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The Universal Body of Christ: Diversity Reconciled in Unity

By Zach Van Houten

Within the Bible there are many passages which speak of a reconciliation of humanity to God. This is often understood in a concrete, and historical sense, based on a literal interpretation of Scripture. I am not interested in diving into all the reasons I do not read the Bible literally, as those discussions get tedious. If you consider all or even most of the Bible to be literally and historically accurate, that is your prerogative. It is not my job or my intent to persuade you that is not the case.

I believe approaching religious texts subjectively is really key when it come to receiving insights from them. I have rarely found inspiration in factual, historical details. Truths seem to hit home emotionally when we relate with a story or a passage personally. When we can see in it a pattern which goes beyond the particular story, it causes us to reflect on our own lives. It helps us connect our spirituality with the particular circumstances we find ourselves in today.

The Body of Christ was a metaphor used by the Apostle Paul to help Christians understand their essential unity as the universal Church.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work…Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6,12,27

This theology of unity expressed through diversity is a principal that extends beyond the limited conception of Christianity as a sectarian religion, and hints at the broader unity of all existence. For if God is understood to be all-pervading, then we can start to understand that while Christianity was meant for the church, it’s revelations are a part of a much bigger story which is now being understood not merely through the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, but also through the inspiration received by many different religions and world philosophies.

To see this larger story we need a wider viewpoint. Our goal is not to make any statement of absolute truth, it is more to point to our human interconnectedness. To our longing for hope, and our faith in power and intelligence beyond ourselves. This is a timeless story and can be seen everywhere if you have the eyes to see and ears to hear.

How is this unity revealed? Well, first we have to look beyond the appearance of the world, and get in touch with heart of life itself. The word we use for this heart of life is Love. It binds us to one another, and fills us with such energy that we write about it, sing about it, live for it and die for it.

Love is experienced when we sense this unity deeply. And to sense the unity demands that we see through our individual differences, to perceive clearly. I will use the word ego here to represent our unhealthy preoccupation with individual differences, in comparison to other people and the world at large.

When we are able to let our guard down and open up to another person, to a group, or to life itself, we experience a love which over the centuries has been associated with concepts such as God. To be in deep relationship with reality, with existence, is to be in the most Divine relationship possible. Nothing could be closer to our own being.

The way we live out this experience of loving connection varies according to how deeply and broadly one has established relationship with existence, and how the circumstances of life and our psychology have formed us. One tool we can use to understand this expression of personhood is called the Enneagram.

The Enneagram has become quite popular among Christians, which makes me super excited that we will finally be able to understand the Body of Christ in a more true way. To see that every person expresses attributes of God, although for some this love is locked away and not always visible to the naked eye.

Ultimately I believe all people are held together by love at the core of their being. It just may be that for some, we may never see that part of them, and they may never be conscious of it themselves. The Enneagram gives us a tool to look more deeply at ourselves and separate out what is sinful from what is holy. That is, what reflects selfless love and service versus what manifests as dysfunction and disharmony.

For example, my Enneagram type, Five, is known for expressing cerebral, perceptive and innovative aspects of God. While at our most dysfunctional we can indulge in extreme isolation and arrogance. We can manifest schizoid tendencies and delusional thinking. Yet we also can be visionary and insightful when in healthy relationship.

I would encourage you all to look into the Enneagram, and consider if you relate to a particular type. Ask your friends and family what type they think you are. And most importantly, pray or meditate on the topic and see whether or not the Enneagram or another personality type system can help you see through the smallness of your ego. Because the point is not to worship your individuality, but rather to learn how to see your own limitations and then surrender them. The more we see through our own PR, the easier it is for us to serve humbly. All our gifts belong to the universal Body of Christ, and we can find peace by getting in right relationship with the Whole.


For more on the Enneagram, check out this article: https://religionnews.com/2017/09/05/what-is-the-enneagram-and-why-are-christians-suddenly-so-enamored-by-it/

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Photo credit: https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-icubm

Zach Van Houten

The Tao of Christ

By Zach Van Houten

This year I stumbled upon a Christian version of the ancient Chinese contemplative work the Tao Te Ching. What made me excited about this is that it does what I feel is often missing in our dialogues with other faith traditions: translate religious texts from one spiritual language into another.

Many westerners struggle to relate with foreign concepts such as the Tao, since the word is entirely new to us. To add new words to the Christian vocabulary may not be very helpful. But if we look closely we can easily see that Tao is simply a Chinese word that can be translated as God or Spirit, or even Christ. And this is done here by baptist minister Marshall Davis in The Tao of Christ: A Christian Version of the Tao Te Ching.

