It was a warm summer night. Sitting around the Saturday night campfire singing and drinking beer with friends had settled into quiet conversations about life and philosophy. As always, talking about philosophy after a few beers is like impulsively getting into a taxi and telling the driver “just drive”——-you have no idea where your going to end up.
That was the night an innocent philosophic question changed my life.
The guitar player picked up his beer and in a philosophic voice asked the innocent question “What would you do with your life if you could do anything you wanted to do with it”.
When it came my turn to answer the question I impulsively responded “I would be a Pastor”. Talk about a show stopper! The only sound for the next thirty seconds was the crackling of the burning campfire. To this day, I have no idea where those words came from. But over the next few months I couldn’t get them out of my head.
The following spring I signed up for some courses at Colgate Rochester Seminary thinking I would become a Pastor, but it wasn’t long before I realized my real love was counseling. My journey toward Pastoral Counseling had begun.
When I entered Seminary I knew I was a bit liberal and progressive in my theology. I tried hard to fit in theologically, but my degree in Electrical Engineering and science made it hard for me to accept much of what I was being taught. From day one I was conflicted. I loved the sense of community, but I struggled with the theology.
It wasn’t long before the more conservative students made it a point to avoid me in the cafeteria. Their fear, I think, was the possibility that I might be contagious.
My relationship with Christian theology and organized religion has always been a bit like the powerful Mafia gangster Paul Vitti in the movie Analyze This. Vitti (played by Robert de Niro) is having panic attacks over his role in the mafia. So he hires unlucky shrink Dr. Ben Sobel (played by Billy Crystal) to resolve his emotional crisis. It doesn’t take Crystal long to recognize that de Niro wants to kill him.
Crystal says “You want to kill me don’t you!”
De Niro scoffs “No, I don’t!”
Crystal continues to push de Niro “Yes you do, admit it.”
Finally de Niro admits it. “Ok I do, but I’m conflicted!”
I love the sense of community that comes with membership in a church, but I’ve always been conflicted about many of the theological beliefs held by the Christian Church.
And that brings me to Easter.
After many years of wrestling with Christian theology, I have come to the conclusion that authentic spiritual growth has very little to do with religious beliefs and a great deal to do with finding the courage to look within and grow in self-awareness. For me, authentic spiritual growth is about dealing with the beams in my own eyes.
All of the great mystics and spiritual teachers like Jesus and Buddha were clear……authentic spiritual growth is not something that can be given to us. No one else can do the work for us. We have to discover, and then embrace, the courage required to take the inner journey; to shine the light of our consciousness into the shadows of our egoic mind. This is not a journey for the feint of heart.
The door is narrow and few get to pass through the door.
Based on insights learned from my own spiritual journey, I believe this to be true.
For me, the Spirit of God is the impersonal evolutionary impulse to “become” incarnate and immanent in every aspect of creation. That impulse has been creating our universe for almost 14 billion years.
I do not believe Jesus was sent to save us. We didn’t need “saving”. Jesus simply reminded us that we already are the light of the world! We already possess the spiritual ability to grow and “become”! What Jesus taught us was how to “become” compassion—–instead of a nice person that does compassion from time to time.
He did that by encouraging us to embrace an enlightened, non-dual way of seeing all of creation so we could tame the animal instincts of our survival oriented human ego; the judgmental ego that uses dualistic thinking to create conflict and violence in the world.
We celebrate and resurrect the memory and presence of Jesus ——not just on Easter morning, and not because he came to save us——-we resurrect his memory and presence in the world every time we manifest love and compassion in the world. That’s what Easter is about for me.
I love the spiritual teachings of Jesus, but saddened that the institutional Christian Church has used dualistic thinking to distort the essence of Jesus’s teachings. It feels like much of Christian theology is trying to force a square peg into a round hole. But I will be in Church Sunday morning, despite my conflicted emotions—–not because Jesus “saved” me. I’ll be there because the compassion that Jesus was encouraging us to “become” is best learned and practiced in community.