Resource List!

Diagrams, Charts, Ideas, and Prayers that help me try to follow Jesus with integrity (I hope) without checking my brain at the door

If you’re interested in learning more about what influenced my past three sermons, here’s a list of what has shaped me.  All the books are available either in my office or the church library.  And if you have any questions, feel free to be in touch!  – Kyle

For a good overview of what some of the “essentials” are for us Anabaptists, check out Anabaptist Essentials by Palmer Becker.

One of the best books I can recommend on reading our Bibles (and what’s actually going on inside it) is The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read it by Peter Enns.  His book The Sin of Certainty is also well worth the time, as if you’re feeling extra nerdy, listen to his podcast The Bible for Normal People with Jared Byas.  Rob Bell’s book What is the Bible? is also a fun, delightful read.   If you really want to wrestle with the violence of the Bible, check out Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood, or if you’re looking for a lighter read, Brian Zahnd wrote a new one called Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

To understand James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, I’d recommend Stages of Faith by James Fowler (see what I did there?).  But if you’re looking for something on spiritual growth that’s a bit more accessible (and a smidgeon less boring), check out Brian Mclaren’s books Naked Spirituality and Finding Faith.

For thoughts on spirituality and growth and a different way of seeing faith, I’d definitely recommend subscribing to Richard Rohr’s daily email at www.cac.org (and if you don’t always know what’s going on, that’ okay.  Stay with it.)  I’d also recommend his books The Naked Now, Everything Belongs, Falling Upward, Immortal Diamond, and pretty much everything else he says.

Alana Levandoski (who sang here in September) is good soil to plant some roots.  If you really want to go deeper, start reading the work of Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen.

Check out the work put out by Phileena Heuertz, especially her book, Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life.  Plus, she and her husband Chris run www.gravitycenter.com, which is my go to resource for all things contemplative.

I am continually grateful for my spiritual director, Rachel.  I’d highly recommend a spiritual director (You can find one at www.spiritualdirection.ca).  Plus, where would I be without the wisdom, hospitality, and prayers of the nuns at St. Benedict’s Monastery?

The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system that not only helps us name our false self, but also offers pathways for transformation.  If you don’t know what the Enneagram is, don’t worry too much, as we’ll be introducing it in the winter of 2018. But if you want to get a head start, check out the book The Road Back To You by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron, as well as their podcasts The Road Back To You, Typology, and Enneagram JourneyThe Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz is also helpful.

If you’re looking for free apps to help you pray, download the Centering Prayer app and the Book of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals app.

And finally, I am aware that the names on this list are primarily white men.  I can definitely recommend some resources/authors that have shaped my understanding of faith who aren’t white men, but this list is specifically about what influenced this sermon series.  Do feel free to share with me any authors or resources that would help make this list more diverse in the future.

Graduate Class: Humble Pie, The 1980s Are Calling, & the Dark Side

First of all, before we even start today’s sermon, I need to apologize.  Last week I preached about James Fowler’s Stages of Faith.  I told you that Fowler taught at Harvard. On Monday morning, I received a very kind and gracious and gentle email, that pointed out to me that James Fowler never taught at Harvard, but rather at Emory University.  My professor, Sharon Daloz Parks, was from Harvard.  But I got Fowler wrong.  I love eating humble pie on Monday mornings.

And on that note, there has been a lot positive feedback and desire from you to learn more about these Stages of Faith.  And so the kind and gracious and gentle Dennis Hiebert, who did his dissertation on the Stages of Faith, has offered to lead a seminar on it here at Grace.  Bring a bag lunch on Sunday, Nov 19, and you’ll dive in after church.  And hopefully Dennis won’t have to spend too much time undoing all the things I got wrong last week.


As you can see in, this morning is the third and final part of my sermon series.  It might not all wrap up nice and neat and tidy at the end. So you really can pick and choose what you want.  But I’m still hopeful it’ll be helpful.

And as usual, you are 100% free to agree or disagree with me.  Here at Grace, we allow for disagreement.  Unity is not uniformity.

