Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ali.

Who Are We

 

Deport ‘em.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher store murders by Islamists in France, this remark didn’t surprise.

But deport whom – all tens of millions Arabic and other Muslims living in western nations, no matter how law abiding, born in-country or long ago naturalized? What about non-Muslim/non-Arab spouses and mixed-race children? Is some minimum share of Arabic DNA tolerable?

“They’re Nazis who supported Nazis in WWII. Deport ‘em.”  Guilt by ethnicity would have justified U.S. banishment of all Germans, Austrians, Italians and Japanese –every fourth or fifth American – in the early 1940s. In this event, foreign members of these groups slaughtered millions of people in a few years, dwarfing the relatively few non-Muslims slain by similarly few Arabic and other Muslims over subsequent decades. Yet members from all these groups subsequently helped build a better world.

If sharing any degree of religious or biological DNA with perpetrators of violence merits segregation, each of us needs a private planet. Moreover, if we are concerned about Nazism, we may want to notice that some of Europe’s most vigorous anti-Muslim backlash is coming from sources with Neo-Nazi associations.  Like Christianity, Islam’s membership probably represents every race; Nazism, not so much.

Nevertheless, a cancer grows within Islam. Its pathology matches the disease that rampaged through Europe, killing millions in post-Reformation wars among Christians. The same contagion drove hundreds of thousands American Christians to butcher fellow American Christians while martyring themselves in “Civil” efforts to perpetuate human slavery.

Carriers transmitting such plagues and more innocuous ailments typically exhibit three religious symptoms:

  • selective use of scriptures and traditions to justify repression while dismissing overwhelming evidence that humanity’s “true north” is liberty for all;
  • euphoria arising from conviction that these repressions express Divine will; and
  • emphasis on afterlife rewards for repressive conduct.

Some contend that religion’s abolition is necessary when zealots can wield weapons of mass destruction. Such a plan is both infeasible and inadvisable.

Others assert that universal conversion to their religious doctrines would save the day. See preceding paragraph.

Contrary to what we might expect, a growing body of evidence suggests we all have built-in immunity to us-them pathologies, religious and otherwise. Like much genetic potential, however, this immunity needs to “turned on.” And so it increasingly has been, as we’ve realized over time that our survival and well-being depends in no small part on the well-being of those around us. Consequently, empathy for others has been expanding since humanity’s origins, gradually overcoming primal stranger-fear on a jaggedly upward trajectory.

Religions would give empathy a huge turbo-boost simply by requiring all doctrines to adhere to the primacy of one simple, universally experienced spiritual truth: Abundant life is solely gained by seeking others’ well-being as energetically as we seek our own.

Every religion expresses some version of “do unto others,” but none honor it as “the prime directive.”  Yet this is precisely the way, truth and life with which Jesus identified himself, insisting there was “no other way” to transcendent Oneness identical to his.  Declaring love alone works and endures, the apostle Paul concurred. Corroborating both, the apostle John asserted that “God is love.” Many centuries later, the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him – and all of us) echoed them all:

. . . There should be neither harm, nor reciprocating of harm . . . No one is a believer until he loves for his neighbor, and for his brother, what he loves for himself . . . Do unto all men as you would they should unto you . . .

Whether gifted by Supreme Being, being-ness itself or impersonal ideal, the Golden GPS works – it liberates and enriches doer and “do-ee” alike.

We necessarily isolate individuals who intend violence against others, but integration of/with everyone else, not mass deportations, marks the approach to true north.

Je suis vous, et vous êtes moi.

Rob HunterRob Hunter is a business owner, real estate investor, fly fisherman, avid reader, and writer. Rob has four adult children and lives with his wife Carolyn and their two dogs, Spud and Lucy, in Billings, Montana. Rob is a board member of Presence, which – as he puts it – has been pivotal to transforming his perceptions of the biblical narrative and spiritual life.

 

 

Understanding Bible Prophecy: The Stunning Simplicity of Prophetic Language

Biblical LanguageTo make sense of biblical prophecy, we must clarify our terms. There are four terms that are used throughout this series this year, and we can understand them in two pairs of contrasts.

The first pair is figurative vs. literal. This has to do with the kind of language used. The language used to describe prophesied events is often figurative, meaning we are not to apply a direct literal meaning of the words used. We sometimes call this figure of speech. Figurative language takes many forms: simile, metaphor, hyperbole, metonymy, etc. Discussion of each of these forms is not necessary: it is enough for us to know that there are several ways in which words can be used without intending their strict, literal meaning. Literal, of course, means the words are to be understood in their exact accepted definition, or close to it.

There is something of a gray area here – sometimes figures of speech are so embedded in our culture and language that they become literal. When we speak of an argument or debate we use terms of warfare: we speak of fighting or attack. We don’t mean this literally, exactly, but the figure is so imbedded we don’t consciously think of it as a figure.

