Integral Christianity

cover picture
This book study begins January 13, 2019.
The evolution of all religions into deeper, wider, and higher dimensions is crucial to the evolution of human spirituality and consciousness. In this book, Paul Smith presents just such an inviting and expansive pathway for the Christian religion that is faithful to a Jesus-centered theology of biblical interpretation and illuminated by the emerging field of integral philosophy.
The perspective of integral theory and practice articulated by Ken Wilber help uncover the integral approach that Jesus advocated and demonstrated in the metaphors of his time – and that traditional Christianity has largely been unable to see.
Smith incorporates elements of traditional, modern, and postmodern theological viewpoints, including progressive, New Thought, and emerging/emergent ones. However, he goes beyond them and moves to a Christianity that is devoted to following both the historical Jesus and the Risen Cosmic Christ whose Spirit beckons to us from the future.
Smith reminds us, “The oldest thing you can say about God is that God is always doing something new. Jesus pushed his own religion to newness by including the best of its past, and transcending the worst of its present. He calls us to do the same, whatever our religion is today. Jesus continues to be a prototype for all spiritual paths in their task of keeping up with the Spirit’s evolutionary impulse to welcome the next transcendent stage.”

Comments

1 – What would a church service look like that offered to “invite others to whatever is the next natural developmental level for them.”? 313
2 – Did our author help you move into other states? If so, how? 316
3 – Has your understanding of Standpoints changed because of your participation in this book study session? If so, how? 319
4 – You all (presumably) come to this church on Sunday morning because you are reasonably comfortable here. Is there any way you would change what happens so that a) you would be more comfortable and b) this body would move toward Integral Christianity? (Or are a and b in opposition?) 323
5 – Any comments on our author’s church service? 326
6 – Compare the UMC General conference with our author’s Conclusion. 327
7 – What (if anything) did you learn from the Six Amazing Things about Jesus? 334
8 – Which of the author’s final five points speaks best to you? Why? 336

Week 8
Chapter 18 – The Worshipping Community
1. What would a church service look like that offered to “invite others to whatever is the next natural developmental level for them.”? [p.313]
At the very least, I think that such a church service would have enough expressions of the Traditional, Modern and Postmodern churches within it to not so offend any of the people at those “stages” that it would then cause them to leave and never come back. I also think any invitation for the worshipping community to enter into a spiritual “state” different from their own, ought to be made both gently and in a welcoming way so that people are not immediately turned off or made to feel rejected because they’re not “integral” enough in their thinking or in their experiences of God (i.e., the Sacred, the Holy, some kind of Cosmic Consciousness, etc.).

What’s more, I accept Andrew Cohen’s comments earlier in this chapter about “the goal of Evolutionary Enlightenment” – i.e., that we’re all meant to “connect and interact with others” and that who “we already are fits perfectly into the stream of the creative process” (pp.311-312). That would let us allow anyone who wishes, to be able to make suggestions about aspects of the church service they believe are important and should be retained in some way, shape, or form. Setting up a Worship Committee for open and ongoing dialogue about all of these issues would be a good first step.

I do have a cautionary note, however. Smith insists upon using his own interpretations of the key elements of “integral philosophy” – i.e., that they must be “stages, states, standpoints, shadow, and steps” as he outlines them (p.312). I wouldn’t use those labels. I would not even insist that each one is a key, then implying that without going through them in a specific order, one will then become lost or captive at an inferior level. Smith goes on to say that unless a church uses his “five elements” in the ways in which he describes them, people “will simply have no idea what another state of spiritual awareness or spiritual growth is like” (p.313). Be careful. We’ve had far too many centuries of church authorities telling us who we must be and how we must believe in order to become enlightened.

2. Did our author help you move into other states? If so, how? [p.316]
No, he did not. I had other spiritual mentors, teachers and guides throughout my life to help me with such issues. At almost every page in this book I found myself arguing with either Smith’s semantics or his conclusions – even while agreeing with much of his intentions and viewpoints! It was a frustrating read. For example, as long as I can remember, I’ve applied that concept from Celtic Christianity known as the “thin place” – even as a child and before I fully knew what it was. This is what makes all religion important, finally: knowing that the physical world and the spiritual world are intimately connected. If we can find ways in which to “wake up” to all of the thin places within us and all around us, the better off we will be. I do agree with him, then, that contemplation may very well be “a crucial function of integral church,” but just how it is presented and experienced is as challenging as the ways in which people’s personalities differ and, therefore, that fact should be carefully taken into consideration.

3. Has your understanding of Standpoints changed because of your participation in this book study session? If so, how? [p.319]
No, not really. For most of my entire life I’ve been exploring this concept of “divinity” within all of creation – as well as within myself and within all living things. I suspect that’s why I ended up in the vocation that I did. What I find problematic about Smith’s approach is that he wants to dogmatize his conclusions using the ancient and traditional model of the Doctrine of the Trinity. By doing so, I think he’s only perpetuated an Anglo-European viewpoint of divinity that is actually far more profound than he says it is. So, while I can accept his “Three Faces of God” model (but only to a degree, as I’ve pointed out earlier), and am as much a panentheist as he is, for me, there’s just so much more to “God” than our experiences of the “Infinite,” “Intimate” and “Inner” revelations of that “Cosmic Consciousness.” It may seem to be a cop-out to some (and certainly to religious fundamentalists – maybe even Smith himself), but God, for me, remains, to a great extent, to be an ineffable Mystery. There is yet so much, much more for us to discover and come to know. Maybe “integral thinking” will help, but so will science.

4. You all (presumably) come to this church on Sunday morning because you are reasonably comfortable here. Is there any way you would change what happens so that a) you would be more comfortable and b) this body would move toward Integral Christianity? (Or are a and b in opposition?) [p.323]
Since I’ve not been attending the Napa church for some time now, it would be presumptuous of me to suggest changes. I do hear, however, that Marylee Sheffer is making some that many in our book group find are very positive – “life-giving” even. I hope that not only continues, but continues to deepen.

Not surprisingly, however, the overwhelming reason why I do feel “comfortable” with the people of this congregation is that I once was part of its community. The love and support that we share with one another, finally, is the most important part of being a church. Shared values remain to be at the heart of any religion (i.e., that which “binds us together”) and I simply find it comfortable realizing that I share many of the same values as the people who “come to church” at 625 Randolph Street in Napa.

That being said, I do think that there are a variety of other ways that our church might fully embrace and express “integral thinking” in its worship services and practices of ministry. If that thinking and those practices lead us toward becoming more “at one” with our neighbors, and with each other, then such an approach would be a good thing for us to explore further.

5. Any comments on our author’s church service? [pp.324-326]
I think he’s right to have made the proviso at the beginning that his way of exemplifying the “always-evolving” model of church isn’t “the only way” or even one that is “better than others” (p.325). I’m attracted to his way of opening the worship service at Broadway Church, however – i.e., with “an uninterrupted period of music, hymns, worship songs, quiet, and prayer” (Ibid.). Whatever its time length, though, I think that our opening time of worship ought to move us “out of our heads” and “into our hearts,” so to speak – to become more fully aware of the Spirit within this place and within each of us who’ve gathered. Any liturgies that might follow could re-open the dialogue between our thoughts and our feelings, but the intention – in the end – ought to leave us deeply moved, or at least uplifted, for having participated in them and from our being together as a community.

I initially agreed with Smith’s conclusion that integral Christianity must also be “inclusive Christianity,” but then question it when he outlines just what that means for him – especially as he insists upon using his model (yet again) of the “Three Faces” of divinity. Keep the overwhelming, all-encompassing, and infusing nature of divinity, but don’t then give it a number where “three” then becomes better than “two” (p.327). Divinity transcends numerology.

But then (as with almost all of this book) Smith says something that I intuitively do accept and embrace:
“Only that which leads to more compassion, more liberating justice, more
understanding, more respect, and more love for all is that which leads to God” (Ibid.).

6. Compare the UMC General conference with our author’s Conclusion. [p.327]
The General Conference’s recent decisions have made a travesty of Christianity. It has done so by redefining love and inclusion by claiming some among us are neither worthy of love nor welcome within the church – and it doesn’t end with just excluding LGBTQIA people, but excludes all of the rest of us, who are their allies, as well. Beyond that, the decisions made at this Conference also then exclude those of us who read and understand the Bible differently. The “Traditional Church Plan” is not worthy of our support. The Church must include everybody (“All means all.”). Sadly (and as I’ve been saying for many years now), The United Methodist Church, instead, has become fossilized into an oxymoron – i.e., it is neither united nor Methodist. But, then again, it never truly has been either one. The pastor who once said to those looking for a church home, “If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand,” must be rolling over in his grave. His name was John Wesley.

Chapter 19 – Jesus’ Most Astonishing Statement
7. What (if anything) did you learn from the “Six Amazing Things” about Jesus? [pp.331-334]
I can’t say that I “learned” anything from Smith in this chapter. Long ago, I accepted the fact that if I were to be true to myself – to be the person that “God” always wanted me to be – I could find ways that the light of God would shine through me in much the same way that it shone through Jesus (but, I would hasten to add, I’d never be able to measure up to his stature). So, I really could help be “the light of the world” of which I was a part and where I lived, moved and expressed my being. Where I seem to part ways with Smith in this is that, by myself, I am not “the light of the world” – just as I am not God.

Of course, Jesus never was a Christian (#1), and no contemporary of his held much of “any of the beliefs which we have come to associate with Christianity” (p.331) – except, possibly, to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself, but even that is not an exclusively Christian attitude. To learn to love unconditionally, however, was a step not many – then or now – could make. And while I can accept that each of us is a “spiritual being” on a very “human journey just like [Jesus] was,” I cannot accept that each of us is divine ourselves (#6 – i.e., God) as I’ve come to conceive that concept – a reflection of it, maybe, but not its totality. At the same time, I am comfortable with much of Smith’s final comments here:
“That light is already inside of us. It is always inside of us. It has never left and will
never leave. You don’t need to get it. It’s already there. You can’t earn it. It’s
already there as the real you. … This is the ‘astonishing light of your own being’” (p.334)

8. Which of the author’s final five points speaks best to you? Why? [pp.335-336]
Much of this doesn’t add anything of substance for me. What’s more, Smith can’t help himself to further delineate how his “five points” just lines up so well with his “Spiritual Positioning System.” While his “positioning system” may not be my positioning system, I do agree with him when he says conclusively:
“As we become conscious of our own inner light, we are then able to let it radiate
out through our lives every day” (p.335).
That very well may be a good way of defining what Church ought to be. May each of us – each in his or her own way – make it so.

