“I found my theology!” A statement I made nine years ago, when I fully absorbed the works of Trinitarian theology, taught by folks such as C. Baxter Kruger, Ken Blue, John Crowder and Steve McVey, not to mention the giants like T. F. Torrance, Karl Barth, Irenaeus and Athanasius. This rarely heard version of “the Jesus thing” had totally, from the inside out, changed the way I saw God (Pssst, God is nothing like the one your average pastor preaches about), but it didn’t change me, and that’s a problem. Okay, let me adjust that. It did change me, somewhat, but not enough to say I was a whole new person. Knowing the right information about God, which is a revolutionary and necessary thing to know, can only go so far.
Actual self-transformation, within this Christian framework (but the parallels are everywhere), can only come about if you walk your life, step by step, moment by moment, hand in hand, with this Incarnational (very relatable and down to earth) God of Pure, Unconditional Love; and most people don’t live with such a God, even if they “know” Him. They live with a preoccupation with the thoughts, moods, emotions, beliefs and mental happenings of their individual, isolated self, leaving God to be seen as glimmers of light through the window shades, instead of the omni-present blinding Sun that He is.
Even the purest nectar of our dreams, won’t do much, if there is no space for it to fill and take effect. You can’t eat Grandma’s apple pie, with a mouth full of McDonalds. God can’t do much with the hideous strength (thanks Lewis) of humanity’s own obsession with itself, which is manifested in our constant attention and absorption in what goes on between our two ears, even the “good” and “holy” things. As the classic adage goes, “Good doesn’t necessarily mean God.” Thoughts, again, even orthodox, sound ones, can become dead words that give no satisfaction from Heaven.
To enjoy this Trinitarian Circle of Life you “find” in this theology, you have to begin to actually trust that this Good God is with you, inside of you, and somehow one with you, and that trust looks like putting down all of the things you may be attached and stuck to. We need to let go of the too-much-pleasure and unhealthy (and also subconscious) security we get from things like, but not limited to, money, success, winning, distraction, intoxicants, being accepted by the group, knowing all of life’s mundane and deepest truths, and we even need to loosen our grip (aka addiction) on the certainty that comes from right theology and doctrine. All of these attachments work by and through the central and strongest attachment one can have, the attachment to one’s own inner world of thoughts and moods. If we would detach ourselves from these false gods and idols, we would come to naturally know the God who has the happy Christ-grip on us.
Just like you can’t see to the bottom of the water, when you swirl it around with your hands, you will never come to effortlessly live in the continual awareness of God’s default presence in your life, if you keep swirling around in your thoughts, moods and mental activity. There needs to be a detachment from unnecessary mental happenings.
This type of detachment “practice” is to embody Paul’s message of living free from self-justification and self-centeredness. It is to embody an “eye” not thinking it doesn’t need the ears or limbs. It is to enact the truth and conviction that one part of the body, you, is one with the whole body, everyone and everything. If you pay most of your attention to, and see/filter the world through your thoughts, your opinions, your interpretations, your beliefs, your judgments, your moods, your desires, your this, your that, and your the-other… then of course you will be a self-centered wit!
This hamster wheel, that is the “self,” is the opposite of spontaneous being and in-the-moment freedom. It is the opposite of the Spirit, because “where the Spirit is, there is freedom,” and, “The Spirit does what She wants, and it’s the same of those who are born of the Her.” Paul contrasted this Spirit-filled, freedom living, with Spirit-less “flesh” living; and even though he made clear in Romans six that “the sinful self” is dead, he explains in Romans eight that you still have a choice to live “by the flesh” or “by the Spirit.” It’s not an automatic deal.
I propose to you, that not getting out of your own head and into the present moment, is to live in the flesh, and not in the Spirit, it is to live by law, and not by grace, and “when the law comes into play, I die, and sin takes over,” (Romans 7:9). To think and live solely from the “self,” from your “self,” is to deny the at-one-ment that Jesus paid 30 or so years of his life for, and still holds together by his very person and nature, as the cosmic glass that holds the cocktail that consists of God, humanity, all creation, all time and all space.
If God has found us and united us to Himself through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, which I believe to be true, then I can just be. I can just be free in myself (and the God who lives in myself), and not follow the pulls and demands of my own ego (aka flesh), that tells me I need to do this, that, and the other, and do it well, in order to be safe, found, comfortable and/or happy. I need to live as if the Gospel is true, and not engage with the obsessive and compulsive thinking of the fallen, self-referential mind, which, although has been taken away in Christ, still seems to want to convince me of its reality. It’s an illusion and shadow, for sure, but a pesky one that we all fall for, again and again. The scary thing is, some of us don’t even know that we are in the matrix and bondage of the fallen self, and we may have the best theology and doctrine central in our lives. Our deep-rooted attachments are real, and they are ugly little things. They can be darkness that appear to us as angels of light.
