What is one thing I've had to unlearn in my life? Racism. Whether it was implicit or explicit, I've had to forget what I learned and learn that it's not okay to tell jokes that demean anyone.
Do I always get it right? No, I mess up and say the wrong thing(s) still in a variety of situations. Part of that is because of things I've heard and learned at deep levels. Even when I try to do and say what is right, there is the other lurking underneath. The bottom line is that I'm human. I seek to learn and grow into a more holy and just human, but there are times when I'm simply not.
As I continue to learn and grow, beliefs have been another area of forgetting, unlearning, and learning anew. There are things I learned along the way that don't add up anymore. This is not an easy process. When something you believe no longer fits or works and you are forced to rethink and change paradigms, it causes uneasiness. Why? First of all, because it is change. Change from what you've been taught and what you've been living for a while. Secondly, because if that is no longer functional or working, then what is? Paradigm shifts are risky in that they shake things up. There is no longer a status quo. But risk pays off. It is okay for cracks to happen in beliefs. Some things stay and other things may go.
If we are willing to go through the process of learning, stretching, and growing, then our faith muscles will become stronger. The foundation of our faith will not necessarily be shaken because we ask questions, doubt, or even throw off some beliefs. I say "necessarily" because for some people, their faith has been shaken. If I were to be honest, I imagine my faith has been shaken at times too. But, it has remained.
This summer, Frank Rogers stretched me in the week he spoke to us at the Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders / Hearts on Fire retreat about compassion in the way of Jesus. I bought his latest book (Compassion in Practice: the Way of Jesus) so that I could revisit some of that at a later time.
My time in the 2 Year Academy was a time of stretching and growing as I read books and heard from faculty in that time period. Some of it stretched me a little and some of it stretched me lots.
Right now I'm reading Brian McLaren's The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. I've only read through chapter 2 so far, but there has been some gentle stretching and growing.
In chapter 1, McLaren talks about beliefs not being the essential part of Christianity. The essence of our faith is more than statements, lists, things observed, etc. Beliefs are not the point of Christianity. In chapter 2, McLaren begins to talk about what matters more: love and compassion, as lived out by Jesus. Galatians 5:6-- "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love" Hmm.... what does it mean to live that out? McLaren notes that for Jesus, "In story after story and without a single exception, we see that the driving motivation in Jesus's life is love." (44) If we are to follow that example, what would it look like?
Another thing that caught my attention in the book from chapter 1 was that McLaren spoke about his crisis of belief by a palo verde tree one day. He writes, "I was standing in front of a palo verde tree in the amber sunlight when suddenly my thinking cracked open and I fell through the crack into a deeper level of reflection." (23) When I read that, it made me think of something Jerry Webber had shared at one of our 2 Year Academy sessions. He wrote this short, yet insightful poem:
"My Life Cracks Open"
My life cracks open
I stand in it
careful not to run.
You see, when life cracks open, the first response (for me typically) over the years has been to run, to get the heck out of dodge (so to speak). Yet, in more recent years, I am learning to stand in the crack, to stand in the chaos. I am standing to see what I can learn and what the next visible step might be.
It may be uncomfortable, but it's okay.
A boiled egg eventually must be cracked open if one is going to have deviled eggs or egg salad.
The cocoon must crack open in order for the butterfly to emerge. When it emerges, it is no longer the same as it was when it entered the cocoon, at least on the outside. It has gone through a transformation. Its essence, its being is still the same on the inside.
That's how my faith is these days. The essence of my faith isn't changing. The foundation remains based on the One who came and lived among us and who told us about the greatest commandments to love God and love one another as ourselves.
McLaren notes, "If we are to be truly Christian, it makes sense to turn to Jesus for the answer." (42) It does, doesn't it?!?! "Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was most radical of all. Love was the greatest commandment, his prime directive-- love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled." (42)
Like I said, I've just started the book, but I look forward to reading the rest of it and seeing what McLaren has to say.
Have you experienced any cracking open in your life, in your beliefs?
How are you stretching and growing?
Blessings on your journey,