1 – Have any of you done the 3-2-1 exercise successfully, and would you like to talk about it? 273
2 – Do you agree with our author’s analysis of Jesus Temptation? If you see it differently, how? 275
3 – Do you have any general comments on shadow? 279
4 – What helpful practice do you do (that you want to share) that has been valuable to you? 287
5 – When taking care of your Body, Mind, Heart and Spirit, order these from which you think you do the best to worst. Is our group all the same? 287
X – ACK! 20 more pages on prayer….
6 – Any thoughts about prayer you would like to share?

PART IV – SHADOW
Week 7
Chapter 16 – “The Shadow Knows”
1. Have any of you done the 3-2-1 exercise successfully, and would you like to talk about it? [p.273]
I’ve never heard of this exercise before, so, no, I’ve never done it. I have, however, contemplated my own “shadow self” – even had a profoundly spiritual experience in doing so – but it’s not at all similar to this “projection” strategy as it’s been outlined by Smith.

This is as good a place in this book as any for me to finally say that I think our author is captive to some kind of version of what’s known as the “prosperity gospel.” What that means is that he thinks that “faith” is more than just trusting or having hope, it is a spiritual power that every true believer will be given – i.e., that if you just think the right thoughts, and do the right things, all will be well with you – more than that, you will thrive and be deeply and richly blessed. This is why he’s been saying all along that if you would just learn how to be in touch with your own divinity, you can bring all of that into being. Such a “gospel” is not “good news.” It is a lie. What’s more, it can become a very cruel lie when it insists that others must believe in this way to become truly (viz., “integrally”) enlightened.

Random tragedy can, and often does, afflict the lives of everyone (I’m thinking, particularly at this moment, of my friend Doug Cleveland who just died of lung cancer.). All that we can do is try to manage those tragedies and equally random disappointments from within a loving and supportive community – whether that’s our immediate family, with the help of a few close friends, or through a larger and extended community like a church. But to conclude that simply by working through “stages” and “states” in an integral way, or by regularly practicing the disciplines of contemplation and meditation, or by using this formulaic “3-2-1 exercise” in a “faithful” way, that you then will have a wonderful and intimately supportive experience of the divine, is presumptuous at best. There can be no such guarantees. I would say, given who you are, try to discover all of the ways in which you can be the best person that you can possibly be. The rest, more than likely, will remain to be an inexplicable Mystery.

2. Do you agree with our author’s analysis of Jesus’ Temptation? If you see it differently, how? [p. 275]
To begin with, what Smith takes literally, I understand as myth (and/or legend). Both of our earliest gospel sources, Mark and Q, report that Jesus spent “forty days in the wilderness.” But all throughout there are echoes of the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19: 5-8) and so, I think, it’s a legend meant to associate Jesus (much like John the Baptist) with Elijah. What’s more, it’s all part of a tradition often referred to as the “vision quest” or “wilderness ordeal” in which one confronts “diabolical” images through mystical experiences. If such an experience leads to a more balanced psychological understanding of one’s vocation, then it’s a vision. On the other hand, if it leads to unbalanced dysfunction, it’s a hallucination.

A majority of scholars also think that this event was simply a creation of those in the early movement of Christianity and not an actual event in the life of Jesus (e.g. Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary by Marcus J. Borg, p. 124). In other words, it’s simply “a literary creation” (op. cit., footnote #13, p. 319). According to John Shelby Spong (in Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy), the whole story “was intent on making the career of Jesus parallel the career of Moses and the Hebrew people” (p. 112). Jesus’ “forty days in the wilderness will parallel Israel’s forty years in [that same] wilderness” (recalling the fasting of both Moses and Elijah) and Jesus simply “had to learn what it meant to be chosen. He had to go into the wilderness to discover what it meant to be messiah” (Ibid.).

In the end, then, by proof-texting – yet again – Smith puts his own spin on the biblical narrative and interprets it as an actual event in order to support his own conclusions. Even so, our author then concludes that section with a statement that I can, at least partially, agree with:
“Healing happens inside of us when we begin to own the feelings which we have placed
on another person or situation. Doing your own shadow work can move you through…
because it removes emotional blocks to your own evolution” (p.275).

3. Do you have any general comments on shadow? [p.279]
I would lift out one quote from part of an article by Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D. (author of Evil Deeds posted in Psychology Today, Apr 20, 2012) about this phenomenon:

“…the shadow, while very real, is not meant to be taken concretely or literally
but rather, allegorically. It is not an evil entity existing apart from the person, nor
an invading alien force, though it may be felt as such. The shadow is a universal
(archetypal) feature of the human psyche for which we bear full responsibility to
cope with as creatively as possible. But despite its well-deserved reputation for
wreaking havoc and engendering widespread suffering in human affairs, the shadow
– in distinction to the literal idea of the devil or demons – can be redeemed: The
shadow must never be dismissed as merely evil or demonic, for it contains natural,
life-giving, underdeveloped positive potentialities too. Coming to terms with the
shadow and constructively accepting and assimilating it into the conscious
personality is central to the process of Jungian analysis.”

So, paradoxically enough, Smith may be on to something when he concludes that while the “qualities” of our shadow “may be negative,…they may also be positive” (p.276).

PART V – STEPS
Chapter 17 – Taking Care of Your Self
4. What helpful practice do you do (that you want to share) that has been valuable to you? [p.287]
For me, it’s keeping my body “in shape” with regular physical exercise as well as spending time in contemplation (usually while listening to music, reading poetry, or in pondering the majesty and mysteries present in nature). I find that in that balance I am able to integrate my body with my mind and with my spirit.

5. When taking care of your Body, Mind, Heart and Spirit, order these from which you think you do the best to worst. Is our group all the same? [p.286 ff.]
As Smith quotes a line from Walt Whitman’s poem, “Leaves of Grass,” here, I do agree with him that the “better I feel, the better I pray” (p.287). I don’t seem to be able to rank them (i.e., from “best to worst”), however, as I truly believe that they’re all important – each in their own way – and meant to be in balance. I am very aware, though, when one or more of those has been ignored, because I feel the loss of it. As I’ve come to view Smith’s four, however, I find that I don’t differentiate between the “heart” and “spirit” metaphors. For me, they both symbolize the same thing (so I come up with only three) and see my spirit as meant to be in balance with my body and with my mind.

6. Wandering thoughts [p.296] – Any thoughts about prayer you would like to share?
I would agree with Smith’s positing that one’s interior life (or “Taking care of your inner Self” – p.288) ought to at least involve finding your own answers to three questions: “Who am I? What am I? Why am I here?” In healthy families it begins with the nurturing by one’s parents, followed by the support and guidance of one’s community. But, in the end, these questions can only be answered by ourselves alone. Prayer can help – but not by any “answers” given through petitions to and responses from some kind of a patiently receptive Supreme Being. In the fullest analysis, we work it out ourselves. So, while I can agree with Smith’s conclusion that the “goal of prayer is to know your Self as a… spiritual being,” (p.289) for me, it doesn’t mean that we, ourselves then, are to be equated with the Divine. It is, however, “contemplation, communion, and union with Spirit” (p.290) – very much so.

Smith seems to be fond of making up strategies and reworking labels, but I would equate his, so-called, “connecting prayer” with how I’ve come to understand the practice of contemplation, and his so-called “being prayer” with meditation – this latter inducing a feeling “of being one with God” (p.294) while we quiet our own “wandering thoughts” and open ourselves to the inward movement of the Holy Spirit. I must admit, however, that I still don’t experience the “causal or nondual level” as equated with my then actually being the same “person” as God – and while I very often do feel at-one with the “Christ consciousness,” again, I am not the Christ himself.

Finally (and coincidentally), for many years I have used the very same approach to enter into a meditative state (or “being prayer”) as Smith does – i.e., by using those words and phrases from Psalm 46: 10 – in a similarly descending order: “Be still and know that I am God” (p.306). It is, of course, a technique that’s been around for a long time. But, again, I don’t ever equate myself with God (as Smith clearly does), just that I am open to the presence of the Holy, to the profoundly Sacred, to some kind of Cosmic Consciousness – so, to God. If I’m as relaxed, attentive, and as open as I can be, by the time that I get to the whisper of that final word, “Be,” I am just that – simply aware of my being – and open to whatever comes. That, in itself, is a blessing but, then too, so is whatever follows.

1 – How can you be a creationist at the integral level? 236
2 – Which one of the other names for God pn pg. 238 do you prefer? Why?
3 – How does God differ from the Cosmic Christ? 240
4 – What do you make of the discussion of Jesus and Christ from pgs. 240 to 246?
5 – What do you think of the self-defense discussion on pg. 248?
6 – How would the character of this book change if every instance of “believe” were changed to “trust” ? 254
7 – How do you feel about “… elevated spiritual state experiences must become a regularly occurring and normal part of corporate worship and small group gatherings.” ? 257
8 – What are your thoughts / feelings about “spiritual beings” and the whole idea of contacting others in altered states? 264
9 – Comment on the entire presentation of this chapter about Integral Christianity / Church. 266

Week 6
Chapter 15 – Integral Church
1. How can you be a creationist at the integral level? [p.236]
I don’t think that you can. To begin with, I don’t believe Smith is correct in saying “Integral Christianity has given up fighting over the Bible” (p.235). He assumes that everyone who embraces integral thinking accepts his reading of the Bible. I know that I do not – and there’s much about integral thinking that I would affirm. But then Smith uses proof-texting approaches to Scripture; and so do creationists. As I understand them, creationists are those who believe that the universe and all living organisms originated from specific acts of divine creation – particularly as they’ve been reported in the Bible. You would have to disagree with science to be a creationist. At best that would be delusional, so I can’t see how that’s a viable alternative for someone who also claims to be an integral Christian. So, it’s a complete disconnect, it seems to me, for Smith to say, on the one hand, that “the concerns of science and the Bible find a complementary exploration of Spirit” (whatever that means), and then to claim that the “concerns of the creationist and the evolutionist can find a comfortable peace” (p.236). I don’t see how.

