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Integral Christianity: LEAPFROGGING & Integral Christianity Part 3

Toward an Integral Christianity


This 3 in the series of essays is an attempt to shed more light in the development of Christianity toward an integral perspective. If you did not see the first sections in this series, click here.

In order to gain full value and understanding from the efforts of this essay it is important that the reader be familiar with this author’s previous essay, And With Delight and also Building An Effective Integral Spiritual Life. Other necessary readings in the endeavor to achieve a fuller participation in the developmental thinking of this essay are: Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck, Stages of Faith by James Fowler, and Integral Spirituality by Ken Wilber. Further recommended reading is located at the end of this essay. Another solid preparatory work can be found in Dr Caleb Rosado’s , well thought out essay on this subject entitled, What Is Spirituality? Memetics, Quantum Mechanics, and the Spiral of Integral Spirituality?


Pretend for a moment you are an astronaut headed toward a space station and you are currently orbiting the earth. You look out of the portal and you behold, planet earth, dangling in space, in her glory, beauty and fragility!  You are blown away and in awe of the view. You see no national boundaries. You see land masses, and oceans, and clouds surrounding the earth. As you gaze,  your awe rises up within you and tears well up in your eyes, a big smile crosses your face and warm tenderness melts your heart for this, your amazing planet.

Imagine that you are a lover of humanity and a devout Christian. You also are very curious and an investigator of sorts. From your perspective of the entire planet, you reflect on the current growth of Christianity in the world, as well as being stunned by all the beautiful myriad cultures and religions that rainbow the earth.

You notice that Christianity is growing at a phenomenal rate, both Catholic and Protestant, in Africa and in Latin America. You recall a recent book you just finished reading called Jesus in Beijing. You wonder about the implications for the growth of Christianity in China. You live in America where your faith is in a tug of war with the social gospel, traditionalism, fundamentalism, the culture wars, secularism, believers who have no church affiliation or doctrinal loyalty, the proliferation of non-Christian religions, liberal interpretations of the faith, amazing and conflicting scholarship on the meaning and doctrines of the faith.

You wonder where your place is, in the midst of all of this roaring surf, crashing on the beach of your life. You think to yourself, “where do I belong, where do I fit, am I even a Christian?” Yet, you are like Peter, who declared to his Master, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

 As you re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and land safely in the desert of Nevada, you know that despite any of these conflicting thoughts and feelings and among all of the amazingly beautiful spiritual teachers on the planet, you cling to Jesus, your highest guru and Lord. As your reverie ends and the ecstasy you just experienced washes through you changing your perspective forever, you wonder if you will ever feel peace with the Church and the current flow of Christianity in the world.

The majority of the world is struggling with poverty, social inequality, tribalism, and diseases, military and political upheavals. North America represents a very small percentage of the world’s population with very different life experiences, social, cultural, economic and political structures.

A perspective of the faith is very different for those persons raised in a middle class social structure in the Northern Hemisphere, highly educated, with all kinds of resources. The resources that a North American takes for granted, most of the world’s population can only dream of when they watch television, view a movie or surf the net. This perspective is not unlike being an astronaut viewing the planet from space. You are changed forever!

The majority of Christians in the world will live their Christianity in a very different life experience than a North American due to their own socio-cultural-economic-and political milieu. Leaders of both Catholic and Protestant denominations will be elected and followed because of their personal integrity and adherence to the blue/orange meme interpretation of the faith.

What if you are one of those few individuals on the earth that because of education and life experiences have come to value all of the memes and all the truths contained in all the wondrous religious and spiritual traditions of the world. And what if you also take very seriously the teachings of Jesus and the witness of the apostles, and what if your Christian faith defies the labels of liberal or fundamental, traditional or orthodox. And what if you have an understanding of all Christian denominations and revere them; and what if you have a respect for the truths of all non-christian religions.; and what if you even see non-Christians living out the precepts of Jesus more faithfully and humbly than many of your brothers and sisters in Christ who profess to be followers of the Way. Can Christianity contain your faith interpretation (yellow/green meme) as well as that of blue? Do you belong to the “Body of Christ” also?

