acceptance, beign fully human, belonging, Christian Mysticism, coming out, Compassion, gay, gender identity, glbt, heterosexual privilege, homophobia, sexual orientation

Heterosexual Privilege

Coming Out DayIt is a gift that we are talking out loud about those things that used to only be shared in secret, in darkness, in the closet. I’m guessing that I wasn’t the only one raised with the teaching, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” What an incredibly destructive teaching. To condone hating on one hand and to label people as sinful on the other.

When I was doing campus ministry at our Muskegon Community College, I met with a professor of philosophy. The college had recently been in the news for refusing to allow a drag show to take place on its campus. The professor welcomed me and told me he hoped my presence would have a positive impact. He shared with me that in the past year, a young student of his had come out as gay to his Christian parents. They responded to his disclosure by telling him he “should kill himself.” He did.

The LGBT community has far too often been the victim of violence – both physical violence and spiritual violence. Too often anti-gay rhetoric masquerades as a message of God’s love and the power to overcome obstacles, giving rise to self hatred and encouraging intolerance. When people arm themselves with the weapon of misinformation that perpetuates intolerance and preserves heterosexual privilege, the fruits of their labor are suffering, self-hatred and wasted gifts. There is much to be angry about and much to lament. And there is also much to celebrate.

You know, as a heterosexual, I had the privilege of never having my own sexuality questioned. I also never had anyone reduce me to my plumbing or ask me how I “do” it. I never had to “come out” and worry what the consequences would be. I also never had to live with internalized homophobia that would make me question whether every person’s reaction to me had something to do with my sexuality.

One of the saddest stories I lived through was when a gay couple stopped coming to Extended Grace. When we finally connected weeks later, I learned that one of the men had been refused a hug by a young college women. He felt she was rejecting him because he was openly gay. What he didn’t know was that she had been raped on her college campus while walking home at night earlier that week. She wasn’t letting anyone hug her. A heterosexist, homophobic society conditions human beings to expect rejection even where that rejection doesn’t exist. And when that happens – everyone is hurt.

I know I will be more aware in the days to come and I hope those of you who share my heterosexual privilege will be, too. Think about what the world would be like if we would all live as our most authentic self. Then work for a world in which everyone is not tolerated or accepted, but where everyone is celebrated and encouraged to be fully who they are.

Namaste!

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Being Fully Human, change, Christian Mysticism, Compassion, Heresy, Heretic, Humility, Interfaith, pluralism, Progressive Christianity, Spiritual

Tension in the Tank

Tension in the TankI write today with a message of tension. Now I know a great many of you woke up this morning and thought to yourself, “I can’t wait to go online because then I will feel more tension in my life!” Am I right? Well, not if your images of tension are all negative – and so often they are. So my challenge today is to convince you of the need for positive tension in our lives.

 When this country was still relatively new, fishermen out east started shipping cod across land by freezing it first. But when it arrived it had lost its flavor. So they tried again, sending it live in salt water. Now when it arrived not only was it tasteless, it was also mushy. So they tried one more time, shipping it with its natural predator the catfish. The catfish chased the cod all over the tank. When it arrived, not only was the flesh of the fish firm, it was also tastier than ever. This is the phenomenon of “Tension in the Tank” and it serves as a metaphor for many aspects of our life, including our spiritual lives. 

When there is no tension, there is the opportunity for complacency. There is no need to act. The result is soggy fish or a soggy life. When there is no tension, the stage is set for us to feel secure no matter how poorly we perform or how little we do. On the other hand, we can find ourselves at times in the grips of crippling tension, living in fear and insecurity about our livelihood, our relationships, our possessions and our physical needs.

The spiritual journey offers us another option: a life that is challenging and yet rewarding beyond measure, a life of accountability. It is in our spirituality that we are challenged to do our best. To not take what we’ve received for granted. To take risks. To set our goals high and to believe they will be met. It’s as if we swim with catfish, but with the confidence that we will arrive whole at our destination.

What are the sources of tension in your life that keep your faith fresh and vital?

A Conservative Country 

One of them, I have to guess, is living in the United States where we seem to be having an upsurge of Fundamentalism. Here in West Michigan I am perpetually challenged to be compassionate and understanding toward those who truly believe they owe it to me to let me know I am going to hell. When I was at seminary I had a fellow student who actually took offense at the idea that God could actually love everyone! That was one of the first indications that I was, in fact, in the wrong place!