The other pair of terms is spiritual vs. temporal. These terms have to do with the nature or the significance of a prophesied event. Temporal deals with the space-time universe, with the scope of the daily life of humanity. We will sometimes use physical as a synonym. Spiritual speaks of things from God’s perspective. This is not always an either/or proposition. Sometimes a temporal event can have spiritual significance. What can help us in this regard is that the Psalms and Prophets used figurative language to ascribe spiritual significance to temporal events. Let’s take a look at Psalm 18:

Then the earth shook and trembled; The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because he was angry.

Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; Coals were kindled by it.

He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under his feet.

And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; he flew upon the wings of the wind.

He made darkness his secret place; his canopy around him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.

From the brightness before him, his thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire.

The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.

He sent out his arrows and scattered the foe, lightnings in abundance, and he vanquished them.

Then the channels of the sea were seen, the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.  (Psalm 18:7-15)

Notice the language David uses here. Without knowing what he is writing about, we might assume he is describing some kind of catastrophic, cosmic event – much like people understand the return of Jesus. In fact, the language of this  Psalm is nearly identical to some of the language used to describe Jesus’ coming. But the heading of the Psalm describes the occasion as David’s defeat of Saul. This is not a “cosmic” event. The language here is exaggerated, but this is the stuff of poetry. This event is very important to David, and has great spiritual significance. David, a “man after God’s own heart,” wants to celebrate his victory but he does not take credit himself, so he gives glory to God. And he uses language that eloquently expresses both his gratitude and the profound significance of the event he describes. He uses figurative language to invest a temporal event with spiritual significance.

Let’s look at another example. In Isaiah 13, the prophet describes the judgment of God against Babylon:

The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like that of many people! A tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together! The Lord of hosts musters the army for battle.

They come from a far country, from the end of heaven – the Lord and His weapons of indignation, to destroy the whole land.

Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty.

Therefore all hands will be limp, every man’s heart will melt,

And they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; They will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; They will be amazed at one another; Their faces will be like flames.

Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it.

For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine.

I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.

I will make a mortal more rare than fine gold, a man more than the golden wedge of Ophir.

Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger. (Isaiah 13:4-13)

The temporal event being described here is the capture of Babylon by the Medes (Isaiah 13:1, 17-19). Again, notice the language used. This passage is an interesting combination of literal language graphically describing the attack of the Medes, and figurative language describing God’s act of judgment through this event. The event itself is, on the historical level, just another exercise in ancient warfare, a relic for the annals of ancient history. The language of prophecy, however, gives us insight into the spiritual significance of this event.

In Exodus 19:4 God tells the people of Israel that he brought them out of Egypt “on eagle’s wings.” This is a very simple example of figurative language being used to describe a temporal event in spiritual terms.

So how does this apply to our understanding of end-time prophecy? Very simply, Jesus used figurative language (coming on the clouds, etc.) to describe a temporal event (the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans) in terms of its spiritual significance (the consummation of the ages and the coming of the kingdom of God).

This means that Christ’s coming and the kingdom ushered in are spiritual in nature. This should not surprise us. Jesus frequently described the kingdom in spiritual terms: “My kingdom is not of this world” – “The kingdom of God does not come with observation” and so on (John 18:36; Luke 17:20). In some cases this will mean that a prophecy that appears to use literal language, speaking of the kingdom of God or of Zion or Jerusalem or the temple, might turn out to be figurative, with a spiritual application. This is probably the most confusing aspect of biblical prophecy. But it is not alien to our way of thinking. Various Jewish people, with a literal understanding of prophecy, were expecting a temporal, or physical, kingdom. Jesus did not satisfy their expectations in this regard. He offered them a figurative understanding of these prophecies that pointed to a spiritual kingdom. This is part of the reason they had him crucified, and it seems unlikely that he would return to offer a temporal kingdom he refused to usher in the first time.

The spiritual nature of the work of Christ is established throughout the New Testament. Never once is it suggested that Jesus came to remain on earth, or that his ascension into heaven was a necessary retreat and delay in the establishment of his kingdom. Rather, he taught that just as he came from the Father, he would return to the Father, bringing fullness and completion to the arc of biblical prophecy. In John 6:62-63, Jesus said, “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” His message was not temporal in hope and promise, but rather he came to bear testimony to the spiritual. Entry into his kingdom requires a new birth after the manner and power of the spirit because his kingdom is not of this world, and therefore cannot be entered by flesh and blood (John 18:36; 1 Corinthians 15:50).

One last term that we will need to be familiar with is type. In everyday use “type” has been reduced to mean “variety” or “kind.” In the study of literature, however (and biblical interpretation is a kind of literary study), it means something that foreshadows or anticipates or signifies something else. It is a sign of something to come. You might think of it as a pointer, or a kind of real-life metaphor. David, as king of Israel, was a type of Christ. Because we have the example of David as a temporal king, we have a better understanding of Jesus as a spiritual king.

A great deal of the Old Testament system served as a type of the New Covenant that was to come. Because the Old Covenant had priests, we can understand better what it means for Jesus to be our high priest, and for Peter to call the early believers a “royal priesthood.” Because the Old Covenant had a temple, we can understand what Jesus meant when he said “Destroy this temple and I will build it again in three days,” referring to his own body, and why Paul and Peter can both refer to the church in temple terms. The fact that these temporal functions and artifacts – these types – passed away is not an occasion to denigrate them or despise them. They had a great and valuable purpose, and this purpose was to point to the greater things to come (Hebrews 9:11; 10:1).

