First Theme: Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by Tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview (METHODOLOGY).
Since the Reformation in the 16th Century, much Christian infighting and misunderstanding has occurred over the Catholic and Orthodox emphasis on Tradition (which usually got confused with small cultural "traditions") versus the new Protestant emphasis on Scripture, even "Scripture alone!" (Which gradually devolved until each group chose among the Scriptures it would emphasize and the ones it would ignore). Both currents have now shown their weaknesses, their blind spots, and their biases. They lacked the "dynamic third" principle of God Experience: experience that is processed and held accountable by both Scripture and Tradition, and by solid spiritual direction and counseling. This will be our trilateral principle at the Living School.
Perhaps it is worth noting, on this feast day of John the Baptist, that he let his personal God Experience trump both Scripture (which he hardly ever directly quotes) and his own Tradition (which is why this son of the priestly class had to move his show down to the riverside). Maybe this is why Jesus both builds upon him and yet clearly moves beyond him and, in effect, critiques him (Matthew 11:11). Jesus clearly uses and respects his own Scriptures and his Jewish Tradition, yet interprets them both in light of his personal experience of God.
Second Theme: If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side (FOUNDATION).
If anyone doubts whether we will be basing the Living School in solid, but broad and inclusive, Christian doctrine (“the Perennial Tradition”), they need only read our foundational second theme that underlies much of my work and the work of the master teachers that we are inviting to teach at the Living School.
If we want to go to the mature, mystical, and non-dual levels of spirituality, we must first deal with the often faulty, inadequate, and even toxic images of God that most people are dealing with before they have authentic God experience. Both God as Trinity and Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” reveal a God quite different—and much better—than the Santa Claus image or the “I will torture you if you do not love me” God that most people are still praying to. Such images are an unworkable basis for any real spirituality.
Trinity reveals that God is the Divine Flow under, around, and through all things—much more a verb than a noun; relationship itself rather than an old man sitting on a throne. Jesus tells us that God is like a loving parent, who runs toward us, clasps, and kisses us while we are “still a long ways off” (Luke 15:20). Until this is personally experienced, most of Christianity does not work. This theme moves us quickly into practice-based religion (orthopraxy) over mere words and ideas (orthodoxy).
Third Theme: There is only one Reality.Any distinction between natural and supernatural, sacred and profane, is a bogus one (FRAME).
Almost all religion begins with a specific encounter with something that feels “holy” or transcendent: a place, an emotion, an image, music, a liturgy, an idea that suddenly gives you access to God's Bigger World. The natural and universal response is to “idolize” and idealize that event. It becomes sacred for you, and it surely is. The only mistake is that too many then conclude that this is the only way, the best way, the superior way, the special way that I myself just happen to have discovered. Then, they must both protect their idol and spread this exclusive way to others. (They normally have no concrete evidence whatsoever that other people have not also encountered the holy.)
The false leap of logic is that other places, images, liturgies, scriptures, or ideas can not give you access. “We forbid them to give you access, it is impossible,” we seem to say! Thus much religion wastes far too much time trying to separate itself from—and create “purity codes” against—what is perceived as secular, bad, heretical, dangerous, “other,” or wrong. Jesus had no patience with such immature and exclusionary religion, yet it is still a most common form to this day. Idolatry has been called the only constant and real sin of the entire Old Testament, and idolatry is whenever we make something god that is not God, or whenever we make the means into an end.Any attempt to create “our golden calf” is usually first-half-of-life religion, and eventually false religion.
Fourth Theme: Everything belongs and no one needs to be scapegoated or excluded. Evil and illusion only need to be named and exposed truthfully, and they die in exposure to the light (ECUMENICAL).
We now know from cultural studies and historical experience that groups define themselves and even hold themselves together largely negatively—by who they are not, what they are against, and what they do not do. We need a problem or an enemy to gather our energies. We usually define ourselves through various “purity codes” to separate ourselves from the “impure” and unworthy. Pure worship (“what we are for,” or in support of, and what we love) is much harder to sustain. Thus most reformations and revolutions need someone else to be wrong much more than they need any discovery of a higher level of consciousness themselves. This is an absolutely core problem.
