For those who are not familiar with Dallas Willard and the Divine Conspiracy, this collection of videos is a great place to start.  I have been listening through a number of these over the past couple of months.  I just plug my ear buds into my iphone and pull this up on youtube and listen while I’m on the go.

And while I’m loading up the links on Willard, you must check out this article by Richard Foster.

After listening/reading, please leave me a note in the comments section, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Today I became aware of the passing of Dallas Willard.  I’m struggling a bit to wrap my mind around this event — which means I must write.

I first become aware of Willard through The Spirit of the Disciplines and some of the papers he wrote as a philosopher at USC.  I was encouraged to learn that it was possible to be a Christian in the upper echelons of academic philosophy and I was struck that he appeared to have a spirit of humility.  A few year later a somewhat eccentric new friend of mine insisted that some of us who were in church leadership at that time read a particular book.  He purchased copies of The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God for each of us and begged us to read it.  I did read it and felt as if I had been bumped off balance.  I wasn’t really sure how to respond to what Willard had written.  It didn’t seem heretical, yet it was a far piece from my Sunday School learning.  He challenged me to re-think the meaning of The Sermon on the Mount in ways that had never occurred to me.  I was fascinated, yet fearful.  In truth, I was not yet ready for the fullness of what Willard was wanting to say.  As I often do, I neither accepted nor rejected.  I just let it be.  I let it sit upon my mind and ruminate.

A bit more than ten years of time have passed since I read that book.  In the meantime life has had numerous twists and turns.  There have been times of great sadness and times of great joy.  My own spiritual journey has bounced between peace and despair.  Through these times my understanding of who God is and what he is about has been inexorably changing.  A few weeks ago our church began a brief series on The Sermon on the Mount.  I knew I had to read The Divine Conspiracy again – because now I have the ears to hear the words that he spoke.  But sadly, my copy missing.  Both the author, as well as the one from whom I received it have passed from this life.  Yet some vestiges of his understanding of the kingdom of the heavens remain in my mind.  And I have discovered that over these years of trials, troubles, joy and grace my understanding of “the kingdom among us” has begun to look an awful lot like his.

Sometime back I wrote a post about Giants on the Journey.  And while I never met Dallas Willard or knew him personally, I think I am only beginning to realize the impact that he has had and will have on my life through his writings.  And I wish that I would have had the opportunity to talk together in gentleness and humility about the Kingdom of God, the teachings of Jesus and how we live out the kingdom in our own lives each day.  For I think that he knew something deep within his spirit — something that is difficult to articulate in words, which can only be learned through experience with the living God, is manifested in humility and is found when one willingly loses themselves.

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.

Dallas, thank you for helping me understand that the Son of God came that the kingdom might invade this earth.  That God’s will might be done on earth now, just as it is done in heaven.  That the kingdom is not just a future possibility, but that it should be a living, active, present agent of change within our world today. For that and for so much more, I thank you.

Oh, and that eccentric friend of mine?  Maybe he wasn’t so eccentric after all.  Perhaps he was just on to something we hadn’t yet figured out — the Divine Conspiracy.

I came across a link to a wonderful article today.  We are so often consumed with time:  the passing of it, the management of it and the lack of it.  Time has a certain sense of currency about it and we worry about wasting it, losing it and sharing it.  Perhaps this article will cause you to think a little deeper about time and our societal obsession with the commodification of time.  After you read it, tell me what you think in the comments section!

 

I really puzzled about this for a long time. It seems that here I have bumped up against an unquestioned, at times unconscious, assumption of many in our society: that money can be used as the most reliable standard for measuring and comparing activities—at least all those activities that are not obviously of a higher order, such as worship. But it seems to me that this assumption is dangerously flawed.

Read the full article “The Economics of Splitting Wood by Hand.”

If you only had a few hours to live and were given the chance to talk with God, what would you say?  Would you talk about the trivial, the mundane?  Or would you focus in on what was most important to you.  The things that you hold to be of utmost importance, the things that you held to be most valuable?

This past week I was reading in the Gospel of John and I was struck by Jesus’ prayer in Chapter 17 during the waning hours of his life:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

John:17:20-23

I was struck by the call for unity.  The unity of all believers, the unity of believers with the Godhead, the unity within the Godhead.  I was struck by the fact that this unity would be a sign to the surrounding world of the significance of the redemptive work of Christ and the inauguration of a new kingdom.  That in these last few precious moments, what was foremost on his mind was unity.

Jesus, you see, is about tearing down fences.  Sadly, his followers seem to be very much at home putting up fences.

This impulse to build fences in strong within cultures, churches and people.  Not all fences are physical, of course.  They commonly masquerade as rules, theological dividing lines, rituals, traditions and beliefs.  These “fences” have and continue to separate us.

