Monthly Archives: February 2018

Early Stages

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

This is Part 4 in my series ‘The Stages of Spiritual Growth‘, in which I discuss the ‘Stages of Faith’ as described by James W. Fowler and M. Scott Peck.

In the second instalment of the series, I gave you a general overview of the Stages of Faith, whereas last time, we looked at the ‘pre-faith’ Stage 0, which is not generally recognised as a Stage of Faith, but which we saw is actually very much a Stage of Faith. Today, we will be concentrating on the next, but still ‘early’, Stages of faith: those called, in our Fowler/Peck models, Stage 1 and Stage 2 (Fowler) and Stage I (Peck).

So, to recap from that general overview, here’s the descriptive chart for those early stages (click the image to enlarge):

Stage 1

When thought and language begin to open the child up to the use of symbols in speech and ritual play, the child moves on to Stage 1: “Intuitive-Projective” Faith which is typical of children ages 2 through 7. Here the child is egocentric, in other words self-centred, or self-seeking; you might even think of this stance as being ‘selfish’.

In other words, the world essentially orbits around the child. This is not a bad thing, as it would be seen to be in adults, because a) it is all part of the learning process and b) it is part of normal development. Selfishness is only a problem if a person chooses to be selfish; at this stage, a child has no choice – ‘selfish’ is the only way a child of this age knows how to be, and being unselfish is a learned behaviour; this learning takes place during this time of the child’s life, both at home and at school. At any rate,  it is in this stage that the child’s imagination is formed. This is because this Stage is characterized by the psyche’s unprotected exposure to the ‘unconscious’, and marked by a relative fluidity of thought patterns. This is the Stage of preschool/early school children in which fantasy and reality often get mixed together and are somewhat undifferentiated. Therefore, during this Stage, our most basic ideas about God and faith (although it will not yet be recognised as ‘faith’ as such) are usually picked up from our parents and/or society, and through experiences, stories, images, and the people that one comes in contact with, and the consequent interaction of these stimuli with the imagination, the unconscious, and the senses of fantasy and reality, together and in opposition.

In some ways, a partial reversion to these ways of thinking, for example the fantasy element, can indeed be helpful even in adulthood, and when at a more ‘mature’ Stage of spiritual growth. This is a good reason why the Stages of Spiritual Growth should not be seen as steps on a ladder which are left behind as ‘below’, ‘beneath’ or useless, but as part of the path we used in order to get to where we are now. In other words, our previous spiritual attitudes should not be entirely discarded, but instead be recognised as having value even though we have ‘moved on’ from that part of our lives and from those modes of thinking, because the spiritual tools and coping strategies we learned to use in those times can still be useful for us in our faith walk today. It can in fact be a good thing to ‘never grow up’!

In this stage, as I mentioned already, reality is usually not well-differentiated from fantasy. For this reason, adults preaching about the negative aspects of religion – for example, the devil and the evils of sin – can cause great harm to a child of this age, leading them towards a very rigid, brittle and authoritarian personality as an adult. Also, stories, concepts and ‘facts’ presented to the child at this level are deeply absorbed and can still be thought of as being ‘true’ and ‘factual’ – possibly unconsciously – even once the child has grown to adulthood. This can happen especially if the child tends to accept things at face value without questioning their veracity – something easily done at this level of maturity. This is one reason why I feel very strongly that children should not be taught about negative aspects of faith – such as Hell – especially if those teachings are being used in order to get the child to behave well or to conform to their parents’ wishes, or indeed those of any other authority figure. This Stage is the opportunity for a child to begin to learn to act out of love, liking and respect for people, rather than fear of punishment; a gradual weaning process (taking several years) from the selfish to the unselfish. Sadly, this opportunity is often missed.

Let’s finish this Stage description with Fowler’s formal summary:

Stage 1 Intuitive – Projective faith is the fantasy-filled, imitative phase in which the child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith of primally related adults.

“The stage most typical of the child of three to seven, it is marked by a relative fluidity of thought patterns. The child is continually encountering novelties for which no stable operations of knowing have been formed. The imaginative processes underlying fantasy are unrestrained and uninhibited by logical thought. In league with forms of knowing dominated by perception, imagination in this stage is extremely productive of long-lasting images and feelings (positive and negative) that later, more stable and self-reflective valuing and thinking will have to order and sort out. This is the stage of first self-awareness. The “self-aware” child is egocentric as regards the perspectives of others. Here we find first awarenesses of death and sex and of the strong taboos by which cultures and families insulate those powerful areas.

“The gift or emergent strength of this stage is the birth of imagination, the ability to unify and grasp the experience-world in powerful images and as presented in stories that register the child’s intuitive understandings and feelings toward the ultimate* conditions of existence.

“The dangers in this stage arise from the possible “possession” of the child’s imagination by unrestrained images of terror and destructiveness, or from the witting or unwitting exploitation of her or his imagination in the reinforcement of taboos and moral or doctrinal expectations.

“The main factor precipitating transition to the next stage is the emergence of concrete operational thinking.  Affectively, the resolution of Oedipal issues or their submersion in latency are important accompanying factors. At the heart of the transition is the child’s growing concern to know how things are and to clarify for him- or herself the bases of distinctions between what is real and what only seems to be.” (1)

When a child attains the capacity for concrete operational thinking, he can begin to move toward the second of James Fowler’s Stages.

Stage 2

Fowler’s Stage 2 is called the ‘Mythic, Literal Stage’. Here the child (or adult person stuck in this phase, as we shall see) is likely to start sorting out the real from the make-believe. Story becomes the major way of giving unity and value to experience, but the symbols in those stories are seen as one-dimensional and literal. Moreover, beliefs, moral rules and attitudes are also held literally. Thus, God is an anthropomorphic (human-like) being in the sky; heaven and hell are viewed as actual places.

The person in this, the second of James Fowler’s Stages, is also more able to take or appreciate the perspective of another person, but his view of reciprocity is also rather literal. “If I follow the rules, God will give me a good life.” “If I pray, God will grant my wish.” In some faiths, this is expressed as a form of ‘Karma’ or ‘what goes around, comes around’.

Notably, Stage 2 is also the first Stage in which it is very possible to reach this stage and then never move on, even as an adult. Virtually everyone reaches Stage 2, even those without a ‘concrete’ faith or belief structure, because it is perfectly acceptable for people to live in the ‘Mythic-Literal’ Stage without having to realise any stated belief structure or religion. Some people in fact remain in Stage 2 for the rest of their lives.

Indeed, Fowler suggests that 20% of the adult population may best be characterised by this kind of faith. These adults, if they have a Christian faith, tend to appreciate churches where a more literal interpretation of Scripture is encouraged, along with offering security, deep conviction and commitment. God is viewed as stern, and being a just but loving parent, with rules and authoritative teaching being the norm. “A person may begin to grow out of Phase 2 when he encounters conflicts and contradictions in the stories he is interpreting literally and begins to reflect on the real meanings”.

