Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tolerant of Everything Except Intolerance

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not possibly born until they arrive.” ~ Anais Nin

My hope is to open you to the possibility that your life expands and deepens with EVERY encounter you have.

As the poet Rilke said:

I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.

Life is a circle and your life is a mandala that weaves around the world with your own unique design and patterns. There are other mandalas too with their own designs, each weaving in and out of the others. The circle has no beginning and no end, just infinite connections and elastic flexibility. It expands without losing its shape or strength. From where you stand in the circle you hold the hands of pioneers who came before you, and you stretch out to hold the hands of adventurers who come after you. With awareness and compassion, you embrace ever widening people and groups. Where once you stood in a circle of just family and friends, you now stand with lovers of life the world over. Where once you stood in a circle of fellow Methodists or Lutherans you now stand with spirit seekers from all denominations and religions and people of no faith, stretching to include all beings. With each new embrace, your world grows and you come to terms with some new aspect of yourself.

This is gospel, or good news – you are part of the family of all beings. When you recognize that any separation or division is an illusion then you are saved from your own ego. This salvation can happen today. You don’t need to wait. Don’t make excuses. The table is ready. Consider this an altar call to the table that includes all beings without exception. You have inclusiveness and unity built into your DNA, if only you would get beyond the fear. There is a way out of fear and into inner peace. You are ONE with all things and all beings, and your life is an adventure of holding hands with more and more things and beings in the great circle.

What does it mean to be inclusive?

Churches find many reasons to exclude people. A cowboy went to an up market church wearing jeans, ragged boots and a worn out old hat. As the cowboy took his seat, people moved away from him. No one welcomed him. As the cowboy was leaving the church, the minister approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask what would be appropriate attire for worship.” The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.

The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored.

The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.”

“I did,” replied the old cowboy. ”God told me that she didn’t have a clue what I should wear, seeing as she’d never been in this church.”

The good news is that you can wear what you want at C3. Come as you are, even if that includes pajamas and bed head. Be yourself and don’t apologize for it. However, being inclusive includes so much more than physical appearance.

We include people and groups often excluded from churches. We welcome gay and lesbian people, and families of all sorts of configurations. We welcome people of all religions, spiritual but not religious people, religious but not spiritual people, spiritual and religious people, neither religious nor spiritual people, and any other combination you can concoct. We welcome theists and atheists, democrats and republicans, progressive and pagans, believers and free thinkers. In fact we get beyond the labels that divide.

I love the words in the poem by Edward Markam-

He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took him in.

Is your life circle expanding? Are you moving out over all the things of the world, creating circles that include rather than exclude? More people! More perspectives! More possibilities!

Jesus and Inclusion

The greatest inspiration I draw from the life of Jesus was his inclusiveness. One thing we hear a lot about Jesus life was that he ate often. He was even accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because he spent so much time at dinner parties. The most striking thing was that when he ate, he ate with all sorts of people. If he wasn’t eating with sinners and lepers and social outcasts, he was telling parables about parties that included homeless people and gentiles.

The choice of who you eat with is significant. It was even more significant in the first century. By inviting all sorts of people to a party, he wasn’t just being hospitable, he was challenging the very system that divided people. The party table he described would have put slaves alongside free people, Jews alongside Gentiles, and women alongside men. This was radical and transformative. Being inclusive is not just personally fulfilling. It is an act of radical activism. It challenges the status quo by revealing the limitations of the system.

Some churches talk about being inclusive. Anyone is welcome, but the aim is to convert or change people. The incredible thing about Jesus was that he didn’t invite diverse groups in so that he could change people. He seemed to genuinely enjoy the diversity. Here at C3, we say “Come as you are, and be yourself. We actually like you the way you are.” There is nothing to convert to. The message here is to be more yourself. If there is a challenge here it is the opposite of conversion. It is to remove the barriers to being fully and outrageously authentic. Your presence and authenticity will liberate the rest of us to be more of who we are. Whole communities of people who are at peace with themselves adds up to a huge dose of peace in the world. It makes a difference.

There was an edge to Jesus life. It is also the edge in being inclusive. Being inclusive sounds warm and fuzzy, but in reality it is deeply threatening to many people. We discovered this from the Fox News clip about C3. People wrote to me as if I was challenging their very right to life.

When asked how he created an exciting story, the spy novelist John LeCarre said, “You take one character, you take another character and you put them into collision, and the collision arrives because of how different they are. That’s how you begin to get the essence of drama. The cat sat on the mat is not a story; the cat sat on the dog’s mat is the beginning of a story.”

The choice to be inclusive is so often a choice to face criticism because you challenge the status quo and you challenge people’s securities. So we need to stand together, and non-defensively state the case for inclusion.

