Rohr on the relationship between silence and compassion…

It is raining today (here at least) and so you can’t be in the garden. The cricket and tennis are rained off and there is no point watching replays. So instead, take some time to listen to Richard Rohr speaking about how silence equips us to find the ways of justice.

I went on an 8 day silent retreat at the beginning of the year. I am still working out its impact in my life, but silence remains a hard thing to find in this age of information overload.

Rohr- silence/compassion

Rohr on outsiders…

Richard Rohr

My friend Maggy sent me a quote today by the man speaking above- Richard Rohr.

It hit the spot for several reasons. Firstly, Rohr usually has something interesting to say, and his take on the role of the outsider as a source of renewal to the church feels like something important.

Important too as another friend had recieved one of those chain e-mails, and sent it on to me to ask what I thought. This is what it said;

Last month I attended my annual training session for maintaining my security clearance in the prison service.


> There was a presentation by three speakers from the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, who explained their beliefs.


> I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say about the basics of Islam, complete with video.


> After the presentations, question time. I directed my question to the Imam and asked: ‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a Holy War against the infidels of the world and, that by killing an infidel, (which is a command to all Muslims) they are assured of a place in heaven. If that’s the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?’


> There was no disagreement with my statement and, without hesitation he replied, ‘Non-believers!’


> I responded, ‘So let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not a follower of Allah, so they can have a place in heaven. Is that correct?’


> The expression on his face changed from one of authority to that of a little boy who had just been caught with his hand in the biscuit tin.’


> He sheepishly replied, ‘Yes.’


> I then stated, ‘Well, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope Benedict commanding all Catholics to kill Muslims, or the Archbishop of Canterbury ordering all Protestants to do the same in order to guarantee them a place in heaven!’


> The Imam was speechless!


> I continued, ‘I also have a problem with being your ‘friend’ when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me! Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah, who tells you to kill me in order for you to go to heaven, or my Jesus who tells me to love you because He will take me to heaven and He wants you to be there with me?’


> You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam remained speechless.


> Needless to say, the organizers of the Diversification seminar were not happy with this way of exposing the truth about the Muslims’ beliefs.


> Within twenty years, i.e. 2031, there will be enough Muslim voters in the UK to elect a government of their choice, complete with Sharia law.


> Everyone in the WORLD should be required to read this, but with the current political paralysis, tolerant justice system, liberal media and P.C. madness, there is no way this will be widely publicised.


> Please pass this on to all your e-mail contacts.


I replied to my friend,  but rather than share with you my own ramblings, here is what Richard Rohr had to say;

The Sin of Exclusion  

Those at the edge of any system and those excluded from any system ironically and invariably hold the secret for the conversion and wholeness of that very group. They always hold the feared, rejected, and denied parts of the group’s soul. You see, therefore, why the church was meant to be that group that constantly went to the edges, to the “least of the brothers and sisters,” and even to the enemy.

Jesus was not just a theological genius, but he was also a psychological and sociological genius. When any church defines itself by exclusion of anybody, it is always wrong. It is avoiding its only vocation, which is to be the Christ. The only groups that Jesus seriously critiques are those who include themselves and exclude others from the always-given grace of God.

Only as the People of God receive the stranger, the sinner, and the immigrant, those who don’t play our game our way, do we discover not only the hidden, feared, and hated parts of our own souls, but the fullness of Jesus himself. We need them for our own conversion.The Church is always converted when the outcasts are re-invited back into the temple. You see this in Jesus’ commonly sending marginalized people that he has healed back into the village, back to their family, or back to the temple to “show themselves to the priests.” It is not just for their re-inclusion and acceptance, but actually for the group itself to be renewed.

Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations,

The silliness of religion…


Christianity is a lifestyle – a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s “personal Lord and Savior” . . . The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.


Richard Rohr

(Courtesy of yesterdays minimergent.)

Spiritual Capitalism…

(Thanks to today’s Minimergent.)

