May 11 2014
It’s said that Leonardo DaVinci viewed anything he was working on, or trying to understand, by looking at it from three differing perspectives. This opened his mind and released some of his personal objectivity about his subject.
In the book, “How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci,” the author recommends approaching our thoughts using the same practice resulting in a slightly different approach.
If you feel confused about what you believe, or if your beliefs are important to hold on to, here’s a practice to search out within yourself what you may be feeling or struggling with. It’s also an opportunity to find out how important your beliefs are to you, and some insight into why you think what you do about them.
There are a number of advantages to practicing this occasionally as you dive deeper into your journey. If you are someone more attached to experience than beliefs, yet are being warned by other Christians, or teachers and guides whom you respect, that you are becoming too detached (or too attached) to your belief system or set of beliefs, this will provide insight about how you feel, without the need for approval from an external source. It will clarify where you stand, then give you the opportunity to choose how to firm up or loosen the reins on the beliefs you hold.
Sometimes beliefs are important to providing a structure, a container if you will, for your experiences. They allow your experiences to flow freely, but also creates boundaries from which you’re not comfortable straying. There’s nothing wrong with this.
On the other hand, if your beliefs have become so ingrained that you don’t experience anything fully without someone telling you what is true or not, this may help. Our beliefs are a set of ideas, in Christianity, called doctrine. Doctrine is an interpretation of how an institution has developed and interpreted their practice of religion or other beliefs. It defines, describes, dictates, and organizes beliefs, ideas, rituals, liturgy, and ceremonies around these agreed upon beliefs and ideas. In Christianity, they are ideas and beliefs drawn from scripture, and translated or transformed into a religious practice for a community to practice collectively.
DaVinci used a mirror to look at his paintings in reverse. Do the same here with your deeply held beliefs. ___ suggests making the strongest possible argument against your belief. Write your strongest argument against it.
Next, review this belief ‘from a distance’ as DaVinci did with his paintings to gain perspective in different settings. Would I believe the same thing if I lived in India, or another part of the world? What if I was another race or from a different economic background or ethnicity? Write down how some of these perspectives might change your belief, or not. Be honest and true to yourself. Allow yourself to stretch.
Remember that these practices are not to change your beliefs, but rather, to test your feelings and the possibility of any hidden thoughts or ideas about these beliefs. We often have blind spots that are difficult to see, or uncertainty that is camouflaged as something else all together. The practice of examining your thoughts and beliefs outside of your normal thinking pattern can bring things to the surface you didn’t know was there.
Bringing this out into the open honestly is like taking the elephant out of the living room in a family dynamic that’s become dysfunctional. It’s only when we address it head on that we can change it or transform our relationship to it. It’s important not to be afraid of an exercise like this because whenever fear is the reason not to look at something, we’ve got something we should be looking at. Fear based beliefs or thoughts are not sustainable. It cannot grow roots if it’s not grounded in love, the essence of God. Fear cannot exist in the presence of love, which means nothing can come between you and God when fear is absent. It’s for this reason, there’s nothing to fear in testing your beliefs and your relationship to them. The only real outcome is that you’ll be stronger because you’ll know where you are, who you are, and what you need in your relationship to the source of your being in God. If fear exists, it is certain that it interferes with a true and powerful union with the Presence. When you can bring it out into the open and challenge it head on, your chance of eradicating it is greatest.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t like being told what to do. Or think. This is the single best opportunity for someone to get me to do the opposite. Reverse psychology works wonders if you’re a jerk. I cannot bring myself to do something for someone who demeans or dismisses me. I go into paralysis.
I remember how it felt the day I changed in the Harlem Revival Tent. I also remember it was like to have a major paradigm shift at other times of my life. Some shifts in world view can completely shake our world, while others are minor and inconsequential even if they teach us something that helps us to grow or expand our world.
The paradigm shift I had when I moved out west, and began to understand experientially what conservative republicans who lived in this new culture saw through their lens was earth shattering for me. Up until then, I’d understood their perspective from a how society or media defined it, or from a journalist’s description. I’d even understood it from the horses mouth, so to speak. But it wasn’t until I’d spent a few months working side by side with them in their environment that it came alive. It literally changed how I saw the world.
Their values, deeply embedded in this paradigm, were suddenly crystal clear. They came from a culture where those who came before them had risked their lives to be here - and the reason many of them traveled to the barren high desert of Utah, for instance, was to live without laws that oppressed or limited the freedoms that added value to their culture for a myriad of reasons.
