A Few Things I Want Every Christian to Know

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I want Christians to know a few things about Jesus of Nazareth, given that he’s the central character in our story.  I want them to know that he was an emergent form of Earth — an occasion of miraculous hubble-cone-nebulacosmic and planetary creativity. Salt waters coursed through his blood, ancient bacteria were alive in his gut, and the neurons that fired in his grey matter were gifts of an ancient exploding supernova. He was, in short, a child of Earth and Cosmos. Before the various and necessary doctrines and dogmas developed to address the mystery of Jesus, he represented, inside and out, soul handful-of-earthand body, an occasion of cosmic coalescence and creativity. The evolutionary pressure coursing through the whole universe also gave birth to Jesus. In short, I’d want to him to be known as child of Earth and Cosmos and not only child of Heaven.


Highly educated Christians still speak of Jesus being “sent” to Earth by God. This Star Trek version of Jesus’ arrival on the scene (“beam me down, Scotty”) is reinforced when we read the story of Jesus birth without interpretation. Clergy may appreciate that the myth of the virgin birth was the early church’s way of saying that this peasant Jew (and not the guy wearing the laurel wreath and the toga) is God’s only son. But without an explicit interpretive framework, the layperson is left thinking that Jesus arrived on the scene having circumvented all the evolutionary, deep time history that actually Tricrescent_goldman_c50cqa.335102442_stdconstitutes our humanity.  Let’s realize that Jesus is kin with starfields, our solar system, the Earth’s biosystems and all creatures — and see if that impacts our mission to repair Earth. By grounding Jesus’ humanity in the evolutionary narrative of the universe, the ancient doctrine that affirms Jesus’ full humanity takes on a more precise and empirically accurate meaning. His humanity is an expression of an evolving cosmos. It took 13.7 billion years to produce Jesus. Once this terrestrial identity is established we can employ what Michael Dowd calls “night language” to the Jesus event. For example, we can enjoy the biblical language of the Holy Spirit “overshadowing” Mary to describe the Mystery of Jesus’ conception.

I recently participated in a Eucharistic service at which the body of Christ was offered as a tasteless, sterile wafer. Nothing could proclaim with more power Jesus Christ’s essential disconnection from Earth — Christ as cardboard. Don’t get me wrong. There was much about the ancient liturgy that I appreciated. Eucharistic_breadBut the symbol of the body of Christ should taste like it came from Earth: yeasty, whole grain, locally ground, and baked in a wood-fired oven. The aroma should trigger salivation. Salivation as salvation! Our instinctual desire for food is a sacramental expression of our spiritual yearning to become one with the divine.

Walking along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Narragansett Rhode Island, almost 20 years ago, I received a sacrament of another sort. The whole cosmos was fed to me as the living body of the Christ. I awoke to an identity that included, yet transcended, my psychological self. I received my cosmic identity. I knew myself to be the presence of the universe coalesced after 13.7 billion years in this transient presence with the name of lonesome_valley“Bruce”.  But I also knew that the warm rocks under my feet were the presence of the cosmos, and the screeching gull drifting by sounded like the call of the divine insisting that I step through forever into this moment. Evolution itself had arrived, as the presence of love, wanting to express itself through me, in me, and as me. I knew more deeply than I knew anything that I was one with the universe and one with Spirit — expressing Itself in all this diversity.

I want Christians to know that our Common Creation Story, given to us by science, is a sacred narrative. It’s another scripture declaring God’s handiwork. As the psalmist puts it, creation pours forth speech about the nature of the Holy One and Holy Oneness (Psalm 19). When this story of sacred emergence is presented as the sacred context of the Judeo-Christian text and tradition, the reality of what we call “God” comes alive in my experience.

Much theology assumes that to be human is to be a separate and fallen creature. My Barthian seminary professor taught me that creation too was fallen. But God “sent” Jesus into the world to redeem me, if I believed the right things, as eventually “He” would redeem all of creation. I want Christians to know that it's our belief in separateness that constitutes our fall and our failing, but there is not actually any separation, anywhere.

