Minimalist Spirituality

I’m a big fan of minimalism.

Those of you who follow me on social media probably know this. I like a lot of posts by folks like Joshua Becker, Be More With Less and The Minimalists and follow people like Marie Kondo, Greg McKeown and Leo Babauta. Each one of these has a unique take on what constitutes a minimalist lifestyle, achieving balance and experiencing contentment in life.

There is one commonality in all interpretations of minimalism and that is that we humans thrive best when we only hold on to that which brings meaning and sparks joy.

I’ve often thought that minimalism would also serve us well in our spirituality. As I reflect on past expressions of my faith, theology, and spiritual practice, it is clear to me that many things that once served a purpose for me no longer meet that need. There are principles I once held dear which, over time, have become, for me, spiritual clutter–clouding my vision, distracting me from what is important, or just taking up space in my soul that would be better given to meaningful pursuits or joyful contemplation.

Whatever we choose and however we practice our faith, juxtaposing it against a minimalist mentality has helped me personally to clarify what is essential to my spiritual wellbeing and what is simply excess baggage that I would do well to discard.

CatPigeonAnd here’s where I may be setting the cat amongst the pigeons.

Over the past twenty-or-so years I have found myself gradually re-forming many of my previously-firmly-held beliefs about God. And that, in many circles, may now classify me as somewhat of a outsider. I believe still in the unconditional nature of God’s love, but I have now defined this as truly unconditional.

PreviouslyI would have stated with not a small amount of cognitive dissonance that God’s love was unconditional as long as I am not gay, I am not fornicating, I attend the right church, listen to the right music, read the right Bible, say the right words and ‘accept Jesus as my personal Saviour’ (not a Biblical concept by the way), or as long as I keep the hundred-or-so rules that ensure God doesn’t reject me. I would even twist my understanding of “unconditional” to say that I put my own conditions on God’s love by sinning (a classic ‘blame the victim’ stance that is characteristic of a fundamentalist mindset).

To me, having gone through the valley of doubt and deconstruction, discovering a God whose love is not only beyond our comprehension but is as the very core of the universe was mind-blowingly liberating. As my eyes became adjusted to these new lenses, I began to see the spiritual clutter that lined the walls of my spiritual home:

  • The feeling of not being good enough
  • The rule book of other’s expectations
  • The tally board that kept score of all my wrongs
  • The tally board that kept score of everyone else’s wrongs
  • The blinkers that once kept me from looking at those in the margins
  • The reasonable arguments that convinced the faithful ones that their understanding is the one, definitive, correct interpretation of the Holy Bible
  • The smug feeling that I was one of the faithful ones
  • The judgemental spectacles through which I viewed all those who did not fit into my understanding of the Divine

Like minimalism, my spiritual minimalist journey has brought my focus into those few truths that truly bring meaning and spark joy in me:

  • God = Love and all love is from God
  • Sin is our choice to live outside of the love of God and in no way affects God’s unconditional and eternal love for us
  • There is no need for us to prove anything to God.
  • God is in the process of reconciling all creation to God’s-self and sometimes–often–chooses to use us in this process
  • Our humanity is a gift, not a curse
  • Our togetherness is God’s design and needs to be nurtured
  • Our differences are chances to show love and develop our understanding

I still believe many of the truths which I was raised to value such as the love, generosity and grace of God, the incarnation of God revealed in Jesus who died and was raised to life by the power of God, the importance of Scriptures in shaping my faith, the creation of this amazing universe by God–although I would nuance these understandings differently than perhaps you would. No, I’m not turning into a Buddhist monk or a Zen master. I am not choosing to live as a hermit or monastic. I am not even working on my new age guru skills.

I am also not devaluing those truths in your spiritual house that bring to you meaning and spark joy in your heart. As we are all different, so is the way that God speaks and relates to each one of us. What I may view as ‘clutter’ may be your most valuable asset. For some, a systematic theology might indeed spark joy, or having a certainty that your Scriptures are infallible and factual may bring meaning. Maybe there’s other forms of spiritual clutter that you need to cast out of your home. Rules that were good to form healthy habits but no longer serve any purpose. Ideas that once brought joy but now provoke feelings of uneasiness or regret.

In the end, the object of living a life of love is to recognise this and, in the midst of these differences, still choose love, because, above faith and hope, it is still the greatest abiding presence.