And, in an effort to allow for communication to be a 2-way street, not only will I be available in the side room after worship to continue to conversation, but, in your bulletin you’ll see Q & R.  You are free to text me any questions or thoughts that spring up, and we’ll take a few minutes to engage with them.

Okay. Off we go.


Today’s scripture (1 Kings is one of my favourite stories in not only the Old Testament, but the Bible.

God was not found in the wind.  God was not found in the earthquake.  God was not found in the fire.  But God was found in the sound of silence.

God was found in the silence.mr-bean-falls-asleep-in-church1

I’ve dubbed today Graduate Class.  We’re going to start really practical, and then we’re going move into the really theoretical, and then back into the practical, and not one of us is going to be able to go home today and say that we didn’t learn something new, or try something new.

We are part of a tradition that, for thousands of years, have sat with questions of sin and salvation and growth and maturity and identity.  And prayer seems to be a vital piece of the puzzle on how we grow and mature and how we live and act in the world.

But I also know that prayer is quite frustrating more many of us. What are we doing?  Does it work?  Why do we do it?  How do we do it?  What if I don’t do it?

And why does praying sometimes feel like I’m treating God like Santa Claus? Thanks for the toys. Can I have some new ones?  And why am I not getting that pony that I ask for every year?


But, in my experience, and based on today’s Scripture that God is found in the silence, I have learned a different kind of prayer.  It’s called Centering Prayer.

Quite a few of my Mennonite pastor friends, and quite a few spiritual directors and authors and speakers I follow all practice Centering Prayer, but we seem to all have learned it from our Catholic sisters and brothers.

It’s probably a prayer that is most connected to this morning’s Scripture passage, where Elijah found God in the sheer silence.

The idea behind Centering Prayer is that we learn to sit in silence.  And in that silence, we experience God’s presence within us.

We’re going to aim to sit in silence for 60 seconds.  Think we can do it?

There’s this great app for this called the Centering Prayer app. The day that I discovered this app, I came to office just gushing with enthusiasm. “Mel!  Look!  A centering prayer app!  You can even set a timer!  Now it’ll tell me when my time is up so I can stop worrying about how much time if left”

And he looked at me, a bit puzzled.  “You know, I just use my digital watch every morning.”

“Mel.  The 1980’s are calling.  They want their digital watch back.”

To do Centering Prayer, all you have to do is think of a sacred word of intention.  That word can be God, Jesus, Spirit, Peace, Love, Faith – Whatever you want.  For me, my word is always peace.

And as we sit in silence, every time we breathe out, we gently say our sacred word. By doing so, I like to think that we are giving God consent to shape our lives.  We give God consent.

And, generally speaking, if you’re anything like me, you hate silence.  We fill our lives with music and podcasts and Netflix and social media. We don’t do silence well.

And so today, for these 60 seconds of silence, you are probably going to be assaulted by your thoughts.   Your thoughts might be mundane, they might be viscous, they might be humiliating.   That’s all normal and expected.

But in our silence, when the thoughts come, all we have to is return to our sacred word of invitation.  Just gently say it again, and let that thought come and go.  And then another thought will come.  Acknowledge it, and return to your word.

By doing so, you are giving God permission to change us.  And we start moving from communicating with God to communion with God.

Ready?  Close your eyes.

Take a few deep breaths.

Gently say your sacred word of intention.

When the thoughts of the day, or of life, come to mind, just acknowledge them and return gently to your word.  Over and over again.  Just return to your word.

<60 seconds>

Amen.

Now, for some of you, you’re thinking: “We’re just getting started!”  And others of you are thinking “If I have to sit in silence for 60 seconds next Sunday I’m not coming!” Both are very normal responses.

No matter your experience, if you simply show up, you get an A+. Participation trophies for everyone.

Centering Prayer is one of the ways I move from communicating with God to communion with God.

My Spiritual Director and I were talking a few years ago, and since we both learned Centering Prayer from the nuns at St. Benedict’s Monastery, she asked me if I was practicing it.  I looked at her:  “I don’t have time for this.  I have little kids!”