Christians need to allow our theology to be updated by scientific evidence, and wherever our theology and actual facts clash, science wins every time. For example, empirical, evolutionary evidence doesn’t support the metaphysical assumption that we’ve fallen from some primordial perfection, and that this fall renders us “sinners”.  We now know that we have three brains (some say four) stacked on top of each other, the earliest ones, the reptilian and mammalian, predisposing us to indulge instincts that evolved under different evolutionary conditions. As well, our brains have two distinct hemispheres that are associatedevolution with different functions and states of consciousness. It could be said that we have four or five natures, not one, which are in daily “conversation” with one another. That conversation is more often than not heated. The science of brain chemistry was unknown to Paul when he wrote that he was a man undone — doing the very things he didn’t want to do and refraining from those things he did want to do. He chalked up this instinctual war between his “members” to sin. Today scientists speak of “mismatched instincts” — one part of our brain will forever try to convince us that we can never get enough sugar, salt, and fat from a time in our evolutionary history when the threat of starvation was real. The diet industry has capitalized on the messages from this part of our brain. When confessions of sin are not grounded in this scientific understanding of what makes us tick, these rituals perpetuate a kind of chronic helplessness requiring repeated divine rescue missions. Instead, we could teach that the very act of becoming conscious and making choices is the presence of Spirit in our lives.

American philosopher, Ken Wilber, says that we're moving “up from Eden”. We’re evolving in a biased direction of increased complexity, unity, consciousness, and compassion. The modern worldview and evo_spiritualityassociated theological models are dismissive of any notion of progress. They point out the many, undeniable atrocities of the 20th century to support their case. Yet, taking the long view of Big History it seems undeniable that the cosmos is moving toward what A.N. Whitehead calls an increase in value.

Is there evidence of this? While not denying our continuing propensity for violence, the last fifty years has seen an unprecedented social evolution apparent in the rights assumed in Western democracies by women, blacks, handicapped, and even other-than-human species — such as legislation passed in Ecuador conferring rights to the bio-systems. There are many progressive Christians who lament that what was started in the 1960’s civil rights movement in the U.S. fizzled out. They see only regression. Yet as I write this, the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Mauritius are expressing an impulse for freedom and democracy that has already seen two dictators fall. To give one more example, the congregation I serve is privileged to practice an international ministry of marrying gay and lesbian couples. We could hardly imagine that this would have been possible in society — let alone in a church — even twenty years ago! To repeat, we have not fallen from some perfect paradise. We are evolving. It’s not, therefore, religion’s primary role to help us recover some lost state of wholeness through various rituals. It’s the role of religious institutions to create habitats of creative emergence to support and foster a sacred evolutionary impulse to realize greater freedom and fullness of life on Earth.

I want Christians to know that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. In my experience, this is still news to most intelligent, educated Christians. It’s a title that the early church gave to Jesus. It’s the Greek word for Messiah in Hebrew. There’s a complicated history to the word. By the time the writer of John’s gospel comes to give his account of Jesus as the Christ, he employs the Greek idea of the Logos or the Word of God. Whereas for Jews, the Messiah is a very human figure who would come as priest and king to save Israel, the Word of God or Logos represented a kind of Platonic ideal — the Heart and Mind of God in which everything that was created came into being and was given life (John 1). Many scholars are convinced, as I am, that the Word of God was the Greek version of the Jewish tradition of Lady Wisdom — a feminine creative and creating principle. What matters is that the early church believed that the Christ/Logos/Wisdom/Divine Creativity took up residence in Jesus of Nazareth — the Word made flesh.




These days, my shorthand for all of this is simply “Heart and Mind”.  Jesus was transparent to, and enacted, Heart and Mind.  His transparency, surrender, and enactment issued in what he called the Kingdom of God, or the divine realm. This realm manifested in the interior life of individuals, in our relationships and our culture, in nature, and in our social and political systems. This realm is ever-present and ever-evolving in these four domains. To “enter” this realm one must shed the self-sense of being a separate and disconnected individual. This sense of self must undergo a metaphorical crucifixion. As we die to our small self, we’re raised to a self of both cosmic and transcendent dimensions. To follow Christ, then, is to submit oneself to the Heart and Mind that manifest in Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus didn’t want to be worshipped. I don’t even think he wanted to be followed — if by “follow” we mean creating a whole new religion around him. We’re stuck with it now, and I make my living trying to keep it alive. But I’m pretty sure Jesus himself would direct us back to the original experience of actually enteringlonliness and enacting the realm of God.  Jesus did want people to know that what lit him up was also available to them — if they were ready to drink from the cup that he drank from. That is, if they were ready, willing, and able to surrender their small selves and be transformed by Heart and Mind.

