Tag Archives: evolution

When Your Theology Changes

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Carl Jung wrote that a Circle is an archetype for wholeness or God. We are always drawn toward it, June Singer said, yet “to fly straight into it would be like a moth darting into a flame.”

I guess, like Moses, we don’t look directly at the Holy. We circle around. We admire its posterior, its profile, its moving shadow.

At seminary I heard all theology is autobiography. True, I think. If we’re paying attention, all our life experiences are naturally integrated into a Story of what’s holding them together. We come up with integral symbols, signs and words that help us make sense of it all: theology. God-talk. The witness of Scripture is that. We’re designed to do that, too.

We are God-seeking, tower-circling, hungry-by-design, circumnavigating-Life-by-instinct creatures.

You’re a falcon circling.
When Rilke describes circling around the Tower, it’s what all of us are always doing.

Whatever language and symbols you have going right now for the Holy One, it hasn’t always been this way. Your autobiography has grown with your years on the planet, and your theology has developed with you. Each time you’ve crystalized a personal belief, it’s been merely a stepping stone of long-haul enlightenment.

In other words, your theology has evolved.

You’re a storm circling.
Like a scientist in the lab, when something interesting happens, our definitions are disrupted and our Story of God grows beyond its previous borders. Bill Moyers’ Genesis: A Living Conversation project suggested the narrative of the Older Testament is really the Story of God evolving in the human experience. Your story is a kind of scripture, too. Everyone’s is.

We know change happens, yet when seasons of transformation dawn, we pretend to be surprised. As if life is supposed to be stagnant and smooth, and moments of transition are really messing it all up. Humans are funny.

Pete Seeger said we can’t know the whole Truth. We can only circle round the gorse-berry bush hearing the rabbit, pointing and saying, “It’s in there somewhere.” Observe a sculpture with three trusted friends at the compass points, and you have access to four different views, all true, all different. The community, friends, church, sanga, is a vital thing in your God-Story evolving.

Paul Tillich said the word “God” is so old and tired, it should be banished from our vocabulary for about a thousand years. Then that word might begin to mean something again. We outgrow language sometimes.

When you come to a place where old words don’t work anymore, tell someone. Because that’s the Christ story unfolding: death and resurrection, and old wineskins breaking. When a season of questioning moves through, share that story of Christ emerging. Don’t circle alone, at least not for long. Your story– everyone’s story– is something we need to hear. I’ve been part of some communities over the years where seasons of deep questioning are avoided as a failure of faith. I’ve been part of others that treat these seasons as holy moments where faith is growing. I hope you have a sense of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses where your Story of God is welcomed, honored and treated as revelation. After all, didn’t he say something about being born again? And again?

You’re a song circling.
Who are you? After a thousand years, maybe we can say with Rilke, “I still don’t know.” Maybe the point of a creative, juicy life is to lose track of ourselves and know ourselves to be In Holy Process. We think we know what the point is; we think it’s all about the tower. But what about the circumnavigated path you’ve worn? Your favorite beverage on the journey? The weather lo these many years of orbiting? The company and the conversations? These are all parts of a spiritual life. The experiences of a true Christ life cannot always be neatly filed.

To conclude, let’s stretch the metaphor with Rilke:

You are circling ’round the One Holy Tower– a falcon, a storm, a song.

You’re a lover dancing round your Beloved.

You’re a storyteller wondering about the twist at the end,
a hawk patrolling her valley,
a youngster on the playground with one end of the  jumprope, whirling, whirling with your friend.

You’re an explorer of God downloading continuously to a universal core.

When your theology is changing, you are in the midst of a Holy Endeavor.

Tired of Church

Recently, a 4th-year seminarian named S. Vance Goodman wrote an open letter to her denomination, sharing her story of clear calling and training for ordained ministry.

She describes being tired.

Having been a youth director with a heart for people, she served as a missionary in Bolivia for two years. Throughout her seminary career, she has been affirmed as an excellent preacher and was elected leader of the student association. Committed to a career path of service within her beloved UMC, she has been affirmed enthusiastically by pretty much everyone who has seen her in action.

But– and you knew this was coming- she is tired now. There is presently a line or two in the Book of Discipline she has a problem with. Or more pointedly, has a problem with her. She resigned from the candidacy process when she realized her integrity would not allow her to continue on the ordination track.

“I am denied to utilize my sacred worth in leadership. I am gay, and that one fact keeps me from the ministry to which I feel led.”

Read S. Vance Goodman’s entire brilliant letter.

“Although I was once a certified candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church, I am graduating from theology school as a highly educated, theologically minded lay person who feels pushed to the margin.”

I am grateful for S. Vance Goodman’s willingness to engage her denomination. To not slip out the back door. Her voice is an important one influencing all denominations of the Christian church to awaken and evolve.

I hope to have coffee with her when we tour Texas next month, to thank her in person.

Change and the New Breakfast

Two Octobers ago, I lost my favorite breakfast.

For about seven years prior, I could confidently walk into a Perkins restaurant and order my usual: Granny’s Omelet with pancakes, large o.j., a glass of water. Day or night, yumsville.