As I have described this Stage, maybe people may have come to mind – even people of faith – whom you feel may still be in this Stage, or at least still show elements of it. In some ways, this is not necessarily a lack of spiritual progress, because as we shall see, most people, as they progress through the Stages of Faith, retain practices and beliefs that are still useful to them in their spiritual walk. And that’s possibly what could be happening – but remember, it’s not our place to judge or to ‘grade’ others on what ‘level’ they are at; this is not the point of this series. God moves each person along at the pace that is right for them.

Here’s Fowler’s formal description of Stage 2:

Stage 2 Mythic-Literal faith is the stage in which the person begins to take on for him- or herself the stories, beliefs and observances that symbolize belonging to his or her community. Beliefs are appropriated with literal interpretations, as are moral rules and attitudes. Symbols are taken as one-dimensional and literal in meaning. In this stage the rise of concrete operations leads to the curbing and ordering of the previous stage’s imaginative composing of the world. The episodic quality of Intuitive-Projective faith gives way to a more linear, narrative construction of coherence and meaning. Story becomes the major way of giving unity and value to experience. This is the faith stage of the school child (though we sometimes find the structures dominant in adolescents and in adults). Marked by increased accuracy in taking the perspective of other persons, those in Stage 2 compose a world based on reciprocal fairness and an immanent justice based on reciprocity. The actors in their cosmic stories are anthropomorphic. They can be affected deeply and powerfully by symbolic and dramatic materials and can describe in endlessly detailed narrative what has occurred. They do not, however, step back from the flow of stories to formulate reflective, conceptual meanings. For this stage the meaning is both carried and “trapped” in the narrative.

“The new capacity or strength in this stage is the rise of narrative and the emergence of story, drama and myth as ways of finding and giving coherence to experience.

“The limitations of literalness and an excessive reliance upon reciprocity as a principle for constructing an ultimate environment can result either in an overcontrolling, stilted perfectionism or “works righteousness” or in their opposite, an abasing sense of badness embraced because of mistreatment, neglect or the apparent disfavor of significant others.

“A factor initiating transition to Stage 3 is the implicit clash or contradictions in stories that leads to reflection on meanings. The transition to formal operational thought makes such reflection possible and necessary. Previous literalism breaks down;new “cognitive conceit” leads to disillusionment with previous teachers and teachings. Conflicts between authoritative stories (Genesis on creation versus evolutionary theory) must be faced. The emergence of mutual interpersonal perspective taking (“I see you seeing me; I see me as you see me; I see you seeing me seeing you.”) creates the need for a more personal relationship with the unifying power of the ultimate environment.” (1)

Peck’s Stage I

Fowler’s Stages 1 and 2 are simplified by Peck into a single Stage which he calls the “Chaotic – Antisocial” Stage. It can happen that a person can get ‘stuck’ at this Stage, and never progresses beyond the ‘selfish’ mindset and behaviour pattern. Peck recognises here that such people still in this stage (so, Peck Stage I or either of Fowler’s Stages 1 and/or 2 (generally 2)) are usually self-centred, and can often find themselves in trouble (financial, legal, emotional or personal) due to what amounts to their unprincipled living.

Margaret Placentra Johnston puts it like this:

“A stage of undeveloped spirituality, people in Stage I of spiritual growth are manipulative and self – serving. Though they may pretend or even think they are loving toward others, they really don’t care about anyone but themselves. There are no principles (such as truth or love) important enough to these people to override their own desires.

“Because they don’t allow any principles to govern their existence, there is a lack of integrity to these people and a chaos to their existence. Personally, I find the term “anti – social” most misleading here. Some of these people are very engaging and personable and can really fool you. Some even rise to positions of considerable power, such as presidents or influential preachers.”

[For an expanded version of this concept by Peck himself (abridged by Richard Schwartz, see below]**

I can think of at least one such famous person right away. Maybe you can too 😉

In terms of spiritual growth, Peck’s Stage I appears to me to be where a person’s faith is generally not all that well-structured or thought through, if at all. Maybe there are a lot of assumptions made and attitudes picked up from one’s environment, parents or peers, and which are accepted as being correct almost without question. Because of this, the word ‘antisocial’ is not necessarily used to indicate that a person is a right prat who is literally very antisocial, but it could also be that the person’s faith does not take on a social aspect in that it is very much self-contained and does not require others’ input, at last not consciously – although as we have already seen, the environment, including other people, is very much a part of the formation of the person’s faith attitudes. People in this Stage who do not consciously ‘have a faith’, or those who are indeed very anarchic and/or otherwise ‘antisocial’ in their behaviour, might well be people who will remain in this Stage right through adulthood. If they do end up ‘converting’ to the next Stage, it often occurs in a very dramatic way and with huge changes in their lives. An example of this from Scripture would be the story of Zacchaeus the tax-collector (an ancient equivalent of today’s parking enforcement officers?), who was self-serving and self-centred in that he cheated people out of money and in so doing made himself very unpopular. Jesus came into his life and he changed in an instant. His story is found in Luke ch. 19.

Other examples of this kind of ‘conversion’ were seen in ‘revivals’ in the past, where great numbers came to faith where previously they had no faith at all. And, in so doing, they moved in to Stage 3 (Fowler)/Stage II (Peck).

We’ll have a look at these Stages next time.


*In these definitions, the word ‘Ultimate’ is used by Fowler to indicate concepts such as God, Heaven, Afterlife and Worldview. So, the ‘Unifying Power of the Ultimate Environment’ means God; the Ultimate Enviroment being Heaven and/or ‘Creation’.

**  “Most all young children and perhaps one in five adults fall into Stage I. It is essentially a stage of undeveloped spirituality. I call it antisocial because those adults who are in it (and those I have dared to call “People of the Lie” are at its bottom) seem generally incapable of loving others. Although they may pretend to be loving (and think of themselves that way), their relationships with their fellow human beings are all essentially manipulative and self-serving. They really don’t give a hoot about anyone else. I call the stage chaotic because these people are basically unprincipled. Being unprincipled, there is nothing that governs them except their own will. And since the will from moment to moment can go this way or that, there is a lack of integrity to their being. They often end up, therefore in jails or find themselves in another form of social difficulty. Some, however, may be quite disciplined in the services of expediency and their own ambition and so may rise in positions of considerable prestige and power, even to become presidents or influential preachers.

