Degrees of Separation, Part 6

Degrees of Separation, Part 6

Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? Mark 8:18

Over the past several weeks I have focused on the degrees of separation present between most of the common sources from which we seek Christian knowledge and the foundational Christian source of knowledge, the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ. I have downplayed the ability of these common sources to put us in a direct relationship with the living Christ. These common sources include well-known evangelists like Billy Graham, and by extension our local preachers, various religious and biblical commentators, biblical authors like the apostle Paul, and even the Bible itself. The issue is not that these sources are bad or purposefully misleading, but that they are not the Christ. The most they can offer is context or commentary, which is not necessarily an unhelpful thing (as I have repeatedly pointed out), but they are not the source. They are products of divinely-inspired but biased human beings, limited in their perspective and understanding. While they may be able to point us in helpful directions, they cannot unite us to Christ.

Membership in a church cannot do it, either, nor will weekly worship attendance, at least not in and of itself. The teaching, community, and fellowship offered by many churches can help point us in the direction of Christ, and the enrichment of our lives through being a part of a healthy, loving community cannot be understated. But churches cannot bring us to Christ by prayer, baptism, confirmation, or confession in spite of their claims to the contrary. The reason has to do with the intellectual focus of most church worship services, teachings, and other activities. It is understandable that churches would attend to the intellect since that is also the revered focus of our society. We cannot, however, think our way to Christ.

Frequently throughout the Gospels Jesus mentions that we have eyes and ears but cannot see or hear. It is not because of defects in our physical sight or hearing but because the life and teachings Jesus wants us to see and hear cannot be received by the physical senses. We must first learn to see and hear from the less-obvious centers of intelligence in our heart and body. We must learn that our true essence is deeper than our thoughts, infinitely deeper in fact. As long as churches focus on feeding our minds and shaping our thoughts, no matter how stellar the teaching, we will not develop the eyes and ears needed to hear and follow Jesus. We will remain spiritually blind and deaf. Jesus does not present a problem to be solved or a question to be answered. Jesus offers a way of life that is the key to the kingdom of heaven – not as a place we may or may not enter when we die, but as a state of consciousness we enter here and now. Many churches portray themselves as afterlife insurance, meaning that our ticket into heaven when we die is reserved through our faithful attendance and support of the church. It is a nice thought and it requires a much smaller sacrifice on our part, but it is not biblical, and it is not the path Jesus modeled for us. Churches, in general, let us off the hook too easily, by which I mean they allow us to continue our earthly, materially-focused lives without challenging how far those lives are from the life Jesus invites us into. The degrees of separation between the two are astronomical.

To minimize the degrees of separation between ourselves and the Christ we must adopt more effective ways of connecting with the Christ. Such methods are not new, having been practiced by faithful followers for millennia. They are techniques for opening our eyes to see what we are currently blind to, and opening our ears to hear that to which we are currently deaf. Few churches utilize these methods, although prayer and music are common worship elements that can speak to our non-intellectual faculties. I will describe a number of these methods in future Life Notes, but they include extended periods of silent prayer, chanting, interpretive dance, sacred reading, meditative doings, and other exercises that force us out of our heads and into our hearts and bodies. They build bridges to the soul, which is where we awaken to our oneness with the Christ with no degrees of separation except our own inability to open ourselves completely to it.

Until we develop the eyes to see and ears to hear of which Jesus speaks, we will remain many degrees separated from the source of Christianity, no matter how faithful we are to a particular church, Bible readings, or other religious activities.

This is the 16th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.

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