I will end with a few comments about Heart and Mind as it relates to the church’s conversation with science, particularly evolution. I want Christians to know that the reductionist version of science that’s being popularized by Richard Dawkins and others doesn’t represent the whole of science. This is important because a great many Christians are worried that to embrace science means accepting Dawkin’s doctrine of genetic determinism — evolution as a godless, directionless process.  This is metaphysical doctrine, not science, no less than any of the church’s doctrines. Scientists themselves distinguish between epistemological naturalism (leaving God out as a causal agent in order to search for knowledge on solid scientific principles) and ontological naturalism (the belief that the universe is nothing but matter in motion).

Science will never be able to explain how life emerged out of matter, how consciousness emerged out of life, or how soul emerges out of consciousness. This is the realm of metaphysics, and when Richard Dawkin’s weighs in and declares that dirt just got up and starting writing Shakespeare (1), or that majestic_beautysomehow a Shakespearean sonnet is somehow serving the selfish ends of our genetic material, he’s not speaking as a scientist.

As a theologian I will weigh in on the subject as a way of bringing this essay to an end. The same Heart and Mind that animated Jesus of Nazareth was present from the get-go in this Great Emergence. This is a thoroughly inside job. We live within a miraculous, evolutionary unfolding that is the allurement of Heart and Mind towards increased complexity, unification, beauty, love, and freedom. The whole universe, from electrons and protons to galaxies, and from single cell bacteria to the intelligence of Gaia and the human mind is shot through with, and responsive to, the presence of non-coercive Heart and Mind.

The same Heart and Mind that was present in Jesus is also present in us. This means that as Christians what we’re called to make of our lives is distinct from, yet connected to, the heart and mind of the 1st century Jew, Jesus of Nazareth. This is because the divine Heart and Mind that’s forever and always creating and loving will inevitably be interpreted anew in the evolving consciousness of the human sacred_heartspecies. We are in the process of being divinized. To be in Christ is to consciously cooperate with a sacred evolutionary impulse to assume responsibility for realizing the Kin(g)dom of God on earth. The church will be renewed as we help people awaken to the desire of God to manifest in, through, and as us.


(1) Thanks to Ken Wilber for this image

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  • Comment Link Mary Williams Wednesday, 16 March 2011 08:45 posted by Mary Williams

    This is so beautiful, so rich, and such a joy to read. Thank you!

    A big stumbling block for me as a teenage Christian (Catholic) was the notion of God "sending" Jesus to redeem and "save" humanity and to sacrificially atone for our sins. One common teaching was: Post-Noah humankind had greatly sinned against God, and the only way for God to "save" humans was to send his son to suffer and die as some sort of payback. God was angry with humans and required a sacrifice to atone for sins, and the only way to do that was to send his son to be executed by crucifixion, because, well, "God so loved the world." It sent my mind in circles: God is all-loving and omnipotent, yet the only way he could keep himself from destroying us with his wrath was to send his son to suffer and die? God in his great goodness somehow couldn't find it in his heart or within his power to forgive us flawed beings (whom he created, after all) without arranging things so that his son would be violently executed? Was God really just a sadist and an abusive parent?

    It just sounded insane to me, and I drifted away, abandoning my inherited tradition for 20 years. (Today I'm a late-blooming returnee).

    I know now that I was grappling with a "amber" / mythical Christian interpretation. But even given that, it's as if the cart were put before the horse. I may have seen things differently if I had been taught something more along these lines: Jesus was not "sent" to suffer and die so that God could love us again and guarantee us heavenly afterlives. Jesus was called to love, to heal, nourish, and liberate the suffering, awaken hearts, confront oppression, pour out compassion -- and to do this even in the midst of difficulty and resistance -- no matter the cost to himself. And the cost, in the context of his life/story and the threat he posed to the power structures of his time, was death on a cross. We, as followers of Christ, are called to do the same within the context of our times and circumstances -- our particular "crosses." We too are called to live the mystery of a kenotic, out-pouring love...

    That's one of the many things I wish I had known earlier on, as a Christian.

    Salivation as salvation: bravo! (I have been to churches, even Catholic parishes, that that offer hearty, wonderful tasting hosts -- as well as good gluten-free alternatives -- and would love to see more of that...)

    Mary W.

  • Comment Link Jennifer Grove Wednesday, 16 March 2011 09:02 posted by Jennifer Grove

    Are you able to reflect on what it is about you that makes you want Christians to know this?

  • Comment Link bruce Thursday, 17 March 2011 04:20 posted by bruce

    Glad to piece was helpful in your reclamation of your roots, Mary.

    Really appreciated your comments

  • Comment Link bruce Thursday, 17 March 2011 04:35 posted by bruce


    Thanks for your question. Yeah, I don't really like to title I gave the piece. The short answer to your question is that this piece was an excerpt from a longer article that I'm writing, and I was asked to write to the question: What are a few things that you would like Christians to know from your perspective. Pretty lame, and if I had time I would have come up with some other skookum title.

