F. Neil Folks: Trying to win back our lower place

Jesus came to preach the Gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18). They are the only ones who can actually hear it. They have nothing to prove or protect — worldly goods, status, or name. The status quo is not on their side.

In the first three centuries of church history, the Gospel spoke (though not exclusively) to those who belonged to the lower classes — not to the upper crust of the middle class or elite. The righteous did not need a doctor, Jesus said.

The doctor is needed with the little people, the marginalized, the poor and the rejected. But since the legalization of Christianity with Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire in the year 313, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

With this proclamation, almost overnight, so to speak, the underdogs were elevated to top dogs. It was the little people who trusted him the most. The higher echelons were the ones who fought him.

How dare Jesus speak against the power structure of the day. Christianity almost from day one became a top down hierarchy. I personally feel like the ship of the church is way off course. It seems to have moved 180 degrees in the opposite direction from Jesus’ Great Commission that he left with us before the crucifixion

It seems that the ship is carrying the message that “it is not about having an actual inner experience to being one of mere belief systems or belonging systems,” which is more about dualism than having Spiritual experiences. Dualism is the tendency of the human mind to divide things into opposing entities, a device invented by our monotheistic culture. One great device of Christianity’s dualism is creating “the Boogeyman,” something or someone has to be at fault or to be blamed.

There has to be an opposing force. Jesus never asked anyone about what his/her belonging system was; just, do you “believe?” It is more about keeping the clergy and upper echelons in power and control.

I run into many individuals these days who say “they are spiritual, not religious.” They seem to be saying that they feel disenfranchised in the closed world of structural domination; they are weary of power games, ritualism, moralism and all the empty rhetoric. They are more interested in egalitarianism, vulnerability, prophetic contestation, engaging with the God of the flesh, the God of passion, the God of real personal, interpersonal, and earthly incarnation. They are wanting to get away from patriarchalism, the top down filtering of the Gospel message.

The movement from “experience” (of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit, or whatever name your faith group uses for this Spiritual Being stirring within) to belief systems is anti-conversion.

The movement back to being “spiritual” takes conversion or enlightenment, a transformation with some holiness. This, I think, is what St. Paul was referring to as the “third heaven,” where he “heard things that must not and cannot be put into human language (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).

“Organized” religion has a vested interest in keeping us in the first or second heaven, where all can be kept in black and white, smoothie answers and in proper language, or what often is referred to as “Political Correctness.”

This process keeps us coming back to church and helps keep the clergy in business. This type of system only can lead people as far as the leader has gone. Many have not enjoyed the third heaven themselves. Transformed people transform people. One cannot teach what one does not know.

Organized religion is more about the lateral movement within the mind, the intellectual, thinking brain, not about the vertical movement to the heart where most of the “experiencing” is done.

The mind knows only that what lies by the heart.

So we have to ask ourselves: In what sense are we ourselves rich? What do we have to defend? What keeps us from being poor and open?

The issue seems to be more about not material goods or investments, but our spiritual and intellectual goods — my ego, my reputation, my self-image, my need to be right, my need to be successful, my need to have everything under control, my need to be loved (source Simplicity, p. 167-168).

The Mantra: That all may be one.

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