A couple of months ago I finished reading Brian McLaren’s book ‘Naked Spirituality.’ He strips away ‘religion’ from our interaction with God and sets out how he sees the process we travel through in our spiritual life.
Stage one, which he calls “Simplicity” is the stage where everything is black and white, right and wrong, up and down. I enjoyed this stage of life for a long time and became a strong proponent for it. There are many, at the beginning of faith, who do need nurtured in this area so that some foundations can be set. Quite simply, our spiritual journey doesn’t stop here if it is going to mature.
Stage two, he calls “Complexity.” This where we realise that life is more than dualism. So, now our focus shifts to the complexities of navigating a more difficult and nuanced world. I started to move into this sort of area around 2007, having just had an interesting time with a variety of complex pastoral issues and having moved back to Scotland where there were several things not making sense. This was a beginning of a huge exploration time for me….I began to question, not my certainty, but if the certainty that I arrived at was founded upon Jesus or on something else. It was a soul searching time.
In stage three, which McLaren calls “Perplexity,” – its where we begin to realise not only that we don’t have all the answers but that we will never have all the answers. And we have to learn to live with increased ambiguity. By this time, I was living in Torry and I was finding that all my pre-packed theological and missiological perspectives were more or less irrelevant and that radical rethinking was needed if things were going to pan out. As I’ve explored many times on this blog and others, my conclusions didn’t necessary meet with the SA framework of officership and so we parted ways. I moved to Trinity in Gosforth very much in this stage, working many things out, but finding more and more that I had the space and time to work things through. Crisis mode seemed to leave, things started to make sense, but its a very new reality, as I alluded to in the post ‘Arisen’ a few weeks ago.
The final stage, Brian calls “Harmony.” That’s where we try to integrate the strengths of the previous stages. This is the place I am in now. How do I know? Well, quite simply, I am still certain that there are some clear things that the Lord wants us to know and that he calls us to….salvation and holiness are the foundations of our being in God as we follow him in the Way of Jesus. I’m much happier with complexity and with shades of grey where we need to seek God’s guidance and be motivated by grace and love in everything. This enables me to embrace all sorts of people that I’d have struggled with before, to be quite honest. Finally, I guess I can say I’m more than happy with loose ends and mystery and I think that my relationship with God probably the deepest it has been.
I guess, in lots of ways, it feels like setting the ‘re-set’ button, except I’m trusting God for who He is after what I guess you could call a fairly refining journey and building upon that foundation. I am amazed at the amount of times I write in my journal ‘I am very happy’ – it surprises me because I didn’t think I could be happy doing anything else other than officership…the irony was that officership was far from good for me.
As I began to suspect in around 2009, God’s call on my life was wider than what I’d experienced until that point and the deep dissatisfaction he was building into my spiritual life was all very necessary. I don’t doubt that years ahead will take more journeys around this ‘cycle’ but having been round maybe more than once, I’m more likely to embrace it than resist it next time. Maybe this is indeed what Paul meant by ‘working out your salvation.’ Yes..I think it probably is.