AMOS SMITH AND RICH LEWIS:
Amos is a family man, hiker, seasoned Centering Prayer practitioner, retreat leader, Contemplative Christian writer, amateur musician, dish washer, desert dweller, and ordained United Church of Christ (UCC) pastor.
Amos holds a Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary. He teaches a class titled “Contemporary Christian Mysticism” at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson and has been invited to participate in forums at the University of Arizona. His writing has been published in various newspapers and magazines including The Billings Gazette, The Spokesman Review, Friends Journal: Quaker Thought and Life Today, and Chicago Seminary Press.
Amos published his first book, Healing The Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots with Wipf & Stock Publishers in 2013. The book has been well received and reviewed and is part of the curriculum for the Living School of The Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC | Richard Rohr).
Amos’ next book, Be Still: Meditations on Silence, Stillness, and Mysticism in the Bible, will be published in February or March of 2018. Amos is also working on a book co-authored with Rich Lewis titled Centering Prayer Journey: Discovering and Mirroring the Dynamic Unity of the Divine Christ and the Human Jesus scheduled to come out in 2018.
RICH’S SHORT BIOGRAPHY
Rich Lewis has been a daily practitioner of centering prayer since June 1, 2014. Centering prayer has changed his life. Rich enjoys writing short quotes and small articles that share the fruits he has experienced as a result of his centering prayer practice. These fruits include: compassion, listening, empathy, non-dual thinking, letting go, and presence to name a few. Rich looks forward to sharing the beauty of silence and centering prayer with others who want to learn more.
Rich is currently writing a book with Amos Smith: Centering Prayer Journey: Discovering and Mirroring the Dynamic Christ and the Human Jesus, which is scheduled to come out in 2018. Rich is a leader of writing and publicity for Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots (RCMR), a centering prayer and contemplative arts workshop leader, and has published articles for a number of organizations including Abbey of the Arts, Contemplative Light, Contemplative Outreach, EerdWord.com and Exploring Belief and The Contemplative Writer.
Rich was a guest on The Graveyard Cowboy At Midnight hosted by Clint Sabon. Enjoy Rich Lewis on Centering Prayer and Contemplative Prayer. You can also listen on iTunes.
Rich and his family live in Ambler, Pennsylvania.
AMOS’ EXPANDED BIOGRAPHY
The son of an artist (mom) and a Foreign Service diplomat (dad), Amos Smith lived his first ten years overseas and finished his growing up years in Virginia. He has lived in Indonesia, Bolivia, Uganda, Yemen, and has traveled the world since. Highlights of Amos’ travels include a year of service work in Uganda, East Africa in 1989, a month long trip to Pechersk Lavra (a preeminent center of East Orthodox Christianity) in Kiev, Ukraine in 1990, a summer at a Gandhian Ashram in Bali, Indonesia in 1992, a year-long India and Nepal adventure in 1993, and yearly retreats to a string of monasteries and retreat centers across the Western States from the year 2000 to the present.
Amos earned a Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Religion from The University of California at Santa Cruz in 1993, a Masters of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley in 1998, and a Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2008. He is a lifelong student of three streams: Progressive Christianity, Contemplative Christianity, and Orthodox Christian Mysticism.
Amos began his interest in religion when serving as an acolyte and crucifer at Saint George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia, where he was mentored by the pastor.
During college days, Amos became a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Friends’ silent meetings for worship were Amos’s introduction to Centering Prayer and Christian Mysticism. Amos found his way to the United Church of Christ in 1994, which he cherishes for its inclusive message and social justice witness. Of his journey he says, “I am ecumenical to my core.”
In 1999 Amos began his career as an ordained United Church of Christ minister in Montana at the base of The Beartooth Mountains. Amos, an avid backpacker and mountain climber, loved hiking and climbing in The Beartooths. Since Montana Amos has served as an ordained UCC minister for eighteen years in Washington, Oregon, and Arizona.
Amos and his family live in Tucson, Arizona.
Amos has been called a mystic, church reformer, and bridge builder who encourages Evangelicals to loosen their grip on the various certainties and behold Mystery. He also encourages his progressive colleagues to behold a bare-bones alternative orthodoxy (The Jesus Paradox) to protect the mystic epicenter of Christian tradition.
Smith scraps the two convenient boxes into which liberals and conservative try to fit Jesus. In this regard, he is an independent. Liberals make Jesus a historical human being (drop the Divinity with a capital D). Conservatives make Jesus Divine and the only way to God (drop the humanity with a lower case h). Both are reductionist and both flatten the mystery of the incarnation. Christian Mystics, on the other hand, are open to ambiguity, complexity, and holding opposites in creative tension. Christian Mystics behold the multi-dimensional mysterious truth of the Jesus Paradox: at once God and human!
Amos teaches the radical inclusion of all God’s people as modeled by Jesus in the Gospels. He celebrates interfaith dialogue within the context of roots in one tradition. He highlights Jesus’ nonviolence and peace testimony. For Amos authentic Christianity is about contemplation wedded to activism and social justice, which includes eco-justice. He is a an enthusiastic student of Christian Mysticism and a lifelong learner whose thinking is continually evolving. His organization, Recover Christianity’s Mystic Roots (RCMR), understands that there are five primary roots of contemporary Christian Mysticism: New Monasticism, Centering Prayer, Christian Mysticism, The Jesus Paradox, and Nonviolence toward people and the earth. For more on these five see this website’s “ABOUT RCMR SUBJECTS” tab.
