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Walter Thiessen

Jesus, the Lousy Politician: An Easter Story

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Once upon the time, there was a young man named Jesus who cared deeply about people and wanted to improve the way they lived their real lives in his community. So people told him, you should run for an election! We’d vote for you!

But Jesus said, “I don’t think that would be a good idea. I’d rather just tell stories to people and love them and show them that there is a better way to live and be whole.”

But people insisted: “But you’d have so much more power if you were a politician! You could change things!”

Jesus sighed. “I don’t like the idea of changing things with that kind of power. I think I have as much authority as there is love in my heart, truth in my stories and integrity in my actions.”

“Oh, bless your heart,” they said, “but that won’t get us anywhere. You’d be no better than a poet.”

Some of these people were mainstream politicians, and they said, “Come, meet some of our corporate lobbyists – I mean friends – and they can support your campaign.”

But Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor and woe to the rich. And I don’t have a campaign.” These friends didn’t find that very helpful.

concrete memorial cross

Cross misused at Spanish fascist memorial

Other people were populists, and they said, “Look at these crowds! They’re angry and want change! Tell them – and the other corporate lobbyists – what they want to hear. It doesn’t even have to be true! And we’ll be a huge voice together.”

But Jesus said, “I don’t think these crowds are really committed to the kind of love and challenge that I’m trying to encourage. Following me is hard on the ego – kind of like dying. I don’t want anything to do with an angry mob.”

Instead, Jesus kept telling stories and healing the sick, and he lived so much in solidarity with the poor that when he saw injustice, he did things like flip over the tables of exploitation. But he also kept telling people not to make such a big deal about who he was – and that everyone could do the kinds of things he was doing, if not better! He even said they shouldn’t even call him good!

But people were getting upset by it all anyway. So much so that the people in power decided he was their enemy, even if he wasn’t running for office. They threw him in jail, then mocked him and killed him – just to make sure that nothing big got started.

“Wow, what a lousy politician,” people said when they saw him dead – just hanging useless on a tree.


But then a funny thing happened. The women and men who had really been following Jesus were discouraged at first, but soon they started saying that Jesus was still with them!  And with some real enthusiasm, they were saying it was true that they could live with the kind of love and trust that Jesus had. That the Spirit of Jesus (which was the Spirit of God!) lived in everyone and made that possible. This started getting people’s attention again.

Then the people in power said, “Ah geez. You got to be kidding us. They’re just going to be a pain in the butt.” So, they started persecuting and killing the followers too. But it was like playing “Whack-a-mole”; the more they tried to eliminate them, the more they kept spreading – somehow without any campaigns or angry mobs. And without any help from corporate lobbyists. It seemed impossible!

This kept going, more or less, for a couple of centuries until an Emperor finally gave up. “Forget it,” he said, “Let’s stop killing them because it’s just a waste of money. In fact,” he said brightening, “Let’s brand our Empire with their logo! It seems like it’s trending!” It was like he didn’t even remember that the cross was a symbol of suffering and dying at the hands of Empire.

Jesus would have rolled over in his grave, if he’d still been there.

Sadly, the Emperor’s re-branding did more to wipe out the following of Jesus than all the persecution did. In a generation or two, people seemed to forget what a lousy politician Jesus had been, and they used his name to back up their own power, while conveniently forgetting that his love had been especially for the poor and hurting.

On the other hand. just like Empire kept getting mixed up in faith, the radical love of Jesus kept showing up in the stories and symbols that they were using, even when they were being used for the opposite purposes. From time to time, little communities of life and love would spring up and start spreading a healing message again.

Some people said it was getting confusing because Jesus and his symbols were so often being used by different groups for opposite purposes. But others said, it might not be that hard to tell them apart because true followers of Jesus were the ones actually trying to follow Jesus – by loving and serving others the way he did, even though he was a lousy politician.

Year End Financial Report for 2023 & 2024 Budget

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Here is a link to our latest financial statement and budget; this shows how we’re doing as of the end of 2023 and includes our 2024 annual budget, recently passed at our AGM. Things looked rough mid-year, but thanks to your generosity, we nearly broke even! Please invest in the opportunities that this community has to serve the town and each other as we head into 2024.

