“It is always tragic to define one’s self in a rigid way that limits further becoming. And an inordinate attachment to beliefs certainly qualifies as such a limiting self-definition.”
I’ve already flagged up that I’m reading Spirituality and the Awakening Self by David G Benner. Benner has helped me take another step in understanding why the Anglican Communion is in conflict about human sexuality and the Bible. It’s stuff I sort of know already, but it’s so helpful, isn’t it, when someone else describes the scenario?
I am not my beliefs
Why are some Christians, those who block the full inclusion of LGB&T people, so adamant that this is a line not to be crossed?
Christians from conservative evangelical and Anglo-catholic traditions, plus many in between, plus the majority from the Global South, plus those leaving for other bodies in North America, seem to have a faith and spirituality which reinforces a mind-centred self in which faith is reduced to beliefs. David Benner comments: “This has potentially very costly implications since it can impede further unfolding consciousness and compromise development of important dimensions of self.”
Having beliefs isn’t a bad thing. Beliefs form an important part of our worldview and meaning making and can have a legitimate and important role in a life-enhancing spirituality. But many of those I encounter in organisations like Reform, Anglican Mainstream, Forward in Faith, and even Fulcrum, are stuck at a stage where adherence to the rules as set out in the Bible trumps any value given to life-enhancing spirituality. For me, I am dead or dying without a life-enhancing focus. I am here to be changed and to grow into the person God created me to be in the fullness of Christ.
Benner writes about his own experience. For years, he says, he defined himself by his theology and clutched his beliefs in a manner that represented an idolatrous substitute for God. This led to a good deal of intellectual dishonesty. He avoided exploring questions and engaging with issues that seemed certain to lead him outside the bounds of orthodoxy. He knew they would put him in tension with his religious community. Without question, e says, this compromised his faith development.
Things began to shift when he began to understand the price he was paying for his identification with impoverished construals of ultimate mystery. He dared to allow himself to attend to the call of the Spirit to become more than the small he was.
As his attachment to beliefs began to loosen, a friend urged caution and expressed concern about what he perceived to be a drift into liberal theology. Benner said he was simply trying not to confuse beliefs with Truth.
Meaning is not an objective thing that is discovered: it is a selective and provisional way of understanding reality that develops and changes as our consciousness develops and expands.
In my 17 years working for a change of understanding within the Anglican Communion, I realise that I am engaging with individuals and organisations and a Church that is addicted to a small mind view of reality. Preserving the institution, maintaining unity, however spurious, holding a perspective on the Bible and Christian tradition which is manifestly inaccurate, all these things are far, far more important than living in the way of Jesus Christ as I understand it – Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – Life in all its fullness.
The Anglican Communion is exerting huge pressure on everyone to conform to one understanding of what Christianity is about, an understanding which is very limited in spiritual wisdom and human transformation. The Anglican Communion is diminished. The Church of England impoverished in vision and energy. Conformity to one stage in the path of human spiritual maturing is imposed on all.
The challenge that confronts many of us is: can I endure this diminished, impoverished Christian pattern of life any longer? Where to I go to encounter the living God and to meet groups and individuals where I can flourish?
“I am in Christ, who is my Source and my Destiny. I live that truth as I increasingly allow all the ways of being that I have created in an effort to be my own source and destiny to come into the light and warmth of my relationship with Christ and be woven within the family of self that I am in Christ.
“Living in truth is not, therefore, so much a state as a direction. That direction is increasingly opening myself up to God in faith and trust since this is how the light and warmth of God’s love flows into myself and produces my awakening, enlightenment, and transformation.”
Spirituality and the Awakening Self: p118