But when I welcomed it to my table that blighted day in October, fork and knife in hands, tablecloth tucked under my chin, after a few bites I knew. The thrill was gone.

Of the three certainties in life- death, taxes and Granny’s omelet- you’d think you could entrust your existential eggs to the Perkins basket.

But at a time when I was trying to eat better and less, that carb-generous meal didn’t do it for me. I had to say goodbye to what was no longer working.

Again: I had to say goodbye to what was no longer working.

Humans can change, but we do have attachments, don’t we? Especially to things that aren’t completely good for us, strangely enough. The Buddhist tradition says suffering happens because we desire other than what is.

I had to give up something, but it was no longer what I desired anyway. How often do I do the same things because of dumb momentum? Or because I can’t imagine an alternative to my well-worn routine? We think we’re pretty smart, masters of our selfhood domains, but we’re non-rational creatures, too.

Last week, I finally read “Who Moved My Cheese,” the parable about change from Spencer Johnson. (Thanks, Mutti!) In the tale, mouse-ish characters deal with a new fact in their lives: their cheese is gone. The solution for our heroes comes as a revelation: Seek other cheese. (Duh.)

Whatever is changing for you, it might be a good thing. In fact- holy Candide, Batman- it might be the best possible thing.

Wayne Dyer once visited a radio station to do an interview. When he arrived, he was told the station was being sold to a whole new format, and everyone was losing their jobs. He responded by congratulating them. He told them this was great news, that in the coming year each one would likely find a better job and be happier than they were presently.

What if we saw every change as a gift, as an open door? Every moment of decision is the occasion for your next evolution.

How’s your breakfast?

You can move on, you know.

What You Believe is a Stepping Stone

When I was a kid, I did bedtime prayers. I remember folding my hands a certain way, closing my eyes with my parents and speaking words in a certain rhythm. It was perfect at the time.

Now that I’m 44, I use different words and I think of prayer differently.

Human beings at our best are all about adaptation. When something isn’t working for whatever reason, we can change. Right?

Say the Man’s Pledge with me from the Red Green Show (Women, please join in, too):

I’m a man.
I can change.
If I have to.
I guess.

Some churches could use this in worship with very little editing. (And I have spent way too much time deciding whether to put a smily face here or not.)

As with many of you, my theology has changed a lot since I was small, mostly activated by seasons of growth and/or emotional upheaval. Kind of recapitulates the story of Israel when you think about it. I guess at this point in my life I’m aware that relationship with the Holy One is alive and dynamic. As such, it is impossible to institutionalize; it is always evolving. When I hear a good sermon, when I am moved by a song, when I notice the movement of change in a relationship… these can be moments when boundaries are broken and new word-containers are birthed to ring more truly. As Martin Luther said of the wider church, we are always reforming. Continually being born again, again.

Alternatively, we could choose to frame our experience of life apart from the weather of Holy Revelation. We could tell ourselves that some ideas mustn’t change. Continue working with old wineskins. Keep using worn-out words if they work for folks in the pew next to you.

There’s a thin blue book on my shelf which I keep simply for the title: “Your God is Too Small.”

When we were children, we thought like children. As Paul’s mail to Corinth says, now it’s different. Our species is supposedly excellent at adapting, but we sure are attached to same old, same old. At least that’s what I see in myself as I see myself stretching.

We are meant to change our minds. Our lives work best when our ideas transform, so we’re best off holding them loosely. What you believe right now is merely a stepping stone to what you will evolve to know and be.

In terms of your beliefs, maybe you have one foot in the air right now, between This and That. That’s good. And you are good. You haven’t betrayed anyone or anything by noticing that your ideas are changing. In fact, that’s G-d in motion. Any time it happens, I think this is a vitally creative and often terrifying moment.

Feel the stretch?

This is a song about personal evolution, idolatry and the adventure of honest trust. It was debuted at a concert in Hawaii last month, along with the Lua Pele song.

Stepping Stone
by Richard

Verse 1
You think that if you change, you’ll betray yourself
But what if your soul asked you follow it off the map
What you used to believe has brought you here
What you believe now is gonna change

It’s a stepping stone
       What you believe is a stepping stone
It’s a stepping stone
       What you think now is a stepping stone

Verse 2
You’re sorry to leave it, this comfy dead end
You’re smelling the fresh air, outgrown where you began
What you used to believe has brought you here
What you believe now has your foot in the air

Rock solid convictions come alive and launch you like a trampoline
Upgrade to new wineskins to hold the holy stuff that’s ripening

Verse 3
Look at you evolving– you’re “born again” again
And you’ll keep transforming til you’re dead or you ascend
What you used to believe was perfect at the time
What you believe now is like a breath

Our children have already decided.

A few weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted into their denomination’s constitution Amendment 10-A which allows the ordination of publically-identified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to serve as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, Elders, and Deacons. Effective July 10, 2011, the amendment was made part of the Book of Order.

