During the winter of 1993, I participated in my first collaborative experience at the ELko BLM office. I had been following Tommy Martin and Steve Rich around, learning all I could about Holistic Management. Sometimes I felt like a baby bird in a nest. It was an interesting time, because I knew I was perfectly suited for this work, yet I also knew there was no demand for someone who could do this.
But there would be.
We were reviewing a grazing plan with environmentalists, tribal members,wildlife biologists, government conservationists, and ranchers....when I asked a question. Tommy responded with something that sounded wonderful, and much too enthusiastically I spit out, “I believe you.” She spontaneously responded. “Do NOT EVER believe me," she said. Another defining moment.
The irony was I knew this process was about living it - living in the questions. It had nothing to do with believing. The discovery process while watching what really happens in the ecosystem as the result of our actions is what we’d witness on the land, not ideas in our heads. This is all that mattered. This is why we were here. I knew that. Yet, when we want to believe something is true, our desire for it to work, or an ideal to be true, or our beliefs to be realized is so strong...that we lean into believing it anyway. This is what ideology is born of - and religion. Our understanding and desired outcomes are shaped by what we want to happen, and when they’re not, the reasons are framed or explained through the lens we wear. This is true for the Pollyanna’s or the nay-sayers and black/white thinkers.
Adopting a belief simply because, if it works, it will produce a desired outcome should be avoided because, in the long run, this belief will cause our downfall. It will come back to bite us or skew our sight if we don't stay attentive. It’s only in the experience we live our way into the answers, as the great poet Ranier RIlke so beautifully put it. (Rilke quote) This is a profound truth.
So how do we live our way into answers when it involves a being that’s invisible? Isn’t the only choice we have to believe something is true, even if we can’t prove it?
This is the mystery, but it’s also where the rubber meets the road in regards to spiritual journeys. This is where a paradigm shift might be helpful.
Different doors, at different floors, can meet us where we are. There is no hierarchy, only varied placement to allow for a multitude of frameworks, histories, and personalities.
Recent Christian schools of thought have focused only on the Bible as the primary resource and credible source of dialogue with which to support a Cristian understanding and journey. As a result, the interpretations and translations are geared and framed to meet the needs and fit the beliefs within this school of thought.
If Christianity is to meet people where they are, perhaps it should get a little closer to the edge. The Bible has a long history and string of associations that cause some to recoil just hearing the word, Bible. This is a problem. It's not uncommon for these same people not to react upon hearing the words of Jesus. It’s not Jesus, but some of Jesus’ believers that make them want to run. The Bible is not easily adopted or even a subject of curiosity for those who have happily been calling themselves spiritual, but not religious.
The Bible is sometimes perceived as a top down authoritarian book read and adhered to by fundamentalists and dirty, long-haired guys in the subway with signs. The other group of people we associate with the Bible, are stereotyped as the lackluster, white Stepford-like people who live predictable and hyprocritical lives while judging others.
Ironically, there is one group of Christians we actually find inspiring. African-American Gospel Christians. Why is that? My guess is they feel authentic. And they’re not our tribe. When those within our own socio-economic class act like lemmings, we want to take them out back. It’s too close to home, and they appear incongruent. But when African Americans wear their vibrant, oversized hats to church, or sing together in the choir, or dance in the aisles, we love it. We love it because we don’t put ourselves in the picture - it doesn’t threaten us. If we’re not African-American, we don’t have to be like them because we can't be. On the other hand, if we’re African-American, this image is such a colorful and joyful part of their heritage, a piece of their history and identity that they celebrate so there's no need to hide or deny it away. This authentic, full expression of who they are in their Christian expression is alive.
We become most ourself when we show up open and honestly. Being self-aware honestly is the only way to be authentic. This requires an open heart - giving ourselves permission and freedom to be vulnerable. Being spiritually authentic means we make it ok not to need absolute certainty about everything, while living in the questions that arise as we stroll into the answers.