We’ve all imbibed the culture of unrest so deeply. We just cannot believe that we could be respected or admired or received or loved without some level of performance. We are all performers and overachievers, and we think “when we do that” we will finally be lovable. Once you ride on the performance principle, you don’t even allow yourself to achieve it. Even when you “achieve” a good day of “performing,” it will never be enough, because it is inherently self-advancing and therefore self-defeating. You might call it “spiritual capitalism”.

Richard Rohr

Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate 

Spiritual maturity and the pursuit of significance…

We humans are so contradictory. Sometimes we are driven to destroy anyone or anything in our pursuit of personal gain. At other times we are capable of such incredible self sacrifice in pure service of the other. Always we hope that life is more than mere bio mechanics- it has to mean something.

For men in particular, this contradiction often creates some kind of deep void that we spend a lifetime’s journey trying to fill. We believe that the only good life is a life a success. And ultimately success has to be measurable against the failure of others- against the poverty of others, the lack of creativity in others, the lack of godliness in others, even the lack of love in others.

The problem is that success is so fickle- life moves the goalposts constantly and so we feel constantly diminished.

The void remains.

I read this today;

It’s a gift to joyfully recognize and accept our own smallness and ordinariness. Then you are free with nothing to live up to, nothing to prove, and nothing to protect. Such freedom is my best description of Christian maturity, because once you know that your ‘I’ is great and one with God, you can ironically be quite content with a small and ordinary ‘I.’ No grandstanding is necessary. Any question of your own importance or dignity has already been resolved once and for all and forever.

Richard Rohr

It seemed to me that there was a deep spiritual significance in this. What is this thing that we are becoming as we seek to live deeper, more meaningful, more loving lives? Is it really to be bigger, or is it more about recognising that we are small?

Small that is, like a beloved child, whose achievements might be indeed be celebrated, but in no way make us any more (or any less) beloved.

If only it was so simple.

But then again, I am still immature. I have a lot of growing to do yet.

Does maturity always require suffering?

This was the question we discussed in house group this evening, after listening to Richard Rohr speaking about the spirituality of the second half of life.

He felt that the answer was yes (probably) and quoted a psychologist, who was asked the same question- to which he replied “It is entirely theoretically possible to achieve maturity in life without some degree of suffering, but it is just that in 30 years as a clinical psychologist, I have never seen it.”

It makes sense. A similar argument can be made about any change- it tends to require some kind of crisis. Sure you can decide to change- and make some lifestyle choices- throw in a bit of life coaching and counselling to discover your inner onion, but mostly we just end up indulging in a bit of wish fulfillment whilst we move the furniture about the same old rooms.

Whereas real change tends to come upon us by necessity, through crisis, and suffering.

Is that why Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall see God?”

The next question I suppose is- does suffering always lead to maturity? And the answer to this I think is- no. Suffering can lead to us constantly trying to rationalise it all- to the blame game and the guilt game. And so we become bitter and trapped in the shadow of the events that have befallen us.

Richard Rohr spoke about how suffering might contribute to maturity in a way that made some sense to me- about how we get beyond the need to know, to understand and to intellectually grasp the realities of God- and just begin to accept that

He is.

And we are.

Now- not yesterday or tomorrow.

Just now.

It is about being fully present, in the loving presence of God- and this being a place where the surface tension becomes less and less important in the awareness of all that deep green water below.

So am I mature? well- Not really. Does that mean that I might embrace the suffering that will surely come my way? Not likely. Rather I might hope that my dose of it is small- the odd tweaking of the scar tissue I already wear perhaps- rather than a screaming tunnel of hell that others experience and somehow still survive.

Stages of faith…

I was listening to a discussion about ‘adult faith’ the other day- Richard Rohr and Ronald Rolheiser.

They were talking about how faith develops and changes over the course of a life, suggesting that most of us are pretty black and white (‘conservative’ in Americanese) at first- and in fact, we ought to be. It is important to decide where we stand, what we believe and who we are going to journey with.