A New Story

Cory-and-the-Seventh-Story-Cover-LargeBrian McLaren has written a new book. There’s nothing new about that. He’s been churning out around one a year for a few decades now. I personally have been blessed, challenged and changed by reading his writings. By far, the book that has had the greatest impact on my life of faith has been A New Kind of Christian which, for me at the time, echoed so many I-dare-not-speak thoughts and questions about what had become to me a stale, dead, rote-memory, agenda-driven Christianity.

And that story is told in a new, embraceable way in this brightly-illustrated children’s book by Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, Cory & the Seventh Story.

If you are familiar with Brian’s work, the seventh story will definitely ring a bell. In this child-friendly version, Cory the raccoon and his friend Owl (who, unfortunately, remains nameless) live through the evolution of human civilisation as symbols of ourselves in their animal village. As the story unfolds, the creatures play out the stories, centring around the possession of a ‘shiny object,’ that we all, at some point, have lived:

Domination: Us ruling over Them
Revolution: Us overthrowing Them
Isolation: Us apart from Them
Purification: Us marginalising or excluding Them
Victimisation: Us defeated by Them
Accumulation: Us with more than Them
Reconciliation: Us for Them

Cleverly weaving in very relatable interactions between Cory and the main players in these stories, McLaren and Higgins reveal the great flaws in history’s six stories which are only overcome in the telling of a seventh story by a poet-horse named Swift.

In this new story, a bigger table is built and all the animals are welcomed to a great feast. They are to come as they are and leave their ‘shiny objects’ at home and simply enjoy what has been prepared for them. Those who up until now had been considered ‘the least’ are given places of honour at the table and there is plenty of food for everyone–nobody is left out.

As they enjoy the celebration, Swifthorse tells the new story:

“There is no big or small, no short or tall,
No best or worst, no blessed or cursed,
No dirty or clean, no cause to be mean,
No rich or poor, no reason for war,
We have more than enough in the story of love.
Each is for all of us, and all are for each of us.
This is the wisdom this new story teaches us.”

Of course, there are a few who snarl and spit at this idea–these are the dominating creatures of the previous stories: Badger, Fox, Weasel and Skunk–who drive out Swift and, possibly (this part is left unanswered) kill her.

Drive the poet away, but this story will stay.
Long after I’m gone, the story lives on.

In the concluding pages, the creatures, who themselves are treated as outcasts by the antagonists, gather around a fire and retell Swift’s story and promise to live in love and service for the betterment of their world.

For those of us who have grown up in Christianity, the parallels are quite obvious. However, seeing ourselves as tellers of the six stories at various times in our journey is something that, even as an adult, is confronting. In our own interaction with ‘shiny objects’ and the desire for power over others, we have failed in many ways to hear the story of love as it is told–and demonstrated to us–by and in the life of Jesus.

This short, readable parable may not only grow our children’s awareness of the stories by which we live our lives, but may also help us to see how much we need to grow as their parents and role models to not only tell but also show them the reconciling love and acceptance of Jesus.

Cory & the Seventh Story was released on 12 December and, at the time of writing, is only available directly from the website https://www.theseventhstory.com/kids/

 

. . . But we were too busy being Christians

I sat down to watch the (now classic) movie Back to the Future with my mate David. Despite there being 9 years difference in our ages, we both loved the same music and enjoyed the same TV shows (even though he did have an unshared weird fascination with the animated Dragon Ball series). We had dropped by the local Blockbuster and picked up the aforementioned movie on VHS tape and, for 116 minutes precisely, lived life through the eyes of one Marty McFly.

Dave’s mum was in and out of the family room, and at one point sat down at the desk behind us and, like us, got caught up in McFly’s adventures (or maybe she was just keeping tabs on how I was corrupting her son?). I remember turning to her at one point in the movie where Marty’s future mum and dad were slow dancing at the ‘Under the Sea Ball’ and I made an off-handed remark that she must have enjoyed her Senior Prom (seeing as she was, like the McFly elders, coming of age in the rock-n-roll era.)

Her response floored me with its almost-venomous indignation: “We didn’t do things like THAT. We were Christians!”

I tell that story to tell this one:

I enjoyed a long lunch recently with some friends and, as we sat around the table, talk shifted to our shared past in the Church. None of us at that table attend church with anywhere near the regularity we once did, having found so many new and more practical expressions of our faith. Musing on how many good deeds we could have done and how much life we could have shared with others outside our own churches back then, one of the group summed it all up in a truism that echoed in my head for days to come: ‘We were too busy being Christians.’