Being raised in New York City and Norway, how to handle the issue of ‘the right to bear arms’ was a no brainer. The only people who carried guns where I grew up were drug dealers, mafia hit men, and serial killers. A round of gun shots had to fly by my head on a Brooklyn street corner only once to know how I felt about people having guns. The only thing guns did were kill people where I came from. The thought of gunshots being fired randomly in a fit of road rage in Los Angeles was equally disturbing. Guns in the hands of out of control people in crowded urban environments was a frightening proposition. But, in the west, where guns were a tool you needed to sustain and protect your livestock, pets, children, and yourself - was an entirely different matter. Guns were also a big part of traditional and cultural forms of recreation. Granted, many of these practices involve the slaughter of animals, or are dangerous, such as target practice and other games using weaponry. But, that said, these recreational activities are a cherished tradition, as well as a rite of passage for many men and sons in rural cultures. For these reasons and the obvious one - it’s in the constitution, rescinding the right to bear arms is a threat to these American cultures that still value their freedom and wide open spaces. In the west, it’s an idea whose time has not yet come.
More importantly, however, is the view these westerners had from a larger perspective. The culture was completely different than my inner city immigrant neighborhood, or my Manhattan professional world. I began to see an arrogance that reeked of ‘better than’ in the cultures I’d hailed from. It was no different than the feeling I’d experienced from the evangelical Christians that I tried to attend church with. This air of arrogance - and let’s not leave out condescension, patronizing, and rude certainty - suddenly looked so ugly. It even made me feel dirty. Almost overnight, the people from my uptown Manhattan world of academics, professionals, artists, and corporate executives were not only snobs, but they were also jerks. I was one too. (Myself included.)
But that was all about to change.
Those who I worked and lived around at this time were not only conservative Republicans, but many of them were Mormon. I didn’t know this at first, but it quickly became clear. The most memorable moment in those early days was when Steve Rich, my first mentor, casually commented with a hint of humor, how weird Christians were. He said any religion that believes you’re saved by not having to do anything and worships the tool that killed God is a pretty strange religion. “ Wow, I’d never thought about it that way. It was a whole new way of seeing something from another lens - a view I didn’t particularly like, especially since it was true.
Of course, like any good Christian, I lightheartedly and eagerly explained the cross symbolism and the gift of grace, as if he didn’t know. We often joked about our different religions in years to come. I ribbed him about how silly it was to wear special underwear and store enough beans to blow up the neighborhood. He also knew I’d never give up my sexy thong for that long underwear. I wonder if he thought I actually wore a thong. Not on my life.
The week of September 11th, my assistant Ann and I traveled to New Mexico for a Holistic Management workshop and board meeting. We stopped during the 18 hour drive to sleep in one of those local yokel roadside motels deep in character. I loved staying there, lumpy mattresses and all. Ann and I had long conversations about everything and anything, and this evening I felt comfortable enough to ask her some of the more intimate and personal questions about her Mormon faith. There was a secretive nature to the LDS religion. You had full access to everything they believed or practiced only up to a point. After that, it seemed everything was sealed and gates locked. When I photographed a wedding at the Temple, I was invited to sit in the entranceway before the revolving entry to the white, ethereal looking temple. I watched as members walked in, one by one, and were signed in on the computer to verify their status as righteous enough to enter the holy place. This is not meant disrespectfully, it’s how it works. Not every Mormon was allowed in, only those who’d complied with their standards of morality. (Explain more). For instance, if you broke the vow of sexual conduct while unmarried, you couldn’t be married in the Temple. The ceremony in the Temple was only witnessed by those who passed the test, while the rest of us sinners stood waiting in the blistering Idaho heat. (kidding). In all seriousness, to a visitor watching people endlessly file in with their little overnight bag that held their pure, white garments was a bit odd. I felt like I was in the movie Oh God! with George Burns and John Denver. It was so eerily similar to the heaven scenes where Denver and Burns exchanged their spiritual wisdom, Hollywood style.
I have a deep respect for Mormon people. Overall, they’d always been much more Christlike toward me than Christians. They went beyond themselves as neighbors, and were always good to my son. I will be forever grateful for their role in his, and my, life. (Wrangler story about moving…) The Church of Latter Day Saints has grown exponentially over the last decade. It is, by far, the fastest growing religion in the world, and nobody can compete with their mission and genealogy operations. They’re organized, compassionate, smart, and strategic. And, for the most part, unified. It’s no wonder they’re growing in leaps and bounds.
One afternoon when Wally visited Idaho, we stopped at the Mormon Book Store. I knew he’d never seen any Mormon literature or other religious and cultural things. As a graduate of Drew theological seminary, he was mesmerized. He roamed the aisles for, what seemed like, hours. You could hear a pin drop, and a movie about the story of Joseph Smith played on the lowest volume possible at the back of the store. Wally would walk to the back of the store and listen to the movie for a few minutes, then roam back into the aisle and pick up another strangely similar, but different, book. After a good hour, I checked on him. “How’s it going,” I asked? “Is it interesting to you?” He looked up and a look of deep reflection came over him. He said, “To tell you the truth, it’s like being in a parallel universe.”
