"Fellowship was the hothouse in whose
closeness I first found life and sprouted leaves.
Fellowship was where I learned to live in
marriage, motherhood, friendship and as myself.
Fellowship taught me to bloom. And how
I love flowers."
"I was discussing theology
on the cold golf course the other day with two cohorts
who were playing equally as bad as I.
They asked what religion I was before Fellowship,
and I replied, 'I was a Catholic,
then I was a Methodist, and now l'm. . .
(now, that's a tuffy, but my pause was brief). . .
and now I'm happy."
FELLOWSHIP AFTER 31 YEARS
Maybe I killed it, like a smothering mother afraid to let go of her precious baby growing up.
Maybe it was a fatally flawed notion to begin with--the idea of fullness of life in the here and now, the kingdom of God, present tense.
Maybe it was a good idea, simply ahead of its time.
Maybe it was a product of its time, with a timely arising and a predictable demise.
Maybe "they" were just too stubborn to listen to me.
Or, maybe..., maybe..., maybe...
But I think not; none of the above reasons fit my best data about the rise and fall of Fellowship Church--its appearance and disappearance between 1963 and 1994 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and elsewhere.
In some measure, though, I do think I killed it--unintentionally, of course, and more like smothering than murder; still, I know now that I did things which had destructive effects on the life of Fellowship. In spite of what I may have intended at the time, certain of my choices had predictable results. Also, I did not do other positive things which were called for at the time, having equally negative effects.
I believe, however, that there were certain inherent threats which, like genetic defects, were written into Fellowship's script, contributing to any prematurity in its demise.
To acknowledge organizational failure is not to belittle the many personal successes which have occurred through Fellowship's history. For me, and, I believe, many others, Fellowship was immensely successful in helping us bridge painful gaps in our personal histories, and to reach new and more expansive plateaus of individual existence.
Here, however, I want to focus on our shared history, some of the mistakes I made, the positive contributions of our experiments, and threats which were inherent in the venture. Reviewing these facets of our shared pilgrimage has certainly been valuable for me in letting go more gracefully and moving on, conserving some of what I learned in Fellowship. I hope others may find my observations useful in their own pilgrimages, personally and/or professionally.
Bruce Evans, 1994
My title, WHY FELLOWSHIP FAILED, is tongue-in-cheek. For me and scores of others, Fellowship was certainly no failure; it has been, in fact, an extremely significant element in many of our lives--for some, I think, the most. The course of our personal histories has been forever altered by its reality--at certain critical junctures for some, and continually for others. For me, of course--with almost half of my life invested, Fellowship is monumentally successful.
But I acknowledge the fact that in most of the ways which society and religion (when they are not synonymous) measure success--with size, money, organization, recognition, services, influence, permanence, etc., Fellowship is, in fact, a relative failure.
SIZE: How big is it? is probably the most common objective way of measuring success. Certainly How many members do you have? has been the question most often asked of me by inquiring outsiders. The success of churches around the world is generally measured by the number of their adherents. From the perspective of SIZE Fellowship surely failed. Its membership never reached more than 153 persons at any one time.
MONEY: How large is the budget?--that is, financial size, is perhaps the second most common way of measuring success. The amount of monies received, expended, saved--budgets and bank accounts--tell us how well any individual or organization is succeeding. Here too Fellowship failed. Never was it financially stable for any length of time. Money problems were continually a part of its life.
ORGANIZATION: Stability of organizational structures is a third way of measuring success. Does the organization work well for group functions and services to members? Fellowship explored many forms and types of structures but never achieved a significant degree of organizational success. No form worked for long.
RECOGNITION: Name recognition, as public figures and social organizations all know, is critical for success. Indeed, RECOGNITION is, in many ways a most crucial criteria for measuring success. How well known is Fellowship? Even after 28 year at the same location, community persons may still say: I think I have heard of it; where did you say you are located? Except for brief exposures in print, relatively few persons in Baton Rouge, certainly beyond the community have ever heard of Fellowship. Socially speaking, we have no doubt failed.
SERVICES: Most social institutions, certainly those with religious dimensions, are measured by the services they provide for members and the community. What do you offer for children? What do you do for the handicapped? Do you have a day care program? What about adult education? Recreational activities? What social services do you provide? In most of these arenas, as in other objective perspectives, Fellowship had been a relative failure.
INFLUENCE: What effect did you have on the outside community? What influence did you have on others? Especially with religious organizations, these are traditional ways of measuring success. Past ideas and pioneering, Fellowship, so far as I know, has had little effect on society. It never contributed appreciable amounts of money to benevolent enterprises. Insofar as community, certainly state, national, or world influence is concerned, again Fellowship failed.
PERMANENCE: The acid test of time is another objective measuring device. How long did it last? Was it a fly-by-night operation, or did it endure the test of time? Chronologically speaking, Fellowship failed again. Thirty one years, though commendable for many social functions, is nothing to brag about on the long pages of religious history.
COMMUNITY: Finally, even in regard to providing a stable community, literally speaking--an extended fellowship experience--even for its own members, Fellowship Church only had limited success. Certainly there were brief and intense moments and events in which individuals have experienced perhaps the greatest degree of true communion yet to be experienced in their entire lives. Even so, these have been relatively rare in a continuing sense. Sometimes, on canoe trips, retreats, social events, and church services the experience of real fellowship has been wonderfully existent. Yet these moments, especially as idealized in my dream of the church, have been relatively rare as best I can evaluate in the perspective of time. The significance of such moments for individuals involved need not be minimized in looking more objectively at the overall failure of Fellowship Church in establishing an on-going community of persons becoming themselves and loving one another. Here, perhaps more than in all other regards, I am disappointed in Fellowship's many failures.