2. Which one of the other names for God on pg. 238 do you prefer? Why?
I would feel most comfortable accepting labels like “Ultimate Mystery,” “Infinite Being,” “Sacred Mystery,” or “the Ground of All Being” because they indicate that the very concept is really far beyond our complete comprehension. What’s more, at least most of those don’t continue to repeat traditional anthropomorphic images (i.e., I think that the Bible shows how we “made” God in our own image, not the other way around).

3. How does God differ from the Cosmic Christ? [p.240]
So, there’s the rub; by Smith trying to rework the Doctrine of the Trinity, I think that he just adds to the confusion. The “Christ” (Messiah, “Anointed One”) is the hope of Judaism and the Christian conclusion about Jesus. It’s not a term to be used for God. He’d have been better off naming this “face of God” – in the fullest panentheistic sense – something like the “Cosmic Consciousness.”

He first introduces this 3rd-person Cosmic Christ from his reading of Colossians 2: 15-20 to posit his concept of the “Infinite Face of God” and identifies it with the “creative evolutionary process” (p.190). I have no problem with that. His image of “the True Self” is the 1st-person “Inner Face of God” and his 2nd-person image is the “Intimate Face of God.” I think that those two are the same thing. It does make integral sense to me to talk about how this ineffable God may be revealed through us in much the same way as God has been revealed in Jesus. But then don’t call it “Christ” or claim that the “Inner Face” image is every single one of us who’ve innately been the divine “face” of God all along.

Oddly enough, though, Smith then turns around and makes a comment about his 3rd-person “Cosmic Christ” imagery that I tend to agree with: “This is the vast God consciousness that envelops us all.” I would agree with that. When we are in touch with that consciousness, we are in touch with God. But don’t continue to connect it to a title meant for someone else; use the term “Consciousness” – not “Christ.” And, again, that cannot be the same as claiming we are also that same God – “the image of God as me” (p.190).

His semantics drive me crazy.

4. What do you make of the discussion of Jesus and Christ from pgs. 240 to 246?
As Smith, himself, has noted, the title “Christ” is a complete reworking of the Jewish concept of the Messiah. It would make more sense to simply say that as God has been revealed in and through Jesus, the Christ, God may be revealed in and through us as well – but then we are neither God nor Jesus. We can be in touch, though, with our “higher” True Self and, once again, feel simultaneously at one – in the non-dualistic sense – with God and Jesus. But neither of them is actually or essentially you or me.

For him to say that the “Christian integral path”…“has a place for natural hierarchies” (p.241) when, elsewhere, he’s been trying to get rid of hierarchies, just isn’t helpful at all. What’s more, when he makes the bold claim that his “Three Faces of God” model “is presently the fullest and most complete framework for all religious/spiritual traditions…however that Mystery is named,” (p.242), he appears to think far too highly of himself. Granted, it all comes from his own “deep zone prayer” practices, so it works for him. He should not come to the conclusion that it must, then, work for all of the rest of us.

Then there’s his biblical proof-texting again when he says, on the following page, that the title of “Christ” given to “Jesus was one anointed by God in [an] historical sense” (p.243). No, it was the coalescing Jewish and Gentile communities who became followers of this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth that gave him that title. Later, in much the same way and on that same page, Smith claims that “in John’s gospel Jesus is speaking through the church after his resurrection as the Risen Christ” and that “John is the continuing voice of Jesus through the church.” No, the hovering Spirit of Jesus isn’t holding the megaphone; the author of that gospel is. It’s his interpretation. By taking it literally, Smith interprets it even further as some kind of channeling of the Holy Spirit. That is not how I interpret inspiration.

Then I began to wonder just where Smith really came up with his title of the “Cosmic Christ” when he drops in that reference to Alex Grey’s painting entitled the “Cosmic Christ” (p.244). Take a look at it; it’s available online [at http://www.alexgrey.com/posters.html]. It’s not only completely weird, it’s spooky!

The disconnects just continue to happen for me as he claims that the “Christ Consciousness”…“really is the only way to God” (p.245) while boldly quoting Steve McIntosh – later on in that same paragraph – “The degree of our transcendence is determined by the scope of our inclusion.” To me, that means that there are more ways to God than only through Jesus. Yet another disconnect happens on that same page as he concludes his comments about his concept of “The Inner Face of Christ” by saying this: “The goal is not to be a Christian but to be a Christ!” That’s one step beyond his quote from Paul that “Christ lives within me” – which, while I can accept Paul’s imagery and understand where Smith’s coming from, his conclusion isn’t the way in which the concept of “the Anointed One” ought to be used. Yes, we may very well be “partakers of the divine nature” (p.248), but we are not “in Jesus’ words, gods!” I find such absolutisms by Smith to be frustrating, distracting and unhelpful.

5. What do you think of the self-defense discussion on pg. 248?
It does remind me of the way in which all masters teach their apprentices; simply put it’s a three-step process: (1) Watch how it’s done. (2) Do it yourself. (3) Teach others how to do it too. By spending enough time in #2, you will reach #3 – the point at which you will come to recognize that you have the skill within yourself and you’ve at least matched the skill of your master teacher so no longer need him/her to be your constant guide. So, “to learn how to be like the instructor” makes sense. But I don’t make the same leap that Smith does, time and time again, that you and the instructor are then one-and-the-same person. The knowledge, the skill, and the embodiment of it – now in you – may be much the same, but you and your instructor remain to be two separate and distinct entities.

I do like Matthew Fox’s analogy that Smith quotes on the next page (p.249), however – that “God is like an incredible underground River” and that “Jesus is not the Water. He is a well” – and not the only well. So can we be. But, to my mind, neither Jesus nor any one of us is the River itself.

6. How would the character of this book change if every instance of “believe” were changed to “trust” ? [p.254]
Well, of course, the two are intimately connected; both would mean having “faith” (πίστις – pistis, in Greek) or a deep conviction of the truth. The other aspect of it, though, is that you can learn to “trust” in yourself and in your own experiences of the Holy. That means that you need not “believe” in the ways that others will tell you that you must (as Smith seems to do from time to time). You can come to “trust” your own understanding. I know that I have. In some ways, then, I agree with Smith’s comments – so both believe them and trust them. But in other ways I do not – so I neither believe nor trust them.

7. How do you feel about “… elevated spiritual state experiences must become a regularly occurring and normal part of corporate worship and small group gatherings.” ? [p.257]
This is a monumental presumption. What’s more, it’s dangerous, because it would become yet another way of dividing people – including some and excluding others. Such a dynamic is already causing the death of the Church. Who’s to decide which experiences are appropriately “elevated” or even “spiritual” to begin with and who will define their relative authenticity? The answer: somebody who assumes or is given the authority to be in charge. We’ve already experienced what happens after that.

8. What are your thoughts / feelings about “spiritual beings” and the whole idea of contacting others in altered states? [p.264]
I don’t believe that we can contact “angels,” “ancestors,” “beings of light,” “spiritual guides,” “entities” or any “others in altered states” beyond simply having an experience of the presence of God. Even then, however, “God” is a problematic title as the concept remains, for me, to be a concept of such ineffable Mystery. Now, if you were to frame it, in general, as a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, or the sense of resolution one might feel in the midst of a search for meaning in life – something that touches us all – then it begins to make some sense to me.

Again, Smith gives far too much weight to his interpretations of Scripture when he says here: “We need less rejection of what really exists in the New Testament…and more discernment about the quality and source of what is being channeled or prophesied.” I think he’s misusing the terminology and exposing, yet again, his conservative evangelical roots.

Spiritual experiences are both sacred and transcendent, but some might describe them more simply by saying that they’ve had a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness alongside feelings of peace, awe, gratitude, acceptance and contentment. Like your sense of purpose in life, your personal definition of spirituality may change throughout your life as you adapt to your own experiences and relationships. Inevitably those spiritual experiences can involve finding meaning, value and connection that then will affect the ways in which you think, feel and behave. That can be a good thing. But it also could “go off the rails” into the mists of magical thinking. Both have happened before. It could happen again – even in an integral church.

9. Comment on the entire presentation of this chapter about Integral Christianity/Church. [p.266]
I think that I’ve said quite enough already. I do think, however, that Smith ought to take his own comment to heart when he says: “Integral church recognizes that genuine love and compassion require wisdom to discern whether one is helping or harming others” (p.265). And I really do understand where he’s coming from when, in closing out this chapter, he says this: “There are deeper understandings of spiritual truth and constant realization of them.” What’s more, paradoxically enough, I found myself resonating with his final statement: “I long to be that kind of Christian in a church that is longing for that, too.” I have a similar kind of longing. But I don’t think that I would feel comfortable in his church.

1 – Do you agree with the story of the moving God? How would you tell it differently? 203
2 – How do you feel/think about being “part of the Divine being.”? 204
3 – What was your reaction to “God has eternity to wait for us.”? 206
4 – Compare our being gods with Roman emperor’s being gods. 211
5 – What are your divine conclusions about chapter 13?
6 - “The problems of one stage can only be solved from the next stage.” Do you have an example of this? 221
7 - “Integral ends the battle between science and religion...”. Comments? 222
8 – What evidence of the escalator function do you see at 5th and Randolph? What do you think this evidence should look like? 226
9 – My reading of Ken Wilber differs from our author. Smith is trying to blend mystical spirit elements into developmental directions while I think Wilber definitely keeps them orthogonal. Mystics will mostly tell you that altered states are different from the “gross” or ordinary state of consciousness, so much so that they can’t even explain/describe their experiences in terms us materialists understand. I think our author could do a better job keeping things straight (and at right angles [orthogonal] ). Comments? 331

Week 5
Chapter 13 – Owning Our Divinity
1. Do you agree with the story of the moving God? How would you tell it differently? [p.203]
As has been our author’s viewpoint throughout this book, he speaks of God as if God were an individual, like us. “First,” he says, “God had moved from out there to be close by – and then to ‘in us’” (p.202). To my mind, God did not move. We did. It’s been our wholistic view of reality that has led us to a deeper awareness and understanding of what we have in common – our interdependence – both as a species and how we must relate to our world and its environment. We all live in, share, and then are meant to be stewards of the same environment. So, while it may seem as if the “Spirit” is “moving” within each of us, actually, it’s been there all along. We have just awakened to its presence – another understanding of the concept of enlightenment. As I’ve often asked people – and not at all facetiously – “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved?” More than likely it wasn’t God.