Picture yourself being called before a tribunal of bishops and evangelists to answer whether you are a faithful Christian or a heretic, whether you are part of the faithful or if you don’t belong. The tribunal listens to your life experiences, the understandings you have derived, your deep abiding faith and devotion in Jesus of Nazareth, the scriptures, for the Kingdom of God and your love for others.  You wait for the verdict with great anticipation, longing and anxiety. The verdict comes back that you are cast out from their presence and banished from participation in the church because you are not adhering to the one true gospel. You stumble out of the room in great pain yet at the same time experience great peace and inner strength because you notice that your love for Jesus is still blazing in your heart. You come around the corner of the building and low and behold you bump into a man who strangely looks like Jesus. He has a beard, long hair and clothes like a Buddhist monk would wear except brown instead of colorful. Behind this man you notice men and women who are dressed in many different ways and appear to be of many different races, nations and socio-economic circumstances. The man’s eyes are captivating. He has an amazing personal energy. This man appears to notice your distress and inquires about your troubles. His non-verbal body language and tone of voice expresses such profound gentleness conveying such amazing respect and loving-kindness that to your embarrassment, you find yourself pouring out to this man your struggles, grief, pain, shame, confusion, faith, inner strength, your personal dignity, your deepest yearnings, dreams, awe in your humanity and the humanity of others, your longing to belong and to make a difference. Most of all you pour out your intense desire to be faithful to Jesus and His message. This strange and wonderful  man responds to your emotional disclosure declaring, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” He says with great tenderness, gentleness and loving-kindness to you, “A bruised reed I will not break, a dimly smoldering wick, I will not quench. “ With a voice both tender and fierce, he then says “to anyone who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” This man who called himself the Alpha and the Omega spoke again and said, “’Come!’ And let the person who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let that person come and whoever wishes, let that person take the free gift of the water of life.”

He introduces you to all of the people, one by one, who were following him. They hug you tenderly and smile with shining faces telling you, “Welcome, dear one, we are your brothers and sisters and you belong to us and we belong to you!” “We have come with the gift of healing and comfort and everlasting life!”

An Allegory

There once was a young girl, born into a devout and loving Catholic family. She witnessed her parents and other family members attend church regularly, engage in devotional practices and pray regularly. She attended parochial school and was taught catechism. She was taught that her faith was the only, one true faith. She loved her faith and became very devout. Her image of God and Jesus as a child was of this transcendent authority watching over all. As a teenager she went to a catholic conference for teenagers. It was so much fun. She went to dances, fell in love with a boy and learned about Jesus. She was really struck by one particular session. The priests presented Jesus as very real and human and they made him so attractive and approachable. This was a new way of thinking about Jesus. She had always thought of Jesus as Divine and unapproachable and so utterly perfect without blemish. She liked this new idea of Jesus being human. She started thinking of Him as her friend.

Being a devout Catholic, she had been taught that the most perfect expression of love for God was to become a nun and living a life of inspired self-denial and service. Being sincere, and longing to love God with all of her might and to serve Him, she decided to enter the convent. 

She loved the life of the convent as a young novitiate. The routine of morning and evening prayer, daily mass, the rosary and the common life felt very nurturing and comfortable. She had many enjoyable days, making friends with her fellow nuns, engaging in her assigned chores and living a life of prayer and service. As part of her religious duties she was expected to attend college and study a profession. She was also expected to take theology. Her theology teacher was quite amazing. She was a person of integrity who cared about the poor and disadvantaged. Her teacher taught that concern for ecology and the earth and for social justice was a measure of Christian commitment.  Being a nun involved taking vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience. She wanted so deeply to serve God and be pleasing to Him by fulfilling these vows. Her spiritual directors at the convent spoke strongly of the importance of prayer, studying the scriptures and devotional reading. She took this to heart and spent many hours in the chapel trying to be faithful. As she learned more and more what was actually in the Bible, particularly the New Testament, she became more and more close to Jesus and disturbed at the same time. At the same time that she felt herself drawing closer to Jesus and experiencing Him not just as her friend to talk to but also as her Lord and Savior, she began to question some of the doctrines of Catholicism that she felt was contradicted in the scripture. During her attendance at college, she ended up becoming very close to a young man who she greatly admired who appeared kind and seemed to like her. She found herself having feelings that contradicted her focus on celibacy. She began to question whether she could live a life of celibacy and maybe she should pursue the vocation of marriage.

These two conflicting emotions and thought patterns led her to make a faithful decision. She decided to leave the convent that she loved and the life that she valued.

