Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Information is not Necessarily Transformation

Reading is fundamental to me -- always has been. I've devoured books for as long as I can remember, since the age of four, when I broke the code with one of my Dr. Seuss books (bless that man!). I'm led to various books, and often have 2-3 that I'm reading at a time ... there's my early-morning time-with-God (He doesn't seem to mind that I'm sitting on the loo at the time ... my reward for an in-depth spiritual encounter is often "ring around the buns" ... a badge of honor I can share with a very select few...!). Then there's my sitting-in-the-car-waiting-for-someone-to-get-out-of-some-activity reading ... and my I-need-to-take-a-break-and-read-something-light reading ... and my time-to-unwind-in-blessed-late-night-solitude-and-read-something-inspiring reading. Oh, and the rather all-consuming reading of a plethora of articles on the Internet.

I've recently finished reading Richard Rohr's "Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality". If y'all could indulge me, I'd like to share highlights from my reading-experience (I don't merely read books ... I wallow in the experience of them!). I find it paradoxically true that as I give away what I learn, I better retain it. Sooooo ... I shall share what jumped out at me, and perhaps comment along the way.

- We need transformed people today, and not just people with answers.

(this seems almost self-evident -- we have more information than ever before, but really, how much transformation is coming from "correct" information...?)

- The world fears a new experience more than anything, because a new experience replaces so many old experiences. Ideas are not a problem - they can be discounted. But a true inner experience is something else, again. It changes us, and human beings do not like to change.

(again, duh. change is threatening to status quo ... status quo makes us feel "safe" and "right." As if Jesus ever said, "though shalt be right.")

- The trouble is, we have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas -- about which we can be right or wrong -- rather than an invitation to a new set of eyes. Even worse, many of those ideas are the same, old tired ones, mirroring the reward and punishment system of the dominant culture.

(how often have I run into the concept that "there is only one right way to view the Bible" -- says each of the 20,000+ denominations!)

- If we ask the open questions, and have a "poverty of spirit" (that is if we are not over-entitled, smug or complacent - these types are largely unteachable), we can experience truth. We all need, forever, what Jesus described as "the beginner's mind" of a curious child. Otherwise, we will read the scriptures on "cruise control" ... missing what's being said, without any genuine astonishment that rearranges everything.

(perhaps this is what Jesus meant about coming to God as a little child -- openly and receptively, without any egoic assumptions that we already have "all truth")

- People have largely been afraid of God, and afraid of themselves, as a result. Even today, after centuries of "grace teachings" most humans feel that God's love and attention must be earned. This pattern of expectations and fear is so in the hardwiring that in the two thousand years since the incarnation of God in Christ, not much has really changed -- except in a rather small critical mass of humanity. Most people in my experience are still into fearing God and controlling God instead of loving God. The only way that can be changed is for God, from God's side, to change the power equation and invite us into a world of mutuality and vulnerability. And that is precisely what Jesus did (& still does).

(let that italicized statement soak into your heart ... selah)

- In most ancient religions, God was felt to be "controllable" through human sacrifice, found on all continents. Around the time of Abraham, the sacrificial instinct matures a bit and gets transferred to the poor goats, sheep and bullocks; animals had to be sacrificed to pleas this fearsome God. "Civilized cultures" have pretty much transmuted it into various forms of self-sacrifice and moral heroics -- because we all know that something has to be sacrificed tp bend this God toward us [do not miss the sarcasm here!]! We don't really believe that God could naturally know and love what God has created, or that we could actually love (or even like!) God back. This is a fracture at the core of everything and creates the overwhelmingly shame- and guilt-based church and culture we have today in the West. God is much different than we thought, and also much better than we feared!

(I notice that while it *appears* that God is meticulously and laboriously putting forth the required sacrificial system early in the OT, God later claims to have never wanted, nor required sacrifice ... He wanted mercy. So, did God change His mind? Or did our view of God change over time..? There is some evidence that the priests of the sacrificial system went back into the earlier text, and added the verbiage to them that justified and validated their *own* notions of how God was to be appeased, through sacrifice! The language doesn't even sound like God -- it sounds like the language of human accountants and attorneys - no offense intended to any accountants or attorneys who happen to be reading here - hi, Dad!)

- The God revealed through the *whole* of the OT, and especially in Jesus, is merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving and steadfast in love. It has taken us a long time to even believe that this could be true, but the only people who really know it to be true for themselves are those who sincerely seek, pray, and often, suffer. Outside of your own inner experience of this kind of God, most religion will remain merely ritualistic, moralistic, doctrinaire and largely unhappy.

