In this week’s chapter, our author Brian McLaren sets the stage for his twelve words by creating a context of “seasons”, or, well, stages, of a spiritual life. To introduce my reflections for this week, I’ll share a bit more about my own journey.
Leaving (Evangelical) Christianity was quite painful for me. I so missed the powerful worship experiences, and the sense of confidence the belief system gave me, that I knew how to live my life. Also, friendships. When I walked away, I lost much.
But I couldn’t believe in a tribal god anymore, who condemned most of the world’s population to eternal torture. Who fostered, and indeed legislated, inequality, especially between women and men, and also between races and cultures, and ways of understanding our very rich and complex world. I just couldn’t.
Some years later, in my ongoing pursuit of transcendent meaning, I got into an M. Scott Peck jag. You may be familiar with A Road Less Traveled. Each of his books starts with a memorable first line. For this, his first book, the line was, “Life is difficult.” This certainly matched my experience.
Peck was raised by Quakers and attended Friends Seminary. He got a medical degree and became a psychiatrist. The links between his interests and mine are evident, since I practiced psychotherapy as a Licensed Counselor for almost 3 decades.
He tackled the problem of evil in The People of the Lie. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but it was an interesting psychological engagement of the question.
AFFIRMING AND ENTICING
The book that had me sobbing in the bathtub was called A Different Drum. What moved me so much in this book was how Scott’s description of the Stages of Faith, drawn from the book by this name by James W. Fowler, described my own journey so far. From Wikipedia:
Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They may defy and disobey and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are egoistical and lack empathy for others. Criminals are often people who have never grown out of Stage I.
Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures (often out of fear or shame), they reach Stage II. Many religious people are Stage II. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of conventionally moralistic, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning. A Stage III person does not accept claims based on faith, but is only convinced with logic. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III. Often, they reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces, since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically. Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
Stage IV is the stage at which an individual enjoys the mystery and beauty of nature and existence. While retaining skepticism, s/he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love. His/her religiousness and spirituality differ from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that s/he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear, but from genuine belief. S/he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies.
I was in Stage III! And I had a really yummy-sounding Stage IV to look forward to, and to try to move toward. Life made sense again! It was like another experience of being saved.
So, I’d like to see whether, and how, Fowler’s stages might map onto McLaren’s seasons. McLaren mentions Erik Erikson, Clare Graves and Ken Wilber as scholars that have also described stages, in his footnote #6 on p. 254. I am familiar with each of these, but he doesn’t mention James Fowler.
Here we go. It looks like our book doesn’t address Fowler’s Stage I. McLaren seems to be starting with Fowler’s Stage II. The Simplicity, the Springlike Season of Spiritual Awakening could align with Fowler’s Stage II emphasis on having blind faith in authority, and being willing to obey and serve. We’re so thrilled with our new understanding that we do what we’re told, because we want more of this good stuff. “O” (Wow!), “Thanks”, and You’re “Here” and I’m “Here” make all the sense in the world to me.
Ok, next is Complexity, the Summerlike Season of Spiritual Strengthening. This may span the gap between Fowler’s Stage II and Stage III. We want to understand what just happened to us, so we work hard to learn and understand this new awareness, and to develop ourselves into Good Christians.
But all of this study can raise some pretty uncomfortable questions, and as McLaren points out, may not actually help us become more Christ-like. “Sorry”, “Help” and “Please” do seem to fit here.
Which can lead us to Fowler’s Stage III, characterized by skepticism and questioning. In McLaren’s words, Perplexity, the Autumnlike Season of Spiritual Surviving.
Or not, in my case. Well, I survived, but my faith took a pretty strong beating. I didn’t give up on God, just on religion. I certainly can relate to all of the experiences that McLaren connects to the words“When”, and “No” and “Why”.
Next up, the yummy-sounding Stage IV, in Fowler’s system, and Harmony, the Winterlike Season of Spiritual Deepening. I certainly relate to a sense of transcendent beauty and mystery when I look out the window of my study at the amazing trees that fill up our neighborhood. They are why I bought this house. Also, not being pulled around by the nose all the time by my dear little ego sounds pretty good to me.
“Behold”, and “Yes”, “……” I long for these moments.