Tag Archives: Richard Rohr

Do not be afraid: Your container will be filled with content

I am surrounded by twenty and thirtysomethings. It is a blessing. Serving these people has been the joy of most of my life. I think the spiritual life that follows adolescence and precedes the second half of life might be the most interesting but also the most frustrating and dangerous time of life. So I often feel like I am in the thick of it. We often think of babies as the most vulnerable of creatures. Twenty and thirtysomethings spend a great deal of their energy creating a container in which these dear little beings can survive.  But what about the parents? They are vulnerable, too, and quite often their true selves die before they even get recognized!

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramid
Clearly what will be called personality problems depends on who is doing the calling. The slave owner? The dictator? The patriarchal father? The husband who wants his wife to remain a child? It seems quite clear that personality problems may sometimes be loud protests against the crushing of one’s psychological bones, of one’s true inner nature. — Maslow, 1956

Build a container for content

The noble actions of first-half adults are focused on finding one’s place in the world, often as a mate, a parent, an income supplier and a social system builder. The whole era of first half development is a crucial time for growing into our fullness as humans and as spiritual people. But a big danger comes with our development. Our container building can become the only thing we know how to do and we never move on to receive the content to fill up the container! Success, security, some sense of power – looking good to ourselves and others, can almost be our only considerations. We can become containers with little content.

As we often say, U.S. society promotes such emptiness, since our rulers are preoccupied with adolescent pursuits. For instance, they are obsessed with security needs, among other things. Neither Republicans nor Democrats seriously question the enormously high military budget. But that budget is all about the container. The developmentally-arrested president wants to build a wall to contain the whole country and protect it from “shithole” nations!  At the same time, appropriations that reflect needs that are deeper than Maslow’s first two stages on the hierarchy of needs are neglected: education, health care for the poor and everyone else, community-building and the arts. The leaders neglect the need for content in the container. Is often the first cut in the budget, if it is considered at all.

The U.S. is basically an adolescent society and our religious expressions look like it, too. Liberals criticize the church if it is not preoccupied with food and housing [Maslow’s first level]. Conservatives criticize the church if it is not filled with certainty [second level, isn’t it?]. Circle of Hope can get it from both sides as people come to Jesus and his people looking for the basic needs they lost when their lives fractured in this fracturing world. We help them build a container. It is tempting to stay stuck in it and miss the content for which it is intended.

Richard Rohr says, “We all want and need various certitudes, constants, and insurance policies at every stage of life. But we have to be careful, or they totally take over and become all-controlling needs, keeping us from further growth.” Receiving the content of resurrection life takes faith and trust, which are not that useful if one is anxiously maintaining a container. Thus the most common one-liner in the Bible (365 times) is “Do not be afraid.” We we need to move beyond our early motivations of personal security, reproduction and identity. But it is scary to do so.

Do you think we commiserate more with what people fear than we help them not be afraid? How many people are driven from your cell because they can’t compute life beyond their container-building religious ideas? Consider how often you don’t help them figure out how to move deeper. Maybe your cell is stuck at the third step up Maslow’s pyramid up above and does not have an eternal outlook.

Be afraid of the right thing

Being preoccupied with morality, control, safety, pleasure and certitude comes to a bad end. A high percentage of people never get to the content of their own lives! Sometimes you can see the trouble creeping up on us. Areas of our leadership team silo off and don’t talk to other teams. Whole congregations get a sense of their “otherness.” People demand that we make policies about identities. We have to keep saying, “Human life is about more than building boundaries, protecting identities, creating tribes and teaching impulse control.”

Like Jesus said in Luke 12, “Why do you ask, what am I to eat? What am I to wear?” He asks the container-builders who ask such questions, “Is life not so much more than food? Is life not so much more than clothing?” Repeatedly he asks, “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world, and lose your very soul?” (Matthew 16:26). And I add, what will happen to your children if all you teach them is fear and practical faithlessness? What will happen to the church if you persist in never getting the content you need to share? What will happen to the world when your adolescent faith burns up in the heat of adulthood?

A thirty-year-old in our church was 13 when the 9/11 attack turned the country even more into a security state. When they were 19 the Great Recession hit and fear and anger skyrocketed. Since the 80’s, a philosophy-shift resulted in the top 20% of the population securing 76% of the wealth. Now, Oxfam says, worldwide, 8 men own as much wealth as the 3.6 billion who make up the poorest people in the world! Everyday life has encouraged a whole generation to be anxious and fearful. Now Trump is president and each day looks like the foundations in society are being upended. It is no wonder we try to build a wall around ourselves . But our vessels of clay are meant to to hold glory.

Take heart, you were made for this

Jesus tells us to “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is hard to hear him when we are feverishly trying to keep ahead of the eroding foundations under our feet, as if that were top priority. Jesus was less concerned about his impending death (!), about his life-container, than he was about the content of his life. He was less interested in the consequences of his actions than he was interested in revealing to his fearful, controlling, unfaithful followers what a container is for. Life is more than finding one’s own bliss or balance, disciplining and making the most of one’s time, and fighting for one’s rights — all that is for beginners! The bulk of an eternal life is lived in trust and hope. Dying to mere self-awareness, self-aggrandizement, and self-centeredness is the first task of gaining content for the container.

Barack Obama displayed some of this wisdom when he was shown talking to David Letterman the other night. He said, “One of the things that Michelle figured out, in some ways faster than I did—was part of your ability to lead the country doesn’t have to do with legislation, doesn’t have to do with regulations [making a container], it has to do with shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness [being and receiving content].” He is a hopeful guy and he inspires me to be the same, even when I feel I am in the thick of it. Our containers (egos, churches, and what not)  have holes in them, so we need Jesus to overcome our world and keep filling us with eternal life. But as  long as we are co-workers with the Lord instead of container protectors, we have a chance to become the kind of content that makes the world take heart.

