Transformational Christianity & Liturgical Address of Sept. 2014

Expansion by Paige Bradley (New York)

Expansion by Paige Bradley (New York)

What do I mean by Transformational Christianity?

I view Transformational Christianity as a deliberate, mindful, and active process of spiritual formation.  Spiritual formation itself presents a large stage, upon which there are many players, not all of whom are Christian.  All enduring religions speak to matters of spiritual formation, and in each case there are usually at least two key areas of work in which this formation takes place:

  1. Spiritual changes internal to oneself.
  2. Changes which take place within the community one lives.

One might note there are examples of persons retreating from society, seeking isolation, when undertaking deep spiritual formation.  In many cases, such individuals do later provide feedback to their society, or form communities in general isolation from the larger population.  The Desert Fathers and the formation of monasteries serve as Christian examples (there are parallels to be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism, among others).

In some cases, we might observe a third key designation, which applies to those living outside of one’s community.  When seen from within young spiritual paradigms those who live outside one’s own community are seen as “Other” and in cases of extreme spiritual immaturity, even as sub-human.  (The late Ron Miller identifies this as living in the basement of consciousness.)

In contrast, when seen from within spiritually mature paradigms, the category of *Other* dissolves, and all persons are understood to share their humanity with one another.  The most highly refined spiritual paradigms see that all life is an expression of the One ―however that may be understood― in which, and from which, we are all rooted.  (The late Ron Miller identifies this as living in the rooftop garden of consciousness;  same talk as linked to in the previous paragraph.)

Thus, Transformational Christianity is a subset of the larger category of spiritual formation.

Proponents of Transformational Christianity employ the lens of Christianity to inform their spiritual formation.  And Jesus is the primary example of how we may best live our lives, serving as guide to both our interactions with others, and as the model for how we are to conduct our internal spiritual life.

By using the word “transformation” we are identifying our spiritual formation as an active process through which we seek to transform, or change, from one state to another.  This implies the transformation (changing) of oneself from one state, to another state, which we identify as being more spiritually refined.

Proponents of Transformational Christianity also recognise the need to sponsor transformation within our community.  This process simultaneously takes place within oneself and within the community in which one lives.  To a degree this happens automatically, because we each produce an effect upon the environment and community in which we live.  As we change, we also affect others.

There is also a degree of positive feedback, through which we are affected by the environment and community in which we live.  By means of this mutual feedback, both the individual and the community are influenced, and influence one another.  Thus, Transformational Christianity forms a symbiotic relationship between the individual and the community in which they live.  To the degree we are mindful of this dual process, we may better direct these influences favourably.

Several key points follow from these observations:

  •      Transformational Christianity is a process-driven model of spirituality.  This means there is more to it than simply affirming one’s belief.  It requires action.  Some may read this as the dirty word “works” which they read in stark contrast to “believing” in Jesus.  In my view this stems from a mis-reading of what constitutes “faith.”  In its older meanings, faith is active, and it was assumed to convey action within its very nature.  This is why faith without works is dead (James 2:14ff).  I would suggest one consider “belief” and “faith” from this perspective.  One is what one does, not what one only believes.  (One may also wish to watch Ron Miller’s presentation on James, “A Very Different Christian Story.”)
  •      Transformational Christianity is a “team sport.”  It does require community.  In its ultimate expression, in fact, it requires that the entire world become one’s community.  This however, is overwhelming, so it is important to focus one’s attention and energies upon a community with which one can directly interact.  In my opinion, this transformational understanding of community is best affected in those persons in whose eyes you can look.
  •      Think Globally, Act Locally is how the once-popular bumper sticker phrased this concept.  It is important to guide our choices with a mind toward our global impact.  We are all one.  We certainly all live on a single planet, and it is about time we lived our lives with this in mind.  At the same time, our actions are similar to other forms of energy.  Like heat, light, or radio waves, our action’s energy dissipates with distance.  This is why our ability to affect those persons in whose eyes we can look is greater than those persons living on the other side of the planet.
  •      When feeling stymied, just do something!  By yourself you are not going to change the world overnight.  But you can immediately begin your own internal transformation of thought.  Changing one’s thoughts promotes changes in behaviour.  And once you start looking for the opportunity, you can very quickly find some meaningful way to help another person.  When we all pull together, helping others in our individually small ways, the overall results are quite large.  And perhaps more importantly, the individual you help will be positively affected.