Tolerating Intolerance

Groucho Marx once sent a telegram to the exclusive Friar’s Club in Hollywood: “Please accept my resignation. I can’t belong to any club that would accept me as a member.”

We have a genuine clash here; a cat has sat on the dog’s mat. In order to speak an inclusive message, you inevitably exclude all perspectives that compromise inclusion. When you go public with an inclusive message, the question comes back like clockwork. Do you include a traditional Christian perspective? Do you include a message of exclusive truths, for example that God is the God of certain people and that Jesus died so that certain pre-elect people would go to heaven? Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that everyone is welcome here. No in the sense that I can’t encourage a belief system that compromises the value of inclusion.

So we have a hierarchy of values, don’t we? Most people value saving a human life over tolerance. In other words, if you have the ability to save a person from being murdered you do so, because this is more important than tolerating the murderer. Most people also value justice over tolerance. In other words, you believe the murderer should face consequences for their actions and this is more important that tolerating their actions.

These are extreme examples, but you see the point. Inclusion is a higher value than tolerance. So you might not tolerate any belief or system that compromises the value of inclusion. For me, inclusion, or unity within diversity is one of the highest values and it’s more important to me to stand by that message than to worry if I am offending people who have an exclusive theology.

There is room for many different churches. I support the existence of churches with exclusive theology. They serve a purpose for many people, and I do what I can to encourage them. But here at C3, we offer a different message and a different style of community. Viva la Difference without apology or defense.

The Difference

Yesterday I was driving locally with my two youngest children. We passed a church that had the word “Christian” on its sign. My son said to me, “What’s the difference between that church and ours? Is that church religious?” I tried to give an answer that was fit for a 10 year old.

I said to him, “Think of it like having friends at school. Imagine you were told you could only sit at a table with blue eyed kids. Or you could only sit with boys. You want to be able to sit with anyone and everyone. It’s a bit the same in churches. I want to be able to sit at a table with all sorts of people.”

C3 is a place where all sorts of people come together and part of the glue that unites us is inclusion. We share core values instead of traditional beliefs. We encourage wide ranging thinking and diverse programs, but draw the line at anything that compromises our core values. We include all sorts of perspectives but not intolerance. I will stand in the firing line for the sake of inclusive community. Will you stand with me?


For Further Reflection

Why do you think some people and groups are threatened by diversity?
Do you think that there is a hierarchy of values?
What are you intolerant about?
In what ways are you growing your circle of care and compassion?


Bricky said...

Ian, your philosophy of tolerance reflects mine very closely. At quite a late stage in my life I've thought a lot about where I stand spiritually and much as I dislike labels, as one who doesn't believe we are guided by a supernatural being I suppose I'm an athiest. However, I strive to be a tolerant athiest and I think your writings have helped me greatly in reaching a greater understanding of who I am. I thank you for that and I thank you also for using modern technology to unselfishly share your thoughts with folk like me who don't have a physical meeting-place like C3 to mix and engage with other free-thinkers. Even as an athiest, I'm not a complete stranger to churches, but I find that when I attend a Christian church (the only ones available to me), I have to be very selective about my intake and also,out of respect for the believers, sometimes hold my tongue - it is, after all, their patch!

Jen Z said...

What Jesus said about being born again...(dying to our selfish self)
"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (John 3:1-7).

Jen Z said...

John 8:1-11

What Jesus said when a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to him.....
"But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."...........

But notice he says to leave her life of sin..he does not tell her to continue in her sin, but to leave it..walk away from it..there is something better!

Jen Z said...

Mark 2:17

What Jesus said, why he hung out with the sinners... (this includes you and me and your whole congregation Ian, don't fool yourself.) We all need Him.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Mark 2:17

It takes more courage to tell people the truth (we need HIM!), than to stand up and feed everyone cotton candy; theres no substance to it. Be bold and go in truth. Thats where true love is Ian. I respect what you are trying to do, I think you really do mean well...but you are missing the LOVE in Christ and what he's done for us. I would love to have a cup of Joe with you sometime (you and Meg?)

Pither said...

Jen Z, it's clear that you begin with the assumption that the Bible is authoritative. But that's a starting point that many of us don't share with you. So it's no surprise that we would reach different conclusions from you. Bible-as-proof arguments fall more or less on deaf ears for many of us.

Jen Z said...

Hi Pither,

I do have that assumption, and I do realize many of the readers to this page will ignore it because its evident I have that assumption. But I did not always have that assumption; and as hard as it is to accept the possibility that some of you will one day be changed by the Word, thats what happened to I'll keep saying it no matter how foolish I sound or appear to many people. If just one more person understands, hears the's worth it.