Yes. We were.*

The world around us was crashing and people were finding themselves jobless, without a home. Interest rates were at an all-time high and unemployment was off the charts. The AIDS epidemic was at its highest. There was famine in places we never heard of. Evil was rampant. In short, the world was going to hell in a hand-basket. But we were too busy meeting in our Church buildings, praising God, praying, and eating shared ‘fellowship’ lunches; meeting to plan our praising, praying and eating times. We were spending our time handing out gospel tracts, going door-to-door in an Evangelism Explosion™, preaching on the street corners, writing letters to politicians to express our anger over any number of anti-morality laws, and pasting up posters advertising the latest evangelistic rally or youth event.

churchfamilyThe next-door neighbour lived with his girlfriend and we all knew that was against God’s law. The folks behind us played KISS (and we all knew what that meant!) The across-the-street family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just down the road, Mrs H was an anxious wreck and spent most of her days in the local psychiatric facility. Around the corner was another family whose son was born with a rare genetic condition and spent most of his life so far recovering from numerous surgeries and extended hospital stays. The man just behind them beat his wife and, she ended up on medication that turned her into a shadow of what she should have been.

But we had to be at church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and at youth group Friday night. Church visitation was on Monday night. We said we cared. We prayed for these poor folks who weren’t one of us. . . . but, as we well know, thoughts and prayers really are a poor substitute for action. (As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wisely notes: We are the answer to our prayers.)

How dare the people on our street hold drunken parties New Year’s Eve and interrupt our ‘Watchnight’ services! The homeless man who slept rough near the church would never have dreamed of asking us for help because, in our minds, he had no excuse for not getting a job or at least taking a shower once in a while. And any money we gave him, he would spend on drink anyway…

And so we kept ourselves busy.

Church Sunday morning. Fellowship Lunch Sunday afternoon. Church Sunday night. Visitation Monday night. Kid’s Club Tuesday afternoon. Bible Study Wednesday night. Church Board Meeting/Worship practice Thursday night. Youth Group Friday night. Saturday (no sports) usually was spent around the house or with some Church folks doing some Safe-for-Christians™ stuff.

The Church always had a roster, a programme, a working bee, a ‘ministry’ that needed volunteers, and we were urged to ‘give our time to God’ to be used for “His glory’. And we all knew the only way God would accept our time-sacrifice, like our money-sacrifice, was if we gave it to the Church.

And when we did have free time, we were encouraged to spend it reading our Bible, praying or listening to Godly Music®. And if we still had time, we could go around the neighbourhood leaving gospel tracts in people’s front doors or letterboxes or sing Christian songs at the mall. (I think the goal was to keep us so busy that we wouldn’t even have time to contemplate drinking, smoking, going to the movies, cruising around town or–God forbid!–sex. After all, we knew well the unwritten Bible verse: ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’)

Yes, we could have mowed the neighbours’ lawn. We could have made Mrs H a nice cake and gone down to her house for a cuppa. We could babysit a little boy so his parents could be with his brother in hospital. We could have just spent time listening to our friend whose life story read more like a tragic, abuse-ridden soap opera.

We could have done ever so much to show that following Jesus meant a great deal to us, so much that we would love our neighbours to the moon and back, even if they never joined our Church.

We could have.

But we were too busy being Christians.

___________________

* Like many posts I write, I have used the literary technique known as ‘Gleaning from many sources [books, talks and personally-related stories, as well as from my personal experience] and condensing it into one short post to make a point.’ While some of these things actually happened to me at some point in my life, some have been related to me by friends and acquaintances along the way. Sadly, I also inflicted many of these expectations on others, for which and to whom I offer my heartfelt and honest apology. I was too busy being a Christian.

Counting

1 … 2 … 3 …

Counting.

It could be a game of hide-and-seek. Perhaps it’s a two-year-old learning her numbers. Maybe we’re dealing cards for a quick family round of Uno.

4 … 5 … 6…

Did you learn to count with giant, colourful flash cards? Picture books? By counting the toys on Playschool? Or maybe Count von Count on Sesame Street was your go-to Educator? (1 … ha ha ha … 2 … ha ha ha …)

It seems that we all, from a very early age, began to count things. Toys, books, pencils, cards, candy, peas (maybe if we told mum how many there were, she would have pity on us and not make us eat them!)

counter

And our obsession with quantifying things continued through our teenage years: albums (or CDs), shoes, tops, days until (insert favourite band here) showed up in our city.

