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Archive for October, 2012

Such a busy couple of weeks, very little time to add to this thread. Just a short quote today sent to me by a Buddhist friend who is part of my theological Google+ Circle, which for the moment shall remain unnamed.

The line is from Thomas Moore, from his ” The Soul Of Religion”. Moore is a Lay Servite Brother, a Jungian psychotherapist and a religious academic probably best known for his 1982 “Care of the Soul”.

" Belief is a word of love, not thought. It comes from a Germanic root meaning to hold dear. Belief is an endearment….people may try to show us how our belief is wrong or deluded, but we may be profoundly attached to it. We love life as we see it and don’t want others to take that precious vision away from us. All human love is complicated, even religious belief…..For all the talk of dogma and teaching, attachment to a religion or a spiritual system is almost always a matter of the heart rather than the head…….I began my life as a believer by agreeing to a certain vision and understanding of life that I received from my church. Now, after going through many phases of belief, I believe in many things-art, religion, cultural diversity, peace, nature, honest work, real community, passion. These are secular things but as the objects of my belief they become part of my religion. My belief has expanded, and yet it is still rooted in the vision I received the very moment I was born. And as long as I still believe, I know I can still love."

I love the expansive nature of the belief he describes. The gospel expands our mind, our vision and the Spirit expands our hearts, our embrace. Anything less seems rather mean in comparison.

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Had a really interesting conversation the other day with someone who is going through a part of faith’s journey in which they emerge from a “blind faith” model into a deeper, richer, more questioning phase. They really seem to be doing the work faithfully to the Spirit’s leading and also conscious of the inward sense of alienation from their congregation who are, at least publicly, speaking a much more authoritarian and confident form of God-talk. I find this to be a less and less rare experience, as shown by book’s like Rachel Held Evans’ and models like Scott Peck’s “Four stages of spiritual development” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Scott_Peck#The_Four_Stages_of_Spiritual_Development .

The topic that really got me thinking is about how to handle church leadership responsibility as one is going through the transition. Should one, as my friend assumed, resign from leadership roles during this period? That implicit question struck me as indicative of a number of assumptions about leadership and authority in the church which should perhaps be unpacked. In Peck’s stage two (blind faith and obedience) authority is often seen as a function of knowledge and certainty. The leader therefore is someone who knows the Scripture better than the congregation and is more assured and confident in the propositions of the faith. This provides a platform, from which to teach, instruct and lead. The implied model is “I KNOW, you don’t, so I’m in charge.”

If that is the model of leadership then I suppose the assumption that one should resign if one is exploring a more questioning and subtle way of faithfully following Jesus is quite understandable. In this model of leadership then someone with a lower level of knowledge or certainty can’t lead someone who is more knowledgeable or certain.

But with a revised model of faith might come a revised model of leadership. Rather than “I know, so I’m in charge”, leadership could be seen as being more like “as none of us can fully know, but I have been blessed with some experience, knowledge and skills, I will use my gifting and calling to help others to grow too.”

From here we can lead people who are more advanced in the faith than we are, or less. We can lead people who are less certain than we are, or more. Leadership or teaching becomes less about downloading all that is in our heads into the learners’ heads and becomes more about posing the question, creating the space and being in relation to the learners so they can grow and perhaps also teach us something in the process.

Peck’s level three often gives way into the beautiful mystery of level four, and similarly a leader often matures from a dogmatic teacher of truth to a prophetic and pastoral witness to truth and facilitator of spiritual growth. We need our leaders to hang in there as they grow “from one degree of glory into another, and we need collectively to support them on their inner journey, which will enrich us in the process.

I detect my friend’s reticence to carry on in leadership when he was no longer operating from the blind faith and certainty model comes from his deep integrity – “how can I teach something I no longer believe in the same way?”. But the deeper truth is that even as we transition from stage two to three, we are still held by the same God and still relating to the same Way, the same Truth and the same Life. Our language for describing that changes, but the deeper truth is still deeply true.

I think I’ll encourage my friend to faithfully hang on in there.

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