She kept the disciplines of prayer, scripture study and devotional reading throughout her life as a lay person. As she continued her studies in college she learned more about the sciences and theological scholarship she began to question even the historical veracity of the scriptures. Her personal relationship with Jesus continued to give her much strength and encouragement in the midst of her doubts as she was able to freely share all of her thoughts and feelings with Him. She felt accepted despite her doubts, conflicting emotions and behaviors.

As a young adult, she came under the sway of the charismatic movement. She was moved and inspired by the power and peace that seemed to come from people who considered themselves charismatic. She joined a prayer group and prayed for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Unlike many of her brothers and sisters, however, she did not pray for speaking in tongues although she thought this was quite amazing. She was really interested in the gifts of discernment, and teaching. She wanted to see through things and be able to teach and lead people to Christ.

During this period she witnessed to everyone around her. She witnessed to her family members, friends and co-workers proclaiming the truth that Jesus is Lord and only through him can you be saved.

At the same time that she was engaging in these practices, she continued to study the scriptures now reading theology books, commentaries and interpretations of scripture. She wanted to live the scriptures in a literal way, living the “Way” as it was meant to be lived. She felt that Christ, the Law-Giver, would be pleased with her.

As her life progressed she became disillusioned with her inability to live up to the precepts in the scripture. She also became disillusioned with others not living up to the precepts but continuing to self-righteously assert that they were following God’s will. To her, they did not seem to struggle with doubts or question themselves. They seemed secure in their walk.

Since the filling of the Spirit, she continued to notice a curious and intense drive to read and study. She now expanded her reading outside of Christian theology to reading about different denominations, and non-Christian religions. She became fascinated with mystical aspects of spirituality in every religion. A friend once told her that God’s will was for her to be happy and successful. This was a revelation to her as she had understood God’s will to be expressed in sacrifice, self denial and giving.

She began a relationship with a therapist about this time due to her increasing disillusionment with herself and her longing to believe that God really did will for her to be happy and to enjoy her life. Through much struggle and self examination, she faced many aspects of herself that she found horrifying and had not realized about herself that affected her relationships, her life and her emotional maturity. After much soul searching, therapy, and continued prayer and study, she gradually came to realize the fruitlessness of perfectionism. She received the grace to embrace the paradox of her moral ambiguity alongside of her incredible goodness and outrageously imperfect humanity. She was beginning to understand what it meant to feel the abundant life promised by Jesus, the peace that passes all understanding, and the power of forgiveness.

The gift of discernment that she had prayed to receive blossomed into a beautiful flower of understanding that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was meant to give us power to be Christ-like toward others. This discernment often meant letting go of previous spiritual “highs” and jettisoning narrow doctrinal positions. She finally came to understand what Jesus meant by new wineskins. She realized that new wineskins were necessary throughout the duration of our faith to hold new understandings and developments. 

Her continued search for emotional and spiritual maturity led her to amazing discoveries. She began to see Jesus in the wisdom of many non-Christian religions and in most of the Christian denominations. This experience of the oneness of Truth made her feel even more in love with Jesus and brought her to a fuller understanding of her faith.

Curiously, she noticed she had the ability to understand, relate, fellowship with and enjoy Christians at different levels of their faith understanding. She could do this because she had those feelings and understandings, inside of her too. She was hurt and disappointed when some of those brothers and sisters expressed horror at her insights and understandings of the faith, how they judged her as not being Christian. Through much prayer, therapy and study she realized that it was ok to let go of feeling that she had to gain their understanding or even their fellowship.

Jesus had brought her to a new, rich, understanding of the faith that was bitter sweet. It seemed to her that her experience must be similar to that of an astronaut who sees the earth from afar. The astronaut sees the whole earth, undivided and whole, yet enjoying the view of different aspects of the planet.It was a mystical experience that in some respects made her feel alone.

As she grew, she began to rejoice in the awareness that many other people are having some of the same experiences as she, so she really isn’t alone. Because of her increased capacity to understand God, Christ and the Holy Spirit to encompass the oneness of Truth, she is constantly renewed by encounters with others who are striving to do their own spiritual work, no matter what denomination or religion. She remembered Peter in Jerusalem when the followers of Christ became church together at the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter quoted an old testament prophet declaring that in the end days, the Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh, young and old alike, men and women. She reflected that God continues to bring the Kingdom in this millennium through millions of people doing their own spiritual work. She became excited about what miracles were yet to be manifested.  She noticed that she even had the capacity to merge with persons “in the moment” who had differing religious and spiritual experiences, though often times those persons did not comprehend the breath of her vision. After all, they have not had the opportunity to be astronauts yet.

