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Getting Ready for Good Friday / a prayer-poem

by peter traben haas

 

Take my eyes and see the bonds that bind the earth to me in body and love.

Walk out from the dark chambers of silence and see the shadow shards in the Nissan moonlight.

So simple this way of blight sight, seeing beyond the contraction of knowings.

Held steady in your great eye; that which sees is also seen.

God-life on beams stretched by sinews of surrender.

Amen.

© 2014 ContempativeChristians.com. All Rights Reserved.

 

Freedom from Your Tombs – A sermon by Peter Traben Haas

In this Lenten sermon, pastor Peter Traben Haas uses the miracle story of Lazarus’ raising from the dead to help us discover deeper inner freedom and healing.


Three Reasons Why America’s Protestant Mega-Churches Will Turn Contemplative (or Go Extinct by 2017)

by peter traben haas

In 2017 the Protestant Reformation will be “officially” 500 years old, and what do we show for it? Behold, the American Mega Church! A bloated pimple rising up from the greasy adolescent face of American frontier religion.

Since then, much of American Protestant Christianity has morphed into a corporate conglomerate of consumer-capitalistic religion – a multi-faceted industry of books, movies, music, conferences and seminars. Looking back at the sweep of Christianity’s twists and turns, it appears  that whatever good may have sprung out of the Reformation’s Pandora’s Box, that good now seems smothered over.

In short, it’s time for the next octave of Christianity to emerge into its full resonance.

So, having said that, here are three big-picture reasons why America’s Protestant Mega Churches should become communities of contemplative practice, or go extinct by 2017:

Reason #1: Meditation is now unavoidable for human  survival

Given present global conditions, risks and non-sustainable  depletion of life-sustaining resources, the future survival of human civilization will require increasing numbers of people practicing some form of a daily  contemplative/meditative prayer practice, just to function day-to-day amidst intensifying social, economic and environmental tumult. In such a stressed global system, a daily practice of some form of meditative prayer will be essential just to maintain personal peace, interior balance and interpersonal harmony. The alternative for many will be pharmaceuticals or other mood altering substances. Even worse, suicide.

At present many faith communities are swapping their fears of meditative prayer practices for openness to them. Many are discovering contemplation was, prior to the Reformation, a  normative and vital aspect of the Christian spiritual journey. This shift is inevitable and the contemplative renewal movement is in full swing, nearing a profound global tipping point. Mega church communities of faith and their leadership teams will soon be confronted by the fruitfulness of meditative prayer in people’s lives. An unyielding positive verification will emerge demonstrating that daily contemplative prayer practices tend to nurture Christians of unparalleled spiritual maturity, wholeness, vulnerability, authenticity, joy and wisdom. Communities will increasingly require this level of humility, authenticity, fecundity and vibrancy from their leaders.  When this shift happens at the leadership level, whole communities will follow suit and the world will never be the same – nor will humankind.

The historic spectrum of prayer is important to remember though. On the one side there are very active, discursive, mental prayers such as liturgical petitions and intercession, and on the other side there are very receptive, passive, contemplative prayers such as Centering Prayer. While all other forms of prayer are important, integral and inevitable as a human being, only the contemplative wavelength of the prayer spectrum has the sustainable and gentle effect of unloading the unconscious and subconscious where much of our pain, desires, suffering, repressions, fears and angers are stored. Current brain research and consciousness studies are sounding the vital signal that a meditative prayer practice is non-negotiable for anyone who aspires to future leadership or human fullness – especially in such a conflicted and complex world as the one our children will inherit.

Reason #2: Silence and solitude are now essential practices for maintaining human sanity

Amidst  our increasingly overcrowded, non-stop culture of noise and image-stimulation, the contemplative values of silence and solitude will become the primary, universally accessible and sustainable tools that help billions of people cope with the overwhelming stressors of a hyper-technological, biologically interfaced, electrically mediated, profit driven world megalopolis.

Silence is where all humankind can agree. In the silence, nothing needs to be argued, defended or denied. The silence is the one place where every religious community can stand in sheer solidarity as members of the human family. Silence allows for the experience of oneness, beyond all ideas, thoughts or unique truth claims, doctrines and dogma. Silence does not kill truth. It births truth. And not only truth – silence is the womb of love, peace, wisdom, creativity, and joy to name a few. Silence is the space for healing and self discovery. Of course the sister to silence is solitude. Solitude and silence are twin practices going hand in hand, eager to help humankind as the essential remedy to what is ailing us. These sisters are so intuitive and yet so resisted by our culture it’s almost incomprehensible. Why we reject the very thing that will help us regain sanity and social harmony is hard to understand apart from the reality that the Ego-based mind-culture we live in can’t stand any hint of surrendering our false sense of control to stillness, silence or solitude. Our world culture is addicted to activity, entertainment, busyness and noise, not to mention eating, drinking and being merry. But world circumstances will invite a shift beyond from this distracted way of being.

