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Brian O
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I'd need to know Merton better before I could figure out whether he's operating in Stage 3 or Stage 4. The key question for me is when he advocates trusting God, how interactive is that trusting relationship? I can't tell from the context whether it is a rich interaction or more of a calming philosophy on life. A little off-topic: The issue of Merton's ecumenism reminds me of the earlier question on whether "Stages of Faith" is an unhelpfully divisive framework. In my picture of Stage 4, orthodoxy is not part of the discussion. My interaction with God could certainly benefit a lot from wisdom of Stage 4 people with whom I disagree. But, maybe it is helpful to point out that my calling them Stage 4 doesn't mean I think they are in all ways "correct". Having a more mature Stage 4 faith doesn't mean you are closer to the center in the bounded set picture than a Stage 2 person--it just means that the vehicle of your spiritual journey is somewhat different.
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Thanks for those ideas, Otto! Your comments ring true with some experiences I've had lately with scripture. A couple weeks ago I had been away from Bible reading for several days, and when I picked it back up again, I started in a problematic and somewhat offensive portion of 1 Corinthians. I know some ways of reading the passage which alleviate the difficulties, but still, my general experience was of not being able to come up with quite enough excuses for the author. The funny thing was that after finishing my scripture session intellectually unsatisfied and without having hit on any positive thoughts, I had the distinct impression of having been brought closer to God by the experience. And that impression stuck--my life for the next day was better than it had been for the previous several days without scripture.
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I don't find it absolutely necessary to use normal human development in describing the Stages of faith. However, I think that removing the idea of a progression from the Stages of Faith picture would take away most of its usefulness. Here are a few ways the Stages picture is helpful to me: (1) understanding why a decade ago I went from being at home in churches to being often uncomfortable there (2) recognizing that if I develop further and really leave Stage 3 behind, I'll probably start being able to receive more from Stage 2 churches once again, and (3) affirming people that matured into rejecting their religion in what they already know--that they actually were making a spiritual advance in doing so--while also encouraging them that there might be more interaction with God yet possible ahead. In these examples, I think that if you take out the progressive nature of the Stages, the picture ceases to be nearly as useful. Here are a few ideas which might be helpful in navigating difficulties with the Stages language: 1. Be quick to point out that it's too simplistic to say that anybody is in exactly one stage at a time. 2. In personal conversations, don't bring it up unless it will be helpful to the audience. Nobody happy in Stage 2 will believe that there is a Stage 4 two steps ahead of them, but if doubts are causing them some trouble, they might be very interested. 3. Remember that each Stage comes with its own susceptibility to unique problems. I definitely do not believe that the Stages of Faith are cyclical. However, serious errors in Stage 4 might start looking like Stage 1, in ways in which Stage 2 folks are not susceptible. Being more advanced in the stages doesn't make you more perfect--just more mature. I guess those ideas don't make for a perfect solution, but maybe they can help a bit.
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Well said, DJ!
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All in line with Dave's ideas in his post, here are a few things which work well for me. 1. Heavy on practical advice. If I'm meant to learn something about God in a sermon, it needs to be connected to something I can do. 2. I have to resonate with the motivation. Presenting practical tips without making me eager to hear them is often worse than not having tried in the first place. 3. Related to both of those, and perhaps most important, I have to like the speaker. Also, I have to want my life to look more like his or hers on the subject being presented. Wanting something I see and liking the speaker are slightly different from one another, but I've found both to be important. So, I guess that sets a high bar! Want to give a good sermon? Just be one of the more likeable people I know, understand what makes me tick, and be there ahead of me. :) When those things aren't present, I can usually glean bits from the sermons or feel motivated about my attendance by considering how it's helping other people--but it sure is less fun and doesn't feel so sustainable.
Toggle Commented Sep 19, 2008 on Mini-Thoughts on Preaching at Not The Religious Type
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Are we talking about quitting community or quitting Sunday morning church attendance? I suppose there's quite a bit of overlap between those two, but lately I've found myself dreaming of more sleep or an enjoyable brunch while sitting through Sunday morning sermons. The problem seems to be that most of that valuable Sunday AM time feels wasted. The sermons don't move me forward very often, and I often don't resonate with the arguments or motivations presented. That would be perfectly OK if they were good for visitors (especially visitors like my friends)--but that doesn't seem to be happening either. It feels like we're wading through a ritual which is largely irrelevant to most people in the room. That said, the worship experience (of the singing type) I get on Sunday mornings seems very important for my connection with God. That is something going right with my current church experience, and I would have to think very hard before letting it go.
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Although I don't have anything to say about politics at the moment, I find the idea that "It will work out OK if I don't hear from God correctly" to be incredibly freeing. Of course the stakes are low when I'm asking God about little things, like where to go for a Friday date. The big things, though, like what career I should pursue, can have crushing implications! The idea that God is resourceful enough and interested in me enough to work things out, even if I get some step completely wrong...is huge. I think this doesn't work so well when the point of my life becomes my own kingdom. But when I let go of that burden and take up God's kingdom as my agenda instead, it's usually not so much of a stretch to believe that God can work the details.