To raise the question of Why Fellowship failed? is also to ask the far more relevant questions: Why is heaven now an impractical idea? Why does everyone who believes in heaven want to go, but only later? Why, all consciousness to the contrary, do we so commonly opt for hell when the Kingdom of God, as Jesus said, is "at hand"? Why is it that anyone who takes religion seriously, believing that we go to meet God in heaven when we die, and hurries to do so--as in committing suicide or making any move to "get to the better world" sooner--deemed "crazy"? Why is preaching, even at its best, so religiously evaded in practice?
Or, in secular language, Why do we go out of our way to be unhappy (to avoid fun, to be depressed, to be miserable rather than ecstatic)? Why is sin identified with pleasure rather than pain, with "feeling good" rather than "feeling bad" (as in the common association: This is so much fun it must be sinful)? Why is therapy, with the goal of increased happiness, so rigorously avoided and so consistently frustrated once entered? Why is conversion so short-lived and effective counseling such a long term process?
More specifically: Why did scores of people who knew about Fellowship, praised the idea, kept saying they "wanted to come"--many even sending money for its support, so commonly "stay away in droves"? Why did those most intensely involved so often drop out at the height of their participation, often with the most fragile of "reasons," or with no explanation at all? Why did those members who remained the longest, maintain, with few exceptions, distance from the core activities and inner workings of Fellowship (i.e.: counseling, growth group, and leadership positions)?
These and other questions lie at the heart of the information and speculations which follow.
FOR THE RECORD
Fellowship was born in 1963 in the midst of racial disharmony in the South, and was, so far as I have been able to determine, the first racially integrated church in Baton Rouge officially established with an open membership.
The church sponsored a national Church In The World Conference on race relations in the South in 1965, featuring Dr. Carlyle Marney, ministers from Philadephia, Mississippi, and Bogalusa, Louisiana (current sites of racial strife), plus other national leaders.
As Fellowship's minister, I served as the first Chairman of the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations, and participated in the integration of public facilities in Baton Rouge. Fellowship was the first, and in 1966 the only, church in Baton Rouge to openly support and provide facilities for the racially integrated Head Start Program for disadvantaged children. When full integration of the Baton Rouge school system was mandated in 1970, Fellowship tried to enlist other churches in issuing public statements urging cooperation. Letters to 265 churches resulted in only one $5 contribution and a hostile letter accusing the church of being communistic. During its 31 years, 845 persons joined Fellowship Church, some remaining for up to 30 years. Membership averaged 70 local persons, and ranged from a peak of 208 in 1981 down to 14 in 1994. Total budget reciepts also reached their maximum in 1981: $101,774.
Fellowship was the first American Baptist Church in Louisiana and the deep South (1964), and was instrumental in the organization of the American Baptist Churches of the South, a region of American Baptist Churches, U.S.A. I, as minister of Fellowship, served on organizational committees for the region, the Board of Directors, and later as Vice-president, and President for 2 years. Fellowship was also the first church in Louisiana to be affiliated with both the Southern and American Baptist Conventions. It was the first Baptist-affiliated church to join the Louisiana Council of Churches.
The church sponsored the second annual, racially integrated, Convention of the American Baptist Churches of the South in 1972, featuring Dr. Harvey Cox of Harvard University, meeting in the Mount Zion Baptist Church. It also sponsored ecumenical ventures in Baytown, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Fellowship was featured in articles in The Christian Century, the American Baptist Magazine, the Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate, and the Evangel, a publication of the American Baptist Churches of the South. It was noted in Imperatives for New Church Development, published by the National Council of Churches. A description of the church appeared in a book by J.Russell Gaver, entitled, You Shall Know the Truth: The Baptist Story. Interviews with members were included in Soundings II, Religion in the South, a national cassett tape publication. The Church's tape ministry was featured in Quest, a publication of the Division of Parish Development, A.B.C.
During the course of our shared history I performed 256 marriage ceremonies of couples within and outside the church, baptised scores of children and adults, and conducted the funerals of 27 members and friends of Fellowship. I preached over 1,500 Sunday sermons, taught hundreds of classes, led scores of workshops, and conducted approximately 100 church retreats.
Throughout the entire history of Fellowship I was both minister and counselor--performing traditional ministerial duties and offering private therapy for individuals, couples, and groups. In addition to informal pastoral guidance, my counseling practice included over 600 clients from within the church and community for in-office, structured, 45-minute, fee-paid sessions. At various times as many as 50% of Fellowship members were regularly engaged in personal counseling, ranging from 1 to 1,000 individual sessions (some for up to 24 continuous years). Overall, I spent over 20,000 hours with individual clients and over 6,000 hours conducting group therapy.
Fellowship published three books of poetry, one very successful cook book, and 12 of my manuscripts on human relations, theology, poetry, and prayer: EXPERIMENTS IN CHURCH; BEING CLOSE: A LOOK AT INTIMACY; MILESTONES: GUIDELINES FOR THE WAY; THE HUMAN ODYSSEY; HOW IT IS, FOR ME; I LOVE THE SUN; WHO AM I?; ERRORS IN POPULAR CHRISTIANITY; I LOVE THE SEA; GRANT FATHER: A BOOK OF PRAYERS; JESUS, MAN FOR ALL TIME; IT'S NOT FAIR (AND OTHER WAYS I GOT FOOLED). Most recently, Quail Ridge Press published THE MAN/WOMAN BOOK: HOW WE ARE. While minister, I also wrote 15 other books which are available through individual copying.