2. How do you feel/think about being “part of the Divine being.”? [p.204]
I am uncomfortable using this imagery – as if God were some kind of spirit-being lurking within me, knocking from inside my skull, trying to get my attention (or vice versa). Certainly, as we cultivate and practice being aware of the presence of the “Holy Spirit” within and around us all, we may come to know that we are part of something far, far greater than ourselves. But just as God is so much more than who we are, we may come to discover that there is much more that calls us to become more than we are. So, when Smith asks, “Are we really like God?” I answer, simply, “No.” And yet, is our “authentic True Self…what God has created”? Maybe. But I see that True Self as an evolutionary goal to which we all should aspire – not some separate being of which we’re but a part (In that, I agree with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of being directing us toward “self-actualization.”). Even so, by actualizing or reaching our True Self – even if only briefly in deeply spiritual experiences – doesn’t make us “part of God” as much as those profound experiences make us aware of something far greater than ourselves, something that we’ve then come to name “the presence of God.”

Not surprisingly, then, I cannot take Genesis 1: 26 literally, as Smith does, “that somewhere deep inside each of us we are the spitting image of God” (a poor choice of words, I think). Genesis does not “predict” that one day we will actually become “like God.” From beginning to end, this story set in the Garden of Eden is a myth – an allegory. And while I may be using another example of confusing semantics, God, it seems to me – in the panentheistic sense – to be more a part of us than we are a part of God. In that vein I can and do agree with half of what Smith says here when he says:
“A basic fact of spiritual development is the growing ability to discern
what is good from what is evil, what is loving from what is not.”
I think that’s true, but then I totally disagree with him when he says right after that:
“In effect, …‘You will awaken and you will discover that, indeed, you
are divine like God.’”
It may also be true that our “spiritual ‘evolution’ is something that God set into motion” – whoever or whatever God is – and that, yes, we will “begin to wake up and see what we had not seen before” (p.205) – that’s one way of understanding what a revelation is – but all of that is not meant to be understood “graphically” (Smith’s word) but symbolically. So, when he asks, “are we intrinsically divine?” I say, “No.” We are not fundamentally, independently, innately, virtually, or by any other way, divine in our very nature. In my opinion, there is just so much more to who or what God is than what Smith posits here. I can go along with his idea, at least partially, in that we hold within us some aspect of God, but I don’t equate that aspect with either the essence or totality of who/what God is or who we are. That’s why, in the end, all of this remains to be such an ineffable Mystery to me.

3. What was your reaction to “God has eternity to wait for us.”? [p.206]
Again, Smith continues to use unfortunate anthropomorphisms in his descriptions of God – here as if God were some kind of endlessly patient paternal figure waiting for us to grow up. I do think that our evolution is moving us toward reaching our fullest potential as human beings, but not toward embodying divinity – in any godlike sense. So, when he says on the next page that “We are all, in our deepest essence, divine spiritual beings,” I’d agree that we are spiritual beings, but divine…? No.

4. Compare our being gods with Roman emperor’s being gods. [p.211]
As I’ve noted earlier, I think what was motivating the early followers of Jesus – who’d become convinced that he was the Jewish Messiah – was in their opposition to Roman rule. And if Rome claimed that Caesar was divine (as many ancient cultures did of their kings), the nascent Christian movement thought that they could go one better and make their leader “the only begotten Son of God.” The Gospel According to John (written two generations after the death of Jesus, by the way) is the classic example. Unfortunately, it’s the one gospel that Smith turns to most often in this book, proof-texting from its author’s message as if it were historical fact.

5. What are your divine conclusions about chapter 13?
I have no such conclusions, since I am not God. Smith believes that he is, though, and I think he’s deluding himself. What’s more, if I’m missing the point, so is he. There is a point to be made, however – a very important one – but our author obscures it by bringing God “down” to his level – which, paradoxically, it seems to me, is not a very “integral” thing to do.

For him to close this chapter, then, by saying that the “integral church believes in original divinity” and that it is “the only path that Christians can follow,” just seems to me to be an arrogant conclusion. His absolute conviction here makes no room for the alternatives (e.g., for instance, that humanity is undergoing a spiritual evolution) which are just as profound and yet much more believable.

Chapter 14 – Religion on the Escalator
6. “The problems of one stage can only be solved from the next stage.” Do you have an example of this? [pp.220-221]
We don’t live in a world that is as small as the one envisioned by ancient Mesopotamian cultures – especially in its cosmology of a three-tiered universe. Up-and-down is all relative. We are not at the center of everything. Those ancient cultures could not solve many of the conundrums of cosmogony until they had the scientific knowledge of a later stage of development. In some ways we have the same problem today. We really don’t know what we don’t know. So, with a diminished or disfigured view of reality, we can’t solve the problems and quandaries that it presents to us until we’ve acquired the knowledge, viewpoint, and understanding to be able to do so. Science helps, but so does the orthogonal world of spirituality. Both are part of our evolutionary development.

7. “Integral ends the battle between science and religion...”. Comments? [p.222]
Well, I sincerely hope that, one day, the two might complement each other, but I’m not sure that Integral Christianity or integral thinking – at least as Smith presents it – will do so. If he really does take science seriously, in my opinion, he still has some work to do with his theories about spirituality.

8. What evidence of the escalator function do you see at 5th and Randolph? What do you think this evidence should look like? [p.226]
I suspect that the majority of our congregation no longer hold the viewpoint that the Bible is the actual Word of God or that all of its stories are historical and factual. If some are “stuck” on an unmoving “escalator” of understanding, it’s probably just because they’re comfortable there and haven’t been challenged enough to even begin to see reality from a different point of view. Change happens slowly – particularly in the Church. In my opinion, a good place to begin would be with changes in the liturgy and hymnody. I think that the Unitarian Universalist Church has been able to do that, but then Smith writes them off as not even being Christian (p.51) – let alone part of the integral movement of religious consciousness (p. 230). I think that they are. Take a look at the website of one which I’ve been a part over the last few years: https://www.mduuc.org.

9. My reading of Ken Wilber differs from our author. Smith is trying to blend mystical spirit elements into developmental directions while I think Wilber definitely keeps them orthogonal. Mystics will mostly tell you that altered states are different from the “gross” or ordinary state of consciousness, so much so that they can’t even explain/describe their experiences in terms us materialists understand. I think our author could do a better job keeping things straight (and at right angles [orthogonal] ). Comments? [p.231]
I’ve not read any of Ken Wilber’s books, only random quotes from here and there, so I can’t compare him with Paul R. Smith. Regrettably, however, I find myself disagreeing with as much of Smith’s presentation of integral thinking as I agree with it – it’s a mix. So, he can say that he believes that “the preferred new spiritual path is not the blending of all the religions of the world into a new one,” but then he infers that if a person’s approach to spirituality isn’t the way that he presents it, then he/she is at an “inferior” stage or in the “wrong” state of mind.

1 – Why do you think mysticism is lacking in our church? 143
2 – How interested are you in re-reading the (canonical) gospels to try to discover the “Jesus of the Spirit” that our author describes? 150
3 – How do you think/feel mystical experiences are considered/accepted at 5th and Randolph? 151
4 – Our author is presenting spirit/mystical in a religious context (He is a Baptist preacher!) but what do you think would be different if the book were written by an MD or and engineer? 155
5 – What can you do with the three God questions on pg. 170?
6 – If God can’t do anything wrong, where did the book (story) of Job come from? 172
7 - “[W]e are God’s verbs… voice, hands, heart, feet” ← all nouns. Surely you can come up with better descriptors. 177
8 – Comment on the development of Trinity on 186-7.
9 – Comment on the Communion Liturgy. 195

Week 4
Chapter 11 – In the Spirit Zone Today
1. Why do you think mysticism is lacking in our church? [p.143]
All too often mysticism has been connected to psychic mumbo jumbo which only leads to obscure thinking or sheer speculation, when it’s actually a kind of spiritual intuition of truths that genuinely transcend our ordinary ways of understanding. Most (including me) have moved away from viewing mysticism as some kind of direct and intimate union with the soul of God induced through an ecstatic, almost mindless, state. Meditation and contemplation* have led me to deeply spiritual experiences, but never into what some might call a direct connection with the Divine – i.e., union with a theistic Being which the institutional Church has taught is God.

I think that Smith is more aligned with Jim Marion, here, than I am – i.e. that a mystic is someone with “pronounced psychic abilities” (see endnote #11 on p.347). Yes, God is “not a concept or a belief but an experiential reality” (Smith), but then to say that Jesus “was first and foremost a mystic” and that it’s “the non-mystics who are abnormal,” doesn’t help him make his case! What’s more, Smith all too often throws in non sequiturs like “The Spirit comes to us from the future – not the past” and “in the very core of your being you are God” (p.144). He loses me there.

But then, following along from Matthew Fox, our author does say something with which I do agree:
“A mystic is someone who has a direct experience of God, or with whatever we call
the sacred or that which gives ultimate meaning. …all mystics seem to have similar
experiences even though they use different concepts and words to describe their
experience” (p.145).
So, I also found myself agreeing with most of the mysticism imagery outlined by Marcus Borg (p.149) having been there, many times, myself.

*NOTE: A word, here, about the difference between meditation and contemplation – as I understand it. Contemplation is the thoughtful observation of something – be it in nature, art, music, poetry (or other such reading) or by simply viewing life in all of its ramifications and revelations during that time of deep pondering. Meditation, on the other hand, is harder for most of us in the West to do because one enters into it through a time of almost non-thinking. Buddhists have referred to those first moments as quieting the endlessly chattering “monkey-mind” – i.e., the kinds of random thoughts that always seem to be there in our usual levels of awareness. Meditation is meant to lead one into profound stillness by completely emptying oneself of all thought and distractions so that one is then open to whatever gently presents itself. Meditation, I’ve found, takes much more discipline in that it requires that one not “fight” against the random thoughts that first come, nor the inevitable distractions that are within one’s hearing – from the noises of persons nearby to the sounds and disturbances that always surround us all. This is one reason why most people learn to meditate in comfortable body positions and with their eyes closed. Only as one is able to clear all of the clutter out of these initial moments and enter into a state of deep stillness and openness, will the real benefits of meditation begin to show themselves.