If you have any questions about finances at SCC, please talk with Walter, Jess or Rosie anytime.

Please connect with Rosie if you would like to set up a regular e-transfer autodeposit. Here are some different options for giving.

One of the easiest ways to give is to e-transfer to

pic of Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton adds a PS on “Loving Enemies”

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When I was preparing the second week of my workshop on “Loving Enemies in a Time of Polarization,” I was struck by a sense that I should pick up my copy of Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1968), my favourite among many favourites of Merton’s. It’s probably not overstating to say that this is one of the handful of books that has transformed my life, confirming a contemplative direction integrated with peacemaking.

I browsed through the countless dogeared pages that marked passages I never wanted to lose. Before long, pic of Thomas MertonI knew why I had needed to pick up this book. Of course, in a few pages, he was saying things more profound than my notes. When I summarized my workshops in earlier posts, I took this section out because I decided that I would just let Merton stand alone. So, without further ado, here are some of Merton’s thoughts on why we need our adversaries (all of the many emphases are mine and I’ve chosen not to update all the unfortunate male pronouns):

The basic falsehood is the lie that we are totally dedicated to truth, and that we can remain dedicated to truth in a manner that is at the same time honest and exclusive: that we have the monopoly of all truth, just as our adversary of the moment has the monopoly of all error. We then convince ourselves that we cannot preserve our purity of vision and our inner sincerity if we enter into dialogue with the enemy, for he will corrupt us with his error. We believe, finally, that truth cannot be preserved except by the destruction of the enemy – for, since we have identified him with error, to destroy him is to destroy error. The adversary, of course, has exactly the same thoughts about us and exactly the same basic policy by which he defends the “truth.” He has identified us with dishonesty, insincerity, and untruth. He believes that, if we are destroyed, nothing will be left but truth…

The one who can best point out our error, and help us to see it, is the adversary whom we wish to destroy. This is perhaps why we wish to destroy him. So, too, we can help him to see his error, and that is why he wants to destroy us. In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him. So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right. And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own peculiar truth. Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth….

We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all. Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth. (I still dare to speak of man as “an intelligent being”!) But actually, what we desire is not “the truth” so much as “to be in the right.” To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature. What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not “the truth.” It is only an argument strong enough to prove us “right.” And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong? Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned. We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as “truth.” What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved “right,” and our iniquity be vindicated as “just….”

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war! And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us. Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.

― Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

To Merton and to readers, I apologize for ending this lengthy passage on a pessimistic note, fitting as it may be for our day.

So, perhaps I’ll just repeat some of the hope from the middle:

In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him. So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right.

If you missed the posts in this series, you can begin the first one here.

Ottawa monument to the unity of the human family

Loving Enemies – Pt.3 (Truth and Common Ground)

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One of my passions in recent years has been re-centering the concept of truth around “honesty” rather than “factuality.” This has partly been to distract from the pointless defence of theoretical “absolute truth” that is perceived, interpreted and communicated by flawed humans.  The crucial notion of truth is that we bear honest witness to our experience.

A huge benefit of this shift in understanding truth is that dialogue can respect that two parties are aiming at truth even when there is wide disagreement, varied interpretations of reality, and different memories and experiences. We expect these differences and can be enriched by them. Honesty, open-mindedness, and inclusion of marginalized voices can all add up to hopes that a larger “shared truth” can result.

In this third part on “loving enemies,” I am suggesting that a dedication to truth as bearing honest witness can make a significant contribution. We invite others to a similar honesty when we create a safe enough space in dialogue for others to share their full experience. Hopefully, the compassionate curiosity and invitation of personal stories emphasized in the previous part are a part of creating that safe space.

We can then increase the motivation in this direction by intentionally seeking “common ground.” You may recall the suggested questions:

  1. What’s your biggest/deepest concern in all of this? What are you mostly concerned about?
  2. What kinds of things do you find matter the most to you in all of this?

These are the kinds of questions that can begin the search for common ground. While our imagined solutions and positions may seem like they’re poles apart, very often the deeper concerns at the root come closer to values that we all share. After all most of us are seeking a world in which our loved ones can thrive in peace and safety. We may define the concepts differently, but most of us are hoping for a world in which beauty, justice, courage, faithfulness and compassion can increase.