“From time to time people in this stage get in touch with the chaos of their own being, and when they do, I think it is the most painful experience a human can have. Usually they just ride it out unchanged. A few, I suspect, may kill themselves, unable to envision change. And some, occasionally, convert to Stage II.” (2)


References:

Wikipedia’s page on James W Fowler

Wikipedia’s page on M. Scott Peck

Website of Margaret Placentra Johnston

Richard Cooke – Stages of Faith: a Tool for Curing Souls

Bill Huxley’s blog page on Fowler’s Stages of Faith

1. James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Harper San Francisco, 1995, p.121

2. The Stages Of Spiritual Growth, by M. Scott Peck, M.D. (The Different Drum by M. Scott Peck, pages 187-203) – Abridged by Richard Schwartz

 

00

We Did So Well!

This entry is part 24 of 28 in the series Fiona

In my last post in this series, The Fight, I described how it was for us during the fight against pancreatic cancer. My lovely wife Fiona went to be with her Father in October 2016 after fighting this dreadful illness for over two and a half years. In that last post, I described how we found the strength to carry on, and how we lived life to the full despite the illness.

Now, I have just recently finished a series of sessions with my volunteer bereavement counsellor. In our final session together, she used a phrase I hadn’t thought of; she said,

“And you did so well!”

It was interesting that she should say that. I had to think about it a little, but she was right, you know. Y’see, when you’re actually going through these shattering events, you don’t notice how well you are doing; it’s only when someone tells you – maybe how ‘brave’ you are – that you take notice and think, ‘Oh yes! I hadn’t noticed that!’.

Not long after Fiona was diagnosed with the cancer, I remember chatting to someone about our approach to the illness. I said that if Fiona was supernaturally healed, or cured medically, great – and we’d all celebrate and have a well-woman party and say “well done, everyone!” because it would have been a team effort. Everyone would have done their very best and we would express our gratitude for that, and for its fruits – Fiona being well once again.

And the other scenario was that we would lose her to the illness, and we would of course mourn her, but the underlying principle would be the same: We could reassure ourselves in the knowledge that we did our best; we tried our hardest. And that is indeed what happened. Virtually everyone who knew and loved Fiona rallied round us in some way. They provided meals; they sent flowers; they came round for a chat; they shopped for us; they abided by our house’s infection control policy*. Some of Fiona’s close friends set up a charity to raise money for a special medical procedure which I consider gave Fiona an extra year of life; moreover, it was a year free of pain and other symptoms of the cancer. It cost £14,000 to do that, and they raised the money for it. We will always be grateful to these amazing ladies for doing their best too, and working so hard for Fiona. Wow!

And then there’s the courage, the hope, the lessons learned, the bearing up under pressure. How we respond to our tribulations is just as important as the tribulations themselves. Gaining these benefits and life-skills means that the suffering was not all wasted; it was not all in vain. And the same can be said for members of my family: in going through this furnace, this crucible, they have all emerged as better people for it. And our friends were with us on this walk, in that furnace, and on this learning curve, too. All of those who walk through the fire in this way are changed by the experience, and it’s our choice, as we walk through that fire, whether to let it change us for the better, or for the worse.

As you will have read in the other posts in this series, I have learned so much, been so much closer to God, had so much insight (which has already been a tremendous help to others in similar situations), that I would not have had if I hadn’t gone through the dark times. So, rather than moping about and complaining, we just got on with the everyday business of living life to the full. And that meant that all the darkness, all the pain, all the loss, it all had a benefit in the end. We packed so much fun and life into that time, in the midst of the horror and despair. And then we carried on with that attitude once we had lost her. In this way,  the life-lessons learned and the insight and wisdom gained have not been lost; this means that Fiona’s loss does in many ways still carry meaning. And that these lessons have not been wasted would have been just what Fiona would have wanted for us. Of course, I’d still rather not have lost her, but making the best of the situation is a great way of not letting it defeat you.

Not that I believe God throws these things at us; not for one minute. He’s fully aware that terrible things happen in life; shit happens, and it’s how we cope with it that counts. Nobody is exempt from having tribulation in their lives at some point; its how we cope with it that counts, and God promises to be there for us in those hard times. Never will I leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5, Dt 31:6) says God, and He means it. The most famous of the Psalms, the 23rd Psalm, says this:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” (Ps 23:4 KJV).

David, the guy who wrote that Psalm, went through some pretty horrific stuff in his life, yet still he wrote that verse and likely meant what he wrote, and it was evidently true from his words that he’d had the same experience as I and many others who pass through the valley of the shadow of death. God is with us in that valley. He’s had personal experience there Himself. He knows His stuff, and He leads us too into knowing that stuff. Indeed, we walk through the valley, but He is with us.

So, yes.  We did so well! Thanks to the Grace of God, His unearned favour, we are coming through that valley, and we are reaping the rewards of our faith. We did our best – for Fiona – and we are still doing our best. It doesn’t stop once the mourning and the grief are lessening. There is no other person’s hand I’d rather be holding than that of Jesus, because He holds on tight, and healing flows through that Hand just like it did two thousand years ago.

Be blessed!


*Because, as I described in The Fight, chemotherapy patients are usually immunosuppressed as a side-effect of the treatment, and are therefore highly susceptible to infections – and these can easily be fatal. Because of this, I put in place an ‘infection control’ system in our house where anyone who had an infection – a cold or whatever – was respectfully asked not to come in to the house. In addition, we had a hand disinfectant bottle just inside the door, and anyone who did come in was asked to sanitise their hands as they came in, thus minimising the risk of Fiona getting a potentially lethal infection.


Header picture shows me, Fiona and Ellie at breakfast on our ‘House of Anubis Road Trip’; a week-long tour that we did in September 2014, in between doses of Fiona’s chemotherapy. (We called it that because one of the purposes of the trip was to visit the filming locations for the teen mystery drama series House of Anubis‘). We did not let the illness defeat us; we took it on the nose and carried on enjoying life to the full. Look how radiant Fiona is!

The bandage on Fiona’s arm is the covering for the PICC line, which is described in the article The Fight.

10

Stage 0 – “Pre-Faith”

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

Ok, I said that in my series ‘The Stages of Spiritual Growth‘, I was going to look at each Stage individually in more detail*. And the first instalment of that is presented here today.

In all of these commentaries, I will of course be using my own ideas, but I will also incorporate ideas and descriptions from others, some of which text will be copied and pasted directly since I consider that they are best expressed like that. I will not differentiate these passages in the text, but I will include links to my source materials (if used) in the References section at the end of each piece.

I should say here that the early Stages of Spiritual Development (Fowler 0, 1 and 2; Peck I) are not what we are mainly concerned with in this series, since most of my readers will no longer be in the ‘early’ stages, although some may yet be, as we shall see. But I will be discussing those early Stages in these first two instalments because they are important and relevant not only to people still in those Stages (and to those caring for these people) but also as a stepping-stone to show how we got here from there.

Today, I’m going to look at the ‘formative’ Stage 0 – a stage mentioned only by Fowler and considered by some to not be a ‘Stage of Faith’.