This can only occur if we release the need to believe something is true, and allow the process to help us discover what's true for us - and if we show up honestly, we will get to where we need to be in this. My husband and I go around and around on this subject because the word ‘belief’ is charged.
Any discussion right now regarding the word ‘belief’ is not intended to negate society's need for beliefs in a variety of circumstances, because beliefs do serve. For instance, I believe the world is good. This belief serves me because it frames the world as a positive place - which I need it to be to maintain my personal outlook on life. This belief frames how I see the world, and which symbolical glasses I wear. Ultimately, it shapes how I experience life. That said, I doubt I'd hold on to this belief as fully as I do if I didn’t experience it to be true.
It also maintains a chicken and egg life cycle. I don’t know which came first - the belief or the experience. This is consistent with many things that shape who we are. The need to walk into the answer is a choice preceded by process. The choice is one that comes from our soul and is led by our heart. Our personal truths develop through self-discovery, not by taking someone else’s word for it. When we take someone else’s word for it, it's not our discovery - and consequently, not sustainable for the long haul.
Christianity has historically told us what we believe, and insisted we meet them where they are. There was a time in the western culture that most people had been raised in church or a synogogue, and a church culture - with it’s creeds, communion, prayers, and liturgies - were part of our vernacular and familiar. This is no longer the case in the United States and Europe. Young people who come to church now are unfamiliar with rituals and traditions of the church, specifically the liturgy. Even children raised in evangelical churches in the last three decades are unfamiliar with liturgy and, sometimes, even communion. Walking into a church could be unsettling and unfamiliar. To some, it might appear cult like with collective creeds being said and ancient organs being played. To others, it might be comforting and feel like home.
There is need for a process that precedes jumping right into a liturgical setting if it’s going to mean anything. Understanding the words of the clergy, and the rituals being performed is critical to appreciating the experience and stepping into the mystery through rituals, traditions, and liturgical practices. There is some understanding required to experience the sacred that’s hidden in plain sight within the church’s traditions.
Convincing or expecting someone to believe or take what the church is offering at face value is naive and misdirected. It's unreasonable to expect people to step right into a belief they don’t fully understand. It’s also unfair to ask them to do a deep dive, without first testing the water with their toes - in the wading pool.
Understanding the various doors on different floors is important to meeting people where they are. You may have been filled with the holy spirit, while another might simply think Adam & Eve is a myth that provides imagery to the story of creation. This same person my believe with their whole heart that Jesus ascended into heaven, rolled the stone away, and resurrected from the dead. Next to him in the circle may sit a woman who comes armed with a list of questions intended to stump whoever is answering them. That said, she is the most consistent member when it comes to communion, and is clearly reverent about honoring the sacrament that connects her experientially to the Last Supper and the continuity of the Christ.
If you have an issue with either of these people’s understanding or beliefs, it’s important to ask yourself why. Allowing people to hold on to their understanding because it’s the answer they’ve walked into at the moment is not a bad thing. It is necessary, and diversity is a sign of health. It's probably shaped by their experiences until now, or it’s the only thing they are comfortable with at the moment. This is ok. Your beliefs may change too - even if you're sure they won’t. Never say never.
Churches have been divided and found themselves perceived as exclusive and self-righteous as a direct result of this behavior. Digging heels in to defend belief systems creates division and creates the perception of anger, not love. The need to defend communicates a spirit of indignance and control, instead of love and acceptance. It does offer the grace that allows someone to grow into their experience and own set of beliefs or understanding.
Does it really matter if we see things differently if we’re honest about where we are, and willing to explore our understanding together? Isn’t it also possible to allow for different belief systems, while sincerely honoring and respecting each other's point of view?
Can it be we hold on various perspectives is tied to our need to hold it that way in order to connect to its truth?
UP TO HERE
The way we grab it may be liberating, and leave us more open to learning more, and understanding on a deeper level. On the other hand, we may need to hold on to the traditional black & white story because it’s here we can tough the glory of God, and our spirit is set on fire. Each person will have a different experience, but nobody should feel repressed in their experience or frustrated by not being able to dig deeper, explore further, or ask questions until they stumble their way into their truth.
