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Late this afternoon I stopped at a coffee shop to finish up my work day.  It seems that a lot of Christians like to meet a coffee shops to discuss and discover deeper aspects of their faith.  Today was no exception.  It’s not that I was trying to overhear their conversation, because I wasn’t.  I was trying to concentrate on my work, but their voices kept breaking into my reality.  In fact, their conversation was inescapable for anyone in the shop  — including those of us seated on the other side of the room.

Two men met up just as I was arriving.  One appeared to be a recent college graduate who was looking for a job.  The other appeared to be around 30.  There was a bit of banter about C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia as they stood in line — even the barista joined in with commentary of her own.  They continued to discuss Lewis as they sat down but soon branched out to cover other authors of religious writings.  From there they moved to Scripture and theology.  There were three things about their interaction that I found interesting.  Early on I noticed the role that each individual took.  The older took on the role of wise mentor guardian to the younger.  The younger implicitly accepted anything and everything that fell from the lips of the guardian.  Second, any author whose writings fell outside outside of the guardian’s fairly narrow evangelical view was deeply suspect and to be avoided.  Third, the guardian was very sure of his Biblical interpretation and his theology.  From time to time he would wax eloquent with great passion correcting and then instructing his young charge on how he should believe.  There was no doubt or question, he knew the truth — and the truth is seen in black and white.

I remember when I was that sure.  When it was all so simple, when I had all the answers and the truth was black and white.  A time when I parroted the truths I learned from my guardians to the proteges that were under my tutelage.  A time before I really began to wrestle with God, with life, with the harshness of the world within which we live.  A time when I thought I was living by faith, but truth be told, was more likely living by someone else’s faith.  A time when I shied away from authors who were not aligned closely enough with my faith for fear that their influence might somehow “corrupt” my belief system and turn me away from God.  A time when my God was too small.  A time when my God was hemmed in by the boundaries of a specific theology of a specific subset of a subset within the universal Church.

But life broke my theological boundaries and God escaped.  And when I went to find him, I found riches untold outside the borders that I had constructed.  I found that instead of providing protection, those boundaries had stunted my spiritual growth.  That God had endowed men and women from other faith traditions with a wealth of wisdom, knowledge and insight through which I could draw into closer relationship with him.  I also learned to not be so sure of myself, of my answers, of my understanding.  And I learned to be patient in the pursuit of truth.  To allow time for God to speak, to lead, to guide.

I am glad I now live in a world of uncertainty, for it is a world where God can be God.  A world where God can go exceedingly and abundantly beyond anything I could ever ask, hope, wish or think.  A world where he can work in me and through me in ways that I could never imagine.  All I have to do is say “yes” to the journey.

Yes.

On to the  journey.

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.

 

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!