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Matt 23:8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. (NRSV)

Many English translations say “brothers” or “brethren” instead of “students.”

While I appreciate the NRSV’s editorial policy of inclusiveness, I think “you are all brethren” better highlights the brotherly and sisterly responsibility we have toward the 7 billion siblings around us.

Matt 22:36-40 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

This is the greatest and first commandment.

And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Spirit — the loving, divine, transformative, impossible-to-adequately-describe energy that continually beckons from the moment of birth, sometimes coming through in torrents — …Spirit directly and unmistakably delivers the fruits of the Teacher’s guidance to those who surrender completely.

Unwinding the hopelessly-tangled string of our existence is usually a long-term project.  Our highest calling, then, is to become surrendered as often as possible — recognizing that some days will be better than others, and that “failure” sometimes kicks us hard.

Healing and transformation happen in an environment of surrender.

Pain and suffering happen in an atmosphere of resistance.

The way to love our neighbor is through practicing surrender.

1Thess 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

Meditate, contemplate… commune… pray… surrender, as often as possible.

Teresa of Avila

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”  Matthew 21:22 (RSV)

Since beginning this blog a couple months ago, the back of my mind has been occupied with an unasked question: What is the best-case scenario for this project of reconciliation?

As I feel my way toward some sort of synthesis between Judeo/Christian and Eastern approaches to contemplative attainment, and I extend a tentative hand out to those in the Christian world who show a level of openness and tolerance for non-orthodox points of view, I have to face the very real possibility that it’s just never going to happen — I won’t find an ideal church setting that somehow matches the vision hidden behind all these words.

This morning, for instance, I found myself browsing Google for local church websites. For the fourth or fifth time over the past couple years, I sampled sermon mp3’s, read “what we believe” statements, studied “about Pastor Bob” essays, and subscribed to both podcasts and emails. I found that most of the churches (even in Boulder) take the Bible as inerrant, believe that the Holy Spirit is a person (male, in fact), and insist that the unsaved will experience excruciating torment for all eternity. A few churches (this being Boulder) pronounced themselves safe havens for the gay-lesbian-transgender community, and I could find nothing definitive about their actual Christian beliefs — as though the Bible has long ago passed into oblivion, a vestige of an outdated humanity that has moved on to more exciting things, whatever they are.

This experience moves me closer to an insight that goes something like this:  The type of church toward which I would otherwise be drawn — that which studies the Bible above and beyond all other activities — is also intolerant and fear-based, guarding a fundamentalist/literalist company line that leaves no room for genuine dissent or even questioning (i.e., you’d better end up believing what the church believes, or you’re gone). The other type of church, which goes out of its way to ensure that everyone is safe and all viewpoints are honored, ends up adopting so many popular, New Age, Jungian-inspired elements that I may as well just hang out at the local psychic school, metaphysical bookstore or Unity Church — all of which I’ve tried (worked for several years at a metaphysical bookstore, in fact), without ultimate succor.

As for engaging a contemplative element within local church environs… forget about it! Other than the big Methodist church downtown, which at one point offered a “meditation” class that met on Tuesday or Thursday nights, there’s nary a mention of contemplative practice on any of the websites I studied. The meditation class in question was based on Joel Goldsmith’s writings, he being a past luminary within the New Thought movement of the early-to-mid 20th century. I actually love Goldsmith’s take on things… but, again, I can get that anywhere in Boulder; it’s not what I’m looking for in a local church home.

At a deeper level, I recognize that it’s not about all these churches failing to meet my hopes and expectations.  I know that they do not exist in order to conform to insights and directives arising from my own, personal journey.  Leaders and members of these churches have their own beliefs and experiences, and they’re just doing their thing.  More power to them!

If I’m honest, I never expected to find a church that advertises itself as a community of rigorous and skillful contemplatives (i.e., “urban monks”), teaching its members how to attain and sustain ecstatic union with the Divine as a method for actualizing Christ’s essential teachings.  Who could expect that, when none of the world’s other religious traditions (with the very, very rare exception) value the ecstatic core of their original teachings?

A test confronts me here.

This test asks me to trust.

Rather than grow despondent over the fact that the religion of my upbringing continues to marginalize its “natural mystics,” I am challenged to find a faith within that has already guided me to this point — and that will surely lead me to the most appropriate resolution.

