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This blog has moved to Outside the Goldfish Bowl of Christian Religion

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An Introduction

Over the years I have had some incredible discussions with people who see things differently.  It seems that I was born to ask some of the awkward questions to which there are no easy answers.

In About this Blog I have tried to give an indication of where my journey has taken me and why at the age of 76, I have a faith that I’m happy to share with anyone who might be interested.

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t believe in the existence of God but my views have changed enormously after having been outside the walls of ‘traditional’ Christianity for some forty years. In the last few years I seem to have learned so much about why people believe what they believe, often as a result of divisive, denominational theology.

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Thinking with my fingers!

This journey has been a bit of a roller coaster recently. Dave and I have had some very deep discussions over the last 17 months, hindered to some extent by the very long hours that Dave has to work.

It is said that there is at least one book in each of us. When I think of some of the authors I have read over the years one can see how their views have gradually changed, and they have been encouraged by their publishers to write new books. Instead of writing a book I started developing a web site in 2000 that later became a blog. I now have two blogs, the content of which has changed enormously over the years as a result of ongoing discussions that involved a few hundred participants. The end result is that I have a blog expressing my own thoughts as they stand now, that is probably the equivalent of a 250 page book that never has to have a publisher’s deadline. I don’t need to write more material but I can add comments and change my views at any time. At this point in time at least, there is this strong feeling of a time to step back and encourage others to share in what I would hope would be a safe haven. Continue reading

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Christianity After Religion

Christianity after Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening – by Diana Butler-Bass – reviewed by Bill Dahl

I received this review from Bill on 4th April.  I was not familiar with the writing of Diana but what I have read and listened to since rings many bells!

An Open Letter to Bill and Diana:
I am a 76 year old Brit (very familiar with the American religious scene) who has been outside the walls of ‘traditional’ Christianity for some 40 years after having been treasurer of an Anglican parish for 8 years in the 1960′s.  I had been a member of the Worldwide Church of God for some 17 years when the church went through some traumatic changes in 1995 – and I was forced for the second time to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught.  I left school at 17 and have no significant academic qualifications.  I think of myself as a self educated Christian who has never been in leadership.  I have not had a full time job since 1990 when I was made redundant for the fourth time after programming computers since 1967.  It was about 4 years ago that I discovered that I have lived with Aspergers Syndrome all my life.  That was an exciting discovery because it helped me to realise why I think and study the way I do, and why I tend to be a bit of a hermit despite having two children and seven grandchildren.

I have been using the Internet since 1997 (and developed my first web site in 2000) and it was in 1998 that I had suddenly had this feeling of freedom and liberation from the slavery of legalism, but it was another 5 years before I really became aware of ‘the out of church Christians‘ and the writings of people like Wayne Jacobsen and Brian McLaren and subsequently ‘The Ooze’.  I had known about ‘The Shack‘ before it was published and had one of the original 11,000 copies when Wayne spent a weekend in the UK in 2007.  When the book was subsequently published I had the time to read many of the reviews (maybe as many as 500) and learned so much from the critical ones. Later I began to realise how much I had learned of why people believe what they believe, often as a result of divisive, denominational theology.

It was the final paragraph of the interview with Diana that really caught my attention:
Seminaries can’t change until denominational policies do; denominational policies can’t change until seminaries nurture  new vision; and nothing can change until grassroots churches demand change.  And for churches to demand change, they must change themselves.
I found myself thinking that that is never going to happen – the ‘old school’ understandably will not respond to change – and the ‘churches’ as we have known them will fade and die – just like empires that have risen and fallen over the centuries.
At the same time I was reminded of an old quip, “Why is the church the only university from which it’s students never graduate – and never learn to think for themselves?”

Maybe I can give you an idea of where I’m coming by highlighting a few of Bill’s and Diana’s comments.  Bill suggested that Diana has been observing, questioning, probing the history and mystery of the practice of the human pursuit of the divine by those who diversely believe, belong and behave rather passionately. A story that at times makes us angry, confused, perplexed, disgusted and embarrassed. The story of where institutional religion came from and a look ahead to the current challenge.

So many are asleep and may be unaware that they are trapped in the wrong space. How do people discover what they don’t even realise that they don’t know? People are uncomfortable when what they thought they knew is challenged! Surely the institutional approach to facilitating true faith is seriously misguided!

More and more people are willing to express their anger towards religion in general and Christianity (or churchianity?) in particular – understandably! A suggestion that maybe Christianity was never meant to be a structured belief system. How many are captive to creeds, dogma and traditions? Some are still trying to build walls while others are trying to build bridges.

Who am I and who do I belong to? Are we willing to move beyond our own comfort zone – a pilgrimage and/or exile? Are we ready to take a counter intuitive approach and allow new doors to be opened to us – that give us the chance of making a difference (which might simply be to encourage others to question their own thinking)?

I have now read ‘The Beginning‘ from her latest book together with ‘A Resurrected Christianity?‘ and ‘The End of Church‘ by Diana as well as ‘Christianity in Crisis‘ by Andrew Sullivan. I sense that Diana has hit the nail on the head with her comments about the “3B’s”.

I’m no scholar but as my friend Grant (who died a few years ago) said, “you are encouraging thought – you are putting out a challenge – maybe asking the right questions that others haven’t formulated“.
Do we know what we believe?  Are we sure that we are right?  What do we really think of God?  Have we shared these thoughts with others?
Do we really know what we think until we hear what we say, or read what we have written?
Do we allow others to question these thoughts?
Have we really reconsidered the foundation of our own faith?  See ‘Stages of Faith‘.

In a note I wrote about ten years ago entitled “The Hare and the Tortoise” I referred to the dawdlers who let their subconscious minds do the thinking, and the hare brain that likes to have things neat and tidy, feels in control and does not like to feel helpless, confused or blocked.  I would suggest that far too many church leaders with their academic qualifications fit the latter description.