19 … 18 … 17 … 16 …

This talent wasn’t lost in the transfer across to our spiritual life. Many churches still seek to quantify ‘spiritual’ activities, assuming the more we do the better people of faith we will be. It could be Bible verses memorised, Rosaries repeated each day, hours spent in prayer or pages in a journal. Unspoken spiritual hierarchies formed based on the things we think we can count.

And no wonder, because it seemed as we were growing up that ‘bums on seats,’ souls ‘saved,’ or baptisms were the measure of the success of a church and religious organisations were ready to do whatever it took to get the numbers up.

146 … 147 … 148 …

It appears that we humans are addicted to measuring and to formulae that we believe will ‘guarantee success.’ We lie awake at night wondering if we have done enough, worrying that we may not reach the nebulous goal of expectations placed on us by our culture, our church, our family, our peers. Our life is overtaken by what we learn in basic mathematics: quantifying every aspect, measuring our goodness, striving to increase our net worth . . . or at least the size and value of our wardrobe.

Surrounded by such a societal norm, Jesus asked the rhetorical question: ‘Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’ (Matthew 6:27 NIV)

Well, can we?

The obvious answer is ‘No.’ But it’s not even the thought of counting our days (or hours–or cubits as the old version reads). In the context, the Rabbi is addressing the ancient art of worrying, fretting, concerning ourselves with the stuff of life that we can’t–or shouldn’t–count.

Look at the grass.

Look at the birds.

Look at the wildflowers.

Glory surrounds you. And this glorious beauty hasn’t gotten where it is by measuring itself against another, by hoarding its possessions, or striving for a greater quantity of anything.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ 

We do not need to be wrapped up in measuring, accumulating, primping, counting our possessions and Instagramming our latest look. Rather, we need to rest,  enjoy what we have and be content with who we are. I have value. I am worthy. I am beloved of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Peter: A Good Friday Story

Enlight1I imagine Simon Peter as a rough fisherman-type man. He’s probably salty-mouthed, says-whatever-he-thinks, does-anything-for-you type of guy. In my mind’s eye, I see him as what we in Australia would call a “bogan.” (Chances are, if he lived in South Australia, he’d be a Port Adelaide footy fan, listen to bands like AC/DC and Chisel, and drink cartons upon cartons of West End.)

So imagine with me the moments after Jesus’ death and his friends are preparing his body for burial. They’ve been asked to say a few words before he’s put into the tomb.

This is Peter’s story.

Hi. I’m Simon, son of Jonas. You might know me better as Peter ‘cuz that’s the name Jesus gave me. Y’know, when he said that “Who do you say that I am?’ line? I just can’t get what he was after, I mean He was the promised Messiah, right? So that’s what I said and he answered by giving me this name. He said,”You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” What? Seriously?I’m a fisherman. I can’t make sense of that. But Jesus was like that. He told it like it is.

I remember some of his sermons. I reckon I stayed awake through most of them…. It’s kinda hard when you fish all night and then spend the day in the hills with thousands of people around you. But what I did catch was that Jesus was all about people and people knowing and helping other people. I mean, like really serious about helping other people in the way that he helped people. He didn͛t seem to get tired of teaching us, even when we didn’t listen.

He also loved kids and I guess that’s why he like threatened those who abused them with stuff like”It would be better if you had heavy weights tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to offend one of these little oness.” He loved the kids.

There were some awesome days. Like when me and James and John and Jesus climbed Mt Tabor— amazing view from there! And we were like looking around to see if we spot our town. The view is really amazing! Anyhoo, Jesus just like *transforms* into some incredible angel-like being—like an alien or something from another planet. We were all standing around like gob-smacked. Couldn’t believe it. And weirder still two other alien-like people stood next to him and I swear they were the prophets Moses and Elijah. We like just stood there and didn’t know what to do. Best I could come up with is”Hey Jesus, why don’t we set up three tents for you and them two.” I’m glad he ignored that comment ‘cuz it was a little stupid, looking back now.

Jesus sure knew how to confuse a bloke. He told us that we were gonna rule with him in his kingdom, that we would sit on 12 thrones. Then he said that the greatest of us is a servant, and we had to become like a little child to enter the kingdom. He chose us and called us to follow him knowing that one of us would turn him over to the Romans to be killed. … Can’t quite figure that one out.

Seriously, but. Jesus was a top bloke. He was a good mate who always looked after you. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He didn͛t have a bad bone in his body. When we went to parties—and we went to a lot of parties– he was there to turn the water into wine. Whoa! How good was that?! We loved it when we would go into a town and crowds would flock around us like seagulls around kids with chips.