And of course, so are you. As a spiritual person, you really don’t belong here at all. Which is why you are so infinitely needed here. Right here in this place of tension. We all have had times when the Spirit has broken through to add a little tension to our life.

For me, those moments began when I was quite young. I was welcomed into this world by Lutheran parents. Parents who brought me to church to be baptized at one week of age because the pastor was leaving and they wanted to slip me in quick before he drove away. When I grew older I attended public school. For a while I thought I was incredibly fortunate. Here I was living in the best place in the whole wide world learning the one true religion in the whole world. I was amazingly blessed. But by the time I was in third grade I started wondering about things. Here I was being told at school about those terrible Russians that I was supposed to be afraid of. And for some inexplicable reason it started to dawn on me that Russian kids right at that same moment were in school being taught how terrible and frightening I was.

Then I started to think about those kids who lived in the most remote parts of China, who didn’t know about Jesus and would die without ever knowing Jesus. How come I was so lucky and they were not? What weird twist of universal fate left me in the most envious position in all the world and left others consigned to hell? I didn’t even know the words yet, but that was when I became a heretic and a pluralist. I realized that those kids were being raised in another tradition and that I had no more right to tell them they were wrong and try to take that away from them than they had to try to take my beliefs and understandings away from me.

The Path of Pluralism 

I still feel the same way. I haven’t met anyone yet who shares my exact same concept of reality, my version of Truth as best I have crafted it to date. And hopefully, neither have you. Because if you have then chances are one of you has not done their own thinking.

I am very proud to be a heretic and I like to be in the company of other heretics. Because I believe that without our own heretical insights and impulses our spiritual journey becomes tasteless and soggy, if not stagnant and dead.

If we are truly caught up in the mystery then we have to discover at some point that no one can give us the answers, because the answers are always inside of us. Truth can be pointed to, suggested, guessed at, but we cannot for all of our attempts ever fully find the words to express the great mystery of our existence. And so we speak in parable and metaphor, not in doctrinal certainties.

Which means we fully embrace the faith journey of all spiritual traditions as equally valid and rewarding, recognizing that we move to a place close enough to God that the distinctions we draw between our faith experiences and others become more and more important as something to raise and up celebrate and less and less important as something to divide and separate us.

Father Thomas Keating reflects that religions are probably supposed to be the starting point of the spiritual journey. Pluralism and the interfaith movement are not about detaching ourselves or uprooting ourselves from our own spiritual history and tradition. In fact, mystics have very rarely separated themselves from their historical religions. Without changing a single letter, they came to understand the meaning of these religions more deeply. Dorothee Sollee writes that, “It isn’t suspicion that turns people away from the church; it is hunger that drives them to seek help wherever their dignity and their right to have a life are being respected.”

If I have to define myself at all, I say that I am a Christian Mystic Taoist. Mysticism is the direct experience of God. The path of the mystics is toward a transforming union with God. Mystical experiences happen in every culture and every faith tradition, among people of all different backgrounds and every walk of life. The question to ask when exploring mystical experiences is not “Who are these people? How are they special?” The question is “What kind of culture honors these experiences and which destroys them?”

For example, childhood is ripe for mystical experiences of awe and amazement and wonder. Among the Native indigenous people of North America, a mother will begin a conversation with her children by asking, “What did you dream?” In my non-indigenous North American home I was always more likely to lead with, “How was school? Do you have homework?” When our dreams and visions are not honored, they tend to become meaningless, embarrassing or simply forgotten.

We Are All Mystics 

The truth is that all of us our mystics and most of us have experienced heightened sensations of awareness or unity or being grasped by the certainty of knowing Spirit’s presence in our life – often at very young ages. But in our haste to leave childhood behind, we may end up labeling those experiences as crazy or silly or the product of an overactive imagination.

The trivialization of life is perhaps the strongest anti-mystical force among us.

To have a mystical experience is to have an altered state of consciousness derived from an encounter with the divine reality. This state is referred to as illumination, enlightenment, awakening or the union of the soul with God. Mysticism is really no different from the promises many religions describe in the language of being made whole, liberation, the peace of God, coming home, and redemption. But mysticism deals with these experiences differently, by lifting them out of doctrine and freeing them for feeling, experience and certainty.