Fellowship also published a weekly newsletter for over 30 years, including some 1500 of my "pieces." During this time, 33 of my articles appeared in national, state, and local publications. I also lectured and preached in colleges and churches in Rhode Island, New York, Iowa, North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, and Texas.
While minister of Fellowship I served as Chairman of the Baton Rouge Association of Religion and Psychiatry; as President, Baton Rouge Area Psychiatric Foundation, Inc.; on the Louisiana Family Relations Council; on the Board of Directors, East Baton Rouge Parish Family Counseling Agency (6 years); Board of Directors, Mental Health Association of Greater Baton Rouge (6 years). I was a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Ministerial Association, American Academy of Psychotherapists, Louisiana Mental Health Counselors Association, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association. I was a Licensed Professional Counselor, State of Louisiana, and received a Distinguished Service Award from the Mental Health Association, Baton Rouge, plus a Committed Service Award from American Baptist Churches of the South.
|Year||Local Members||Supporting Members||Total Members||Total Receipts|
I begin by noting some of my own errors. Each of these mistakes has no doubt contributed to the failure of Fellowship. I call them errors or mistakes, implying other than blame or fault. I feel no guilt about them, because they were all made innocently--that is, with "good intentions." I recognize them only in hindsight. When I made these mistakes, I made them blindly. Each of these errors is based on reasons which, in large measure, I still hold. Many of what I view as the unique successes of Fellowship are rooted in these errors. Now, however, I also recognize some of the predictable consequences of each.
Errors implies, as intended here, pragmatic mistakes, rather than inherently "bad" deeds. I did, so far as I know, nothing wrong; but I erred in doing things which were not pragmatic or practical in the larger sense of "how things work." Nevertheless, an error is an error, with the same results--no matter how "innocent" ("I didn't know the gun was loaded!") the perpetrator may have been. The value of "good intentions" is primarily as paving stones in the road to we all know where.
In summary, this chapter is about analysis rather than blame. Obviously I have been a major player in the game of Fellowship. Here I try to analyze my role, in particular the negative effects of how I have functioned as minister and counselor.
1. MY NAIVETE
...fools rush in...
Early in 1963 when I was debating the possibility of trying to start a church which might give structure to the shape of my dreams, I went to visit the Baptist District Missionary, an official responsible for overseeing ventures among Baptist churches in our area. He welcomed me to his small, second-floor office, where I proceeded to outline the type of church I had in mind. Leaning back in his chair, he listened attentively, often smiling--I now suspect with a mixture of admiration and wisdom born of long years of experience. Then, with a blunt decisiveness which I was unable to tolerate at the time, he concluded: It's a good idea, Evans; but you can't do it.
Now, thirty-one years later, I have a glimpse of what Dr. Pardue perhaps recognized clearly back then. Maybe I owe him more than I ever realized. I stalked out; going down the stairs toward Laurel Street, with renewed determination, I remember thinking: Well, I'll just show him. At that time I only heard the you in what he said, that he was telling me I couldn't do it. It never crossed my mind, back then, that he saw it as an impossible dream.
...where wise men fear to tread.
My own naivete, no doubt apparent to him--perhaps even my self-righteousness, was quite hidden to me at the time. In retrospect, however, I can imagine some of the wisdom he had earned in the Baptist Seminary Of Hard Knocks, cloaked by his enigmatic smile. Was it patronizing, as I imagined at the time? Did it have a hint of envy of my half-his-age idealism? Was it a benevolent but silent encouragement? Was he wise enough, and curious himself, to know how I would react to a gauntlet thrown?
These puzzles about him remain; but my own naivete at the time is now more apparent to me. Naivete translates into blindness about significant aspects of reality, an unrealistic approach (or attempt to avoid) critically relevant "facts of life." There is nothing "wrong" with naivete in an ethical sense--except that blindness or ignoring "how things are," in no way changes them. The resulting errors are simply unpredictable to one who does not see the consequences.
Among the tangled threads of my naivete was the spiritual paradigm shift I was blindly approaching without any of the appropriate awe and caution one wiser than me would reasonably have had. To my youthful eye, Fellowship (as it would later be called) seemed only a logical idea. After all, doesn't everyone want a church to accept them just as I am? Isn't love, even heaven now, a universal desire? Back then I thought I was only proposing and attempting to establish a church for what I and everyone else seemed to want!
Little did I see the spiritual paradigm shift, not unlike the move from a flat to a round earth, which my "logical notions" would require. I failed to grasp the profound implications of giving up a 2500 year old way-of-thinking in favor of a "good idea" (heaven now) without any practice-time for such a major change.
Specifically, some of the paradigm shifts which Fellowship-in-practice would require included these:
* From heaven later (in the "sweet bye and bye") to heaven now (in the "here and now").
* From dreams of immortality to the reality of mortality.
* From sacrificial selflessness to courageous selfullness.
* From serving others to being oneself.
* From having beliefs to believing.
* From denominationalism to ecumenism.
* From family to self.
* From legalism to loving.
* From sin as disobeying to knowing right and wrong.
* From God as Sky Father to Ultimate Reality.
