It has been over a year since my last blog post. The pandemic has taken its toll on me, but it has also given me an opportunity to sit and reflect and make connections between my inner and outer life. One of the exercises I did last month was to write a spiritual timeline for myself, identifying people, events and decisions that influenced my spiritual life. This experience inspired me to share through my blog how I came to my worldview and how it continues to shape my life.
This series will be about how I understand Evolutionary Christianity (Spirituality) through my own experience, that of other progressive Christians as well as some non-Christian writers who are exploring the human experience of spirituality. And, most recently I led an hour and a half workshop at Hillhurst United Church on the saying, “I am spiritual, not religious.” However, in my preparation, I found myself making a case for being spiritual and religious. I have come to believe that everyone is religious in the sense that everyone has rules, rituals and a community that define their lives. The rules may be cultural, familial, or from some other group outside yourself that offered you a way to meaning and happiness. It is better if these rules and influences are conscious rather than unconscious, because when they are conscious you can reflect on whether or not they are serving you in your life.
I had a pretty average family that included two parents and a sister. Although we were a middle-class family and not considered rich, I never wanted for anything and was always helped when I needed something like a car or college tuition. I learned early that I was going to be taken care of. Although I didn’t have many children in my neighborhood to learn about relationships, I learned a lot about life from adults, one couple in particular.
At around seven years of age, an older neighbor couple who had no children seemed to adopt me and became like second parents. I say they taught me about grace. Parents are supposed to love their kids, but we don’t expect neighbors to love other people’s kids. So their love and attention was a demonstration of grace. They gave me small jobs to do around their house and fed me cookies and pop. But most special was when they took me on trips to Atlantic City where I learned to ride a bike on the boardwalk, to New Your City where I learned to ice skate at Rockefeller Center, and when I was a young teen they took me on a long trip to Florida where I learned how to be myself in a bigger world. I think these caring, supportive adult interactions contributed to my positive attitude and curiosity about everything.
When I graduated from Moravian College and attended Moravian Theological Seminary, I came to understand what it meant to live my life according to the “call” of God. For example, in my last year of seminary I received an invitation to be the assistant chaplain at Moravian College. Saying yes meant I was not able to graduate with my class and in return I was introduced to the teaching ministry which has dominated my vocational life. And finally, my seminary thesis was on Process Theology which unbeknownst to me was the beginning of articulating a new understanding of Christianity that focuses on the present, not the future.
Curiosity seemed to be an inherent characteristic of my life. I was interested in science (physics), the universe, aliens, UFO’s and science fiction, and as a teen I discovered yoga and meditation. Writing my spiritual timeline, I was able to see how my faith/worldview evolved by being challenged, and how my beliefs changed. In my lifetime, the theory of evolution was severely challenged by a large segment of the Christian faith, but I also saw how this evolutionary perspective was embraced by several scientific disciplines including the social sciences and psychology.
As early as my teen years, I could not believe that God liked Christians better than anyone else. I found it hard to believe in God sacrificing his son for a narcissistic reason; only saving people who believed in him. Everyone else would go to hell. I did not promote a campaign of any kind. I just kept these beliefs to myself waiting for the church to catch up to my way of understanding God loving the world.
Reading the book Sapiens by Yuval Harari helped me unpack the process of how human beings began as animals and over many thousands of years evolved toward a time of enlightenment when they attained a new level of consciousness and grew into human beings. I was fascinated to see the author saying that the awareness of being mortal and living within a time frame was a huge shock to the human being, and this internal experience of fear, not from any outside threat, but from the threat of non-existence, created a new experience of being human. I understand this to be the beginning of religion. One could say that early religion was the awareness of God walking in the garden with a set of rules that we were just beginning to understand. This brought humans to the ultimate questions, “Who am I and what am I supposed to do?”
Exploring these questions led to an understanding that we could make choices based on beliefs initially rooted in magic and mystery. We realized that we could make our lives better by partnering with the force that controlled our world, and that we should try to stay on the good side of this force. We began the search for the rules we needed to know to get the most out of our short life span.
Certain choices were better than others. We no longer lived by instinct alone. For example, we could rise above instinctual fear and learn to trust others. This step allowed small communities to emerge from family groups of about 30 people as one family group chose to trust another family group to work together for the betterment of all. Groups of 150 could work together with all sorts of benefits, and after a long time even larger groups were possible. Villages emerged when people settled down and began the agricultural era. Towns, written rules and power structures came into being. This was the evolutionary process at work as human beings learned about nature, relationships, and the world they lived in. The spirituality of human beings was a driving force for growth as religions around the world created structures for living together in the world. Religion set the framework for building community according to a set of beliefs, and this allowed knowledge to be remembered and celebrated in external systems, not just in the heart and mind of the individual.
In my next blog I will comment further on spirituality and religion in the evolutionary process. I believe that we are both spiritual and religious. This contradicts, or maybe better defines, what people mean when they say, “I am spiritual but not religious”.
I welcome your responses. Questions that came up for me were: When did love emerge/evolve as a dominant force for human transformation? Does God evolve along with us if we are all part of the unity of the everything in the universe?
If you are not signed up as a follower, I won’t be directly emailing future blogs to you. That would be presumptuous of me, and probably annoying to you. If you want to receive the blogs or post comments or questions, you will need to follow me by clicking on the Following What Was I Thinking button in the upper right hand corner of this page. If you have already signed up, you don’t need to it again.
I write this blog because I cherish community and conversation as a way of learning. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think would be interested.