The Tao Te Ching tackles many topics in a very subtle and paradoxical way. It isn’t an easy read if you approach it with a analytical mind, but if you let the words hit you, and allow space for the paradoxical style, it reveals wonderfully beautiful nuances of contemplative life that can barely be put into words. Thankfully Marshall simplifies it even further here for readers who may find the original Taoist text daunting.

There are many great passages, and I will share one here that hit me this morning. It speaks to the way Christ lived in the gospels, and how He works in Creation:

Associate with the righteous and the unrighteous.

Accept people as they are without judging them.

If you love the world unconditionally, it will be like returning to Eden before the knowledge of good and evil.

The world is formed from nothing,

like a bowl formed from a block of wood.

The bowl is made of wood, yet it is the empty space that makes it useful.

So does God make and use all things.

If you try to fix the world, you will fail miserably.

The world is God’s to fix.

Can you do better than God?

In trying to make things better,

You will only mess things up.

That doesn’t mean you should do nothing.

You should act according to your nature.

Some are meant to lead, others to follow.

Some struggle, others take things easy.

Some are strong, and others weak.

Some play it safe, others take risks.

Christ sees everything as it is.

He sees God at work in all events, and does not usurp control.

Keeping in the center of the Divine will, he accomplishes all things.

The Tao of Christ, verses 28-29

I encourage everyone to order the book/buy the ebook, since it is a wonderful addition to anyone interested in, or familiar with Christianity who also wants a fresh perspective on the spiritual world. Paperback version can be purchased here. Marshall also has a wonderful podcast by the same name which can be found here.

For those who want to experience the full force of the original Tao Te Ching translated into English, I would recommend this audio version on YouTube since it is such a beautiful reading and translation. For those interested in a more introductory version using Christian terminology, I recommend The Tao of Christ.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this, subscribe to my feed or bookmark this site for more posts like this.

Zach Van Houten

Grace Here and Now

By Zach Van Houten

I have been absent for a while now on social media. I deactivated my Facebook account and cut ties with a few different groups due to a growing feeling of claustrophobia and self-consciousness. Election cycles tend to do that to me. I feel more hesitant than ever to share my thoughts and feelings when I know tensions are high.

During this hiatus, I have spent time digging into my inner world, and uncovering wounds and neuroses that are difficult to see when actively engaging in social life. The smaller my world, the better, at times. That is at least one way I find solace.

I can’t say I am at peace, but I do have more clarity than I have had in a while. It has been easier to see patterns of self-deception and self-aggrandizement when offline. These two tend to occur when I want purpose and meaning in life, and feel I have to create it. Christianity in particular has left a void in my life that is hard to explain.

I didn’t just grow up in the church. It was my social life, and my home life. My experience of being homeschooled in a evangelical family meant that I ate, slept and breathed my religion. I wanted to be a pastor, and/or worship leader. I wanted to save souls. I studied the Bible and prayed daily. It wasn’t just a part of my life, it was central to it.

So when I broke ties with the church I tried to act as if I had moved on to something better. It is true that I had moved on to something more authentic for where I was at, but not necessarily more grounding or comforting.

The comfort of the church had begun to wear off before I left. It wasn’t all roses. I had been privately suffering from intense loneliness, insecurity, and depression. This made it hard for me to ever sink fully into grace. Although when I had, it had been a wonderful and liberating experience.

The parable of the prodigal son is a story that represents the heart of God for me. In the story the obedient son, while never leaving the Father’s side, did not experience the love of the Father in the same way the wayward one did. The reason being that the prodigal son knew his imperfection, while the obedient son who never left the Father was full of pride and was unforgiving to the son who had left.

Grace can grow in us as we experience our shadow selves, and find that we are more imperfect than we had imagined ourselves to be. In fact, being an individual is to be vastly imperfect, since we are by definition considering our small sense of self as if we were separate from the entire universe.

Being human carries a sense of constant inferiority and urge towards growth. While life teaches us to evolve, the desire to transcend ourselves cannot ever be accomplished by improving the separate self. It is only when we are liberated from this small egocentric view that we can have peace.

Christ teaches me to humble myself, and relate to the mystery in a way that allows me to be me, rather than feeling I have to carry myself up some mountain of purity. I can allow myself the space for failing and know that God can still use me anyway. In fact, opening to grace helps me to be more patient with the faults of others. We are all works-in-progress.

While the idea of God is not something everyone is comfortable with, I have found great solace in making peace with my old faith through prayer and seeking the true heart of the gospel.

Prayer for me is an act of humble opening to the mystery, and to the intelligence beyond myself. I can ask and trust, and in this simple gesture I feel more connected and attuned.

I don’t feel it needs to be much more complicated than that. Christ is an example of this simple trust and active spirituality. He inspires me to see that my life here is not in vain, and that I am meant to follow this path. I am still as much a Christ follower now as I ever was. All the twists and turns only deepen my relationship with Him, and help me to see the great mystery in new ways.

