Where I Am (How I’ve Changed … and How I Haven’t)

This week I’m spending some time on prolegomena, articulating how and why I engage with the world as I do. The other day, I told my story up to 2018 when I started this blog. It is a story of being influenced by a wide range of ideas and traditions, both Christian and non-, ancient and new. My vision for the blog was for it to be a place where I could explore the exciting areas where all of these ideas come together in creative tension to promote genuine growth. To a large extent, that remains my vision today, but my influences and focus have shifted over the years.

When I started the blog, I was focused on the connection between sacred practices from around the world and personal development and growth. I came by this sort of generic or pan-religious approach honestly, since it was the one taken by Ken Wilber in Integral Spirituality. Where he took a pan-religious approach through a Buddhist lens, I wanted to do the same through a Christian one. But, while I found exploring different practices from different traditions personally enriching and I think there’s a lot to be said for engaging with and discussing practices outside one’s own tradition, as I became more aware of the conversations surrounding cultural appropriation, I grew uncomfortable in how I had framed the exercise for the blog. I don’t think my approach was ever actually appropriative — I always tried to approach things from outside my own faith tradition with humility, gratitude, and respect — but it still felt like a change was warranted. So, when I wrapped that series up, I made a shift to be more intentionally Christian in my approach, since that is the tradition in which I was raised, which I’ve practiced for most of my life, and which I’ve formally studied, and because of all this, is the tradition about which I am most qualified to speak. I continued to engage with outside influences and ideas, but as a mirror to better understand and challenge Christianity’s internal resources, rather than as a kind of ‘wisdom buffet’.

Along this line of being more intentionally and unapologetically Christian, I began posting reflections on the Scriptures that emerged from what was at the time a daily lectio divina practice. Somewhere around the start of the pandemic, this evolved into posting reflections on the Sunday lectionary readings. This wasn’t intentional, but I got quite a bit of positive feedback about it, so it has continued to be a mainstay.

I’ve also made a shift towards a more vocal orientation towards issues of justice, equity, and reconciliation. This is partly to do with the changing conversation in our culture — and the reaction against it — around race relations. I have always been a believer in multiculturalism and welcomed the contributions of immigrants and New Canadians in our country, but I was also largely content to sit on the sidelines of issues of equity and justice. It wasn’t that I didn’t care but that I had other priorities and interests with which I wanted to, and felt more qualified to, engage. I didn’t feel I had the background or knowledge to try to speak into them, but I’ve been challenged out of my complacency and have learned the importance of advocacy and allyship. But this shift didn’t just come from these important cultural conversations. It also came from within my faith itself, from simply reading the Bible and wanting to apply it. A concern for justice is pretty much everywhere in Scripture — not a law-and-order justice, but the justice of healthy relationships in which everyone has what they need and no one ‘lords it over’ others. And, so while there was — and is — a lot I could not talk about, I came to realize there was a lot I could, and even should talk about. So, I have shifted my writing in this direction as well, promoting marginalized voices, talking openly about my own journey to understanding what privilege is and is not, highlighting the pervasive justice-orientation in the Bible, critically appraising some of Christianity’s false narratives, and articulating better narratives that are more faithful to the spirit of our Scriptures and bear better fruit in the world, and work to promote rather than stand in the way of genuine reconciliation.

This isn’t to say I’ve abandoned my original goals of exploring the relationship between spirituality and personal development and well-being. Far from it. If anything, the past few years, with their frightening polarization and the shockingly reactionary attitudes of so many people who call themselves Christians, have made me more, not less insistent about understanding and promoting the connection between faith and personal development.

Our faith is based in the story of a God so loving and humble as to become a human — a human who welcomed outcasts, taught grace and forgiveness, and healed those with physical, emotional, and psychological ailments, and was willing to die for the sake of this open-hearted life; this God also commanded and empowered those who follow him to grow into precisely this type of life. This means that if Christianity is not creating humble, caring, empathetic people who understand that power is revealed in weakness, it does not deserve the name ‘Christianity.’ I am committed to a faith that works to create authentically Christlike people, for the life of the whole world. It’s with this aim in mind that I’ve explored not only how positive psychology and Integral theory may inform this kind of growth, but also topics like the relationship between tradition and innovation, and the wide range of approaches Christians have taken to understanding the Bible over the centuries. My belief, rooted in in the teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus himself, that true faith produces good fruit is the motivating factor behind all of these series, just as it was for my posts on sacred practices and just as it has been in my writing on anti-racism and decolonization.

Spiritual growth is not just a private matter about one’s personal relationship with God, but by its very nature spills out into every relationship. Good faith produces good fruit, not just for oneself but for everyone — including and especially those one might prefer to forget or ignore. And so, faith is both private and public, deeply personal and inherently communal. These are not separate phenomena, but interconnected and mutually reinforcing.

So this is how I’ve changed — and how I haven’t — over the almost five years of this blog.

So where am I now?

And so I am committed to a generous orthodoxy (to borrow Brian McLaren’s term) that accepts and integrates everything I’ve learned from all of the different seasons of my life: the simplicity of the faith of my childhood, the love for Scripture of my Evangelical days, the focus on the Holy Spirit from my time in charismatic Anglicanism, the rootedness in tradition, cosmic perspective, and mysticism of Eastern Orthodoxy, the longing for God of my Dark Night of the Soul, the ego-loosening power of Buddhism, the positivity and co-creative spirit of drag wisdom, the commitment to wrestling with God I learned from my re-encounter with the story of Jacob and Judaism, the turn to practical theology I learned from the Gospel, the relentless self-examination and honesty of Ignatian spirituality, the commitment to doing the work from my readings on grief and loss, the change-making creativity of coaching, the focus on what makes us healthy and whole from positive-psychology, the integrative and expansive spirit of Integral thought, the resilience and unrelenting hope of Black theology, the reciprocity of relationships with all creation of Indigenous cultures, and the focus on justice, peace, and good faith demanded by both our Scriptures and our fraught present moment — all of these have shaped me and continue shape me, with God’s help.

By God’s grace, this is where I am.

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