Because each of these ideas, like the earth as round rather than flat, seemed so sensible to me on the basis of data at hand, I failed to recognize the actual paradigm nature of each in the context of millennia of historical experience to the contrary. I suppose I must have needed to belittle their revolutionary nature in order to make the ideas more palatable to myself, as well as to cloak the extent of my personal rebellion against traditions which I found so constraining as well as erroneous.
It was easier then to think of myself as merely "trying to improve on the old," or, "to help people live better," than to actually confront the logical but possibly grandiose notions I was trying to nudge into my own experience.
A major element in my earlier naivete lay in my failure to recognize the prevailing extent of human sin or splitness. Even after 35 years or preaching and counseling--countless hours given to seeing and listening to the private problems of others (plus hundreds more given to my own therapy), I am still reticent to accept how "lost" or "crazy" I think most of us are. Even the most functional and healthy of us still "fall short of the glory of God"--that is, miss, by a very long shot, the mark of becoming who we are created capable of being. We are, as a society, including each of us its individual members, profoundly schizo-phrenic--divided within ourselves, generally depressed, and regularly lost.
In comparison to potential wholeness, our given capacity for personal integrity, we are agonizingly, to a person, split. The extent of our common splitness, especially my own, is yet hard to admit. The diagnosed mental illness in our land, that under treatment by therapy and/or drugs, is relatively small in comparison to what I see as present--that is, when I dare to look.
What passes for "sanity" in America--the accepted and therefore undiagnosed quantities of "emotional disturbance" (much of which results from sin), is far away from true well-being. Even the most so-called "saved" among us are, I believe, still caught up in profound degrees of division which yet allude diagnostic categories of professional psychologists and psychiatrists. Our increasingly bold attempts to categorize "them" as "disturbed" (with sophisticated labels) are often but one more attempt to avoid seeing, I think, how much we healers are wounded ourselves.
My observation: with very few exceptions, we all act and commonly believe that we are "not as bad off" as we truly are. We waste precious energies in "protesting too much"--that is, in denying both to others and ourselves the extent of our splitness (reflected in general "unhappiness" and lack of pleasure in life-as-it-is). We commonly "try too hard" to pretend that "everything is all right" when in fact it is not.
I use "bad off" in quotes to imply the colloquial meaning; not that we are truly bad, but rather "bad off" in our unrecognized sin, our denied inner divisions.
Were sin not so commonly understood as merely "being bad" (through misbehavior of various sorts), I could use this theological word. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (as potentially revealed in us), as the Bible states the fact, is what I have come to see. But the sin of which I speak is not merely "acting bad"; it refers to the essence of evil which is inherent in splitness, the lack of inner wholeness.
The fact I note is not so simple as observing that we "do bad things" (or "don't do enough good things"); or even jumping to the indulgent judgment of "being bad" (as, "I'm just a bad person"). Each of these, though problematic, falls far short of facing the challenge of becoming responsible for our own splitting.
The wish to keep evil "out there," in a Devil or some other person (such as a "bad mother," or, a "dysfunctional family"), or even in our own misbehavior ("bad things done; good things left undone"), only cloaks the continued attempt to escape personal responsibility for our own sin. We can seldom honestly pray, as did David after his various adulteries and murders: "Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned..."--that is, get past deeds only, or injustices done to others, and acknowledge personal responsibility for our own splitness.
Our problem is not that we have offended God by not "measuring up" to some artificial standard of perfection in behavior (a slightly veiled extension of what we commonly experience with our parents), but that we try to please God (as we did our parents) by "measuring up" in the first place (or to achieve selfhood by rebelling and displeasing, which is but the flip side of the same coin). God, as Ultimate in Reality, is not, I think, merely a Cosmic Parent-figure. What was true with parents, namely, that we could succeed through good behavior, is not true (as best I can tell) with God.
This a radical difference.
We smartly "catch on" that parents are impressed by "measuring up" to their standards; but we erroneously project this same experience on to Ultimate Reality, imaging a Cosmic Parent to replace the first earthly ones. In doing so, we allow ourselves to keep on with the pattern we have already learned so well with human parents--that is, to continue as split in playing the same game, making a virtue of it at the same time.
I, and many others, I believe, have further erred in recreating female goddesses which are easier to hide to myself, in hopes of securing their blessing through my pleasing behavior--an even more difficult version of the same type of attempt to escape the responsibility for being split.
Although this fact of massive and widespread American schizo-phrenia, cloaked especially to us who are so split within ourselves, remains generally unrecognized, I also think that our salvation (healing) becomes most likely when we first face how split we have become. Continued attempts to find happiness (wholeness) through "improved" behavior remain, as they were in childhood where they began, notably short lived and disappointing in the long run.
So what else is new? Hasn't salvation always begun, as the Bible states, with honest confession? I think sin language has lost its power; sin understood as split, rather than bad, may invite a better beginning on the path toward wholeness. I hope so. Whatever language one may prefer, I now think that the extent of our splitness is massive.
My naivete also cloaked other dangerous threats which these paradigm shifts in perspective inherently involved. Among these were: the threats of fun, freedom, wholeness, and love--states of existence which almost everyone consciously desires.
These and other aspects of my own naivete resulted in serious miscalculations in how I practiced my ministry in Fellowship. The following errors are, I think, all spin-offs from my own naivete--miscalculations resulting from what I either did not see or else ignored at the time.
