When I cast the occasional look back over my old spiritual and religious haunts, I’m frankly astounded. For what I see is a frozen version of what was birthed in radicalism and unconformity. What began as a somewhat idealistic, yet deeply genuine search for God and all things divine appears to have morphed into a rigid belief system, one that doesn’t allow for honest questioning and experiential change. In my book, ‘Way Beyond The Blue’ I wrote a little parable to describe this settling process. In it the waters of Spirit were placed in religious and esoteric buckets and told to flow no more. God was taken in for care, like an ageing relative who could no longer be trusted to do their own thing.
In my early pilgrimage everything was taught and learned through the specs of scriptural texts. If a Biblical story couldn’t be found to back up our experience of God then I’m afraid it was immediately suspect. Revisiting the social media sites of my past religious contacts I see nothing has really changed. Sermons are still preached on David and Goliath, Paul’s letters to his Roman converts, and of course the scariest of all, ‘The Book of Revelation’. The menu hasn’t changed that much over the past 40 years, apart from a few trendy added extras to disguise the taste. The same trite, well-worn insights are wheeled out, Sunday by Sunday, to keep those in attendance committed to the cause, rather than exploring the boundless prairies of Divine Love.
Many of my old friends, after years of faithful service, have been promoted to the position of ‘elder’ or wise Christian guardian of all things church, allowing them to preach the odd sermon now and again when the pastor is away on vacation. What a settled and predictable life, one that resists Spirit in It’s dogged atempts at blowing things apart, at turning our beloeved belief systems upside-down. I guess, having been shaken to the core by the tragic storms of life, I can no longer hold to this sure and steadfast mindset, one that has maintained every jot and title of my friends’ adolescent faith.
It appears that my old spiritual nurseries still foster a semi-infantile view of all things God. Just turn up every Sunday morning, sing a few songs, give a few dollars, and listen to the same old sermons and all will be well. Of course, it doesn’t really work out like that as life buffets us for our good. Suffering, it would appear, is part of the deal, not a major part , though an unavoidable and highly significant one. The iconic Nazarene Himself could have quite easily slipped into the religious mindset of his day and been a good Torah believing, synagogue-attending Jewish boy. Yet He didn’t. For, something was stirring deeply in his psyche-soul, a spiritual energy that led him into the minefield of reformist and prophetical life. A path that eventually ended (at least within space-time) as a tortured, hanging victim of a second-rate Roman execution squad.
Of course many of my old friends suspect that I have fallen away from my early faith, my first love to use the evangelical vernacular. They may well be right, but I reckon that like Alice of Wonderland fame I’ve tumbled down a rabbit-hole more in touch with the Reality of which the Nazarene spoke. A ravenously loving God, one running wild outside the concept-based, formal paddocks of religious conservatism. Now, before any of my former comrades raise the old chestnut of one having ‘a root of bitterness’ lurking deep within, may I respectfully save them time and effort by stating that thankfully that particular trait melted away a long time ago. No, what presently lies with spiritual gut is rather a potent cocktail of sadness and bewilderment. A sadness that grieves the lack of risk taking present in my old faith communities, and a bewilderment at the level of toxic stoicism that has infiltrated the unquestioning and often subservient followers of Jesus.
The religious life is a funny old thing.