Subscribe to Development! Hit the “follow” button after you type in your email. Thanks for reading!

“Yes, and” about technology in honor of one of the originals

1% discussing the fruit of their war technologyLast night I was in a rush to get home and enjoy my yearly viewing of Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  Still great. This year I was especially moved by how well it points out the sins of the one percent of the year 1200. Pietro di Bernadone (Francis’ father) looks suspiciously like Donald Trump, telling his son to pillage a particular relic when he attacks Perugia in order to save them a “fortune in indulgences” and picking up heirlooms “for almost nothing” in the postwar turmoil. Most years I miss that theme because I am so preoccupied with watching each of Francis’ circle of friends wake up to their longing for faith in a world gone wrong.

My technology delayed me

Ironically, I was in a rush to get home to watch a movie about my simplicity-adopting hero because my technology delayed me. First, my credit union mobile app would not process a particular check I wanted to deposit — the error message said it could not read the numbers, then it said I had already deposited the check and couldn’t do it again! I spent a while arguing with my phone. I called the bank and was sent to a number that did not answer. Then I went to an ATM only to realize I did not remember the right pin code (since I was retrained to use the mobile app). I finally got home and could not immediately figure out how to use the DVD player because I have been retrained for Roku.

When I sat down for my anticipated reverie, I was a bit exhausted — a bit tempted to give up and scroll through some screens while catching up on cable news, the next episode of the strange and prophetic Mr. Robot, or something numbing like that. Instead, I pressed on and enjoyed watching Francis throw his father’s belongings out the window. In the movie version of his life, Francis is propelled toward his conversion to radical Christianity by a visit to the sweatshop in the family basement he had hitherto ignored. His father almost beats him to death after he takes the workers into the sun for an afternoon in which “no one did a lick of work.” I noticed the parallels.

Our dialogue set me up

I was set up for frustration with my commitment/subjugation to various forms of technology by our discussion last Monday of our theology of technology. We bravely waded in to the huge subject and ended up with a rather large summary doc that we have stored in Google awaiting some time when we have enough energy to wade in again. I think we are getting to some good thinking. For instance, we took a few of Circle of Hope’s proverbs and pointed them at technology. Here’s a sample:

  • Our deliberate attempts to make disciples are “incarnational,” friend to friend, so we accept that what we do will almost never be instant.  — Being an organism, being incarnational may not be efficient; reducing processes down to efficiency is not automatically best.
  • People should be skeptical if our message does not originate from a community that demonstrates the love of Christ. — Depersonalizing data collection and screen usage could be antithetical to what we are going for.
  • Life in Christ is one whole cloth. As we participate in and love “the world,” we bring redemption from the Kingdom of God to our society. Jesus is Lord of all, so we have repented of separating “sacred” and “secular.” — Technology is not intrinsically wrong; it is a means to God’s ends in our hands.
  • We are “world Christians,” members of the transnational body of Christ; concerned with every person we can touch with truth and love. — Communication technology is amazing, we need to learn how to speak the language and touch the hearts of those embroiled in it.
  • The church is not a “thing” that does things; it is not a building. We are the church and we support one another as Jesus expresses himself through us. — In a digitized, mechanized, roboticized economy, it will be a struggle to be personal.
  • Those among us from “traditional” Christian backgrounds are dying to our precious memories of “church” in order to bring the gospel into the present with great flexibility. — Like it or not, the future is rapidly coming upon us. It is not OK to say nothing about what technology is making us.

Francis’ simple joy sets me straight

 Today, on Francis Day, I intend to keep it simple. But I do not see my example from the 1200’s as a simpleton. He imagined a worldwide mission of peace and community in Christ. He even went to Egypt and got an interview with the sultan who was warring against European crusaders in Palestine (again, a strangely familiar situation). I think we will end up with some good theology to offer a world beset by virtual bigots, techno terrorists and corporate home invaders because we have the perennial sensibilities of Francis and of anyone who simply wants to follow Jesus simply. As Richard Rohr describes him in one of last year’s best books Eager to Love in the chapter “An Alternative Orthodoxy:”

Francis’ starting place was human suffering instead of human sinfulness, and God’s identification with that suffering in Jesus…In general, Francis preferred ego poverty to private perfection, because Jesus “became poor for our sake, so that we might become rich out of his poverty” (2 Cor. 8:9)…

Francis’ was a radically Christi-centric worldview, but one that nonetheless recognized the Church as the primary arena in which this good news could be protected and disseminated. He was a non-dual thinker….[He saw] the living Body of Christ, first of all, everywhere, and then the organized Church was where the “hidden Mystery,” could most easily be recognized, talked about, developed, and praised. Most of us come at it from the other side, “My church is better than your church,” and never get to the real universal message. We substitute the container for the actual contents, and often substitute our church structure for the gospel or the kingdom of God. Francis was an extraordinary “yes, and” kind of man, which kept him from all negativity toward structures or other groups (p. 84).

I think I can nurture a “yes, and” kind of approach to technology (at least the part I don’t throw out of the window). Today, that means becoming poor in spirit and poor with others so we can be rich in Jesus, It means less stress about the containers and more attention to the contents. It means straining out the gnat of goodness and not swallowing every camel the sophisticating salespeople flash before my eyes. It means wading in and trusting Jesus to save me, again.