I failed to recognize the extent of human desire (need?) for authoritative leadership, "someone in charge," a parent-type figure who is ultimately responsible--handing out rewards and punishments, and above all, available to step in and take charge when "the going gets too rough." I took the widespread conscious desire to be "free" and "on one's own" at face value. I, in my naivete, did not recognize the deeper remnants of childhood experience which remain dominant in spite of conscious protestations to the contrary--the wish, that is, for a father figure (hopefully benevolent) who still presides, even when children-now-grown "want to be on their own." (And, of course, for a "heavenly Father," even if the earthly one is bad or gone--but more about this later.)
The result was that I failed to lead at critical times. I thrust overt leadership onto committees and boards of the church when I, had I been wiser, would have led. Not seeing myself in the role of Benevolent Father, I seldom handed out rewards for "good behavior" or punishment for "being bad." Even when I saw what I knew needed to be done, I waited for those in leadership positions in the church to take action. When they failed to, or could not, be responsible, I continued to wait long after reason would have dictated otherwise.
I bowed to occasional criticism of "being dictatorial," acquiescing to various vocal minorities, especially at critical times. I stubbornly held to my view of passive leadership, even in emergencies. I think now that I was cowardly, cloaking fears of taking authoritative action with my conscious views (rationalizations) of what a minister "should be." I was consistently more minister than leader, more preacher than director. I did not act decisively in emergencies. I was often too motherly, not fatherly enough.
Effective leadership has, it seems to me, two major components which may be summarized as mothering and fathering. Mothering is about self-affirmation ("That's my child." "You are wonderful." "Be yourself."). Fathering focuses on discipline and self-accomplishment ("Shape up." "You can do better." "Make something of yourself.").
Both elements of leadership are, as best I can tell, essential for success of an organization--religious or otherwise. Ideally, a functional balance is maintained. At this point in human history, the most effective balance seems to be with minimum amounts of mothering and maximum fathering--that is, just enough self-affirmation to keep self alive, and as much self-direction (discipline, push toward achievement) as is possible without rebellion.
Given the current human condition (see chapter on THREATS), we seem most comfortable and productive with minimal affirmation and much authoritative direction, with crumbs to self and trophies for service. The most successful organizations place much emphasis on self-sacrifice and relatively little on self-affirmation. Good leadership, in light of this situation, focuses on the fatherly role of putting self aside in favor of accomplishments for others, either the organization itself, or the goals of the organization.
In general, with mothering summarized as about being ("being yourself") and fathering as concerned with doing ("making something of yourself"), effective leadership today does just enough to keep the "troops" (members of the organization) alive and healthy (mothering), while constantly pushing them toward action for the organization. Being takes back seat to doing. Although many organizations talk about self-affirmation and say they are for "being yourself," even cursory examination shows that the line is mostly talk; actual rewards are for service to the organization and its goals. Self is only affirmed when it fits in productively with the organization itself. "Being yourself" only counts when it serves the organization; otherwise, "You are out of here."
The point of this brief analysis of effective leadership is simply to note that I consistently violated this rule throughout Fellowship's history. I majored on mothering and almost completely ignored fathering. I did encourage others to provide fathering (through boards, committees, etc.), but when they did not, I ignored the fact. The summary result, from the standpoint of my leadership, was: too much mothering and not enough fathering; an almost total focus on being ("becoming yourself"), with no discipline or direction for doing ("behaving yourself" and doing "good deeds").
I erred, in summary, on the side of motherliness, the female dimensions of leadership. I leaned over backward to avoid all appearances of being "dictatorial," of "trying to tell anyone what to do." I took threatening feedback, such as, "No one is going to tell me what I have to do," at face value. Instead of listening-through to hear possibly cloaked calls for a Good Father, I simply backed further away, unwittingly and unwisely thrusting even greater freedoms (see THREAT OF FREEDOM in a later chapter) onto persons who were perhaps already overburdened. My own projections, noted later, got in the way of good listening as well as wise leadership.
Given this imbalance in my leadership efforts, Fellowship's survival for as long as it did is rather amazing to me. I do not know of any other organization which has succeeded as well as did Fellowship with such an imbalance in leadership.
3. FOOLISHNESS OF PREACHING
I vastly overestimated the power of consciousness--of thought and reason, in human behavior. I seriously underestimated the power of genes and early learning in current experience. As a result, I placed far more emphasis on preaching--on "being reasonable" about what-to-do, than, I now see, preaching can reasonably deserve.
The Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 1:21, wrote of the foolishness of preaching. I of course do not know what he meant by foolishness; I cannot but wonder, though, if he realized that he had made a mistake similar to my own. In either case, I borrow his phrase to note that I now see preaching to be a low impact medium for human change. I am just now learning how true this is, and still forget regularly.
Preaching is, I now think, the heaviest of messages in the lightest medium. It places a sense of eternal truth in the most temporal of all forms. Preaching is an attempt to influence human behavior through consciousness--the Johnny-come-lately on the evolutional stage of human history, the most impotent of all human motivations. Far past genes and personal history, preaching tries to bring about personal change through teaching and talk, to effect salvation through theology and ideas. I overestimated the power of thought, of conscious knowledge, in contrast with the powers of the unconscious and early experience. I failed to recognize the limits of reason in face of genes, the power of hormones and history over will and intent.