Thus Jesus never affirmed opposition or contrariness, because he knew that it was merely a same-level or lower-level response to the problem (even when empowered by some new and good ideas). The new group was infected by the same hubris and oppositional energy, and would soon engender the same kind of “reformation.” Thus the endless progressive-conservative pendulum continues to swing and yet we do not move forward spiritually.
“Emerging Christianity” is trying not to make this mistake, and hopes to be an inclusive notion of religion that is not against this or that. Evil and sin do need to be named and exposed (not directly fought!), however, and this is the prophetic role of religion. Without prophecy, religion is uncritical of itself and ends up being largely self-serving. Jesus' starting point was never sin, but human suffering.
Fifth Theme: The separate self is the problem, whereas most religion and most people make the “shadow self” the problem. This leads to denial, pretending, and projecting instead of real transformation into the Divine (TRANSFORMATION).
It is really shocking how little Jesus is shocked by human failure and sin. In fact, it never appears that he is upset at sinners. He is only and consistently upset at people who do not think they are sinners. This momentous insight puts him centuries ahead of modern psychology and right at the center of rare but authentic religion. So much so, that most Christianity itself never notices or addresses this pattern. It is an “inconvenient truth.”
Early-stage religion is largely driven by ego needs: the need to be right, the need to feel morally superior, the need to be safe, and the need to project a positive image to others. At that point, religion has little to do with any real search for God; it is almost entirely a search for oneself, which is necessary—and which God surely understands. But we do this by trying to repress and deny our actual motivations and goals. These are pushed into the unconscious and called the shadow self. The shadow is not the bad self, but simply the denied self, which is totally operative but allowed to work in secret—and never called to accountability from that hidden place.
In my 42 years as a priest, it is clear to me that most people (not just religious people) focus on their shadow self—to keep “feeling good about themselves”—and their ego enjoys a perpetual holiday. It is a massive misplacement of spiritual attention. You can be a prelate or priest in the church with a totally inflated ego, while all your energy goes into denying and covering up your shadow—which then gets projected everywhere else. What you don’t transform, you will transmit.
Sixth Theme: The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines (PROCESS).
Although related to earlier themes, this is also building upon them in terms of development of conscience, recognition of grace, concrete practice, and spiritual direction. In other words, how does transformation actually and concretely happen?
Ladder-climbing Western culture, and the clinging human ego, made the Gospel into a message of spiritual advancement—ascent rather than descent. We hopefully do advance in “wisdom, age, and grace” (Luke 2:40), but not at all in the way we thought. Jesus again got it right! He brilliantly and personally taught the way of the cross and not the way of climbing.
We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. God absolutely leveled the human playing field by using our sins and failures to bring us to divine union. This is surely the most counterintuitive message of the Gospels—so counterintuitive that it largely remains hidden in plain sight.
Seventh Theme: Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (GOAL).
Reality is “not totally one,” but it is “not totally two,” either! All things, events, persons, and institutions, if looked at contemplatively (non-egocentrically), reveal contradictions, create dilemmas, and have their own shadow side. Wisdom knows how to hold and to grow from this creative tension; ego does not. Our ego splits reality into parts that it can manage, but then pays a big price in regard to actual truth or understanding.
The contemplative mind will be at the heart and center of all teaching in our new Living School. Only the contemplative mind can honor the underlying unity (“not two”) of things, while also work with them in their distinctness (“not totally one”). The world almost always presents itself as a paradox, a contradiction, or a problem—like our themes of “action and contemplation,” “Christian and non-Christian,” or “male and female” first did. At the mature level, however, we learn to see all things in terms of unitive consciousness, while still respecting, protecting, and working with the very real differences. This is the great—perhaps the greatest—art form. It is the supreme task of all religion.
~ Richard Rohr, June 2012