It’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking coffee, because it would’ve spurt out my nose. I love telling that story to Mormon friends. If you’ve ever been in one of those Christian bookstores at the mall, you know what I mean. It’s like it’s the same store, but not. Very funny.
That’s why I love Idaho. It was conservative, but not in the way New York is conservative. This was more like being in another country, sometimes a developing country. In New York City, the weird people, to my eyes, were liberals. The grunge, hippies, beatniks, rockers, or mentally ill. But here, the strange religious people were considered normal. I love diversity.
PARADIGM SHIFT SUSTAINABILITY
A study done at the University of Brussels (?) on what constitutes a true sustainable community was a revealing read. At the time, nobody saw what I saw in this study - some environmentalists mocked me for having the nerve to bring it up. A decade or more later, most people had shifted to my way of thinking. It wouldn’t be the first time, or the last, that my ideas stood alone. I just had to give it time - and be brave. Not always easy. I eventually learned the best way to stand alone with a new idea is to find a tribe - even if they’re far away.
Seth Godin says only two things are required to be a tribe. Shared ideas and a way to communicate. A tribe is pretty basic, which isn’t surprising since they’re products of mostly indigenous cultures. They’re always connected to each other, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. This binds them. In his book, TRIBE, Godin says any group of people can be a tribe. For instance, our little Methodist church is a tribe, but organizations that aren’t passionate about their shared idea are boring tribes. If there isn’t a movement growing within a tribe, it’s not effective. The reason the Grateful Dead is one of the most successful rock bands of all time is simply because they didn’t create just record sales, they created a tribe. A tribe that brought them over 100 million dollars in gross sales and loyalty that had all the markings of religion without the doctrine, dogma, or beliefs. It was this kind of passion that connected millions of every age, worldwide. They created a global tribe.
If church could create an effective tribe, they’d gain momentum. The problem is their shared idea is in turmoil and members are divided in most churches regarding worldview. Most churches, denominational and evangelical alike, are torn on fundamental issues like gay marriage, the emergent movement, where to place emphasis: right behavior, beliefs, and experience. Even worship and liturgical styles are spread across the board lately, leaving people unsure how they feel about many things. The older and loyal members know how important it is to change so a new generation feels welcome, but they’re not passionate about it. Certainly understandable because it’s a form of compromise. Meanwhile, the younger generation has been bored there for years, and the church is not yet what it can be to meet their spiritual needs because they haven't said what they want yet …. it’s a time of limbo on a variety of fronts.
That said, it’s an exciting time because churches are exploring more possibilities than they have in decades. They are getting unstuck. Getting unstuck is a process that requires willingness to look through the lenses of others. Obviously easier said than done. Deeply held beliefs are difficult to compromise on, and allowing mixed beliefs, even if subtleties, are hard to get comfortable with. It challenges our sense of right and wrong, and our loyalties. People of faith have been told for centuries that their beliefs define their faith, so how do they resolve something that asks them to be more fluid and tolerant in those beliefs? Even being asked, minimally, to tolerate a slightly different emphasis within the same belief can be tricky.
Unlearning is sometimes the best avenue for learning how to see from another’s point of view. Great care is required to navigate this, however. When it comes to religion, words have power. The creative expression of God is even referred to as God’s ‘word.’ When we add the tribal agreements Christians hold on to around interpretation of scripture, the pond gets extremely murky.
So, where do Christians meet? How do we create a space that allows for new ways of thinking about Christianity and how it speaks to itself within its own boundaries?
Conflicts regarding ideas and interpretation are not new to Christians, of course. Institutionally, it’s a normal state of affairs. But flexibility with how the story is interpreted is another matter altogether. Christians have, as a whole, avoided this conversation for much longer than was healthy. They’ll now have to backtrack some to get to the root of the issue, and work their way back to center - if they can identify a center. This, in no means, implies anyone has to compromise or believe anything they don’t believe, but if they want the institutional church to be a place that can meet the needs of average people, they’ll have unlearn some attitudes and archaic traditions, while making other timeless traditions relatable to a current generation. Unlearning ideas that separate them from the culture is certain to benefit the church for the long run, and like any long standing practice, it’s still there. Nothing will go away forever, and what’s considered old now will be new again because everything cycles. The most important thing churches can learn now are new ways of communicating, with the willingness to meet people where they are through language and a bottom-up, creative environment.
A shared idea and ways to communicate are not big challenges these days. Unless, of course, you’re a pastor and most of your parishioners don’t have email, don’t text, or use Facebook. This is a problem at the most fundamental level. We had to go back to snail mail to engage a large portion of the population. As a matter of face, we were at a regional meeting of churches and I saw eyes rolling when he insisted churches create a website. It was shocking. A large percentage of the smaller churches didn’t use the Internet for any communication, and they didn’t understand the need for it. This is a blaring indicator. Clearly, these churches have not done their part in meeting culture where it is, or even paying attention to it.