Mysticism claims that it is in existential experience, in the actual feeling of it, that we finally know what grace is all about. And to feel grace is to know ecstasy. Mystics claim a relationship with God based on love that arises not because of the demands of powerful institutions or of God, but out of utter freedom. Ken Wilber describes a mystic as one who does not see God as an object, but one who is immersed in God as an atmosphere.

Aldous Huxley describes three gates into mysticism: “We can begin at the bottom, with practice and morality; or at the top, with a consideration of metaphysical truths; or, finally, in the middle, at the focal point where mind and matter, action and thought have their meeting place in human psychology.”

The lower gate is preferred by teachers like Gautama Buddha and those who focus on practices that increase concentration, like yoga, breathing techniques and spiritual disciplines. The upper gate is sought by philosophers and theologians who prefer speculative thought. And the middle gate is the way of spiritual religion exemplified by the Sufi’s of Islam and Christian contemplatives, like Thomas Merton who said we become contemplatives when God discovers God’s self in us.

A spiritual life is ultimately a life of tension because it means choosing to believe in a different reality: one that believes in miracles and promises and the need to reach out in love and compassion toward everyone – even those we feel the least loving and compassionate toward. A reality that embraces all faiths as equal and valid and challenges a society that favors only one path, particularly here in conservative America where religious discrimination is the norm and even tolerance can be difficult to come by.

Beyond Tolerance 

Fred Stella talks about the stages of interfaith relationships that begin with tolerance – which essentially means I will let you live. Even in places where ecumenical and interfaith dialogue are occurring, the encounters are often more like a first date. I’ll make my best impression and only show you the really good things about me while trying to decide if I like the little bit of you your willing to reveal. It’s all very pleasant and we feel good afterward, but we never get into places of depth or dare to tread where conflict might exist.

First date relationships are a start, but they will never change fear, hatred or violence. For that we need communication, connection and collaboration. Our communication needs to be on a much deeper and a much more vulnerable level. Our connections have to lead to genuine relationships in which people of other faiths have actual names and faces. Our collaboration has to move us out of our own comfort zone into a space we may have never entered before.

I attended a conference once where I heard a Hindu Christian speak. He suggested that the church’s approach to other traditions has been to embrace a “Theology of Hostility.” Many of you have experienced the consequences of this approach personally. And now those of us who are no longer part of mainstream Christianity have to be careful not to follow that example.

Genuine engagement with others means that instead of explaining ourselves in contrast to others, as superior, better or above others, we begin articulating who we are in a way that makes sense to the other and invites them in rather than shutting them out. We begin by approaching people of all traditions and beliefs with genuine humility, eager to share not what we have been taught but what we have experienced to be true.

And we are wary of the shadow. Because heresy does have a shadow side. It does tend to want to establish its own right thinking – declaring itself right and above reproach. When we end up thinking WE’RE right and everybody else is WRONG, we only perpetuate an ideology of hostility, pitting one set of human understandings against another.

The spiritual journey is not the practice of mindlessly repeating everything we have been taught. Nor is it the practice of disagreeing with everything for the sake of disagreement. The spiritual journey is about opening ourselves up to truth we do not yet have the words to describe or the language to share. Until finally we can move beyond this silly state of us vs them and the construction of dualities that require barriers, boxes and boundaries.

The Promise of Tension 

Today as Spiritual people, we should find ourselves regularly standing in a place of tension, torn between two different worlds, two different value systems. Because Spirit does not call us into a place of relief. Spirit calls us very directly, clearly and undeniably into a place of tension. Which is why you are about your work at Spirit Space. You have heard that call and against all odds are pursuing that path into the heart of the Divine. It isn’t easy and it isn’t fast.

The promise of tension, as much as we long for it to go away, is often exactly what it takes to stir us to do the work we are in fact called to do; prepares us in ways we cannot imagine to serve our world and to serve each other, and to always be prepared for the Spirit to move us in an expected direction as our own heresies change and evolve. For as T.H. Huxley said: “It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and end as superstitions.”  