“Okay, what’s’ the first thing you do when you go to your office?”

“Answer emails.”

She said, “You know Kyle, you have one of the only jobs in the world where you could take a few minutes to pray, and your church won’t fire you.  They’ll probably actually be really grateful that their pastor prays.”

Those spiritual directors just gently cut through all the layers, don’t they?

Oh, and a quick thing – Be gentle with yourself.  Give yourself years to figure it out.

And if you find that you fall asleep while praying, enjoy that.  When we fall asleep while praying, I think God treats us how we treat our children when they fall asleep in our laps… Filled with an immense, overwhelming love.


Before we get to prayer #2 we’re going to have a short romp through history and psychology.

Augustine of Hippo was a bishop around the year 400. He wrote a lot of things, and was quite influential in Christianity becoming the state religion of the Roman Empire.  He also was one of the first Christians to encourage Christians to fight in the army, as Christians were mostly pacifist for the first 300 years after Jesus, but that’s a different sermon.

Again, we’re just going to scratch the surface here today, but one of the things that Augustine talked about the idea of original sin.  It’s an idea that’s not technically in our Mennonite Confession of Faith, but it still has been remarkably influential in many of our lives.

It’s the idea that after Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden, humans have since, been born sinful. We’re born into sin, and we all need saving from that sin.  We’ve inherited these inherent flaws from our sinful parents.  So Augustine advocated the baptism of children, to ensure that even if they were to die at a young age, they would still get to heaven.

Augustine argued that we, as humans, lived in utter in depravity.  That we were depraved.  The definition of depraved is morally corrupt or wicked.

The doctrine of original sin has been used to justify all sorts of mission activity.  If we don’t go and tell people about Jesus, they are living in sin, and will go to hell.  So we must go and tell the so they can be save.  And we experience salvation by seeking forgiveness for our sins, by being born again, and this not only gets us into heaven, but should help us to live better lives by trying to sin less.

But, what if Augustine got it wrong?  And got it wrong by one vowel in English (even though he didn’t speak English, because English wasn’t really a language yet).

What if we as humans are not depraved? 

What if we as humans are deprived?

When I first learned that Augustine might have been wrong by one vowel in a language that wasn’t invented yet, sweet mercy me, that has been a TSN turning point for me.

What if, we as humans, are deprived?

I think of it like this:  When we are in our mother’s womb, all our needs are being met.  We are one with our mother’s, we are fed through the umbilical cord, and all we know is love.

And then we come out screaming at having to leave that happy place.

But quickly we’re swaddled up and fed again.

And when we get to observe the beauty and peacefulness of a newborn baby in their parent’s arms, we get to see love at its best. All the baby knows, is love.

But, eventually, parents cannot meet all the needs of their baby.  The kid gets hungry, and they have to wait.  Or they get cold. Or they hit their heads. Or they get sick.

And as parents, we obviously do our best, but we know that we can’t satisfy all their needs.

And, so I like to think that as children, we learn to act out, almost like Freudian defense mechanisms.    We try to protect ourselves from the cruel, cruel world out there.  And so we learn anger to get attention.  And we learn to lie to avoid punishment.  And we learn to sneak Halloween candy.  And we learn to take our siblings toys because we want them.

As we grow, we are more and more deprived from the primacy love of God (hence why healthy religion is always about us returning back to God).

Some people call it “childhood wounds,” as that’s a bit unfair to the parents who are trying their best and obviously not trying to wound their children.

But as Chris Heuertz says, “Childhood wounds might not be real wounds. They might have been how we internalized the impression of our caregivers shadow.”  Or if you’re a Star Wars fan, how we internalized our parent’s dark sides.

It’s the idea that our parents all gave us baggage that we have to work through, and that we’re all going to end up giving our own kids baggage that they will have to work through.  Let alone any baggage or trauma that the world gives us.


And so, eventually, these form our ego.

Psychology will define our egos in fairly neutral terms, like our concept of self, or our personality, or who we think we are.

