move, here’s a few good reasons to stick around:

1. The Evangelical Church seems to be on a threshold. Older right wing and conservative leaders are either dying or retiring. Focus on the Family is a great example of an organization that seems to be on the decline and garnering less influence (as evidenced by the last presidential election), while groups like Sojourners seems to be on the rise. Individuals such as Shane Claiborne and Richard Rohr are gaining more and more of a voice– emphasizing ecumenism, contemplation, and social action.

2. The Evangelical’s spirituality is deepening. We are learning and practicing exercises such as lectio divina, centering prayer, and even how to walk a labyrinth. Our spirituality is becoming more than just praying for a parking spot. Thanks to Parker Palmer, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, and others, we are developing a language to articulate the ways of the soul. Its no longer about whether or not your going to hell. Its no longer some flimsy how-to guide on getting into heaven. We’re starting to care about real spiritual growth.

3. We are becoming less evangelical, or better said, we are proselytizing less. We are trying harder to love people without an agenda (as Rob Bell would say) and are less concerned with trying to fix people through religious conversion. We are developing a greater respect for other religions and are seeing how they can also be followers of Jesus.

4. Two of the biggest issues that need attention in the Evangelical Church are the acceptance of the homosexual identity and feminine equality. Holy smokes there’s a lot of work ahead of us here, but there are quite a few younger Evangelicals who have a lot of energy around these issues and there seems to be some possibility for positive change in the coming years. 

5. There is a new connection to poverty. Evangelicals are beginning to see the need to be in relationship with under-resourced and oppressed people and how it’s intimately connected to our own spirituality. The ministry at City House is a perfect example; where people with labels like “rich” and “poor” are brought into relationship with each other for mutual spiritual growth.

6. The music is improving. The likes of Michael W. Smith, Third Day, and Mercy Me are giving way to folks like Derek Webb, Jon Forman and Robbie Seay. The theology of the music is much more grounded and easier on the ears (for instance, check out the lyrics to Foreman’s “Instead of a Show”). It is sometimes raw and uncomfortably real, just as God intended artistic expression in my opinion.

7. We can wear t-shirts to church. One of the pastors at my church once joked, “What do you call someone with a shirt and tie on Sunday morning? A VISITOR!” We’re starting to care more about the condition of our hearts rather than our appearance and social standing.

8. Lastly, this is my heritage. It is what I was given, and what I was born into. When I take communion, I feel an intense connection to my Evangelical brothers and sisters and the Jesus who unites us (both to himself and the larger body of Christ). There is a mysterious love that sustains me and gives me hope in the midst of my frustration and our dysfunction. 

A lot of the above is unique to my experience with a few people at my church. Some of it is probably trendiness and capitalism capitalizing on whatever it can get its hands on. But something is definitely happening. It’s slow change– which is hopefully a sign of some authentic growth. If the greater trends continue, and if it is Spirit-inspired, I want to be a part of this clumsy group as we figure out what it means to really be “Christian” in the Evangelical tradition. It could possibly be the greatest redemptive work since the stone was rolled away.

On Saint Patrick’s Day

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“The Prayer of Saint Patrick”

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation

 

Thanks to lightparty.com for archiving this poem.