Ottawa monument to the unity of the human familySo we ask compassionate questions about deeper concerns in order to dig down to the place where we find common ground. If the first layer of concerns that emerge still divide us, we may need to dig a little deeper. “OK, I hear those concerns that you have, but how have those concerns come to matter so much to you?” If we trust in our fundamental connectedness as human beings and that goodness (even the Presence of God!) is found within all, then we are determined to persist at this until that common ground is found.

Before exploring a few other tools for finding common ground, let’s be clear about what common ground does NOT mean:

  • Not uniformity – the blessing of common ground in conflict is that you get diverse points of view on a common concern. Common ground celebrates diverse thinking and multiple perspectives.
  • Not “meet in the middle” – it’s more about seeking a third way. If we start to find some common ground, we avoid the limited perspective that has locked us into the opposition of two rigid alternatives. Creativity sees more possibilities.
  • Not sacrificing passion for justice or truth – it’s (usually) about channeling emotions and motivations away from opposition toward seeking the best path to fulfilling the hopes that we care some much about.

With some hope then that finding common ground is both possible and valuable, here are some other ideas that can help us to find it:

  • Communicate vulnerability and movement – Aggression, rigidity and defensiveness tend to be mirrored in combatants. When we model vulnerability and movement, we invite the other to follow our lead and risk vulnerability and movement as well. By “movement” I mean demonstrating that one is not locked into a position; we concede a point or show openness to a new perspective. It’s much easier to find common ground when there is vulnerability and movement.
  • Leverage passions on both sides – Once a few common concerns are glimpsed, this opening can be expanded by reframing and leveraging the emotions that are present – We recognize the other’s passion as a shared desire for family, for peace, for autonomy, etc. Emotions can draw together instead of push apart.
  • Seek and name common (non-human) enemies – We’ve all heard of the unifying potential of finding a common enemy, and there is truth behind this. We just need to be careful that this does not create a new human enemy. Instead, we look for common “enemies” like: violence, family or societal breakdown, fear, etc.
  • Creatively seek common heart space – This takes more effort and skill, but there is huge potential in finding common symbols, music, art, and ritual – and having those become transforming shared moments – especially when these enable a celebration of small gains made toward mutual understanding and imagined future pathways.

A dedication to seeking and building on common ground does not naively expect that this will make entrenched conflicts disappear, but it can transform the long, patient work of building peace.

Sculpture of two men arguing

Loving Enemies – Pt. 2 (Stories and Compassionate Curiosity)

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In the first part of this series, the focus was on a two-part commitment aimed at helping us to avoid dehumanizing the other in the midst of conflicts and challenges. In this part, I want to focus on how personal stories and compassionate curiosity can help the opposite of dehumanizing: the building of Sculpture of two men arguingempathic connections with others, including those who so frustratingly see the world differently from us.

But first, I just want to name the fact that a lot of other factors besides our tendency to avoid difficult emotions can make us lean toward dehumanizing the other:

  • Decontextualization: so often we are interacting and relating to people whose histories and contexts are nearly completely unknown or very misunderstood
  • Depersonalization: it’s hard enough for us to remember the unique individuality of the people we live with, let alone remembering that the billions of people on our planet are just as much unique individuals
  • Unfamiliarity: it can be hard for us to see what we have in common with people whose lives are so different from ours
  • Capitalist exploitation: from algorithms that keep us in social media bubbles to systemic demands for cheap labour, there are huge forces at work that benefit from and encourage dehumanization
  • Prioritization of abstract principles and beliefs: ideological principles and religious beliefs can demand such loyalty and passion that we don’t see when they are crushing humanity

There are so many obstacles! And I will suggest that one attitude to help us overcome them is the development of “compassionate curiosity.”

Curiosity has occasionally had a bad reputation, but compassionate curiosity is “de-weaponized” curiosity. This is not curiosity that is used against others or even at the service of our own agenda, but curiosity for the sake of mutual compassion and growth. This is a desire to learn honestly and fully with open minds, with courage to see what can be seen.