The law system was a type or shadow of things to come, but not the very image of those things (Hebrews 10:11). A type does not typify itself. Physical or temporal concepts are used to point to a higher and spiritual meaning, which would otherwise be impossible without a point of reference. To hope for a literal fulfillment of these pointers, or types, is to miss this vital point in God’s spiritual program for humanity. Literal fulfillment is not necessary if a literal concept was used in the first place in order to convey a higher meaning and understanding of some spiritual reality.

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Stay tuned next week as we look further at the nature of biblical prophetic interpretation.

For right now, what do you think? How might understanding prophetic language as figurative language describing the spiritual significance of temporal events transform how you read biblical prophecies? The Comments section is open!

The Hidden Cultures within Communities: The Disqualification Game of Tier 1- Bruce Sanguin

WCO_011Clare Graves saw the levels we talked about last post (Beige to Green) as belonging to a Tier One set of values. They are each, in their own way, focused on their own survival and their own value system as the only legitimate one. The writer of Colossians encourages his followers not to let themselves be “disqualified” by other Christians (Colossians 2:18). These other Christians have accused the Colossians of not eating the right food, observing the correct rituals, or believing the right philosophy (2:8, 16). The writer’s response, ironically, is to disqualify the disqualifiers, claiming that it is their beliefs that are not Christian (2:8). This is classic Tier 1 thinking.

At the first three levels (survivalist to warrior, or Beige to Red), this disdain for the other levels leads to physical wars and violence. From levels four through to six, (traditionalist to postmodern, or Blue to Green) the result is often culture wars.

People who have a strong Blue orientation, (the traditionalist stage) criticize those in who are more centered at Orange and Green (modernist and pluralist). It tends to be true for human beings who are functioning predominantly within Tier 1 values that any worldview that incorporates more perspectives is regarded with suspicion.  Those, for example, who are oriented primarily from a traditionalist perspective may regard people the modernist worldview as godless hedonism.  The Green (postmodernists) may be perceived as lacking in absolute moral values to guide them.

Modern rationalist achievers may find the traditionalist worldview to be backward and superstitious, and they might judge those at Green, egalitarian multiculturalists to be tree-hugging liberal flakes who are good at criticizing but who don’t have any pragmatic alternatives to economic progress.

Those who orient primarily from a Green worldview may be very critical of the modernist (Orange) worldview – after all, look at the harm that corporations and capitalists are doing in the world! They are similarly impatient with the allegiance shown by a Blue (traditionalist) orientation to traditions that serve only to maintain the status quo. Subscribers to each worldview tends to believe that the evolutionary process concluded with it.

Terrorists are lit up by a Red (warrior) value system mixed with a good does of religious Blue . They feel justified in blowing everybody else up, because the modern/postmodern world has no room for them.

Most “liberal” denominations have a Green center of gravity. Congregations that are predominantly Green are faced with a dilemma. The tendency of Green to trash all levels below it leaves most liberal congregations criticizing a large number of their own people. Many members operate from an Orange orientation in their business lives, and at a Blue center in their personal, moral lives (which gets them to church in the first place). These people are typically our highest financial contributors. Out of their Orange ambition and initiative, they often support not only the church, but also the local opera and playhouse, and indeed the very lifestyles we’ve come to appreciate in the Western world.

I learned from a liberal seminary, which taught from a Green value system, that it was my role to be “prophetic.” This meant I essentially took it upon myself to point out all the errors of the warrior, traditionalist, and modernist values systems. (The seminary, of course, didn’t use Spiral Dynamics.) This was called “speaking truth to power,” following in a long line of Jewish prophets who were called to agitate the ruling elite to remember the poor, the widow, and the orphan. To be sure, this is a noble and sacred calling. But I’ve seen too many of my colleagues get run out of congregations, and too many supporters of the church just quietly leave, because of what was essentially a clash of worldviews.

The importance of Clare Grave’s work is that it gives us a language and a set of concepts that allow us, perhaps for the first time, to consciously engage our members in a dialogue about value systems instead of unconsciously reacting to our differences. It’s one thing for a person such as Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface Incorporated, the largest commercial carpet manufacturing company in the world, to address his corporate colleagues as “fellow plunderers,” and to invite them to become more ecological. It’s another thing altogether to be bombarded week after week by judgment from the pulpit, to hear again and again the implicit message that you are bad.