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From Dave's post: "Maybe the bigger point is that Stage 2 and Stage 4 can coexist nicely in settings where God's spirit is encouraged. ... we also don't want to let what some might regard as defiantly Stage 2 trappings rob us of this experience of God. If both stages are at work, it seems in our interest to find what's Stage 4 and receive it and celebrate it." This kind of approach seems like a good one. Sometimes this has worked for me, but sometimes it hasn't. I think it has to do with whether I'm operating in Stage 3 or Stage 4. It took me a long time to figure out how I could leave some Christian meetings where thousands of people got fired up about Jesus--but I would tend to leave believing less than when I went in. Peck's stages of faith gives a good framework. Those were Stage 2 meetings, and I in Stage 3 was trying to grow and maybe rebelling some too. Nowadays, I'd say that I'm at a mix of Stage 3 and Stage 4. When I'm in more of a Stage 4 mode of being, it's much easier for me to follow Dave's advice. I can get the good stuff that God has from me from most any church meeting. Since I've still got a Stage 3 component, though, that's sometimes a very challenging proposition, and I sometimes feel like my life with God would be better served by sleeping in on Sunday. Consistent with what Dave suggests about how God's Spirit helps Stage 2 and 4 to coexist--I've found it much much easier to benefit from Stage 2ish meetings when the Holy Spirit is really active there. God's felt presence seems to mitigate any offense to the Stage 3 me.
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I've been chewing on Marlster's comment: "...So where does Lakeland fall? Hard to say but I get the same comments from folks who watch it every night: we want more of that intensity in our life (good) but we need all of you other church folks to comply (social reinforcement needed) otherwise we get frustrated and keep going to conferences to get our fix." I really think he is onto something. I'm also a little confused, though, because I think Stage 4 faith also includes a strong communal component--which will definitely have a (good) social reinforcement aspect. Thinking out loud, here is my picture of how social reinforcement works in Stage 2 and in Stage 4. (Disclaimer--they are only my pictures!) Stage 2: The community is closed, and the only new ideas that can be accepted are generated by people within the community. Everyone in the entire social network believes the same things, so it is easier to be confident that your beliefs and rules for life are correct. It is difficult to have peer-level friendships with people of different faiths. Stage 4: There is a strong community which share essential spiritual beliefs (e.g. we follow Jesus together). However, people in the community tend to have peer-level friendships with people of differing persuasions, and in these friendships new ideas come from both parties. Voices from outside the community sometimes or often provide new insight for the community. Social reinforcement from within the community still occurs, but it occurs in full recognition of the wider world. In my pictures, I think the essential difference in social reinforcement has to do with humility with respect to outsiders. Do they have input which is worth paying attention to or seeking out? Are they worthy of real friendship? Are they sometimes right where we are wrong? I think this question of social reinforcement is an interesting question ... and that I'm probably only seeing it from one of the several angles it's worth looking from ...
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@ Matt--Thanks for the extra details on Bentley and Lakeland. That definitely makes Lakeland more intriguing, and I see where you were coming from in your previous post regarding its Stage 4 aspects.
Toggle Commented Aug 13, 2008 on Lakeland! at Not The Religious Type
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I think it's interesting that Matt placed Lakeland in Stage 4, because I would expect it to be more of a Stage 2 gig. My best set of Pentecostal friends, in Peru, experience an overwhelming number of miracles. So, I'd say that a vital experience of God is obviously there. To me, though, experiencing the miraculous doesn't land you automatically in Stage 4. In the case of my Peruvian friends, there is a very strong component of getting their parishioners to believe and do the right things, and the "in" versus "out" boundaries are very sharp. That's not a criticism--it seems much better for the (largely Stage 1) culture they interact with than the type of church I would set up. But, to get back to the point, I think that being Stage 4 means that you both have a vital two-way interaction with God and that you tend toward Centered-Set thinking (another concept which comes up in Dave's book). I don't know a whole lot of Pentecostals, so I really could be overgeneralizing, but that's why I assumed Lakeland would be Stage 2-ish. I suppose skeptics would accuse Bentley of being Stage 1--pushing folks over, etc., but I give him enough credit to at least believe there's not a huge Stage 1 component there. That's just the way I've constructed the stages of faith categories. I'd be interested to hear what others think. I also bet that there are some other necessary Stage 4 characteristics, besides the two I listed.
Toggle Commented Aug 12, 2008 on Lakeland! at Not The Religious Type
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Hi All--I've been following this blog for a week now, and it seems like a good time to jump in. I very much relate to the deconversion experience of Jeff's friends in Houston. My senior year of college (13 years ago), I "came out" to my campus Christian group as no longer being sure what I thought about Jesus. It felt very awkward to me, since I had played an important role for many people in the room in their conversions *to* faith. Everyone was gracious and evidently not so shaken by my confession, but it was a significant moment for me. I kept trying to latch back on to faith over the next few years, but my attempts worked less and less well. Very similar to Matt's speculation above, Peck's stages of faith gives a nice framework for my experience. College had dumped me into Stage 3, but the only way I knew how to do faith was in Stage 2. Since I kept finding my life didn't work so well without Jesus, I desperately kept trying to get back to Stage 2. Maybe some people can pull of that backward manuever, but for me it never worked. If I hadn't soon thereafter found a community which was both unitimidated by my Stage 3 status and which had enough Stage 4 elements to call me forward, I think my life would be pointed in a completely different direction right now. I had a deconversion brewing, but it became a deconversion from Stage 2 rather than a conversion from Jesus.
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