Unfortunately, the mega church culture has adopted the cultural values of distraction, activity, entertainment, busyness and noise. High energy religious entertainment with multi-media, richly produced worship events will reach a saturation point as the law of diminishing returns runs straight into the demand for more intense adrenaline worship-highs. There is a ceiling to the seduction and hitting it will come at a significant price. Case in point: observe the buildings. We build our buildings and our buildings build us. And what kind of buildings do the mega churches build – they build entertainment temples, stadiums to the electric Spirit with lights, screens and shopping mall amenities – all to keep the masses engaged. Seduction by the senses is the oldest game in the book. Soon, though, mega churches won’t be able to seduce the masses by the senses because the senses will be numbed by over stimulation, withering on the inside from malnutrition, craving the one thing the big box multi site entertainment temples can’t and won’t provide yet – silence and solitude. But they will. They will have to. Silence and solitude are the “next big thing” for humankind.

Soon, though, the mega churches will become more comfortable with the value and importance of silence and solitude. They will integrate the ancient practices into their communities and their communities will no longer come just to experience or co-create an event, but will come to be transformed by the depths of self discovery in the loving presence of God. It’s really about style. The contemplative dimension or “style” of Christianity comes from a deeper place beyond the intensity of the charismatic first kiss of Divine love, and beyond the safe but unstable veneer of the false self. It’s grounded in the experiential journey into the depths of Divine Union that is purity of heart  – literally,  contemplation. It’s not an easy journey.  How we do church is about to shift dramatically toward the contemplative dimension, nurturing people from the depth of spiritual life born from the silence and solitude of sheer God devotion.

Reason #3: The purpose of God and destiny of humankind is for us to become love in Christ, together

By 2017, patterns and behaviors of fear, judgment, division, power and control, especially that which is religiously motivated, are revealed as spent and empty ways of being human.  Those ways litter our history with meaningless carnage, violence, pain, repression and suffering. Arising from this crucial awakening is a divergent narrative compelling and calling to the youth of every nation. Human psychological and spiritual development, by sheer Grace, is fast-tracking many through the lower levels of human development (where most of human history has been groaning for their emergence into fuller life), birthing increasing numbers of integrated spiritual but not religious types. Intuitively, they hunger for what is at heart the essence of the contemplative experience even though they may not be able to put Christian words to it:  being transformed by and into Love, otherwise known as becoming participants in the divine nature (2 Peter 2.4).

Protestant mega churches are famously driven by an outdated theological operating system that tacitly fosters fear by means of control, and cloaks that fear with false Jesus sweetness. The velvet glove of “Evangelical” cultural Christianity has for too long shrewdly hidden the iron fist of anger and judgment.  Of course, all justified by the Holy Book. That sacred texts were  turned into a paper god in the last 100 years is a clear indicator of the presence of a level of less than mature Christianity. The paper god’s promise of control over one’s life, problems, pains, relationships, career, health and wealth under the shrink-wrap prescriptions of literalist cherry picking Bible interpretation is not only untenable developmentally and intellectually, it’s suffocating spiritually.

Left as is, we’re about to watch these mega institutions sputter into obsolescence. Their interior destabilization will be increasingly evident. Their operating systems are failing, creaking under the oppressive weight of centuries of untenable presuppositions wed to post-modern advertisement and customer driven consumerism. Religious products designed to meet felt needs: community life groups, positive thinking for abundant health and wealth, and total control by fear-mongering scripture contortionists who make the world into a black and white certainty in the name of Jesus. This hardly ever conveys the felt quality of love. It usually leads to much interior anguish – for all involved. There is another way. And it has been here all along, hiding in plain sight.

God did not create humankind to worship a book or to live in fear. God created us to become love. That is the essential Christ story, one that was a transformative reality long before it ever was written down on parchment and later turned into a compiled holy book. The contemplative dimension awaits for all who stumble out of the desert wilderness realizing for themselves that we cannot live on bread alone, nor can we live on the written word of God alone. We can only live in Christ by the Spirit. In fact our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3). And this Spirit births us by and into love, and against this love there is no law – written or spoken - completing  the invitation to taste and see how good the love of God is;  not just read about or just believed in.