Imagine sitting in church, Sunday after Sunday, on the receiving end of criticism because of your achiever orientation. It doesn’t make any sense to you, because you are a generous person. You may have just given $50,000 to the roof fund of the church. From a modernist value system, you’re a hero. From a traditionalist perspective, you’re an upstanding citizen, obeying the rules and even willing to give the minister the benefit of the doubt on most issues – he’s an authority figure after all. And now you’re being bashed from the pulpit. How is this good news?Spiral Blame Game

Congregations can also be hard on ministers who have a different value system. Blue-Orange churches chew up and spit out ministers who are predominantly centered in a postmodernist worldview. Again, I’m sure this is done without any awareness that a clash of values or worldviews is at the heart of the matter. Until now, we haven’t had any language or any way of thinking about this that could help us stop the madness and engage rather in a dialogue about what’s happening.

As mentioned, in Tier 1 each value system assumes that the universe reached its zenith when it arrived at them. But these worldviews are the postmodern equivalent of the stations of the cross. We’re meant to move through them all in our Christian walk, not get stuck at one. It’s an evolving journey, with each station transcending yet including the previous one.

It is very important to resist the temptation to place people on the Spiral—Peter is “Blue”; Jessy is “Orange”, etc. Rather, we strive to locate the Spiral within people. We are all amalgams of each of these value systems. Specific experiences may trigger the warrior in me, the traditionalist, the modernist, or the postmodernist—and this can happen all in the same day! These worldviews are more like musical notes that form a chord. The chord consists of many different harmonics and admixtures of notes. So it is with all human beings.

Coming Next Week: Tier 2: From blaming to being. 

Bruce Sanguin bioBruce Sanguin is the author of five books, including The Advance of Love: Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary HeartIf Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics and The Emerging Church Revised & Expanded: A Model for Change & a Map for Renewal, which this post is based on. He served as an ordained minister for 28 years in the United Church of Canada. He now writes and teaches at his unique online community, Home for Evolving Mystics.

Doug King: Spirit and Transformation

What happens when we let go of labels and ego-driven identity markers and make room for the common ground of Spirit?

Doug King of Presence speaks with Kurt Johnson in New York City, exploring the greater love, compassion, and relatedness we can experience as we drop into boundless being.

Understanding Bible Prophecy: The Startling Possibility of Fulfillment

Fulfllment PromiseThere’s an old Jewish saying: if you have two rabbis in a room, you’re likely to have three opinions. The same, of course, can be said of theologians and Bible scholars. There seems to be no agreement on the interpretation of Scripture, and no end of divisions among followers of Jesus as a result.

Clearly something is wrong.

This sad state of affairs becomes painfully obvious when we get into eschatology, which is the fancy term of choice for end-time prophecy. Some are making charts and predictions, and watching the Middle East with hopes of seeing Armageddon break out.

Others are working diligently for worldwide evangelism so that the spread of the good news of Jesus might speed his return.

Still others are working to instill Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) law as the civil code of a world government that will become, or bring about, the millennial reign of Christ.

Some Jewish and Christian communities are even strangely united in the quest to restore Israel’s temple in Jerusalem.

Most avoid the subject of “the end” at all costs, claiming ignorance or even a kind of “end-times agnosticism.” Between apocalyptic enthusiasm and aversion, many people are content to describe their entire eschatological view as: “Jesus is coming – get ready.”

Despite ongoing regional conflicts, the countdown to a supposed biblical Armageddon continually disappoints, whether the target year was 1844, 1914, 1988, or 2011. While statistics show 73 percent of the planet evangelized (that is, accepting an iteration of the Christian “good news” message) by 2000, the same World Christian Encyclopedia statistics show the rate of increase of Christian believers at a nominal 1 percent per decade. At this rate, it would take 270 years without attrition of the existing “base” to gain that stubborn 27% who remain.

And of course, in recent years we’ve seen a mass-defection from organized religion of all stripes, and a rise of the spiritual-but-not-religious and The Nones. Whether Christianity as we’ve known it or any other competing ideology – global acceptance of any message, no matter how appealing, is unlikely.

A return to Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) law and theocracy does not seem a likely scenario, no matter how hopeful its advocates might be. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank has generated nothing but bloodshed, and many Palestinians – many Christian Palestinians – have lived in refugee camps for a half-century, oppressed by a public policy endorsed by many American Christians. Our confusion and our schizophrenia on the subject of the end time has caused us to be ridiculed by the media, dismissed by academics, and despised by popular culture.

Clearly something is wrong.

How do we get out of this mess? What is the answer? Every end-time view seems fraught with inconsistencies. A clear path to a coherent view doesn’t seem obvious.

Or, perhaps, it is so obvious that we simply have dismissed it as impossible.

Jesus said to his followers,

Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matthew 16:28)

On many occasions Jesus indicated that his generation – the people living at that time – would see the fulfillment of the promise to Israel and the coming of the kingdom of God. Similar statements abound in the New Testament. You cannot open a book of the New Testament – perhaps not even a chapter – without finding some reference to “the end of the ages” or the coming of the kingdom or the fulfillment of prophecy.

These statements are rarely taken seriously. The idea that fulfillment could have happened in Jesus’ generation is so unthinkable that we are willing to ignore these statements or reinterpret them. Or we engage in philosophical discussions about the nature of time. Or we construct elaborate fulfillment schemes that apply Jesus’ words to some other generation yet to come. Or we conclude that Jesus was, in the words of one Jesus scholar, “mistaken, but not wrong.”