Here are a couple examples of questions that grow out of compassionate curiosity when we disagree. Or when we hear someone say something that we hate, and we wonder what we can say or do:

  1. What’s your biggest/deepest concern in all of this? What are you mostly concerned about?
  2. What kinds of things do you find matter the most to you in all of this?

We can then deepen the potential of this compassionate curiosity by listening for the human, personal stories that form the context of people’s lived experience and the mix of prejudices and worldviews that understandably grow out of them.

In the early days of our most recent trajectory toward polarization, Parker Palmer made a post shortly before Thanksgiving. He’d heard that many people were dreading holidays and a shared dinner table surrounded by sharply opposing views. I’ve lost his exact words, but he encouraged us to ask each other about the stories that gave rise to the strong feelings we had. Listening to these stories and deepening our understanding of family whose views have felt toxic to us would be far more beneficial than argument around the table. I’ve had enough experience of both to know that he was right.

So the encouragement in this second part on loving enemies is to practice compassionate curiosity and use it to invite stories that help you understand why the points of view that you find so difficult matter to others. Asking with genuine compassion is far more potent than opposing.

If you’d like to read more about this, I’d encourage you to read this OnBeing post by Sharon Salzburg, and, of course, continue to part 3.

Rockwell's painting of the Golden Rule

Loving Our Enemies – Pt. 1

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[In November, several of us gathered for three workshops to explore this foundational but difficult invitation. In three posts, I’ll summarize the content.]


Is it human nature that we gravitate toward dividing the world into “us and them.” It seems like it begins when we’re a few months old and start to fear strangers. Social psychologists have determined that you can divide people into groups based on insignificant reasons (e.g. preferences for one painting over another) and that’s enough to make us start idealizing our “in-group” and start seeing the worst in the “others.”

It may be human nature, but wisdom traditions around the world have invited us into something better; perhaps this is best known through the various versions of the “Golden Rule.” And Jesus, in particular, made sure to clarify that this includes our “enemies,” and he invited us to “do good to those who hate us” (Luke 6.27).Rockwell's painting of the Golden Rule

This invitation is a huge challenge. To remember the humanity of our enemy is to risk all kinds of confusing and risky emotions. And it unsettles so much of what is familiar and homey. What if we’re wrong about stuff! What if our enemies have some good reasons for hating us? And what if we start listening to them, and our friends and family start to hate us?!

It’s so much more convenient to stick with our inherited prejudices and dehumanize those whose sufferings and worldviews would be so troubling to acknowledge. Then we can bomb them when “necessary” or pretend our sanctions are non-violent. Or we can just turn off the friggin’ news and hope it all stays away from us!

If we’re going to take the invitation to “love our enemies” seriously, we’ll need a serious commitment to take up the challenge. We will face inner and outer resistance, and we will sometimes fail, but a commitment helps us get up, dust ourselves off and continue toward a better place. It is very hard, but it’s also very invigorating and inspiring! This is the kind of thing that can help us get out of bed in the morning and hope that there is something worth working for.

I’m going to suggest that a two-part commitment can get us started:

  • I will see and treat all other individuals as human beings worthy of consideration, compassion and respect equal to myself, and

  • I will not let my emotions, or my limited (skewed) perceptions, memories, or beliefs lead me to dehumanize those who oppose me or inconvenience me.

This commitment to avoid dehumanizing the other is really a modest one – a beginning, but it’s still very difficult. I have found that one real key to the second half of this commitment is the practice of creating a safe enough space for us to accept those emotions and limits. In our rushed and competitive world, we often feel too stressed to handle difficult emotions and acknowledge our weaknesses. We can intentionally slow down and remind ourselves that hard feelings are ok; they can be survived. In fact, facing and accepting difficult emotions strengthens our personal foundation, grounds us. It gives us the capacity to enlarge our world to the point where we can see everyone’s common humanity.

We’re so used to a panicky reaction aimed at stopping our painful feelings that we miss the larger world that they are trying to open us up to. Many of the best ways to slow down and accept reality are to be found in what are called “contemplative practices.”