May the Divine Assistance be with us all, and especially with those relatively few powerful people helming those mega religious empires, beholding the last gasp of entertainment religion from their suites of spiritual marketing. Just breathe, boys. Breathe deeply, and let it go. Now, we shift into the deep.

We’ve waited 500 years to graduate. It’s about time.

I’m ready, and you are too.

© 2014 ContemplativeChristians.com. All Rights Reserved.

Pick Up Your Practice and Follow Me – A Mid-Lenten Reflection on Life without the TV’s

by peter traben haas

Since I put the TV’s in the basement on Ash Wednesday, I haven’t been distracted by the news of Crimea, or missing planes, or college basketball, or anything else, really. It’s been a wonderful Lenten vacation from the entertainment and news buffet that I’m normally addicted to. It’s a Sabbath from my habit of flipping on the TV when I come home, or when I’m tired and feel too lazy to read, exercise, write or pray.

This Lent, I’m discovering that the  Damn TV is like a person in my life – something I’m in relationship with; something I seek presence from. And it often delivers free of charge. In its absence, I’m discovering what a severe price I have paid for keeping that flat screen on. It costs my precious attention; I give my consciousness away for free, hour after hour, not realizing how much the TV is a vacuum giving me it’s blue light in exchange for my dimmed mind and wandering imagination.

For me, this No TV thing is  a Lenten fast  hitting home much more comprehensively than  my normal Lenten fast of skipping a few meals or food treats throughout the week. Things were going well with the fast until I realized I could still watch movies through Netflix and Amazon. Funny how my habits find workaround solutions in the most sneaky ways. So in addition to putting the TV’s in the basement, I’ve unplugged the modem and packed it away till Easter. If I really need the internet it’s available at my work office, but I’m discovering I do just fine without being hooked up to that bitter-sweet umbilical ether-wonder-world.

So, I’ve picked up the Post-Modern Cross of being offline; off the grid of pixels and passions, news and networks, and all that the Industry of Distraction is dedicated to feeding us, eyeball by eyeball. It raises the question to me about who is deciding what to feed us. What powerful person or group of people sit on the 50th floor Seduction Suite somewhere looking out over the cities of the entertained and distracted, determining what will be on the media menu tonight, tomorrow, this week, month and year? And why do we let them feed us, so to speak? Try not reading the newspaper or watching that favorite show and then decide if you are really free.

For most of us, once we’ve tasted and seen what the TV world offers, we  realize that we can live for quite some time on the empty bread of cultural brouhaha. You might begin to wonder why we settle for such a mediated life of Styrofoam caricatures instead of just Life. Why can’t we live without the screens of distraction, seduction, titillation, information, or sports exhilaration?

At this moment, all the major branches of the Christian family tree are in the middle of Lent. The reason is because this year, unlike most years, Easter will be celebrated on the same Sunday – April 20th – for Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern/Russian Orthodox Churches. That’s over 2 billion humans living on planet earth who in some way are connected with the Lenten journey right now; we’re all meandering through the wilderness headed toward a remembrance of the Holy Week events.

Last Sunday, many of those 2 billion  heard about a quality of living water that can truly satisfy us – and lead us to the personal experience of the presence of God in worship. This Sunday, we’ll hear another Gospel story from John about the healing of the blind man – the truly revolutionary opportunity to see for the first time. Perhaps we’d be wise to go blind and put the mud pie on our screens and begin to really see what we see?

Lent is a season for picking up a practice and following Jesus into the heart of surrender to the present so to experience Real Presence. It’s a time to let go of some of our choice patterns and relationships we use to mediate and escape our sense of unhappiness and longings for true life, love and light amidst the death, difficulty and darkness around us. As we let go of the plastic world of pixels and hold to the Fast we will discover more about ourselves. In so doing we discover more about the vast love and grace of God, continually calling to us to husk our shells of desperation and turn off the electrified life, and get truly turned on by Life Itself.

When 2 billion people will pick up a practice so to follow Jesus to discover the Life hidden in Christ, then we’ve got a chance not just to celebrate Easter on the same day for once, but to become alive and become love in Christ together – something that needs to happen if we ever hope to survive ourselves and escape the mirages we follow down the rabbit hole of “happiness.” They are images that often leave us just as alone as before we ever turned the black, blank screen on.