Stage 0

James Fowler’s stages start with what he calls a “pre-stage” that refers to infancy, called ‘Undifferentiated Faith’. It is also referred to as ‘Stage 0’, and it can also be thought of as “Primal or Undifferentiated” faith. It takes place from birth to approximately 2 years. It is characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse). If consistent nurture is experienced, one will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine. Conversely, negative experiences will cause one to develop distrust with the universe and the divine. Transition to the next stage begins with integration of thought and language which facilitates the use of symbols in speech and play.

In this ‘pre-stage’, the infant, (it is surmised, since they are rarely interviewed!) develops basic trust and mutuality (or lack thereof) with the ones providing care. The quality of interactions in this phase underly all future faith development for the individual.

So this means that, despite this Stage being seen by some as not even earning a mention as a recognised Stage, still this is a vital area in a person’s spiritual development. Remember that humans begin their development – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – from the very moment they are born. It is therefore equally vital that a child at this age is given a safe, secure and well-provided environment in which they can grow healthily in all of the ways mentioned above. As we are talking here about Spiritual Growth, let’s concentrate on that aspect. Interestingly and paradoxically, although we might not see children of this age as having ‘faith’, in actual fact they very much do so.

It is in fact a faith in those who are (or should be) providing that growth environment.

Think about it. A very young child has to have absolute trust – which, at this Stage, is analogous to faith, if you like – in those who provide for them – family, foster parents, whoever. What else can they do but to have that trust? Where else will they get what they need? They certainly cannot provide or obtain anything for themselves; there is a complete helplessness in this Stage that is quite unlike that experienced in any other Stage. Certainly the Biblical phrase ‘defining’ faith (amongst other things) as being ‘… the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (Heb 11:1 (KJV) ) is quite apt in this context!

And therefore the model, if you like, of any object worthy (or otherwise) of our trust is based very strongly on our formative times with these providers and/or carers. If we are well-loved and cared for, we will generally be people who find it easier to trust in God later in life. It’s a very simple form of trust, a ‘childlike faith’, if you like, that simply knows that everything good will be provided by benevolent carers, without needing to worry about the source, frequency or quality of that provision. On the other hand, a bad experience at this age will undoubtedly set the child up for a difficult time in being able to trust. And the main take-home message for us fron this stage is this : Faith and Trust are closely related. In fact, at this Stage, they are indistinguishable.

Fowler himself formally puts it like this:

“In the pre-stage called Undifferentiated faith the seeds of trust, courage, hope and love are fused in an undifferentiated way and contend with sensed threats of abandonment, inconsistencies and deprivations in an infant’s environment. Though really a pre-stage and largely inaccessible to empirical research of the kind we pursue, the quality of mutuality and the strength of trust, autonomy, hope and courage (or their opposites) developed in this stage underlie (or threaten to undermine) all that comes later in faith development

“The emergent strength of faith in this stage is the fund of basic trust and the relational experience of mutuality with the one(s) providing primary love and care.

“The danger or deficiency in the stage is a failure of mutuality in either of two directions. Either there may emerge an excessive narcissism in which the experience of being ‘central’ continues to dominate and distort mutuality, or experiences of neglect or inconsistencies may lock the infant in patterns of isolation and failed mutuality.

“Transition to Stage 1 begins with the convergence of thought and language, opening up the use of symbols in speech in ritual play” (1)

So, when thought and language begin to open the child up to the use of symbols in speech and ritual play, the child moves on to Stage 1: “Intuitive-Projective” Faith which is typical of children ages 2 through 7. We’ll take a look at Stage 1 next time, along with Stage 2, and compare these Stages with Peck’s Stage I.

See you soon.


References:

Wikipedia’s page on James W Fowler

Wikipedia’s page on M. Scott Peck

Website of Margaret Placentra Johnston

1. James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Harper San Francisco, 1995, p.121


*I must say at this point that although I am a Polymath (that’s someone who knows a lot about/is good at a lot of different things), I am not trained in any form of psychology, psychiatry or anything similar apart from in basic counselling skills, and that was a long time ago 🙂 Much of what I write here is from a layman’s point of view, but based on a fair bit of life-wisdom and personal experience in observing and participating in discussions between people at different Stages of Faith.

00

The Glory of Your Presence

We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool.
Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength. (Ps 132:7-8 KJV)

Here’s a gorgeous song by Steven Fry, performed here by the brilliant Terry MacAlmon –
‘O the Glory of Your Presence’.

In the presence of God, in the glory of His Presence, the very air buzzes and sparkles. For those who have the eyes to see, the radiance of God’s Presence is real and tangible. In that Presence there is healing; there is forgiveness; there is reconciliation; there is peace and there is Love. There is simply nothing like being in God’s Presence.

There’s a lot of fakery involved in some worship services. Some people actually try to ‘duplicate’ the Presence of God with things like quiet background music, lots of hype, whipping up the crowd, that sort of thing. But that’s not even a poor substitute. The Presence of God is unmistakable; once you have tasted of that Presence, nothing else will ever do; nothing can take its place.

Have a listen to this lovely song; ask God to make Himself tangible to you as you listen, and as you lift up your heart to Him. Bask in His Presence. Bask there long after the music has stopped! This is not hype; this is not me trying to ‘whip up’ enthusiasm. I have never once done that in all my years of worship leading, although I have seen it being done (and it has a certain emetic effect on me!) No, this is simply a ‘vehicle’; an ‘aid’, to help your spirit rise up in worship, and God will respond, because He loves it. He loves the song and He loves you; He loves your worship and He loves it when you enjoy it too:

O the glory of Your presence
We Your temple give You rev’rence
Come and rise from Your rest
And be blessed by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace
As Your presence now fills this place

Sadly, some people miss the point of the lyric, ‘So arise to Your rest’. Sometimes they even think that it can’t be written right, and they re-write the lyric from the third line as ‘Come and rise from your rest’ or similar, as if God has to get up off His behind and get into the music. But it’s not that at all. A simple examination of the context of the source verses in Psalm 132:7,8 shows that it’s about God coming into His resting place; His temple as it was back then, and along with His people. And [to] the ‘Ark of Thy Strength’; the Ark of the Covenant, which was supposed to represent God’s Presence. In other words, then, for God to come to the place where He belongs.

But in our time, we have the Holy Spirit within us; we are God’s Temple. We don’t need an Ark anymore. God’s resting place is with His people; (Ezek 37:27, Rev 21:3). Asking God to ‘arise to Your rest’ is simply asking Him to ‘inhabit the praises of His people’ (Ps 22:3 KJV); to come and take up His residence. Of course, He’s already there; the thing is that you become more aware of Him as you worship because you turn your spirit and your heart towards Him. And so we become aware of His power and His Presence. God is where He belongs; He has indeed come into His resting place.