Clearly, something is wrong. And it’s not Jesus.

What is the answer? We can’t translate Left Behind into the first-century and find it in the historical record. There are no reports of a Rapture, leaving crumpled togas in the Senate or unmanned chariots on the Appian Way. What we do have is Jesus making a clear connection of his return to the destruction of Jerusalem. We do have the historical record that Jerusalem was, in fact, destroyed forty years after Jesus’ prophecy – a generation in biblical terms. We also have Jesus’ descriptive language regarding his coming that appears at first glance more cosmic than the fall of Jerusalem. We’ll examine this use of language in an upcoming post.

Right now, let us propose a very simple interpretive scheme in the form of a mathematical equation. We have the timeframe of Jesus’ prophecy: the destruction of Jerusalem. Let’s call that t. We have Jesus’ description of his coming – we’ll call that d. That’s one side of our equation. On the other side we have the same timeframe, t, because we know that Jerusalem was destroyed. We also have, for lack of a better way to describe it, what really happened (or didn’t happen, we might add, but cautiously), that we’ll call w. So our “equation” looks like this:

td=tw

In algebra, anything on both sides of the equation drops out. In our case, t drops out, leaving us with:

d=w

Or in plain English, whatever happened when Jerusalem was destroyed was exactly what Jesus was talking about. If not, then his detractors have every reason to question his claims to legitimacy.

This is a very simple hypothesis, but we must understand that almost no prophecy is self-evident in terms of fulfillment. The exact nature of a prophecy’s fulfillment is not known until that fulfillment has come to pass.

Jesus was not the Messiah that the Jewish people of his day expected. This caused them to doubt his claims to be the Messiah. But early Christians added up the signs: he was born of a virgin, of the tribe of Judah and the line of David, in David’s city. He came with signs and wonders. Either he is the real Messiah, or biblical prophecy is a little confused.

In Luke 4 Jesus reads the scroll of Isaiah and then says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The reaction of the crowd indicated that this was not what they were expecting. Nevertheless, once Jesus said that, the exact nature of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy was made clear.

In Acts 2, referring to the events at Pentecost, Peter says to the crowd, “This is that which was prophesied by the prophet Joel.” Reading Joel’s prophecy prior to Pentecost, one would not necessarily conjure up the scene in Acts 2. Yet, as soon as Peter, under the power of the Holy Spirit, said, “this is that,” the exact nature of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy was made clear. To use a common refrain, this is not rocket science.

On the other hand we don’t have any post-70 scriptures to tell us “this is that” with regard to the coming of Jesus Christ. We do have Jesus’ own words that his coming would be concurrent with the destruction of Jerusalem. If our hypothesis holds, the nature of his coming should now be made clear. “The testimony of Jesus,” John tells us in Revelation 19:10, “is the spirit of prophecy.”

As we recently announced, join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Stay tuned next week as we take a deeper look into the nature of prophetic language.

For right now, what do you think? Have popular Christian understandings of the “end-times” served humanity? Have they served us? The Comments section is open!

The Hidden Cultures within Communities: An Introduction to Spiral Dynamics – Bruce Sanguin

For now I know only in part; then I will know fully…
1 Corinthians 13:12

What I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process, marked by progressive subordination of old, lower-order behavior systems to new, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change.
Dr. Clare Graves

Spiral KoiHaving served three congregations over the past 27 years, I am acutely aware that a congregation can be deeply challenged by what can only be called culture clashes. Cultures are essentially perspectives on reality. They are worldviews that define values, beliefs, and core assumptions about what is important and true.

New Testament scholar N. T. Wright says that worldviews are like the foundation of a house – critically important, but invisible. Worldviews are not something that you look at, but rather look through. They are like a set of glasses that determine what you can actually see. Over the course of history, in response to shifting life conditions and challenges, new worldviews emerge that transcend, yet include, earlier worldviews. The newly emergent worldviews are not better than the earlier ones. In fact, unless the intelligences of previous worldviews are carried forward, our species loses precious wisdom. For example, when modernism emerged starting almost 500 years ago, society was impoverished by the loss of a pre-modern, indigenous wisdom. The ideal is to include all the intelligences from all the worldviews.

I once had a dream in which I was travelling on a bus with other passengers. I saw a tornado approaching and realized we were directly in its path. Indeed, the tornado picked the bus up and rolled it two or three times. Miraculously, nobody was hurt. I climbed out of a window and was met by a man who told me that I had been chosen to name a new species of tree. I knew absolutely nothing about trees and told him so, but to no avail. This was the task I had been given.

Interpreting the dream later, I realized that the spiral shape of the tornado was a sign that I was in the midst of a transformative process. I was being shaken-up, challenged to make room for the emergent reality that was coming into my life. This is the way evolution happens, at both the personal and cultural levels.

