A NOTE TO THE READER: WE THINK THE BEST WAY TO UTILIZE THIS PAGE IS TO SIMPLY SCAN THE QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS AND SEE WHICH ONES INTEREST YOU.
67. QUESTION (7/15/2017)
In your book, Healing The Divide, you mention the Jesus Paradox. what is the Jesus Paradox? Why is it important?
The Jesus Paradox is the root theology of the Oriental Orthodox Church and its roughly 85 million members worldwide. The word the Oriental Orthodox Church uses is Miaphysite, which I have coined The Jesus Paradox. The reason The Jesus Paradox is important is because it is the root theology of Christian Mysticism. The Jesus Paradox does not give in to reductionist either/or binaries – that Jesus is a human wisdom teacher on the one hand or God on the other hand. The Jesus Paradox always holds the creative tension between the two, never succumbing to static finality. This give Christian Theology depth and width.
66. COMMENT (6/26/2017)
I think Christian Mysticism is irrational.
I don’ think it’s irrational. Rather, it is trans-rational. In other words, mature Christian Mysticism respects the profound accomplishments of the reasoning mind, yet also understands reason’s limitations when approaching absolute or non-dual consciousness.
65. COMMENT (5/5/2017)
I think New Monasticism and Centering Prayer are only for the elite. Only the elite can afford the time off for regular retreats and for daily centering prayer.
I totally disagree.
The early monasteries were accustomed to hard labor and many monasteries today keep themselves financially solvent through cultivating grapes, strawberries, and other labor intensive endeavors. Contrary to popular opinion, hard work is conducive to centering prayer and monasticism. My centering prayer is deeper when I engage in regular strenuous exercise. I remember two summers when I engaged in hard manual work and my centering prayer practice was particularly deep then. Centering prayer aligns and harmonizes the central nervous system and muscular system. It follows that exercise or physical work are catalysts for deepening prayer.
As to time constraints, I have a friend who has a physically strenuous blue collar job, yet he still manages to get up early enough to center for twenty minutes each morning and for a second sit in the evening.
64. QUESTION (11/23/2016)
What do you think of the concept of original sin?
Original Sin was emphasized by Augustine and Augustine is in the bloodstream of the West. Yet, it is important to note that Augustine didn’t have much influence in the East and therefore the concept of Original Sin has gotten much less traction in the Eastern Church. The Eastern Church, especially Philokalia writers, emphasize original blessing, also referred to as original purity, original state, and pre-fallen state in The Philokalia. So, beneath all the layers of dysfunction there is this original purity that can be discovered in silent prayer. This does not negate original sin, but appropriately tempers it. I think the most useful way to think about original sin is “the human condition” referenced in Western Psychology. The human condition is predicated on the fact that by nature we are self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-fixated. This self interest becomes neurotic in the vast majority of people. One way to think about salvation is to make the journey from being self-centered to becoming Christ-centered. This requires journeying from hostility to hospitality.
63. QUESTION (10/23/2016)
What are your greatest influences?
Aside from the progressive and social justice bend of my denomination, The United Church of Christ (UCC)… My most important influence has been the Quakers (FGC). I was a member of the Society of Friends for five years during college days and have always been a closet Quaker. Friends silent meetings for worship introduced me to disciplined silences, which I later explored more deeply. It also convinced me of the centrality of Nonviolence in Jesus’ message. When it comes to individuals, George Fox and Thomas Merton have been my greatest influences. Fox represents a balanced model for New Monasticism and Merton, a model for engaged contemporary Christian Mysticism. Thanks for the question.
62. QUESTION (06/17/2016)
What is the primary purpose of RCMR?
The primary purpose is to plant seeds. We believe that the five RCMR subjects are the most life-giving aspects of Christian Tradition. If even just one of the ideas takes hold in a person or a community it will lead to abundant life (John 10:10).
61. QUESTION PART 1 (06/17/2016)
So what responsibility does God have for the killing of so many innocent people in Orlando?
I don’t think these are God’s actions.
QUESTION PART 2
Neither do I, Rich. But He at least has to accept responsibility for letting bad thing happen to good people, even if He doesn’t cause them to happen. I’m no authority on the subject, but it seems to me that someone who believes that Jesus came to bring the forgiveness of sins may have to consider that it may be that God wants us to forgive Him as much as He wants to forgive us.
I don’t know what God is thinking. I do believe that Jesus was the human incarnation of God. I believe that Jesus is at once both God and human. I believe that God experienced humanity through Jesus. I think God stands in solidarity with humans. I think God is with us in our suffering. I think God forgives us. My daily silent prayer practice will continue. I need to sit with God. It teaches me who I am and who God is. It will be a life long journey and I am ok with that. It teaches me how to live. I also think it is very healthy to have these type of discussions. I am enjoying reading your thoughts on this. Thanks.
QUESTION PART 3
Thanks, Rich. I hear you. I appreciate your openness. I’ve had the thought that, if God incarnate had to suffer, how could we expect to fair any better?
60. QUESTION (06/16/2016)
In your response to Question 43 (which said “I think much of your writing is irrational”) on the Q and A page, you seem to be critiquing logic/reason as dualistic and contrasting it to a superior nondual type of thinking. It almost seems like you’re criticizing logic and reason. Could you please say more about the role of logic and reasoning and how that fits with your nondual and/or Christian God worldview?
