We who are many form one body.


4Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4-5

The New Testament writers used many images to help followers of Jesus get the church. One of those images is the “Body of Christ.” Today we are the living representation of Jesus in and to the world. And you are a part of it. Paul writes here that you have a special function in the body of Jesus. You are a part of the body.

Here’s a challenging feature to our hyper-individualization as it comes to our idea of private spirituality and the church: we all belong together in Christ. Jesus has actually called us into relationship with each other. The cool feature is that as you grow and relate within the Body of Christ you will discover the special ways He has gifted you for the mission and ministry of the Church.  I’m glad to be in this family, His Body, and adventure of faith with you.


Natural Spirituality

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16

The Gospel frames “spiritual” as a condition brought about by the Spirit of God through Jesus Christ. So for the Christian living in my setting of people claiming “spiritual but not religious” some sophistication is required to maintain the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel.

The same Jesus who was present at Creation with the Father, and Holy Spirit is with us. The same Jesus who lived among Israel and died on the Cross is present with us. The same Jesus who was raised from the dead and ascended to Heaven is with us. The same Jesus who will return again some day is with us.

For the “natural” “Spirituality” is the common language that retains the common grace of intrinsic worth emerging from the image of God. Even the “natural” may recognize their need for love, for respect, for righteousness, for power and yet deny Jesus Christ.

Now, In Christ, we have Him and He has us, by the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is working so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.

We have been given the mind of Christ. Now we are no longer “natural.” Now we are made to be “spiritual” in the truest sense by means of the Gospel. Yet we affirm the “natural” in their quest and desires that correspond with the glory of God and His Kingdom.

Jesus is with us. Our spirit is alive to God through the work of Jesus Christ. Now we are truly spiritual as the Gospel frames “spiritual.”


Spiritual, Not Religious and Stupid, Selfish & Unhappy?

David Webster, author of Dispirited:  How Contemporary Spirituality Makes us Stupid, Selfish, and Unhappy, comments on the self-identification trend of “spiritual, not religious.”  While not a particularly religious person himself, he believes spirituality that is not grounded in a view of reality and practice actually contributes to a toxic kind of spirituality.  Here’s more from a recent interview:

That the idea of being “spiritual, but not religious” is, at the very least, problematic. As I suggest in the book, mind-body-spirit spirituality is in danger of making us stupid, selfish, and unhappy.

Stupid—because its open-ended, inclusive and non-judgemental attitude to truth-claims actually becomes an obstacle to the combative, argumentative process whereby we discern sense from nonsense. To treat all claims as equivalent, as valid perspectives on an unsayable ultimate reality, is not to really take any of them seriously. It promotes a shallow, surface approach, whereby the work of discrimination, of testing claims against each other, and our experience in the light of method, is cast aside in favour of a lazy, bargain-basement-postmodernist relativism.

Selfish—because the ‘inner-turn’ drives us away from concerns with the material; so much so that being preoccupied with worldly matters is somehow portrayed as tawdry or shallow. It’s no accident that we see the wealthy and celebrities drawn to this very capitalist form of religion: most of the world realizes that material concerns do matter. I don’t believe that we find ourselves and meaning via an inner journey. I’m not even sure I know what it means. While of course there is course for introspection and self-examination, this, I argue, has to be in a context of concrete social realities.

Finally, I argue that the dissembling regarding death in most contemporary spirituality—the refusal to face it as the total absolute annihilation of the person and all about them—leaves it ill-equipped to help us truly engage with the existential reality of our own mortality and finitude. In much contemporary spirituality there is an insistence of survival (and a matching vagueness about its form) whenever death is discussed. I argue that any denial of death (and I look at the longevity movements briefly too) is an obstacle to a full, rich life, with emotional integrity. Death is the thing to be faced if we are to really live. Spirituality seems to me to be a consolation that refuses this challenge, rather seeking to hide in the only-half-believed reassurances of ‘spirit’, ‘energy’, previous lives, and ‘soul’.

Read the whole interview at Religion Dispatches.


The impact of faculty on the spiritual life of university students

Alexander W. Asten, Helen S. Asten, and Jennifer A Lindholm, UCLA, published a full report on their extensive study of the spiritual lives of university students in the book Cultivating the Spirit: How College can Enhance Students’ inner lives (2011, Josey-Bass).

Among the many interesting observations drawn from their study are comments on the impact a school’s faculty has on spirituality among students.

When faculty directly encourage students to explore questions of meaning and purpose, students become more likely to show positive growth in levels of Spiritual Quest, Equanimity, Ethic of Caring, and Ecumenical Worldview.  Likewise, if faculty attend to students’ spiritual development by encouraging students’ expressions of spirituality, and by acting themselves as spiritual role models, students show more positive growth in the same four spiritual qualities as well as in Charitable Involvement.

Remarkably, many of the faculty we surveyed consider themselves to be spiritual (81% indicate so to “some” or a “great” extent) and to be religious (64%).  Also, six in them faculty indicate that they engage in prayer or meditation to “some” or a “great” extent, and about seven in ten tell us that they seek opportunities to grow spiritually.  Moreover, almost half of faculty (47%) consider integrating spirituality in their lives as a “very important” or “essential” goal.  As one faculty member we interviewed explained: “It’s an important part of life. How can you live life without it? Otherwise, what are you?  You might as well be a robot.”  Another commented, “My spirituality is part of me affirming my humanity.”