 

Liturgical Addresses

In September 2014, I offered several short liturgical addresses.  I intended some of these remarks to direct one’s thoughts toward what I think of as Transformational Christianity, because I believe the process of spiritual formation is one of the practical goals of Christianity.  I also appreciate that Transformational Christianity plainly acknowledges the importance of personal spiritual transformation, in parallel with transformation of community.

The service took place at the Community Christian Church, which is a progressive non-denominational Protestant church located in Springfield, Missouri (http://www.spfccc.org/).  I have retained the original section titles used during the worship service.  I have however, expanded upon the liturgical addresses.  If all goes well, those remarks actually delivered during the service should display in bold letters.

 

Wisdom Reading

(The purpose of the Wisdom Reading is to introduce the subject of the main sermon.  Thus, if commentary is offered, it should foreshadow the subject matter of the sermon to follow.)  

Romans is a letter Paul wrote to the Christians living in Rome.  A few of the more salient points to keep in the back of one’s mind when reading Paul’s letter to the Romans are:

Paul did not establish this church.  In fact, Paul had never even been to Rome.
Therefore, Paul is writing his own letter of introduction.
Paul is attempting to defuse negative impressions of his ministry in the East.
Paul wishes to secure funds for future ministry missions as far West as Gaul (Spain).
While Paul can display a very sharp tongue, in this letter he intends his best behaviour.

An additional point that should be remarked upon is the claim that Paul’s letter to the Romans is his attempt to fully lay out his thoughts on God, Jesus, his understanding of Christ, and how these relate to the church (which is often an anachronistic reading).  Attempting to do this is called systematic theology.  But this is not what Paul attempts to do in his letter to Rome.  If Paul ever wrote such a document, it has not survived.

I personally consider Romans to be another “letter of occasion.”  This simply means Paul wrote all his letters in response to a specific occasion.  Topics which would not be pertinent to the topic (occasion) being addressed, ought not be expected to be addressed by Paul.  And we certainly have no reason to think he told us everything he considered important.

What is different about Paul’s letter to Rome, is that he did not establish this community.  In all the other authentic letters of Paul, he is writing to communities which he founded, and as such, he assumed the role of “father” to that community.  And in the ancient world, a degree of authority ―in some cases a great deal of authority― was granted to the “father” of a given community.  And there are letters in which Paul does play to this role of “father” to the community.  But this is not the case in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.

The overwhelming majority of biblical scholars believe there are several authors of Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  In addition to the authentic Paul, there is the author of the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus), and possibly the author(s) of the the contested letters (Colossians, Ephesians, 2nd Thessalonians).  And no credible scholar any longer believes Paul write Hebrews.

The primary reason this is important to me, is that the hurtful things “Paul” is supposed to have said of women are forgeries!  If you are a woman, or there are women in your life you care deeply about, this is a very important discovery!

Once this barrier was out of the way, I was open to discovering Paul, the Jewish Mystic.  And that is the Paul I find so inspirational.  In the 14th chapter of Romans we catch only a glimpse of the mystical Paul.  In verses 7-9, Paul essentially reminds us that “as we are born from God, we also die into God.”

This, by the way, is the response I remember Marcus Borg offering during an interview, when asked how one might respond to someone on their death bed, should they ask of God and the afterlife.  To date, this remains the single best piece of advice I have yet heard on that question.  I find Borg’s observation beautifully eloquent.  It reminds us that we are born from a realm beyond this world, and assures us that into that realm or state of existence we shall return upon our death.  And it allows one to understand what this means in one’s own terms.  In the context of a hospital or hospice visitation, I find it to be a brilliant, caring, hopeful response.

The other person being interviewed ―a former hospital chaplain― held the opinion that the only proper response is to attempt to force a dying person to accept his (the chaplain’s) theology.  Namely, the person dying had to acknowledge belief in Jesus Christ, and a very literal interpretation of the resurrection account, or burn in hell.