But some spiritual writers refer to our ego as a mask, as a culmination of our defense mechanisms, as something that we project.  And something that we think will protect us.

Thomas Merton called it our False Self and our True Self.

The false self is simply who we think we are.  But our thinking doesn’t make it so.  Rather, it’s our fictitious self, our manufactured self.     Our false self is all the labels that we apply to ourselves, and how we project all those labels to the world.  The false self, in some ways, is our ego.  The false self is the illusions that we believe about ourselves. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.  A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin.  (This is a mash up of Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, and Ian Cron).

Whereas the true self is our identity, hidden in Christ with God.  If we peel back all the layers, what’s left?   Who are we?  We’re not as autonomous or independent as we think we are… but that reality is bigger and more solid than most of us know.  Our true self is our unchangeable anchored self.  Who we are always was and still is and will always be, from the moment of conception.   (This, too, is a mash up of Rohr and Merton and Cron).

The false self is not our physical bodies.   Some spiritual writes wish that instead of the word “Flesh”, the apostle Paul used the word “ego”.  So our physical bodies aren’t the problem, but rather, our egos are.  And when we’re able to name our egos for the illusion they are, we are able to put to death, and able to live into our true selves.   

Richard Rohr calls it the false provisional adaptive self, and declares that it needs to go in order for the true self to emerge.

The self that has to die is the false self. 

Our egos need to get out of the way. 

Only then can we start to live into the full, good life that God is calling us into.    

(Told you this was going to get theoretical <smile>)


One of the best ways to identify our false selves, the illusions that we believe about ourselves, is to pay attention when we get angry at things.  Or offended.  Or we want to lash out.  Or we want to assert our own sense of rightness. This is the false self defending itself.

For example.  Ashley and I coach high school ultimate Frisbee in Grunthal, and to help our team learn the game, we try to organize an alumni game every year.   So the now young adults come from the last few years and we have a great time.

This year, after the high school team beat the alumni team, which was just delightful… like, we were pumped.  We had grade 10 girls playing against 24 year old men, and they won!   And after the game, one the very first players we coached 6 years ago came up to me and said, “Kyle!  I just wanted to let you know that I think it’s great how involved you are in the community, even I don’t agree with everything you say.”

The fury and the rage and anger rose up.  I thankfully said “Thanks” and walked away, but that car ride home… What kind of back handed insulting compliment is that?!?!  And at work the next day, oh Mel and Audrey and Cathy heard my anger and frustration.

What does this guy know about me and my family and my job and my life?  I’m not even his Facebook friend!  Who does he think he is, judging me?  He doesn’t know me.

A few months later, when I’m a little less mad, I can name it. This is my false self defending itself. This is my false self thinking that I am worthy or love and a good father and a good husband and good pastor and a believer in justice and equality and that guy has no clue what he’s talking about (and I actually know very little about his current life, either, but I’m sure he’s doing his best to live with integrity as well).

But does it matter?  All those labels I have for myself… what’s underneath them?  My true self, hidden in Christ, right?  We let the masks, the illusions, run the show.

The false self by itself isn’t bad.  It’s a necessary part of our lives that has helps us survive and sometimes helps us thrive.  But it will only take us so far.   Eventually, the false self has to die.  We need to name it and expose it so that we are better able to dismantle it so we can live into our true selves.  The self that God made and loves.


So, for those of you who have jobs where they don’t pay you to pray, or whose home lives are full of boisterous children, or who would rather have your fingernails peeled off than sit in silence, I’ll teach you one more prayer.

It’s called the SNAP prayer.  SNAP is an acronym.  And if you like taking notes in church, write this one down. (I learned this prayer from Ian Cron).

And this prayer has been instrumental for me in exposing my false self and learning to rest in my true self.

Some people suggest doing the SNAP prayer at regular intervals in our lives.  Like, morning, afternoon, and evening.  Where we set alarms and do it.

Others suggest that we do SNAP prayer when we are in a particularly emotional state, positive or negative.  So when something happens to us that we want to react to right aways, we remember SNAP.  The choice is yours.