So my hope for you is that there will be more tension in your life and that you will think of me, although the image isn’t particularly flattering, as your visiting catfish! For it is the challenges, trials and tribulations we face as we answer the call, the catfish we encounter on our spiritual journey that add seasoning, flavor and texture to our lives.

Namaste!

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Being Fully Human, Bible, Christian Mysticism, hope, oppression, perspective, Progressive Christianity, Relationship, Spiritual

Rapture Revisted

FireWe’ve been looking at the book of Revelation in the Christian Bible and discovering that it has nothing to do with the Rapture popularized in the Left Behind Series. Instead, the book challenges us to loEk at our own cultural and society realities and to critically examine whether, instead of being the faithful few, we are really part of the corrupt and controlling empire. 

Maybe it’s because of another American cultural phenomenon known as “It’s not my fault.” IWe have become masters at the “Better to Blame Someone Else Game.” If we begin to see ourselves as the Empire then we have a responsibility to do something about it. But if we are the victims of something out of our control, all we need to do is buckle down and finger point and wait for the apocalypse.

My criticism of the book is that it too neatly divides people into two camps and creates an us vs. them mentality. And in doing so it fails to consider that we each hold the seeds of oppressor and oppressed within us. 

America was founded on the idea that people needed to be free of oppression which leads me to wonder if we take some sort of perverse pleasure in being persecuted so that we always have an oppressor to overcome. Think of the neo-Nazi and White Arian Resistance movements who claim reverse discrimination and demand to be seen as the victims in a society making pitiful progress toward advancing the status of woman, people of color, and people of different sexual orientations. Is that kind of egocentric worldview at the heart of why we can read Revelation in our context today and not see that we have become the very empire we decry?

Oppressor and Oppressed

Is there something here tied to emotionally charged words like “power” and maybe “shame” in our failure to use power well? Do we look self pityingly upon our own self and the slings and arrows we know we have suffered and fail to see our place within a much larger community – or two – one that oppresses and one that is oppressed? Is the truth that we don’t want to face the fact that we live in both and that we get them mixed up – so that we give our energy and allegiance to the one we know will suck the life out of us but that offers other powerful enticements to stay? And in doing so are we unable to accept the responsibility that our choices have local and global consequences that hurt other people and this earth? Until in our dissonance we simply have to blame it on the “system” – the enemy that holds us captive?

In the Book of Revelation I find that I am finally both oppressor and oppressed. I struggle to build communities of support for myself and for my many friends who are marginalized and mistreated. I sign petitions and walk for good causes and donate lots of money to charity. And I continue to buy products at the lowest cost from companies who benefit from military contracts and shady employment practices.

Revelations challenges me to ask on a day-to-day basis what values I choose to live by. It asks you and I to what or to whom will we give our allegiance? And it tells us in no uncertain terms that there are consequences to the choices we make. We can be complicit in the violence and destruction and help destroy all that is good and beautiful or we can be co-creators in building a new heaven and a new earth. But whatever we do, the consequences begin today.

The primary vision in Revelation is not about a place after we die or even after Jesus returns. It is a vision for how we can transform our world today by the way we live out God’s reign in the world. It is a vision of healing and of peace and joy. Once we have seen that vision it affects everything we do.

A Book of Hope

According to Barbara Rossing, “Revelation is not a book written to inspire fear and terror. But it is definitely written to increase our sense of urgency. It is an apocalyptic wake up call precisely because there IS hope for us and for the world. Revelation teaches us a fierce, urgent and wonderful hope – not an easy comfort, but a hope that knows the reality of terror and still can testify to God’s love in the face of that terror.”

Revelation is a bizarre book to read. In times of great turmoil, persecution and uncertainty, it helps people make sense out of what is happening and comprehend the source of their suffering. It holds out to them the promise that God is still in control and will ultimately be victorious. But in a time and place of arguable wealth and comfort and power, it offers a harsh critique of the political, economic, social and religious realities of the Empire.

It doesn’t stop there. It also presents us with a vision of a world-in-the-making where peace and justice are embodied in a new heaven and a new earth, as it challenges us to withdraw from the Empire to live even now in the New Jerusalem, the New Grand Haven, the New Michigan, the New America.