But if spirituality is a journey home- then what? What do you do when you have formed your place of home? Do you just relax and play spiritual golf?

Or do you constantly replay the first-half-of-life journey? Rohr suggests that many Christians and many churches do just this- we play the same cycles of guilt/angst/truth/significance games. We continue to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others to find our own place of ascendancy- both as individuals and groups.

Rohr told a story of some old priest who said that he spent the first half of his life wrestling with the Devil- all that struggle with sinfulness- but as he got older, he described spending the second half of life wrestling with God, which was much harder. He started to ask questions, and encounter those things called mystery and doubt.

All this reminded me of many recent conversations with friends- including Paul, who told me about Fowler’s stages of faith development. The account as described on this link is all a bit mechanical- Paul told it better, so I am going to create my own version made up a bit of a mixture- some of Fowler, some of Paul and a lot of my own experience.

So, it goes something like this. I am not sure however that I would regard these stages as necessarily linear and progressive in nature, I wonder if we all move between different ones, whilst operating mostly out of one. Neither would I necessarily see these as a hierarchy, with the last one being superior to the others- although ultimately, we are all pilgrims, going home (wherever or whatever that might be.)

Primal faith

The world is a big and scary place- and if our primary need is for warmth, shelter, food and the security. The need for God is almost like a need to believe in the coming of spring during winter. So we make the God we need-from wood and stone if need be, or from individual portable components taken from the understanding of others. God is an invisible puppet master, or fairy god-father; mostly benign, but sometimes unpredictably wrathful and punishing. So we look for rhythmics patterns in the world about us, and transmit our hopes and dreams onto what we see.


Literal faith

The world is full of things that are RIGHT, and things that are WRONG. God is the bringer of justice- and is commissioned into a kind of faith that is made up of clear black and white boundaries. We, his followers, are active in our mapping of these boundaries, and in categorising those who lie outside of them. We then set up brightly lit gatehouses and invite those on the other side to travel through- in order that they might become just like us (right.)


Conventional faith

Safe within our boundaries, the question is- what next? We are ‘right’, but are some righter than others? Our task then becomes to conform. To homogenise. Faith as a journey is less important than faith as a process of ‘maturing’ spiritually- measured in terms of external conformity to the conventions of the religious institutions we belong to.


Reflective faith (crisis of faith?)

Is that all there is? Many of us find ourselves struggling with old certainties- re-examined by life. Faced with people whose experience challenges ours, or circumstances of suffering and loss, what had seemed so concrete is now revealed to be full of cracks and holes. Some seek to fill in these holes with remixed plaster- to make the whole seem whole again. Others pick at the cracks and overeemphasise them, alongside all the solid stones that they are embedded within. Some lose faith entirely. Others decide that the boundaries that seemed so secure need to be transcended.


Universal faith

By this, I do not mean necessarily faith that has no boundaries, no certainties- but for many, once the old ones become undermined, we have a reluctance to build new ones. We become captivated by the open, generous possibilities of the God of Mystery. Some call it enlightenment, but I think a better description is ‘being open to the falling of new light’. WHAT we believe becomes less important- as does the need to defend and protect what we once held as being ‘right’. Rather, let us become pilgrims again- heading towards as much as ever arriving. Grateful for company, and givers of hospitality.





“Why do men no longer go to church?”

‘Beyond Belief’ on radio 4 asked this question today, quoting statistics that would suggest that 35% of the male members of congregations have stopped attending in the last 10 years. It is well worth a listen – here.

And as I confessed in my most recent post- I am one of them- at least as far as Sunday attendance at traditional church services goes.

This despite the continued male-domination of the religious machine, and the historic misogynistic flavour of many of our religious traditions (at odds with the way Jesus turned the tables on gender stereotypes.)

The questions I have often heard asked are-

What is about church that alienates men- even more so than women?

What is it about male spirituality that is no longer catered for within church?

How are healthy, holy versions of masculinity affirmed and modeled within church?

