Beyond Labels

I just posted this as my latest Facebook update:

All this “I am ….”, such as Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Pom, Kiwi…….it’s all just an illusion, all just smoke and mirrors of the mind. When will we get that we are just plain HUMAN!!

It comes from the inspiration of books I’ve been reading lately, as well as several speakers on The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity series I’ve pointed to previously.  I’m not suggesting that a personal belief system or cultural identities are irrelevant; rather, they should never, ever be used as a means of exclusion.

Yet we do that, both consciously and unconsciously.  The net result is sectarian violence, manifested most vividly in wars and suicide bombings, but is present everywhere, even in the most civil and democratic of cultures. Examples of ‘the chosen’ and ‘the undesirable’ are everywhere.  And why is this so?

I would suggest that it might have something to do with our evolved heritage.  Most species fight for survival, and our history is a testament to violence and brutality. Within each of our brains is the capacity for all kinds of destruction and all manner of unfavourable tendencies.  Despite our best efforts to tame our wild natures, we oft to fail.

Doomed to repeat the failures of our evolutionary past.  Or are we?  That would be the message of a meaningless universe up to its own devices, of selfish genes just using our bodies as vehicles for their own ends, as Richard Dawkins would describe.  Yet I suspect that there is so much more to the story than this.  I see hope in the essential message of Jesus.  I see hope in the message of the Buddha.  I see hope everywhere, in all of life, just waiting to be unpacked and explored.

It is no wonder that religion was birthed in a package of boundaries and divisions – men driven by visions of grandeur perversely succumbing to their lower evolutionary drives.  What I’m now witnessing both in the realms of faith and science is the ability to witness these drives and yet overcome them for a higher good.  I choose to do this wrapped in the Christian story – to follow Jesus, to seek the power of God’s Spirit.  I do this because I am compelled to do so, for it is the story in which I find myself.

Unlike many of my contemporaries, I will not presume that God is calling me.  I will not presume to know and speak of that which cannot be seen, heard, or felt.  I can only speak in terms of mystery.  God is still meaningful to me, just not in the same way as before.  How my relationship with the divine will unfold is another mystery; I only know that I am on this path, and must remain.  I have many amazing guides on the journey, for whom I am utterly grateful.

So I refuse to create an identity for myself of ‘Christian’ or anything. To me, Christianity describes a meaningful framework and story in which I can live fully.  No title defines who we truly are.  Jesus did not come to create Christians or Christianity, and the Buddha did not create Buddhism.  Let’s move beyond the barriers of fragmented identities, and come to see our roles in sustaining life on earth.


The Dreaded ‘C’ Word

No, it’s not what you’re thinking…..nothing ‘R’ rated in this post!  Rather, the ‘C’ word I’m referring to is…..commitment.  It has just occurred to me that my life follows a pattern of commitment-phobia, in that I have flittered around from place to place and job to job rather like a gypsy, with very few real friends to speak of and only a brief love life.  It’s almost as if I’ve been lifting the lid of my unconscious mind lately and exclaiming, “Oh wow, is that how it works!”

Commitment lies at the heart and soul of life.  All of the things we value – love, friendship, food, home, fun activities – are all the product of commitment of some form.  And the less we value commitment, the less likely we will get to enjoy the very best of life.  Unfortunately, given how easy things come to us in this age, it’s easy to give very little heed to the ‘c’ word, preferring instead to take pleasure from whatever source we can, while avoiding the unpleasant when it arises.

I can note defining times in childhood where I refused the discipline that would instil the value of commitment.  One of these was when I began to learn Taekwondo.  At first I was excited by the prospect of being able to put on the uniform, win successive belts until reaching the ultimate prize of black belt, and kicking and punching like the best of the best.  Yet what I found was some gruelling training sessions and very repetitive movements.  Where was the fun in this?  They didn’t tell me it would be so hard!  What I didn’t realize at that age was that martial arts is a discipline requiring a long commitment.  The ideas of discipline and commitment were rather foreign, for I had been spared of much pain, and had been under the care of parents who shielded me very quickly in the face of painful situations.