I think we need more authentic disciples of Christ in the world now than ever before. Not Bible thumping or tribal exclusivism, but real deep communion with the heart of the gospel. If we get in touch with that, what a difference it would make.

Thanks for reading.

—-

Image credit: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_in_the_Land_Bountiful.jpg

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Non-Violence As A Lifestyle

By Zach Van Houten

Non-violence is not just about abstaining from physical violence.

It is also a commitment to the ideal of non-violent communication.

These are obviously ideals, and sometimes life puts us in non-ideal situations. And the commitment to these ideals does not give us the right to look down on those who do not adhere to the same values.

But peaceful communication, what is called in Buddhism “Right Speech”, is a step towards a more harmonious world. This means we seek to listen deeply and compassionately to all, even those we deeply disagree with. We strive to share love with all, even those considered unlovable. We seek to avoid harsh statements and mockery of others, seeing all people as worthy of respect by virtue of their existence.

To those undergoing persecution and trials in this life, we support your dignity. And we know that suffering often leads to violence. I do not support violence but I support human dignity. Those who are capable and privileged to use nonviolent means, should consider the gift of nonviolence as a approach to the achievement of peace. We should accept all beings on the basis of the inherent dignity of Being, and from that place work to achieve peaceful ends with the least amount of harm caused in the process.

We cannot pursue peace until we have released the hate we carry in ourselves, and commit to the process of internal and external healing.

Blessings 🙏☸☮

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Healing from Polarization

By Zach Van Houten

We need HEALING from the political, social and spiritual division we are experiencing, as well as the corresponding apathy that is a natural byproduct of a lack of collective vision. It is time to recognize that among those leaders we have historically looked up to, only a small minority have transcended the polarized states of mind that foster and feed on a fractured society. We need NEW leaders who are psychologically mature (both within and apart from institutions) but before we can get that, we need a more self-actualized population. It is clear that the way we have been doing things is not working, and that is reflected in the bipartisan dissatisfaction with the political and social reality we face (even if we point the finger in different directions).

The main underlying current among pretty much all of us (myself included a lot of the time) is a sense that “I know what is right for the country and the world, and therefore I have the right to be angry that the world does not conform to my preferences”. Life never asks what we prefer. Life shows up as it does, and requires us to adapt or suffer. Those are always the two choices.

Now how do we adapt to this sort of situation?

We adapt by opening ourselves to different perspectives, by learning and getting outside of our comfort zones, engaging with people of diverse backgrounds, because this is an era of DIVERSITY and integration of people who hold incredibly disparate worldviews and perspectives, shaped by their unique life experiences.

We adapt by learning to refrain from framing issues in terms of absolute right or wrong, and absolute certainty about matters that we know are too complex for even the greatest theorists to completely provide a account of. The world’s problems can’t be solved by lines in campaign speeches. The world’s problems are not simple. Cross-disciplinary study is crucial to developing a proper framing. Most of the negative and harsh political comments suffer from lack of nuance, isolating a particular irrationality of the system as if it exists in isolation. Whereas the truth of the matter is that the postmodern world is infinitely complex. Down to the very fabric of our reality, physicists can’t even pin down the fundamental material that constructs our world. From a mathematical and physical enigma, can certainty be found? I think we have certainty in the WRONG THINGS.

We should have certainty in what we know to be absolutely good: love, peace, harmony, honesty, integrity, patience, etc.

If we do not commit to and base our lives around heart-based values and attitudes, we will perpetuate suffering. No matter how intelligent we are, the world will one-up us with another layer of undiscovered complexity. Causality and ontology and epistemology are not simple matters that the casual observer can discern the details of, at least not without a deep dive into oneself.

We will heal when we end our addiction to blaming anything outside of ourselves for the situation we find in the world. All that matters is what you and I individually choose to embody and enact in ourselves. That is all we can control in the end.


Photo credit: https://www.pickpik.com/photography-person-two-trees-disc-shot-assassination-attempt-44055

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Interspirituality

By Zach Van Houten

On this new episode of Living The Path, I am joined by Dan Coburn, author of the blog Interspirituality (https://interspiritualliving.wordpres…). He joined me to discuss Christianity, Buddhism, and the wide world of interspiritual dialogue. We also got into personality typology, and how that plays into the differences in approaches to faith and belief.

Living The Path is a podcast about nondual spiritual awakening and how it transforms our daily life. Available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, and more. If you enjoy the show, feel free to subscribe to stay up to date on the newest episodes. https://www.buzzsprout.com/841069

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It Is Already Here

By Chris Jordan

Whatever we are seeking we already have.

We spend our energy to replicate a sense of well being we remember. Sometimes it’s from childhood. Sometimes it’s from a period of time where things went our way and we felt unstoppable.

We work hard to set up the conditions so that the feeling might come back and stay.