    On the other hand there are people like Mary (above) who seem to want to know that there are alternative ways of imaging Christianity beyond the mythic. So, I do hope it helps people take their next best step to re-imagiing Christianity in a way that helps the whole thing evolve.

    I think the world will be able to get along just fine without hearing from me about what I want them to know about Christianity.

    Did you manage to get past the title?

  • Comment Link Jennifer Grove Thursday, 17 March 2011 05:51 posted by Jennifer Grove

    Hi, bruce.

    I'm sorry to be a bother about this.

    You're right. There are *alot* of people like Mary who want/need to hear this.

    And there are alot of people who don't. There are plenty of people who have been healed of the diseases of the mythic absolute and are quite sophisticated in their thinking. Science was not the cure for alot of people. Postmodernity was. I haven't figured out how to get the two groups together.

    I am a Christian. But science did not cure me. And I gotta say that I've had this cure rammed down my throat for a very long time. And I kinda don't like it.

    My theory is that for those who were children when they were exposed to religion, that religion must be cured by rational thinking because as children we were being bottle-fed the cool-aid of the Tribal deities of our ancestors. It has more to do with what stage of development we were in when we heard about it.

    Then later, rational thinking helped us refuse to keep attending those altars of our forefathers - whatever they were - and think for ourselves.

    But later still, trans-rational thinking opens up still other ways to look at the stories we grew up with that don't have to be so threatening.

    This pattern seems to repeat no matter what those stories were that we grew up with.

    I was brought up to be an atheist. That was my unchosen family religion. Her requirement that I believe in science was - ironically - irrational because it was mainly about control, while her rationality was used to keep me at a distance emotionally. I took my life into my hands when I became a Christian and my parent pronounced very rude and disrespectful things over me when I told her about it. I was a Sophomore in High School at the time and my best friend was a nerdy thinker. I was not stupid. I was very brave.

    I went thru the stage of belief but it was not the same as what most people experienced who went to church. Most everyone else went thru the motions and talked about other things when the sermon was over. I just wanted to talk about God. All the time. They were all busy thinking about their bills or their grades and religion was all implicit to them. For me it was explicit. It was conscious. Awake. My faith was never a fear or a superstition or some kind haunting that people have who were bottle-fed that stuff. I entered it in a totally different stage in my development and it showed.

    Later when I discovered postmodernity, I was set free of all stories. *All* of them. Including the story of science. It all dissolved. And I went beyond into a much larger space.

    So now, this long article that you've written seems to be mostly a repeat of what I was fed as a baby and todler minus some of the mean-spiritedness. And my question has to do with what assumptions you are making about us. Why are you assuming that "belief" is this simple monochrome event that is so ignorant and pre-modern and pre-rational? Maybe for many it is. But there are plenty of us out here who don't have that kind of "faith" anymore and haven't for a very long time.

    What kinds of stories did you reject, choose as replacements and then ultimately see beyond as you developed?

    Is what you've written here the story that you've used to replace the story that your parents had rammed down your throat? Is that why you settled on that title? Or is that why whoever wanted you to title it thus? It just has the feeling of a challenge to the Ancestral Deities. And Christianity is not always the Ancestral Deities.

    You know what I mean? I'm sorry if I sound bitter. I can get pretty emotional when I hear this sometimes. I hear it alot.

    No, I only skimmed it because I've heard it all pretty much before. I'm sorry.

    I guess I just wanna be counted too.

    Incidentally, there is a trend now called "a/theistic Christianity" (among other things like "heresy") that I find exciting and fascinating. I love Nietzsche. I have outgrown my emotional rage about atheism, but I still feel beaten down sometimes. I'm still trying to find out where I fit in in evolutionary circles.


  • Comment Link Mary Williams Thursday, 17 March 2011 09:02 posted by Mary Williams

    Hey, Jennifer -- I'm pondering your musings and insights on science and postmodernity as "cures" for the diseases of the mythical absolute. I don't feel that I wasn't "cured" by science either -- my upbringing and schooling in a progressive Catholic school actually placed a heavy emphasis on science -- although religion and science were treated as completely separate realms there. (Thus, part of my enjoyment of this essay is simply savoring the desegregation of science and religion -- which was how I became interested in integral theory in the first place). My later immersion in postmodernity (esp. in college) wasn't a "cure" either -- or at least not a complete one, as that was when I was in full-on anti-God and anti-story mode (though not particularly science-rejecting). Perhaps it did allow for a space of "freedom from stories," as you put it. But something entirely unexpected happened -- a persistent hunger I could not name, a yearning that drove me to seek and experiment and stumblingly, haltingly pray until grace came pouring in from all directions... while, in the meantime, my smart, po-mo grad-school buddies looked on, wondering what in the world had pushed me to something as awful and backward and constraining as God ...