Why get half the story? Ian talks about his inspiration in who Jesus chose as his company..why stop there?, thats only half the story, you are being shortchanged to only hear the parts that you like, its the hard parts and the honesty that brings real change and real blessing.
If you had a friend who was a drug addict, is it more loving to leave him in that lifestyle and tell him he is fine? The love is telling him the truth, he is troubled and needs help..there is a better life waiting for him outside of his addiction. Any addict will react to a friend who says this with fierce anger (because addiction is strong and the break away hurts), but hopefully come to understand it as truth one day before the drug buries them under the earth. We all need help.
I say these things out of love and in humble spirit to you Pither, I realize its offensive..I used to be offended by it myself. God was gracious enought to bring people into my life that stood firm in the truth.

Jen Z said...

More thoughts..

I don't care if you wear pajamas to church or a suit and tie..its the inside that God is concerned with, not the outward appearance...

1 Samuel 16:7
The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

He's concerned with our hearts, our motivations..he could care less about our fancy clothes! I wouldn't blame anyone for leaving any church that says otherwise, its not biblical. Come as you are, He meets us where we are, theres no ladder to climb to Jesus, he climbs down the ladder to's beautiful.

Ian Lawton said...

Hi all, interesting comments. Jen, I totally agree with Pither about the Bible. I read it seriously but not literally. It doesnt hold moral authority in my life, but it does hold great inspiration.

Jen, I'm so glad you find meaning in metaphors such as Jesus climbing down a ladder. Im genuinely pleased that these metaphors move you. As is always the case with metaphors, they have different impact for different people (much like the Bible stories and metaphors)

Enjoy your metaphors, just dont be too pushy in expecting others to find the same meaning.

Pither said...

Jen Z, It's great that the Bible has had an impact on your life. I have no doubt that the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and To Kill a Mockingbird have had profound effects on the lives of millions of others. But surely a book's effect on someone does not make it authoritative.

I think for some people the desire for an absolute authority in convenient book form is the drug addiction. And I'm glad to say that with encouragement from folks like Ian, I've kicked my 40-year addiction. Peace, Jen.

Jen Z said...

Free will, such a beautiful thing...we all have a choice :)

Thanks for your thoughts Pither, bless you.

Jen Z said...

Whoever said "Keep the faith" is off...I say "Spread the faith"..its too good not to share.

Everyone pushes in different directions. Ian you may push that the Word has no authority and I assert that it does. You can convince from your heart and experiences, and I convince from mine. We used to believe the same things, and the plan was to go out and convince others of what we knew. I obviously took a detour I would have NEVER it Divine intervention..I don't know!. I do love this dialogue we have though and appreciate the open conversation on these matters. Just don't delete stuff please :) Everyones perspective matters, even this Bible thumpin Detroit Jew girl turned evangelist, only God could come up with that :)

Blessings to you all!!

Ian Lawton said...

Thanks Jen. You're the same person I remember and appreciate.

Jen Z said...

Thankyou Ian, but I am not entirely the same person you once much has changed. Five years ago I had been wandering through life, completely lost, telling myself I had it all together, grasping at the things of this world for security, completely ignorant that I was even lost. I was thirsting and searching for so long for Jesus; the only one I was resisting was the one I needed the most.
I finally threw my hands up and surrendered and EVERYTHING changed; the scales fell from my eyes, the light went on.
All I simply said was "I cannot lead myself, I am not good at it; I need You God". I was blind, now I see. I understand Bible verses that were seemingly so foolish to me for years. My mind is being transformed and renewed daily. I never never never could have even dreamed this was even possible.
I suppose I am fortunate to have not grown up in a church with the Dogma and hyposcrisy that has left such a sour taste in the mouths of your community..I had the full blown born again experience..and I don't need to rely on other Christians and what they are doing to feel good or embarassed about my relationship with God. I know the author of life, and His grace is sufficient for me.

Would Love to have coffe with you and share more...I am in constant prayer for these things for you, your family, and the entire SBNR community. I know deep down you mean well and aim to help people. The church has hurt many, your movement is a response to that. I would love to share Jesus with you in a fresh way Ian. Many many blessings on you and yours friend!

Matthew Ervin said...

Christ absolutely did commune with sinners to convert them! Hmmm do you remember Him telling anyone to go and sin no more? Or do you remember him saying that people who did not do the will of His Father were children of the Devil?

You need to pray and find are a wolf in sheep's clothing.

The Church I pastor isn't large but we hold to the truth. A Church full of false converts is useful only to Satan, or do you not believe in him?

Pither said...

Matthew, you speak in absolutes, but unless one is convinced that the Bible is absolutely authoritative, you sound like a Scientologist claiming the absolute truth of Thetans. I have spent 40 years in Absolute-Bible-Truth-Land. And I'm no longer convinced it is authoritative. Yelling, threats, quoting the Bible itself, and arbitrary capitalization of nouns cannot convince me that the Bible is authoritative.