Amos critiques much of what passes for progressive scholarship and theology today, which is profoundly skeptical of the Gospels. This skepticism reaches its logical extreme with author G.A. Wells, who makes the ridiculous claim that Jesus never actually existed and was a myth fabricated by the second century Church (This is refuted by the fact that first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, a third party witness, mentions Jesus in his History Of The Jews). Amos doesn’t take the opposite extreme, claiming the Gospels are error free. There are contradictions (i.e. Jesus dies on different days in Mark and John), exaggerations, and embellishments. Yet Smith maintains that most of the Synoptic Gospels depict actual events (in the context of Graeco-Roman biographies of the time).
One of the reasons Smith draws the conclusion that the most of the Gospels portray actual events is based on the experience that he and many others have had of holy women and men, who exude spiritual power, such as the Benedictine Monk, Thomas Keating (contemporary example). Smith reasons that if the spiritual power that emanates from such holy people was magnified exponentially, it would heal people and generate other miraculous phenomena, as recorded in the Gospels. The Gospel miracles also explain Jesus’ rise from obscurity to immense popularity. Another reason Smith draws the conclusion that the Gospels are authentic is forensic evidence, such as The Magdalen Papyrus at Oxford University, which shows an earlier composition date for Matthew’s gospel than previously hypothesized: 66 CE. This papyrus and the respected papyrologists who have analysed it, strengthens the argument that Matthew and Mark were written by eyewitnesses. Or, if not written by eyewitnesses, they were at least written within very close proximity to the death of Jesus (30 CE) and based on firsthand spoken and written accounts (See Eyewitness To Jesus by Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew d’Ancona, pg. 125).
Someone asked Smith “What about Bart Ehrman and the commonly held belief among historically critical New Testament scholars that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses?”
His response… “It is possible that a majority of scholars in a field can lack objectivity because they have collectively put so much stock in an idea (Gospels not written by eyewitnesses). And built so much research on it, that they will deny objective evidence that contradicts their commonly held belief. This is a well-known phenomenon that the field of psychology refers to as cognitive dissonance. In their book, Eyewitness to Jesus, the authors address this dissonance (pg. 152-154). Smith realizes that when it comes to the field of New Testament scholarship, his is a minority position.
In the years that followed Smith’s travels in India, he studied Christian Mysticism and the mystical theology of The Alexandrian Mystics (more precisely, “The Alexandrian Fathers”), which made even more sense of the Gospels. After discovering The Jesus Paradox of The Alexandrian Mystics Amos now believes in the integration of theology and spirituality. This integration is common in the Eastern Church, but not as common in the West. Christian Mysticism, many of Smith’s contemporaries in The Centering Prayer Tradition, and Smith’s experience, affirm that the integration of head and heart, theology and experience, has the most transformative and generative power.
In their severe reaction to fundamentalism, many progressives have taken their skepticism of Christianity’s Gospel foundations too far. Amos reiterates that the limbs of Christian tradition may be diseased and riddled with ego battles and intolerance, but the heart of the tradition (Christian Mysticism and The Jesus Paradox, which he writes about in his book) is a transformative force of nature.
Amos believes, along with author Houston Smith, that “Liberal churches, for their part, are digging their own graves, for without a robust, emphatically theistic world-view to work within (incarnation), they have nothing to offer their members except rallying cries to be good (Smith, The Soul of Christianity, xx).”
Amos dedicates his writing to recovering Christian Mysticism’s roots–roots that have the power to restore wholeness to twenty-first century Christianity. He also knows that “Christianity will likely fight its own mystical tradition more than most religions fight theirs, because it has so heavily invested itself in highly rational structures (Hugo Lassalle).”
The Christian Mystics’ exemplar is Jesus (Jesus Paradox), who sidesteps dualistic polarizations by keeping silent, telling a story, asking a question (Jesus asks 381 questions in the Gospels), or presenting a third alternative that uncovers the artificial dilemma. Jesus understood that persistent dualisms and the thinking they spawn are the subtle roots of violence. Jesus embodied paradox, non-dual awareness, and the infinite creative tension that follows. This non-dual awareness is “the resurrection of the mind.” It is “The Dominion of God,” “the peace that passes all understanding,” referred to in the New Testament (Luke 17:21, Philippians 4:7). And it is available in the present moment, transforming the way we see!
In broad brush strokes Amos self-identifies as a postmodern Christian and ecumenical bridge builder. His postmodernism bares some resemblance to Brian McLaren’s postmodernism whimsically put forth in A Generous Orthodoxy. Yet, instead of the dizzying array of identifiers McLaren sketches in his book, Amos self-identifies (in somewhat finer brush strokes) as the following: United Church of Christ Pastor, orthodox mystic, franciscan contemplative, quaker activist. You will notice these are all lower case except for “UCC Pastor,” which is his primary religious affiliation and identity, and the denomination he has served as an ordained minister for eighteen years.
Amos is a Democrat who tends to resist the far right and the far left because they expect they have the monopoly on wisdom. Amos also commends mature debate where “agreeing to disagree” is a viable option. He agrees with John F. Kennedy that “It is better to debate an issue and leave it unsettled, than it is to settle an issue without debating it.” This push and pull approach that values debate is informed by the Jesus Paradox, which holds opposites in “creative tension” and doesn’t rush to conclusions.