    Perhaps my "cure" was Mystery-implanted desire. The transrational hound of heaven. (Good Lord. It feels presumptuous writing that.)

    At any rate, what am I trying to say? That yes: people [re]enter into and develop as Christians (or Jews, Buddhists, and so on) in a variety of ways, diving in from different points along the spiral. And, given our different backgrounds and life experiences and levels of sophistication, not all post-conventional expressions of Christianity will speak to everyone.

    But I hope you hang in there any old how. Speaking as someone who also feels "beaten down" sometimes (though for different reasons): You count.

  • Comment Link bruce Thursday, 17 March 2011 09:51 posted by bruce

    Hi Jennifer,

    Sorry you feel beaten down by my piece. It's interesting that you just want to "count". Discounted was precisely how I felt after reading both your original question to me, and your follow up comment.

    Thanks for being honest about only skimming the piece. I appreciate that. I guess I'd like to ask you to read my piece a little more carefully before drawing conclusions.

    For the record, the narrative I associate with my faith system I call evolutionary Christian mysticism. Evolutionary implies, to me, that mythic and pre-mythic expressions of spirituality are foundational to emergent waves of spiritual consciousness, including the story-less expression that is meaningful to you. It also means that I hold all these stories loosely, having experienced many times the dissolution and reintegration of how I imagine Christianity.

    It's Christian because it is grounded in a historical narrative and a tradition, and I love both.

    It's mystic in the sense of recognizing that the non-duality you describe, both in my experience of cosmic unity with all that is, (described in the piece), and its extra-cosmic dimension of Being (not discussed, but also within my direct experience).

    I hope that whatever my piece elicited in you can be useful to you in resolving your suffering around whatever your parents shoved down your throat.

    You aren't a bother to me.

  • Comment Link Jennifer Grove Friday, 18 March 2011 07:48 posted by Jennifer Grove

    I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, Bruce. i didn't mean to discount you.

  • Comment Link rental elf Wednesday, 23 March 2011 17:41 posted by rental elf

    Nice article, thanks for the information.

  • Comment Link Barry King Sunday, 27 March 2011 00:29 posted by Barry King

    Bruce...Barry King here one of your co-evolutionary brothers on the journey. Just wanting to affirm all that you have discussed in your essay which echoes what I have believed for a very long time. My dilemma was I had been lost in finding the language (evolutionary) to use to best express what i deepley felt not only about the one we have learned and known about as Jesus the Christ....but also what I (we) have known was and is in the depths of our being from the beginning of time...that we are a Gift of the Universe who are and will always continue to evolve....maturing in wisdom and the love we must breathe and walk daily. What was that profound wisdom that Jesus was in touch with?...."that the
    Kin(g)dom is within each of us" Thanks for your courage and divine energy...that continues to help others like me to challenge people to grow into their divinity.

  • Comment Link bruce Thursday, 31 March 2011 06:54 posted by bruce

    Hi Barry,

    Great to hear from you, and glad you found this helpful.


  • Comment Link myles oreilly Tuesday, 26 April 2011 08:28 posted by myles oreilly

    Most Christians will not read passed the attack on the faith

  • Comment Link jwood Thursday, 28 April 2011 19:46 posted by jwood


    You might want to say more, as you leave your own opinion ambiguous.

    As this piece was written by a Christian minister, framing his words as an attack on the faith rings untrue.

    If by Christians you mean fundamentalists who dismiss all scientific evidence for evolution as heresy, then yes, that particular group is unlikely to be inspired by this piece.

    But I know a hell of lot more Christians than that. The ones I know meet these ideas with awe and appreciation.

    Be interested to know what your meaning was.


  • Comment Link Alison Tuesday, 31 May 2011 15:01 posted by Alison

    Thank you, Bruce. The first time I heard your sermon at CMUC I was amazed and moved to hear such ideas being spoken in a Christian church. Yes, we are "stuck with it" and so I thank you for teasing those eternal, yet delicately elusive, truths out of the Bible every Sunday. Favourite quote: "Salivation as salvation!" So true.

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