As we leave the mature woman of our story, we peak at her prayer time and we see her meditating on the scripture from the prophet Micah who proclaims, “God has told you what is good and what is required of you; only to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” We see her writing down in her journal a phrase she read somewhere recently, “love is the trump card in the message of Jesus and in the scriptures.” We see her closing her eyes in silent reverence and peace.

Reflections on the Spiral

This essay has been another attempt in the ongoing dialogue about what it means to achieve an integral understanding of Christianity. Other questions that are the concern of this essay are: how does an integral Christian interact with his/her own church community? What contributions can a Christian with an integral perspective make to the church and his fellow believers? And how does integral Christianity intersect and dialogue with the broader expressions of Integral Spirituality? 

Below are scriptural reflections on the different levels of the spiral.

Beige (Survival)- The Old and New Testaments have multiple metaphors about God being a mother nursing, an eagle covering, a wall of fire protecting, a hen gathering, a shepherd caring, etc.

Purple(Tribal/Kinship)- The Old and New Testaments have multiple metaphors referring to “God’s chosen people”, the “people of God”, the “church”, the “fellowship”, the “tribes of Israel”, The Old Testament has stories of prophets healing the sick and the raising the dead, and of magical powers. The New Testament tells stories of supernatural powers of Jesus such as multiplying food, obtaining money from a fish, wilting a fig tree, etc. There are also many, many stories of Jesus healing all kinds of ailments and conditions and raising the dead. The New Testament is also filled with stories about some of the apostles of Christ healing people and followers having psychic capacities. 

Red (Power)- The Old and New Testaments have multiple metaphors related to God being the warrior, the rescuer, the redeemer, the king, the messiah, the avenger, etc. Jesus expressing anger in the temple in the New Testament is an example of behavior from the red meme.

Blue (Tradition/The Way/Right Authority)- The Old Testament describes God as the Righteous Judge, and Law Giver. Throughout the Old and New Testaments God is described as Sovereign Righteous Authority rewarding good and punishing wrong doing, despising evil and loving good. Jesus taught his disciples that their religious practices needs to exceed those of the Pharisees. The Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament is an example of high ethical standards proclaimed by Jesus. There are statements related to salvation that is granted only in a particular way in both the Old Testaments and New Testaments. One of the most controversial positions of the Christian Church in history through the eyes of the blue meme is that salvation can only come through Jesus, the church, and the sacraments. Throughout the Bible are statements upon statements of rules and moral proscriptions for behavior clearly delineating rewards and consequences for keeping or violating these rules and laws.

Orange (Success/Achievement)- Statements by Jesus indicating that the Kingdom of God has come to defeat disease, suffering and death are indications of the orange meme. Jesus’ statement, “I come that you have joy and that joy may be full.” Another statement by Jesus “I come that they may have life, abundantly”. Jesus also had statements related to His expectation of excellence in the behavior of his disciples. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded his disciples to be “perfect” as God. Jesus talked about the growth that the disciples would experience. Jesus also taught his disciples that they would experience an even fuller revelation of truth after his presence was gone.

Green (Multi-culturalism, Equality, Ecology)- Jesus had many interactions and statements indicating that the Kingdom of God on earth was meant inclusively for others. His qualitative interactions with individual persons who were considered foreigners, heretics, oppressors, sinners and “pagans” are examples of the green meme. Jesus had an unorthodox view of authority. He taught that authority should spring from a mind-set of a servant. He also taught that those in authority should be last rather than first and that the most gifted should serve the lesser gifted.  He taught his disciples that titles were not an expression of his understanding of authority but his followers should refer to each other as brother and sister. In the gospels, Jesus’ behavior on numerous occasions displayed his care and consideration for other’s feelings. Jesus had extraordinarily respectful interactions with women, children, the outcast and vulnerable. He even held these classes of persons up as role models in His Kingdom.  In his letters, Paul interpreted the implications of Jesus’ message to mean equality of persons in the church. His famous quote, “there is neither Greek, nor Jew, male nor female, neither slave nor free.” Is another example of the green meme. St. Paul understood that all of Christ’s followers were equal members in the church with an assumption of equal dignity and respect regardless of gender, class, or ability.  Peter received a vision that he later understood to mean that the gospel was meant for all not just for Jews.