When it comes to conflicts and disagreements, I like to think of contemplative practices as being the equivalent of getting well-coached in the corner of a boxing ring – except that our contemplative coach is not trying to help us defeat our opponent but to use healthy conflict to transform our enemies into fellow humans, worthy of compassion and care.

With the help of contemplatively accepting our difficult emotions, we can stick with our two-part commitment as a starting place to loving our enemies. We’ll explore a few other resources in part 2 and part 3.

A dove from a turret at Sagrada Familia

Communities and Spiritual Maturity: Rooted with Wings

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Presented by Walter Thiessen at 2018 Society for Vineyard Scholars (Kentucky)

Some communities are good soil (Mt. 13.1-23). New seeds – new life-giving ideas spoken and embodied – are received, understood and integrated into the individual and shared lives of such groups. Some communities are not; they are closed, hard and rocky or they are fragmented, choked by competing desires for the heart, the loyalty, of their members. A dove from a turret at Sagrada Familia

One factor that helps to determine the nature of a faith community is the explicit or implicit understanding of spiritual maturity that guides it. From a practical theological standpoint, this leads us into the territory of faith development or spiritual development models.

Assessing James Fowler’s Faith Development Stages

The most important such model, in both Christian and secular circles, is James Fowler’s Faith Development Theory (FDT; 1981, 2001). This model, based on “sequential, invariant, and hierarchical” stages (2001, p.167), has been widely taught and also widely adapted and simplified (or imitated) in the stage theories of authors such as Scott Peck (1987), Dave Schmelzer, (2008), or Brian McLaren, (2012).

Much good has come out of these stage theories. In my experience, people have responded the most to these three concepts: 1) the growth value of passing through a season of doubts and individual questioning, 2) the importance of embracing paradox, and 3) the rare possibility of developing a truly selfless and universal compassion. These are the central themes in the last three of Fowler’s stages, and they have helped to broaden a sense of what spiritual maturity looks like in those communities that have given attention to such theories.

Of course, there have been criticisms of Fowler’s theory. According to one thorough assessment, the focus on clear stages is only supported by research when its emphasis is on cognitive aspects (Parker, 2010, p. 245) and when it describes pre-adolescents (p. 239). Ironically, these are precisely the aspects of FDT that are most ignored in popular presentations of Fowler or his imitators. Clore and Fitzgerald (2002) likewise found no empirical support for the stage theory, concluding that “rather than a sequential set of displacements, faith involves a progressive integration of new elements into an existing base” (p. 104).

This certainly does not mean that the wisdom that has borne much good fruit when teaching Fowler’s discussion of the higher stages has been misguided; it only means that we should hold lightly the relationship between the important developmental themes of these higher stages and our need to pass through “sequential, invariant, and hierarchical” stages. We are highly complex and unpredictable beings. One danger in not capturing this human uniqueness and complexity is that teaching the stage theories often contains an implicit elitism with which someone (or even some communities), presumably in a higher stage, invites others in lower stages to come join him or her.

Introducing the Mosaic Model of Spiritual Maturity

Considering the limitations of FDT, and similar stage models, I have looked to other sources such as complexity theory, attachment theory and other models of spiritual development to propose a model that I call the Mosaic of Spiritual Maturity. This model (Thiessen, 2015), is based on two interactive dimensions: 1) an expansive trajectory toward increasing complexity, and 2) a pattern of four facets or themes that are present throughout our lives (in relation to spiritual development) and that recur for seasons during which they take “central stage” in our awareness and growth.

Spiritual Maturity

Most relevant to this paper is my understanding of the first dimension. It is the natural pathway of all organisms to grow in complexity. For an increase in complexity to lead to maturity, it must be organized and constrained by integrity: a sense of meaningful wholeness or unity among the diverse complexity in the midst of which we live and of which we are made. Therefore, I define maturing as increasing complexity held together by integrity.

There are two important aspects of integrity that are important. There is, first, the appropriate integrity of all those diverse experiences and understandings that contribute to our growth (i.e. the integrity of the “pieces”). For new experiences and new understandings to become well integrated into my life, I need to respect the integrity of each new “piece” and not violate or distort it before it becomes a part of me. For example, if I meet a young Trump supporter and instantly assume that he is a white supremacist brainwashed by fake news, I have not permitted this to be an encounter with a sense of integrity that contributes to my growing maturity. I have violated an understanding of a real human being to fit him into my pre-existing categories.