Christ prayed that all of his followers would be one, just as he and the Father were.  Instead, we have put up fences.  We have denominational fences that separate us — Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, Mennonite, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, Pentecostal, Catholic and on and on the list goes.  Of course, if none of those denominationally fenced in pastures is appropriate, one can always consider the recently popular “nondenominational” church.  Further, we sometimes see fences within denominations between churches that wont get along.  We also have fences within our churches between different groups that mark off their territory, space and significance.  Structures erected to demarcate lines of behavior and action.

All of these thoughts brought to mind the classic poem Mending Wall by Robert Frost.  Here are some excerpts.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’

He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

When we run up against difficult times our response seems to be to put up fences.  Perhaps it is because fences makes us feel safe.  Protected.  Secure.  Comfortable.  But Christ didn’t come for any of those things.  Nor did he call his followers to those things.  As he considered what lay ahead of him in those final hours that led up to his crucifixion and death, Christ called for unity.  Not just for his disciples, but for all who would believe in him in the age to come.  Perhaps it’s time to stop building fences and start tearing them down.  Christ knew that our unity would be a sign to an unbelieving world.  What message does our lack of unity send to this same world?

And what prevents us from taking down these walls, stone by stone, line by line precept by precept?  Tradition?  Fear?  Pride?  Intellectual sloth?

Good fences may make good neighbors, but they aren’t good for churches and they sure aren’t good for Christians.

 

I finished up The Critical Journey a few weeks ago.  Over the next few weeks I hope to post up some thoughts, ideas and personal reflections elicited by this book.  In this post I am just going to cover some quotes that touch on what it means to be in Stage 3 of the journey and what it means to be caged there.  This will serve as a bridge to Stage 4/The wall – a stage that I will write about more extensively.

Description

Stage 3 is described as the “doing” stage.  It is the period of time when we most consciously find ourselves working for God.  In fact our faith is characterized as just that.  .  .  .

It is positive and dynamic, centered on being productive in the area of our faith.  It  nourishes us because it is so personally rewarding, even when the objective is to help others.  In helping or leading, we are also fed, so it operates on goals and achievements, building and creating.  .  .  .

For many, this stage describes the height of their faith experience.  It feels exciting, fulfilling, awesome, inspiring, fruitful. .  .  .  It seems to be an almost insatiable period because everything is going so well.  For some, this is captured in the phrase, “if God be for us, who can be against us?”

Caged (stuck in) Stage 3

Some who are stuck at stage 3 make others squirm.  We are so zealous and engaging.  No one can be around us without hearing our story and our trying to convert them, whether to a charismatic experience, a peace or justice issue, a born-again faith, or the latest spiritual seminar.  Hard to fend off, we leave battle scars.  We believe so strongly that others need what we have that we cannot rest until we are satisfied that they want it too.  .  .

when we are caged at this stage, we insist on personal acceptance of and participation in our experience because that makes us feel successful in our faith.  We take personal satisfaction in having saved others from some horrible fate.  They can become productive like we are, and we can get the credit.  .  .  .

We work so hard at whatever we are doing as part of our faith experience that we become weary in well doing.  We are burning out and frequently at the same time feeling unappreciated without knowing why.  People did not change in the ways we wanted them to or at the  pace we expected.  Or we feel our leadership does not result in the breakthroughs we desired from it.  Usually, someone else is at fault.  We tried as hard as we could to “make it happen.”  So we are very disappointed, sometimes even bitter.  .  .

The more successful we are at stage 3, or the more productive we become, the more tempting it is to slip into the cage of self centeredness, even self worship.  We feel indispensable to the group.  .  .  .  The harder we work, the more success we have, the stronger our faith must be.  We put our desires in the place of God and call it God’s will.  And if challenged we will deny it vehemently, frequently using Scripture or other evidence to prove us right.  We can parry the challenge by attributing jealousy or immaturity to the challengers.  .  .  .

Life becomes a performance.  .  .  We cannot be vulnerable or look weak in front of others because we would be out of control.  We are angry at God inside and very fearful of being found out, so our facade is stronger than ever.  We look almost perfect to those around us.  We are frequently worshiped as heroes.  We thrive on the audience reaction.  Their applause become addictive.  We go back for more and more.  We strive so hard to be loved for what we have done rather than for who we are.  We are ultimately very, very lonely people.

Moving from Stage 3 to stage 4

This transition becomes very difficult because the certainty of stage 3 dissolves into uncertainty and questioning at stage 4.  .  .  .

There may even be a time in which we sense the loss of God.  God appears to have abandoned us, disappeared without a trace.  .  .  .

This is clearly the most alarming place of all the journey.  While the doubts or crises are there, we frequently feel as though God is not there when we need God most.  .  .  .  It sets the stage for the inevitable, humbling, crumbling experience of rediscovering God again.  .  .  .