What we don’t realize is that the work is unnecessary.

Whether it was a person, or an object, or something we loved doing and were passionate about, the object in question only solicited that inside of us.

Which means it was already there. We already had it. We always have, and we still do.

Whatever God has granted to us, our soul or consciousness, whatever the label may be, it is pure.

It does not want. It doesn’t have need. It just is. It is given continually without request, without work, without struggle.

We observe the thoughts of want and need and experience it. We grasp for what we believe we lack.

If we think we lack something we are afraid and will resist life, causing ourselves more pain.

If we know we lack nothing and stop resisting we free ourselves from the pain and can experience what we’ve been seeking.

This is not abstract. It is just so mind numbingly simple that it’s hard to believe.

I believe it is because we think that for something to be profound that it needs to be complicated. However we all can remember moving times in our lives that brought us to tears, and it usually was because of simple gestures of love.

We believe that good things must be worked for. Did you work for your parents love? Perhaps you did, but it didn’t need to be that way.

More than that, what you are, how you are made, the essence of your being gifted to you is pure divine love.

Stop struggling. Stop worrying. Simply be and know that you have everything already, and give and receive with generosity and gratitude.

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My One Dream Remains

I believe in the essential unity of all existence. No separation! No one should ever look on another with disdain or hate; this is the sin we all suffer from inwardly, and it is the poison we drink. In moments of weakness I believe the myth of ego, that I am either a special someone, greater than others, or that I am worthless and useless.

Chuang Tzu, the great Taoist sage once wrote of the value of the useless, ugly tree. He wrote that because the tree lacked beauty and symmetry, it was spared the ax of a woodsman looking for useable wood. The useless tree, for Chuang Tzu represented our limited view of what is good and bad, which limits our capacity to understand true value.

As my friend Chris recently talked about in his video, essence is the core of who we are, and the source of our true value. We can touch this spaciousness of pure Being in moments of solitude, meditation, prayer, gratitude, worship, art, etc. And these experiences remind us of the truth; that all is inseparably one; and therefore undeniably redeemable.

Haste the day when our differences no longer matter in the light of the pure awareness of love. That is the vision I have for the world. And yes, I dream still.


Artwork courtesy of Cassandra Miller, used under the Creative Commons Share Alike license. https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dream_on.jpg

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Love- The Strongest Fragility

Love is the one great force that binds us all.

Yet love is misunderstood, and misused. This elixir of life has become nothing more than a poisonous cocktail of codependencies and fear-based attachments.

Even then, the power of love is so strong that one sip will intoxicate all who dare drink.

Once tasted, it is never forgotten.

Forms come and go. Each year a new set of faces, projects, games we play; all attempts to rekindle a fire that either went out, or is slowly dying; choked out by the damp cloth of postmodern life. Some lucky among us have held on to our childlike wonder; we are blessed by your presence, friends.

The people we love and cherish will pass on eventually. The games we play come to an end. The stories we tell ourselves will vanish like a mist, and leaves us questioning if we ever knew anything for certain.

This is not meant to be a mere melancholic exercise in morbidity. Death is what gives life it’s grip on us. The fears we have in the face of uncertainty remind us that our time is limited, and our goals, somewhat arbirtrary. So we must always ask ourselves: what is eternal? What outlasts all these impermanent things we place hope in?

We are quick to insert an answer here. Some Hallmark-card spiritual sentiment, or a intellectualized theory. We may close the app or scroll past in order to avoid the feelings this line of thought generates. That is okay. Trust yourself.

But if you have stayed with me this far, I want to see how much farther we can push this.

What is it that moves us deeply? Not just what stimulates or excites, but what COMPELS us forward in spite of all the challenges. Day after day, we endure difficulty like champions of a cosmic competition. Here we are. We have survived so far. What now?

Did we get here overnight? In the billions of years this solar system has existed, what were we waiting for? Why did we wait for now to be here?

Or were we always here? When you are moved by nature, or by that sense of deep joy and wonder we sometimes taste, do you feel like you are a limited being of 70ish years life expectancy? Do you feel imprisoned in a intergalactic meat survival suit? Or do you feel free? Boundless even?

Unlimited. Unstoppable. The human spirit is not confined. It may incubate, and it may undergo vast changes. But what turns seeds and soil into fragrant, magnificent flowers also turns us into… well, what are you?

You are like a flower. Thank you for showing up. Why do you distrust yourself and others? Why do you fear the Unknown? We do we cling so tightly to our ways of explaining things?

Simple, fragrant and beautiful. Also, resilient, and uncompromisingly unique. The seed died and the flower bloomed. Death of the seed is life for the flower.

Are you the seed or the flower?

Are you both?

——

Photo used under public domain license, courtesy of Sheila Brown: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=263409&picture=white-lotus-flower-bud