Given that childhood is where the brain has most of its formative work, it is no wonder that my experience of life has been one to resist discipline and commitment. So now my task is to develop that muscle, and one of the places I’ve chosen to do so is within my faith. Christians speak of “making a commitment to Christ”, which really mostly involves a shift in belief more than a genuine passion for following in the footsteps of Jesus.  At least that’s how it was for me all those years ago – all about right belief rather than right living.

Placing myself back within the community of the church is risky business, and it’s likely I’ll find my new perspectives to rub up against what is believed and taught.  Yet I will stand firm in a commitment that is far more meaningful than a mere hoping for a better afterlife. It’s a commitment to listen and engage with those I meet; to meet them where they are at; and to see through what I don’t like into what is pure at heart. This is where I find God, where I do not resist the things that are unpleasant, but take it all in for the highest good.

The Glorious World of Books

One book at a time is never enough for me!  One chapter from one book here, another chapter from another there…….jumping from book to book just like jumping from website to website.  I guess that’s a common behaviour in the ‘Internet generation’, considering just how much information is at our fingertips.  Here’s a little glimpse into what I’m currently focused on reading, and why:

The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalke & Alan Mann.  I picked this one up at the library while browsing the religious section.  What grabbed me was recommendations from Brian Mclaren and Tony Campolo, as well as a genuinely captivating writing style. This book fits very nicely with a pull back towards Christianity.

Loneliness by John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick.  I’ve written a bit about it lately, and this is the definitive book explaining the purpose of loneliness in evolutionary development – pain as a motivator for social cohesion. Chock-full of research and VERY relevant in my current interest in evolution. Picked it up at the library today.

The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.  A beautifully written book, completely accessible and giving voice to the pains and throes of depression, as well as offering a scientifically-validated solution.  Combined with the CD, this is the best guide to developing mindfulness and overcoming the negative influences that precipitate depression.

The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney.  I have finally found a reasonable explanation for the behavioural traits that have so far caused so much grief!  Page after page resonates with my experience, such that I have been able to develop self-acceptance, moving towards a health self-esteem.

Rapt by Winifred Gallagher.  The book that might just change my multi-book habit!  This one delves into the world of focus and attention, which I desperately need to incorporate in my life!

Each and every book here serves a unique facet of my experience, such that the information is complementary – much like a university degree combining several unique subjects that, although radically different, combine to create something of significance.  Here I am using my life as a scientific lab and experiment, using my curiosity and passion in an attempt to explore and grow.  And the journey is thrilling.

Redefining Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3 NRSV)

Previously, faith in God meant that I believed in a supernatural deity, and the consequence was to cast a shadow on anything that would seek to question such an ideal.  Science and evolution then were closed books, for they depicted a world solely natural in origin and force.  What I’ve since discovered is so much more wonderful, majestic and awe-inspiring than any faith-filled experience of the past.

Opening to the world of science and its constant discoveries has created a wow-factor like no other.  In this day and age, the “things not seen” and the “things that are not visible” are brought within our reach.  The unseen world of cells, molecules, atoms, and other structures are the building blocks of life.  Does this then do away with faith?  Certainly, faith in a God ‘out there’ really serves no purpose, and this Being is largely the projection of cultures, which the New Atheists rightly dismiss.  There is, however, a place for a natural, this-worldly faith that can ground one in meaning and purpose.

This is the faith that currently consumes me.  I can now speak of God as being at the very heart of all of life.  I do not need to consider God to be some form of super-human entity, with a personality, in the way ‘he’ was related to in the Bible.  And yet, I can take solace in human qualities such as love, hope, and faith, which are larger than any one person.  Prayer is to take in the depth of life with deep awe and respect rather than to make a request for intervention; or it is to connect in with the global heart of the planet.