It’s as if the Lord is saying to the masses: put the screens down and pick up a spiritual practice and follow me.  I will give you true Life and meaning. Not just media.

© 2014 ContemplativeChristians.com. All Rights Reserved.

Seven Steps to Leaving “Evangelical Christianity” without Losing Your Faith

Seven Steps to Leaving “Evangelical Christianity” without Loosing Your Faith

by Peter Traben Haas

Part One: Introduction

During the weeks between Easter and Pentecost, I’m starting a new series on this important subject.

I’m not against anyone or any kind of Christianity. I am for a deepening, growing faith relationship with God through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit which at its heart is the goal of contemplative Christianity. These thoughts are in service to anyone who is seeking a way forward in their faith.

I’m also writing this because it feels to me that Christianity, and especially Evangelical Christianity, is reaching a tipping point. And I’d like to be a part of the conversation that helps folks find a way forward in faith and not suffer like I did.

Intellectually, much of Evangelical Christianity’s perspectives did not make sense to me. So I gave up trying to get the circle of faith to fit into the square  of rationality. The more I surrendered trying to figure it all out, the more I was given help.  In the process, I discovered an ancient alternative. It’s called the contemplative dimension of Christianity. I believe its wisdom can be very useful in this season of spiritual and cultural friction. It is for me.

I’m not trying to start a fight with anyone. People are free to have their perspectives. I am simply going to tell my story and share the steps along the way where I discern my own growth happened, and how my thinking, faith and growth unfolded.

Perhaps my journey exemplifies some of the inherent tensions and problems within the Evangelical level of consciousness (i.e. way of seeing things). My growth took time. It was a process, but eventually I discovered a different kind of Christianity, and as I have looked back upon my 25 year journey, I am grateful for the foundation I was given by the Evangelical perspective and community. I am also very grateful for the way out and the contemplative dimensions that helped me leave what I experienced as the limited purview of the Evangelical perspective.

This series is an attempt to share my story and seven of the important steps along the way of my faith formation. Here is an overview of the blog series:

Step #1 It’s OK to see God differently

Step #2 It’s OK to see the Bible differently

Step #3 It’s OK to see salvation differently Part 1

– Step #3 It’s OK to see salvation differently Part 2

Step #4 It’s OK to see the earth differently

Step #5 It’s OK to see prayer differently

- Step#6 It’s OK to see sex differently

 – Step #7 It’s OK to see your destiny differently

As a part of this introduction to the series, let’s start with a presupposition and a claim, and then conclude with an analogy and my credentials.

A presupposition: Evangelical Christianity is an expression of one level of consciousness among many possible levels of consciousness. It is one way of seeing things. “Evangelical Christianity” is not the fourth member of the Holy Trinity. Nor is it the 67th book of the Holy Bible. Like anything else in the field of human culture and knowledge, it’s a manifestation of multiple human perceptions congealed into what we call a world-view, or meme, or level of consciousness.

A claim: No one is really designed to remain at the Evangelical level of consciousness. In my interactions with Evangelical Christians, including my own personal experience within the Evangelical mindset, I have discerned tacit internal dissonance about the Evangelical way of being Christian, whether we admitted it or even knew it or not. The question is how much and how long such feelings of dissonance are ignored, repressed or contorted into defensive behavior. Many people have a vested financial and personal interest in keeping the movement or institution strong, and so they do often place limitations on the extent they are willing to grow beyond their current level of perception. That is OK, but we need to put our preferences and agendas on the table.

An analogy. Please don’t take this personally or literally. It’s an analogy. Evangelical Christianity is a developmental stage of faith, like 6th grade is a stage of learning on the journey to post-graduate study. No one who wishes to grow stays in grade school. Everyone who wishes to grow graduates to higher/deeper levels of being and understanding. This is a fact. And I don’t assume I have reached the deepest level of learning either. That doesn’t happen in this lifetime. Everyone living is still on a journey of discovery. We are all open systems capable of further growth, development and indeed transformation. (If you doubt this read James Fowler’s helpful book Stages of Faith and notice which stage you become uncomfortable in the reading. The stage prior to where you became uncomfortable is probably a pretty good guide to where you are at developmentally and also an invitation to keep growing).