One friend who was present at one of the Presbytery votes said there very little attempt to rally against the amendment. There were a couple of old, caricatured arguments registered against the legitimacy of gay and lesbian people being equipped and called. Stuff about sex, Scripture references torn out of Leviticus, etc. Overall, there was almost a sense of resignation that, as he put it, “Our children have already decided.”

What a powerful statement.

One message of the Star Wars epic is that our children can redeem us. Sam the wonder ten-year-old is teaching me how the world needs to evolve. It’s clear to him that he both has a strong lineage and that he is on the planet to in some way break free of it. Like Jesus who loved his tradition enough to faithfully mess with it.

A few years ago, the ELCA made a similar vote. In the aftermath, a number of local ELCA churches left the denomination. In the congregation I served at the time, individual church members pulled their offering pledges, wrote letters of protest, and even stopped coming to worship as a way to demonstrate their beliefs. It might get tough here for awhile, and I’m grateful for the PC(USA) taking this prophetic step.

For now, I celebrate the unfolding of the church and the evolution of faith-full community wherever it happens.

It’s gonna be okay. It’s all in the hands of the ten-year-olds.

  • More Light Presbyterians: A national network of folks seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Covenant Network of Presbyterians: A broad-based, national group of clergy and lay leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole.
  • That All May Freely Serve: Advocating for an inclusive church that honors diversity and welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons as full members.

Progressive Christianity, Wild Geese and Evolution

I’m part of a quad of musicians convening a music/worship event we’re calling SHIFT. It’s in response to a question the four of us hear all the time as we travel: “Where can we find good worship songs?” (I wish a higher percentage of people would add “like yours.”) They tend to reach for words to describe what they want in a worship soundtrack as contemporary, alternative, emergent, post-modern, ancient-future. The most recent addition to the vocab list is progressive. We want progressive Christian music for progressive worship.

I quote brother Martin Luther: “What [the hell] does this mean?”

The blogs are humming with opinions. Smart people are scrambling to define it: progressive. Does it mean liberal? Post-evangelical? Left or Right? People who are recovering from an immersion in any tradition? There’s an amazing range of sensibilities for the people claiming this term. Maybe the most telling mark of this so-called movement is that so many are so keen to be on board. Lots of buzz, lots of words. More than a few writers claim to have thought of it first and are leading the way.

The idea of progress in the word progressive bothers me a little. It implies advancement, moving forward. Suggesting if you’re not in that club, you might want to check your compass or shift out of Park.

The main reason for our SHIFT event is to get to the bottom of what this word means for people. As a person who values questions, I am curious how people are feeling inspired, pushed and pulled? What are they excited about progressing toward? And what are they eager to leave behind?

The Wild Goose Festival starts today in North Carolina. It looks brilliant, offering an unprecedented gathering of amazing artists and theologians. Among those on stage, I’d be most excited about hearing T-Bone Burnett. Next most interesting for me would be David Wilcox, Michelle Shocked, Jennifer Knapp, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, and Nadia Bolz-Weber. Anyway, you start to get the idea of the presence. There will be lots of words spoken and heard. Metric tons of it. Lovers of words will do their best to define this trend some call progressive Christianity. The thing is, language’s job is always to divide. So I am paying attention, dying to know what dialogue emerges from the event.

Luther’s idea was that the church is always reforming. In an incarnational theology, the Living ChristLogos is woven into every particle of creation. Fresh into Pentecost, we might say we’re within the flow of the Holy Spirit. Present with the holy, we live and move and have our being.

When I think of how my ideas about life, the universe and everything have changed since I was a kid, I’m certain that what I believe today will change. I’ve learned to cherish intentions more than beliefs. More of my center these days is in clarity and not certainty. My life works best when I remember I am an evolving being with a mind that is soft and flexible.

And if we are always emerging– as individuals, as societies, as the homo sapiens sapiens species, and as a global village with all creation– maybe it’s good for the church to see herself this way, too.

Hey. Instead of progressive, how about progressing? It reminds us we will never arrive, that we are always reforming, and that we have a lineage that includes wandering, being led and being provided for along the way.


As a rule, I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. Definitely not in June.

But as 2011 broke through, I was part of an online community that invited each of us to claim a word that might be a guide for the present season. Mine turned out to be Stretch.

Feel the burn.

As with some of my favorite words, there are some different aspects to wonder in:

~ Flexing in preparation for some kind of exertion.
~ Reaching to span some particular measured gap.
~ Approaching the boundary of imagination: “Well, that’s a stretch.”
~ Expanding a surface to encompass greater volume.

So that’s me. What would it mean for you to have Stretch on your mirror or in your pocket for this season? Maybe as a reminder of your flexibility or your ability to evolve. A prompt to breathe deeply for inner expansion.

So far, the word has indeed been guide and council, leader and oracle.

What word would it be for you? If you feel the need for both a fencepost to lean on, and an arch to invite you into the next season, maybe the right word can be that. But I’m a word guy. It could also be an icon, poem, painting or song.

So I’m launching this blog.

Joshua Pearl has brilliant advice for musicians: Hit the record button when you have no idea what’s going on.

I am starting this blog unknowing what it will become for me or for you.

Welcome to it.  [Click. Whirrr…]