Simultaneously, when I experience and take in the complexity around me, my larger integrity – my sense of wholeness, meaning and identity – will be affected. There is a tension between these two levels of integrity: the integrity of the pieces and the integrity of the whole. Therefore, I use the metaphor of the mosaic as central to the model; each small and meaningful piece contributes to the larger pattern of the whole.

Sometimes the tension is too much for us, when our sense of wholeness and meaning are not flexible enough to adapt to what is new. Then giving way to the integrity of the new experience or encounter threatens to fragment our larger sense of integrity. We can then resist in fear and spit out that new piece that threatens. Or we can take it in and be broken. That brokenness, in turn, can lead either to a time of meaninglessness – a fragmentation that saps my energy and purpose – or a time of conversion and re-building that enables a larger and more flexible new integrity to emerge.

The “ideal” spiritual maturity, then, for us is not to reach any particular “stage” but to grow at the pace that allows us to respond by preserving the integrity of the encountered outside world (and one might add: inner, unexplored, world) with a minimum of either hardened resistance or crippling fragmentation.

Free-flowing “Facets” or Themes

While the second dimension is less important to the purpose of this paper, I will describe it briefly. In the common stage theories, like FDT, key concepts like conformity, individualism, and paradox define the stages. I reinterpret these concepts as part of facets or themes that are always present and (hopefully) maturing in everyone. Different facets will rise to prominence in our lives at different times in relatively unpredictable but recurring patterns. I suggest that they are all somewhat linked in that maturing in one facet helps to enable further growth in other facets.

While recognizing that there is an arbitrary sense to the naming of the facets, I have proposed four facets (for elaboration see: Thiessen, 2015):

1) Chaos and order (agency, consequences, in/justice)

2) Love, forgiveness and community (primary social dimensions of spirituality)

3) Freedom and change (a bifurcated facet often taken the shape of a or b)

  1. a) Revolution and resistance (naming and countering what seems wrong)
  2. b) Imagination and hope (seeing and trusting beyond what is present)

4) Mystery, peace and trust (deep acceptance, comfort with not knowing)

Within each of these facets or themes there are many spiritual lessons to learn or potential places to get stuck. We never master a facet or “arrive” at a stage, but we mature with either a smooth continuity or a discontinuous journey of stuckness and conversion.

 The Role of Community

While some theorists, perhaps most notably Hagberg and Guelich (1989), posit the significance of a time of discontinuous change (“the Wall”), my Mosaic model does not normalize this expectation. Yet I acknowledge that many do face this kind of developmental challenge. I suggest that this has less to do with the individual (though individual temperaments do play a role) and more to do with the primary spiritual communities with which people identify. Intentionally or unintentionally, communities often limit the maturing process of their members. For example, if a community’s beliefs and narratives are devoted to an actively interventionist God who always wants to act if prayerfully given permission, then many people are going to become spiritually stuck when faced with painful experiences of injustice, undeserved suffering or unanswered prayer.

In such cases, to mature, individuals must be open to possibilities outside of the spiritual resources of their own community. This is only a small obstacle if one’s primary community encourages a “wilderness experience” – the embracing of a time of “not knowing” during which one is openly seeking spiritual growth outside of the normal bounds of the community. However, if such wandering is curtailed because the “answers are already clear” or “absolute truths are not to be questioned,” then a “Wall” will most certainly be faced.

Attachment theory suggests that a primary caregiver provides a “secure base” from which toddlers begin to feel free to reach out and explore the world (Bowlby, 1988, p.11). Glancing back, they see that their parent remains available and non-anxious, and this empowers them to engage their explorations fully, reconnecting as needed. Communities likewise need to be a secure base from which individuals can explore the larger world. If the community clings, sets up rigid boundaries or “looks on anxiously” when an individual explores new things, individuals are faced with the difficult choice of staying too close to home or losing their home all together.

Healthy communities are hospitable to strangers, value journeying into the wilderness and regularly see the Presence of God in the “Other.” Such theological concepts of openness help keep the boundaries of communities flexible and permeable. Communities that embody these kinds of openness facilitate the spiritual maturity of their members, lessening the need for stuckness and fearful resistance.