The spiral is a fractal form, a natural structure that repeats itself at a micro level and at a macro level. The double helix spiral of the DNA molecule is a micro expression, while the spiral structures of some galaxies reflect the macro phase of the fractal. You see a fractal forms in nature because it works so well. Through natural processes, Spirit very efficiently carries forward what works. For the purposes of evolution, this means that the spiral is a fractal structure associated with emergence, the creative dynamic by which new forms transcend yet include previous forms.

The late Dr. Clare W. Graves, a pioneer in the field of developmental psychology, noticed that worldviews and value systems evolved in a developmental fashion. As new challenges and life conditions confront a culture, new worldviews and value systems emerge in order to help the culture adapt and evolve. It turns out that it’s not only biological life that evolves. Consciousness, culture, and human societies, also “escape to a higher order” (a process discussed in The Emerging Church Revised & Expanded: A Model for Change & a Map for Renewal, which this post is based on). This doesn’t happen so much in a linear fashion, Graves theorized, but rather like a spiral staircase that circles back on itself. With each revolution of the metaphorical spiral, these new value systems or worldviews ascend, reaching a higher level in an effort to resolve the challenges created by the previous stage.

Graves called his model Spiral Dynamics. Don Beck color-coded these levels for the layperson’s benefit, since Grave’s original typology is a bit awkward. Below is a brief description of the colors, the associated value systems, and the life conditions that give rise to them. I am indebted to the brilliant work of Dr. Don Beck, a student of Clare Graves, who has dedicated his life to teaching this system.

Stages of Spiral Dynamics: Part One 

BEIGE: Archaic/Survivalist Value System (emerged 100,000 years ago)

When the two-legged ones stood up and ventured out into the Savannahs of Africa, it was a case of eat or be eaten. Life for humans, along with the rest of the animals, boiled down to a search for water, food, and shelter. They travelled in bands because it was safer than travelling alone as an individual. Yet each individual within the band looked out for his or her own interests. You can see the survival instinct up close and personal in infants at the first sign of hunger or discomfort.

Congregations have been known to regress to this level under financial duress! When we find ourselves hunkering down and focusing exclusively on survival, we are operating from a survivalist value system.

PURPLE: Tribal Value System (emerged 50,000 years ago)

Clans bump into each other and begin to form more complex tribal systems. Out of the primarily individualistic instinct for survival, loyalty to the tribe and to the ancestors issues in a more communitarian value system. At this stage, the whole cosmos is felt to be animated with spirits and the key to the good life is to live in right relationship with your ancestors so that they will provide assistance to your tribe. Sacred rituals reflect a direct participation in the cycles and rhythms of nature. There is a felt sense that your rituals, thoughts, words, and songs, have a direct impact on the course of the universe, causing the sun to rise and the rains to fall.

There is much about the ritual life of congregations that is tribal, with our various rituals that order our lives and our feeling of connectedness with, and loyalty to, the community

RED: Warrior Value System (emerged 10,000 years ago)

Out of the collective honouring of the ancestors and the spirits, the need for individual self-expression and the allurement of freedom re-emerges. Think terrible twos. Or in adults, think Rambo and the bevy of films depicting the strong man heroically emerging from the pack. There is no guilt associated with taking exactly what you want. The world is your oyster. Tribal warlords in Iraq, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, urban street gangs, and prison systems function from this red centre of gravity. Power is exercised as domination. The positive evolutionary contribution of the warrior stage is found in its fierce commitment to individual empowerment and its action orientation.

BLUE: Traditional Value System (emerged 5,000 years ago)

Coming out of the aggression and impulsivity of red, the warrior stage, the life challenge is now for order and purpose. The perceived need is for salvation, law and order. Here the individualist thrust gives way to the needs of the collective. The individual is willing to sacrifice personal pleasure in order to participate in a life of meaning and purpose, delivered by a shared belief in a “transcendent cause.” The many tribal gods are united under one all-powerful God. This is the emergence of the age of axial religions. The promise that the next life will be better allows us to make sacrifices in this one. The needs of the self are held in balance with the needs of the other. A shift has taken place from the egocentric focus of the warrior (Red) to an ethnocentric outlook – a capacity to take the perspective of the other. But the “other” extends no further than my family, my tribe, and my God. The world is easily polarized into right and wrong, and good and evil.

Seventy percent of the world’s religions function out of this value system today. The belief that salvation can happen only through my belief system is a telltale sign of this stage. The contribution of this stage to the spiral is its sense of civic duty, preservation of tradition, respect for authority, loyalty to the group, and deep faith.

ORANGE: Modernist Value System (emerged 300 years ago)

While offering good order and purpose, the collective orientation of the traditionalist value system (Blue) stifled creativity and the innate drive to improve one’s lot in life. Adherence to external authority – the priests and the church, for example – and absolute laws gave way to the so-called modern period.

