Theme:
Summary: An Evolving Faith

Summary: An Evolving Faith

Summary: Sunday, December 29, 2019—Friday, January 3, 2020

God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever evolving, yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. (Sunday)

For me, a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion. Understanding the expansive reality of Christ will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group. (Monday)

Simply put, any notion of a future church must be a fully practical church that is concerned about getting the job of love done—and done better and better. (Tuesday)

One of the most promising things that has come out of the emerging church has been folks looking back and reclaiming the best of their traditions, seeing that it is not an either/or but a both/and—God is doing something ancient and something new. —Shane Claiborne (Wednesday)

This new kind of Christianity can only emerge as a trans-denominational movement of contemplative spiritual activism. —Brian McLaren (Thursday)

The most important aspect of this [new] form of Christianity in the future is simple, obvious, and yet radical: it is about love, as Jesus taught and embodied. —Brian McLaren (Friday)

 

Practice: Love and Compassion

As we begin a new year, I am delighted to share this beautiful practice from my friend and fellow CAC faculty member James Finley, who invites us to awaken to our oneness with love and compassion.

Meditation allows us to see the world through the eyes of compassion. This compassionate vision of the world impels us to live in ways in which our words and behavior toward others embody compassion. Compassion forms the essential bond between seeking God in meditation and all forms of social justice. For the more we are transformed in compassion, the more we are impelled to act with compassion toward others. [1]

When you sit in meditation, your breathing naturally slows. Quietly focusing your attention on your breathing is a way of slowing down and settling into a deep meditative awareness of oneness with God. Breathing out, be quietly aware of breathing out. Breathing in, be quietly aware of breathing in. Each time you realize you have drifted off into thoughts, memories, sensations, and other ego-based modes of being, simply return to your breathing as your anchoring place in present-moment attentiveness.

Your efforts in following the path of breath awareness might be enhanced by repeating a word or phrase with each breath. A practice I have found particularly helpful is to pair breath awareness with the phrase “I love you.”

As you inhale, listen to the incoming breath so intently that you can hear in it God’s silent “I love you.” In this moment, God is flowing into you as the source and reality of your very being. As you exhale, breathe out a silent “I love you” back to God. As you inhale, be aware of the air as being God flowing into you, as the divine gift of your very being. As you exhale, allow your silent “I love you” to be your very being, flowing back into the depths of God.

Simply sit, open to God breathing divine love into the depths of your being, as you breathe your whole being, as a gift of love, back into God.

This one practice alone, engaged in with heartfelt sincerity and devotion, can awaken you to God’s total and complete oneness with you as the giver, the sustainer, and the reality of the sheer miracle of your very being. As this realization of God’s oneness with you grows, you will begin to realize how foolish it is to imagine that God is, in any way, distant from you. You discover how foolish it is to imagine that you could in any way, hide from God, who is wholly one with all that is within your mind and heart, your very being. [2]

References:
[1] Adapted from James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004), 286.

[2] Ibid., 30, 242-244.

For Further Study:
“The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019)

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. Brian McLaren
Read Full Entry

Summary: An Evolving Faith

A School for Love
Friday, January 3, 2020

Today, friend and CAC faculty member Brian McLaren continues describing the three shifts Christianity needs to make in order to be true to the vision and mission of Jesus the Christ. Yesterday Brian explained the importance of becoming (1) “decentralized and diverse.” Today, he describes the need to be (2) “radically collaborative” and to (3) “love as Jesus taught and embodied.” Rather than a top-heavy institution concerned about in-house salvation, the Christianity of the future will place love of God, neighbor, self, and all creation at the center. Brian writes:

The diverse and decentralized movement we need will be radically collaborative, working with, across, and, when necessary, outside of and in spite of existing institutions to seek the common good. It will not be anti-institutional because institutions are necessary for human survival, but neither will it be institutional, in the sense that it is preoccupied with its own survival or bringing benefits only to its members. Rather, it will be trans-institutional, working across institutions, both religious and non-religious, seeking the common good of those inside and outside the movement and the institutions it involves. . . .

The . . . most important aspect of this [new] form of Christianity in the future is simple, obvious, and yet radical: it is about love, as Jesus taught and embodied [emphasis mine—RR]. . . .