Our faith, our relationship with God, must change before it can be remolded.

“Our faith, our relationship with God, must change before it can be remolded.”  Oh how true I am finding this to be!  And if it does not, I believe that we are stuck in moving back and forth in the first three stages.  Because until we undergo this change of relationship, we cannot move forward.

Reading this book has given me the opportunity to reflect back on my own journey and better evaluate where I have been.  I can see more clearly where I get “stuck” and why it is that I am getting “stuck.”  And that if I can accept true grace, God can take me through my “stuckness” and into an entirely new relationship with him.

I can clearly remember the very first time I experienced the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  We had clearly felt God leading us to Denver Seminary, so we followed.  And then the wheels fell off of everything.  It felt as if he had brought us to Denver and then abandoned us completely.  God was no where to be found.  I remember lying on the floor of our bedroom, prostrate before God, pouring out my anger, disillusionment, hopelessness.  .  .  and then I began to swear at God.  Really.  Literally.  And then I felt awful.  Really, really, awful.  And guilty – beyond belief.  And fearful — how can one swear at the living God and not pay the price?  Surely lightning should strike me dead.  And I groveled – for my life.  But God is merciful and slow to anger.  And forgiving.

Since then, I have experienced this dark night of the soul twice more.  Most recently during this past year.  But I think I am finally getting what it is that God is showing me, where he is trying to take me.  A journey that I would like to share more about in the next post on stage 4 and “The Wall.”

Journey with me to the wall, wont you?  Together let’s learn how to take it down – one “brick” at a time.

 

An interesting excerpt from Fr. Rohr is posted over at Maggies Farm.  Here is a taste of it.  The full excerpt can be read here.

But at a certain point, we have to surrender to the fact that the darkness is part of reality, and my logical mind does not know why. But the only real question becomes how to trust the light, receive the light, and spread the light. That is not a capitulation to evil any more than the cross was a capitulation to evil. It is real transformation into the unique program of the Crucified and Risen Christ. This is the one pattern that redeems reality instead of punishing evil or thinking we can eliminate it entirely. Our main job is to face it in ourselves.

This is something I have been thinking a lot about lately.  Facing the reality of evil in ourselves.  That we are both darkness and light.  When we first begin our walk with Christ, we are overwhelmed by grace, by love, by the fact that he has rescued us from despair.  But as we progress in our walk with him there will (or should) come a time when we begin to realize that there is still a very dark side resident within us.  One that we are powerless to overcome ourselves.  One that we must face up to, own up to, and let Christ heal as we allow him to embrace us just as we are.  And we must except that he indeed loves us just as we are.  Then we are able to let go and allow him to redeem us in the reality of who and what we are so that he can then empower us and free us to become all that he created us to be.

Or as Paul says in Romans 7:

We know that the law is spiritual, but I am not spiritual since sin rules me as if I were its slave.  I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate.  And if I do not want to do the hated things I do, that means I agree that the law is good.  But I am not really the one who is doing these hated things; it is sin living in me that does them.  Yes, I know that nothing good lives in me—I mean nothing good lives in the part of me that is earthly and sinful. I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them.  I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do.  So if I do things I do not want to do, then I am not the one doing them. It is sin living in me that does those things. So I have learned this rule: When I want to do good, evil is there with me.  In my mind, I am happy with God’s law.  But I see another law working in my body, which makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and it makes me its prisoner.  What a miserable man I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death?  I thank God for saving me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The Journey continues.

 

Silence. Please.

Pilgrim in Progress —  December 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

I thought this was a great post over at the Internet Monk.

I am convinced more and more every day — and especially in the light of tragic events yesterday — that the wisdom Christians in the U.S. need to learn is found in the Book of Job.

Read the full posts here: Silence. Please.

 

You may recall that I blogged a bit on the book of Job here and here.

 

I had the opportunity to pick up “The Critical Journey” and read a bit more today.  This book is intended to describe the different stages we move through on our spiritual journey.  It also describes places we get “stuck” and how to move from being stuck in one stage to beginning the next stage.  The authors refer to being stuck in a stage as being “caged.”  Today I read this regarding being “caged” at stage 2.

It is very seductive at this stage to believe that what is right for us in the faith is what is right for everyone else as well.  We often believe that the religious or moral rules by which we live as a faithful disciple should be followed by everyone else.  There is a tendency to become legalistic and moralistic, rigid in our understanding of what is right and what is wrong.  Punishment of offenders can become an obsession of those caged at stage 2.  .  .

 

.  .  .  No one caged in this lack of acceptance sees their own rigidity.  It is impossible for them to see it, since they are so sure they are right.  Consequently, a group arrogance develops which is actually counterproductive to their cause but which they seldom notice.  .  .  .