In my journal on 3/17/92, I wrote: Another error I made was over-estimating the power and place of thought in salvation, under-estimating the place of emotion. I now see mind to be a thin veneer, like a 2% covering, over the much more powerful forces of genes known through "feelings." Body knowledge, and its insistence, so far outweighs the forces of reason-ability that my attention to "mind" in Fellowship has ended up being very unreasonable. I have been blind in not seeing that my focus on seeing (understanding) ignores the small size of its place in overall selfing. My own valuing of seeing must be quite disproportionate with most others.
Once when I had stored at home back-up computer discs of my various writings I said, half-facitiously to my wife and daughter: "Here's all I know." My daughter's immediate reply was: "Are you sure we want to know all you know?" Her comment was probably revealing, had I been able to hear. More pragmatically, I see in hindsight, I would have owned, contained, and hidden more of what I see, while dealing more in inspiration and less in information.
But I wouldn't have had as much fun. I do like seeing!
Unwittingly, I now see, I made the error of casting pearls of my own insights. Jesus' metaphor about casting pearls before swine risks misunderstanding in our time for two major reasons: pearls may imply self-righteousness, an over-estimation of what is cast; and, secondly, referring to people as swine easily becomes a judgment on the part of the speaker. If each of these risks is avoided then the metaphor and its message may be useful in understanding what I now see.
My disclaimers are these: first, I do not conclude that my insights preached at Fellowship are inherently pearls of wisdom. I know that I may be in error in what I see and have said insofar as others are concerned. Secondly, I certainly do not think of my hearers as swine or pigs with the currently popular judgments implied. Swine herding in Jesus' day was a reputable profession; pigs were not judged so harshly then as now.
With these disclaimers, perhaps the metaphor can be helpful. What I mean by it is that I freely presented in sermons and lectures the hard-earned insights of my experience without sufficient regard to their relevance or hear-ability by receivers. I broadcast my pearls indiscriminately, often before persons whose insight was different and those not yet ready to acknowledge a shared seeing. Though pearls to me, they were not the fodder or food which many of my hearers wanted, or if so, were comfortably able to receive at the time.
The remainder of Jesus' metaphor--lest they turn and trod you underfoot--was seldom borne out literally. More often the predictable trodding was indirect or passive. While continuing to speak favorable of me and Fellowship, saying how highly they thought of each, those who were deeply offended by my pearls often reacted by either withdrawal or concealed, covertly destructive, reactions. Most commonly, I think, any trodding underfoot, though extremely effective, was done unconsciously.
4. NON-CHURCH CHURCH
In 1972 a feature article on Fellowship for the Sunday magazine section of a Baton Rouge paper was headed: BATON ROUGE'S NON-CHURCH CHURCH. The reporter must have recognized back then what it took me so long to see clearly--namely, that Fellowship Church was not really a church in the traditional sense of the word. More accurately than I was able to recognize at the time, it was literally Non-Church. Only the name, the structure, some of its organizational forms, and the language we used, identified us with the institution commonly called church.
Although I recognized many of our actual differences from traditional churches--indeed, had worked to make them so--my error lay in not seeing the predictable consequences of "pretending" to be a "real church"--that is, of offering the "services" which people have learned to expect from a "church," when in fact we did not (What a bulky sentence!) offer them. I believed that what Fellowship had to offer was uniquely different and, in my opinion, far more relevant and consequential in the long run; still, I failed to take into account the legitimate and widespread human desire (need?) for what churches have traditionally evolved to extend to people.
We (primarily I) presented Fellowship as a "church." We carried the name Church; our building looked, to some degree, like a "church." We did many traditional church-type activities, such as, holding Sunday services. We were, in the eyes of the law, a tax-exempt, non-profit corporation which the government recognizes as a "church." I was a legal, ordained "minister," authorized to perform marriage ceremonies and other official religious rituals, such as, baptism and prayer (i.e., to open Senate sessions "officially"). I talked "God-language" and preached from the Bible, the official Christian sacred book (as I interpret it).
To be sure, we were obviously "different" in many ways; we had no official doctrines, for example, and were ecumenical from the beginning, even though we were first named Fellowship Baptist Church. Paradoxically, we accepted Catholics and Jews as members without their "converting." Why?, I naively thought at the time, would one not see Fellowship as a church, albeit a "bit different," from the average?
The reporter, however, must have seen the deeper truth which was still evading me back then, that we were truly Non-Church--that is, a "church" in appearance only. We, as the saying goes, looked like a duck (church), walked like a duck, 'talked' like a duck; therefore we must be a duck!
Except we weren't.
And that, it turned out, was the rub--an error which I naively made at the time. Actually our very deception, of appearing to be a "real church," was also a part of the primary appeal to many who were "fed up" with traditional churches which "insisted on living in the Dark Ages," and would not "face up" to immediate issues--such as, racial segregation and the eroding edges of denominationalism. To those who were disillusioned with the staid stances of traditional church, but who still had a real concern for organized religion, Fellowship seemed to offer a viable alternative for remaining in the church and yet being "more realistic" about the times.
As I will note later, this truly was a part of the uniqueness of Fellowship--the vision which was there from its beginning; but now I reluctantly note that this too was the source of one of my major errors. I failed to recognize the proverbial baby while I focused so sharply on the bath water. Unwittingly, I came very close to also throwing it out in my attempt to correct what I saw as the errors of traditional church. For many, I hate to admit, I did just that. I brought what I thought was needed, and was consciously sought; but I failed to keep (the baby) which was, I now believe, the essential gift and genius of traditional churches of all types.
Namely: comfort--that is, being a balm in Giliad...