Wow! What better reason to worship?

 

00

Thoughts and Prayers…

Yet another tragic shooting in the United States. And it has of course brought out the usual plethora of one group of people saying, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with you…’ and, predictably, the other group of people who rant on about how valueless ‘thoughts and prayers’ are.

In the very same Facebook group (that I am a part of), I saw two consecutive posts, one saying how useless ‘thoughts and prayers’ are, and the very next post saying that this person appreciated the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that had been expressed for his situation.

Make your minds up, folks.

I know that some politicians and other professional apathists use ‘thoughts and prayers’ as a platitude. And I know that it’s sickening. I know, right?

But I also know that there are many millions of others who, appalled at the violence and suffering, do indeed hold up the victims of these crimes, and their families, in their ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Sometimes, when you live thousands of miles away, ‘thoughts and prayers’ is the best you can do. I’m not trying to be insensitive, but everyone has their own problems and worries and, while we do all we can to help – maybe send money and whatnot – the sheer fallacy of condemning those who ‘have thoughts and prayers but do nothing’ is fallacy indeed. What, do they want us to drop all our responsibilities and fly over to the disaster zone to help personally? What a ridiculous notion. I sometimes think that, in their rage, these people don’t even know what they are talking about; they don’t know what it is they actually want.

And let me tell you something. I have personal experience of the power of prayer. Here’s an example. I know someone who was having an extramarital affair. One night, Fiona and I decided that enough was enough, and we engaged in a thorough prayer battle about that situation, we kicked the enemy’s ass good and proper, and the very next morning the person in question called their spouse and asked to meet up to talk it over. That couple is now back together again and have been so for 25 years or more. The person having the affair ‘suddenly realised’ (at exacty the time we were praying) that this was not the person they wanted to be. Call it coincidence if you like, but it is my firm belief that this person changed their mind because we prayed. I have other examples too but that one will have to do for now. I want to get on with my rant.

My point is that prayer can change things. It is also especially galling that those who decry ‘thoughts and prayers’ are often themselves Christians who profess to believe in the power of prayer. Sorry, but yeah, right. I have actually stopped following one particular person’s Christian blog (and removed it from my recommended blogs/links page) because every third post or so he would continually rant about the worthlessness of ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Listen: Prayer is God’s way of empowering the powerless.

Who are we to say that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are useless?

How dare these people insult the beliefs and caring practices of countless millions of compassionate people, of all faiths and belief systems, all across the world who care enough to think and pray deeply and sympathetically about these poor people who have suffered so? For some of these compassionate people, ‘thoughts’ are the only thing they know how to give. For others, they can think but they can also pray – using the Godly gift that can move mountains. For most, indeed ‘thoughts and prayers’ are all they can give.

So do not belittle the care and compassion of the countless millions who are ‘thinking and praying’ right now for these victims and their circumstances.

You have absolutely no idea how ungrateful you sound.

And you have absolutely no idea what things God is prompting millions of unsung heroes, behind the scenes, to do right now.

Including ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Rant over.


[Edit]: And I must also add that my friend Darren has only today posted on Facebook this very thing:

“Of all the ‘actions’ that you can perform to influence and change another person’s life for the best, secret prayer is the greatest and most effective!”

Thanks Darren! 🙂

10

Spoiler!

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

In this, the second piece in my series on the Stages of Spiritual Growth, I’m afraid I’m going to kind-of lay out right at the very beginning an overview of where this series is going, and indeed issue a bit of a spoiler! I’m not going to keep you waiting; I am going to explain up front what the various Stages are, and in later posts I will flesh out each Stage with examples and commentary. In this way, you can also do your own reading and research around the subject so as to be able to develop your own ideas and concepts that fit with your own personal journey, and then compare those findings with mine. I am actually not keeping any ‘secrets’ here; all the initial ‘cards’ will be laid out on the table and my own comments and ideas will follow in future posts, on the back of that. And remember we are all on a learning road together!

So, without further ado, here we go.

There are two, very similar, ‘schools of thought’ on the stages of spiritual growth.

The first is the ‘Six Stages of Faith’ (sometimes quoted as the ‘Seven’ Stages*), put forward by the late Prof. James W. Fowler.

James W. Fowler

Fowler’s Stages are fully described in his book, “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning“. The six/seven Stages are:

  • Stage 0“Primal or Undifferentiated” faith (birth to 2 years)
  • Stage 1“Intuitive-Projective” faith (ages of three to seven)
  • Stage 2“Mythic-Literal” faith (mostly in school children)
  • Stage 3“Synthetic-Conventional” faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood)
  • Stage 4“Individuative-Reflective” faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties)
  • Stage 5“Conjunctive” faith (mid-life crisis)
  • Stage 6“Universalizing” faith, or what some might call “enlightenment”.

(Stages generated from Wikipedia article on James Fowler)

Each of these Stages, and the ages at which they are thought to occur, are of course generalisations – some people may not have all the ‘characteristics’ of each stage, but they are reached (if they are reached at all) in sequence since each Stage builds on the things learned in previous Stages. Some believers may not reach the further Stages at all, and the ages are of course different from person to person. These Stages are summarised in the following chart, along with a short description:

I would imagine that you may already be identifying with much of what you have seen in that chart…

The other school of thought is known as the ‘Four Stages of Spiritual Development’ and was proposed by the late Dr. M. Scott Peck, from whom we have already heard in the previous instalment of this series.

M. Scott Peck

Peck writes of the ‘Four Stages of Spiritual Growth’, and he does refer to Fowler, in passing, in an excellent [albeit abridged] version of his ideas which can be found here, and which refers to Peck’s book ‘The Different Drum‘ is where he expounds his ideas on his ‘Four Stages’. These ‘Four Stages’ follow a broadly similar structure to Fowler’s but are slightly more simplified. These are Peck’s Four Stages:

  • Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I.
  • Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them.
  • Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning.
  • Stage IV is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature and existence.

Furthermore, Peck also argues that while transitions from Stage I to Stage II are sharp, transitions from Stage III to Stage IV are gradual. Nonetheless, these changes are very noticeable and mark a significant difference in the personality of the individual.

(Stages and that last sentence generated from Wikipedia article on M. Scott Peck)

I’d also make the observation at this point that Stage III can, in my opinion, be one of the points at which the person may go through a ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘. It certainly was for me. This also corresponds with Fowler’s Stage 4. The transition experienced during Stage 4/Stage III may be sharp or it may be prolonged, and will vary in duration from person to person.

Again, Peck’s Stages can be summed up in a chart:

Note that these Stages, like Fowler’s, are generalisations in a similar way to those described for Fowlers Stages.

