Slamming Doors: A Reflection on a Reflection by Richard Rohr

doorknobI’m not a religious person. I do religious activities like going to church, praying, reading my Bible, taking the Eucharist. But I shy away from labeling myself as religious.

The problem with identifying myself as “religious” is that it sets my identity in my own idea of what spirituality is and puts me into a box, further defined by which religion I choose, then by which sect of that religion I claim. This identity assured, I can go on living my life secure in the comfort I have from knowing “it is well with my soul.”

The problem with this is that I still slam doors. Otherwise stated, I am still angry, noisy, overtaken by my emotion–which is really a manifestation of my ego, which no amount of religionising can overcome. My normative functioning is driven by my ego.

This, I believe lies within the same category as that which Jesus addressed when he told his disciples that, if they had anything against their brother, to go and reconcile with him before coming to offer their gift on the altar. I cannot expect to connect with the God who says “Be still and know” when all around me is the disturbance of my own false-self, my ego.

Even in my own worship of God, my ego seems to delight in its glorious spiritual identity.

Richard Rohr makes this point (quoting Thomas Merton quoting Thich Nhat Hanh):

We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors. Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966

The piercing truth of this statement struck me as a perfect way to communicate the endless disguises and devices of the false self. There is no more clever way for the false self to hide than behind the mask of spirituality. The human ego will always try to name, categorize, fix, control, and insure all its experiences. For the ego everything is a commodity. It lives inside of self-manufactured boundaries instead of inside the boundaries of the God-self. It lives out of its own self image instead of mirroring the image of God. It is that superior self-image which must die.

The ego is constantly searching for any solid and superior identity. A spiritual self-image gives us status, stability, and security. There is no better way to remain unconscious than to baptize and bless the forms of religion, even prayer itself. As long as I am going to church, it is really meaningless whether I close the door quietly or slam the door. A spiritual master would say, “first stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality.” Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors, so how can we expect the laity to be any better?

In the name of seeking God, the ego pads and protects itself from self-discovery, which is an almost perfect cover for its inherent narcissism. I know this because I have done it all myself.

Adapted from Contemplation in Action, pp. 79-80

So, taking the lead from St Paul, “I die daily” to my own religion, to my own sense of spirituality, to my own prideful door-slamming and noise, to my false self. And I rest in the “new self”–or as Rohr calls it, “the God-self”–as God renews me, recreates me in God’s own image and imparts to me a new identity.

The Modified Christian

Vine-Branches“I am the vine; you are the branches.” – John 15:5

I’m frustrated with the many labels we attach to Christianity in order to modify its meaning. I know why we do it, of course. I do it myself. I want to explain to someone that I am “this kind” of Christian and not “that kind” of Christian.

So one might refer to “Progressive Christianity,” or “Red Letter Christians,” or “Emergent,” or “Liberal Protestant,” or “Evangelical and Liberal,” or “Generously Orthodox.”

And then there are the other terms, that sometimes get thrown like rocks.  “Bible Believing,” “Jesus Following,” “Christ Centered,” “Seeker Sensitive,” all of which seem to imply that there are other misbehaving churches that are not.

At this point, I want to throw all the modifying words out. They just don’t do our faith justice. Any of our faiths.

First, many of the terms are based in the broken vocabulary of the right and the left. Do we really want to preserve the old paradigms of “liberal” and “conservative?” They haven’t served us well in politics. Why would we think they would be anything but divisive in the church?

Next, many of the terms are about trying to be new or edgy. Every generation of the church has its reformers and they have all suffered from a certain terminal uniqueness that they are the new big and best thing to rock the church. But if they ever get a toe hold, those names will seem silly. How long can we be emerging, progressing and seeking before we just admit that we’re a church?

These days, I am increasingly frustrated with the modifying labels and the phony boxes those adjectives put Christians into. If anything is going to modify the definition “Christian,” it is not going to be that one perfect adjective. It will be the people. Weirdly diverse, unpredictable, saved and broken, how we treat each other will determine if the word Christian can have room for us all.

For all the odd wings and vocal varieties of church in the world, even the ones that drive us crazy . . . we pray for them all. And in doing so, we pray for ourselves. Amen.

– Reflection by Lillian Daniel from StillSpeaking