Although many faculty view the spiritual dimension of their lives as important, we nevertheless observe considerable reluctance within faculty on the place of spirituality in high education.  For example, when asked whether “colleges should be concerned with students’ spiritual development,” only a minority of faculty (30%) agree, a response that seems inconsistent with the fact that the majority of faculty endorse undergraduate goals such as helping students develop self-understanding, moral character, and personal values.  As we have already said, this apparent contradiction may well stem from the discomfort many faculty have with the term “spiritual.”  One wonders if some of this discomfort would be alleviated if faculty knew how we have attempted to define and measure “spirituality” in the current study and what we have found with respect to students’ spiritual development.

In other words, it would be interesting to see how many faculty would embrace the idea of assisting students in their search for meaning and purpose (spiritual quest), in attain greater equanimity, in being more  caring for others (ethic of caring), in participating more actively in charitable activities, and in becoming more conversant with different religious traditions and enlarging their understanding of other countries and cultures (ecumenical worldview).  As one faculty member reflected:  “I’d say there’s very little opportunity (on campus) to talk specifically about spiritual matters.  On the other hand, there’s lots of opportunity to talk about some of the principles that come out of that, like compassion; a willingness to help others; finding your own voice; and knowing yourself.  The principles that come out of spiritual orientation can be, and in fact are, integrated into a lot of the academic life.  But my impression is that talking about it directly is discouraged.”  Cultivating the Spirit, p. 150-151.

As I reflect on my own university experience the faculty that made the most impact in my life shared not often but sometimes their spiritual perspectives and musings as it related to what we were studying.  I remember both negative and positive responses in myself and my classmates.  But there’s the thing — I remember.  Of all the many classes forgotten, these are what I remember.  As I think about the students and faculty at UBC I hope the value of engaging the spiritual conversation in the context of the classroom will be raised — for there much memory and influence for good can be gained.

Cultivating the Spirit.

Personal Thoughts on Dalai Lama Center, Peace Summit, Vancouver 2009

In a few days Vancouver will be inundated with people who have demonstrated with their life a commitment to improving the lives of others and building a life of peace.  The Peace Summit, Vancouver 2009, sponsored by the Dalai Lama Center in Vancouver has drawn together an extraordinary group of people for dialogue in both public and private conversations. The Epoch times has an informative article listing and describing the participants which include the Dalai Lama, and Noble Peace Prize Laureates, Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, and Mairead Maguire.

I was recently asked what I thought about the event.  Here are a few personal observations and the perspectives that shape them–just looking in before it gets started:

1.  The Summit is a remarkable celebration of LIBERTY.  As a philosophical construct informed from a Christian worldview, liberty demands that people be free to hold exclusive and divergent positions or truth claims while maintaining the dignity and high value of all humanity in respectful interactions.  Where liberty is most graciously practiced tension abounds–especially for those who observe people with divergent truth-claims getting along and planning to do good together.

2.  The Summit promotes the difficult task of PEACEMAKING.  The values and competencies required to make peace in a world of hostility will be discussed and made available through the event.  Relational reconciliation begins in our own neighbourhoods and cities.  To break dividing walls of hostility is not an easy task and requires “wisdom from heaven.”  Jesus calls his followers to respond to His grace with lives that promote peace; he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”  And James writes,

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.  NIV (James 3:13-18)

3.  The Summit is a reflection of COMMON GRACE.  From the perspective of a Christian worldview I see the Peace Summit as a possibility only because of God’s gracious kindness toward all humanity who desires that all would come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  Notice the gift of peace for people that Christians are to seek in prayer as described in 1 Timothy 2:1-6

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.  (NIV)

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.

4.  The Summit is a RELIGIOUS event.  Participants, including the Dalai Lama come to the Summit from their own worldview and construct of faith either in themselves, or a set of principles greater themselves, or in a god.  If we understand spirituality as the pursuit required to integrate what we see with what we don’t see then one could say this is a SPIRITUAL event as well.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, writes to the churches that “Religion God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)  Religion though is most often an exercise in self-justification, self-righteousness, and self-awareness.  When either of these selves is threatened it turns quickly to the desires for power and control in order to maintain this idolatry or balance of a self-satisfied life.  A spirituality flowing out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be categorically different in its realization that justification, righteousness and awareness are secured in Christ.  As a resident of a City (Vancouver) that has many who long to be good, I can observe with the Apostle Paul that God has worked in the hearts of humanity a record of His Law or way:  “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing , now even defending them.”  (Romans 2:14-15)  One of the stated goals of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education is the “education of the heart;” participants will be encouraged to explore and develop personal peace from which will hopefully flow compassion for others; that’s religion at its best.  Not a GOSPEL event but a RELIGIOUS event.

5.  The Peace Summit reminds me of the SUPREMACY OF CHRIST.  The followers of Jesus even from the first century have entered into the real and sometimes figurative Areopagus (See Acts 17:16-34)  in order to proclaim the reality and the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The exchange of ideas in the marketplace is exciting and sometimes costly.  Love and Truth do mix.  Our Vancouver- Canadian apprehension of conflict will be challenged by the public exchange of ideas that the Peace Summit elicits.  From the Christian worldview, Christians live their lives in response to Jesus Christ because of His “work” on the cross and His resurrection that confirmed and completed His work.  Jesus is our Prince of Peace.  He brings a peace that the world cannot give.  He brings a peace with God that transcends all other realities.  I don’t want to pretend about the realities of conflict like those who say, “Peace, Peace, where there is no peace.”  (See Jeremiah 6:14)  The claims of Christ are in direct conflict with the dominant messages of spiritual self-sufficiency.  The Apostles who functioned in a world of diverse ideas and claims to truth show us how to live as followers of Jesus Christ:  test the spirits, discern the truth, act in love.    See 1 John 4:1-21 below.

4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.  NIV

Recent articles:

Vancouver Sun writer Douglas Todd explores the three goals of the Peace Summit.