Allowing Our Anxieties to Teach Us

What must be sacrificed, and it will fee like a sacrifice, is the attachement and the strange satisfaction that problem-solving gives us. Don’t you feel good when you’ve solved problems at the end of the day? We say to ourselves, “I’m an effective, productive, efficient human being. I’ve earned my right to existence today because I’ve solved ten problems.” I do want us to solve problems; certainly there are plenty out there to solve. But not too quickly. We mustn’t lead with our judgments and fears. We shouldn’t lead with our need to fix and solve problems. This is the agenda-filled calculating mind that cannot see things through God’s eyes. We must not get rid of the anxiety until we have learned what it wants to teach us.

— Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

If you’re like me, an 8 on the enneagram, these words are difficult to swallow.


The Theology of the Devil

“No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps all be more or less at fault, and that we might be expected to take upon our own shoulders the wrongs of others by forgiveness, acceptance, patient understanding and love, and thus help one another to find the truth. On the contrary, in the devil’s theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. This does not exactly make for peace and unity among men, because it means that everyone wants to be absolutely right himself or to attach himself to another who is absolutely right. And in order to prove their rightness they have to punish and eliminate those who are wrong.”

— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Inside Your Own House

I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.

You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and so you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!

Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can’t find where your soul is hidden, for you the world will never be real.

— Kabir, Ecstatic Poems

Intelligent Obedience

“No one can become a saint or a contemplative merely by abandoning himself unintelligently to an oversimplified concept of obedience. Both in the subject and in the one commanding him, obedience presupposes a large element of prudence and prudence means responsibility. Obedience is not the abdication of freedom but its prudent use under certain well-defined conditions. This does nothing to make obedience easier and it is by no means an escape from subjection to authority. On the contrary, obedience of this kind implies a mature mind able to make difficult decision and to correctly understand difficult commands, carrying them out fully with a fidelity that can be, at times, genuinely heroic. Such obedience is impossible without deep resources of mature spiritual love.”

– Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Almost Christian

I’ve recently begun reading Almost Christian: What The Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean. I got turned on to it by Tony Jones who is blogging through the book. Even though I’m not too far into the book, I can tell that Dean is addressing the issue in a thoughtful and balanced way so I’m looking forward to reading more.

The main point of the book seems to be that the faith of teenagers is in crisis. American teens don’t seem to be able to successfully articulate their what their faith means to them or what they believe. And Dean believes this trend is most likely due to the fact that American Christian adults are doing a poor job of exposing teens to classic, orthodox, traditional Christianity. She writes:

“What if the blase religiosity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all? What if the church models a way of life that asks, no passionate surrender to ho-hum assent? What if we are preaching moral affirmation, a feel-better faith, and a hands-off God instead of a decisively involved, impossibly loving, radically sending God of Abraham and Mary, who desired us enough to enter in creation in Jesus Christ and whose Spirit is active in the church and in the world today? If this is the case–if theological malpractice explains teenagers’ half-hearted religious identities–then perhaps most young people practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism not because they reject Christianity, but because this is the only “Christianity” they know.

And if you are unclear on what Dean means by “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” she outlines five guiding beliefs of MTD:

1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to fell good about oneself.
4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

And this is all taking place, according to Dean, primarily because adults don’t do a good enough job talking about and practicing their faith in front of their children. For all I know, that may be true to some extent. I’m not that up on the history of polling teens in this country on matters of faith but I wonder if this isn’t such a new development. Is it possible that with current day fixation on polling, data, focus groups especially in the American Church, we’re just finding out what has more or less always been the case? It’s like people who are freaking out that autism is on the rise when it’s much more probable that autism is relatively static but that it’s being diagnosed much more successfully with benefit of today’s medical advances. Again, I’m not an expert and to some degree I’ll take Dean at her word, but this is something that I thought of while reading the book.

Ultimately, Dean, along with everyone else who fixates on why teens don’t seem all that interested in American Christianity, is attempting to untangle a very complicated web of intricate and inter-related factors. It’s certainly worthwhile and I’m glad the work is being done. But I wonder if we are missing a key point in all of this.

Imagine you were an alien visiting earth. You have no previous religious practice and you have no previous knowledge of the various world religions practiced on earth. You arrive and someone tells you about two Gods. One God created the world and everything in it. If you believe in that God and love that God, you will be spared eternal conscious punishment in a place called Hell. And because a vast majority of the world don’t believe this God in the right way, they will go to hell forever, even though God loves them all very much. And then the other God, the God of MTD, created the world and watches from above, wants everyone to be nice and happy. This God will help you when you need help and if you’re a good person, you’ll be rewarded with being with God in heaven.