The S stands for stop.  So whatever you’re doing, stop.  Unless you’re driving on the highway. Then symbolically stop.

The N stands for notice.  Take a minute and notice what’s around you.  You’re breathing.  Your feelings.     Where you are.  The trees or the messy house or the people around you or the birds or the sky or your lunch or your emotions or the blankets for MCC. All of it. Take a few minutes and notice what’s around you.

The A stands for ask.

Ask yourself 3 questions:  “What I am believing to be true right now?”  “Are thse beliefs true?” “How would my life change if I let go of this belief?”

So, as an example, we’ll go to my car ride home after that ultimate Frisbee game where I was fuming on the ride home.

First Question – “What am I believing to be true right now?”  “He doesn’t know my life.”  But when I stopped and thought, deeper questions emerged.  “Am I not living my life with integrity?  Is this what people think of me?  Do they just write me off?  Am I failing at this whole Frisbee coaching pastor thing?  Am I failing?”

Second question – “Are these beliefs true?”  No.  Probably not.  I am not a failure.  People disagree.  My identity is a beloved child of God.

Third Question – “How would my life change if I let go of this belief?”  “Well, I’d be less angry right now.  And more loving.  And my present to my kids when I get home.  So, really, if I let go of these, my life will be better.

But do you see how the false self is defending itself?  When we’re angry, or offended, or want to push back against someone, that is one of the easiest ways to label our false self.

And unless we are willing to sit in silence, we will have a hard time naming the false self.  We will not be able to see masks that we wear.  We will not see the illusions that we believe.

But once we’re able to name it, we can P, which stands for Pivot.   We can choose to not listen to that voice.  We can pray asking God for help to change our behavior.  We can keep trying to live our lives with integrity.  We can choose to rest in our identity as beloved children of God, the identity that we always had and always have and always will have.

SNAP. There you go.

Prayer can honestly be life changing.  And the prayers that I find most life changing are the ones where I sit in silence.  I’m not entirely convinced that if my ego is the part of the problem, that my ego can get me out the problem. I don’t think the ego can show the way to God.  I think need ego needs to get out the way.  And in silence, we can give God consent to help us get our egos out the way.

Elijah was on a mountain.  God wasn’t found in the fire, the earthquake, or the wind.  God was found in the sheer silence.

Nuclear Weapons Facilities, Harvard University, and Grandma’s Love

As you can see in, this morning is the second part in a three part series, in which I am going to share and draw a whole bunch of ideas and thoughts and diagrams and prayers that I have found helpful in trying to follow Jesus.  And it might not all wrap up nice and neat and tidy at the end. So you really can pick and choose what you want.  But I’m still hopeful it’ll be helpful.

And as usual, you are 100% free to agree or disagree with me.  Here at Grace, we allow for disagreement.  Unity is not uniformity.

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And, in an effort to allow for communication to be a 2-way street, not only will I be available in the side room after worship to continue to conversation, but, in your bulletin you’ll see Q & R.  You are free to text me any questions or thoughts that spring up, and we’ll take a few minutes to engage with them.

Okay. Off we go.


Let’s start with a definition of faith:  James Fowler was a prof at Harvard for years, and defined faith the “Universal Quality of Human Meaning Making”.   So faith is not just about “believing” certain ideas, but rather an active process that we are all, constantly engaged in.  Faith is a verb, about how we see the world, what we trust, what we put our efforts and energy behind, how we live our lives.  So faith is not just for us religious folk, but rather all of humanity is trying to make meaning in the world and live with integrity. We are all “faith-ing.”


I’ve been working as a pastor for 12 years now, and when I first started, I was amazed at how so many people call themselves Christians, and yet how they choose to express their faith seems so opposite from other Christians.  And this still continues to amaze me.

For example, if we go back to the Iraq War Part 2.  George Bush Junior was President, a Christian, and went to war because he thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and he didn’t want Sadam Hussein to use them.   And we are similar conversations these days with the threat of a nuclear war between the US and North Korea, in which one of the leaders identifying as Christian and being support by millions of Christians.