The spirituality of Jesus and his band of (male) disciples was one that tended to use words like these-

Risk taking,courage, self sacrifice, togetherness, adventure, mission, journey, loyalty, faithfulness in the long haul, friendship. ‘Taking a prophetic stance in order to change the world.’

The stories of the new men of the New Kingdom are full of tales of men fishing together. Learning and debating on the road. Living out practical God stuff in the presence of real human tragedy and ecstasy. The shadow of death and love of life in the middle of dangerousness.

What people like me have been forced to acknowledge is that our experience of church is often not like this at all.

We seem to have reduced spiritual practice to a very narrow band- as someone said on the programme- ‘Everything fixed by reading the Bible more and praying more.’ The problem is above all a moral one, and the answer to the problem easily results in  living more narrow, less colourful lives- less connected, less rounded, less real.


So- what is the answer?

There were stories of wilderness retreats on the programme, which is something we have been experimenting with for a few years too (here and here for example.) Dorothy recently sent me some information about a course being run at The Bield doing similar things too- along the lines of the Richard Rohr ‘Rites of Passage’ material.

The chance for us to go off on these kind of defined pilgrimages can be wonderful.

I have a mixed feeling about  male-only courses though. Some of this may relate to my own lack of clarity over what it means to be ‘masculine’- and what of my masculinity is praise worthy, positive and to be preserved.

I also am slightly suspicious of some of the language- the ‘warrior’ stuff, and the idea that at the heart of every man beats the heart of a hunter. I am not sure I ever want to fight or kill anything or any one- even in metaphor.

Richard Rohr describes his encounters with groups of nuclear scientists like this- “They don’t have a language to talk about faith.  They can’t discuss things, the chaplain says, unless they are objectified and given a law, order and structure.  But the language of inner states, inner movements, inner awareness, and inner consciousness is foreign to them.” I know men who are just like this- and many others who are entirely UNLIKE this.

I also strongly feel that male spirituality is substantively just the same as any other kind of spirituality. And I am not convinced that the answer to men leaving church is just to make what we already do more ‘butch’- tone down the love stuff and make it all less touchy-feely. As if women are not leaving church too.

Faith without works is dead- but ‘works’ without an inner awareness will almost always lead to damage- both to our self and to others. We need to be active and vital in how we live lives, but we also need to discover those soft supposedly feminine attributes and stop pretending that we can live like stones.

a final thought- I have come to believe that the obsession with getting men (and women) to come to church is entirely the wrong emphasis- rather we need to discover new/old ways to take church to them.

New/old ways to live out the mission of God in our context, and to learn to share this in community.

New/old ways to live authentic real lives.

And at the end of each day, new/old jokes to share around a fireside.



A minute or so of Richard Rohr…

Tonight in our houegroup we are going to listen to Richard ROHRRRRRR.

(Get it?)

He does not roar though- there is a gentleness about him which I like.

He follows in the tradition of a kind of spirituality of vulnerability, brokenness and woundedness.

And any other kind of spirituality too quickly gets caught up in power- of the earthly kind.

Richard Rohr on Dualism…

My friend Maggie sent me a link to a quote from Richard Rohr the other day. We are both looking forward to hearing him speak at Greenbelt Festival in a couple of weeks.

(Yikes- a couple of weeks! Aoradh are doing various things at GB, and we have a lot of work to do before we will be ready!)

Anyway, the quote tapped into the theme of dualism- which I mentioned before- here, and has also been a central idea in McLaren’s recent book


As applied to theological understanding, this debate goes something like this-

Western civilisation has been hugely influenced by Greek philosophy, and in particular the work of Plato.

This is not a new idea- I have been in a number of emerging church discussions that have highlighted the contrast between the philosophy of the ancient Hebrews with the potential skew in perspective that comes from wearing our Western Platonic goggles. But it is an idea that appears to have become increasingly important as we seek to re-engage with the ancient scriptures, and as some of the core tenets of our faith are being reshaped.