Now, let’s marry up the two sets of Stages so that we can compare them, in yet another chart (which you can click on to get a zoomable image to make it easier to read). Here you can see how Fowler’s and Peck’s Stages overlap and compare with each other:

(Source for the above charts: http://www.psychologycharts.com/james-fowler-stages-of-faith.html )

I’m not saying that these ‘Stages’ are definitive, and (as I have already mentioned) they are to some extent a generalisation. But I must say that I can definitely identify with these Stages of growth in my own mind, and at the very least, these ideas should confirm for us that there are indeed spiritual growth stages of some sort out there, and that if we find ourselves changing under God’s guidance, we should not be surprised when we can indeed identify with some of the indicators of the Stages put forward by Fowler/Peck. So, when I am presenting and describing these Stages from both Fowler and Peck, I am not asking my readers to decide here and now (or indeed at any time) which Stage they are in – although I realise this is a natural tendency – nor am I encouraging anyone to feel ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ to other Christians because of the ‘stage we are at’. This isn’t about others; this is about realising that we are all on a journey, that these Stages do exist in some form or another in most people, and that this is perfectly normal and nothing to be afraid of. Indeed, I am not proposing that anyone be constantly mindful of the Stages and/or ‘trying to work out where we are on the scale’**. While introspection can be useful, I would far rather we are simply aware of these Stages as a perfectly normal part of personal spiritual development, as information that is useful in working out what is happening to us, but all the while still majoring on keeping our eyes fixed on “…Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). He’s the important One!

In the light of this knowledge we now share, it is worth refocusing temporarily at this point and thinking about the effects that this knowledge may have on others who are at different Stages in their own walk of faith. St. Paul mentions something similar in Romans 14 where he talks about people whose faith is ‘weak’ (his words, not mine!), and not causing such people to stumble. I go into considerable detail on this idea in this piece. Please therefore remember to treat this knowledge as good and useful but at the same time potentially harmful to those who might feel threatened by it. Some people just aren’t ready to hear it yet. Jesus said in John 16:12 that, ‘I have so much more to tell you, but you are unable to bear it yet’. He was sensitive to the level of spiritual maturity in His disciples, and we should be no different in our attitudes towards our fellow believers. This is our chance to show Grace to others by considering them!

Anyway, as I have said, I will flesh out these ideas about the Stages of Spiritual Growth in future articles. In the meantime, I will leave you with the words of two wise men concerning the Stages we have just discussed, and relating to what Stage we ourselves are ‘at’:

“Once you say ‘higher level’ (regarding one’s level of spirituality), you appeal to the ego, and all the wrong instincts in people.”

-Fr. Richard Rohr

“When you begin to refer to where you’re at on your journey as a “deeper place,” “higher level,” “another dimension,” or some other such thing, you create a space where pride, arrogance, and superiority can thrive in the name of spirituality. No, we’re journeying, and on this journey, mountains are laid low, and valleys exalted. Every place is an equal place for the sincere, it’s just that we are never all in the same place at the same time, and tend to assume wherever we’re at is the place to be.

“The place to be is wherever you are”.

-Jeff Turner


*The reason that Fowler’s ‘Six Stages’ are also known as the ‘Seven Stages’ is because the first stage is actually ‘Stage 0’, at which point it could be argued that the person does not actually have any sort of faith because they are too young to be able to form one, and therefore it doesn’t count as a Stage of Faith because there is no faith present. This of course is different from person to person; my eldest son had a faith structure from a very early age. But that’s the explanation, at any rate.


**One writer puts it like this:

“It is really important to recognize that no one person actually exists in any given one of these stages. The stages are more like a tendency that can change over time – sort of like optimism versus pessimism, or being an extrovert versus an introvert. No one is 100% in either of these camps, and may tend more or less so according to changing circumstances. 

“So why do we study these stages if not to judge at which one a person exists? The real value of these stages is to understand what values, characteristics and traits are typical in spiritual maturity. They provide a roadmap showing which way is forward. Not all factors in our society (including many churches) strive to lead a person in a forward spiritual direction.”

(From the website of Margaret Placentra Johnston)

00

The Stages of Spiritual Growth

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

The Christian Life is often described as being a journey. It’s a journey with Jesus; a journey of change; a journey of being ‘transformed’ into the likeness of Christ. We are actually intended – designed, if you will – to grow spiritually. And the Christian can walk secure in the knowledge that Jesus is the One Who will carry the work to completion:

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6 (KJV))

Now, if you ask any Evangelical Christian about God working change in a believer’s life, he will certainly agree enthusiastically with the idea. The potter’s wheel (Jer 18:1-6), the Refiner’s Fire (Mal 3:3), being ‘…transformed from one degree of glory into another’ (2Cor3:18); these are just three Scriptures that contribute towards forming standard Evangelical doctrine on God’s transforming of believers on an ongoing basis, and there are many more such Scriptures. This is a well-established part of the Christian life, and you won’t find many dissenters on that point.

But the thing is, many believers don’t actually think beyond this concept; they have no idea what this transformation will actually look like in practice – and in any case it’s also going to vary from one person to another. What Jesus works in one person is always, almost by definition, going to be different from what He works in another (Jn 21:22); we are all different and Jesus meets each of us at our point of need.

An example of part of this transformation process is undoubtedly the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, which I have written about before here and here. And since this Dark Night is not actually all that well known about within Evangelical Christianity (although more people are discovering it for themselves simply by going through it), many believers either give up the walk entirely, or they stagnate at that point and can grow no more until they pass through it, if indeed they ever do. Or they live with their doubts and questions and just accept them, but this is not progress in the transformative sense. In my old Evangelical circles, they always used to say that until you have let God do the work He wants to do at the moment, He will not let you progress any further until you’ve jumped that particular hurdle in your life. While I don’t believe that God is actually that two-dimensional, I do sort-of agree with the sentiment behind it in that until you have grown in a particular area, you can’t really make any more progress in that area because part of your ‘toolkit’ of essential background will be missing. But of course, Father is pretty creative when it comes to finding solutions to our individual hurdles, and He does offer us a path through – but still He prefers our co-operation. If we insist on sitting still, He will usually honour that, but your spiritual growth will be delayed in that area until you let Him do what He wants.