But, there are other expression of faith that run contrary to this.  Three years ago, 3 Americans, including an 84 year old nun, were arrested in the States for breaking into a nuclear weapons complex and defacing the complex.  They spray painted the words “The Fruit of Justice is Peace” on walls, and when they were arrested, they were having communion, and offered to give a Bible to the police and offered to share their communion bread.  Before she was sentenced to 3 years in jail, the nun said “Please have no leniency with me, to remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift you could give me.”

The different expressions of Christian faith are so diverse, I don’t even know how we’re on the same team sometimes.


Luckily, early in my years as a pastor, I discovered a book by Brian Mclaren, where he talks about Good Faith and Bad Faith.  It’s a rough dichotomy, but it certainly helped me immensely.  It helps me try to navigate what’s going on in people’s lives beyond the labels of “Christian” or “not a Christian.”

Bad Faith is based solely on unquestioned authority.  Bad faith is based on pressure or coercion.  Bad faith is often the result of psychological need for belonging. Bad faith appeals to self-interest and base motives.  Bad faith is arrogant and unteachable.  Bad faith is dishonest.  Bad faith is apathetic.  Bad faith is a step backward.  Bad faith doesn’t work for the common good.

Good faith is humble, teachable, and inquisitive.  Good faith is grateful.  Good faith is honest.  Good faith is communal.  Good faith is active.  Good faith is relational.   Good faith works for the common good.

So, to be extreme, we can say, Mother Teresa is an example of good faith, and, the KKK burning crosses is an example of bad faith.  Churches sponsoring refugees?  Good faith.  Churches not sponsoring refugees because they might be Muslim?  Bad faith.  This is simple, but I have found it helpful.image1


In the last several years, as you might know, I’ve been deeply influenced by Richard Rohr.  One of the things that I have learned from him is even more helpful language about spiritual maturity.

He moves beyond the straight dichotomy of good faith and bad faith, and uses the words healthy religion and unhealthy religion.

And how do we determine what’s healthy and unhealthy?

Well, in the book of Galatians, we have a wonderful list called The Fruits of the Spirits.  Love, patience, peace, joy, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Again, it’s a broad stroke, but healthy religion produces this good fruit, and unhealthy religion produces bad fruit.

I also ask myself the question:  Does this expression of faith work towards of common good of humanity?  Or not?

Or, I ask about the Golden Rule… Would I want someone to express their faith to me like this?   Or not?

Learning that I have the ability to name something that I observe in the world as healthy or unhealthy, or learning that I’m allowed to name something INSIDE of me as healthy or unhealthy, is really freeing.

We all make choices about how to live our lives.  Good faith, bad faith, healthy religion, unhealthy religion, does it work for the common good, does it pass the golden rule… Simple, but helpful.

(The downside of this framework is that almost all of us will label ourselves and our worldview and our faith as healthy, and we’ll label those of us different than ours as unhealthy.  But we’re going to get to that in a bit.)


But let’s start with spiritual maturity.  Over the past two years, I’ve preached a bit on growth, and how faith grows.  One of the frameworks I use is something called:  Fowler’s Stages of Faith.

I’m going to do a remarkably brief and inadequate summary of it because I want to make it make it as accessible as possible, and then I’ll make it really, really, practical at the end.  Especially for us at Grace.

James Fowler was a professor of religion and human psychology at Emory University, and he developed something called Stages of Faith.

I learned Fowler’s stages of faith from two separate sessional instructors at CMU, one I count as one of spiritual mentors, and the other was a visiting professor from Harvard, Dr. Sharon Daloz Parks.

But before I start, a funny story about Dr. Daloz Parks.  I think I was 21 when I took the course, and I knew that Harvard was a really good school, but at the time I didn’t realize that it was, like, the BEST, and that that they only take in 6% of all applicants, even though every person applying has straight As.