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor [1], with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. This love for neighbor was, in turn, inextricably related to an appropriate love for self. In fact, to love neighbor as oneself leads to the realization that oneself and one’s neighbor are actually distinct yet inseparable realities. In today’s world, we must add that, for Jesus, God’s love extends to the wildflower, the meadow grass, the sparrow, and the raven. He saw all of God’s creatures as part of one heavenly realm, as did dear St. Francis, and as do more and more of us.

When I think of this [new] kind of Christianity of the future, then, I think of a movement of revolutionary love. I see it as distinctively Christian, but not in any exclusive way, because if we truly see love as Jesus’ point and passion, then the depth of our devotion to Christ will always lead us to love our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Indigenous, nonreligious, agnostic, atheist, and other neighbors as ourselves. . . .

In this desirable future, every willing Christian congregation makes every competing interest subsidiary to love, which is the fruit of all contemplation and the goal of all action. If we embody this [emergent] form of Christianity, . . .  if we become the seeds of a movement of contemplative activism in the Spirit of Christ, I can imagine hundreds of thousands of congregations, . . . each a locally and globally engaged school of love, teaching future generations to discover, practice, and live in love: love for our neighbor, love for ourselves, love for all creatures and all creation—all comprising love for God, who is all in all in all.

References:
[1] See Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31, and Luke 10:25-28.

Adapted from Brian D. McLaren, “Three Christianities,” “The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), 73, 75-76.

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. Brian McLaren
Read Full Entry

Summary: An Evolving Faith

Diverse Discipleship
Thursday, January 2, 2020

I have known Brian McLaren for many years as a friend and colleague, and he recently joined the faculty of the CAC’s Living School. He is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian who has spent the last two decades passionately advocating for “a new kind of Christianity.” Today and tomorrow, Brian will be sharing three shifts Christianity must make if it wants to serve as a universal path of spiritual transformation. The first shift is to become “decentralized and diverse.” Brian writes:

More and more of us are hoping, praying, and dedicating ourselves to a [new] form of Christianity. This new kind of Christianity can only emerge as a trans-denominational movement of contemplative spiritual activism. . . .

This emerging or emergence Christianity . . . will be decentralized and diverse rather than centralized and uniform. In other words, it will have the shape of a movement rather than an institution. It will be drawn together . . . by internal unity of way of life, mission, practices, and vision for the common good. . . .

Instead of hoarding and centralizing resources like expertise, education, mentoring, and authority, we need to multiply them and democratize them.

This, of course, was Jesus’ original approach. He never announced to his disciples: “Hey folks, we’re going to start a new, centralized, institutional religion and name it after me.” Instead, he played the role of a nonviolent leader and launched his movement with the classic words of movement, “Follow me” (see Matthew 4:19, for example). He used his power to empower others. He did great things to inspire his followers to do even greater things [see John 14:12-14]. Rather than demand uniformity, he reminded his disciples that he had “sheep of other folds” (John 10:16). . . . He recruited diverse disciples who learned—by heart—his core vision and way of life. Then he sent these disciples out as apostles to teach and multiply his vision and way of life among “all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).

As he repeatedly explained, the dangerous, turbulent, uncertain times, together with the failure of existing institutions, made this strategy essential: “The time is ripe,” he said (Luke 10:2, slightly paraphrased), “and we need more laborers.” (This pattern of multiplying leader/teacher/practitioners is exactly the pattern we find, not only with Jesus in the Gospels, but also with Paul throughout the New Testament, in places like 2 Timothy 2:2 and 1 Corinthians 11:1.) . . .

In dangerous times like these, . . . we have to produce generations of dedicated, courageous, and creative contemplative activists who will join God to bring radical healing and change to this damaged world, before it’s too late.

We need this movement—not someday, maybe, but right now, definitely.

Reference:
Adapted from Brian D. McLaren, “Three Christianities,” “The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), 71-72, 73.

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. —Brian McLaren
Read Full Entry

Summary: An Evolving Faith

Moving Forward by Looking Back
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
News Year’s Day

It seems appropriate to begin the new year by sharing new visions for the future of Christianity. For our faith to evolve, we need to look at the old and original in order to build something new and novel. My friend Shane Claiborne is a young Evangelical leading this kind of hopeful and faith-filled renewal that builds on the past. Shane and many others are nurturing a “new monastic” movement, learning from the best of Christianity’s history and traditions in order to find modern and relevant ways to follow Jesus and embody the Reign of God on earth today. In Shane’s words:

There was a time in the 1980s and 90s, when the response to the hypocrisies in the church was to start new, creative expressions of church—what many came to call “the emerging church movement.” My community in Philly, The Simple Way, was one of the fruits of that era. . . .