Here are a few of my credentials. I grew up a child of the Jesus’ People movement, with parents who were participants of several prominent evangelical Christian communities and bands (such as Rez Band and Servant).  I grew up at Elmbrook Church under the tutelage of Stuart Briscoe’s profound biblical preaching. I graduated from the West Point Academy of Evangelical, Biblical Christianity: Moody Bible Institute. Not only that, during my senior year at Moody I was the student body president. In my junior year I founded the Student Academic Club. I also started a ministry to the homeless my freshman year. I’m now a 42-year-old Presbyterian pastor in the Midwest,  a graduate of Princeton Seminary and an author. I’ve earned a Doctorate of Ministry. Perhaps I should also add, “and I was a pharisee of pharisees.”

But while at Moody, trying to be a good bible evangelical, I had a crisis of faith and intellect.

It was a slow process, like all healthy growth is. The process of my transformation and dare I say liberation began during my church history 101 class with the illuminating lectures of Dr. Greg Quiggle. It deepened in Philosophy 101 class with the brilliant Dr. Doug Kennard. And it came to full fruition the summer after graduating when I became an atheist for a day. But more on that  in tomorrow’s post.

For two of the four years of my time at Moody in Chicago I worshipped at a conservative Presbyterian Church (PCA). But I couldn’t comprehend why there weren’t any women in leadership. So, one night, I took a courageous step and visited a magnificent church (I was nervous since folks at Moody referred to it as a liberal church). I went to the sunday evening vespers service at the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue across the street from the John Hancock Building. As worship began, I was moved to tears by the beauty of the candle lit sanctuary.  My heart was flooded with joy and awe as a woman pastor stood up in her black Geneva gown and white Geneva tabs and with outstretched arms said, “Welcome to the House of God to Worship our God of Love.”  We served the homeless dinner after worship; that sealed it for me. I joined Fourth Pres a month later.

After Moody, I took a year off prior to going to seminary to work at an excellent Evangelical mega church in Brookfield, Wisconsin called Elmbrook. I worked there as a pastoral resident. The residency was designed to help me discern if I was called to the pastorate by getting broad pastoral experience. I also was using it as a test to explore if I could go the Evangelical route versus the denominational, Presbyterian route. It was 1995. During that year, watching the increasingly personality driven showmanship of mega churches nationwide, and seeing the worship trends changing more toward the theatre experience, I decided that there was NO way I could continue down the Evangelical route. That way of doing and being church was not for me.

Sure enough, nearly 20 years since then much of Evangelical, nondenominational style of worship has been concertized and moodifed with dark rooms, stage lighting and expensive multi-media systems and imagery – essentially becoming multi-media production events. It’s game changing stuff - and most churches can’t keep up. As different as the cell phone is to the telegraph.

The same commercialized sub-culture also  exists. It irked me at 20 years old. It irks me at 40 years old. Everything from the mega star “speaking” circuits, to the pre-packaged church products, and now the multi-site franchise “beam the pastor by satellite” mentality. The consumerism draped in spirituality turned me off at Moody in 1993.  It still does. In fact, sadly, I think its worse today than ever. I call it the Walmartization of Christianity. Big box churches with even bigger parking lots with even bigger egos on the stage or screens, or so it seems to me.

That’s not to say the denominational world is any better. The last 20 years or so in Presbyterian PCUSA circles have had their own problems. The PCUSA is also not a shining example of spiritual fecundity or wise and humble leadership. My own life and ministry is lacking too, and were it not for my own breakdown I’m sure I’d still be inflated with my false self too trying to perform with “big screens” and keep up appearances. More on that in further posts.

All this to say, I have been so blessed to discover the contemplative dimension hiding in plain sight all along, moving beyond both denominationalism and evangelicalism. The contemplative dimension has helped me stay rooted in my own tradition and not leave the pastorate altogether. It also was the bridge I needed to leave the unworkable perspectives of my Evangelical Christian land of birth and lead me the promised land that was waiting for my inward attention all along.

That’s enough about me for now. I’ll share more of my story as we move through the steps.  Beginning tomorrow, I’ll look at the important first step: It’s OK to see God differently.

© 2013 ContemplativeChristians.com. All Rights Reserved.

Transformation and Lent – two Sermons by Peter Traben Haas

 

Human Transformation Hiding In Plain Sight


 

A Lenten Invitation: Pick Up Your Practice and Follow Me


Contemplative Church: A Sermon Series by Peter Traben Haas

In this four-part sermon series, Peter Traben Haas explores the contemplative dimension as a compelling model for the future of the Christian church, in what he calls the harmonization of the Mary-Martha perspectives.

Contemplative-Missional Model, Part 1


Contemplative-Missional Model, Part 2


The Importance of Centering Prayer


The Importance of Spiritual Direction


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