2. How interested are you in re-reading the (canonical) gospels to try to discover the “Jesus of the Spirit” that our author describes? [p.150]
I already have. However, I’ve no desire to use the same kinds anthropomorphic imageries that Smith often uses for God, nor to equate either Jesus or our deepest inner selves with Divinity. So, I do find myself agreeing with two of the viewpoints of which Smith, on the other hand, speaks disparagingly:
• “What is important is what Jesus taught and his actions against oppression, not mystical experiences
• “These fanciful mystic experiences he was supposed to have had were probably added by the writers to enhance his image.”
And I think Smith is too pejorative in his italicized conclusion: “Christianity, which began in an outburst of life-changing spiritual experiences, is now the primary opponent of such experiences!” (p.151).

3. How do you think/feel mystical experiences are considered/accepted at 5th and Randolph? [p.151]
I’ve been away too long to have a justifiable response to this question. I suspect that while more members of our congregation have had such experiences than we might think, most people haven’t found a place or group (like Peter Scaturro’s meditation group or our Lutz Book Group) that has invited them to openly share those experiences. If the worship services were to provide more moments for the opportunity to experience them, they might be both accepted and taken into consideration than they are now. They need only to be modeled or an open invitation given.

4. Our author is presenting spirit/mystical in a religious context (He is a Baptist preacher!) but what do you think would be different if the book were written by an MD or and engineer? [p.155]
Are you setting yourself up with this one, Peter? Who knows what a physician or engineer might say about all of this? Smith does say something pretty outrageous here, though, when he says “I think God is usually very reasonable and simple in communicating with us because that is mostly what we need.” That sounds more than a bit presumptuous to me. Then he throws in yet another very unfortunate anthropomorphism, saying, “I don’t know what people really need, but God does.” Oh, really? On what basis does he know this?

Curiously enough, though, Smith does close out this section with a very thoughtful observation:
“Everyone who is serious about Christianity has to decide how they will deal with the
biblical manifestations which are there attributed to the Spirit of God. The need for
discernment is extremely important today because not everything in psychic and other
altered realms of consciousness is from the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit offers only high
level resources of love and healing for us.” Etc. (pp.158-159)
However, this will always remain to be a real challenge.

I do agree with Smith, though, when – making some observations about meditation – he urges us all to…
“…actively find and pursue the spiritual practices that fit for you. … Try anything that
seems interesting and which you discern may be of a significant spiritual level” (p.161).
While he doesn’t hesitate to make many suggestions of his own, it’s good to be reminded that not every practice or approach will fit everybody.

PART III – STANDPOINTS
Chapter 12 – The Three Faces of God
5. What can you do with the three God questions on p.170?
For the most part, I think that I can go with Smith’s models here. His “Infinite Face of God” does fit my understandings of and appreciation for the concept of panentheism. So, I do like Bernard d’Espagnat’s assertion…
…“that matter everywhere is entangled in a ‘veiled reality’ that exists beneath time,
space, and energy” and that “we can glimpse some basic structures of the reality
beneath the veil, but much of it remains an infinite, eternal mystery” (p.175)
What comes to my mind is that scriptural passage attributed to Paul: “For now we see through a glass, dimly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I will know fully even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13: 12). And I’ve also always liked that phrase from Acts 17: 28 “In this one we live and move and have our being.” This “mysterious and unfathomable God of the cosmos” has often felt to me like a very intimate (“Intimate Face of God”) experience.

All of this is metaphor, though, and Smith doesn’t admit that often enough: “All pronouns fail when contemplating Ultimate Mystery” (p.176). I do appreciate that he brings in Buckminster Fuller, “that God was a verb rather than a noun” …and “God is less like an object and more like a process – the Creative Urge and the Evolutionary Impulse” (p.177). I can go there. But anytime we anthropomorphize our images of God, I can’t accept them.

Finally, however, to be aware of the presence of the Holy within us just isn’t the same thing as saying that we are, innately, that same “Inner Face of God” embodied. So, Smith’s scripture choice for an Infinite God, one “in whom I live and move and have my being (Acts 17: 28), fits more my awareness of his concept of the “Inner Face of God.” I certainly part ways with him, though, in his presentation of this third “face” of God as “knowing our deepest Self as divine” (p.180). That still doesn’t feel right to me. With his repeated use of the Gospel According to John, Smith has assumed that Jesus, himself, claimed divinity – i.e., to be One co-equal with God. I don’t believe that Jesus ever made such a claim. Each of us may be able to have an inner awareness that we do share something of the cosmos in our makeup, but then to equate our deepest inner selves with “It” seems like a bit of a stretch.

6. If God can’t do anything wrong, where did the book (story) of Job come from? [p.172]
To begin with, who wrote the Book of Job? The Talmud (which was, itself, redacted in about 500 C.E.) has several versions. One says Moses wrote it, but then others note that Job was among those who returned from the Babylonian Exile in 538 BCE – which would make it about seven centuries after Moses died. It’s a strange book and seems to be based upon legends that go back thousands of years. What’s more, it’s written in a very unusual and archaic form of Hebrew. The Talmud suggests that Job never was a real person anyway and that the whole book is just an allegory.

In essence, then, The Book of Job is an essay on the problem of theodicy – in answer to the age-old question, “If God is a god of love, why is there evil?” It’s a good question – one worth pondering. I think evil, just like goodness, comes about because we human beings are given the free will to choose between one or the other. In the end, then, if things do go wrong, it’s our own damn fault.

7. “[W]e are God’s verbs… voice, hands, heart, feet” ← all nouns. Surely you can come up with better descriptors. [p.177]
How about these: Co-creating, evolving, thinking, inventing, discovering, acting, shaping, designing, building, producing, conceiving, giving birth & life to, loving, caring, composing, growing, fashioning, teaching, parenting, blessing, healing, reconciling, restoring, regenerating, rejuvenating, improving --- all verbs (gerunds)

8. Comment on the development of Trinity on pp.186-7.
I think that doctrine just ends up limiting Smith’s imagination. He doesn’t seem to really develop the concept any further into a more integral expression of who or what God is – manifestations that we may very likely discover transcend a solely trinitarian concept. God, in fact, may have many more “faces” than the ones Smith has chosen. But then, maybe he covers that in that one “face” of his trinity being Infinite.

9. Comment on the Communion Liturgy. [p.195]
It’s nice that he says “Whatever you believe and whoever you are, you are welcome at this table.” Too many celebrations of the Eucharist limit who will be accepted at the table.

He does make a special effort to base it all around his understanding of the “three faces of God.” However, he doesn’t say much about the images of the “bread” and the “cup,” so why keep using them – a nod to tradition? I’m one who does like the idea of placing the context of communion in a full meal, however – of feasting together in the same ways that Jesus did.

What’s more, I’d like to see and hear liturgical allusions to the etymology of that word, “communion”: e.g., our common union, an act of sharing, the significance and power of close relationships, and all that we hold in common – as well as the harmonious state of things when we recognize and embrace this way of being in community.

1 – How many of the five experiences listed on pg. 96 have you experienced?
2 – Describe an instance of being in a “non-ordinary” state (of mind). 100
3 – Why do you think our author considers the “I am” statements in G John to be “our most wonderful and direct experiences of God.” while the Jesus Seminar voted all these passages black, NOT from Jesus? 102
4 – How do you understand “Our states are interpreted by our stage” differently now than when I tried to describe it last Sunday? 104
5 – What are your thoughts on “Jesus as a telepath”? 110
6 – Why have no real, physical mountains moved? 113
7 – Chapter 9 is a different interpretation of Jesus than I have ever seen before. How did this chapter affect you? 119
8 – Comment on the author’s description of glosolalia. 127
9 - “Are the words from God or not?” Comments? 132
10 – Yet another description of “The purpose of the church...”. How do your thoughts about this one differ from earlier ones? 134

PART II – STATES
Week 3
Chapter 8 – The Spirit Zone
1. How many of the five experiences listed on pg. 96 have you experienced?
I’ve felt maybe three of those: feeling peaceful and fully alive as I’ve read poetry (especially Mary Oliver’s poetry), feeling a part of eternal life as I’ve walked or kayaked through the beauty of the outdoors, and feeling uplifted with joy in the presence of movingly beautiful music. While it’s not mentioned, I think that moments of profound happiness that I’ve felt while surrounded by my family – at times like Thanksgiving or Christmas – may fit in this category of numinous moments.

2. Describe an instance of being in a “non-ordinary” state (of mind). [p.100]
While our author seems to connect all of these “connecting states” to Jesus (I suppose, justifiably so, given the title of his book), I think that the “dream-like subtle level of attentiveness” can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time. The key, often, is simply – and yet deeply – paying attention. Sit or stand still when you’re out-and-about some time; just listen and look all around you. Pay attention to as much of the sounds, scents, tastes, feelings and vistas of life of which you are a part. Many have had to “get away” into nature to have such experiences, but you don’t have to. Such a state can be entered into, as I said, virtually anywhere and at any time. It’s also why I’ve loved to turn that get-it-done saying completely around and say: “Don’t just do something. Stand there.” You may be amazed at what comes to you. This is what meditative or contemplative states can do for us. But you must be still and open your levels of awareness in an “extra-ordinary” way.

3. Why do you think our author considers the “I am” statements in G John to be “our most wonderful and direct experiences of God.” while the Jesus Seminar voted all these passages black, NOT from Jesus? [p.102]
It’s, I suspect, because Smith is still very connected to his fundamentalist roots and continues to read much of the Bible – but especially anything having to do with Jesus – as historical fact. He doesn’t seem to be able to open himself up to the possibility that these stories of a supernatural Jesus never really happened as they were reported decades later by the authors of Christianity – stories whose roots were embedded in myths and legends created by those who wanted to see more of the Christ figure in the man, Jesus, than they would the charismatic, but actually fully human, sage from Nazareth.