From earliest childhood, in fact, this inner guidance has been operative and available, showing that all good things are not of “me,” but have poured forth from a hidden (yet all-Present) source that responds to conscious surrender.  In other words… things go best when I relinquish the stress and strain of feeling it’s all on “me,” and I present myself a willing “slave” of the hidden source.

So, I am ready to be surprised by what comes of this search, knowing that it will hit me when I least expect it.

This post is offered in mindful acknowledgment of my new friendship with Peter J. Walker, who is an up-and-coming voice within the Movement….

From Wikipedia:

The emerging church (sometimes referred to as the emergent movement or emergent conversation) is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st century that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants can be described as evangelical, protestant, roman catholic, post-evangelical, anabaptist, adventist, liberal, post-liberal, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, post-charismatic, conservative, and post-conservative. Proponents, however, believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a “postmodern” society. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.

Here is the Movement’s home base:

Emergent Village is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Here is one of the Movement’s Big Poobahs:

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, pastor, and networker among innovative Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists.

He is a frequent guest on television, radio, and news media programs. He has appeared on many broadcasts including Larry King Live, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and Nightline. His work has also been covered in Time (where he was listed as one of American’s 25 most influential evangelicals), Christianity Today, Christian Century, the Washington Post, and many other print media.

Born in 1956, he graduated from University of Maryland with degrees in English (BA, summa cum laude, 1978, and MA, in 1981). His academic interests included Medieval drama, Romantic poets, modern philosophical literature, and the novels of Dr. Walker Percy. In 2004, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity Degree (honoris causa) from Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

[…]

Brian has been active in networking and mentoring church planters and pastors since the mid 1980’s, and has assisted in the development of several new churches. He is a popular conference speaker and a frequent guest lecturer at seminaries and denominational gatherings,nationally and internationally. His public speaking covers a broad range of topics including postmodern thought and culture, Biblical studies, evangelism, leadership, global mission, spiritual formation, worship, pastoral survival and burnout, inter-religious dialogue, ecology, and social justice.

Another Poobah:

Tony [Jones] is the author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier and is theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. He is the author of many books on Christian ministry and spirituality and is a sought after speaker and consultant in the areas of emerging church, postmodernism, and Christian spirituality. Tony has three children and lives in Edina, Minnesota.

Poobah the Third:

Hi, I am Doug [Pagitt]. Thanks for visiting my site. When it comes to these sorta-formal, non-personal, psueo-professional introductions I like to refer to myself as a social and theological entrepreneur (something I would never do if we were to meet in person).

My work-life has a few aspects to it.

* * *

I have not read any of the Movement’s books, but I’ve been reading associated blogs and listening to various podcasts (like this one, which is really fun — lots of beer, clinking glasses, laughter and other assorted bar sounds).

My impression is that there is very, very little organization going on in this movement, by design. There is an aversion toward top-down hierarchical control, and an admirable recognition of myriad social justice issues that inform emerging theology in ways that I respect.

Part of me wonders, where the hell were these people in 1982, when I left the church in disgust? Where were the “homebrewed Christians” who love to unwind with a cold alcoholic beverage while discussing the Five Points of Calivinism?

Another part of me notices that I went through my “busting out” phase a long time ago, such that partying has long-ago been replaced by the self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy of a rigorous contemplative lifestyle — and I now long for a Christian movement that recognizes and honors Christianity’s ecstatic beginnings:

1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

No, we don’t have to run around speaking in “other tongues.”

From direct experience, however (as reflected in many Eastern scriptural and teaching texts), the spiritual gifts spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12-14 are alive and well in the experiences of rigorous and skillful contemplatives, many of whom offer mutual support in peer environments here and here. Beyond the institutional Church, there are many (like me) who grew up as Christians, who continue to experience a direct and profound connection with Jesus Christ… but who have encountered varying levels of demonization, repression, aggression, avoidance, disdain and marginalization by “the priesthhood,” such that they had to look elsewhere for succor, understanding and guidance.

The obvious question, then, is whether or not the Emergent Movement offers a place for exiled Christians whose devotional practice has given rise to ecstatic phenomena and are looking for biblical grounding, spiritual fellowship and safe harbor — in short, something resembling the scene created by first century Christians.

Is the ecstatic — which has been traditionally persecuted within most major religious traditions, including Christianity — even part of the conversation… and, if not, would someone like me be welcomed to engage such a conversation within the Movement?

Can I be in the club…?