In the modernist system, rationalists of the Enlightenment wanted to discover the full potential of the human species when it was liberated from myth, superstition, and the power of the church. Because we can use our God-given reason, our future is not wholly determined by our past experiences or by our station in life. Humanity begins to feel liberated through the discovery that we can shuffle off the chains of a predetermined future to shape one of our own choosing. Democracy is born as four great world revolutions awaken to the inherent rights of individuals to determine their own future. The rationalist cry of the Enlightenment is “no more myths and no more ascent.” “No more myths” conveys frustration with the myths and belief systems of the traditionalist (Blue) worldview, which limited human potential. “No more ascent” means that there is no more room for Spirit. The scientific worldview, when expressed as metaphysical materialism (reality is merely physical) dismisses the myths, creation stories, and legends of the tribal (Purple) and warrior (Red) and the traditionalist (Blue) value systems as superstitious tales told by those who did not have all physical data. Humans are declared to be unique in their capacity to shape their own future.

The human being as an achiever emerges. We can get what we want through our own strategic thinking and genius. Competition is healthy. The strongest survive. Corporate culture is born. Ambition and ingenuity focused on self paradoxically serves the whole. A rising tide lifts all boats.

The modernist (Orange) value system is the dominant value system in our society today, but you won’t find many people functioning out of a purely modernist value system in your congregation because there’s little or no room for Spirit at this level. The positive contribution of this stage is its embrace of reason, its optimism about human potential, and its empowerment of the individual.

GREEN: Postmodernist Value System (emerged 150 years ago, but in full force 50 years ago)

Out of the modernist’s (Orange’s ) fascination with self and the causa sui project – to be the cause of oneself – comes a recognition that it can’t just be about me, and it can’t just be about us, understood as my family, my country, and my business. It must be about all of us, if we’re going to survive as a species, and if the earth is going to survive our plundering. The postmodern (Green) value system is world-centric. A shift back to the collective needs of the whole occurs. From the cold rationality and objectivity of scientific materialism, a warmer, kinder self emerges, with the capacity for empathy and sensitivity. Multiple cultures – not just ours – are recognized and validated. Justice, peace, and ecological concerns take precedence in this code. It’s the beginning of the postmodern mindset, where everything depends on perspective and context. Truth itself is a relative affair, an arbitrary construction of the observer. The philosophical hallmark of postmodernism is constructivism (reality is not given, it is constructed) and perspectivism (there is no Truth, only perspective). Even science itself is regarded as but one perspective on many about the nature of “truth.” No single worldview is the correct one – with the exception, we shall see, of the Green worldview itself. Decision-making is ideally consensual. The problem in the world is understood to be the tendency of the powerful elite to dominate the marginalized. Success and material pleasure take one only so far.

The positive contribution of this stage is its egalitarian and pluralistic sensibility. Most congregations in liberal mainline churches of North America have their centre of gravity at this postmodern (Green) centre of gravity.

Coming Next Week: Games Tier 1 Stages play – and what lays beyond. 

Bruce Sanguin bioBruce Sanguin is the author of five books, including The Advance of Love: Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary HeartIf Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics and The Emerging Church Revised & Expanded: A Model for Change & a Map for Renewal, which this post is based on. He served as an ordained minister for 28 years in the United Church of Canada. He now writes and teaches at his unique online community, Home for Evolving Mystics.

 

Occupy Spirituality: the Democratizing of Divinity – and Why We Support It

Occupy Spirituality IIn Occupy Spirituality, veteran Creation Spirituality theologian Matthew Fox and interspiritual activist Adam Bucko weigh in on an increasingly prevalent conversation around spirituality and religion – their similarities and differences. The divergence between these two identities – “spiritual” and “religious” – is becoming more obvious to many, and Fox and Bucko push this conversation toward their understanding of radical spirituality:
As institutions lose their credibility, we go to stories.
We might reframe this quote to say,
As the story of religion reaches it’s final stages, we go to a story beyond religion – which is to say, toward spirituality itself.
This is why we at Presence are so interested in Fox and Bucko’s work –  and why this book is so appropriate for today’s evolution of spiritual consciousness.
Very few people would dare quote Walt Whitman:
Spiritual democracy is too important to be consigned to churches, Catholic or Protestant, Saint this or Saint that.
But this is what we see as the heart of this ground-breaking book. Fox and Bucko write from a perspective of fearlessness, pushing into the realm of trans-traditionalism. This approach works very well with those who are working and living in an Integral consciousness space.
Perhaps one of the strongest parts of the conversation is this exchange between Fox and Bucko:
Matthew— They are simply divorcing themselves from organized religion, from the church as such.
Adam— …and serving not the church, but humanity, which is also life.
Matthew— Letting the church go in its own direction as it travels down the path of death.
 Occupy Spirituality II
It must be noted here that neither of them are separating from the writings of prophets, apostles and Jesus. They are simply questioning the way that the story has been told. Bucko spends time throughout the book talking about the importance of teachers and mentors who can connect with today’s youth by reframing the story of Spirit.
Fox quotes William Hocking along these same lines:
An integrated and solid toolbox of practice undertaken with a healthy theology can lead to a sacred marriage of action and contemplation.
We’re living in rapidly-changing times, when everything from our news headlines to the existence of the Internet itself is being implicated in the demise of institutionalized religion. Limiting beliefs and structures that would have simply been tolerated in generations past are being weighed by the ideals of each religion (and common sense) – and found wanting. Many well-meaning religious institutions are engaging in soul-searching about what to tweak in order to stop – or maybe even reverse – the mass-exodus from their buildings and services. As it’s increasingly clear, however, we’re witnessing The Rise of the ‘Dones.’
In the context of this upheaval in the way that growing numbers of us are connecting differently to God and community, we need more than re-arranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. A healthy theology is a thoroughly reframed and re-interpreted theology.
Fox agrees, plainly saying,
That’s what we’re struggling with today: to deconstruct an imperially-based Christianity in favor of something truer to values Jesus preached.
And while Fox does not say that Christianity has reached its end as a religious identity, he certainly sets the stage for such a conversation. In fact, he later quotes Brazilian Liberation theologian Leonardo Boff:
The church was never the object of the preaching of Jesus.
The conclusion of this conversational tome discusses the idea of grace as a kind of spiritual democracy; the story of grace is inclusive of everyone:
The term spiritual democracy almost parallels a term that symbolizes what the future could be: the Kingdom of God.
In coming posts we’ll explore why daring to put God in our own hands (as opposed to relying on religious intermediaries) is not simply a good idea – it’s what the trajectory of the Scriptural narrative and work of God through Jesus actually points to. In the meantime, we highly recommend Occupy Spirituality for anyone navigating differences between religion and spirituality, daring to chart a path forward.
Get Occupy Spirituality:
Occupy Spirituality III

