Grace over at The Wild Pomegranate wrote a post recently expressing some frustration with the Christian faith and the lack of first-hand knowledge Jesus didn’t record in written form. Before I read her post this morning, I was thinking about Christianity myself, my own conservative Christian upbringing, JC, and the whole concept of being a child of God versus being an adult of God. *
I think part of what I consider to be Christianity’s problem is that most Christian leaders out there are still children of God, despite whatever their chronological age is. They’re kids. Most, if not all, children, by their very nature, cannot understand complexities. Their worlds are generally black and white. And I’m not being ageist here – it’s totally normal. All of that pre-frontal lobe not being fully developed stuff. So abstractions, metaphors, and other forms of complex concepts are, a lot of the time, lost on them. Chronological children aren’t supposed to understand those types of things. Also, they tend to take most everything literally. This can lead to them just not getting “it”, but worse, especially in the case of the child who’s really a chronological adult and is leading (an) entire congregation(s), is that they don’t even realize they haven’t gotten it. The other thing about children is that they can be damn nasty little brats. I’m sure you’ve had experiences from your own childhood or have made observations on your children’s peers that can attest to this. They can be mean, bossy, know-it-alls who insist on getting their way and insist that there is no other way. However, when we accept the responsibility to be leaders of any faith system that excuse – the one where we’re not supposed to understand because we’re at a certain developmental level – doesn’t quite cut it.**
Personally, I think most of Jesus’ early followers were also children of God in adult bodies. And really, I don’t think he did them any favors by stressing the whole “being a child of God” bit. It’s a beautiful concept in and of itself, and I think it helps people to feel a deeper connection with their Creator, but I feel like it was something he should have followed up on, you know? Cause now it seems like there are a whole mess of leaders with this spiritual Peter Pan syndrome. Anyway, back to JC and his peeps when they were all hanging out together. JC taught in parables and stories. Why? Because that’s how children learn best. Unfortunately, unless you take the time to walk them through the deeper meaning of the story (which is one way to help them become adults of God), whether or not they get that meaning is a gamble, and one that, personally, I think Jesus risked and lost.
I remember having a conversation with my dad the summer after I began studying Paganism about JC and salvation. He quoted the scripture that goes something like, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…no one shall reach the father except through me” and asked me what I made of it. Immediately, I realized that he (and most every other Christian) took this passage literally. I pointed out Jesus’ rather consistent track record of teaching in parables and metaphors and asked why my dad thought this teaching was any different. It’s so simple, he replied, of course he meant it literally. Enter child of God thinking. Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s straightforward. When I introduced the idea that maybe what Jesus meant when he said “I” was everything he embodied: Love, Mercy, Compassion, Forgiveness, Hope, etc. – the very essence of Christ consciousness (which, unfortunately, is usually not taught in most churches because the leaders are still children of God themselves). My dad found the idea preposterous. Right.
But that’s what I think being an adult of God in the Christian faith system would look like: an understanding of, living of (though not necessarily perfectly) Christ consciousness. As a Pagan, I can appreciate and honor Christ consciousness and its beauty, though recognize that it’s not for me. But people who live in Christ consciousness – think Mother Theresa when she was still on the planet – are amazing people. They don’t hate, they don’t judge, they don’t condemn, they’re not the ones who are saying, “It’s my way or the highway” on the road to union with Divinity. You might know or have run into some of these people. They’re the ones that when you find out they’re Christian, you might say, “No! Really?” because they don’t act like the majority of Christians with whom you’ve probably come into contact.
A spiritual leader is supposed to guide people in their spiritual development, assess where they are, find out what they need to come into deeper connection with Divinity, and help them get there. So if the leader is a 3-yr old wandering around in spiritual Pull-ups in an adult body still being a child of God, how are they supposed to bring people to deeper levels of spiritual development than where they themselves are? In this case, the whole idea of children leading children doesn’t seem to fly to me. If more Christian leaders were adults of God and could guide the every day Joe Christian to understanding of what it means to be an adult of God and help him get there, I think there would be a whole lot less hypocrisy and ugliness in the Church. But it’s got to start with the leaders.
I can’t tell you how many times when I was growing up in the Church I heard either from my parents, who were very active in the Church on numerous levels, or other Church leaders that the safest (or most dangerous, depending on your perspective) place to be in the Church to hide your faith or ignore your spiritual development and not be held accountable for it was in a position of leadership. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s pretty fucked up. It makes me wonder – I know that when I graduate from my program and get my degree and get licensed that it is my professional responsibility to amass hours of continuing education each year for the rest of my career in order to keep abreast of what’s going on in my field, further my specialization and development as a professional counselor, and continue practicing ethically. I get these CEUs by attending conferences, workshops, seminars, etc. held by other leaders or professionals in the field who are more advanced in their professional development than I. The same is true, I believe, in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and medicine, and perhaps others (I’m not sure). Why isn’t there something set in place like this for spiritual leaders of organized religions?
*Disclaimer #1: I’ve got a beef with the Church. And it’s not a little McDonald-sized wanna-be hamburger. It’s a freakin’ big-ass Porterhouse. Consider yourself forewarned.
**Disclaimer #2: I, as in me, am still walking through the whole more-advanced-stages-of-spiritual-development-aren’t-BETTER-than-less-advanced-stages-of-spiritual-development concept. It’s something I’m working on, and I totally admit that I’m not there yet. That is my own personal bias I’m sorting out because, though I’ve made some progress, I’m not yet to the point where I truly “get” that all stages of spiritual development are equal. It’s a tricky beast for me, and it’s left over from…something…that’s very hierarchical in my brain. I do get that everyone is at different stages of development, and I get that that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and I’ve just recently started wrapping myself around the idea that we all – no matter what stage of spiritual development we’re in – have something to teach others who are in different stages, whether more “advanced” or less “advanced.” Now, back to Christianity and its leaders.