It is a wonderful thing to be able to break free from the ‘thought viruses’ of the past, and through our own questions, come to a way of seeing, thinking, and being that resonates with life in all its glory.  Then, rather than view ideas as true or false, we can see them more as story, or poetry, or metaphor. What is heresy in one generation is orthodoxy in other.  And on it goes.

An Integral Quote….

Here’s a quote from the book Integral Life Practice, which uses the Integral philosophy of Ken Wilber to devise essential spiritual practices for the 21st century.  It will definitely inform my thoughts as I develop ideas on an open source approach to spiritual practice.

This addresses a serious need.  A Buddhist could easily discuss with a friend in the same tradition how to apply his or her spiritual practice to life challenges.  But could a Buddhist do that with a Christian? Or a Muslim? The same holds true for spiritual aspirants outside of these traditions. We need to begin to engage a practice conversation across and beyond traditions.  The growing international community of spiritual practice needs to establish a common vocabulary if we are to come together in service of the greater good. Thus, this book begins a conversation about a new evolutionary direction in personal practice, one that will be continued by future explorers on the edges of human potential.  Integral Life Practice is helping to define an emerging field of study, inquiry, and application.


New Inspiration

This morning I went back to church.  And it was not your average service, for I was privileged to experience some special guests, who in the past I had cherished as deeply enriching my faith.  Sons of Korah happened to be performing, a band whose music is based completely on the Psalms.  The most amazing thing was that I did not know they were going to be there.  I was returning to church as a means of experiencing fellowship, to get beyond the loneliness that I have expressed elsewhere on this blog.  To see them was a sheer thrill, and my heart and imagination was captured in a delight that I have not experienced in a long time.

The songs were all familiar, yet there was a new resonance – that of an evolutionary perspective, which allowed me to appreciate the music far more than in the past.  I took the lyrics as the embodiment of the author’s unique time and place experience.  In doing so, I could see the richness of the metaphorical language, which places God in a far more immanent position than I previously realized.  God wasn’t ‘out there’ somewhere – in the language of the Psalms, the land and experience of war brought forth images of the nature of God.

Additionally, I could also see God at work in the beautiful instrumentation and the passion of the band.  And God was present in so many ways throughout the service.  This God – the one who always is, always was, and always will be – the ever-present oneness, giver of every breath, impulse of evolution – is worthy of worship and praise.

Thinking about an Open Source Spirituality

Even since I heard Doug Pagitt talk about the application of open source within the realms of Christian tradition, I was immediately inspired by the thought of how this might play out in the plethora of spiritual traditions that are currently available to us today.  What I envision is the dissemination of modern spiritual practices licensed under Creative Commons, which allows for attribution to the original author and the right to create derivative works.   Wikipedia is the best example I can think of for this process – pages can be added by anyone, and modified by anyone – and like the scientific community, the work undergoes the jurisdiction of the majority (although this can be a slow process given the vast amount of information added to regularly).

I’d like to see us get beyond the written word to embrace a multimedia approach to engaging the spiritual life.  Think of YouTube with more substance and less noise.  A well-formed community, not tied to any one website but comprised of a network of sites, could bring to life several different perspectives that allow for the application of spiritual practice relevant to this day and age.  I believe that it is in our consistent practices that we will mature, grow, and evolve from our present stage of development, and if these are disseminated in a form accessible to all, the potential is there to strengthen the evolution of the world’s traditions.

Obviously, this is not the creation of another form of spirituality; rather, it is an effort to make current and immediate forms of practice that would be both engaging and inspiring. My heart yearns for this since I don’t currently have a regular spiritual practice.  I did at one stage of my life, when as a fervent believer in Christ I would read the Bible daily and pray regularly. My devotional times were sacred, and I cherished them within the context of my faith and life in the Christian community.  Now outside of a community of faith I have so many options and so little inspiration. How I long for such inspiration yet again!  This open source spirituality approach may just allow for that inspiration both online and offline. Without commercial interest, and within a model of evolutionary spirituality such as that described by Michael Dowd, the world could truly be blessed through such an effort.

May the inspiration continue.