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.
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