Plato (in contrast to the polar opposite- you could say ‘dual-‘ position of Aristotle) regarded all that was of the earth as temporary, worthless- a mere shadow of the ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is not material- it is the essence behind the fumbling form and shape we humans give to things.

The end result was a culture skewed towards division. Enlightened thinkers tended to view the world as made up of the profane, and the sacred. The sacred was unchanging ultimate reality, whilst the profane was changing, shifting, worthless.

The tendency to divide every subject into two seems to have been pervasive- left/right, good/bad. evangelical/liberal etc- the dualities multiply and abound.

As these ideas mingled with the founders of the early church- who after all were at the centre of the Greek/Roman world that embodied this dualism in terms of their philosophy and origins- then it potentially had some powerful effects on religious thinking-

  • The sense of the material world being of lesser importance than the ultimate reality of an orderly, dispassionate unchanging God.
  • The resultant need to focus on winning souls, as a priority over any other religious activity.
  • The in-out stuff- the us and them stuff. We are enlightened and saved- you are not.
  • Enlightenment means becoming aware of our imperfection, set alongside the perfectness of God.
  • In the creation of this ‘ideal state’- a Christian version of Pax Romana– it is only citizens who count- only people who have converted.
  • And in return, Christians can confidently expect prosperity and blessing commensurate with being a citizen of this ideal kingdom.

The interesting and difficult question that McLaren is suggesting that we need to ask in ‘A new kind of Christianity’ is about considering the faith of the Ancient Hebrews- their understanding of God. He (and others) propose that this Ancient Hebrew God was very different from ours.

For a start, many of the simple dualities that we take for granted are challenged by the stories of the Old Testament.

  • This God is not unchanging- but appears to be persuaded, and is willing to engage with the most gritty earth bound issues in way that can only suggest wild and uncontained passion.
  • Winning souls or converts is simply not an issue. The Jewish people appeared to have no idea of heaven or hell- but rather were to be a source of blessing to others in the here and now.
  • They were a people set apart- but not in the idealised sense. Rather they had a difficult and tortuous relationship with their identity and calling- constantly getting caught up in becoming too superior, too big for their boots, too independent and self sufficient.
  • There does not seem to have been the same ideal of ‘perfection’ either. God was unknowable, unfathomable, mysterious. His ways were not orderly and predictable- and so engagement with him was dangerous. Purity was about keeping laws, about living a communal routine governed by festivals and ritualised repentance/sacrifice. In this context, there was not a simple dual version of saved/unsaved- rather a process of engagement and belonging to community.
  • The Hebrews saw themselves as the ‘Children of God’, and as such were a Holy Nation, belonging to God. But they constantly incurred the wrath of God through their lack of respect of the ‘other’, the aliens in their midst. There was also a lot of war making and slaughter apparently commanded by God, which is frankly confusing and difficult to understand, and fit poorly with the words of Jesus.
  • Finally the Hebrews clearly looked to God to be the source of their prosperity and nationhood. But it did not end well did it? The succession of advancements and cataclysmic downturns that categorise the history of the nation of Israel might suggest that God is not interested solely in national or even local prosperity- that this can never be commanded, or guaranteed through orthopraxy.

Back to the Rohr Quote-

Jesus’ teaching on moral equivalency between himself and God and everybody else includes the neighbour, the outsider, the foreigner, the Gentile, the sinner, and finally, the enemy.  This is total non-dualistic thinking.  It was from this level of non-dual thinking that we find Jesus finally saying in John 17:21- 22:  “Father, may they be one.  May they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you.”Jesus lived his human life inside of a unitive consciousness, and yet he could make use of the dualistic mind to make clear distinctions, as well. (“You cannot serve both God and Mammon” [Matthew 6:24].)  And this, too, is the goal for all of us: unitive (non-dual) consciousness is the only way to deal with the big issues like God, love, suffering, death, and infinity.  But then we can revert to dualistic consciousness to make practical decisions about turning left or right, or whether to buy apples or oranges.

Adapted from Experiencing the Naked Now (webcast)