Can the same story have different truths? What do you think?
I’m not here to answer these questions, but I am here to share my experience of these questions. My truth is the same story can have different truths. The second part of this question is...Does it matter? My answer is I don’t know. And back to you. What do you think?
My answer is - it depends what your goal is. Holistic Management is a decision making process that gives you a framework to make sustainable decisions. It’s based on what’s called, a holistic goal. A holistic goal addresses the quality of life, environment, and financial status you want to see in the future. The idea is if decisions are made towards the goal on all levels at each decision making juncture, you will eventually reach the outcome you desire. It’s multi-dimensional nature ensure you don’t ignore one area in your life, in exchange for another. How often have you taken on more work because of the money you’d earn, but ignore the needs of your family or your own time to enjoy life in the process? This happens all the time. Or in an effort to save money, buy non organic food and stop going to the gym, and your health suffers. These are the ways this goal serves people, businesses, and communities who are working with intention towards a desired future.
If you have a goal to deepen spiritually, and find you’re not comfortable exploring some of the deeper truths in history that others have experienced, or can’t get yourself to surrender at a deeper level in prayer, you may not be ready to deepen or you may need to take some extra steps towards that end. It depends on what your goal is. Perhaps your church goal is to create community, not deepen spiritually. In this case, your choices may look differently.
My goal would always be to learn as much as possible, not feel controlled in a top-down way and experience oppression, not need to conform to a cookie cutter stereotype of what someone is supposed to be or look like, and to experience as much as possible in the spiritual realm that is surrounded in vulnerability, emotionally honest dialogue, supernatural experiences, reverence for the sacred and holy, the ability to move and be fluid in my understanding and beliefs in order to create a healthy creative tension around the journey as I understand it. It would also be important for me to hold my image of God freely without being challenged, shamed, judged, or ridiculed for it. Questioned would be all right. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Our current culture is a challenging one for those who ascribe to a very defined set of beliefs about the Bible, and what people need to believe in order to be defined as CHristians. This is completely unfair and inappropriate across the board. It’s also goes completely against my grain.
Is it important that beliefs are the same within the same church?
We are familiar with the early Greeks whose myths have become material for fairy tales and legends today. These myths were not just fictional stories, but tales that had some basis in truth, were believed to be true at the time, and throughout history, have had a much deeper meaning collectively than a fairy tale. They are a way to define a people, and teach an important lesson, or keep the value of a historical person alive - sending the importance of their place in history to the future. A myth is like a love letter in a bottle to the future about their time - about the past. Myths were like science to us. They explained the world to people, and provided a deeper meaning to their understanding.
For some reason, 12- step programs come to mind. Particularly their success all over the globe. Even though some suggest it doesn’t work because they use the word, God, it has been incredible successful in spite of it. Especially considering the number of people who have freed themselves from the toxicity and imprisonment of addictions by attending these meetings. One of the basic premises of these meetings is the suggestion in the 12 steps, “came to believe a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.” Even when a member is not willing to acknowledge this ‘power greater than themselves’ as God, they are asked to consider giving up the need to be in control of their life and let go of their ego by, at the very least, admitting the collective power of the people in the room who have achieved a life free from drugs and alcohol, is a power greater than them. This will often pass the test for the person resisting God, giving them a place to mentally release their anxiety, obsessions, and fears when they become more than they want to bear. This is very effective.
Isn’t it conceivable that myths held the same power for the Greeks, as having a power greater than them does for 12 step members who don’t believe in God? This demonstrates the inherent need humans have for (spiritual?) connection, and the ability to release thoughts and expand consciousness beyond our physical body. The perception of casting them out of our mind and energy field (for lack of better term) has a powerful effect on mental health. If this is true in getting people free from addictions, wouldn’t it also demonstrate the power of prayer? In other words, does it matter if some people choose religion and imagine a real God, and others can’t make this leap but take the same action holding a different belief? Wouldn’t it also stand to reason that some of these people, if they allow it to work, would eventually find themselves believing there might be something greater than them simply because it works? And if not, but they are free from addictions, the process of giving something to God has been successful even if it has not been using the same language.