The differences in these views, are similar to what I imagine may have been taking place in Rome, some 2,000 years ago.  One point of view is taking a very hard line on what is the proper and improper understanding of Christianity, and they are belittling or brow-beating those who do not agree with them.

We may ascertain that some Jewish-Christian members of the community were having difficulty in laying aside concerns over ritual purity;  I suspect the reference to meat carries a similar concern as addressed in the 8th chapter of 1 Corinthians;  we may further presume, that other Christians were demeaning these Jewish-Christians for their “weak faith” or “weak conviction” (in this passage the Greek word *pistei* may be translated as “faith” or “conviction;”  possible alternates would include “trust” or “confidence”).

I am given the impression some were mocking these Jewish-Christians, as being in some way lesser Christians for not being able to give up what Paul considered to be superstitions, or to transcend the cultural mythology in which they had been raised.  We find these same judgements being made today.

In the face of such abuse, Paul suggests that we must refrain from judging one another.  This is in fact, the main point of the first half the 14th chapter of Romans.  Learning to effectively, and meaningfully, relate to persons who occupy a stage of faith development which is much younger than our own presents a real challenge.  Yet, we must find a way to speak with persons occupying other stages of faith, without judging them.

Paul suggests that we sincerely follow our beliefs, and extend grace to those who are following their own sincere beliefs.  The small details of our behaviour ―do we eat meat?  which days are holy?― in the final analysis, these are really of very little importance.

What is of critical importance, however, is that we sincerely honour God, in whatever way we understand that observance.  And, that we allow others the same freedom!

Implicit to Paul’s argument is that we honour and respect others, even when their religious practice is not our own.  Paul, of course, meant this only in the context of the developing forms of early Christianity;  I would argue, this is better understood and practised as a general rule governing our behaviour and interactions with persons of all faiths.

     Today’s Wisdom Reading is from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.
 
     Paul has become one of my favourite authors.  Once, that is, I learned there are several Paul’s, and that the hurtful things said of women were forgeries.
 
     This opened me to Paul the Jewish Mystic, and Paul who so passionately speaks of putting on the mind of Christ, and of learning to live our lives in imitation of Christ.
 
     This is the Paul I find inspirational.
 
     There is a hint of this mystical Paul in today’s reading, when we are reminded in so many words…
 
               …as we are born from God, we also die into God.
 
     But Paul also has a very practical, down-to-earth side.  Throughout this passage, Paul speaks to the very practical matter of NOT judging one another.  Some Jewish-Christians were having difficulty in laying aside concerns over ritual purity.
 
     Other Christians were demeaning them for their “weak faith” or conviction…  as if they were somehow lesser Christians for not being able to give up superstitions, or to transcend the cultural mythology in which they had been raised.
 
     But Paul tells us NOT to judge others.
 
     We are to sincerely follow our beliefs, and we are to be gracious, to those who are following their own sincere beliefs.
 
     The small details of how we act out
     – whether we eat meat, or which days we consider holy –
     these are of little, real importance.
 
     What is of critical importance, is that we sincerely honour God,
     in whatever way we understand that observance,
     and allow others the same freedom.

 

Romans 14:1-10(a)

Do Not Judge Another

1 Welcome those who are weak in faith [or “conviction”], but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions.  2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.  3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.  4 Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another?  It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.  And they will be upheld, for the Lord [other ancient authorities read “for God”] is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.  Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.  6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord.  Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God;  while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord;  so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister?  Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?

(This is the YouTube presentation of the main sermon, given by Rev. Dr. Roger Ray.)

 

 

Offertory Sentence

(The Offertory Sentence is a brief affirmative statement one makes with regard to one’s attraction to the church and/or faith community.)

This small church helps feed persons every week at a local food kitchen, bringing food for that meal and providing volunteers to serve those who are hungry.  Volunteers also perform a variety of chores at a local food warehouse which distributes food directly to needy families.  Helping one’s neighbour does not get much more basic than this!

Members also solicit, collect, and then send shoes to needy children in Nicaragua.  I had not been aware children needed shoes in Nicaragua, but if kids run around barefoot, they naturally cut their feet, and these cuts easily become infected in their jungle environment.  Given there is little access to basic health care, these cuts may become so badly infected that amputations are required to save the child’s life.