Yellow (Integral)-  Jesus constantly contended with the religious authorities of his day and taught that religious institutions and practices were meant to serve the needs and dignity of persons and not vice versus. There are many, many examples of Jesus’ behavior with others that manifests the values of the Kingdom of God to apply universally to all other persons and nations. St Paul’s statement that he is to be all things to all men in the efforts of his ministry is an example of an integral understanding of the faith.

There are other colors and developmental levels that are of a higher order than the ones listed above.

I would like to end with two quotes that sum up beautifully the direction of Integral Christianity and how it can begin to relate to integral spirituality. 

Let us  hear the voice of Stephen Dinan, the author and editor of the book, Radical Spirituality. We hear him share with us his vision of spirituality.

 “ --- a dream I have, an image of a future in which a new brand of  Spirituality has fully emerged, a spirituality that takes the entire world  as its starting point, that marries inner and outer work that cultivates stillness and compassion in the midst of active, engaged lives. This spirituality is a slow dance of evolution, a tender response to the pulsing  heartbeat of the universe. It builds upon-----but ultimately goes beyond— traditional belief systems to create a unique path, marrying ancient  wisdom, scientific and philosophic truth, and personal insight. It is a spirituality that honors periods of withdrawal, of inner contemplation,  as equally as it honors the active and passionate life. It recognizes a   sublime Ground, ultimately beyond all manifest form, while it also sees the realm of manifest form as the playful and ecstatic dance of that very Ground. Its God is to be found both in prayer and in lovemaking, in meditation and in mountain climbing. It sees every moment as an  opportunity; for learning, for giving, for expressing a truer nature. Perhaps  more than anything, it is a spirituality built upon adventure, a plunge into  the unknown.

From the little I have glimpsed of this emergent spirituality, I am heartened for our future. So many ills of the modern world--- excessive consumerism, rampant fear and mistrust, addiction, war,  ecological meltdown, racism, grosses imbalances in wealth--- promise to, if not be solved, then at least be softened by this new kind of spirituality. Freed from rigid and dogmatic faiths, we can engage in a richer spiritual dialogue. Freed from the need to accumulate more material goods, we can begin to turn the tide on environmental destruction. Freed from the maintenance of falsely pleasant facades, we can begin to heal and let our creative, authentic nature expresses itself. Freed from the separation of rational thought and passionate soul, we can engage in further technological and social evolution far more intelligently and compassionately.”

In closing, one of my favorite stories illustrates what I am trying to express. 

Jack Cornfield, a Buddhist priest and PhD psychologist, tells a story on one of his tapes while doing a retreat. Dr. Cornfield relates that he received a letter from one of his participants telling of her experience after the retreat when she returned home.  She related that she was so inspired at the retreat she was excited to return home to practice her new Buddhist awareness and also a little anxious as her parents were very strict and devout Christians. She told the story that when she tried really hard to be a good Buddhist her parents hated her but when she allowed herself to be Buddha-like, they loved her.

May we be filled with the Power of the Holy Spirit to be Christ-like in all things!And may we join with St. Paul as he invites us to see the blazing glory of the Gospel:

“Therefore, I urge you, my brothers and sisters, pondering God’s wondrous mercy, to be living examples, wholesome and pleasing to God. This truly is spiritual worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind and heart, keeping constant vigilance over your behavior toward others.  By this great transformation, persons and nations of the earth will then be able to test and approve of God’s will. God will be revealed as gracious goodness, and amazing love-kindness. God’s Presence will be known as a wondrously sweet taste, a richly pleasing fragrance and perfection as glorious as a sunset over the mountains or on the beach by the ocean.”

Mac Broussard

Further Readings

St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 12 and Chapter 14. The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancy. Original Blessing by Matthew Fox. Wee, Whee, We All the Way Home by Matthew Fox. Compassion by Matthew Fox. Coming of the Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox. Reinvention of Work by Matthew Fox. The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. Shambala:Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa. After Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Cornfield. Intimacy with God by Fr. Thomas Keating. Centering Prayer by Basil Penington. Thomas Merton any of the books he has authored. Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Chris Cowand. Stages of Faith by James Fowler. On Being A Christian by Hans Kung. Theology for the Third Millennium by Hans Kung. Thank God for Evolution by Michael Dowd. Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt. I Buried My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. Nature Journal of John Muir by John Muir. The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernie Kurtz. The Cloud of Unknowing by anonymous. The Way of the Pilgrim by anonymous.

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