So, what does spiritual growth actually look like? Well, by definition, growth implies change. The believer’s attitudes, doctrines, belief systems, trust, faith, will all change with growth. Like with the Dark Night, one of the main obstacles to change is this: that this change is not always understood nor welcomed by fellow believers. The person may be accused of ‘backsliding’ or of ‘falling away’; he may be threatened with ‘hell fire’ if he does not return to his conformative ways; conforming, that is, with the beliefs of the group he is with at the time – church or whatever. In some ways, this is understandable as the group as a whole feels threatened by anything ‘different’; maybe they feel that ‘false doctrine’ may be brought in which will threaten their carefully-constructed faith/doctrinal/belief structure, and the whole thing will come crashing down like the proverbial house of cards. You can’t really blame them; in some ways it’s actually an animal herd-instinct kind of thing. But the simple fact is that someone undergoing spitirual growth will change. It’s the normal way of things. And it may cause the changing believer to feel alienated, rejected and alone. Sometimes this is exactly why some people simply live with their doubts or other change pressures; they want to conform, they have a fear of rejection and so they stay where they are. And the irony here is that many Evangelicals – I remember it clearly from my time under that banner – would say that ‘if you’re not moving forwards, you’re backsliding’. Personally, I disagree with their physics/navigation in that idea, but the irony still stands. And we should not be trying to please men – which is what the ‘herd instinct’ wants to do – but God (Gal 1:10; Jn 12:42-43, Lk 16:15)

But the thing is that, no matter what the believer’s acquaintances think, this change is real and it’s God that’s doing it. So what’s the answer? Well, as usual, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. What if Evangelicalism has become so insular, so inward-looking, and so suspicious of outside influences, that Evangelical Christians in general are unaware of what’s happening? What if, in fact, unbeknownst to Evangelicalism in general, it is a recognised phenomenon that spiritual growth implies (often radical) change?

Well, in fact, this is indeed the case. It is indeed well-recognised that an individual’s faith and belief structure should normally go through doubt, questioning, revision and similar changes. We are mere mortals; how can we ever imagine that we can understand the vast mysteries of God in one go? So, in order to make this stuff a little clearer, and to reassure my readers that this is indeed a normal part of Christian growth, I would like to advance the idea of the ‘Stages of Spiritual Growth’ in this series – which may span several weeks, or even months – and the instalments of which will likely be interspersed with articles on other subjects.

In this series, then, I will be exploring this idea of the Stages of Spiritual Growth, which is actually one of the most important discoveries/observations for a modern believer to be aware of.

To quote Dr. M. Scott Peck, from whom we are going to be hearing much more in this series,

“Just as there are discernible stages in human physical and psychological growth, so there are stages in human spiritual development… But I first came to an awareness of these stages through my own personal experience.

“The first of these experiences occurred within I was fourteen and began attending Christian churches in the area. I was mainly interested in checking out the girls but also in checking out what this Christianity business seemed to be about. I chose one particular church because it was only a few blocks down the street and because the most famous preacher of the day was preaching there. It was in the day before the “electronic church,” but this man’s every sermon was broadcast over almost every radio frequency across the country. At fourteen I had no trouble spotting him as a fraud. On the other hand, up the street in the opposite direction was another church with a well-known minister–not nearly as famous as the first but still probably among the top thirty in the Who’s Who of preachers of the day-a Presbyterian named George Buttrick. And at age fourteen I had no trouble spotting George Buttrick as a holy man, a true man of God. What was I to think of this with my young brain? Here was the best known Christian preacher of the day, and as far as I could discern at age fourteen, I was well ahead of him. Yet in the same Christian religion was George Buttrick, who was obviously light years ahead of me. It just didn’t compute. So I concluded that this Christianity business didn’t make any sense, and I turned my back on it for the next generation.

“Another significant non computing experience occurred more gradually. Over the course of a decade of practicing psychotherapy a strange pattern began to emerge. If people who were religious came to me in pain and trouble, and if they became engaged in the therapeutic process, so as to go the whole route, they frequently left therapy as atheists, agnostics, or at least skeptics. On the other hand, if atheists, agnostics, or skeptics came to me in pain or difficulty and became fully engaged, they frequently left therapy as deeply religious people. Same therapy, same therapist, successful but utterly different outcomes from a religious point of view. Again it didn’t compute–until I realized that we are not all in the same place spiritually.

“With that realization came another: there is a pattern of progression through identifiable stages in human spiritual life. I myself have passed through them in my own spiritual journey. But here I will talk about those stages only in general, for individuals are unique and do not always fit nearly into my psychological or spiritual pigeonhole.

“With that caveat, let me list my own understanding of these stages and the names I have chosen to give them…”

And that is where we are going. I will be examining why we feel and behave the way we do as believers, why we face so much opposition from our peers, and  why these changes in our lives can produce so much fear, uncertainty and division amongst people who love and care for us, and are fearful of, and disturbed by, the changes they see – fearful either for us, or for themselves. And I will also be hoping to encourage you by reducing or even removing completely that fear, and to help you to reassure others too in a similar way. And, who knows? This knowledge may even help us on the path towards reconciliation between the various warring factions of Christendom.

This is an exciting project for me, which I have been thinking deeply about for a long time, and it will be hard work, but equally it will be well worth it. I believe that education is a very important tool that can open up entirely new areas that we never dreamed possible, and that’s my intention with this series. You will doubtless find yourself reading certain things and thinking (maybe even out loud!) “Oh, yes! That’s exactly how I feel!” And in so doing, your eyes will be opened, your understanding increased, and your Christian maturity deepened.

That’s my prayer for you for this series.

10

Even More Quotes

“Faith is not believing in creeds, doctrines or dogmas; faith is trusting the divine presence in every moment”. – John Shelby Spong

“A woodcarver creates his masterpiece, not by addition, but subtraction. The more material he creatively and skillfully removes, the more beauty emerges.

“So it is with God-talk. Sometimes the less we say about God, the more His beauty is seen. The more we remove the generally accepted mythos, the more the Truth is revealed, even without being directly spoken”. – Jeff Turner

“When Jesus said ‘Do not worry’, He was talking about daily needs like food and clothing. If He’d been at all concerned that we were not worrying enough about our ‘eternal destiny’, He would have preached a whole lot more on hellfire and damnation, rather than about us simply not worrying about where our next meal was going to come from”. – Me

I think there can’t be any greater joy in life than knowing someone else’s life is richer because you lived – Rich Mullins

“Is your relationship with your loved ones based upon a book or what’s in your heart? It should be no different with your relationship with God”. – Barry Smith

“I don’t see the Gospel as something that makes your life a sacred experience, or that gives you a sacred life to replace the one you have. Rather, the Gospel is an introduction to the sacred nature of the life you’re presently living, and as an empowering call to live in harmony with it”. – Jeff Turner

“There are bigger issues in life than girls who date girls and boys who date boys” – Anon

“In fact, I believe that the biggest sin is in trusting in ouselves to jump through all the right hoops, in the right order, and at the Pastor’s command. Oh that’s such self-sufficiency, rather than relying on He Who began the good work in us to bring it to completion”. – Me

“The cross was not some kind of blood magic ritual that released the forgiving potential of a formerly mercy-withholding god, but rather an act of human barbarity and cruelty, that allowed for the revealing of the forgiving nature of an always already merciful God.” – Jeff Turner

“Adding your works (performance) to what Christ has accomplished for us at the cross as a means of salvation is an insult to God and the cross. Think about it!” – Chikezie Obika

“If morality is your way of living, you are living way beneath your privileges. Living by love in the power of the Spirit is true living and there are no rules–there are none needed. The one who lives by love will live a life like Jesus lived which is so far above living by rules the difference is like night and day!” – Mike Rough

“The murder of Jesus is a reflection of human, not divine, justice. The resurrection and revivifying of the mangled corpse of an innocent man is a reflection of divine, not human, justice.