Understanding Bible Prophecy: What in the World?

EarthOf all biblical subjects, end-time prophecy is one of the most popular, and often the most confusing. Why does confusion reign?

For many reasons, not the least of which are bad Nicholas Cage film adaptations of equally troubling novels.

But drilling down beyond the obvious (and needed) surface critiques of doom-and-gloom prophetic interpretations to the core paradigm issues that underlie them is one of the cornerstones of Presence. Since 1971, we’ve been deconstructing biblical interpretations that lead to fear and division, discovering an alternative perspective that – we’ve found – leads to fulfillment and peace. In wrestling with the texts of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and New Testament, we’ve found a reading of The Greatest Story ever told that is truly good news for all people. It’s been hiding in plain sight – right in our Bibles.

In 2015, we’ll be blogging through material closely based on Presence founder Max King’s seminal work The Spirit of Prophecy. This is the book that started it all – a major rethinking of popular-level understandings of the “end times” that only emerged in the 19th century with John Nelson Darby, continuing through the 1970s with Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth, a host of televangelists and made-for-TV movies, working its way through the 1990s doomsday fantasy series Left Behind, and continuing to leave its mark today, everywhere from what our friend Brian McLaren calls “radio orthodoxy” to ecological attitudes to political foreign policy.

In attempting to give voice to a more faithful and life-affirming reading of our cherished scriptural texts, we return to our question: When it comes to understanding prophetic texts in Holy Writ, why does confusion reign?

Max King has proposed two main reasons:

First, the precise meaning of prophecy often is not recognized until after the fact. It is easy for us to look back on prophetic texts and see, say, the life and work of Jesus in them, but only because we already have a portrait of Jesus as the Messiah in 20/20 hindsight. The Jewish people in Jesus’ time had considerably more difficulty making a connection between this itinerant first-century rabbi and the Messiah they’d hoped for.

Second is the question of literary genre. When we start delving into prophecies and prophetic texts, we learn that language can be figurative or literal, and that prophecy can speak of spiritual events or temporal events, or some combination of both. Wading our way through these distinctions is no easy task, and it may require us to let go of some of our cherished presuppositions.

And so: If you’re willing to have some of your sacred cows tipped, join us every Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the full book here.) The Comments section will be open, and we want to hear from you!

See you next week as we look at why so many attempts to provide dates and times for the Apocalypse have continued to disappoint.

Welcome to the All-New Presence.tv

Whether you’ve been connecting with us for years, or this is your very first time here – welcome. Here at Presence.tv we’re about the full-on celebration of Presence – of God*, self, each other, and our planet. Rooted in the Judeo-Christian biblical narrative and transcending all form-based identity to embrace Spirit’s next move, we’re growing into a common human family co-creating an open future with our Source.

This short video “trailer” gives a compelling snapshot of where Presence is headed today:

In the coming year, you can expect to see regular multi-media posts covering:

  • Re-imagining eschatology with Max King
  • Spiral Dynamics, Integral Theology, and Everyday Spirituality with Denee and Doug King
  • Evolutionary Spirituality and Activism by a host of compelling guest bloggers and friends of Presence
  • Updates on our ongoing work in peacemaking, reconciliation, and sustainable development worldwide

You won’t want to miss a single post in this action-packed year; we highly recommend you subscribe to our weekly email newsletter digest here!

Let us know in the comments – what would you like to see Presence explore in this new year? 

*By whatever name you know the divine: God, Spirit, Source, Higher Power…at Presence, we’re recognizing that this Reality transcends all possible names we can give to him/her/it, and therefore, we enjoy using many of them! If you find that one of them triggers you, let it go – this All-in-all ocean of Love isn’t offended in the least.