My boys, Jackson and Alex, saw King Kong when the 2006 version was released. They came home at 10:30 at night bouncing off the walls. I told Alex he had to calm down and get ready for bed. To which he replied, “I’ve just sat for 3 hours and 6 minutes with my eyes exposed to flashing light and loud noise. I can’t settle down now!” I encourage us all to spend some time with the Book of Revelation. If King Kong can do that to a 10-year-old kid, imagine what multi-headed beasts, weird creatures, dragons and a hero who’s a lamb might be able to stir up in us!

Invitation for Reflection

1)      How do you approach theology and “pop” culture?

2)      If the world were ending, what would you do?

3)      In what ways are you oppressed? In what ways are you the oppressor?

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Socrates: A Good Life
Being Fully Human, Christian Mysticism, Interfaith, philosophy, Relationship, Respect, Spiritual

Eudaimonia: Living a Good Life

socrates compfight common creativeEudaimonia is a Greek word. Eu means “good” and daimon means “spirit.” It is commonly translated as happiness or welfare, but a more accurate definition is “human flourishing.” Eudaimonia is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and philosophy. To experience eudaimonia was to live the good life.

So what is a good life?

Around 400 BC, the popular belief was that the good life and a life of ethical virtues were very different. A good life was one in which you experience happiness. And a life of virtue could really interfere with happiness.  For instance, if cheating someone would result in you having more money then it would make sense to cheat. This is essentially the argument for hedonism.

Then along came Socrates. He took a very different view of the good life. For him the good life was a life of questioning popular opinion and tradition. It meant cultivating the practice of critical thought and self- awareness. It was Socrates who said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  The good life, he believed, was a life that questions and thinks about things. It is a life of contemplation, self-examination and open-minded wondering. The good life is an inner life – the life of open inquiry and an ever-expanding mind.

Socrates student Plato also believed in self-examination, but felt the goal was to enter into the realm of the divine. According to Plato, our psyche had three main parts: the intellectual or rational system, a spirited or emotive system, and a basic system of physical appetites. He felt the “highest” part of us is our reason and that this was a divine fragment of God. This is what he felt made us different from other animals. He believed we need to cultivate this divine part of us and use it to control our emotions and physical instincts. In doing so, he felt that we would accomplish eudaimonia or the state of human flourishing.

For Plato this meant examining our values, seeing if they make sense, and trying to ascend to better and better definitions of truth until we get closer to the perfect, absolute and eternal forms of the Good, the True, and the Just, and so on. Plato believed that, just as there exists a realm of pure math where two plus two always equals four, so there must exist an eternal realm of moral values, which philosophers can ascend to. When we have become masters in practical and theoretical philosophy, then we will finally become ‘masters of our selves’. And because he saw humans as vessels for the divine, he believed that ultimately we could reach a state in which our individual ego is lost in ecstatic union with God.

Sound familiar? This idea of the ‘ascent of the soul’ was very influential on the mystic traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In fact, eudaimonia is a concept found in all mystic traditions. Buddhists call in “waking up.” Buddhism teaches that humans are endowed with reason; we can use this reason to condition ourselves to eliminate all conflicting and harming state of minds and cultivate positive ones. In a reading I recently heard Reverend Hung Su share, “as soon as you wake up unbiased a being becomes a Buddha.”

The Academy that Plato founded had one primary underlying premise: that man is a soul using a body as an instrument. Its goal was the conversion of the soul to Truth, and use of that knowledge in the service of humanity. The Academy attracted the best and the brightest from all over Greece and its early graduates included many important lawmakers and mathematicians.

One of the students at the Academy was Aristotle. Aristotle believed that the nature of man included both a rational and an irrational system in his psyche. (I recognize that I am using male pronouns but remember these enlightened men hadn’t figured out yet how much women had to teach them.) Aristotle believed that man has a natural drive for knowledge, happiness and God. The Good life, as he defined it, was a life that fulfills these natural drives, and directs them to their highest end. Philosophy was the bridge between human nature in its raw and undeveloped form and human nature at its highest form. This is what Aristotle called eudaimonia, or flourishing.

Socrates believed that virtue alone was all you needed to have a good and happy life. Aristotle thought you needed virtue for a good life, but you also needed a bit of luck.