At what point does the name God matter or simply the faith that something is possible?
What is the line? Is there one that cannot be crossed by someone?
re Greeks: Isn’t it also possible that what did create their experience was God, but they didn’t have a name for it? Instead, they attributed all great things and the mystery to the gods and legends their myths are made of, when it was , in fact, the God of all that is, as we understand God today. Or at least as I understand God.
It wasn’t long ago I was with a friend who had recently started attending an evangelical church in Idaho. He had gone from drinking heavily and a painful divorce, to being overcome by the Spirit and, as he describes it, being saved. To an outsider, he appeared obsessed. This is never fun for those around him, but he probably enjoyed this experience a great deal. He said something during this time that disturbed me, and I’ve heard it many times throughout my life. He said, “It drives me crazy that so many people say they are Christians, or that they’re saved, and they are clearly not!”
I knew exactly what he meant. His experience was so intense, and as a result, the choices he’d make in his life would be so clear because he was being led by the spirit. He believed with all his heart that others who behave this way - or have not had the mystical experience he was having - are not saved, and cannot call themselves Christians. This is downright wrong.
Jesus did not create Christianity. There are many doors, and each one is as powerful as the next, with different lessons to learn. We cannot continue to divide Christians based upon our description or experience of Christianity. We are not the gauge. Jesus is.
Judging the experience, language, and truth of another while using yourself as the gauge is inappropriate and unfair. It also seems unfair to determine that someone different from you does not deserve to be what you are. It is exclusive, arrogant, and presumptuous - even if you don’t mean it to be. If a woman 30 years ago (like me) chose to be a pastor in my crowd, they would be hightailed right out of there, and scorned. It was not considered appropriate at the time. It is exactly what I probably should’ve been - and being right in the midst of the womens movement - I couldnt bear to be a pastor’s wife when I had just as much the right to be a pastor in my own right. As a result, I stepped away completely. This has been a source of great sadness to me, yet it has also brought me great joy and a strong skill set to the role I have now.
Christianity should be built on trust, even if we are different. Pointing out our differences, and attacking each other’s beliefs is not the road to unity. That said, this is exactly what Jesus did to the Pharisees when he saw them behaving self-righteously. Perhaps it is a lesson that all organizations, movements, and communities, when they become too insular or begin to look like a monoculture, they are headed towards or have arrived at being Pharisees. It may feel very cozy under their own dome when they’re all together, but the perception and experience of outsiders would surprise them.
Trust is an essential and fundamental component of language. When we claim to be Christians, or another religion for that matter, we have to trust what they are saying is true. If we are accused of not being Christians by another church, it is important to listen to their understanding and accusation in a spirit of trust - knowing that part of what they’re trying to tell us is true for them. It’s important to get that they feel this is important enough to share with us, and it generates fear or anxiety for them. If they’re angry or seem frustrated towards us, try not to react and see the fear in them instead. This will give you the ability to stay centered, and kind, in response, without taking what they’re saying personally.
Finding what we have in common as Christians is the essential step towards understanding. The argument between Mormons and other Christians is a classic example of this, and a sensitive topic for many Mormons. Understandably.
It is said that Philo of Alexandria (c.30 BCE to c. 45 CE) approached the Torah by devising an allegorical interpretation that made Jews right - against their own Hellenistic standards. Even though the ancient writings were barbaric to the standards of these Greek philosophers, they found truth and logic in them and subsequently, translated them. This required compassion and the willingness to find their common humanity in the books, even when their lifestyles, choices, and language seemed worlds apart.
This is the same type of compassion and understanding that’s required for Christians and other religions today. It seems everyone has a different stretching limit, and like in Yoga, it’s our hope your ability to take a breath and stretch a little further with each try will find you able to open your heart to those who experience and express their beliefs differently in no time. We need to look past what we can easily find that’s wrong, or distasteful, and celebrate the good and what we have in common. There is a shadow side to all religions, and to all of life in the universe...let’s celebrate that which brings us peace and understanding. Allowing the shadow to rest in it’s place.