4. How do you understand “Our states are interpreted by our stage” differently now than when I tried to describe it last Sunday? [p.104]
I don’t think one can assume that these “states” require a particular “spiritual gift” before one can experience them. As this section’s heading mentions, such a state is merely – yet very significantly – an “altered mode of awareness” that has come to be “associated with spiritual experiences” (p.93). Just because one spends most of one’s life in the horizontal Newtonian view of reality, doesn’t mean that one cannot (or is unable to) have an orthogonal experience in the vertical, or more “spiritual,” realm of reality. It may take more effort, training and practice, but the same is true for many of the skills that one can acquire in the horizontal universe.

Chapter 9 – Jesus In the Spirit Zone
5. What are your thoughts on “Jesus as a telepath”? [p.110]
As I understand telepathy, it is communicating with another mind by some means other than sensory perception. In that sense, Jesus was no telepath. He may have been very perceptive and intuitive – in fact, I think he was – but he wasn’t some kind of magician who had the power to “read minds.” So, being able to sense what another person might be thinking or feeling isn’t some kind of “telepathic psychic phenomenon” as Smith claims that it is. To me, it’s ridiculous to think that “Jesus psychically ‘heard’ the inner thoughts” of others as Smith says here. After reading this page, I wrote this comment at the bottom of the page: “Smith moves from legends to facts and conclusions all too easily.”

6. Why have no real, physical mountains moved? [p.113]
Oh, but they have. They’re called volcanoes. Sometimes earthquakes move mountains. But the only way that we can is by using bull dozers or real “dynamite” (or other such explosives). Human beings with such psychic powers only happen in comic books or movies made in the same genre.

The point that Smith seems to miss is that all religion is metaphor. The “mountains” we move are the emotional and spiritual obstacles that we all face in our lives that obstruct us from becoming the persons that we were created to be. We can “move” or remove those obstacles from our path through things like education, the support of our family and community, spiritual growth, and sometimes through sheer tenacity.

7. Chapter 9 is a different interpretation of Jesus than I have ever seen before. How did this chapter affect you? [p.119]
I came close to simply tossing this book aside. But I value our group too much to do that. I must say, though, Smith has taken the value and truth right out of the “spiritual experience” for me. I wouldn’t say that he’s a charlatan. I don’t know him well enough to be able to say that. I just suspect that he is. It does make me wonder, however, just how far he wanders away from the insights of Ken Wilber – whom I’ve not read. That the opening page of this book begins with such an enthusiastic recommendation by Wilber, himself, however, doesn’t encourage me to read much of anything of his.

Wilber graduated from Duke, by the way, but he is no theologian. His specialty is in transpersonal psychology. His integral theory, apparently, just led him to his systematic philosophy of what he’s come to call integral theory. In that, I would agree that there is some synthesis between all human knowledge and experience. But the only quote of his (among some twenty or more that I’ve read online) that I could affirm was this one: “Be the most ethical, the most responsible, the most authentic you can be with every breath you take, because you are cutting a path into tomorrow that others will follow.” That’s a worthwhile way to live. I think Jesus did just that. But I don’t think that I’ll take much time to “follow” Wilber – or Paul R. Smith, for that matter.

Chapter 10 – The Early Church in the Spirit Zone
8. Comment on the author’s description of glossolalia. [p.127]
I’ve always thought of it as psycho-babble. It is important to know, though, that if there is someone who can translate and/or interpret what the person is saying, that it might be authentic. If no one can understand what the person is saying, technically, it’s not glossolalia. It’s just psycho-babble. The shout, “Yahoo!” makes just as much sense.

Smith glosses over this, only saying, “someone must be present who could interpret the sense of what was being said in the common language of the people gathered” (p.130). If you can’t make sense of it, it’s simply nonsense.

9. “Are the words from God or not?” Comments? [p.132]
Nothing in the Bible is a word from God. It is filled, however, with the words of many who felt divinely inspired to say them or to write them down. Smith doesn’t seem to take seriously enough his own cautionary comment that “we must discern how much of it is from God and how much is from our own or another’s ego” (p.133).

10. Yet another description of “The purpose of the church...”. How do your thoughts about this one differ from earlier ones? [p.134]
If the sole purpose of the church is to “accelerate our growth in both stages of understanding the spiritual life and states of experiencing it” as Smith has outlined it in this as well as the previous chapter, then I don’t want to have anything to do with his church. Regrettably, the deeper that I get into Smith’s vision for the church, the more I reject so much of it.

Ironically enough, I tend to agree with Smith’s three qualifications at the end of this chapter that these ecstatic expressions of the presence of the Holy Spirit…

(1) “…are best interpreted in ways that move them beyond the magical/traditional/mythic levels.
(2) They should be open to rational investigation and reflection…(and)
(3) …they should lead to the strengthening and transformation of ourselves and others” (p.137)

For me, his presentation does not adequately meet any of these qualifications.

1 – Do you feel yourself moving from “rational to a pre-rational worldview on Sunday mornings? Comments? 52
2 – Is it reasonable to try to view Jesus from a modern scientific perspective when he himself would not have been able to do that? Comments? 54
3 – What (or where) do you agree our disagree with our author in the eight areas (Bible, God…) he discusses in the Modern church chapter? 57
4 – Discuss the limitations our author sites. 58
5 – If the “modern level … magnificently benefited all of humankind ...”, why is the church failing? 59
6 – What do you think of the lack of judgment and hierarchy in postmodernism? 63
P – I just discovered the * Highly Recommended listings in the bibliography. You may want to take a look.
7 – What developmental level do you see in John 3:16? 66
8 – How have you reconciled God’s commands to kill (people) with the Commandment: Thou shall not kill? 80
9 – Do you agree with our author that Jesus “saw where the soldiers were coming from” when they nailed him to the cross? 90
10 – How did Jesus get to be so highly developed in a society where no one else was? 92

Week 2
Chapter 5 – Modern Church
1. Do you feel yourself moving from “rational” to a “prerational worldview” on Sunday mornings? Comments? [p.52]
This probably was true for me in the past – especially when I was an active pastor and was expected to lead or speak to a congregation that was, largely, at a mythical level of Christianity. As I’ve mentioned before, my liberal and progressive leanings go way back – even prior to entering seminary. Fortunately, it was a wise counselor/professor at Duke University who cautioned me by saying, “Be careful how you shake the foundations of the people in the pews, Doug, unless you clearly can offer them something better to replace it with.” So, unless I was pressed (e.g., with questions like, “Did God really say that?”), I would stick to traditional liturgies – which were, most often, guided by The United Methodist Hymnal in conjunction with the lectionary lessons from the Bible for that particular season of the year.

The “high holy days” of Christmas and Easter, however, always created problems. I would point out, for instance, that while the Greek word used to refer to Jesus’ mother, Mary, has correctly been translated as “virgin,” that word was interpolated from the original Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 (the so-called prediction of Jesus’s birth) which was almah. That simply implies “a young woman of marriageable age” – nothing to indicate virginity at all, it was just assumed. And the myth of Easter presents a thoroughly unbelievable event: the resuscitation of a corpse. The “resurrection,” more than likely, just meant a spiritual experience of the “risen Jesus” – not a physical one. In addition, when I would preach that Jesus died because of our sin, not for our sins – rejecting the perspective of sacrificial atonement – I would raise the ire of every fundamentalist to conservative Christian in the parish. At the close of one service I was unequivocally told by one such parishioner that I was “going to Hell” for my statements.

2. Is it reasonable to try to view Jesus from a modern scientific perspective when he himself would not have been able to do that? Comments? [p.54]
Yes, of course we can view him from that perspective, but Jesus would’ve reflected the ethos and understanding of the culture in which he lived. He would not have had any “modern scientific perspective” – as we understand it – but he was a masterful storyteller, philosopher, and teacher.

3. What (or where) do you agree or disagree with our author in the eight areas (Bible, God…) he discusses in the Modern Church chapter? [p.57]
The Bible – Without a doubt, when it comes to taking a close look at the Bible, I’m much more in line with the findings of the Jesus Seminar than I am the institutional Church – i.e., as Smith points out, “…to discover the real Jesus viewed ‘through the lens of historical reason and research rather than through the perspective of theology and traditional creedal formulations’” (p.54). I would agree that “the majority of the sayings attributed to Jesus ‘have been embellished or created by his followers, or borrowed from common lore’” (Ibid.). I’d also agree with Smith’s observation here that “…belief in a God who is both loving and vengeful is not consistent with what Jesus taught” (loc. sit.). However, I neither believe in a “loving God” or a “vengeful” one – that’s just too much of an anthropomorphism for me. My god-concept is far more ineffable and mysterious than to give it human emotions, thoughts or motivations. We simply invented such a god. So, I do resonate with Smith’s conclusion, in italics, when he says: “We cannot see what our worldview will not allow” and, in the very next paragraph, that “using reason to change a person’s beliefs who is deeply embedded in the traditional religious level does not work” (p.55). But, I must admit, I’ve tried.

God – So, not surprisingly, I am not among those traditionalists who “sense that God is close to us, like another person such as Jesus or another ‘spiritual being’” (p.55). I’d have as much problem identifying God as an “entity” or a “being” as I would viewing God as a “person.” All three concepts assume something that is distinct, independent, or self-contained and God, for me, is even more mysterious than that. So, in agreement with Smith, I also reject a “supernatural theistic God” and do come closer to explaining it as “panentheistic” – a concept in which “God is in everything and everything is in God” (p.55). Like Smith, I too have been captivated by that image, attributed to Paul, that God is the One “in whom we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17: 28). While I suspect that I won’t be able to go all the way with Smith in his integral idea of God, I can – and often do – relate to God as something profoundly “Sacred” and somehow connected to “the Ground of All Being” and “Creativity” (Ibid.). So, when Smith concludes this section by saying that “even Jesus is usually not seen as divine” (loc. sit.), I’d say even more: I never see Jesus as divine. He was fully human. Surely, he must’ve been a very charismatic individual, gifted, wise (in that sense a mahatma), intelligent – maybe even extraordinary – but still just a man.

