When seekers trekked out to the desert in the early centuries of Christianity, the wise Abbas and Ammas there advised them to “go to your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”
I’ve been mucking around in this pre-original-sin wisdom lately, and, let me tell you, it’s mind-bending. Mistakes, weaknesses, temptations, sins—Augustine hadn’t yet made of these cause for guilt and shame, so instead they’re understood as unavoidable, even necessary to the life of faith, and worthy of gratitude. In story after story, thieves create chances for the monks to release material attachments and exercise compassion. The devil comes not as the temptation to do bad things but rather as distracting thoughts. This is a topsy-turvy faith, barely recognizable today as Christianity. (more…)
I was raised by a liberal, seminary-educated mother in a liberal United Methodist congregation, and both blanketed me with a theology of a warm, loving God. But the chill of original sin snuck under the covers regardless. How? It’s hard to say. Through the Adam and Eve of popular culture? Through my mother’s foundational guilt and insecurity? Through the Sunday morning stress of getting out the door on time, as though our lives depended on showing up for worship with clean hair and ironed clothes? Regardless, I understood myself to be fundamentally wrong, and faith was the antidote. Every time I screwed up, deliberately hurting my boyfriend, turning my back on a stranger in need, lying to my parents, my “sin” was a guilt-soaked reminder of my hidden, awful nature. (more…)
“The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or she will cease to be anything at all.” –Karl Rahner
Morality, ritual, and blind belief: contemporary Christianity is known for these. If you’re Christian, you adhere to certain moral standards (although these vary vastly between denominations and individuals); you go to church, and you “believe in Jesus Christ,” whatever that means. As best as I can tell, this is how Christianity is perceived by popular culture. For the most part, this is how Christianity is experienced by Christians.
Dig deep enough, however, and I suspect you’d find that many Christians have “experienced something.” For that matter, people of other faiths have, too, and those who calls themselves “spiritual but not religious.” As have artists, nature-lovers, scientists, community organizers, and anyone who volunteers their time to help others. You might call the “something” God or art or nature or love or truth, but regardless, you experience a mysterious happening that brings you alive and gives life meaning. You glimpse a source beyond the scope of human consciousness. You know a beauty that vibrates in your very cells. You sense significance that encompasses even tragedy, even rampant injustice, even death. (more…)
Over the past decade, my experience of church as a family of faith located in one community, one building, and one denomination, has shattered. My close association with a small urban United Methodist congregation for almost 25 years gave me a clear sense of identity and belonging. The rituals were familiar. The congregation was my gravitational center, the sun to my orbiting earth.
Contemplative prayer and my strong desire for silence have drawn me out of orbit, perhaps temporarily, perhaps not, and I’ve been grieving the loss. On a personal level church feels broken, and I’m painfully aware of the larger Church’s rapid decline. What’s happening to this institution I love?
Oddly enough, the loss has brought to mind the Jewish creation myth: At the beginning of time God’s presence filled the universe. (more…)
In many Native American traditions, those who embody both genders or are attracted to both genders—Two-Spirit people—are respected as spiritual leaders. Who better to provide insight into our humanity or our sacred worth than those who are both male and female? As a die-hard Christian, I sometimes cherish Jesus as a great Two Spirit, both gentle and fierce, tender to John and sweet on Mary, one foot in this gritty world and the other in the numinous next. Plus he wore skirts!
When I came out bisexual twenty-two years ago, I came way out, writing a book about my identity and traveling the speaker circuit. (more…)