But wait, doesn’t good theology make those attachments magically disappear? I just need to “believe the Gospel” right? Keep hearing it, over and over, until it zaps me? Some Trinitarian speakers do preach that, but not all. I did believe and teach that as well, so I’m going to answer that question. Sometimes it seems that way, that all of our problems went “poof!” into the ether, but that could just be the excitement of your new attachment, the attachment to believing the right things and the best God-knowledge. I will say though, sometimes, it is true, that one or a few of your attachment issues may be miraculously dealt with by God’s Spirit, sure, but no one seems to get 100% — or even 50% — cured, when their heart makes a connection with the Gospel Truth. I spent years with this truth, and again, it only took me so far.
For example, I read every book, blog and essay that C. Baxter Kruger — who I would call the Godfather of the modern Trinitarian movement — wrote, many times over, on top of all the audio and video, and his work is brilliant. I was obsessed, and still stand by every word. The man is God’s gift to the Church. Why the hell don’t we see it? I’m not just kissing his Mississippi ass. I did and do feel this way; but words and truth are only as good as the soil they try to take root in, and my soil, which wasn’t so bad, was shit. Plain and simple. I don’t mean that I didn’t get what he was saying. I did, and do. I suppose you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that. I was teaching and preaching the stuff, and I can hold my own in a theology discussion (thanks to him).
I’m sure he would agree though, that his words are purposed to give us the boldness to engage and do life with the Father, Son and Spirit, not to sit around and talk about The Three all day. I was reading a Trinitarian theology book once, years into my study, and that still small voice told me, “When are you gonna stop reading about Me, and just start living life with Me?” I forget what my response to the Lord was, but looking back, I can now say, “How can this self-occupied, obsessive thinker, engage in the Divine Dance with God, when he is not even in touch with himself, his family, his friends, his co-workers, and all the wonders of joys of his own life?”
Don’t think that you are not a too-much-thinker yourself. Most of our internal and mental activity is superfluous and not needed. Think on that!
This is where Buddha, who Jesus Christ also lived in and through, comes in. Throw out all your misconceptions and preconceptions, and let me tell you what he did for me, and within that, what he was about. And don’t worry, the Buddhist demon won’t come and possess you, if you listen to these upcoming words, but your own fear might.
Buddha is a Trinitarian, Christ indwelt human, just like you, who figured out some pretty game changing stuff, stuff that the Orthodox and Catholic mystics also figured out, which I would come to find out at a later time. He discovered that we take our experiences, and especially our experience of the singular “I” (which is the lie that Adam and Eve believed in) too seriously, and this in turn causes our hearts and souls to latch onto such objects of experience, and this latching on, distracts us and clouds our relational vision, preventing us from living and loving all people, both divine and human, and all life, freely and abundantly. This is why his first words, post enlightenment, were, “I am awake!” He was, and the “I” that had come out of the sleeper’s tomb, was not a separate “I,” but a connected and union “I.”
Is it possible, that a man who existed five to six hundred years before Jesus, got revelation and truth from the pre-incarnate Jesus himself, about the interpenetrating connection that we all have with each other? Someone is going to say, “Yes, but there’s probably a lot of lies mixed in there.” I would ask back, how many lies – devastating lies — have been spewed from Christian pulpits all over the world, for two thousand years? Should we throw out the Church too? Because “the doctrine of devils” (St. Paul’s phrase) is prevalent and everywhere, especially in today’s evangelical, conservative church. But guess what, Jesus is bigger than the devil. He is the light of the world, and he is spreading his light, all the time, and all over the place, abundantly and without reserve. He is all things to all people, because surely, every human being takes their name from his Father (Ephesians 3:15), and he is not ashamed that he is our older sibling.
All one can do, is be open, pray, follow one’s own heart, don’t believe everything one hears, and test out what people say for one’s self. Again, Jesus is bigger than the devil, and so it just makes sense that there is more truth you are missing, than lies, with close mindedness.
Every good and perfect gift comes down from Jesus’ Father; and Buddha, his message, and his meditation practices, are good things. There is no “false good.” It’s not rocket science, but the evangelical church’s dualism can never see or admit such a thing, as God working and playing with someone outside their camp, and how can they? They believe in a Trinity who split up and had a divorce on the Cross of Calvary. They believe in an us-vs-them god, who only accepts us, because Jesus died, no, was tortured, for us, so of course, doing a “secular” Buddhist meditation, like just relaxing and not getting attached to thoughts, sounds so sinister to them. Their holy god thinks everything that isn’t him is sinister. The shoe fits, and the parallels between the evangelical church and the Pharisees are funny, to say the least.
Back to Buddhism! It’s a long story, but sometime around six years ago, after my own dark night of the soul (see my unique take on John of the Cross’ work in my Patreon library), which humbled me enough to try something different, I picked up a little Buddhist book by Thich Nhat Hanh, his commentary on The Heart Sutra. The man is a genius. He straightaway went into the misconceptions I had of Buddhism, and said, “No. Buddha didn’t mean it like that,” and I am forever grateful for his wisdom. He communicated to my soul the perichoretic connection that all things and all people have with one another. I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I knew that I wasn’t a single I, living “my own” life, but that we all, somehow, in all our diversity and distinction, without losing our naked personhood (naked personhood as opposed to all the personas (masks), roles and identities we wear), are living life as “one being,” a phrase that points to a reality that words can only dance around.