Jesus – So, yes, my own focus on Jesus is “as an historical human being” (p.56).

Prayer – Right with his first phrase, I would agree with Smith that “Prayer is problematic” – especially as it’s modeled as if one were talking to “a separate being” (Ibid.). Intercessory and supplicating prayer I find particularly troubling, because it’s all too often viewed as if God were a supernatural physician or some kind of great wizard or magician who, by earnestly pleading, one can get what one needs or wants. Worse, when such prayers “go unanswered,” we’re told that it must be “God’s will” – as if we were unworthy or not trying hard enough. In the same way, asking this mythical entity to provide repentance for us, or to offer us forgiveness for our failures and frailties, makes of God a frighteningly stern taskmaster. I am much closer to understanding prayer as Bishop Spong presented it to Smith – “as meditation, contemplation, or reflection” (loc. sit.). It’s not at all like having a conversation with a human being – especially not a supernatural, theistic, one.

Sin and Salvation – Let’s just get rid of these loaded concepts once-and-for-all, shall we?

Heaven and Hell – Heaven certainly isn’t something like the top tier in a three-tiered universe as it’s traditionally been portrayed. If it must be used, let’s use heaven as a metaphor for all that’s beautiful, good and deeply moving – as we might say, “That is heavenly.” And I would tend to agree with Smith here as he says “There is no hell except for the one we create” (p.57) – although I do think that being burned alive could very well be considered a hellish experience. It must be one of the very worst ways to die – and why we’ve always associated hell with such an experience in the first place. In the final analysis, both states or places we invented, ourselves, anyway.

The Kingdom of Heaven – I think Jesus referred to this more as a state of being than any particular place. If one were living as one should and can, one is already there – or very close (cf. Luke 17: 21 or Thomas 3). I conceive of it much like becoming or being all that one is capable of being (cf. Abraham Maslow’s peak hierarchy of evolution that he labeled “self-actualization”).

The Mystical – I suspect that Smith will say more about this, but (at least for me) mysticism isn’t irrational, it’s just more intuitive, and so immanently (even eminently!) real. So, I disagree that the Modern Church considers real “only what can be measured and observed in the physical world” (p.58). There are modern mystics. I think Smith, in a way, refers to this when he implies that “expanded states of consciousness” are, in fact, “other authentic ways of knowing reality” and that any “worldview that can’t go deep into our souls or reach high into the infinite is limited” (Ibid.). Finally, relative to that orthogonal image, he says, “Once you remove the vertical dimension of spirituality, only the horizontal is left” (loc. cit.). Much of that state remains to be a great Mystery – and yet, even so, a magnificent one.

4. Discuss the limitations our author sites. [p.58]
Other than how I’ve responded under the category of “The Mystical,” above, I do not see why Smith lists “social action” under limitations here. I am just as certain now, as I’ve ever been, “that Jesus went about doing good” and so should we.

That Smith follows that up with the fact that many of us “are not as passionate about Jesus’ connection to God,” is also not a limitation, as far as I’m concerned. I no longer consider (if I ever really did) that this Jesus of Nazareth was the “only begotten Son” of God (John 3: 16). But I do believe Jesus called for us all to claim our places as “children of God” – in much the same ways that he did.

5. If the “modern level … magnificently benefited all of humankind ...,” why is the church failing? [p.59]
There may be many theological, demographic, political, racist, misogynistic…even homophobic reasons. But, to my mind, the Church’s overarching failure has been its institutional refusal to embrace diversity. Through its rigid doctrine and dogmatic teachings, the Church has historically denigrated difference and, in fact, condemned it. That alone is the root of its failing – and it will continue to fail unless and until it welcomes and embraces change.

Chapter 6 – Postmodern Church
6. What do you think of the lack of judgment and hierarchy in postmodernism? [p.63]
I think facts are important, so I disagree with Smith’s observation here that we who may claim postmodernity as a point of view, have “no facts, only interpretations.” I can fully embrace “the mystical and numinous” and still be in search of the facts – even the facts as to just why those feelings are very real to me. In the end, we may not be able to agree on whether mysticism is either “an authentic connection” or “a fantasy,” but ascribing to one or the other does not, necessarily, mean that one is demonstrating “lack of judgment.”

As far as “hierarchy” is concerned, I think Smith is right when he observes here that “Postmodernists value community, consensus, and diversity.” That is non-hierarchical. Personally, I’ve always been suspicious of hierarchies of any kind – but especially when they are governments convened and established by ecclesiastical rulers. That kind of power has all too easily become dominion – which is simply domination of the empowered few over the powerless many. So, I do agree with Smith’s observation here (in describing the postmodern church) that “The rights of minorities [should be] upheld so that a majority does not crush the minority.”

7. What developmental level do you see in John 3:16? [p.66]
It’s at least a hallmark of the Traditional Church: “It understands Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God in human form” (p.41). However, it's probably as far down the orthogonal line as the Warrior Church, because at that level “Jesus is seen as the only way to access God, and [thus] Christianity is the only true religion. Those who do not know Jesus are doomed” (p.31). The key there is the word “only.”

Chapter 7 – Reading the Bible in a Jesus-Friendly Way
8. How have you reconciled God’s commands to kill (people) with the Commandment: Thou shall not kill? [p.80]
I’m not sure that I have. In an earlier response [Part 1, Chapter 2, Question 4, above], I confessed that I might be led to extreme violence – even killing another human being – if someone I loved were being threatened with death. It sounds like a rationalization, but the actual word in Hebrew (transliterated) in this sixth commandment is “lo tirtsah,” coming from the verb “ratsah,” which means “murder.” So, you could make an argument that the command is “You shall not murder.” To never kill – for any reason – would make one a complete pacifist. To not murder, however, would mean that you must have legal justification for taking another human being’s life – as in war or capital punishment, certainly, but even (one might argue) in the case of a late stage abortion. Traditionally, of course, that phrase in Exodus 20: 13 has favored “You shall not kill.” What’s more, coincidentally enough, if one were to follow Jesus’ injunction to “love” one’s enemies, you should neither kill nor murder anybody – for any reason. So, while I condemn capital punishment as inherently vengeful and unjust, I accept what it must mean to go to war, and I accept a woman’s right to choose an abortion. In the end, then, I must admit that this remains to be a conundrum for me – and an ethical contradiction.

9. Do you agree with our author that Jesus “saw where the soldiers were coming from” when they nailed him to the cross? [p.90]
Those supposed words (noted only in Luke 23: 34 and in some manuscripts omitted, so it may never even have been said) would show that Jesus, in fact, revealed the depth of his love for all human beings – especially those who may not fully know what they were doing. As we know, the soldiers of Rome were called upon to crucify many people – more than once crosses of the crucified lined the Appian Way into Rome. It was the accepted means of executing enemies as well as criminals. Curiously enough, though, there’s a parallel to such an event as this in Acts 7: 60, when Stephen was stoned. Like Jesus before him, supposedly, Stephen prayed for his executioners, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” For both Jesus and Stephen, I think that this would require an extraordinary kind of compassion and courage. If this were true, then Smith’s observation is probably right. Did this really happen? No one knows for sure. But because it does sound a lot like the Jesus-image created by the early church, it’s entered the tradition as factual.

10. How did Jesus get to be so highly developed in a society where no one else was? [p.92]
This leads me to ask two other questions: (1) How would you define “highly developed”…? and (2) Why do you assume that “no one else was”…?

Certainly, this Jesus of Nazareth must’ve had a very charismatic personality, otherwise he wouldn’t have attracted as many followers as he did. And even though John the Baptist deferred to Jesus, he, himself, was revered by many – some even thinking he was either the Messiah or Elijah resurrected (John, himself, however, told everyone that he was neither of those.). In the, now famous, passage from Luke, John was thought to have declared, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:16).

As far as “how” Jesus ascended to the heights that he did, I think it was largely due to myth and legends created by the authors of the Gospels. They “made” Jesus larger-than-life, the only-begotten-son-of-God and miracle worker, because he had to be seen as far greater than Caesar or Rome and all of its minions put together.

Week 1
Introduction
1. In your world view development, what other analogy than new glasses would you use? [p.xx]
To begin with, I had “issues” with this author’s perspective right from the beginning when he says earlier in his introduction here, “God is the meaning of life and the great Lover of my soul and of all souls” [p.xix]. From where does he come to have arrived at that conclusion? My only answer seems to be that it’s because he’s either a traditional evangelical Christian or very close to being one – so I am immediately skeptical about what he might be saying next. I can relate, however, to his having “a lover’s quarrel with the church.” I have one myself – just not from his orthodox positions.

As far as “a new lens” is concerned, I’m not sure that I have a significantly different analogy than he does – that “lens” simply being “our worldview.” He might’ve said more about how we acquire those “glasses” – that their “prescription” is given to us by many factors: race, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic class, geographical region, education, etc. If I might resonate with some other analogy, though, it might be a sensory one – i.e., does this “sound” right, “ring” true, or is there something about it that feels “out of tune” or “dissonant.” I’m reminded of the phrase “music of the spheres” (musica universalis – literally “universal music” in Latin) which originally referred to an ancient philosophical concept in which everything within our universe was in harmony. The ancients viewed the proportions, places and movements of the sun, moon and planets as a form of music. Pythagoras and other early mathematicians viewed these “heavenly bodies” as a kind of ethereal music that was an embodiment of the truth. We here on earth, however, often just didn’t “hear” it or appreciate it as we should.

So, I do agree with Smith’s comment that “The Christian life is always communal and corporate and ultimately cosmic” and that “We were never intended to make this journey alone” [p.xxi]. He, of course, borrows from Ken Wilber when he says here that “The further we evolve, the more inclusive our vision.” I do, however, have problems with his equating “the highest stage” with the phrase “the Cosmic Christ.” With that phrase he’s already eliminated a significant portion of the world that is not Christian. But then he does admit that this book really isn’t aimed at anybody else but “Christianity and churches” [Ibid]. I would want to ask him, however, how could it also then be “integral” if it isn’t “comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing” or part of “a network of interrelated, mutually enriching perspectives” (in Wilber’s words)?