Many new movements have been born amid the remnants of the past. Fresh life can come from the compost of Christendom. I think we are poised for another great awakening. . . .

God is restoring all things. Institutions like the church are broken, just like people, and they too are being healed and redeemed. My friend Chris Haw put it this way. It’s the difference between being in a canoe and a rowboat. In a canoe, you look forward as you row, but in a rowboat, you look back as you move forward. Our way forward is behind us. . . .

Rather than throw out the traditions, I want to know and study them, find the treasures and spit out the bones.

The church needs discontentment. It is a gift to the Reign of God, but we have to use our discontentment to engage rather than to disengage. We need to be a part of repairing what’s broken rather than jumping ship. One of the pastors in my neighborhood said, “I like to think about the church like Noah’s Ark. That old boat must have stunk bad inside, but if you tried to get out, you’d drown.”

Just as we critique the worst of the church, we should also celebrate her at her best. We need to mine the fields of church history and find the treasures, the gems. We need to celebrate the best that each tradition can bring—I want the fire of the Pentecostals, the love of Scripture of the Lutherans, the political imagination of the Anabaptists, the roots of the Orthodox, the mystery of the Catholics, and the zeal of the Evangelicals.

One of the most promising things that has come out of the emerging church has been folks looking back and reclaiming the best of their traditions, seeing that it is not an either/or but a both/and—God is doing something ancient and something new. Phyllis Tickle [1934–2015] called it “hyphenated denominations”—Presby-mergence, Bapti-mergence, Luther-mergence—because what they are doing is renewing and building on what was.

Reference:
Adapted from Shane Claiborne, “Loving the Church Back to Life,” “The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), 58, 59-61.

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. —Brian McLaren
Read Full Entry

Summary: An Evolving Faith

The Work of Healing
Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Up to now, top-down religion has pretty much spoiled the show. We need trained experts, scholars, leaders, and teachers, but the truths of Christianity must be made much more accessible, available, localized, and pastoral. Most people do not need to have encyclopedic knowledge of theology or Scripture. To begin with, why not flatten out the huge and unbiblical distinction between clergy and laity? [1]

While Christian churches do much good, we have one huge pastoral problem that is making Christianity largely ineffective—and largely decorative. Solid orthodox theology is sorely needed (and yes, I am obsessed with it), yet we clearly need good and compassionate pastoral and healing practices ten times more!

It seems to me that we must begin to validate Paul’s original teaching on “many gifts and many ministries” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Together, these diverse gifts “make a unity in the work of service” (Ephesians 4:12-13, Jerusalem Bible). Individual communities may do this well, but on the whole we need Christian people who are trained in, validated for, and encouraged to make home and hospital visits; do hospice work and jail ministry; support immigrants and refugees; help with soup kitchens or food pantries; counsel couples before, during, and after marriage; share child development resources with families; offer ministries of emotional, sexual, and relational healing; help with financial counseling; build low-cost housing; take care of the elderly; run thrift centers—all of which put Christian people in immediate touch with other people and for which no ordination is needed. Ordination would probably even get in the way. Remember, healing was most of the work Jesus did. This fact is almost too obvious.

My vision of any future church is much flatter and much more inclusive. Either we see Christ in everyone, or we hardly see Christ in anyone. Frankly, my hope for Christianity is that it becomes less “churchy,” less patriarchal, and more concerned with living its mission statement than with endlessly reciting our heavenly vision and philosophy statement—the Nicene Creed—every Sunday. There seem to be very few actionable items in most Christians’ lives beyond attending worship services, which largely creates a closed and self-validating system.

Simply put, any notion of a future church must be a fully practical church that is concerned about getting the job of love done—and done better and better. Centuries emphasizing art and architecture, music, liturgy, and prescribed roles have their place, but their overemphasis has made us a very top-heavy and decorative church that is constantly concerned with its own in-house salvation.

