Towards a More Integral Christianity


About three weeks ago, I attended a workshop on Integral Christianity at the Boulder Center for Integral Living in Boulder, Colorado. This center is housed in a former church building (with a storied past), and is the brain child of Jeff Salzman, who is an extraordinary Integral teacher in his own right (see video clips in the archives).

I attended the five-day workshop with no real expectations, but with a definite agenda of sorts. As my practice has deepened over the past few years, and as I have relaxed and looked into the vastness of my interiors, that Jesus fellow has come up as a presence, as a strange attractor. And I DO have a history.

Let me speak to that to set the stage. At the age of twelve I had my first mind-blowing, life-changing spiritual experience. I was raised Catholic, attended church with my family, went to Sunday school, and had been confirmed in the Church. In short, my parents felt that I should have a religious grounding, so I went.

In the summer of ’68 in my bedroom I picked up a Gideon’s New Testament that someone had given me at school. As I started reading Matthew Chapter V, the Sermon on the Mount, I was blasted by a powerful “awakening state” experience. First of all, Jesus’ words deeply penetrated me, and I felt a tangible sense of being loved by God, loving God, and loving everyone and everything else. I began praying a lot, reading the Bible, and trying to share what I was experiencing with my friends and parents. For the most part, I think I just weirded them out. Ironically, I never even thought about speaking to a priest about what was going on. I guess I figured that since I had been going to church all my life and never sensed or experienced this God or Jesus in church, the priests must not know. Living in Houston Texas at the time there was no shortage of churches. So I did the rounds and was left frustrated. I do remember listening to Billy Graham on my radio at night and feeling some nourishment from his preaching. (Recently I read, “How can you tell an Evangelical from a Fundamentalist?” The answer was, “The Evangelicals actually like Billy Graham.”) Anyway, thank you, Billy.

To make a long, long story very short, I ended up joining a radical dropped-out Christian group two years later, and spent the next nine years of my young life in that milieu. As often happens, my group transformed into a very toxic cult in the space of those nine years. I left in a wave of anger and disgust (some of it self-directed, wondering why I had stayed around so long). I thought, “Way to go guys. We reached a level of decadence in a decade that it took the early Christians 400 hundred years to achieve!” I felt that much of my experience had been legitimate, but much had been crap, and as I wasn’t prepared to sort it all out just then, I put the whole God/Jesus/Spiritual thing on hold and went about trying to figure out what to do with my life.

Fast forward to 3 weeks ago…

I went to the Integral Christianity workshop thinking it was time to look at this stuff anew. I had known Brother David Stendl-Rast back in the early nineties when I had worked with Fritjof Capra and the Elmwood Institute in Berkeley. I sensed it was important for me to reconnect with him, and he was one of the presenters. Both intuitions proved dead on, and I was highly impacted by the event, and, as with all Integral Workshops that I have attended, with the quality of the people who were present. So let me share a few of the insights that came to me while I was attending:

  • * Firstly, Christianity, or the worldwide body of believers, could greatly be aided by the adoption the AQAL map as a guide to healing the fractures and gaping wounds found in the church (or as Brother David says “catholic” with a small “c”). To put as a starting point that the goal of an Integral Christianity is to express God’s love in all four Quadrants; this would be a hugely clarifying and healing vision. Again, as with most things non-Integral, the Church (and by Church I mean all followers of the Jesus tradition) has erred largely in what it has neglected, the body, nature, interiors, the shadow etc. For Christianity to become a channel for healthy translation and transformation to the whole of Creation, all these essential dimensions must become the field of labor for the redemptive work of Christ: exteriors and interiors, individual and collective. The redemptive symbol of the Cross takes on added depth and meaning in light of the Four Quadrants.
  • Inclusion of the knowledge of lines could aid in the cultivation of compassion and greater skillfulness in creating healthier organizational structures that include all the necessary gifts to make the church healthy and relevant in meeting the challenges the human family faces in the 21st Century. Acceptance of an Integral life practice that encompasses the essential lines as the sacred duty of all believers in the goal of becoming more “Christ like,” would be of inestimable value in reintroducing a vital healthy and balanced contemplative path at the core of the Christian faith. It almost goes without saying, in the light of recent events and history, that techniques and technologies for dealing with the individual and collective shadow could heal and bring new meaning to Jesus’ admonition, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Not that we are ever done with shadow work, because if you ever get done with your own, there is always everyone else’s to work on!
  • The inclusion of developmental stages and the wisdom that it brings could revolutionize Christian theology, practice, and charity. Rollie Stanich’s observation that, “We all see God through colored glasses,” could begin to soften the often bitter animosity of Christians at one level of development for those at others. I know this is a tall order but I feel as this understanding is spread, the rigidity of the different levels could begin to loosen with a greater understanding of the perspectives that different altitudes afford. We are looking at the same Lord through different lenses.
  • The understanding of states is a must for any skillful and accurate understanding of the contemplative terrain. Adding the Integral understanding of states vs. stages and how they complement one another, could usher in a new era of depth Christianity, and once again, or maybe for the first time, the mystical power of the Jesus transmission could become the birth right of all Christians, and not just the purview of other-worldly saints. As Bernard Shaw once quipped, “There is nothing wrong with Christianity, it’s just that so few have ever tried it.” Wilber wrote in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, that no other religion had done as much to keep its adherents from obtaining the consciousness of its founder, and I mean Jesus, not Paul. Christianity, at least the organized institutional variety, has been comfortable with the 3rd and 2nd person approaches to God, but when one approaches the 1st person, “I and the Father are one” experience, one is on dangerous ground indeed. When the 3,2,1 of God is understood as the territory we all travel in our contemplative journey (often in one sitting!), the tradition is gloriously enriched and many of the early sayings and teachings are revealed as powerful and as fresh as the day they were uttered.
  • There is so much to be said about types, but there is much good already written on Enneagram types from such writer Christian writers as Rohr and Rizo. One useful understanding of types on the individual soul level could be in the feminine and masculine aspects of the souls; the feminine part of the soul being the part that longs for union with the Divine, and the masculine that which wants to be about his Father’s business, finding, doing, and accomplishing the Will of God. The individual and the Church need both: transformative mysticism in action.
  • The next essential aspect that came up for me in an Integral Christianity, or at least an Integral Christology, is to look at the figure of Christ through three essential lenses, namely,
    1. The Mythic Christ: This is the Jesus of the stories, miracles and legends. Of course these are seen as salvation-necessary dogmas to those at the mythic Amber/Blue developmental level. They include the Virgin birth, raising from the dead, descending into hell for three days, ascending into Heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father on a throne, riding back on horse with a bunch of Angels to kick literal bad guy butt at the end of days, and setting up a last judgment to separate the sheep from the goats, etc., etc. These can be viewed not as literal articles of faith, but as powerful symbolic, archetypal stories that point the way to deeper spiritual truths that inform and illuminate the soul’s journey. While the traditionalist fundamentalists will reject this approach, it will be in place when those who are ready make the leap from Amber to Orange and above. These are actually some of the archetypal stories that helped me reconnect with Christianity when I started finding and processing these archetypes in my own inward journey. In the Christian mystery I was lead into and through the darkness and suffering. When my own darkness and the World darkness became too great it was the figure of Christ dying on the Cross that somehow imparted to me the Grace to stay with it until the Darkness too became the light. I see it as essential for the tradition that these central archetypes be preserved and illuminated all the way up the developmental spiral, and not discarded with the move from Amber.
    2. The Historical Jesus: The man, the actual human being, that we can perceive through the historical record, scant and often contradictory as the accounts may be. It is very valuable, and I believe edifying, to dig into this historical soil: the Gospels, the Jesus Seminar, the Book of Acts, Josephus, the writings of the Early Church fathers, the Epistles, the archeological record, the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Naghamadi Texts, Roman Historical texts, Tibetan texts that shed light, other apocryphal writings and so forth. There is so much to be gained from this form of inquiry and search. For me the preponderance of evidence suggests that there was a Yeshua walking on the Earth in First Century Palestine, and that through the force of his character and personal power he got this whole thing rolling. It is a fascinating study that can be both iconoclastic and revelatory on many different levels, and needs to be a part of our Integral Christianity. To be included in this is pre-Jesus history, the life and time of Jesus, and all that has unfolded from this tradition/transmission subsequently.
    3. The Kosmic Christ: The third essential lens would be the Kosmic Christ, the living water, the great presence that is Love and at the same time our most fundamental nature and consciousness, the realization of and identification with which is the goal and Grail of the Christian and ultimately all contemplative paths.