I will start with a quotation from Orthodox Writer Kallistos Ware:
The spirit or spiritual intellect is … distinct from man’s (woman’s) reasoning powers and his (her) aesthetic emotions, and superior to both of them (Ware, Kallistos, The Orthodox Way, pg.48).
We’re not separate from God or Nirvana or any other word our limited language has for our Source. We simply don’t realize it. Our reasoning faculties are dominant, so we separate everything into observer and observed, subject and object, this and that, which is illusion. Reason is functional when it engineers a telescope. It’s pathetic when it pokes at ultimate Reality. Poker and poked are incomprehensibly One … “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
One way to think about this: The high schooler transcends his high school education (dualistic thought) when he graduates from college (nondual thought). Yet, what he learned in high school remains useful and he includes it in his knowledge base.
I’m sorry if this answer seems cryptic, but I think it’s probably the best I can do with words. The languages that are higher than words are stillness and silence. These are the windows into the spiritual faculties. Words are hopelessly inadequate at probing the ultimate non-dual layers of consciousness because words are inherently dualistic.
Words and binary thought have an exalted place in the development of human societies. Yet, they are barred from the higher reaches of consciousness and apprehension of the God Mystery. I took this point on faith in the beginning. And I knew that all the people who wrote about the transformation of consciousness and intimacy with God through silent prayer (Maximos the Confessor in particular) could not all be lying. So, I started the long journey of 40 minutes of daily silent prayer 15 years ago and understand more as I go along.
I hope this helps.
59. COMMENT (06/13/2016)
I think “God is in the searching”
Well, I hope I am not singing the U2 Song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” forever. That would be sad.
God does seem to be subjective and the questions we bring contain the answers.
For me God is primarily about actual discipline and actual experience, which has a deeply physiological and neurological component. This conviction began with the fact that I was an athlete in high school and honored daily discipline and that I believed that all the mediators who claimed it was deeply transformative couldn’t all by lying.
58. QUESTION (06/07/2016)
Amos, what is your faith background? I’m trying to find out more about you online. Your roots…
Thanks for asking. I was born and raised Episcopalian. Then became a Quaker (FGC) during college. Then I found the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 1994 and have been there since. I have been a UCC minister for 17 years. In other words, I have never left the faith. My denomination encourages people to think for themselves and wrestle with their faith. I have been doing this all my life.
57. QUESTION (06/01/2016)
What are the two most definitive statements you can make?
That’s a challenging question! I will try to answer…
1) Jesus is my true north.
2) Science has revealed that there are exceptions to every rule.
56. COMMENT (05/27/2016)
For me “mysticism” is a loaded and pretentious term
Yes, it is loaded. Part of what makes it a buzz word is that many co-opt the term in a undisciplined way that is not tied to history and tradition. Some Jungian Psychologists today are helping us to unpack the term. They suggest that the primary thing we repress as we develop into mature adulthood is not the fear of death or our sexuality, but intimate and vital connection to God (Christ). Some Jungian Psychologists tell us that we experience this profound intimacy with God in the first year of our lives and spend the rest of our lives repressing it. Mystical experiences, so vital to human beings, are the true return to “Eden” (Genesis 3:8) or “The Kingdom of God” (Luke 17:21) celebrated in scripture. A discipline of silent prayer (we recommend centering prayer) can help us recover what was lost and repressed, so that we can have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
55. QUESTION (05/18/2016)
Have you attained Divine Union? If so, how do you know?
Good question. I have been practicing centering prayer for almost 2 years. During silent prayer the objective is to rest in God. When I rest in God my whole being is more open to the actions God will take in me. These actions are completely up to God. Silent prayer teaches me how to live. I have noticed the following fruits of silent prayer in my daily life: I am calmer, I am more confident, I don’t panic as much when in stressful situations, I might keep my mouth shut when in the past I might have said something I later regret, I have an excitement for life that did not exist before, I feel alive. This has been my experience up to this point.
54. QUESTION (05/16/2016)
So then is it true to say that you can’t completely avoid sin by trying to avoid sin, or that you can’t avoid sin by having a laundry list of sins to avoid?
Silent prayer teaches me how to live. It is a practice that I must keep. Two years ago I might have reacted poorly to a situation that today I no longer scream and yell over. Silent prayer slows me down so the fruits of the Spirit have a better chance to flourish. Let me be very honest. I am work in progress!
53. QUESTION (05/06/2016)
What is your connection to the Oriental Orthodox Church?
I was friends with Ethiopian Orthodox Monk, Abba Yohannes, of Nine Saints Ethiopian Orthodox Monastery. Before he died of cancer, Abba Yohannes and I corresponded via email and letter. He advised me on the writing of Healing The Divide.
I have worshiped at Coptic Churches, including Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Phoenix. I am friends with Oriental Orthodox (Coptic) Priest, Father Marcus Mansour. Fr. Mansour is currently translating Healing The Divide for a Coptic Edition.
The Oriental Orthodox Church is sometimes rightly referred to as “The Mother Church.” It is arguably the oldest living Christian Tradition dating back directly to the Apostle Mark. To stay liturgically connected to The Mother Church I read the liturgies of Saint Basil, Saint Gregory, and Saint Cyril, which Fr. Marcus gifted me in 2014. These liturgies have been kept alive since the second century. One time I asked Fr. Marcus if the liturgy of Saint Basil had been changed in the last eighteen hundred years. He said “no.” That’s a different level of tradition than we know in the West, not without its challenges, yet a very deep well in deed.
52. QUESTION (04/28/2016)
Would you say that to understand Jesus’ essence is to know (his) love?
Diana, Thanks for your feedback. Yes, I think that Jesus’ essence is love. And the love of Jesus is a twofold dynamic: love of God through prayer and love of people and the planet through service.
51. QUESTION (04/25/2016)
Why did Bodhidharma come from the West? Why are Christians fascinated by the Ten Commandments?
I am not familiar with him. I googled him to see who he was.
I don’t want to speak for all Christians. I am fascinated with Jesus, Silent Prayer, spending time with friends and family, writing, reading, French pressed coffee and being outdoors.
50. COMMENT (04/24/2016)
Your approach to Christianity doesn’t seem that cutting edge to me.
It is not “cutting edge” from the Western liberal point of view, which is for the most part post-Christian. I am not interested in the Western liberal “cutting edge,” which has left global Christianity and the World Council of Churches in the dust. What I am interested in is not a merely “progressive” Western Christianity that leaves the rest of the world behind.
I am interested in a perspective that is both “progressive” and “global.” A “progressive global” Christianity will become a reality in my lifetime. And that is what I want to be a part of… A Christianity that still reads the New Testament … A Christianity that has an integrated vision that includes the past. I don’t want to drop kick the past and create something new. I want to build on the past in innovative ways that honor core tenets of Christian revelation, such as the divinity of Jesus.
49. QUESTION (04/13/2016)
Do you believe in demons and angels?
I think “angels and demons” language can easily sidetrack people into focusing too much on unseen elements. From my perspective, what is more helpful is to identify the angels and demons in human history, which still exert ripple effects today. My archangel is Jesus. And for me the arch-demons are people like Pol Pot, Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. These “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12) are diametrically opposed to each other–one clearly good and the other clearly evil.
48. QUESTION (03/24/2016)
Can you succinctly summarize the Christian Path in two or three sentences?
Yes. It is to move from a self-centered life to a Christ-centered life (Galatians 2:20). Then, it is to more and more exquisitely love God and love one’s neighbors (The Greatest Commandment: Matthew 22:38). These actions of the Holy Spirit require deep spiritual practice.
47. QUESTION (02/26/2016)
You and Marcus Borg, in your own ways, proclaim an open-minded Christianity. What differentiates this Christianity from liberal “Jesus was a great prophet” Islam?
I haven’t been compared to Marcus Borg before. There are many differences between us, including notoriety. He is far more visible and influential than I am. But to answer your question, there are many differences. The most significant difference is the Trinity. All traditional Christians of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant varieties celebrate the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is rooted in Genesis 1 (Creator), Luke 2 (Christ), and Acts 2 (Holy Spirit). Islam rejects the Trinity. The Trinity elevates Jesus from prophet to “same substance” with God.
46. QUESTION (02/06/2016)
“Visit the sick, console the distressed, and do not make your longing for prayer a pretext for turning away from anyone who asks for your help; for love is greater than prayer.” Excerpt From: St Makarios of Corinth. “The Philokalia, Volume Four.” Hi Amos, Just wanted to know what you make of this as I was reading through the Philokalia. Love being greater than prayer that is of which I agree. How shall we or do you approach this?
I have wrestled with this for a long time. There are few who strike the balance gracefully. One is George Fox. The way I strike the balance in my own life is to visualize it in two halves. There is my ministry, which is essentially about loving people. And there is my centering prayer and writing, which is essentially about the love of God. Of course there is no way to cleanly divide the two. I think that together they create the most balance approach to faith, but prayer should come first. Because only a presence steeped in prayer will be a healing light to others. Without prayer, the love of others can easily be shallow and self-serving with strings attached. I have seen this often.
45. QUESTION (02/03/2016)
What do you think about the current presidential campaign in the U.S.?
In my grandparents generation Republicans and Democrats worked together for the common good. I am saddened by the profound polarization in this election, where working together for the common good seems like a distant dream.
44. What is your biggest lament? (01/20/2016)
Great question! My biggest lament is that actual discipline in silent prayer accompanied by authentic experience, thorough spiritual awakening, and healing are so rare. And that the pull of the reptilian brain and its destructive power (guns, munitions, and trigger pulling) is so prevalent, fast, and cheap.
43. I think much of your writing is irrational.
Thanks for the candor. I appreciate that. Many think that but don’t say it. Reason has been the bully on the block for centuries in the West. And that’s why the mystics were always sidelined at best or tortured and executed at worst. It was Thomas Merton who pulled back the veil and said that the Church Universal had not taught contemplation/mysticism for hundreds of years. We have seen a revitalization of interest and engagement with contemplation and mysticism since Merton. I think this is a good sign.
When I hear you say “much of your writing is irrational” I think I am justified in substituting “not dualistic” for “irrational.” Reason thrives on binaries and the persistent dualisms of win/lose, pass/fail, divine/human, et cetera. If you try to play another game than this the bully will start to stare you down. It takes courage to think holistically in a dualistic world. I admire the courage of Gandhi who stood up against the whole dualistic paradigm of Western imperialism when he said “an ‘eye for an eye’ (Exodus 21:24) will make the whole world blind.”
The rational mind will not tolerate any other player. It is an all-or-nothing approach. There are very few who are capable of balance. Either EVERYTHING is explained by reason or there are demons and ghosts hiding in every corner. There is very little even-handedness. Either healing saints proliferate the planet or faith healings are all bunk.
I take a more measured view. I think paranormal phenomena such house hauntings are very rare, yet they do exist (I would point the reader to Healing the Family Tree by Kenneth McAll). I think faith healers and faith healing is very rare, yet they do exist (I would point the reader to The Prayer That Heals by Francis Macnutt). In other words, I don’t rule out phenomena outside the realm of reason.
Quantum physics is a profound contribution to the field of science because anyone who understands it realizes that on the level of electrons there is phenomena that occurs that is outside reason’s capacities of analysis. This is so threatening to someone who is secure in their “reason trumps all” approach. This is where the West has much to learn from the East. This is especially true for Western Christians. We have much to learn from our Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox sisters and brothers. I hope that in some small way my book, Healing the Divide, has opened a door to deeper dialogue.
42. What is your take on the rapture? (11/30/2015)
I think the idea of the rapture is based on a speculative interpretation of scripture.
41. You write about process theology in your book, Healing The Divide. Does process theology really gel with the Jesus Paradox (Miaphysite theology of the Oriental Orthodox Church)? (11/30/2015)
This is a great question that shows you have read deeply and have some understanding of Oriental Orthodoxy. The short answer is “no.” My version of the Jesus Paradox steeped in process theology, does not gel with Oriental Orthodox Miaphysite theology. I would call my version of Miaphysite “heterodox” or better yet, an “alternative orthodoxy” compared to what the Oriental Orthodox call orthodox.
40. What is you feeling about Evangelical Christian music? (11/30/2015)
Some of it deeply resonates with me. For instance, lately I have been getting into some songs of JJ Heller. She has the profound message that I experience in meditation, especially on retreat–the experience of being loved in the depths of my soul by my Creator. And her message is palpable to me. Her songs are not overly dramatized and seem free from dogma and politics.
39. I am surprised that family is not one of the five subjects of Recover Christianity’s Mystic Roots (RCMR). I find the most peace in this life in my family. (11/17/2015)
Family (broadly defined) is one of the greatest treasures I have found in my life. Yet, as a poster in my wife’s school reads: “We can do anything, but not everything.” RCMR focuses on the noted five subjects because that is what we feel is lacking. That is what needs to be re-introduced to restore the contemplative dimension of the Gospel.
In general the Christian Right emphasizes the family. And the the Christian Left emphasizes justice. I have always thought that the most balanced faith communities emphasize both family (broadly defined) and justice.
An aside here… My favorite mystic is probably George Fox. The reason he is my favorite is that he was broad and balanced. He was married, part of a faith community, deeply involved in social justice issues and in the cause of nonviolence. Yet, he often ventured off by himself for solitude, stillness, and silence. He was a New Monastic who kept an exquisite balance between the active life and the contemplative life. That is why he is an exemplar for people like me who have families, demanding professions, and yet value monastic disciplines. It is possible to keep the delicate balance. It is a rare path. It is also a path of great abundance.
38. The Peace Movement turns me off. When I think of the Peace Movement I think of undisciplined free-loading hippies who espouse “peace, love, and dope.” (11/10/2015)
Nonviolence has a long legacy among Christianity’s historic “Peace Churches:” the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites, and the Quakers (FGC). These traditions believe that primary testimonies of Jesus and the Gospels are NONVIOLENCE and peacemaking. Exemplary passages of scripture that echo this witness include Matthew 5:39b, Mark 15:21, and Matthew 5:40. It is this disciplined approach that costs something, to which authentic Christian Peacemakers turn.
37. Is the universe safe/friendly or not? (10/30/2015)
The world is a sacred and safe place if we stay in the neocortex & deepen silences. If we regress to the reptilian brain’s fight of flight it’s scary and dangerous. The choice is always up to us. We can appeal to the higher faculties of our neocortex, especially the “spiritual faculties” to which Orthodox writers refer. Or, we can regress to the base impulses of our reptilian brains.
36. What does the term Hesychast mean? (10/20/2015)
The term Hesychast comes from the Greek root, Hesychia. Hesychia means “inner stillness.” An adept Hesychast is someone who through training of the mind has achieved inner stillness. Hesychia is rooted in Psalm 46:10, which in the Philokalia is translated “Practice stillness and know God.” The more common translation is “Be still and know that I am God.” The Christian Mystics consistently return to two root practices for experiencing intimacy with God: stillness and silence.
35. My church is very diverse theologically. How do I navigate the diversity. (10/02/2015)
The twenty-first century is about coming to terms with all kinds of diversity, including theological diversity. So, the first step, I would say, is to embrace it. The Jesus Paradox I write about in my book, Healing The Divide, is a way of holding the creative tension around theologies of Jesus. The book can serve as a bridge builder that beholds both high and low Christology (Jesus is God and Jesus is human). It can serve as a springboard for conversation.
34. I find the celibate priesthood of the Catholic Church oppressive. What is your take on this? (9/05/2015)
A more balanced approach is that of the Orthodox Church. An Orthodox Priest or Monk can marry before ordination vows are taken. Then if the wife dies or there is a divorce, there is no second chance. Yet, this is more tempered than the Roman Catholic Priesthood of all celibate priests and monks.
There is a small percentage of society that can handle celibacy. Yet, in my view, the majority cannot handle it well. So, it should be made a choice, not mandated.
33. The Jesus Paradox (Miaphysite) seems like mythology to me. (8/11/2015)
When I’ve given talks about the Jesus Paradox (that Jesus is in the words of Cyril of Alexandria “at once God and human”) some, like you, have commented that they think the Divinity of Jesus is mythology.
I disagree on this point. Yet, I encourage those who hold this point of view to look at other religions. Numerous religions acknowledge special enlightened beings with healing powers. Avatars of Hinduism, Tirthankaras of the Jains, and Bodhisattvas of Tibetan Buddhism are prime examples. Religions have different vocabularies for special enlightened beings. Are the various accounts of these time honored world religions all mere mythologies and metaphors?
Most Christians believe that Jesus was one such special enlightened being. Christianity’s classic witness is that something extraordinary happened with Jesus: God’s distinctive human incarnation. This is Christianity’s unique witness among the world’s religions.
32. Do you consider yourself a scholar? (7/09/2015)
I don’t consider myself a scholar in the strict sense of an academic professional, going to great lengths to uncover all primary sources in various languages and the like. I would say that my approach is scholarly. I read a lot and make lots of notations.
31. How can I teach nonviolent principles to my kids? (6/22/2015)
You can start by steering your children away from bad influences. Violent kid’s videos (think Tom & Jerry) & violent video games (think Manhunt) plant seeds of violence in impressionable young minds.
30. Do you really believe that the miracles in the New Testament actually happened? (5/01/2015)
Many would answer definitely “yes” or definitely “no.” I think both of these responses are dishonest. If we are honest we will acknowledge that ultimately we cannot definitively know what happened two thousand years ago. We can only speculate. As my faith has matured I have become increasingly comfortable with ambiguity, un-knowing, and mystery. And I am okay with ultimately not knowing. Yet, my mind has always been curious, questioning, speculating… So here goes some words…
The hubris of the twenty-first century scientific and reasoning mind rules out miracles as an impossibility. I used to be in this camp myself until a very unlikely experience with a living saint in New Delhi, India in 1995. After New Delhi, I realized, based on experience, that although saints and miracles are exceptionally rare, they do exist. All the world’s religions acknowledge saints and miracles. Are all of these accounts wrong all of the time (most of the accounts are probably wrong. I can accept that)?
After New Delhi and a chance encounter with a living saint my rational mind came to the unlikely conclusion that although saints and miracles are extremely rare, never the less they exist. Likewise, I think that many of the miracle stories in the New Testament are based on eyewitness accounts of actual events. I also think there’s validity to the accounts of miracles ascribed to saints such as Anthony of Egypt and Seraphim of Sarov. It took me a long time to get there. Yet, this is my speculation from my experiences and from my reading.
I do acknowledge in humility that ultimately, from the perspective of “verifiable science” I do not know and cannot know. But, if I had to place a bet, I know where I would place mine.
29. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing our generation? (4/21/2015)
The biggest challenge facing our generation is getting past the gridlock between oil companies and environmentalists and working together on climate change. Some will ask, “How do you imagine that these opposing titans will ever work together on climate change?” That’s easy. When they are convinced, as I am, the our grandchildren’s lives depend on it, they will work together to save future generations.
I am an optimist and believe in the power of paradoxical thinking to solve complex problems. Best case scenario, although it seems impossible now, is that oil companies will invest in clean energy at a faster rate and phase out oil extraction projects (yes, walk away from trillions of dollars in anticipated profits!). Then the combined deep pockets of the oil companies and the environmental lobbies will bring together the most brilliant engineering minds in the world to devise sophisticated technologies that will leach carbon molecules from the earth’s atmosphere (carbon sequestration). This will buy some time so that long range plans for clean energy, the curbing of personal habits, tree planting, and land trusts can take effect. Oil companies will inevitably be required to make drastic cuts to their work forces and drastic cuts into their profit margins. Given that few companies are capable of such self-sacrifice for a larger cause, world leaders will most likely need to agree on sweeping legislation to cut back carbon emissions.
28. There are so many other roots of Christian Mysticism. It seems simplistic to reduce these roots to the five you specify. (4/16/2015)
I agree there are numerous other roots of CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM. Yet, I also assert that “limits yield intensity.” When we discipline ourselves to a core curriculum there is more focus and potential. I thought and prayed long and hard about the five roots of RCMR. They are for me the definitive taproots of CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM. Any other aspects of CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM will invariably connect to one of these five. The footnote section of this page addresses a number of the offshoots of the five taproots.
27. You have traveled in India and there are Indian teachers who you have admired. Are there any contemporary Indian teachers you admire. (4/11/2015)
One comes to mind: Sadhguru.
26. What is your take on gun control? (4/10/2015)
A gun is a deadly machine, much like an automobile. Cars and guns kill people daily. Because a car is dangerous and kills people everyone who drives a car is required to get a driver’s license and to register their vehicle. In the same way, at the very least someone who carries a firearm should carry a permit that requires a criminal background check, and all guns should be registered. If sold by owner, there should be a paper trail for a gun, just like when a car is sold by owner. This all makes perfect logical sense to me. Why would there be resistance to such common sense measures, especially in light of the gun violence and mass murders in America? I have no idea. On a different note I think that parents who allow their children to play ultra-violent video games are crazy. These games simulate violence and desensitize children to violence. Machine gun toys also make no sense to me.
25. Don’t you serve a small church? (4/04/2015)
Yes I do. I have served larger churches that had demands on my time 24/7. I didn’t have time for my family, for writing, or for leading a balanced life. So, I have come to realize that I am better suited to a small to medium sized church. I value the intimacy and accountability of a smaller church. My service to smaller churches is related to my interest in New Monasticism. Smaller churches share many characteristics of new monastic communities. They value intimacy, relationships, small groups, and spiritual practice. I am called to an authentic smaller community and an evangelically big wider vision (Recover Christianity’s Mystic Roots/RCMR). There is creative tension here.
24. What is your denomination? (3/24/2015)
I grew up Episcopalian, became Quaker (FGC) for five years during college days, then joined the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 1996. I am enamored with the United Church of Christ because of their stance on social justice. The first black man ever ordained in the United States, Lemuel Haynes, was a Congregational Minister (Congregational was a forerunner of the UCC), the first woman ever ordained in the United States, Antoinette Brown, was a Congregational Minister. And the first church aside from the Quakers and Unitarians, to publicly denounce slavery was the UCC. From the beginning the UCC has read the Gospel the same way that I do–that it is about advocating for justice for all God’s children, including those the on margins. Throughout its history, the UCC has been on the forefront of numerous social justice movements.
23. You seem to be enamored with Catholicism, but I find Catholicism regressive, especially the all-male priesthood. (3/13/2015)
I agree that the all-male priesthood is regressive and on the wrong side of history and social justice. And I am hoping for the ordination of women into the Catholic Church sometime in the future. Women need to take their proper place at the altar of God. Yet, I am uncomfortable with blanket statements about any denomination within Christianity. There are so many open-hearted and open-minded Catholic’s that shed profound light into the world. The list is too long to go into here, but many of my all time favorite saints and authors are indeed Catholic.
22. You seem pretty cool. But, haven’t you gotten the memo, Christianity is not cool. (3/03/2015)
I agree that many churches are not cool. There are only about 20% of churches in the United States that I would regularly attend. But just because the majority of churches are not “cool,” doesn’t mean that we should give up on the 20% that are. There are also many promising movements within Christianity that are very cool, including Centering Prayer and New Monasticism.
21. Where do you stand politically? (02/24/2015)
I am a Democrat who tends to resist the far right and the far left because I think they expect they have the monopoly on wisdom. I also commend mature debate where “agreeing to disagree” is a viable option. I agree 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.
20. What is your educational background? (02/20/2015)
My denomination, The United Church of Church (UCC), like other Mainline Protestant denominations, values education… I received a bachelor of arts in religious studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1993. I received a master of divinity at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley in 1998. Finally, I received a doctor of ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2008.
19. What prompted you to write Healing The Divide? (02/10/2015)
Short answer: I grew up all over the world and needed to find a faith & broad theology of Jesus that made sense of my diverse background.
18. For many with stress, they are just HUNGRY, LONELY and EXHAUSTED. This other introspection sounds like so much drivel. Sorry. (02/08/2015)
This is the attitude of most Westerners toward introspective monastic disciplines. What good are they in the context of a world with rampant injustices, hungry people, lonely people…
Well obviously monastic disciplines can degenerate into what Thomas Merton called “consecrated navel-gazing.” Yet, contemplation at its best is always mixed with activism. This dynamic is referred to as “contemplative activism.” It is connected to a deep and stable Source, which then allows for greater service in the world to address the world’s colossal problems.
Contemplation can even directly address people who experience privations… When there is inner stability of mind that has come through years of disciplined silences one can withstand cold, hunger, and other privations with equanimity.
17. Entries on the RCMR website are long! (01/30/2015)
In comparison to 140 character tweets and half page blurbs so popular on the internet, I agree that many of the RCMR website entries are long. Yet, for people who still read books, the entries are remarkably concise, summarizing vast terrain–the taproots of Christian Mysticism!
16. I’m confused about the Alexandrian Mystics. Can you give me a concise definition? (01/30/2015)
Yes. Here is the concise definition of THE ALEXANDRIAN MYSTICS: “The Alexandrian Fathers and most of the Desert Mothers and Fathers between 312-454 CE in and near Alexandria, Egypt (who adhered to Miaphysite Theology).”
15. What about heaven and hell? (01/29/2015)
I don’t need to imagine a heaven or a hell. I have seen them here on earth. A three year old I met in Uganda with a swollen stomach as a result of malnourishment was in hell. A junkie that I met who couldn’t seem to break his addiction was in a state of constant torment. I have also met people who are in heaven – people who exude freedom, joy, and peace, with ripple effects in their relationships and communities. Whatever state of mind we have here on this earth will most likely continue in the afterlife.
Speculations about heaven and hell are dangerous distractions from what really matters – the present moment. If we attend to the present moment the future will take care of itself (Matthew 6:24).
14. QUESTION (01/12/2015)
What is your view on recreational drug use?
During my years of pastoral ministry I have been close to a number of families who have suffered the death of loved ones due to alcohol and drug overdoses. I also have had extended conversations with recovering addicts. As a result of these experiences I am totally opposed to recreational drug use. Recreational drug use is also completely contrary to Centering Prayer, which is about freedom and overcoming attachments on deeper and deeper and more subtle levels.
The mind is also our most precious gift, which is endowed with what the writers of The Philokalia refer to as our “spiritual faculties.” These are latent faculties in the mind, which when cultivated can experience Divine Union. So, why risk tampering with this profound subtle instrument that holds the key to our potential?
In the spirit of Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), I have heard some say that experimenting with psychedelic drugs can be useful and can introduce us to higher states of consciousness. I disagree. Psychedelics are far too dangerous, with untold horror stories of people who never made it back from their acid trips and who were institutionalized. The path of meditation is not quick and easy like psychedelics and it requires great discipline. Yet, the long term effect is an abiding natural high that is not depended on external influences or chemicals of any kind!
13. QUESTION (01/10/2015)
What is your response to Radical Militant Islam?
This question is too big to respond in brief. But one thing is for sure. Our response cannot be all about “no.” It also has to be about “yes”–yes to more moderate and progressive voices within Islam, such as Reza Aslam, whose book Beyond Fundamentalism, is excellent! It is his voice and others like it that offer hope!
Also, there should be a well organized international coalition of Koran reading Muslims who consistently speak out against the crazed & murderous jihadists. The jihadists don’t read the Koran. They don’t care for the moderate writings of Muhammad who advocates violence only in self-defense and other specific circumstances. Rather, the jihadists root their ideology in Arab anti-colonialist and militant writers of the twelfth century, writers such as Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb (Beyond Fundamentalism, Page 25).
It is good to keep in mind that Americans are not immune to the rigid absolutist mindset that crosses the line into aggression and egregious violence. I read somewhere recently that last year more people were killed by right wing extremists in the United States than by terrorists.
12. QUESTION (01/09/2015)
What do you think about American Buddhism?
Some of the most gifted spiritual teachers in the United States today are Buddhist. Some who immediately come to mind are Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, Ken Wilbur, and Joseph Goldstein. These teachers remind Christians of the importance of silent prayer–an essential aspect of Christian tradition with an enduring legacy dating back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and made accessible and contemporary today through the Centering Prayer community. The most vital streams of Christian combine silent prayer and contemplative theology on the one hand, and social justice and service on the other (contemplation and action). In the same way the most vital strains of Buddhism today have a social justice emphasis and are referred to as “Engaged Buddhism.”
11. COMMENT (01/06/2015)
In our internet surfing caffeinated go-go-go culture it seems that there is a real need for silence and solitude.
Yes!! I am amazed how teenagers get this! I was on a youth trip with teens and as with most youth trips we were sharing hotel accommodations. After one of the teens observed my Centering Prayer practice he was most interested. He got it right away! His generation goes a mile a minute and are glued to their phones much of the day. In the context of this lifestyle that is constantly bombarded by information, solitude, silence, and Centering Prayer are needed anecdotes that restore sanity and balance.
10. QUESTION (01/05/2015)
What about the Trinity?
Yes, the Trinity is wonderful. It is the reference point for many Christian Mystics and presses the dynamic essence of God, who is a moving target. Yet, I think we need to re-connect with dynamic union in its most primal sense, which is the dynamic union Jesus (unity of Divinity and humanity). This is a more primal diad–a more primal dynamic union than that of the Trinity. The Jesus Paradox is easier to grasp than the Trinity and has a way of fundamentally breaking down entrenched dualistic thinking. The non-dual essence of Jesus is our model. It is Christianity’s mystic core, which can restore a unitive mystic vision of Christianity as a whole. The Jesus Paradox is the focus of my book, Healing The Divide.
9. QUESTION (12/27/2014)
Why specifically Christianity?
I think it’s important to be rooted in one spiritual tradition & to know it thoroughly. One deep well as opposed to many shallow wells…
FOLLOW UP QUESTION
What if the essence of Christianity just led to the universal well? What if “tradition” is what is limiting our conscious progression?
I prefer a multi-religious salad where a tomato remains a tomato & a walnut a walnut. A new age soup doesn’t appeal to me.
Americana, which takes over with fast food chains & Walmarts, obliterating indigenous cultural heritages also doesn’t appeal to me.
Many religions, many cultures, and many languages have an inherent bio-diversity, which enlivens the human family. In the context of profound twenty-first century diversity (most clearly and repeatedly articulated by scholar Diane Eck), clear self-definition becomes necessary. Only a well-defined religious tradition can maintain appropriate boundaries and dialogue meaningfully with other religious traditions. First we plant our roots! Then we spread our branches!
8. QUESTION (11/16/2014)
What is your take on interfaith dialogue?
The dialogue needs to happen! In the absence of dialogue and the understanding that comes from dialogue people turn to violence!
My skinny on this question rests on a quote from the Hindu Shri Ramakrishna (1836-1886): “Dig one deep well, not many shallow wells.” Ramakrishna understood the fickleness of the Western mind and was referring to religions here. Interfaith dialogue within the context of roots in one tradition is so important in our times and especially in America, which in the last two decades has become so religiously diverse. On the other hand a bad relationship with one’s own religious tradition hinders meaningful and edifying interfaith dialogue.
Why did Jesus die on the cross?
Thanks for you question.
The best treatment of the cross I have seen comes in the last section of Richard Rohr’s book, Everything Belongs.
The Mystery of the cross, often referred to as the Paschal Mystery, is too profound to summarize in a few words. Yet Rohr’s treatment is the best summary I have seen.
One important angle on the cross: out of love for us, God entered into complete solidarity with the human family in Jesus. Complete solidarity included the experience of suffering and death. In other word’s God’s love for us holds nothing back and enters into all that is human, even torture.
Your website attracts a lot of attention to yourself.
My intent is not to draw attention to myself. It is to draw attention to vital life giving elements of Christianity, which I am passionate about, and which can deepen and invigorate Christianity for centuries to come. In time the RCMR website will draw more and more attention to other RCMR writers and translators, such as Rich Lewis.
Do you align yourself with The Center for Progressive Christianity (progressivechristianity.org)?
I have promoted Progressive Christianity (progressivechristianity.org) in all the churches I have served.
What puts me at odds with a fraction of Progressive Christianity material is my international perspective (I grew up overseas). I am interested in not just a Progressive Christianity but a Global Christianity. Perspectives that push the envelope of the global Christian community (World Council of Churches) I celebrate. Perspectives that totally disregard and completely leave behind the global Christian community don’t interest me.
A widely held belief among many Progressive Christians is that Jesus was a wisdom teacher who unintentionally founded a world religion, period. This position is too far removed from the global Christian community and 2,000 years of witnesses, who claim that something utterly unique happened with Jesus (Incarnation).
Houston Smith was a mentor of mine in this regard. He was a student of world religions and thought that Progressive Christianity was moving further and further toward “a rallying cry to be good.” Which is a message that he and I both think misses the mark. Yes, we need justice! But we also need transcendence. People desperately seek transcendence. I most admire the brand of Progressive Christianity that seeks justice and also whole-heartedly celebrates transcendence and Mystery with a capital M, including the Mystery of God’s human incarnation–God in human form (Houston Smith and I both believe that this is the unique testament of Christianity among the world religions).
What about Bruce Sanguine, Brian Swimme, and company, who are bridging the gap between evolution and religion?
Yes! This is an important and welcome development! For me, the Earth’s creation and evolution is the macrocosm and Jesus is the microcosm. We need both meta-narratives: Genesis 1 and Luke 2! Jesus represents the climax of social evolution, a moral genius we have yet to realize…
The Bible illustrates the stages of human moral development (I got the following ideas from the late author Bill Coffin). First, there is “unlimited retaliation” (You kill one of my cows and in turn I kill seven of your cows). The Hebrew scriptures take a huge moral step forward: “an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24).” We can call this stage “limited retaliation.” Now if you kill one of my cows, in retaliation I can only kill one of your cows, no more and no less. Then comes the idea of “loving one’s neighbor as one’s self (Leviticus 19:18).” Yet, at the time that line was written, one’s neighbor was only a person who spoke the same language, practiced the same religion, and shared the same ethnicity. We are obliged to love these people. But the Jebusites, Philistines, and Canaanites–you can slaughter them. They are not your “neighbor!” So we can call this stage “limited love,” which is our current stage of global moral development. Jesus turns all of this on its head, when he claims that the outsider, the foreigner, and the outcast are our neighbors too. This means I am no longer justified in slaughtering people from other lands. They are my neighbors. We can call this stage “unlimited love.”
If as a Christian my vision of Jesus is undivided (The Jesus Paradox). Then, I am capable of achieving unity within myself. Then I am capable of envisioning a world in which the paradoxical statement, “love your enemies,” makes exquisite sense, a world in which international cooperation and peace are possible one person and one community at a time!
Have you found Christ?
I like the Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware’s response to this question. He says “the more significant question is “has Christ found you?” This is a far deeper question. My ego can find Christ, then put Christ in a convenient box that strengthens my self-serving illusions and agenda. To submit to Christ and to allow ourselves to be found by Christ is different. This requires surrender of the ego, which is no small project.
Are you saved?
This is an important question and the language of salvation is foundational to Christian faith. Yet, for me, salvation is not a one time event. It is a process, an evolution, an unfolding dynamic. So my answer: “I hope and pray that I am being saved (process).”
Theology is a map of a vast area that can’t be adequately charted. Another way to say this is “the map is not the territory.”
I agree, yet the Jesus Paradox is the best map I have found and it has breathed life into my soul, so I celebrate its holistic genius.
Q & A NOTES
*1 My responses (Amos Smith) to the Q & A section don’t necessarily reflect the views of other RCMR team members. As the German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century, Rupertus Meldenius, once wrote: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.”
*2 Some questions were not asked directly. Rather, they came up in the natural flow of conversation.
*3 At Question #8 I began dating them.