Fear and resistance, on the other hand, are easily exploited by leaders who are limited in their own spiritual maturity. Church growth is highly correlated with the giftedness rather than the spiritual maturity of its leaders. So a gifted leader can easily grow a church by emphasizing a shared cultural fear and offering a community as a haven from the dangerous society that surrounds it. In fact, I suggest that the exploitation of fear is one of the hallmarks of the immature leader, whether that fear is the fear of hell, the fear of same-sex marriage, or the fear of being politically incorrect.

On the other hand, communities, like individuals, must also maintain their integrity. Communities that do not articulate and embody a living and orienting centre may find that emphasizing openness leads to a disorienting fragmentation. Shared meaning in the community dims, and there is little shared purpose. Such communities tend to drift toward dissolution.

Does a community, then, welcome the expansiveness that maturity requires, an expansiveness that will always challenge the boundaries and past understandings on which the community has relied? Does a community also offer a cohesive centring pull with an elastic worldview with which it can meaningfully integrate new and challenging perspectives? In our community in St. Stephen, we have asked ourselves whether we, while remaining rooted, provide our people with wings to fly. In biblical terms, we see this elasticity in the way that Jesus (like the OT prophets) simultaneously questioned the boundaries of his community (e.g. Lk. 14.26, Lk. 4.24-26, Mt. 5.38-39) while affirming his connection with it (e.g. Mt. 5.17-20, Jn. 4.22).

A healthy community, then, can be seen in its elasticity. It can be strongly stretched without breaking, but there is also a pull drawing its members back to its centre. I would suggest that for Christian communities, this centre is most clearly articulated in Jesus’ embodiment of, and invitation to, the inextricably entwined love of God and neighbour.[1]

YWAM: An Example

Just this past year, Tonya Stanfield, experienced YWAM leader in South Africa, published an article on faith development in a YWAM journal. She begins by stating: “Perhaps one of the greatest hurdles Evangelicals face in pursuit of spiritual maturity is a lack of understanding about the human development process” (2017, p.1). Basing her analysis largely on Fowler, she assesses how “embodied and contemplative practices” can mediate the faith development of participants.

In both her own research project and in her reading, Stanfield came to realise the very real concern that faith communities can and do restrain the spiritual development of their members. She cites Jamieson, for example, as concluding:

that 30 percent of committed, active believers who left a church did so because they transitioned out of its modal development level. They had no offense or disagreement with their church but felt they could not continue their faith journey within it. In particular, they did not feel they had the permission or safety to raise destabilizing metanarrative questions, much less the space or equipping tools to explore alternative answers to those questions. (2002, in Stanfield, 2017, p.11)

Using the language of Fowler’s stages, she labels the “modal level” of YWAM’s public meetings as stage 3, while the “classroom culture” is stage 4. She gives a common example from her own study that in public YWAM settings, “Stage 4 voices were stifled by the modal level unknowingly maintained by those in Stage 3” (p.11).

Stanfield describes that it is the internal valuing of diversity within YWAM that helps prevent the restricting effects from being even greater (pp.11-12). This appreciation for diversity enables a relatively mature openness in the classroom and presumably provides a safe enough place for Stanfield herself to study and promote such a critique of their own culture. Stanfield also stresses the value of individual participants finding “safe” and “liminal” groups (p.13) to support those who were left struggling with “metanarrative questions, unresolved ministry disillusionments” (p. 14). Unfortunately, working against this is YWAM’s official policy that “insists their actual beliefs remain in Stage 3, peer-defined and based on external-authority that has not been reconciled with personal experience” (p. 14).

While Stanfield’s article uses the stage-bound language of FDT, it demonstrates the very real limitation of a community on spiritual development. What I would add from the perspective of the Mosaic Model is that the YWAM community is simultaneously limiting and liberating thanks to individuals within it who are committed to theological openness regardless of the stage at which they may be labelled. It is their relative ability to combine the elasticity of openness while preserving the integrity at their centre that has enabled some individuals to move beyond the rigidity of their official policies and beliefs.

