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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Kjellberg

It's About Being NOT Believing

One of the biggest frustrations in my faith development has been this notion of right-knowing. Most Christian institutions are designed around the idea of having the right way of knowing and understanding who God is, which then gives us the ability to encounter, or relate, to that God. The frustration for me has always been how self-righteous and limiting this approach feels. If I have this amount of knowledge and awareness then I can be that much closer to knowing and experiencing God. And every single denomination claims their way is THE way.

When you look at the way most Christian faith communities are designed they are primarily set up to be places of dispensing knowledge. From the get go people are asked to attend a new member class in order to get the lay of the land and be exposed to what this particular church believes and practices. Then, for new parents, they are asked to attend baptism classes so they can have the right understanding of what this means and does for their child. (At least for a number of mainline denominations). Then, those same children are put into Sunday School, or whatever name the church has given this practice, hoping to instill the right way of believing so these children can know God correctly. Then comes confirmation, with the hope that even greater knowledge of God is instilled through right practice and doctrine. And it continues as churches place a great deal of resources into their adult education offerings, hoping to deepen their member’s journey of right knowing and understanding.

In my book, “Imaging a New Church”, I reference Richard Rohr’s perspective of the mystic's way of knowing God is to simply love. There is no thought process or right doctrine that brings you closer to the holy. Simply loving is what is needed. If this is true, why then have faith communities underplayed the importance of this? If you parceled out the amount of time, energy and resources that are allocated to right knowing vs. simply loving it would be no contest.

This is what I call the need for being vs. believing. What has been lost in the evolution of Christendom is this deep value of embracing our being. This is where we encounter the loving God. God is love. We are loved by God. To love is to encounter God. There is no prerequisite to this experience. All have been born into this reality of being a loved child of God. The problem has been that the church too quickly moves into the mode of “but here is how you need to understand and believe this reality”. Once you have this, THEN you can have a real experience of God.

It should be no mystery that post Christendom generations say “I am spiritual but not religious”. My feeling is that this is precisely because most encounters with Christian culture are all about loyalty to their particular way of believing. There is little to no emphasis placed on simply embracing one's being and experiencing the God of creation within that being. We undervalue the place of introspection, reflection, meditation and the biblical invitation to “be still and know that I am God”. Being still requires no knowledge, no right believing. It simply calls us to be.

I am convinced that faith communities desperately need to reconnect themselves to this value of being vs. believing. The culture of transactional faith has to diminish and allow for a more experiential way of encountering God to take hold. What might it look like if we encouraged our children to be who they are, rather than constantly be pushed to become something more. If we are truly loved by God without condition, why not work to create experiences and moments where this can be celebrated and discovered. What if faith communities started at a very early age to encourage children to see God in themselves? God isn’t out there to be captured or comprehended, but in each of us to be experienced.

I have greatly appreciated my encounters with Native American spirituality. Much of it has been centered around their awareness of one’s relationship to the Great Spirit. There is never a time in which this relationship, or connectedness, is absent. It is a constant in all things. By having this mindfulness of the Great Spirit’s constance, the everyday moments are always in relationship to that Spirit. To me this is the beauty of being, simply. There is no deeper or lesser moments with the Great Spirit based on one’s knowledge or understanding. It is simply about being who you are.

Fortunately, this kind of practice is not completely foreign to Christian tradition. It has just been downplayed, or under-played, in most faith communities. Leaders claim that people are too busy, they don’t have time to embrace their “being”. Well, if what our post Christendom generations are telling us, “yes, they do!” And, in fact, they are longing for such encounters and emphasis. This is a great moment of opportunity. Not for the sake of growing your congregation, but for the sake of drawing people into authentic holy encounters in the everyday. I say let’s get after being who we are and not worry so much about whether our believing is in order. God is Love. We are Loved. Enough!

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