To my credit, I wanted, and tried hard, to keep the baby also; I did always recognize, even if dimly, the valid place of comfort in religion. But I never learned, and still know little about how, to supply this major contribution--an essential human desire--of traditional church, and at the same time present a context for maturing. How, in other words, do you baby people and yet say grow up at the same time? I have learned to do just that with some success in my office (in private counseling), but I never caught on to how to do the same with the public institution of church.
5. MY PROJECTIONS
Unwittingly (I now excuse myself somewhat), I also erred in using "helping them" to avoid certain of the challenges involved in healing myself. Preaching, to use the cliche, is always easier than practice, within the professional ministry as well as without; I often chose this easier way. Not (I defend again) that I avoided my quest for personal wholeness altogether; certainly I remained involved, from beginning to end, in the process of my own healing. I, for instance, never stopped my personal therapy--at least for long.
But I have continually, from beginning to present, regularly devoted more attention, energy, and effort to "helping them" than to confronting my own divisions. I, without realizing it at the time, used them in two major ways: projecting many of my own divisions onto them--seeing myself in the mirror of their lives, and then devoting myself more completely to their healing than to my own. Self-righteously I sought their salvation before mine, "putting myself last," "sacrificing myself for them"--resurrecting the so-called virtues of my childhood which I had already consciously rejected.
I do not intend the phrase using them in its usually negative sense. I have long attempted to resurrect the idea of using others as an essential reality of all human relationships, not something "bad" as I was taught. There is nothing wrong, I have concluded, in the act of using people. The evil, to be properly understood, must be seen on a deeper level than mere projection and "use" of others as mirrors of ourselves, or in securing real services from them.
Indeed, my using them was, I now think, often to their advantage, even if to my own detriment in the long run. In my self-righteous efforts to "help them" rather than myself, I did devote massive efforts on their behalf in my attempts to be "helpful." These range all the way from my efforts to create Fellowship Church committed to fullness of life in the here and now, to designing and preaching a theology consistent with this premise, plus continually working--in counseling, growth groups, and my relationships with parishioners, in ways which I thought productive in their salvation and present happiness--even when it came at my own expense (physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially).
I even erred in over-doing it. I "helped them" too much, I now see. While functionally revising old theology to include newer psychological insights--"helping them" to see and think more clearly, and providing circumstances for relatively unqualified acceptance of all forms of belief and personal behavior (making the old hymn Just As I Am more literally true than in any other church I have known about), I went beyond the boundaries of reality. Trying to "be helpful," I unwittingly, but no less unproductively, gave too much--too much light and too much acceptance.
I escaped knowing-what-I-know into trying to give-away-what-I-know--to get others to understand, use, be helped by, what I so often failed to embrace. I preached and counseled, often, I now see, to escape practicing what I know. Seeing what someone else is "doing wrong" and "trying to help them" (often considered to be a virtue) is easier than seeing one's own errors, and certainly simpler than correcting our own. If this is true for anyone else, it seems to be even more so for me!
I am, I believe, a gifted "looker," one able to see well and sharply analyze what I see. I am both far-sighted (able to see "a long way down the road") and insightful (able to carefully examine and see "into things"). I have, for as long as I can remember, been curious both about "how the world works" (what makes things tick), and about "how people work" (what makes us do what we do). In this latter arena, I have been a "self-analyzer" for as long as I can remember. I have been asking the Who am I? question (What makes me tick? Why do I do as I do? What are my motives and reasons? Will the real Bruce Evans please stand up!) it seems, forever.
My first profession (Bachelor of Science degree) was related to the science of how things work (understanding the physical world). At first, I became an engineer. But then, remaining scientific in my approach, I turned to religion and psychology, the sciences of how people work. I shifted the focus of my "see-abilities," my farsightedness, from the world of objects, into insightfulness, the realm of people--especially to "what is wrong with people," what we need to do to "get right." I became, in effect, a people-engineer.
Although a "se-er" who is curious and adventurous by nature, I am not especially courageous--inclined toward faith; in fact, I seem to be more cowardly than your average person. Consequently, I have a great propensity to project, to unwittingly take insights acquired in studying myself (my own experience) and others, and to see or recognize my perceptions "out there"--that is, in others. Then, being both male and a first child as well as a "big brother," I am inclined to "be helpful," to "try to take care of others." I am, I think, a natural for projection.
The human capacity for projection is perhaps more easily recognizable in artists who see well and then translate their perceptions into tangible projections, artistic endeavors--for instance, into poetry, drama, writing, or on to canvass. They too take "what they see" and project their insights on to outside forms. I differ in that I project onto people rather than onto inanimate forms.
The same phenomenon more commonly occurs when anyone takes an insight (their own perception of reality), and projects it into a diary, journal, or the ear of a "best friend" who "swears not to tell." In either instance, what is "seen within," however dimly or threateningly, is "put out there" (as into a diary), and then safely "put away" from one's self.
The point is, I see in retrospect that what I have often done is an outgrowth of my own "see-abilities" (farsightedness and insightfulness)--my inclination to be insightful into myself and "outsightful" into others, good at analyzing human "problems." Also, given my cowardice, I have been sorely tempted to take my own insights, however gained, to project them "out there," and then try to deal with them externally--that is, to preach about what I find difficult to practice.