Living a Good Life

When George C. Boldt emigrated to the US from Prussia in 1864 he was nearly penniless. He got a job as a dishwasher then went to Texas to find other work. He was unsuccessful and returned to New York with even less money to take another dishwashing job. But his attention to service paid off and he was promoted to cashier and then to manager.

On a day near the turn of the century, a couple was making their way to New York. They had traveled all day and they were tired and ready to sleep when they arrived at the hotel and asked for a room, but George, the manager, explained that they had a convention in town and there was no room available. George asked if they wanted him to check on other rooms. They were so tired and weary and they told him they would very much appreciate his checking. But the closest place George could find with an open room was 2 hours away. They thanked him for his efforts and then started walking disheartened and without a plan to the door. George, who was busy trying to think of a solution, called for them to wait. He told them that they could stay in his room and that he and his family would stay in the lobby. The older gentleman refused at first, but George insisted that it was no trouble at all and that they should stay. They agreed.

The next day after a very restful night, the old man told George that one day he would manage the best hotel in the country. Two years later, the old man returned to the hotel and told George that he never properly thanked him. He then took him to lunch in New York. Afterward, he told George that they had an appointment to make and they walked a couple of blocks to a hotel. He said your staff is waiting to meet their new manager. My name is William Waldorf Astor and this is my hotel.

Socrates would point to the George’s values as evidence of a good life. Aristotle would also celebrate his values, but would include his position as the manager of the Waldorf-Astoria in concluding the George was living the good life.

For Aristotle, a good life had it all – all the virtues of justice, courage, a good sense of humor and the ability to drink wine without getting too obnoxious (really!), but it also required all the good fortune of wealth and power and community status plus all the wisdom to appreciate it. The one virtue neither Plato nor Aristotle seemed to embrace was humility! Both held philosophers in the highest regard and apparently themselves as well. We would all do well to remember Socrates warning that, “Thinking one knows what one does not know is the most reprehensible form of ignorance.” For Socrates there was always the need for self-examination.

Open Inquiry

Which is, of course, what open inquiry is all about. It is not about critiquing and criticizing other points of view. It is about clarifying our own.

To be intentional about self-reflection and growing self-awareness is to listen to others who may not feel or think or believe exactly the way we do. As we ask questions about our identity, we seek a grounding center in which the distinctions we draw between our convictions and those of others become less and less something to divide and separate us and more and more something to raise up and celebrate!

All of us have some kind of history, a lineage of some sort. We are Christian, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu and more. Embracing the good life means we don’t waste our time trying to figure out who the enemy is so we can bond together in a false sense of intimacy. It means that we use information from every source to try to understand more rationally the shadows and cultural pitfalls that all religion and all world views are subject to so that we have a more realistic view of our common work in always reclaiming and reevaluating our own good life and the good life of community.So my friends, welcome to the good life! A life where we will question ourselves more than others. A life where instead of needing others to think the way we do, we will work to see the lens through which we see our own version of the world. A life in which we will seek lessons from everyone we meet and find the answers inside of ourselves. A life in which we will drink wine and we will not be obnoxious!

Namaste!

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Being Fully Human, Christian Mysticism, Compassion, Interfaith, Spiritual, Uncategorized

Tension in the Tank: Embracing Interfaith Mysticism Without Leaving the Church

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Tension in the Tank Addresses Modern Spiritual Themes

Tension in the Tank meets readers wherever they are on their faith journey, recognizing that the path includes doubt and pain. Barbara Lee’s latest book speaks to the beauty and value of interfaith understanding and liberal social values while digging deep in to the heart of Christian mysticism. It insists that if we are living a spirituality that matters, it will affect the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat others. Blending her own personal stories and ministerial experiences with psychological insight, religious knowledge, Biblical study and proven self help material, Lee provides a roadmap for ongoing spiritual growth and evolution.

Tension in the Tank is unique in progressive Christian literature in that it claims no spiritual superiority nor does it oppose any belief system, including conservative Christianity. The goal of Christian mysticism is Christ—to become fully permeated with God as Christ was. Tension in the Tank invites readers to move from a religion about Jesus to the religion of Jesus. Jesus was the original Christian mystic. To know God directly means that mysticism is different from any passive or legalistic kind of Christianity. Tension in the Tank honors Scripture and respects the heritage, but addresses the hunger to know God directly, not just through Scripture, doctrines, and dogmatic teaching.

