Recently I was asked by a person with whom I have had profound and beautiful spiritual conversation but who has no church  connection, if he could borrow a Bible to read the Gospels. I produced a Bible and expressed my hope we might be able to communicate about any thoughts or questions that might come as he reads.

He began with the Gospel of Mark.

Here, with permission, is some of the email correspondence we have exchanged.

M writes:

While I had not “read” this before it was interesting to me to realize that a good many of the teachings, miracles, parables were already in my cultural DNA.

Christopher:

Thank you for your reflections. They are interesting and powerful.

You start with a fascinating and important observation. You see, you and I may be part of the last generation who carries these things in our “cultural DNA.”

Most of our children’s generation carry no awareness of any faith tradition at all, certainly their children do not.

This is a major challenge we in the church have not even begun to address. Increasingly people are growing into adulthood who are utterly unconscious of any corporate faith expression. They simply have no background or grounding in anything that might transcend the immediate moment. In terms of the historic faith traditions, they are illiterate.

This may not be a problem. But at least we need to recognize that we are working in an environment now in which an increasing number of people have no framework at all around which to formulate their spiritual journey.

M:

What strikes me (emphasized in a dream) is that I am reluctant to “pay the price “. All the teachings are valuable, but what is really being pointed to for the insiders is to put everything down. “Before all else”‎. On many occasions I would rather fill myself up with distractions, it seems. Mysteriously, only I know what these distractions are. Yes some are universal but at the end of the day, something is done on one’s own.

Christopher:

I don’t even think I want to touch this.

This may not be what you are referring to at all but this is where church minds, like mine, tend go. It feels to me that you may be articulating something here for which church people so often criticize people who want to be spiritual but not religious. We worry that this is simply shorthand for, “I want the consolations of spirituality without the hassles of commitment to any community beyond that which I find comfortable and sympathetic.”

I do not know if this is a fair critique. But it appears it may have resonance with what you are saying here.  In church we say that our faith needs to wear flesh and that one of the places faith takes on flesh is in the hard work of sticking it out in community with awkward difficult people.

M:

I note (in Mark and elsewhere) the contrast of belief and faith. I think that belief is a fundamental missing of the mark in Christianity. Belief is a cop out and a crutch. It would be better served as “discover “. Only then can faith be KNOWN And lived. ” your faith has saved you”. I know what faith is yet I dishonor it with indulgence. I can be gentle with my indulgence but at some point there is required extreme COURAGE ( maybe not so gentle) .

Christopher:

If by “belief” here you mean adherence to some prescribed dogmatic formulation as distinct from the heart-opening that is “faith” then you have put your finger on one of the critical issues that plagued Jesus throughout his ministry. He was forever clashing with conventionally religious people who wanted dogma but not heart-opening. Jesus prescribed no dogmas but constantly called for heart-opening.

M:

One could see this as the crucifixion. The ultimate giving of the self.

Christopher:

Absolutely! Lovely!

M:

So the noble offerings of the Church are kind and sweet, but how many of us would ever choose the DEPTH of what is offered. Mark truly does paint the revolutionary Jesus. Kind of a gun-slinger for truth. The action of John the Baptist is  personified. Is that the Jesus you teach about?

Christopher:

You have articulated beautifully the Jesus about whom I aspire to teach and who I aim to embody in my life and community.

Jesus called people to wake up. Jesus taught that there is more to life than the physical, tangible, time-bound material realm. He sought to help people open to the deeper mystery of love that is the source of all creation. The church, at its best, aims only to serve this heart-opening that Jesus sought. I am sure there are many ways to find this same heart-opening without bothering about church. The challenge is to find a path that works and follow it deeply.

It is so clear to me that this is what you are doing in your spiritual journey, whether or not you ever darken the door of a church.

 

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