References:
[1] See Joe Holland, Roman Catholic Clericalism: Three Historical Stages in the Legislation of a Non-Evangelical, Now Dysfunctional, and Sometimes Pathological Institution (Pacem in Terris Press: 2018).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Powering Down: The Future of Institutions,” “The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), 46-47.

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. —Brian McLaren
Read Full Entry

Summary: An Evolving Faith

A Universal Pattern
Monday, December 30, 2019

Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together. —Colossians 1:17

Anything called “Good News” needs to reveal a universal pattern that can be relied upon, and not just clannish patterns that might be occasionally true. This is probably why Christianity’s break with ethnic Judaism was inevitable, although never intended by either Jesus or Paul, and why by the early second century Christians were already calling themselves “catholics” or “the universals.” They believed God is leading all of history somewhere larger and broader and better for all of humanity. Yet, after Jesus and Paul—except for occasional theologians like Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, and Francis of Assisi—the most widely accepted version of Christianity had little to do with the cosmos, creation, nature, or even history. Our beliefs did not generally talk about the future, except in terms of judgment and apocalypse. This is no way to guide history forward. It is certainly no way to give humanity hope, purpose, direction, or joy.

Christianity puts itself in a limited and precarious position when it is tied to any culture-bound Jesus or an expression of faith that does not include the Eternal Christ. Without a universal story line that offers grace and caring for all of creation, Jesus is kept small and seemingly inept. God’s care must be toward all creatures, or God ends up not being very caring at all, making things like water, trees, animals, and history itself accidental, trivial, or disposable. But grace is not a late arrival, appearing only two thousand years ago when Jesus came, or when a few lucky humans read his words in the Bible. God’s grace cannot be a random problem-solver doled out to the few and the virtuous—or it is hardly grace at all! (See Ephesians 2:7-10 if you want the radical meaning of grace summed up in three succinct verses.)

For me, a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion. Understanding the expansive reality of Christ will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group. As the New Testament dramatically puts it, “Before the world was made, we have been chosen in Christ . . . claimed as God’s own, and chosen from the very beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 11) “so that God could bring everything together, in heaven and on earth, as a plan for the fullness of times” (1:10). If all of this is true, we have a theological basis for a very natural religion that includes everybody. The problem was solved from the beginning.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 21, 97-98.

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. —Brian McLaren
Read Full Entry

Summary: An Evolving Faith

Patient Trust
Sunday, December 29. 2019

God keeps creation both good and new—which means always going somewhere even better. God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever evolving, yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good.

If we understand the Eternal Christ Mystery as the symbolic Alpha Point for the beginning of what we call “time,” we can see that history and evolution indeed have an intelligence, a plan, and a trajectory from the very start. Christ is both the Divine Radiance at the Beginning Big Bang and the Divine Allure drawing us into a positive future. We are thus bookended in a Personal Love—coming from Love and moving toward an ever more inclusive Love. This is the Christ Omega (see Revelation 1:8).

Christians believe the final goal does have a shape and meaning. Creation began and continues in its “very goodness” (see Genesis 1:31). Everything that arises seems to converge. The biblical symbol of the Universal and Eternal Christ stands at both ends of cosmic time, assuring us that the clear and full trajectory of the world we know is an unfolding of consciousness with “all creation groaning in this one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22).

The New Testament has a clear sense of history working in a way that is both evolutionary and positive. For example, Jesus’ many parables of the Kingdom lean heavily on the language of growth and development. His common metaphors for growth are seeds, sprouting and ripening grain, weeds and wheat growing together, and the rising of yeast. [1] His parables of the “Reign of God” are almost always about finding, discovering, being surprised, experiencing reversals of expectations, changing roles and status. None of these notions are static; they are always about something new and good coming into being.

Why do I think this is so important? Frankly, because without it we become very impatient with ourselves and others. Humans and history both grow slowly and often move three steps forward, two steps back. We expect people to show up at our doors fully transformed and holy before they can be welcomed in. But growth language says it is appropriate to wait, trusting that change of consciousness, what the Bible calls in Greek metanoeite, can only come with time. This patience ends up being the very shape of love. Without an evolutionary worldview, Christianity does not really understand, much less foster, growth or change. Nor does it know how to respect and support where history is heading. 

References:
[1] See Matthew chap. 13 and Mark chap. 4.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 95-96.

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. —Brian McLaren
Read Full Entry
FacebookTwitterEmailPrint