Ultimately, Tension in the Tank is about faith that is relevant, secure and ever-evolving. It is a guidebook for building meaningful relationships with Spirit, self and each other. Radically open to possibility and wonder, Tension in the Tankoffers the opportunity and challenge to live our faith in such a way that the walls between us come down and we become pursuers and enactors of universal justice.

Barbara Lee works in the nonprofit sector, where she is an advocate for diverse populations, especially the marginalized and voiceless. She is an Ordained Interfaith Minister who led the community of Extended Grace for nine years. She is the author of Sacred Sex: Replacing the Marriage Ethic with a Sexual Ethic (2013).

 

“Barbara Lee’s book is unremitting in its clarity, honesty, and good nature. As such, its successful journey into print borders on the miraculous. So many popular books on religion, faith, or personal change are either vapid rehearsals of what everyone assumes or ideas being ground to an overly sharp point in service of this notion or that. For me, Tension in the Tank redeems the genre. It is precisely what it seeks to convey, describing and championing the deliberate cultivation of everything that a jaded, fearful, and spiritually constricted world holds worthless. As such, it is an intellectual roadmap to unlikely places of joy, maturity, and wakefulness that will actually take you there. Good for her! And good for us all.”
Reed Schroer, retired ELCA pastor, Rhodes, MI

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Being Fully Human, Christian Mysticism, Interfaith, Spiritual

Interfaith Community

Barbara_Lee FMCCwritten as a guest blogger for Project Interfaith

As a Christian Mystic Taoist, I seek to create and nurture interfaith Community, proclaiming what Jesus proclaimed, teaching what Jesus taught, doing our best to walk in ways Jesus walked and recognizing with deep gratitude and humility the ways in which these same proclamations and teachings and journeys are found in diverse faiths! We explore our relationship with Christ while embracing the promise that this Christ also lives within us and opens us up to see the ways in which God has revealed God’s self to diverse cultures at diverse times in diverse ways over the course of human history.

The grounding center of this community is Christian Mysticism, for it is through our own lineage of faith that we move to a place close enough to God that the distinctions we draw between our religion and others become less and less important. The mystic Christian journey leads to the direct experience of God.

Mystics have very rarely separated themselves from their historical religions. Without changing a single letter, they come to understand the meaning of these religions more deeply. The goal of Christian mysticism is to become fully permeated with God as Christ was. It is about moving from a religion about Jesus to the religion of Jesus, Jesus being the original Christian mystic.

In community we identify the 3-2-1 of God, to perceive of God in the third person, the second person and the first person. The third person perspective sees God as an other, an object. All world religions have an understanding of God in these terms. In Christianity we speak of the Creator as opposed to the Created. We talk about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity. Some of us speak in terms like Ruach or Mystery. I think a genuine gift that Christianity brings to any interfaith experience or dialogue is the understanding of God in the second person, as relational and personal. We speak of a Personal Savior, our Beloved Bridegroom, the Friend we have in Jesus, the God who meets us when we are in the depths of despair. This is a profound message to a hurting and alienated world – all the more so for its boldness in offering God’s word of mercy and grace.

While both views of God are critical to our Christian understanding, I believe that the common Christian declaration of God often stops there without embracing the first person of God, even though that understanding is part of our own tradition as exemplified in the proclamation of the Kingdom Within, Christ Consciousness, God’s indwelling and various Saints’ spiritual and mystical writings.

A few years ago I attended a local Buddhist-Christian Conversation. One group of Christians made statements that began, “As a Christian, I believe…” followed by reflections of narrow fundamentalism. Another group expressed their desire to recognize truths exist in other faiths, combined with the certainty that to express such a belief would be to make one’s self an outcast and an outsider in any Christian church. Too often they sadly concluded that they would have to abandon Christianity in order to live out their new understanding of God in the world, even as it was Christ who opened them up to see those truths.

Today’s mystics grasp the reality behind religious symbols and are drawn to acknowledging the symbols of other systems. Universal justice is sought beyond one’s own system. And in the “big picture” the walls between culture/tradition and people come down. Ideally suited for mysticism, this is an overwhelming, ecstatic experience in which one is radically opened to possibility and wonder.

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