2. What do you think of the idea that physical (or other) stress on your body is a requirement for spiritual development AND that is why we have far fewer mystics today than in Jesus time? [p.xxii]
I think that it may depend upon just how you’re defining the term “stress.” If by that you mean a physiological response to a stimulus (say, like fear or pain) that then disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of our bodies, then I don’t want it. I have enough stress like that in my life; I don’t need any more. Not only that, but it seems to me that that kind of stress is in opposition to our “spiritual development” and not at all a “requirement.”

For me, spiritual development ought to come as a natural part of our evolution as human beings (to, again, borrow from Wilber’s model). Going back to my analogy above of “music,” it ought to be in “harmony” with reality. In my own spiritual journey, my deepest longing has been and is for what the Hebrews called shalom. Yes, it does mean being at “peace” with oneself, but in its fullest translation it also means “wholeness,” “health,” “well-being,” and “harmony” within the framework of all that is life-giving. So, I appreciate Smith’s reference to Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” later on in Chapter 1 [p.6], because Maslow refers to our evolutionary peak as a state-of-being that he calls “self-actualization.” For me, that also must represent the peak of my spiritual development as a human being as well – when “all is well with my soul” (cf. that hymn by Philip Paul Bliss, “It Is Well with My Soul”).

So, I think that stress (among many other dysfunctional things) is a deterrent to spiritual development, and not at all a “requirement.” In fact, I think we would have far more mystics today if we would reduce the stress in our lives and embrace the more calming and life-giving aspects of becoming who we were meant to be. If there is something that might motivate us toward moving “up” the orthogonal line in our spiritual development, I think it’s like following a feeling that all is “not right” or that is calling us to move more deeply into the “more.” This might, in fact, be much like what’s being referred to in Saying 2 of The Gospel of Thomas:

“Jesus said, ‘Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find,
they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel….”

So, rather than stress, it’s more of an impetus behind such questions like, “Why am I so unhappy?” or “Is this all there is?” It’s a deep spiritual urging that keeps us moving toward discovery. In a way, it’s the same kind of motivation that advances scientific discovery, but here we’re talking about spiritual discovery. In my own spiritual journey the centering mantra that I’ve always used comes from Psalm 46, verse 10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.” In other ways and in both meditation and contemplation, I sit still and listen deeply. So, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”…and be amazed.

Chapter 1 – A Spiritual Positioning System
3. What do you consider “The purpose of church”? How does this compare with the author’s? [p.7]
I’ve always thought that we needed to recapture the essential meaning of the word “religion” which originally meant to affirm all that “binds us together” (from the Latin religare which means “to bind”). It doesn’t, necessarily, mean that it then is defined by the institutional Church. Religion is meant to answer the question, “What is it that makes us all human beings?” What do we have in common that most of humanity considers to be most important? In the integral sense, what kinds of things do we need to do to fully realize who we are – both as individuals and as a species? That should be at least one “purpose of church.”

PART 1 - STAGES
Chapter 2 – Tribal Church
4. Do you recall bargaining with god? [p.25]
Not really. By that I mean that I never asked for divine help with Algebra tests, or to keep me safe, or to help me be a better person, or other such things, saying, “Okay, God, if you’ll get me through this, I’ll do anything you want, or I’ll be better at following your will (or way)” – nothing like that. The closest thing to such moments would be the many times that I prayed for calm or clarity before undertaking some task – from things as silly as trying to hit a curve ball when I was younger, to as serious as standing at the bedside of someone dying from an incurable illness as I have as a pastor. I never bargained. I asked for help in what to say or do. Oddly enough, I never had a clear sense of communicating with a sentient “Supreme Being” who would get me through this. It was more like calling upon whatever power I had in me, or whatever skills I’d been given, to do what I felt was necessary or what I was called upon to do in that moment. None of this was anything like the quid pro quo that one would associate with a “bargain.”

I am a retired Marine, however, and there’s a saying that “There are no atheists in foxholes.” It’s become something of an aphorism in the military among combat veterans claiming that in times of extreme stress or fear (like being shot at in the middle of a firefight), anybody would believe in – or hope for – a Higher Power to help him/her through (thus, no atheists). I suppose that is a kind of bargaining. I am deeply grateful that I never had to face such a moment. I’m not sure how I would react. One aspect of our training as Marines was to give each of us enough skill as combatants to respond quickly and on instinct – and only think about it later. I was always bothered by that. While an active Marine I never was in combat, so I was never tested in this way. I am also deeply grateful that I never fired my weapon in anger at another human being. To this day, I’m not sure that I could have. But I am not a pacifist. If my family or someone I cared about were in grave danger and the only response open to me seemed to be a violent one, I might become violent – even deadly. To bring in making bargains with God at such a moment, or to see me through anything like that, just doesn’t seem like something that I would do. I have yet to be tested in that way, but I hope that I would do the right thing – whatever it might be.

Chapter 3 – Warrior Church
5. Our author seems to imply that the Jews were responsible for Jesus death. How do you read the paragraph after “Warrior Church”? [p.28]
While there were Jewish quislings in positions of authority at that time, they were only doing the bidding of their Roman superiors – probably out of fear of losing their own lives, which was a legitimate (if tragic) fear, given the ways that Rome destroyed most of its enemies. That same group of leaders in Jerusalem also may have resented the celebrity status of this charismatic rabbi from Nazareth named Jesus and wished that he was just “out of the way.” Some might have even been offended by the rumors claiming that he was the longed-for Messiah. But it was still Rome that was ultimately responsible, and the blame, certainly, should not be given to all Jews as an entire race or to the religion of Judaism itself.

So, I do find it offensive that Smith assumes that it “was the mentality of the leaders of Jesus’ religion who plotted to have him killed” – as if that were the sole reason he was crucified. He then, almost flippantly, says that “it is reasonable to say that the warrior ‘church’ of Jesus’ day crucified him.” Who does he mean by that? Is he referring, again, to these Jewish leaders or to someone else? His rhetoric is a bit obtuse here, because he seems to equate the “warrior mentality” with those who desired “to dominate the world.” That was Rome more than it was Judea, but he really doesn’t make the distinction to help make his point. Correspondingly, though, I do think that he has a legitimate point that the “crusade mentality” of the late 11th century perpetuated this “warrior mentality” in a similar way. “Repent or die!” has been the demand by far too many religious zealots for far too long. It continues to this day.

6. Africa has been mentioned a couple of times in the Tribal and Warrior chapters. How do you think the rapid growth of the UMC in Africa will affect the developmental level of this church? Does it make sense to you that the Commission on a Way Forward recommended the One Church Plan? [p.32]
Sadly, as with the churches in South Korea, it will probably be represented by the most conservative and evangelical elements within our denomination – assuming that we don’t have a schism and some new version is given birth. You might be surprised to hear me say it, but I think that could be a good thing. As with many antediluvian models of the Church throughout history, I think that some traditions must be given a “”good death in order that something better might “be given birth.”

It does not make sense to me that the Commission recommends the “One Church Plan.” We still won’t be “one” church. If I had a vote, I would’ve voted for the “Simple Plan” as outlined by the Queer Clergy Caucus, because all of the other plans prejudicially discriminate against some group of people – usually the LGBTQIA+ (i.e., Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) Christians and their allies. It was just that, a simple plan (“was” because it’s already been rejected), because it simply sought to remove any language from The Book of Discipline that an entire group of United Methodists have found offensive. But then, as far back as 1988, I remember a group of us liberal clergy pushing to have our delegation put forth the proposition at General Conference simply saying that, in many ways – both doctrinally and theologically – we were “not of one mind.” The proposal failed. The Conference majority claimed that we must agree on everything. It was a stunning non sequitur to me and has never made sense. From then on I’ve referred to our denomination as an institutional oxymoron: we’re really neither united nor Methodist.

Chapter 4 – Traditional Church
7. How well do you feel you understand the level differences in the six areas our author is explaining? Comments? [p.41]
In spite of what our author says about the inherent importance of each of these levels, his conclusion seems to me to be clear: it’s better to be at level #6, the “integral church,” than to be stuck at level #1, the “tribal church.” If we truly are evolving in our understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus, then our aspirations ought to be leading us “up” the spiral toward a more integral understanding of what it means to be fully human – or more like Jesus. In Wilber’s words, we should become more “comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing,” and in that way discover “ways to draw together…separate paradigms into a network of interrelated, mutually enriching perspectives” [p.xxi]. So, yes, I think I get Smith’s point. However, I suspect that his vision of the “Cosmic Christ” is probably very different from my viewpoint of the historical Jesus.

8. How much traditional church do you see at 5th and Randolph (or wherever you attend)? [p.48]
I don’t feel as if I’ve experienced, yet, enough of what’s currently going on at the Napa church to be able to reply to this question. Historically, however, while our church has been distinctly progressive in its political positions (e.g., as a Reconciling Congregation, in its care for the homeless, et al.), it’s been pretty traditional in its expressions about God and the nature and work of Jesus (e.g., as divine savior). While Napa 1st UMC doesn’t recite the Apostles Creed on Sunday morning, what I heard recited by most people around me during The Lord’s Prayer on January 6th were the traditional words (from “Our Father who art in Heaven…” on). That the “three Magi” were portrayed by women that Epiphany Sunday, however, was definitely non-traditional.

1 – In your world view development, what other analogy than new glasses would you use? xx
2 – What do you think of the idea that physical (or other) stress on your body is a requirement for spiritual development AND that is why we have far fewer mystics today than in Jesus time? xxii
3 – What do you consider “The purpose of church”? How does this compare with the author’s? 7
X – There are many words to indicate positions or movement along a line of development. Our author is quite inconsistent, using the same words for different lines when he could be more understandable by using the same word for the same line each time.
4 – Do you recall bargaining with god? 25
5 – Our author seems to imply that the Jews were responsible for Jesus death. How do you read the paragraph after “Warrior Church”? 28
6 – Africa has been mentioned a couple of times in the Tribal and Warrior chapters. How do you thin the rapid growth of the UMC in Africa will affect the developmental level of this church? Does it make sense to you that the Commission on a Way Forward recommended the One Church Plan? 32
7 – How well do you feel you understand the level differences in the six areas our our author is explaining? Comments? 41
8 – How much traditional church do you see at 5th and Randolph (or wherever you attend)? 48