“We are not as good as we think we are, and God is far better than we’ve been told he is”. – Jeff Turner

“That death is no longer the end has profound ramifications. Absolutely profound. Rather than spoon-feed you, I’ll just let you think about it for yourself. Ask yourself this question: ‘What attitudes would change in my life if death is no longer the end?’ If you think about this in any great depth, the results will change your life. It did for me”. – Me

 

10

From the Heart

Today, I’d like to share with you one of the best blog posts I have seen in a while.

Christy Wood is a lady whose blog I read regularly, and whose work I have shared several times on my blog before. Christy has recently been writing a series on ‘Finding God’, and, in this, the last article of the series, she writes a heartfelt piece full of longing for the Presence of God, and for a deep Relationship with Him.

Perceptive and encouraging, and at the same time written from the heart with a passion that is infectious, I absolutely love this post. Over to Christy (click the image below to go to the article):

00

Five Ways Jesus Challenged the Status Quo

Another blogger whose work I really like is Mike Douglas, who writes the blog ‘Getting Back to my Future’.

In this article, Mike describes a Jesus who would probably not be allowed in to some of today’s Conservative churches, particularly in America. Jesus did so many things that were repugnant to the religious people of His day, and sadly there are many people around these days who think the same way as those religious types, and who would treat Him the same way. Without more ado, here’s Mike’s article. The link to the original article is given at the end.


In the 70’s, it was popular to portray Jesus as a rebel, a revolutionary bent on changing the world. It was also common to portray Him as a hippie. Both images are accurate. I love seeing Jesus as a hippie who refused to bend to social pressure.

He was always going against the social and religious norm. I LOVE THAT! He touched lepers [think who in your world who is considered the most disgusting]. He called a tax-collector as a disciple [no occupation at the time had a worse reputation]. He also let prostitutes wash His feet, spoke to a Samaritan WOMAN, and healed a Roman’s servant.

Could you imagine a big religious leader getting his hands dirty with such people? For example, the Roman servant thing is like a good Christian church leader helping a terrorist’s child who needed assistance.

If you think of Jesus as a kindly hippie, it might surprise you that not everyone was a fan. While he taught about a loving God and urged people to love others, Jesus also told people to quit ripping people off and to get rid of the extra garbage in religion that made it hard for people to know God’s love. That didn’t always go over so well. It didn’t go over well because some were getting rich off it.

But He rejected the criticism. He countered with, ‘you have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men’.

Obviously, these types are still with us today, all the extra garbage remains, and many are still as resistant to changing as ever. And, there are still many people outside the religious ‘acceptable’ standard that need to know that’s not how Jesus was or how He sees you.

Let me tell you more about my hippie, revolutionary brother Jesus. He is so cool!

Here are 5 ways Jesus challenged the status quo.

1. Jesus rejected “business as usual”

In Jerusalem, he attacked the money changers, who were running a scam trading Jewish money for Roman money at a profit. He didn’t just chew them out, he physically threw them out. When a corrupt tax collector decided to follow Jesus, he returned all his ill-gotten gains and then some. “Business as usual” just couldn’t continue when Jesus got involved.

That kind of teaching made more than a few enemies among those who would profit from the status quo. But my hippie brother cared more for people than profit.

2. Jesus turned the religious laws on its head.

There were hundreds of religious and, honestly, ridiculous laws that the religious leaders had added to Scripture. They turned 10 Commandments into over 600 laws. Jesus railed against a religion that focused more on rules than people – more on rules than love.

For example, the Bible says Jesus intentionally healed people on the Sabbath, knowing it would violate the religious law. And the religious leaders hated it. Think of it, a man receives a remarkable and visible healing, yet the church leaders were upset that it happened on a Sabbath. That’s what religion creates.

Jesus scolded them for hypocrisy and corruption. In turn, they accused him of hanging out with the wrong kind of people. What self-respecting leader would go to parties with prostitutes and swindlers? They called Jesus a “friend of sinners,” and the crazy part is – he didn’t seem to mind!

Why Jesus hated these ‘extra’ laws was because they were so burdensome most regular people would just give up, thinking they were not good enough for Jesus and His Father. Jesus wanted them, and us, to know He didn’t feel that way. He reached out to those struggling and saved His harshest criticism for those held them down and ripped them off. That’s my hippie brother!

3. Jesus shunned politics.

If you think our politics are complicated, look at the time Jesus lived. The Romans had been occupying and oppressing his home country for a century. Some groups tried to appease them, others coexisted, and still others fought back. Among his disciples, Jesus had at least one rebel who was a hardcore Jewish freedom fighter.

He generally avoided the political—but he did talk about the kingdom of God. Some people would see that as a return to Jewish independence, with a God-ordained king in charge. But, as he explained to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

You see, Jesus didn’t come to make the world a better place as we would understand it. He didn’t try to reform the politics or change society. He came to replace it with the Kingdom of God. He didn’t come to take sides, He came to take over.

4. Jesus Had Women Followers

Today that has no shock value, nor should it. But it did in Jesus’ day. At the time, it was commonly believed that girls could not learn so were not given the opportunity. It was further believed that you were only born female because you did not mature completely in the womb. Seen as lesser value, they were treated as lesser value. Unfortunately, such attitudes still exist in some parts of the world today.

Again, Jesus blew that crap out of the water. That’s my revolutionary, hippie brother! Later, His disciples spoke often about the equality of all people.

Some think He may have had a circle of female disciples. The Bible mentions women followed Jesus to care for His needs. It was women that stood at the foot of the cross and it was women who first went to His tomb the day He rose from the dead.

5. Jesus made outrageous claims.

At his hometown synagogue, Jesus read a prophecy about a savior and announced He was it. When he scolded them for disbelief, they tried to kill him.

Jesus usually avoided blowing his own horn, but when people started calling him Messiah or Son of God, he didn’t correct them. When he healed people, he often asked them to keep quiet about it, but they rushed out and told their stories (who wouldn’t?), which spread like wildfire.

Yet Jesus also fed the fury at times. He once said, “Tear down this temple and in three days I will build it again.” The religious leaders treated it like a terrorist threat, but the temple he was talking about was his own body. He was forecasting his own resurrection.

Why did some people have a hard time with Jesus? He challenged their greed and misuse of people. That’s my hippie brother!

Has this post changed your image of Jesus? I hope so. He is so cool. Can you see why I love Him so?

– Mike Douglas


Click here to read the original article

20