("experience" has become a dirty word in some Christian circles ... something to be denounced and discounted, even disdained - because it is feared. Experience cannot be defined nor controlled ... we are at the mercy of God in the experience ... and if we harbor thoughts of this God being harsh, unkind, wrathful, and focused on us being "correct", then we will not allow ourselves to experience Him -- we will prefer to hide behind doctrines and other "safe" constructs of the egoic mind.)

- Biblical text itself edges forward and often backwards, just as humans do. In other words, the Bible doesn't just give us the conclusions, but it does create a clear set of patterns and a tangent -- and our job is to connect the dots forward and backward. Only inner experience can do that job. Spiritually speaking, it does not help to give people quick conclusions before they have made any inner journeys.

(while it's oh-so-tempting to "help" people with the answers that have worked for us, we end up short-changing them when we do so ... we make them yet-still dependent upon the thoughts and experiences of others. God wants a personal and intimate engagement with each soul ... not a vicarious, second-hand once-removed mental-concept with each one! The best our offerings can do for others is to give an example of experiences ... and to invite others to taste and see for themselves.)

- The genius of the biblical revelation is that it doesn't just give us the conclusions, it gives us the process of getting there, and the inner and outer authority to trust that process. To repeat for the sake of emphasis: Life itself -- and scripture too -- is always three steps forward and two steps backward. It gets the point and then loses it or doubts it. In that, the biblical text mirrors our own human consciousness and journey. Our job is to see where the three steps forward texts are heading (invariably toward mercy, forgiveness, inclusion, nonviolence and trust), which gives us the ability to clearly recognize and understand the two steps backward texts (which are usually about vengeance, divine pettiness, law over grace, form over substance and technique over relationship). This is what you cannot discern if you have no inner experience of how God works in your own life! You will just substitute the text for the real inner spirit. Or, as Paul courageously says, "The written letters alone will bring death, but the Spirit gives life."

(this was revolutionary for my thinking! Rather than seeing the biblical text as a prescription, i.e., "if God ordered the killing of every man, woman and child of their enemies, then it must be OK for us, today," I see that it's a reflection of the egoic/dim thinking of the people at the time -- they *thought* God said so, based on their murky view of God - and on what they projected of themselves onto God, just as the terrorists *thought* God required them to plow into the Twin Towers on 9/11! The Bible shows how mankind moved from utter darkness about God, into an ever-emerging Light ... which was only clear with the revelation of Jesus - "if you've seen me, you've seen the Father." The biblical text reveals an emerging and evolving awakening about God, over time ... and is *not* a prescription for how to justify our own dark thinking about Him ... it invites us to move forward, and to see it ALL through the lens of the Person of Jesus, as revealed by the Spirit, rather than by the traditions of man.)

- It is not that God had changed, or that the Hebrew God is a different God than the God of Jesus, it is that we are growing up as we move through the texts and deepen our experience. God does not change, but our readiness for such a God takes a long time to change. If you read the text searching for certain conclusions, to quickly reassure your "false self," as if each line in the Bible was a full dogmatic statement, all spiritual growth will not just stop, but you will become a rather toxic person for yourself and others.

("Jesus, save us from Your followers...!")

- Just as the Bible takes us through many stages of consciousness and salvation history, it takes us individually a long time to move beyond our need to be dualistic, judgmental, accusatory, fearful, blaming, egocentric and earning. The text in travail mirrors and charts our own human travail and will illustrate all those stages from within the Bible! It will offer both the mature and immature responses to almost everything, and you have to learn the difference.

(does anyone else find this astonishingly fresh, liberating and comforting, or is it just me..? We can take the scriptures seriously, without the mind-numbing requirement of taking it "literally"..! We can interact with the Spirit, rather than swallowing-whole what we read at face-value! What joy! What responsibility! We can, and must, use the brains that God gave us, actively trusting the Spirit who is IN us!)

- Isn't it a consolation to know that life is not a straight line? Many of us wish and have been told that it should be, but I haven't met a life yet that's on a straight line to God. It's always about getting the point, and missing the point. It's God entering our lives and then us fighting it, avoiding it, running from it. There is the moment of divine communion or intimacy, and then the pullback that says, "That's too good to be true. I must be making it up." Fortunately, God works with all of it, and that's called mercy or steadfast love.

(oh, I want to cry and sing!!! Being led into all truth is a *very* circuitous, loop-de-loop path...! Forward, backward, into one ditch or another, going in circles, it's ALL part of the journey, NONE of it to be despised, ALL of it necessary, ALL of it used! Wow!)