But things got nasty. The temple crowd wouldn’t have a bar of Jesus and wanted to knock him off. We could see it a mile away. But Jesus … I wish I had done things differently now. I tried to warn him about coming to Jerusalem, but he like wouldn͛t listen. He got quite stroppy at me and said something like”Get behind me Satann.” (Man. That hurt!)

I … I just wish I could have been stronger. This whole business came crashing down around us real sudden. We ate Passover dinner with Jesus and, next thing, Judas leaves. We left the house and walked a few k’s down the road to this garden and it was late and we were a bit tired and Jesus told us to like wait and went off by himself to pray. He knew something was going down but we just fell asleep waiting. Then the Roman soldiers came with the priests, Judas kissed Jesus and they arrested him … and we were all so scared, and we ran away.

Should’ve stayed. Should have stayed and gone to the trial at least. Mind you, I did go back to the Chief Priest͛s house later that night to see what was happening, but that didn͛t turn out so well.

If only I … but it’s too late for that now. He’s gone. There’s nothing we can do. That’s how it ends.

I remember that night when me and James and John were fishing and a storm came up. We thought our boat would like go under and we would all die. Then Jesus, Jesus comes walking on top of the water towards us! I thought it was a ghost. We were all like terrified. I thought it looked like Jesus. He sounded like Jesus. I said,”If it is you, Lord, ask me to come to you”—and he said “Come.” And I stepped out of the boat and walked on top of the water towards him. I was walking on the water!! But … but when I suddenly saw what I was doing, Ithought,”No way. This isn͛t possible.” And I  started to sink into the water. Jesus saved me. He pulled me up and we got into the boat. He shouted something like”Be still” into the wind and the sea became like glass and the clouds vanished.

If I had the chance to do it all again, I would. I never would have imagined that following Jesus would take me on such an adventure. We had some great times together, the thirteen of us. Yeah, there were some bad times as well, some disappointments, some things I wish we could do over. I wish I would have trusted Jesus more and I wish I would have stood up for him . . . Maybe, maybe things wouldn͛t have turned out this way.

We’ll miss you, mate. Thanks for believing in me even at those times when I didn’t believe in you.

Just in Case

justincaseI’m not a hoarder . . . any more.

There was a time when I would wander through Kmart or Target and find something that attracted my attention. I didn’t need it, but I bought it anyhow. Just in case.

I had cupboards full of things and felt quite satisfied with myself that I had anything anyone could need for any given situation. I kept everything, just in case.

I had clothes I no longer fit into. I was hoping one day I would. They cluttered up my wardrobe because I may lose weight one day. Just in case.

I was a sucker for sales staff. I bought insurance policies for this that and the other because one never knew what might happen. I got an expensive monitored security system installed. I had to be prepared for every possible disaster. Just in case.

Filing cabinets full of ancient documents.

Boxes in the shed full of books, crockery, knick-knacks.

That huge drawer filled with every cable you could or may (or may not) ever need.

Every piece of music I ever played, sang, and lots that I filed away . . . just in case.

Just in case weighed me down.

There came a point in my life when I was reviewing my insurance needs and I realised I was paying money to protect myself against the loss of stuff I didn’t need, that was cluttering my life. I was buying a policy just in case I lost a lot of junk that I had accumulated in my house just in case.

I know the Boy Scout motto is ‘Be prepared.’ But prepared is a subjective word. There is no way I can be prepared for everything that happens in my life. Just trying to do this causes so much worry, fear, anxiety and nervousness.

In a rather famous sermon, a wise preacher once asked his congregation:

Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

His advice has the power to change not only the way we look at stuff, but our attitude towards life itself.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Read full text here.)

Fear of loss breeds anxiety. Fear of things not being just the way you would like brings worry. The root cause of all this is a lack of trust (faith) in a loving God / Presence / Universe / Force that looks on Creation with compassion.

So what happens if our house burns down? We are still loved. In the words of another group of wise preachers: “All you need is love . . . love is all you need.”

What happens if thieves break in and take our treasured possessions? We still have our lives, our memories, our family and friends.

To store up stuff just in case is to prepare for the worst. It is quite a negative approach to life. Rather, living in a simple acceptance of what is, and trust that we will always be cared for by our all-loving God is enough to see us through anything we face in life.

I think it’s time for another cleanout.

Where we go Wrong (Part 2)

in my last post I wrote about kind atheists and mean Christians and how we are wrong in assuming all those who do not embrace our particular form of faith are evil and have an untoward agenda.