Our intoxication on thinking, words, beliefs, certainty, and even logic, get in the way of true friendship, love and human-to-human connection. They get in the way of us living and operating as the Father, Son and Spirit do with one another. They get in the way of our participation in Perichoresis! Christians can be enamored in right words, right beliefs and right thinking, but Buddha taught that you can’t think or know your way into Freedom. You have to practice it. Live it. Embody it. Be it.
And no, it’s not hard. It’s not difficult. It’s not “works.” It’s not adding on to the finished action and accomplishment of Jesus Christ anymore than you using your two feet to get from point A to point B do. Some “grace” Christians arbitrarily call anything they don’t like “works of the law.” It’s actually a very gnostic and anti-incarnational attitude, to cry, “Law! Law!,” to everything. I’m rolling my eyes, but don’t worry, it’s in love. It’s the heart and intention that make what we do a grace thing or a law thing, not what we do.
Anyways, Buddha instructs and inspires us, to dare to put our attachment to our own minds down, and just live. If we would stop trying to think and discursively know all the time, well, as Gregory of Nyssa, an OG Trinitarian theologian would say…
“It is on those of us who remain in this calm and quiet mode of life that truth will shine forth, enlightening the eyes of our soul with its beams. This truth, which was revealed by the indescribable and mysterious illumination that appeared to Moses, is God.”
There is a different kind of truth that you realize through wordlessness and logiclessness. The Church has a whole camp of people who practice such a thing. It’s called apophatic theology and mysticism, Buddhism’s sibling in the West. (And for the record, I, and you, can and should use your mind and intelligence when needed. Just remember, it’s a tool, not your boss.)
The irony is, if you think less, you end up knowing more, but it’s a knowing that you aren’t attached to or prideful about. Nyssa, and many more, taught that we have a part of our mind/heart that can know and see God and Truth, but not in the conceptual, discursive and dualistic way we normally know things. You fall into this way of knowing, through silence and stillness, rested-naked-awareness and spontaneous-presence.
I’m glad I found this “mystical knowledge” in Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr and others. It’s a shame that, like Thomas Merton, I had to go outside of my own tradition to get the right eyes to see. Not a shame because Christians should have it all, and not a shame because I had to engage with Buddhists. I love my Buddhist friends! It’s a shame because how many sincere believers are missing out on beautiful and liberating truth, that is tucked away in the basement of their own house?
After my first Buddhist book, I’ve spent the last six years studying and practicing Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, and where am I now?
Comparing who I am now, to who I was then… I am walking in a high degree of freedom from a love & sex addiction, self-centeredness, anger, jealousy, pride, a critical attitude, and so much more. Life is amazing, and I’ve let go of the wheel… yet somehow, I still steer the ship, that is, my life, without it feeling like I’m doing much. Paul’s words make so much more sense now, “I no longer live, but it’s Christ who lives in me and through me.” Does that mean I’m some sort of faceless, nameless, personhoodless weirdo? Am I some emptiness merged with the One or the Void? Not at all! I am me! And I am free!
True spirituality, meditation, awakening, and enlightenment are very ordinary, grounded, earthy and incarnational. If you lose touch with regular life, you’re not there yet. Keep truckin’!
Like T. F. Torrance teaches so wonderfully in his “logic of grace”, all of God equals all of me. Somehow, when “I” get out of the way, God comes to live in me, but it’s in that, where I find myself again, but this new I is nothing like the old I. I can’t explain it, and I don’t need to. All I can say is, I’m happy, and I’m free, and I’m looking for those who want to join me.
I’ve said enough. We can be here all day. This piece is purposefully short(?) and minus many details, because it’s meant to inspire you to dialogue, with myself and/or with others who get one, some or all of the above topics.
I, like Paul, am begging you to make a change in your life. God has already reconciled you to Himself. The world is already one. So put down your attachments, idols and false gods, and be reconciled to Him and everyone else.
Meditation is the tool that makes us persons fit to move and groove in the Divine Dance, without tripping over our own self-centeredness.
I will advise you though, don’t do it alone. Find a good teacher, spiritual director, and/or mentor, because there are many potentials for misunderstanding this simple message.
And here’s a shameless plug, because this is my site, not yours, for as little as $10 a week, you can work with me on your meditation journey. (See the “Meditation Mentoring page on the site). You won’t find those rates anywhere. Someone may help you for free, maybe, but when it comes down to it, you are expendable to them and they can drop you at will. Get into a relationship with someone who has made this his job and mission. I sincerely want to help you live the best life of your dreams. I can work with the non-spiritual crowd, the Buddhist crowd, and the Christian crowd. Really though, those are just labels. What’s most important, is that I am confident that I can work with you.
This is one of my love letters to the human race.
Be kind to each other, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
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