- There are two mediocre ways of viewing scripture. The first is about moralities and pieties of those who have never studied the historical and anthropological setting in which it was first set (the conservative temptation). It's all heart and little head. It's sweet and nice, but it's never going to transform history (or individuals). It's never going to affect anyone who's got a little education, to put it honestly, and it becomes a cover for an awful lot of pride and prejudice.

The second is the narrow historical, critical interpretation of those who have not had any real God experiences (the progressive temptation). It's the usually "enlightened" formula of those who have no inner experience to awaken the reality of the spiritual world. The do not really love God as much as talk about God. The only possible path is to substitute letter for Spirit, formula for inner authority, education for actual (intimate, experiential) knowing. It's all head and little heart. We find out what the Greek really meant and whether Jesus really said it, all of which often puts the mind back in control, but the heart does not know anything gracious or new.

But there is a healthy middle: a place between those. It includes some healthy cultural studies, psychology and historical awareness to the task, but always points toward an inner awareness of the Spirit that is guiding you right now. Then you will know for yourself, and not just because "the Bible says so."

(I've been in both extremes ... and I've been emerging into the healthy middle ... though it's very much a circuitous process, and I notice that the extremes can still beckon me in, for they are familiar and comfortable. Unknown territory is always a bit unnerving ... like stepping off of a cliff ... which can be done when you experience God as the One who will either catch you, or else teach you to fly...!)

There's much more to share, just from this chapter ... but for the sake of your eyes and brain, and not wanting to overly-strain either, I'll let it rest for now and pick it up tomorrow. Let it speak to you where you are ... digesting what appeals to you, and letting go of the rest. Let God meet you where you are - honor that. Trust the process.

Shalom, Dena



MysticBrit said...

Okay, Dena, I give up. When are you going to post something with which I totally disagree?;) It's like reading the book of my heart every time. Again, the heart has a language the head can never understand.

This post fizzes with the joy of Freedom, of Life. Thanks for all the effort you put into this blog - it's such a good way for me to start the day!

When's your book, The Joy of Heresy, coming out?;)

April said...

Just found your blog and a lot of what you talk about are things that I have been thinking/praying about. I've actually been told in the past that I had a poverty mentality. According to what you wrote its a good thing? I'm not even completely sure what it is.

dena said...

"The Joy of Heresy" - LOL! If/when I ever get around to writing my book -- that shall be the title, and you shall be invited to write the forward, Harry!

Shalom, Dena

dena said...

April - WELCOME!

Ain't it fun to find external words to match up with our internal "insanities"...? Nice to find out that if we *are* crazy, we're at least not alone!

I take those as God-incidences ... those spirit-leaping confirmations that He is leading, and He is within.

As for poverty mentality, I have o clue what others meant by that, but what I'm coming to see is that it's coming to realize that convenational wisdom (group-think) is worthless for personal transformation ... and that in realizing that poverty, I actually discover the immense value of the "pearl of great price" that was always buried within me.

At least, that's the definition de jour for me...!

Shalom, Dena

MysticBrit said...

Thanks Sis:) I think you've already written your book a few times over, to be honest, but it would be an honour... even though I ain't that famous...yet;)

Camille said...

Your paragraphs starting with...
>this was revolutionary for my thinking! AND
<(I notice that while it *appears* that God is meticulously and laboriously
Oh My Gosh, Dena!

I am exactly on this page. Its like you have written what I have always felt even from childhood - that 'knowing' Ive always had about God, but could never find anyone else who understood it as I did. I dont know where this leads me or where I go from here, however I know that seeing what I know in print means that there are others out there who know what I know, or feel what I feel - Amazing, I feel so expanded and open to the spirit & to understanding. And know that leaving the LDS Church recently was so the right thing for me to do. Thankyou again :D I havent felt so at peace in a long time.

dena said...

Camille - Your joy (& relief, I imagine) are contagious!

I understand ... it's life-changing at a deep and profound level.

The freedom of coming out of whatever previously enslaved us (and even to recogize - at last! - that we were enslaved by that which we thought was GOOD!) is overwhelming...!

It keeps happening ... it keeps on getting "gooder and gooder"!

Shalom, Dena

~K~ said...

I grew up in fundie land and the Bigger Story was all over the place and SPARSE (do as we say and you will be safe and here's why and here's why and here's why, none of them convincing reasons when faced with the effigy of everlasting burning death).

I do like the universality of the Bigger Picture which is much more cohesive (together, unified) and filled out. Thanks for being the one to point me to something that cleared all that up for me, Dena. ... whew! A shining light on the hill where I can see it.