These are the primary ways this church seeks to serve needy persons in their local community, and in a specific community in another country.  And, I must say, I find these efforts quite heart-warming.

The point of departure I chose for my Offertory Sentence is once again based upon a remark I once heard Marcus Borg make.  He offered the opinion that Christianity is transformational, and that this effect may be further divided into two different areas of our lives:

Transformation of Self
Transformation of Community

I find there is a lot of value in this perspective.  Transformation of self and of community are certainly related, but they are also different in many ways.  Transformation of self, is primarily an inward-looking practice.  Transformation of community requires becoming involve with other persons, and can only be accomplished through interaction with others.

     For me, Christianity is about Transformation.
     Transformation of Self.
     Transformation of Community.
     I believe these to be symbiotic relationships.
     
     Transformation of Self can be very inward-looking.
     Introspective. Mysterious. Elusive.
     
     In a great many ways, I feel it is beyond words.
     So how do we talk about it?
     
     With awkward, stumbling attempts, I suspect.
     But talk about it we should.
     Regularly.
     
     But Transformation of Self, is also found in experiences.
     And Transformation of Community, must be a result of shared experiences.
     Transformation of Community, we “talk about” by doing.
     
     My attraction to this church, is your Commitment to Community.
     I see this in the sharing of food at Bill’s Place and at Crosslines.
     I see this in the collection of shoes for needy children.
     
     What has attracted me to this church?
     It’s the opportunity, to do something, for someone else.

 

 

Invitation to Communion

(Communion, is also known as Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist.  The observance of Communion dates to the earliest churches of the 1st century.  This is the formal reception of bread and wine which symbolize the body and blood of Jesus.  While this is a central practice of many Christians, specifically how it is understood and enacted varies widely.)

     I think most of us stand at one margin of society or another.  
     I suspect most people here are “recovering Catholics” or “recovering Protestants.”  
     Or “recovering something-elses.”
     
     I suspect many of us are the “church people” no church wanted!  
     Trouble makers.  Broken toys, exiled to the “Island of Misfit Toys.”  
     Or maybe… just thrown away.  
     
     I suspect many of us, come here by way of pain, neglect, or abuse.
     But I hope we also come here to mend, and to heal.
     And I hope, we come here to offer mending and healing to others.  
     
     This Open Communion is symbolic of this desire for healing.
     In ourselves. In our loved ones. In strangers.
     In those who may become friends.
     
     This Communion is also an open invitation to share in our community.
     Even if this is your first visit.
     Even, if this is your only visit.
     
     And I hope, those we meet at Bill’s Place or Crosslines also feel part of this community.
     
     Sharing Communion always turns my thoughts toward Jesus.
     
     Jesus asked, that we love God with all that we are.
     Jesus asked, that we love others, as we wish to be loved.
     
     Jesus shows us, how to help those living at the margins of society.
     Shows us, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
     Shows, in fact, that how we treat others, reveals the Kingdom within ourselves.
     
     This is what I hear in the Transformational words of Jesus…
     
     “Do this, in remembrance of me.”

 

May the Lord bless and keep you.
Erik+

 

References:

 

Marcus J. Borg

http://www.marcusjborg.com/

 

Community Christian Church

http://www.spfccc.org/

 

Community Christian Church YouTube Home Page

https://www.youtube.com/user/CCCSpringfield

 

Community Christian Church, Sermon for Sept. 14, 2014

http://youtu.be/0BF8YhqnHWA?list=UUeF1t9dro_UwXa5qO_FH7bg

 

Bill’s Place

http://www.thekitcheninc.org/bills_place.php

 

Crosslines Food Pantry

http://crosslines.org/

 

Overview of Holy Communion / Lord’s Supper / Eucharist

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist

 

Putting on the Mind of Christ

http://thepracticingcatholic.com/2011/09/22/putting-on-the-mind-of-christ/

 

The Mind of Christ

http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/1-corinthians/the-mind-of-christ

 

Ron Miller’s Presentations to the Theosophical Society

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

 

Ron Miller on Pluralism:

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/guess-whos-coming-to-dinner-the-new-pluralism/

 

Ron Miller on the Letter of James

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/a-very-different-christian-story/

Advertisements


%d bloggers like this: