Authenticity and Transformation

be-authenticMy previous post raised a question about the meaning of “authenticity” — does it apply to beliefs or the state of an individual holding a belief? And why should anyone care anyway?

The OED defines authenticity as “the quality of being authentic” — and authentic means “Of authority, authoritative, entitled to obedience or respect” in the first place. Further down the list in the OED is the meaning I wish to focus on — “Real, actual, genuine, original, first-hand, really proceeeding from its stated source.” Authenticity is the quality of being genuine in one’s depths.

Each person has first-hand knowledge of whether they are being genuine or not. However, as we all know, many times we are unclear about what is actually going on in our inner depths, so ‘being genuine’ is not something that is easy to be confident about. In fact, in humility, each of us must admit that, sometimes, we don’t know ourselves very well at all — and thus we have what might be called ‘existential doubts’ about our own authenticity. So, we don’t usually say “I’m being authentic.” It is a hypothetical concept that we rarely apply to ourselves. But perhaps we should occasionally think more deeply about our authenticity.

Going deeper

Bernard Lonergan is one of my ‘going deeper’ heros. He wrote an 800 page book called Insight on how we arrive at a true understanding about ourselves or anything. In that book, Lonergan says “adequate self-knowledge can be reached by man only at the summit of a long ascent.” In other words, authenticity results from a process, and is not a quality one claims easily. Ths should set our expectation when it comes to ‘going deeper.’  And the great thinkers, saints and mystics agreed with this — St Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton and the Buddha, to name only three. What awaits us in our depths is not only our authentic self but also an encounter with authentic reality within which we exist. One cannot have an authentic self and a false view of the context in which we live. We must leave behind our false ideas about ourselves and reality, in other words, in order to experience ‘conversion.’ “For Lonergan, [authenticity] is absent in someone who is stubborn or driven by power, for this inner conviction is the fruit of conversion and it is the concrete principle of authentic self-transcendence.” [1]

What is this process of ‘conversion’ which leads to authenticity? “Authentic human existence is, in Lonergan’s terminology, the result of a long-sustained exercise of being attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible, and loving.” [2] Conversion and therefore authenticity arises from five human acts:

  • Attentive — Not only being aware but paying attention to and reflecting on what presents itself to us
  • Intelligent — Applying what we have learned, in an open-minded way, to what we become aware of, to encounter what we do not yet know — ‘hitherto unnoticed or unrealized possibilities’ according to Lonergan [3]
  • Reasonable — Using criteria to discern what is true in what we learn, crtieria that goes beyond simple self-referential or self-serving ideas about truth
  • Responsible — Making choices and taking action based on what we conclude is reasonably true
  • Loving — Applying an overriding criteria of love to every choice and action to ensure that it is ultimately responsible

If we conscientiously follow this process — and that may require a very long time, even a lifetime — we may find that we have been transformed. “What will transform us [and the world] is an ability to love the world, ourselves [and God], to see it as good in spite of the wrong. To fall in love is to set up a new principle that has, indeed, its causes, conditions, occasions, but, as long as it lasts, provides the mainspring of one’s desire and fear, hope and despair, joy and sorrow.” [4] This is obviously a much deeper definition of authenticity than one commonly encounters, one that includes the notion of personal and even cosmic transformation. Can ordinary people engaged in the complexity of living in the 21st century actually engage in such a process?

Practical authenticity and transformation

I’m inclined to simply answer this question ‘yes’ and leave it there. After all, people decide to do extraordinarily difficult things, like climb Mount Everest or sail around the world alone. But, unfortunately, in the modern world the pursuit of the deepest levels of authenticity and transformation are even more difficult than such feats. We can get ourselves into physical shape to approach Everest or the Pacific Ocean and people around us support us and applaud our success (or even our failure if we give it a good try). In years gone by, people who wanted to follow the interior path I described withdrew from the world and become monks, hermits or contemplatives. Only a few ‘heros’ managed to do this, like the ones I mentioned before. Now, however, it seems to me that many are being called to follow this path. Ordinary, middle-class men and women, who stay in the world yet, in a way, are called to leave the world. There is a great hunger for authenticity today; you can see it in books like “Eat, Pray, Love” and others.

So, practically speaking, what do you do if you sense this call to undertake the deeper journey of authenticity and transformation? Like any change process, there are steps. Here are three simple starting steps to prepare yourself to engage in this process:

  1. Clarify your intent — This involves being open to the future and the reality of your current situation –telling yourself why you must seek something different, what will happen if you don’t and what you hope to encounter if you do engage in the process. Your intent provides the motivation to make the long, arduous journey
  2. Plan your journey — Probably you can only see a short way ahead; that is what you must focus on. Read about others who have made this journey, and how they started. Then select some things to do and begin the journey. Stay open to what happens and be prepared to adjust your plan.
  3. Seek a support community — For ordinary people who stay in the world, having people to support and guide you through the process is critical. “No man is an island” applies very strongly to ‘middle-class’ adventurers. Only in conversations with people you trust will you be able to learn to be ‘attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible and loving.’

I would like to have a conversation with anyone who wants to learn more about the journey toward deeper authenticity and transformation.

[1] Braman, Brian J. (2012-05-23). Meaning and Authenticity: Bernard Lonergan and Charles Taylor on the Drama of Authentic Human Existence (Lonergan Studies) (Kindle Locations 2237-2239). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Braman, Ibid

[3] Braman, Ibid

[4] Braman, Ibid

 

 

Easter: “me” or “we”?

In an editorial The great shock of Easter, the Sydney Morning Herald used the Christian Easter proclamation to make a provocative point to a wider audience. “Simply put, ours is a culture that pretends to liberate the “me” from the “we” by inviting each of us to forget about the tried wisdom of the past and to simply feel good about ourselves here and now.” [See complete editorial] As a Christian it pleases me that the SMH featured an editorial about Easter on its Opinion page. Certainly the point being made is a good one. Even Christians tend to forget the wisdom of Christ’s passion and resurrection, which is why we need Lent. In a way, waking up humankind to the existence of a far larger “we” and its wisdom is what Easter truly means.

Sleepers awake!

What Easter is pointing toward is a stunning truth: the transformation of mankind and, through us, the entire universe. Walter Kasper, a noted theologian, summarizes the signficance of Easter as “the event which opens the world to the future . . . a future which is based in the infinite destiny of man . . .the future of all reality has already begun with Jesus and is decisively determined by him, but far more: the person and activity of Jesus are that future.” [Kasper, Jesus the Christ, Paulist Press, 1976] The world and humankind was asleep until Easter morning, when the truth dawned. Even today, we find statements such as Kasper’s almost impossible to believe. The Sydney Morning Herald is right about one thing — our narcissistic “me” has become transfixed in contemplating ourselves, and is missing the wisdom of who we truly are. Not some shimmering image in a mirror but an unimaginable “we’ — the body of Christ, emerging in history.

Christian freedom

As Walter Kasper also points out, liberation is part of the Easter message — “Self-will is not free but quite unfree, because it means slavery to one’s own ego and the whims of the moment.” I think we feel today that we are free because we have so many choices at hand. Many of us have disposable income to pursue these choices. But Easter raises the question of who we are meant to be and whether our choices ought to be only self-willed (a pathological focus on “me”) or meant to be something else. So, especially on Easter morning, sleepers awake! Christian freedom is Christ’s freedom. Christ is the example of living for others, and what it means to truly be part of a “we.” Jesus demonstrated that in dying and rising, in solidarity with all mankind. Take a few minutes this holy season, then, and walk through what happened from the Last Supper through Easter morning. See if it helps you get beyond “me” to what “we” is meant to be.

 

A. Why Change? — Are you a Change Agent?

Conventional wisdom says that that major change is the responsibility of powerful leaders. I believe that leaders cannot accomplish true transformation ‘top-down’ using their power.  ‘Bottom-up’ is ultimately how all significant change happens. The capability to achieve extraordinary change from tiny causes is built into reality. God has designed the world to adapt and change ‘bottom-up.’  I will cover more about bottom-up transformation in a later Post.

Leaders must play a critical role in bottom-up transformation, the role of Sponsor, supporting the efforts of those who drive the transformation, who are called Change Agents.  In transforming churches, the ‘people in the pews’ are the Change Agents. They must lead transformation in their local church, following Jesus’ leadership. These Change Agents need to enroll church leaders at the appropriate time, to play their role of Sponsor and support bottom-up transformation. To be very clear, bottom-up transformation of churches does not mean that church leaders are not involved.

What is a Change Agent? Are you one?

In my book Dangerous Undertaking; The Search for Transformation, I described Change Agents as “innocent fools.” In that book I made the case that the world needs a special breed of women and men, the ‘mid wives’ of a transformed world. I called them ‘innocent fools,’ in appreciation for their powerful yet largely hidden change work, in themselves and in the DNA of the ‘system of the world.’ I called them ‘innocent’ because they dream dreams that others dare not imagine. And I called them ‘foolish’ because they are not trapped in the ‘wisdom’ of the world. They choose to believe that they can make their dreams a reality against what seems to most people to be impossible odds. We can gain some insights into what it means to be a transformational Change Agent and innocent fool from Chrétien de Troyes medieval myth about Parsifal and the Quest for the Holy Grail.

Parsifal was a Welshman, the only surviving son of a widow who lived in the Waste Forest. His two brothers had become knights and had been killed in combat, so his mother was terrified that Parsifal would suffer the same fate. She isolated him from any contact with the world and he grew up incredibly naïve and innocent. He never asked questions or strayed far from home because his mother told him not to. One day by chance he bumped into one of King Arthur’s knights riding through the Waste Forest and was immediately consumed with desire to become like him. For the first time, he disobeyed his mother. He followed the knight out of the forest to find the king and become a knight himself.

Parsifal knew very little about what was involved in becoming a knight, but that didn’t stop him. He arrived at King Arthur’s Court with only the rudiments of training in the art of battle and immediately challenged the most experienced knights in Arthur’s kingdom. That’s why Chrétien called him Parsifal. The name literally means ‘innocent fool.’ The young man had to be incredibly naïve and foolish to challenge the best knights in the world.

Surprisingly, Parsifal defeated them all, and quickly gained respect as a mighty warrior. But that was only the beginning. After his initial triumphs Parsifal encountered something that changed his life. While on a journey home to visit his mother he found his path blocked by a deep river. He was searching for a way across when he noticed two men in a small fishing boat. He asked them if there was a ford or a bridge nearby. They told him there was no way to cross the river for some distance, but one of the men invited him to stay the night in his home, which turned out to be a great castle.

Parsifal entered the castle and was welcomed by the man from the boat, who was now dressed as a nobleman and being carried by servants on a stretcher. He wondered about that, but didn’t ask. The nobleman invited Parsifal to sit and dine at a sumptuous feast. A procession entered the hall, led by two servants carrying brilliantly lit candelabras. Following them was a beautiful maiden. With two hands she carried a golden wine cup covered with precious stones. It was the legendary Holy Grail, but Parsifal didn’t know this. He sat silently watching the procession, remembering his mother’s instructions not to ask questions. While they ate, the Grail was carried back and forth before them again and again during each course of their feast. Parsifal never asked what the Grail was or who was supposed to drink from it.

After the meal the servants prepared a bed for Parsifal in the great hall and when they were done the nobleman left him, carried out by his servants on his stretcher. In the morning, Parsifal woke up to an empty castle. Not a single person could be found. He went to the chamber where the nobleman had been carried the previous night. He shouted and knocked for a long while, but no one answered. Everyone had disappeared. Outside the castle he found his horse saddled, his lance and shield ready, and the drawbridge of the castle lowered so he could leave.

As Parsifal rode away from the castle he met a weeping maiden holding the head of a slain knight. She told him the story of the Fisher King, the nobleman who owned the mysterious castle. The Fisher King had been wounded years ago in both his thighs by a lance and was consumed by pain. The only way he could bear the pain was to go fishing each day. The maiden asked if Parsifal had seen the Holy Grail procession while he was in the castle.

When Parsifal said he’d seen it, but had asked no questions the maiden was dismayed. If Parsifal had only asked the right question about the Fisher King and the Grail he would have freed the king from his pain and the entire kingdom would have been released from its curse! Upset by her accusation, Parsifal left the maiden and rode off in a state of confusion.

From that point in Chrétien’s story Parsifal went on many more adventures, but he never forgot the Fisher King. Finally, he decided to undo his failure to ask the right question in the mysterious castle, and made an oath that he would engage in no more knightly contests until he found the Holy Grail and freed the Fisher King and his kingdom. He vowed not to abandon his quest for any reason.

Interestingly, de Troyes never completed the story of Parsifal’s quest. He left off writing mid-sentence so we don’t know how the story ended. Four other writers added endings later, each completing the myth differently. In the third ending—the one I like— Parsifal eventually finds his way back to the hidden castle, sees the Grail again, asks the right question, and frees the Fisher King from his suffering, transforming his entire kingdom.

What does it mean to be a Change Agent in your church?

Let’s unpack this story to see what it means to be a Change Agent, especially in a local church.

1.     Parsifal had innate talent that wasn’t developed when he stayed at home with his mother. He was “stuck” because he didn’t leave the safety of his home in the forest. Change Agents are willing to risk the challenges of the unknown. The other knights in King Arthur’s Court were excellent men but they weren’t Change Agents. They preferred the structure, power and rewards of the status quo. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.” [Luke 14:26]

2.     It was only when Parsifal began asking questions that he discovered his destiny to find the Holy Grail and release the Fisher King and all his people from their suffering. Change Agents are willing to question their beliefs, not because they don’t believe in anything but because they come to understand that something greater depends on their willingness to possibly leave their old way of thinking. Beliefs are comfortable; leaving them can be the most frightening challenge anyone can face. Therefore, Change Agents are willing to leave their ‘comfort zone’ in the service of something more meaningful. “Í tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” [Luke 18:17]

3.     Parsifal’s quest took most of his life and was filled with difficulty. The quest for transformation – in local churches and the world — is likely to be a long, slow and painful journey. Unlike Parsifal’s myth, there is probably no one to write a happy end to the Change Agent’s journey – other than Jesus in whose service she makes the quest. “’I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.’” [Luke 18:29-30]

4.     Although Parsifal had a position of great honor in King Arthur’s Court, he gave all that up to follow his quest for the Holy Grail. Change Agents are single-minded. Their vision becomes central in their life. It begins to consume their thoughts. There is no returning to your old comfortable life once you set out on the quest. But there is also no greater reward than knowing you are making the same journey that Jesus made. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [Matthew 5: 11-12]

How do Change Agent’s transform a local church? Using a marketing idea, you can think of them as ‘early adopters’ of a vision of a transformed world. So, in the beginning, Change Agents are the few people in a local church who ask questions and develop a passion to pursue Christ’s vision. Unlike Parsifal, they also persuade others to also ask questions and pursue this vision – first the ‘Fast Followers then the ‘Slow Followers’ in their church. By doing this, they free their local church from its wounds like the Fisher King and enable it to engage in Jesus’ work of transforming the world.

“Who am I and who do I want to be?”

Martin Buber, the renowned Jewish philosopher, linked personal and global transformation —  a “genuine person (is one) whose transformation helps toward the transformation of the world.” When we think seriously about Buber’s statement, it challenges us to transform ourselves if we want to be authentic persons.

The journey toward being authentic

The aspiration to transform oneself doesn’t feel natural or come easily to most people. In fact, we have learned throughout our lives to be “agents of the status quo” which already makes substantial demands on us. We would rather stay in this familiar situation than transform ourselves. Usually, in our accustomed way of living, one of our basic drives dominates our life. If it is power, then it feels natural to set goals, achieve, compete. If it is love, then it feels natural to relate, include and care for. It almost never feels natural to one focused on power to make their achievement more difficult by also trying to help others achieve, perhaps in competition with them. Nor does it feel natural to people focused on love to use their power in forcing issues to the surface, and engaging in the ensuing conflict to achieve some resolution.

To be a Change Agent and engage in transforming larger groups and institutions in the world, we must first take initial, halting and uncomfortable steps in order to learn how, eventually, to use both our power and love in service of a larger vision of reality. That involves, as Adam Kahane says in Power and Love “falling” then “stumbling” before finally “walking.” Why would anyone want to take that risk?

Becoming a Change Agent requires a “trigger” from outside ourselves

The desire and urgency to become a Change Agent is a gift not an achievement. It comes from outside ourselves. This could be the result of circumstances — “Someone has to do something because the situation is desperate” — or result from an invitation. A teacher, a friend, a minister could say something that opens our eyes to the implications of staying in the status quo. It could result from reading this blog. Wherever it originates, you can be sure that a genuine invitation to become a transformational Change Agent will disrupt your usual ways of thinking and leave you uneasy, rattled or even frightened. You cannot stay in this painful state so you either “fight or flee” from the invitation initially. Ultimately, perhaps, as Buber says, you begin to see that your response is linked to being authentic, true to yourself. When that happens, you begin the journey toward being a Change Agent.

Power and love and transformation

“Our most important learnings come not simply when we see the world anew, but specifically when we see ourselves–and our role in creating the world — anew” (Adam Kahane in Power and Love quoting Ursala Versteegen)

This type of learning is at the heart of transformation. Rather waiting for a magical leader to make our church / our community / our country / our world a better place, each of us must learn that only we can provide the power and love needed to change things.

What can trigger such learning in us? In my view, an encounter with the unexpected. Something that disturbs our comfortable assumptions. In a word, grace. Rather than seeing such encounters as luck or randomness, believers can see in them divine liveliness and involvement. And, seeing this, we must learn what it means for us. What is our role in what God is doing, here and now, in this moment?

God is never for the status quo. As St. Paul said, “The whole creation has been groaning as in childbirth” waiting for God and His children to transform it.

A. Why Change? — We have lost our ‘saltiness’!

Culture for human beings is like the water that fish swim in. Water is so necessary for life, and so pervasive, that fish don’t realize that there may be another larger world beyond their ocean or fishbowl. Fish depend on water to live. Likewise, we all assume our culture is life giving because it surrounds us. We learn to breathe it and survive in it because, if we don’t do that, we believe that we will die. We all accept the utter necessity of our particular culture for life, without actually thinking much about that assumption. That is what living in a culture means.

But we Christians are told that we are “not of this world,” and must be “counter-cultural.” “Even religion itself can become enslaved unknowingly to the deceptive values of the culture, and hence the constant need of the prophetic tradition of self-critique.”  What does being ‘counter-cultural’ mean, in practical terms? First of all, it means that we ought to live in constant tension with the conventional culture. To do that, we Christians must create and live in an alternative culture that we strongly believe is essential for life. Resolving the conflicts between the common culture and the alternative culture when we make choices determines how we deal with life. If the common culture is very powerful, and the alternative culture is weak, then we Christians will make choices and live pretty much the same as everyone else. If our alternative culture is strong, we Christians will make different choices than others, and live according to Jesus’ reality.

For most Christians, their local church is the only source of an alternative culture.  And when local churches lose their ‘saltiness’— their radical differences from the common culture  —  then churches become weak influences on the way that Christians make choices and live. But since, in America and Australia we Christians live in societies that have largely marginalized churches, the conventional culture is persuading people, even many Christians, that the  Christian culture’s ‘saltiness’  just doesn’t make sense any more. “You are the salt of the earth.” [Matthew 5:13]  The common culture does throw us a bone: It is OK to retain a semblance of church (so you can feel good about yourself that you ‘really’ are a Christian) but it is definitely not OK to be ‘salty’ and to try to live differently and perhaps even change the common culture and the world.

This in a nutshell, is the cultural argument for why local churches must be transformed, to increase their ‘saltiness’ and their ability to grow a strong alternative culture that can help Christians conflict with the common culture and more strongly bring Jesus’ ideals of reality into the world. Charles Taylor saw this in its largest historical context: “God is gradually educating mankind by transforming it from within. . . We are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no one can foresee.”  It is up to us, the people in the pews, to see this now and decide to act.

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A transformational story about God and life

Thomas Merton believed that life is a process of going from “innocence to experience and back to innocence.”

  • When we are innocent children the world is magical, and death doesn’t exist.
  • As we grow up, we learn from experience that the world is a difficult place. We must compete with others to succeed.  Evil, sickness and death enter our story about life.
  • Then, a different form of transforming innocence may enter our life. The Holy Spirit leads us to discover that God is on our side and death holds no fears.  In On Being Liked, James Alison describes this process of encountering and learning a mature form of  innocence with finding a fresh, transforming story about God.

Many Christians have a story about God that emphasizes our sinfulness. This story arises from the church’s explanation for why Jesus had to die for us. He had to “atone” to God for our sinfulness.  For example, the Catholic Catechism defines atonement in this statement: “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men.” [Article 1992].   This description creates an image of God as a Judge who requires a victim (His Son) to offer his life to make up for the sins of his creatures. In this story, God is merciful but also just and there must be retribution for man’s sinfulness. In his mercy, God substitutes Jesus and we don’t have to pay the price for our transgressions.

Atonement puts sin at the center of our story about God. Alison creates another story about God’s motivation and Jesus’ passion. Jesus’ apparent “losing to death, was not done so as to ‘please the Father’ but rather to get through to us.” Death has no power in God’s reality and we need to get beyond our ideas about death created by our experiences in the world that stand in the way of our becoming His sons and daughters. “God has nothing to do with death and humans need not either.” Jesus become man to show us how to ‘play the game of life’ as God wants us to.

Alison uses the metaphor of how a loving parent teaches a child to play tennis to illustrate how Jesus teaches us. The parent could obviously win every game but chooses not to and loses artfully, pushing the child to learn how to play. Jesus played the ‘game of life’ and by giving himself up to death, apparently ‘losing to death.’ By doing this he showed us how to “live as if death were not.” Jesus lived in a world filled with the threat of death but he took no notice and lived freely and lovingly.

If we look at  the ‘100,000 foot view’ of Jesus’ life, one theme becomes obvious: forgiveness. It was why he was sent and it characterized his life and death.

  • “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” [John 3:17]
  • (to the woman accused of adultery) “‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she said. ”Then neither do I condemn you.’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave you life of sin.'” [John 8-11]
  • (from the cross) “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” [Luke 23:34]

So, playing the game of life as Jesus did involves learning what such forgiveness entails.  Alison illustrates that our normal way of thinking about forgiveness falls far short of what Jesus means.

  • Forgiveness is “losing the human need to survive-by-creating-human-victims”
  • Forgiveness is “moving toward someone who I am like in such a way that they will be free from death with me so that together we can become a new ‘we'”
  • Through forgiveness “As we forgive and are forgiven we come to see what really is.”

The expansive, inclusive and creative meaning that Jesus gives forgiveness is not something we learn like all other subjects. It is a transformation that we undergo, probably for our entire life. It means viewing worldly failure and death as God does, as things that are not real! “We gradually learn to live as if death (and failure) are not by, in a variety of ways, undergoing death beforehand so that it loses all power over us and we start to be able to live free of its compulsions.” Paul talked of this as ‘dying to self’ and Jesus told the parable of the seed needing to die in order to yield fruit.

We must give ourselves permission to question the usual story about atonement (and the teachings of our church) in order to potentially find a new ‘transformational story’ about God’s intentions in sending His Son and allowing His death.  A fresh story about Jesus and a potential new image for God can change everything in our lives. Yet, we also sense that commiting to a new story about Jesus is a very serious business. The danger is that we might set ourself up as the ultimate authority for our beliefs about God. We might commit the sin of pride and throw out all the learning of wise and good Christians over 2000 years. Nonetheless, we also sense that, to be fully human, we must prayerfully ask questions about the Atonement and not simply swallow our church’s story whole. Ultimately, we need to share what we find with other Christians, and study what the church and Bible says, before we finally commit ourselves to a new story about Jesus’ way of playing the game of life. Such conversations are precisely why we need to be in a community of Christians: to find a way to reach the truth through honest conversation about such provocative questions.

 

 

 

Cocoon to Butterfly; The Church’s Journey

Human beings first understand things metaphorically. When we encounter something new, we understand it by comparing it with something that we already know.

Many of us have never encountered the idea that the Christian church, like all living things, is on a journey. If we want to understand its ongoing life journey then the transformation of a butterfly, from egg to larvae to cocoon to butterfly helps us understand this.

After Jesus died, the church was in its primitive egg stage, tiny but with tremendous potential. Then it began to grow, becoming an organization among other organizations in the world, and entered the larvae stage. It was in this stage of its life for many centuries. This was the ugly, squirming stage, almost painful to consider in retrospect, with schisms and crusades and reformations and many excruciating learning experiences as it tried to survive as an organization as well as apply itself to Jesus’ vision. At some point it started to become more self-reflective about what it had become and entered the cocoon stage. That is where it is now. In the mysterious dark place where it finds itself there is change and growth but this isn’t visible. But now, finally, it is struggling to emerge from this cocoon and ‘reinvent’ itself as a butterfly, to better live as Jesus intends, and ‘fly’ so the world can see God’s kingdom as it is actually present today. The world is already filled with grace, and all human beings can access it to transform the world.

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