Another intuitive hit that I came to in the wake of the workshop was an understanding of the relationship between Tradition and Transmission.

Tradition consists of the historical accumulation of cultural artifacts that has become the historical/cultural/social inheritance of the Church. This consists of artwork, sacraments and ceremony, organizational structures, the literature and liturgy, the dogma and theology, the architecture and language, the history, the legends, the saints, the heroes and villains. I’m sure each one of you could add categories that would also be part of the incredibly rich and complex meshwork that makes up the Tradition.

The Transmission, on the other hand, makes up the inner living light that is the realization of Christ consciousness. To put it simply, I see the Tradition as good and healthy insomuch as it supports the Transmission, or the awakening to and realization of our Christ Nature, and of course the translation of that awakening into the service and healing of the World (in all four quadrants). Tradition on the other hand is negative and even idolatrous when it hinders this Transmission and its translation.

Lastly, but not least, came something of a personal revelation that could obviously have broader implications and meaning beyond my own personal struggles with Christianity. We were doing a 3,2,1 shadow work process and the following emerged in my work. I was working with what I had brought to the party, which was my wounded but ongoing relationship with Christianity and the Christian Mystery, for lack of a better word. I’m not claiming that this is the orthodox way to work with the 3,2,1 process, but this thing took on a life of its own.

In the 3rd person, I saw a very outraged, angry version of myself. I was pissed! I was delivering my own personal jeremiad at the last two thousand years of Church history. I was cursing and going by the numbers from the Inquisition, the self-righteous colonization and destruction of Native cultures, the pedophilia and cover-ups of recent memory, the killing and persecution of Jews and other Christians and so forth; I was experiencing total outrage. When I shifted to the 2nd person, I had a vision in my mind’s eye of myself, standing before an empty tomb (Jesus’ tomb) and I say, “What have they done with my Lord?” And I begin to sob great bursts of utter grief. What did they do with Jesus, this light to the world? How did it become so twisted, lost, and perverted? It takes huge effort to control this as I’m doing the work surrounded by the rest of our workshop group. (The manly thing being not to utterly lose one’s stuff in public-thanks, super-ego.) I then shift to the 1st person perspective, and I become Christ! I become a being of immense wisdom, compassion and love. I look around and see this same consciousness and light radiating from everyone else in the room! Everyone and everything is radiant. This is the answer I sought. Christ the living water, the heaven on Earth within and without is the Grail and the goal and the resolution of the Christian mystery. Same as it ever was.

A woman who has been going through some rough stuff gets a hug from Brother David, and I think just as one bad priest can do so much harm, one loving man of God can do so much good. I approach Brother David and ask for a hug. The love in that hug burns me with its power. I say, “Where were you forty years ago?” Brother David says, “This hug goes back forty years.” I am healed.

One last note, we performed two ceremonies while at the workshop: a communion and an anointing ritual. What happened was something that I was in no way prepared for; a profound experience of gathered group presence, love and holiness. Tradition shining forth the Transmission: The Jesus of History, myth, and the Kosmic Christ, all present, all one, all Love. Yes. Thank You. Amen.

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