In a short video entitled ‘A People’s History of Faith‘ Diana suggests that we look at Christian history from the starting point of the Great Commandment (“Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”) rather than the Great Commission (“Go into all the world”) for a new perspective on that history.  This, together with the earlier comments about seminaries being unable to change, was another one of those ‘light bulb’ moments – starting with the Great Commandments is not enough – something is missing!

More and more of us are being drawn beyond the ‘conformist stage‘ and that started for me some 45 years ago when as a member of an Anglican men’s discussion group I asked the question, “What is the purpose of life?” and was told immediately by the Vicar, “Peter, you can’t ask that, it is the 64,000 dollar question” (a lot of money in those days). Surely we need to have some understanding of the foundations of the Christian FAITH rather than the Christian RELIGION if we are going to effectively love God and our neighbours? When I wrote ‘Stages of Faith‘ about seven years ago I think I sensed that I was well on the way to becoming an ‘integrated way finder‘.  Little did I realise then how much I was still being held back by the religion that I had still not let go of!

If we move beyond the ‘conformist stage‘ and share our thoughts with others, we recognise that we have some unique perspectives as a result of very different journeys that sometimes result in cognitive dissonance – that uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously.

A major influence on my thinking several years ago was an article entitled “The Rise and Fall of Christendom” by a member of the Anabaptist Network that paints a very controversial picture.  With hindsight I sense it contains more than a grain of truth.

I subsequently wrote ‘Why Christianity?‘, ‘Why Suffering?‘, and ‘Another Perspective‘ a few years ago (see side panel) , when as I have said, there was still a lot of emphasis on head knowledge rather than heart awareness.

I have only recently rewritten my blog (that is still a work in progress) – Dave and I, despite our very different journeys, have a vision of reaching out to those who have been negatively affected, or even manipulated by religion.

Food for thought from a very late developer?

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Myth and Symbolism and the Two Trees

I said that ‘Nearing the end of the journey . . . ?’ was my ‘final’ introduction.

When I was introduced to WordPress in July last year I immediately recognised the possibilities of using posts and pages in a new and meaningful way – away from the restrictions of date sensitive posts.

While I was redeveloping this site I wrote a piece entitled ‘The Myth and Symbolism of Genesis‘ that reflects some of the interesting reactions I received. By creating this as a page and adding a link in the side bar people can comment at any time without feeling that it will be too late.

I find the thoughts about the two trees as expressed by Lynette Woods very interesting. Maybe you would like to express your thoughts on the page rather than on this post.

I can now use posts to generate new thoughts and ideas – and sometimes point to material that might not previously have been discussed on the site.

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Nearing the end of the journey . . . ?

There are times when I have described my life as a series of climbs that end on a new and higher plateau – a time to rest and share the experiences of others who have arrived on the same plateau by differing routes – and who will continue their journeys by other paths.

There was a time for example after being inspired by John Lynch that I wrote my other blog – A Room of Grace – and really did think that was where I was meant to stay!

Over the last few months I have rewritten my two blogs and tried to be a witness to my own journey of discovery – very much prompted at the time by the comments in August 2011 by Albert Mohler about the significance of Adam and Eve.

Then on 10th January the following video was posted on YouTube and to date there have been more than 15 million hits and many responses.  Clearly the video has struck a real chord – but has so missed the point!!!

We now have what one writer is calling ‘The Mark Driscoll Fiasco‘ resulting from an interview he gave in the UK recently.

This all helps to highlight some of the differences between the Christian RELIGION and the Christian FAITH, and the vision of reaching out to those who have been negatively affected, or even manipulated by RELIGION.

In the introduction to my other blog I ask the question, “Why is there so much fear, guilt and shame attached to the Christian religion?” and I suggest that maybe we need to reconsider the absolute foundations of our faith.  Does the Christian religion for example, have any real answers to the problems of suffering?

I am convinced that for some of us at least, life is meant to be an ongoing journey of discovery.  As a Brit I see many parallels with the rise and fall of empires.  After their fall their influence doesn’t just disappear.  We in the West are still governed to a large extent by the Roman legal system.  Britain may have lost most of its territories, but it’s still a significant player on the international scene.  Leaders never want to give up – and we have seen plenty of examples of this in the news in recent years.  Maybe this is also true of Christian denominational leadership!

I see this post as the ‘final’ introduction.  They say that there is a book in each of us.  Instead of writing a book (that at some point has to go to the publisher), I started writing a web site in 2000 and have now ended with two blogs that I can add to, and to which others can contribute.

I want to end by including reference to two blogs that express so much of my own thoughts at this time.

Internet Monk is currently reviewing “Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible” by John Polkinghorne.  He suggests that this second chapter is ‘provocative’ and that the views expressed will not be acceptable to those who hold more conservative views about the nature of the Bible.  I have not read the book but from what has been written here I do find myself agreeing entirely with John.  I also like the way in which Internet Monk has provided an alternative view here.

Then there is “The End of Evangelicalism” by David Fitch.  His own description of the book is interesting, and then there is the link to the author’s favorite interview that seems to sum up much of what I see as the problems of evangelicalism in America – written by an evangelical leader who sees many of the problems from the inside and who wants to ‘save’ what is important to him.  Towards the end of the interview he refers to the Anabaptist impulse that leads us to work things out on the ground in real life issues.  Then in the last paragraph he suggests that it is getting harder and harder to figure out what the term missional means.

That was written in January and then in April Bill Dahl wrote a review of ‘Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening‘ by Diana Butler-Bass, followed by an interview with the author.  This rang so many bells (although I would want to question her conclusions) that I wrote ‘An Open Letter to Bill and Diana’.

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