What religion makes more sense? What God would you place your bet on if you were that alien? Personally, I don’t blame American teens for believing what they do. Given the choice between the classic, traditional depiction of the Gospel, I’d choose the God of MTD every day of the week. I’m not saying that I’m a proponent of the MTD message and I’m not saying that the prescriptions Dean makes are totally off base. So far she brings up valid concerns and offers helpful suggestions, but are we missing the bigger picture? What is the gospel are we sharing to our kids and is that gospel compelling? For me, I believe an entirely different gospel today compared to the gospel I was offered as a youth. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t teach me or that I didn’t have awesome youth workers at the church I was raised in. The gospel I was offered didn’t work for me. It was the prime suspect. Everything else was pretty awesome. Great parents, great people at the church I grew up in but I needed a way to connect to God that made sense to me. Doubling down on teaching kids a message that doesn’t compel them doesn’t seem like a great solution.

The Contradiction of the Cross

“On the cross, our false dependencies are revealed. On the cross, our illusions are killed off. On the cross, our small self dies so that the true self, the God-given self, can emerge. On the cross, we give up the fantasy that we are in control, and the death of this fantasy central to acceptance.

The cross is, above all, a place of powerlessness. Here is the final proof that our own feeble powers can no more alter life’s trajectory than a magnet can pull down the moon. Here is the death of the ego, of the self that insists on being in charge, the self that continually tries to impose its own idea of order and righteousness on the world.

The cross is a place of contradiction. For the powerlessness of the cross, if fully embraced, takes us to a place of power. This is the great mystery at the heart of the Christian faith, from Jesus to Martin Luther Kind Jr., the mystery of the power of powerlessness. As long as I am preoccupied with the marshaling of my own feeble powers, there will be no way for God’s power to flow through me. As long as I am getting in my own way, I cannot live in the power of God’s way.”

— Parker Palmer, The Promise of Paradox

The Curse of Constantine

“One of history’s greatest lessons is that once the state embraces a religion, the nature of that religion changes radically. It loses its nonviolent component and becomes a force for war rather than peace. The state must make war, because without war it would have to drop its power politics and renege on its mission to seek advantage over other nations, enhancing itself at the expense of others. And so a religion is in the service of a state is a religion that not only accepts war but prays for victory. From Constantine to the Crusaders to the contemporary American Christian right, people who call themselves Christians have betrayed the teachings of Jesus while using His name in the pursuit of political power.”

–Mark Kurlansky, Nonviolence

Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to just the Christian right. To some degree we all pursue our own power while ignoring the powerless. I know that often times I can be violently nonviolent. It’s fairly easy to consider yourself a proponent of nonviolence when the topic surrounds the Iraq or Afghanistan wars currently going on or the build up of nuclear weapons all around the world. But it gets a bit more difficult when considering our own thoughts, words and all the other daily choices that in some way or another commit violence on others, even those we love.

Driving Out The Merchants

“God is the truth and a light in himself. When he enters the temple, he drives out ignorance and darkness and reveals himself in light and truth. Then, when the truth is known, the merchants must be gone–for truth wants no merchandising!

God does not seek his own. In all his acts, he is innocent and free and acts only out of true love. That is why the person who is united to God acts that way–he, too, will be innocent and free, whatever he does, and will act out of love and without asking why, solely for the glory of God, seeking his own advantage in nothing–for God is at work in him.

And what is more, as long as a man is looking for pay for what he does, or wants to get from God anything that God could or would give, he is like a merchant. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, do all can in the way of good works, solely for the praise of God, and efface yourself completely as if you did not exist. Whatever you do, you shall not ask anything in return for it and then your efforts will be both spiritual and divine.”

–Meister Eckhart, Essential Writings of Meister Eckhart

Our Blessings Come Quietly

“The contradictions of life are not accidental. Nor do they result from inept living. They are inherent in human nature and in the circumstances that surround our lives. We are, as the Psalmist says, “little less than God” but also “like the bests that perish” (Psalms 8:5; 49:12). Our highest insights and aspirations fail because we are encumbered by flesh that is too weak–or too strong. When we rise to soar on the wings of spirit, we discover weights of need and greed tied to our feet. The things we seek consciously and with effort tend to evade us, while our blessings come quietly and unbidden. When we achieve what we most want, our pleasure in it often fades.”

–Parker Palmer, The Promise of Paradox