So in a class full of local Mennonite pastors with their undergrad degrees who were planning snack for youth that night, I asked, “Dr. Daloz Parks… how do we compare to your Harvard students?”  Everyone snickered, and now I know why.

She smiled.

“You are wonderful people with great hearts, and it’s a joy to be here teaching you.”

I think she was genuine. But I also think she might have been naming us as slightly less intelligent than her regular students.

Okay.  Back to Fowler’s stages of faith. You ready?

Stage 0 – Undifferentiated Faith –
For some reason, Fowler’s starts at Stage 0  (because sometimes academics are strange?).  Stage 0 is newborn, where we come out of the womb with all our needs being met, and all we know is love.  When you’re holding a newborn who is contently sleeping in your arms, and you see the parent just hold them, smiling, it’s beautiful.  All we know is love.

Stage 1 is called Intuitive Projective Faith and stage 2 is called Mythic Literal Faith – Stages 1 and 2 are for when the kids grow up, ti their about 13.  I won’t spend too much time on these, but this is where kids kind of believe what they’re told, they’re not old enough to understand metaphors, they believe very concrete things and aren’t too worried about God being everywhere and invisible at the same time, and how we can’t really see heaven.  Kids in stages 1 and 2 have a strong sense of fairness, and justice, and right and wrong.

But, then adolescence hits, we start to move into stage 3.

Stage 3 – Synthetic-Conventional Faith and life in Stage 3 is quite black and white, and we like bold, clear assertive people who give bold, clear, assertive answers. People living in stage 3 have a really strong external source of authority, and we generally believe and act like those around us (3s are summarized as “conformists”). Our families, our churches, and our leaders.  We’re connected to our group, we have answers, and it’s good.

Stage 4  – Individuative-Reflective – Stage 4 usually starts in young adulthood.  By the time we’re 21, we know there are multiple viewpoints, that life isn’t black and white, but we can navigate this by learning all the different viewpoints and choosing the best one.  Stage 4’s have a strong sense of internal authority, as in, they know what they believe and why.  So people living in stage 4 are probably so confident in their answers that they’ll draw a bunch of graphs and diagrams while preaching on a Sunday.  But they’re also the ones who will be suicide bombers. Because they know the answers, they believe them, and they will follow through.  (This is where I find super-imposing the good faith/bad faith chart onto the stages is helpful, even though Fowler was quite neutral in his understanding of faith).  4s believe stuff, and they can tell you why.

Stage 5Conjuctive Faith – Fowler suggests that stage 5 starts around the age of 40.  I summarize stage 5 by saying “They hold less things tightly”. They are more unified. They are okay with mystery and paradox.  They don’t get uptight about differences. As we move into stage 5, we live in a constant battle between arrogance and humility.  We can get arrogant because we think “Ha!  Look at those simpletons over there, thinking they have all the answers!”, and humility, where our own questions remind us of how little we know, and how much room there is for us to grow.

“I’ll focus on a few grand essentials.  In essentials, unity;  in nonessentials, diversity;  in all things, charity.”

I sometimes think a good example of stage 5s is a Grandma’s unconditional love for her grandchildren… Like, that kid can totally be choosing to rebel against their parents, but grandma’s love is always there.  Always open.  Stage 5’s still believe things, but they know that it doesn’t matter as much as they thought it did.

Stage 6 – Universalizing – And then Stage 6 – Well, Fowler only thought that less than 1% of the world got here, because 6s are so rare that they end up dying because of love.  He uses examples like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr.  They sacrifice their own being because of love.  It’s worth nothing that they don’t kill for their cause.  That’s something 3s and 4s do.  But 6s choose to die for their cause, and they usually die with love on their lips and an invitation to their enemies to join them in the way of love.


Okay.  Here’s how I best summarize stages of faith…  Fowler goes way, way, deeper than simple “issues”, but it’ll work for us today.  I want you to think of a question of faith, or a hot button “issue” that Christians hold strong opinions about that they might disagree on. I’ll give you 5 seconds.

