I had the privilege during my time in Colorado to attend two conferences with Thomas Keating teaching contemplative prayer which opened a new window my soul that I had never noticed. Keating’s experience of spiritual growth is that when one grows into a deeper understanding, while one transcends, the previous spiritual history is incorporated or included as part of the foundation. As one climbs stairs, the previous stairs remain as a foundation for the present step as without the previous steps the stairway would collapse. The theologian, Karl Barth was asked how he would summarize the essence of the millions of words he had published, he replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Madeleine L’Engle wrote: “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” This is why the Bible did not get rid of the Old Testament after the New Testament books were written and included in the canon of Scripture. Spiritual growth is a cumulative process.
Jesus points to this when he teaches: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For I tell you truly until heaven and earth pass away, not a single job, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished….
McLaren that spiritual growth is messy and difficult and is like leaving a base camp where you have all the comforts of what feels like home and then you leave to go into a desert where all those conveniences do not exist. He also says that the lines are not fully delineated and that we can vacillate back and forth, with one foot in the present phase while steeping out into the unknown.
Those who have lost their faith or were never involved in spirituality will seek the same benefits that spirituality gives from some other source: meaning, belonging and purpose. People who are lost seek other places to belong to find meaning, belonging and purpose, even when the outcome is becoming involved in extremist groups. McLaren notes John Lennon’s song, Imagine a “world without religion.” When one has been either hurt or for whatever reason not found meaning in a spiritual practice and faith, one settles for something else that will unite and divide around other ideologies, dictators, racial identities, etc. It is here, McLaren states that by helping these individuals find doubt that they can begin to search for a spirituality that will offer life instead of death.
Questions for Reflection
- McLaren says that faith is messy and difficult. In what ways throughout your life has faith been this way? What were the outcomes when you entered the mess and difficulty?
- Repeating the image that the Church is a heavenly gift in an earthen vessel with cracks in it, what has been your experience of both the difficulties and shortcomings of your church experience while also seeing their strengths and vital role to play in our world?
9. Faith, Beliefs, and Revolutionary Love
McLaren sees faith development as moving through the development of understanding simple dualistic beliefs (e.g. good vs. evil) and Complexity where we learn and discover our beliefs of understanding what this whole God’s action in history is about. Then after these two phases seem to leave us empty and we travail through the wilderness of Perplexity, if we remain faithful to the search that we will come to discover “revolutionary love.” Then he defines this love as “loving as God would love: infinitely, graciously, and extravagantly. Put it in more mystical terms, it means loving with God, letting divine love fill me and flow through me, without discrimination or limit … coming from the heart of the lover not the merit of the beloved and the correctness of the beloved’s beliefs.” McLaren quotes Alan Watts as saying that Belief clings, but faith lets go. Faith is an openness to the truth of God which is beyond what we already know.
McLaren notes Jesus’s Beatitudes in Matthew and Luke teaching a way of life. In fact the early church was called “the Way” before it was called the “Church.” Love is the way of the Spirit of God moves through us to others. Humility, righteousness, and other qualities are how love manifests itself.
Jesus ran into beliefs all the time and many of them had to be challenged because they blocked a person from linking up with the Spirit of God and becoming a living vessel of the Divine Presence. Jesus consistently challenged the beliefs of the disciples which restricted them from being vessels of God. Beliefs influence and reflect behavior. God continues to challenge our beliefs until there is nothing left but himself. Our beliefs are like a diving board to fall into God.
One of the items that McLaren, in my opinion fails to address, is that “love” also includes the boundaries of behavior and the beliefs that drive the behavior. Compassion forgives while maintaining the boundary. Compassion does not throw away judgement which is up to God. Love and judgement are two sides of the coin of love. Love and judgement are held in tension. Judgement doesn’t condemn. True judgement corrects with compassion. One of the problems in our culture that love has been degraded into a “feel good” feeling without the boundaries of respecting self and others such as modeled by the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.
Questions for Reflection.
- Describe the relationship between belief and faith in your life? Do faith and belief help support one another?
- How do faith and belief either help or hinder your being incarnated with the Living Presence of God?