Good place for discussion of Paul.... 1 Corinthians 13 here.
Jesus and Gandhi were aligned in their desire for non-violence. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, and Gandhi simply refused to comply with injustice. He refused to be obedient in the face of injustice. Many women know this well either from their experience in church, or in their marriages. This is not as common today, but it still exists in some churches, and in some marriages.
I was in this situation at work, and find myself in some regards in that situation here at this church as well. ....more later on this.
Christianity is familiar in culture to many of us, but we’ve still only scratched the surface in many regards. Some are steeped in experiencing the gifts of the Spirit. These followers of Christ keep their primary focus on the experiential nature of God, and await the supernatural presence. Others are committed to a deepening in, what they call, the Word of God, keeping the gauge for truth strictly on the Bible and the interpretations they glean from insights found there. Still others incorporate liturgy in their worship, with a collective faith in the beliefs taught by a particular denomination, but church is one aspect of an otherwise full life and not the driver by which all other activities are measured. These Christians have more often than not been a part of a traditional, denomination since childhood, and family or friends still gather there. It is as much a social experience as a spiritual one. The most recent addition to the Christian scene is loosely defined as the Emergent Church. It’s difficult to describe the Emergent brand of church because it’s so new it is still in development. The apt name, Emergent, is reflective of its personality. It is a church experience that allows for more creativity than has traditionally been part of church, and it incorporates practices from ancient times such as liturgy, in addition to the more contemporary form of worship as is more typical in evangelical settings. This church attempts to explore an unfolding in the faith of its participants, as opposed to a requirement to ascribe to a predetermined set of beliefs. The one core statement that defines the church as CHristian, however, is that Jesus is the son of God, and was crucified, died, and rose again.
FACT OR FICTON: Does it matter in regards to outcome?
Does it make a difference if an idea or belief is psychologically real and providing comfort, ecstasy, joy, etc; or if it is perceived or believed as historically real and providing these same outcomes? Is there a point at which it does make a difference, and at what point is it?
I am someone who had an intense and supernatural experience in the mystical sense, and believe it to have been God. It was a long time ago, and has never left me...even though I left church. Over the years, I expected to find a similar experience somewhere, but never did. Nothing came close. I’ve also never doubted this experience to be anything other than real.
The new age movement brought with it a plethora of practices and explorations for spiritual seekers. Spiritual became the buzz word for everything that was different or non-traditional. I traveled in and out of this world for many years, and immersed myself in a number of experiences hoping to find a similar experience to my CHristian one. I never did. Instead, Jesus met me there. There was nothing like my experience in mystical Christianity. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve immersed myself in it for the rest of my life but I didn’t choose that path. Instead, I kept looking for the kind of people I originally explored Christianity with, and they were gone. In their place sat conservative, buttoned-up, authority types with opinions, judgements, and pretty wives who had breathy voices. They sang worship songs with hands raised as a band entertained them, and had Bible studies out of preprinted books and leaders who read you the answer to the questions pre determined. There was nothing more insulting to my intelligence than a study that was so elementary it required no thought, and the answers read from the book as if we were in the 3rd grade. I would try studies once, and leave if they seemed condescending and patronizing, with their main goal to train more lemmings for the cause. I realize my attitude is unfair in regards to this, but I was so frustrated and clearly, Im not over it.
Why was this experience so much better than all others? Why did I never come close to experiencing this? Was it, as most Christians would say, because it was the true Holy Spirit that came upon me in that revival tent in Harlem? Or was it an emotional experience that was a form of release and caused me to feel the way I did?
I will never know, but what I do know is that it lasted. My countenance changed, the way I saw the world was different, my faith was suddenly, and overnight, multi-dimensional. There was purpose to my life, and a kindness in my heart, my soul had a peace I’d never known before. How could this possibly happen overnight? How is it possible for a 15 or 16 year old girl to transform like that with no class, no practice, no learning? The only explanation I have is that there is something real about it. Does this mean it can only be the Holy Spirit? This I don’t know either. But what I do know is I call it that.