I have been reading a few incredible books recently that have been raising all sorts of questions, and I’m grateful to the men and women who are able to frame these in such a thought-provoking manner.

Rachel Held-Evans wrote a particularly poignant book that tells numerous stories of her formative years growing up in Evangelicalism. It’s simply called Faith Unraveled: Gow a Girl Who Knew all the Answers Learned to ask the Questions. Through these stories Rachel shares her struggle with many of the idiosyncrecies often associated with American Evangelicals such as the self-focused “I’m blessed” attitude, for example: thanking God for good weather for your wedding when a hurricane is at that moment wiping out entire towns and leaving people dead, injured, or homeless. Among other things she addresses the idea of living “biblically,” the position of LGBTQ folk in the church, women in ministry and Biblical inerrancy. All together, Held-Evans has painted a stark and realistic view of modern Christianity whilst showing how, within the very institutions that brought this pain, people are rising up and bringing healing and hope, reforming and changing the organisations that tried to destroy them.

Another book I would highly recommend is the new Harper Lee (To Kill a Mickingbird) novel Go Set a Watchman. It took a while for this book to engage me. It wasn’t really until around the eighth chapter that I began to see beyond the words and into the intent of the author. What first appeared to be a rather mediocre narrative about life in the early twentieth century South took on the air of prophetic voice of one caught in the middle of the 1960’s Desegregation Movement, particularly feeling the pull between the paradigm embraced by her father (Atticus Finch) and that of her own deep-rooted convictions. Like Faith Unraveled, Watchman recognises the tension between not only generations but also between worldviews. Rather than resolving that tension, both authors deconstruct the conflict and then reconstruct it in such a way that brings a sense of understanding and peace into the relationships (yet not fully resolving the underlying tension).

How to hold a sense of peace in relationships that appear to be on the two ends of the spectrum has always been of particular difficulty to me. Often I have found the maxim of loving my neighbour truly troublesome at times, especially when my neighbour is actively and vocally propagating what I consider damaging. Yet, in both of these books, the possibility of living at peace with all is something that is not only seen as desirable but genuinely possible.

I have one more book to add to this mix, and it is The Gospel of Inclusion by Carlton Pearson. I will look into the message of this book in a later post, but will touch on the main story here.

Carlton Pearson was an Associate of Oral Roberts, an Evangelist and a megachurch Pastor of a Pentecostal church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That is, until he started seeing hell in a different light than his colleagues. Recounting his experiences in Rob Bell’s Robcast podcast, Bishop Pearson shares a turning point in his life–how he had a long conversation with the ageing Billy Graham shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, a discussion in which the famous Evangelist questioned the validity of his own 60-year ministry with remorse that he hadn’t left the world a better place, despite the millions “saved” in his numerous campaigns. This led Pearson to ask why this was so and, after much thought, study and prayer, to the conclusion that the gospel as it is traditionally understood (as a guilt- and fear-based message) is not at all how Jesus preached it. His argument through this book is that we must reclaim the good news that God has already redeemed all humanity and our Evangelistic message is truly good news to all: you are delivered, you are free! Live in the light and love of God.

For this. The Council of African-Anerican Bishops excommunicated Pearson, labelling him a heretic. He lost his church, his position on the board of ORU and many, many friends. Yet, in spite of all this, he believes that there is hope for the Church and he is at peace with her. Sure, the Church needs to change. One of his favourite statements is that “[The Church] is not growing; it is getting fat,” meaning that we are comfortable with who we are and what we believe. We have settled for ease in our places of worship rather than the discomfort that comes in asking the tough questions and facing the realities that our world is not a better place despite the centuries of spreading the “good news” to every nation. 

In the end, Pearson states that we are getting it wrong when we fail to question our understanding of the “good news” and settling for what is dictated to us by tradition, politics, church, or family. We are getting fat, not growing. We are caught in our parents’ worldview, our religious dogma, the doctrines of our Church, having never questioned their monopoly of the Divine. It is only when we see our faith unraveled that we can see order amidst the mess and a new and genuine faith arising from the ashes. Nothing is lost. Even uncertainty is a gift. There is hope. All is and will be redeemed.

Some may call this heresy. I call it evolution: an evolving faith that changes, grows and expands as new light is received. Perhaps it’s time we as a Church start asking the right questions. Perhaps it is time to be courageous and dare to be unsettled. Perhaps it is time to reclaim the “good news” as good news and take the steps necessary to leave this world a better place.