The Health of Vineyard Communities

The global Vineyard community has much in common with YWAM. I would expect that Stanfield’s experiences would be mirrored in many local Vineyard contexts. While Stanfield’s critique, and Fowler’s FDT, might suggest that the Vineyard should ask itself whether it provides “Stage 4 or even Stage 5 communities,” the model I am suggesting warns against the implication that we need communities that have a certain “modal level.” I wonder how such expectations would really empower a healthy diversification (particularly across educational levels) and the necessary multigenerational needs of any community. Maybe such an emphasis in the past has, unhelpfully and divisively, made it feel like those Vineyards (and their leaders) with a more educated or progressive congregation were condescending to those presumed to be at a lower stage of development.

An example of how it is more complex than this can be seen in the life of Henri Nouwen. As a very well educated and widely respected voice of spiritual wisdom, one would have good reason to assume that he represented a higher stage in Fowler’s model and that Harvard Divinity School represented a very mature community. Yet, relatively late in his life, he left his spiritually nuanced academic world to join a L’Arche community in Canada. He writes that “[I] had to let go of all previous notions of church and community, traditional understandings about who is in and who is not, and to empty myself of long-held opinions and judgments. But in return, I have found a home of deep joy and new purpose” (2010, pp.91-92).

So instead of the modal level that a community is at, I suggest that whatever diverse mix (or not) is represented in a faith community, the key to its healthy nurturing of spiritual development is that it embodies a healthy elasticity, an openness to its members seeking insight outside, in the Wilderness, while at the same time maintaining a meaningful integrity that sincerely welcomes “home” those whose understandings have significantly changed.

I will suggest an example that many of you have seen and others will soon see. Your young people, in high school or university, will come to learn about genocide as one of the most immoral acts in which a person can participate. One day they will be reading Joshua and their eyes will be opened, and they will see a God commanding genocide. If your community has not provided them with a flexible hermeneutic or if you are not willing to welcome and struggle together with those who refuse to worship a God who commands genocide, then you will lose these precious children of your community. And I am glad in that case that you will. But I hope, rather, that you have the elasticity to centre them without stifling their minds and hearts.

I leave it to others to assess whether the typical Vineyard church demonstrates this elasticity that encourages and welcomes the true spiritual maturity of its people. But I hope that we avoid dogmatic confessionalism or, its contemporary counterpart, public statements on cultural or political stances that rigidly draw a line in the sand. In such communities we will often find spiritual maturity most in those who are ejected or sadly walk away. When Nicodemus, whose paradigms were being blown apart, came to Jesus, he heard Jesus say, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3.8). The spiritually mature will always choose to follow the Spirit rather than being entrapped by the boundaries of a rigid community, but how many of them will we lose?

[1] And, yes, I am explicitly stating this centre over and above any doctrinal statements.

*For copies or references, email Walter.

Finance Update – 3rd Quarter – 2023

By Finance

Here is a link to our latest financial statement; this shows how we’re doing as of the end of September – after the third quarter of our financial year. We’ve been making up a bit of ground in relation to our budget! Please keep giving generously to support the community and all that we do so that we can finish our year without a deficit!

If you have any questions about finances at SCC, please talk with Walter, Jess or Rosie anytime.

Please connect with Rosie if you would like to set up a regular e-transfer autodeposit. Here are some different options for giving.

One of the easiest ways to give is to e-transfer to

Goodness & Rest

By Talks
garden chair and water fountain

This morning, Walter emphasized the importance of a rhythm that encourages us to acknowledge goodness and take a real rest – the rhythm of Sabbath. We hope that your summer is giving you an opportunity for good rest! (Walter forgot to start the recording, but you can read the transcript and look at the powerpoint. And notice that the powerpoint ends with a slide set celebrating some of the wonderful things that we’ve seen in our church community since our transitions and re-structuring at the end of last year! Also, after that slide set, Walter ended by showing these two versions of “A Wonderful World” to help us fall in love with the Beauty of the Earth and Humanity) Planet Earth version and Playing for Change version.

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Keep checking our Facebook group, St. Croix Church, for all the latest updates. We are also on Instagram as stcroixchurch.