Does this mean I’m right? I don’t know. I always assume I’m wrong.
Does it mean I was saved? The jury is out on that one too because I’m not so sure that matters in the big picture, in regards to that one night. One thing I’ve learned in my life is what I call something is not nearly as important as how I experience it, and what the outcome is. I think this is true for things like being saved too. The reason is nobody will know until the day of Judgement, if there is a day of Judgement.
There is so much fanfare, disagreement, variety of interpretations on aspects of CHristianity such as being saved, judgement, jesus’ return, heaven, hell, etc. My theory is Heck, I don’t know. I could be wrong. On all counts....so why worry about it?
I’m not suggesting we stop learning. Learn! Read, study, discuss, explore, questions, dive, discover, unlearn, change your mind, reinvent, try things on for size, do whatever your authentic heart leads you to in finding your truth and spiritual path. It is all there for you to discover.
All I know is the path is wide and deep, with many interpretations and manifestations of itself along the way. If this path, coupled with reverence for the sacred and holy, and the willingness to step into the mystery with both feet takes me to experiences I didn’t find anywhere in the new age movement, it may be time to do a deep dive into the Jesus who’s been following me around all the years reminding me that he’s still around.
As I type this, my husband is practicing a song for Sunday worship. Shout to the north and the south. Sing to the east and the west. I like this song because it wakens my joy, and touches the shaman in me. Singing to the directions speaks to my soul, and the language of my tribe. St. Francis of Assisi did this as well.
The last line he’s singing is Jesus is Savior to all. He’s the Lord of heaven and earth.
What i noticed just now is when I hear those words, I want to dismiss them. It’s not because I don’t believe it, but because I don’t connect to them. They remind me of the people and churches I felt so uncomfortable in, it reminds me of being ostracized for being a Christian and losing friends in college, it reminds me of my fear of being labeled as a religious freak and losing “cool and intelligent” status. After all, religious people - especially Jesus followers - can’t possibly be smart.
Or is it something else all together? Is it possible that allowing myself to connect to those words in a meaningful way. In a deep down, open my heart completely and let them in kind of way, that I might revisit an experience like I did in my early years? Might it lead me to the multi-dimensional understanding again? If it did, what would happen? Would I then not be able to understand all the people who like the idea of practicing the rituals and learning, and the cool Christianity they can relate to?
What would happen to my tolerance for all those who are in love with the idea of things, instead of really knowing something in a profoundly deep way? What would happen to my love and connection with them?
Hell, I admit it. I really want that feeling back, but what if it’s not true? What if I let myself fall into it, and make a fool out of myself, and discover it was stupid. Jesus wasn’t the savior of the world or lord of all...and I fell for it.
Or did I?
If we experience the sacred, and the name of Jesus invokes the holy and supernatural for me, brings me a peace that passes understanding, and moves me to dance in the Spirit, and express my spiritual gifts freely - and he’s a myth - was it not real?
I’m deeply trained in assuming I’m wrong. So, just like everything else, I could be wrong. This is a deeply ingrained part of who I am. Yet, there is great liberation in knowing I could be wrong - because I am owning my choice 100% to dive in to him, and aware that I’m imperfect - and, still, I’m choosing the highest road I know - to follow Jesus. That can’t be all bad. But I could be wrong.
There are countless people sitting in churches everywhere who aren’t sure what they believe. They doubt, or cannot connect to God no matter how hard they try. Mother Theresa felt this was for years while she was in India. But she hung in there, not understanding why. She just did. Perhaps it’s because feelings aren’t the determining factor, nor is our level of faith, our doubt, our perceived understanding of scripture, how much we’re loved by others, how good our sermons are, or our cinnamon buns. It’s really not about any of it, other than perhaps our ability to open our hearts and live our authentic life and purpose. What else could really matter? That’s a pretty big deal, and definitely a great expression of God’s glory in its entirety.