 

.  .  . The major difference between people caged at stage 1 and those caged at stage 2 is this:  at stage 1 we think we are wrong and weak;  other are right and strong.  At stage 2 we think we are right and strong;  others are wrong and weak. (p. 62)

 

Have you personally experienced this stage?  Have you moved past it?  Would you know it if you were in it?  Or do you reject this whole concept as a “bunch of bologna”? (in that case you might just be caged in the stage!)  I have experienced stage 2.  I wasn’t obsessed with “punishing offenders,” but I was darn sure that I was “right and strong” and didn’t have a high tolerance for those who believed differently.  But then life happened.  I got kicked around and I learned that things are not really so cut and dried.  I learned that each of us is on his or her own journey.  That God is working differently in each of our lives and that we are unique individuals for whom he has specific plans.  Therefore it follows that the path of spiritual growth and understanding will be different for each of us.  That each of us will come to understand God’s grace in our own lives through our own circumstances.  And hence each of us will have a unique understanding of grace, forgiveness, hope, love and relationship with God and others.  All of this has led me to become far more charitable and far less dogmatic.  I have jettisoned numerous “religious or moral rules” and as I continue to do so, each step along the journey feels lighter, freer, easier.  Or as Jesus once said:

“Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30 New Century Version)

Listen to the words of Jesus!  We can all use a lighter load as we travel along life’s journey.

I was out of town for much of this week, arriving home late this afternoon.  Tonight I had the opportunity to hang out with my son.  He loves football, so we were watching a game on the tele tonight.  Just before bed I decided we should watch the Wildcat 16 Goals for Success.  Not only do I benefit from watching these, but I am also “indoctrinating” my son, hoping to drive home to him the importance of how our core values effect the outcomes of our lives.  I  have mentioned these before in a post I called Leadership Lessons, but they are so great I wanted to bring them to your attention one more time.

Bill Snyder has been a constant to the Kansas State football program, from 1989 through 2005, and again from 2009 to the present. But within that constant have come 16 others that have formed the foundation of the K-State football family, and the life beyond those years of eligibility.

The 16 goals form the foundation for success, and create the work ethic and discipline that goes with them. With players and coaches from all backgrounds, having a single set of core values unifies them under one vision. If each adheres to the goals as individuals, then team success will follow.

Snyder believes the 16 goals are not only critical to success on the field, but also in everyday life. Once someone has dedicated themselves to doing things the right way, their chance of success in any field is dramatically increased.

 

Stages on the Journey

Pilgrim in Progress —  October 17, 2012 — 1 Comment

A lot is going in life right now (not bad, mind you) that is impinging on my ability to create content for this blog.  I have not abandoned this project.  In fact my mind continues to churn, creating fodder for the future.  I appreciate your patience during this time.  I assure you that when things “normalize” a bit, I will be posting more frequently.

In the meantime, I will be sharing some quotes from a book I recently began reading.  I am looking forward to spending some time wrestling with the ideas in The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith.

The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith, Second Edition

When pursued it become clear that this separation between one’s self and the Church usually stems from deep unresolved pain or dissatisfaction rooted in early religious upbringing.  Sometimes it arises from a contemporary  image of the Church as authoritarian, chauvinistic, hypocritical, or unforgiving in nature.  Though thirsting spiritually for a relationship, some find it too threatening or the prospect too unsatisfying to have to return to a painful image or experience associated with God and the religious realm.  .  .

A point comes on the spiritual journey, however, when a healing of one’s early religious experience must occur in order for wholeness to be realized.  This healing requires a transformation of the person and of the traditional religious images, symbols and words.  Such transformation allows for a new way to experience these traditions and, therefore, a whole new appreciation of spirituality.  It’s coming full circle to wholeness.  .  .

.  .  .  we have chosen to speak of spirituality ultimately as the way in which we live out our response to God.  Unless we find this personal, transformational meaning in its fullest sense, the struggle for wholeness will remain unresolved.  As Augustine put in int the first paragraph of his Confessions, “God created us for a relationship with him and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.”

I know that I have entered into a new phase, or stage on my own spiritual journey.  Without a doubt I am asking tougher questions about what I believe and why than I ever have in my life.  I am digging down and inspecting foundations that were laid during my youth.  Foundations that were built not by my own hands, but built by the words, actions, ideas and beliefs of others.  By teachers, preachers, parents, neighbors and friends.  But now I find myself questioning the expertise of those who engineered that foundation of my youth.  I’m sure that their motives were good, but I suspect that they were merely passing on what had been passed on to them.  Did they also have questions?  Did they ever pause to think deeply about the things that they believed and why?  Were they afraid to question the prevailing doctrine and tenets of the faith?  I wrote a bit about the crisis that comes when one asks these foundational questions in Thomas Kuhn, Paradigms, Flannel Graphs and Fundamentalists.

If you are up to it, get a copy of the book and read along with me!  That’s a journey we can take together!