You all picked head coverings, right?  Like we read in our Bibles how women should cover their heads!  Perfect.

Stage 4s will tell you why women should or should not cover their heads.   Stage 5s will say “Well, I either cover mine or don’t, but it’s not really that important.  What’s important is that we love.”  Stage 6s will die for the people who disagree with them.  And Stage 3s will say, “Well, my pastor says this… Or, my pastor says Richard Rohr says this”

But now we’re going to bring this to the practical, and how it affects us here at Grace. And I’m going to do so by saying a bunch of things about this chart that I think are important.

Here are the statements that I’ve been taught:

  • Some scholars suggest that 80% of Christians in North America operate out of stages 3 and 4.
  • Churches are most efficient operating out of stage 3. Here are the answers.  Do what the pastor says, you’ll fit in fine, and we’ll do great things together.
  • We tend to look at further stages with fear, and we tend to look back at previous stages with arrogance, disdain, and loathing.
  • When we look back at previous stages with disdain, what we’re usually most mad at it usually a previous version of ourselves.
  • Knowledge is not the same as maturity. Having answers is not the same as maturity.  Confidence is not the same as maturity.
  • It is really hard to churches to reach people in all 3 of these stages, let alone the children hanging out in stages 1 and 2.
  • This chart can be a weapon. It can be used to dismiss others, label them as simpletons, or think we’re better than others.  If we dismiss others because they’re in a different stage than us, we’re probably acting out an unhealthy stage 4.
  • So you do not have my permission to go and label people. You do have my permission to learn more about this, and filter the world through this lens, but don’t go labelling people (even though I know you will).
  • I know some of you are already thinking about family gatherings at Christmas, and no, you do not have my permission to talk about the Stages of Faith with your cousins at dinner time.
  • This chart can be a tool to help explain why people act differently, or believe different things. Some of us go through this growth process, and even in stage 5, where we hold less, they can still be different.  You can be in stage 5 and wear a head covering, and you can be in stage 5 and not wear a head covering.  So, Dr. Parks suggested that many leaders in America have gone through this process and in the end decided that money and oil were the things to cling to.  And that’s why they were invading Iraq.  So this chart isn’t about what we believe, but explains a bit about why we believe what we do.
  • This chart can also help us understand others, practice empathy, and practice compassion.
  • And, we will talk about how we move across these stages next week.

And the reason why I really, really wanted to share this with you this morning, is that over the past several years, Mel and I have been listening to what you Gracers are saying about faith and church and your attendance here.  I haven’t asked permission to share these, so they will remain anonymous, but we have heard these:

  • I was tired of going to church just to hear a reaffirmation of doctrine.
  • I’ve been thinking these thoughts about faith for about 10 years, and haven’t had a place I can ask the questions.
  • Kyle, most churches would have fired you for what you said last Sunday.
  • When I was younger, I thought answers were important. Now that I’m around the age of 40, I’m not as sure anymore.  And I’m okay with saying that.
  • I’m grateful for a church that allows for disagreement.
  • Family gatherings are really tough for me.
  • The only beginners class I’ve ever repeated in dance class. So why after decades in church do I feel like it’s still a beginners class?
  • We were wondering if there was a church in Steinbach that we could ever call home.
  • Kyle, I knew that no matter what, my grandma would still love me.

I was told by Dr. Daloz Parks that if we were ever to preach about this, we have to tread very, very softly, and it’s really hard to communicate all of its complexities.  We just scratched the surface of it today (plus I superimposed my own beliefs on top of it).

However, I chose to share these models of growth with you because I think we can be reminded that maturing in our faith is a process… That growing in our faith doesn’t mean having more answers, or being more confident… rather, growing in our faith is actually about us learning to let go, about us being okay not having answers, about us holding things less tightly, and us learning to live sacrificial lives for our neighbours.

And I chose to share these models of growth because I think we need to know that wherever are on this spectrum, it’s okay.  It’s normal.  None of us walk alone. There’s room for everyone at God’s table.

We’re all in this together.  “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, diversity;  in all things, charity.”