Jews, Christians and Muslims opt for “There is no God but the God we say is God,” which makes for difficult going along the road together, and has led to all manner of persecutions and pogroms and jihads and religious wars and religious wars disguised as political wars over the years.
Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and other perspectives of the east opt for “There is more to God than we know of God.” Adherents of each religion (And Buddhism claims not to be a religion but there are those prayer flags to consider, and those votive offerings to explain, and that entire pantheon of gods to take into account) may hold other religious perspectives in low esteem (Vietnamese Buddhists don’t use singing bowls to call them to meditation as Tibetan Buddhists do, and are somewhat smug about it), but they don’t have standing armies to protect themselves from one another, or to use in doing one another in.
The two views of God are the primary and essential point of theological demarcation. Everything hinges on the choice we make about God at the beginning. The paths that diverge at that point are very different all along the way. “There is no God but the God we say is God,” closes doors and demands conversion or eternal damnatkion, assimilation or excommunication, agreement or the designation of heretic or infidel. “There is more to God than we know of God” opens doors, invites inquiry and conversation, welcomes divergent views, and laughs at the idea that anyone or any group could ever know enough of God to wrap God up in a creed, or catechism, or book of confessions and brandish it about as though it were the last word, or even the next-to-last word.
So, guess where I stand in the matter. Where I stand in the matter makes it impossible for me to stand before you as the spokesperson for a denomination that knows what you should think about God and places me before you to tell you what that is. Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant. It’s a Hindu story. Not a Jewish story, or a Christian story, or a Muslim story. There is more to the elephant than we know of the elephant. But, as we share our perspectives, our life experience, we are enlarged, deepened, expanded, stretched, in our own understanding of the elephant, and grow in our understanding of things spiritual.
But the nature of this growth requires more of us than listening to a monologue once a week, or whenever the mood strikes you. A monologue is a skimming stone. We need a good conversation to take us beneath the surface. So, I’ve created a Beyond 920 Group to oversee the offerings of programs and courses that will open us to the world of spiritual development and that world to us. It’s the next phase of the 920 experience, and will use the atmosphere we have produced here to enable us to be more than we could ever be on our own. And this without compulsion or force or threat of excommunication! Stay tuned, more will be coming soon.
In the meantime, there is the matter of ourselves and our perspective to take into account. The greatest impediment to the development of our spiritual life is our understanding of life, what we think it means to be alive, what we do to feel alive. The way we live is the greatest determinant of the quality and depth of our spiritual life. If we want to grow spiritually, we have to change the way we live.
The spiritual life is not compatible with just any life. We cannot live just any old way and be spiritual. We have to acquiesce to the life that is ours to live but. We cannot hurry that move. Everything in its own time is the foundational spiritual law. We may have to wait awhile before we are ready for the spiritual life. We may have to try other lives on. See how they fit. Live them to their hollow, empty core.
No one can argue us out of our idea of where life is to be found. We have to find out for ourselves if we are right about it. Gay Paree, or its current equivalent, may be working for us. We cannot be spiritual before its time. We cannot live the spiritual life until we have given up on the other lives. The spiritual life waits for the shift in perspective required to see, hear, and understand—to know what is important and do it. Takes time. We have to be at the end of our rope, at the end of the line, before we can change our minds about what is important.
What's the hurry? If the life you are living is filled with meaning and enthusiasm and keeps you interested in what you are doing, live it! If we are in the middle of Gay Paree, eyes wide open, mouth agape, no one can talk us out of it. We have to see the emptiness before we can move on. Yet, in Gay Paree there must be those who talk of moving on, of what is beyond Gay Paree, even when there is none to listen, none to hear. We cannot wait until we have a receptive audience to say what is ours to say. The emperor gets by with no clothes forever when there is collusion.
Someone has to say, "Hey, wait a minute!" for the illusion to begin to fade. “Wal Mart isn't IT. Gay Paree is a sham. Glass beads and shiny plastic. See?” Wal Mart and Gay Paree ARE IT at some point for some of us. And at any point, there is always more to think and see than we are capable of thinking and seeing. We can only think what we are capable of thinking at any point in our lives, only see what we are able to see.
We shouldn't put too much at stake on how we think, see, at any point in our lives. We will turn a corner and think, see, things differently. There is more to God than we know of God. We begin the work of knowing more of God than we know of God, and of anything else—we take up the work of thinking and seeing beyond where we think and see—by seeing the discrepancies in what we think and see, and thinking about them.
Always the discrepancies, the discordances, the contradictions! They wake us up, pull us forward, move us beyond where we are. We have to see our seeing in order to see more than we see. We have to think about our thinking in order to think beyond where we are. Our thinking and our seeing will carry us to the heart of the life that is our life to live, to the path with our name on it, IF we see our seeing and think about our thinking.
Anything is possible with everything on the table, and everything must be always on the table. We must be always standing around the table, looking at what is on the table, talking about what is on the table, saying what we see, and what we also see and working to reconcile the discrepancies.
No matter what we think is so, we have to look for what else is so, for the truth beyond the truth we call truth, for the God beyond the God we say is God. When we think there is no truth beyond the truth we call truth, no God beyond the God we say is God, we are as good as dead. Are dead.
The right kind of company, and the church as it ought to be, is always saying, "Hey wait a minute! How does this square with that?", pointing out the discrepancies, forcing the work of life. The work that deepens us is the work of recognizing and reconciling ourselves with the contradictions at work in our lives. It takes us all to do that work. On our own, we are too shallow to splash. Too lazy to spot the contradictions or come to terms with them.
When we wake up, we wake up to the truth of contradiction and conflict, and to the work of squaring ourselves with how things are. Wholeness, becoming whole, integrity, is the work of recognition and reconciliation. We do not dissolve the tension between opposites but live consciously within it, maintaining it. We live the contradictions, doing one thing in its turn, in its time, with an eye always on the other thing, always honoring the opposition.
You have heard me say that I want to be the best (fill in the blank: father, husband, minister, etc) in all the world and I don't want to be a (fill in the blank) at all. Both sides of the equation are eternally true. Neither cancels out the other. I live in the tension between them constantly, consciously.
And I don’t think, “Oh, I must be a really bad person, a hypocrite, a liar, because I don’t REALLY want what I say I want! Or because I don’t know what I REALLY want!” I REALLY want opposite, mutually exclusive things! And I’m not wrong or bad for doing it! I just REALLY want mutually exclusive things! I “want to have my cake and eat it, too”! So do you.
The trend is to talk us out of our contradictions, to talk us into being one way only. As if! Denying the other side doesn't disappear it! It only makes us crazy, and symptomatic! The work is to be conscious of our contraries and to live them out as appropriately as possible. We need an environment which helps us do that. We have to square ourselves up to our opposing sides and work out their appropriate expression in our lives. Not easy, but very interesting! Where do we go to talk about the work of squaring ourselves up to our contradictions? Who helps us with it? The church as it needs to be! May that be who we are!