I have been like a person who, as a child, becomes fascinated with sky-diving, imagines that everyone "should do it," and "would just love it if they tried." Then, once grown, I set about organizing a Sky-diving Club, enlisting members, and trying to teach them how to sky-dive--all this while I remained safely in the hanger and class room.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with sky-diving; in fact, some seem to enjoy it immensely. My errors, however, have been twofold: first, in my godlike assumption that everyone "should do it," and in my omniscient belief that I could "teach them how" (if only they would let me!). Secondly, and far more personally dangerous, I have projected my fascination with "sky-diving"--that is, salvation in the here and now, "out there," rather than daring to more fully confront its possibility "in here." I got caught up, in Fellowship, in trying to be a savior rather than a saved-one.
The Apostle John could write: Thy words were found and I did eat them.... I could not. My "Bible" would have said: "Thy words were found and I did preach them and try to get others to eat them" (I use preaching here as a metaphor both for sermonizing in the pulpit on Sunday and for all other ministerial "work" during the week, such as, church activities and counseling.).
I often failed to eat my words, falling instead into the trap of preaching them, failing to muster the courage necessary for digestion of insight. Lacking the nerve to stand-under what I saw, I became engrossed in a huge project of passing-on my understanding, trying to "help others understand"--that is, "to see" what I saw, and "to do" that which often I did not.
Preaching is certainly, for all its challenges, easier than practicing--but, as I am now discovering, not nearly so much fun. It remains, as Paul recognized long ago, a rather foolish endeavor with minimal consequences.
When I confronted the gap between preaching and practice "out there," that is, when I recognized that parishioners were not putting into practice what I preached, I simply tried harder to make them understand. I said it in other ways, cleverly trying to "make them see." Assuming that the error was mine, that I had failed to make my messages clear enough, I redoubled my efforts at greater clarity. Not recognizing that I had perhaps already been too clear, I worked diligently to become even more graphic. I also added counseling to preaching, psychology to religion, trying a newer approach to the same old "problems."
Erroneously thinking that it was my fault, that I must not have "said it right" or "so they could understand," I worked to find new ways to make it even clearer. Surely I could "make them see"; and if only they could catch-on, they could reap all the benefits of good understanding! For years I worked, honing insights, seeking newer and hopefully clearer ways of saying what I saw. I redefined the old language; I sought new languages; I shifted to psychological jargon--the increasingly pop religion of today--translating theology into psychological words, all in the hope that I might get them to see what I saw.
Not satisfied to leave my endeavors with preaching alone, as is traditionally done in religion, I focused more and more on counseling and growth groups. I proceeded to design various self-help programs, all aimed at gaining further insight into oneself--to "help" one see more in order to become more. When these too were resisted or avoided, still I failed to see the error I was making. I simply looked for more and better ways to "make them see," or to "help them" put in practice the results of my insights.
Unwittingly I used my listeners and clients (the occasions of preaching and counseling) to continually expand and refine my own insights--all this under the cover of "trying to help them see" (and put their "seeing" into practice) so that they might "be happier." Then, I did not see that I was often using them rather than risking the temporary stomach upsets inherent in eating my own words.
They often ran, I now suspect, not because they failed to see what I was saying, but because they already saw too clearly. Facing, as did I, the challenges of the leap of faith necessary to translate seeing into action, preaching into practice, they chose to exit Fellowship instead, or at least to stay away. Whereas I had the easier option of assuming it was my fault, that I simply needed to "become a better preacher and counselor," making the truth-I-saw more understandable, increasing my skills at counseling or designing more effective programs, and hence redoubling my previous efforts, they had no such escape in Fellowship. If they kept coming back, I kept polishing the mirror of what they must have already seen too clearly. Exodus became the only reasonable option.
So, they "stayed away in droves," or simply dropped out, returning to the Catholic church or traditional religion which gave easy answers and required no living faith--or to secularism where they could flounder or wear old "mental slippers" without being continually challenged to change, to add practicing to what they heard me preach.
To more clearly understand my error (Oops! I continue in its practice!), my metaphor of eating words may be translated. What did John mean when he testified that he had eaten the words he found? What is the difference between seeing and doing, which I failed to recognize? Here is what I now see:
There is, in reality, a huge gulf, a grand chasm, between seeing and doing, between catching-on and putting-into-practice. After the disconnection, the split within ourselves which is inevitable when we sin (See chapter on NATURAL THEOLOGY), thinking and doing become cataclysmically separated. After the apparently universal Exit From Eden--that is, the wholeness-of-childhood--what we see and can therefore say becomes widely split apart from what we do, the way we actually live.
I call this split between insight and behavior the "gap." The gap is the great distance which exists, after sin, between what we see and what we do, between thoughts and actions. Catching-on becomes one thing, while doing-something-about-it is another. The division is between intellectual insight and behavioral change, or, as is more commonly noted, between preaching and practicing-what-you-preach.
Seeing, after the split which seems to be so common in us all, is relatively natural and easy, especially when it does not force our inner divisions into the light; putting-into-practice-what-we-see, however, is a different matter entirely--one which requires great courage. In religious language, this courage is called faith. Secular courage and colloquial nerve are synonyms for religious faith--as I understand it.
After the split which sin requires, the gap exists within us all; faith, so far as I know, is the only bridge across the gap. It takes a huge leap-of-faith to bridge the gap between insight and action, seeing and doing, catching-on and doing-something-about-it--or, in the language of my profession, between preaching and practice.
This is the leap which I often failed to make in Fellowship Church, substituting instead the easier move of blaming myself (I must not have made it clear enough or done enough to help them) and the redoubling of my energy-requiring, but not faith-demanding, effort to clarify even further (to become a better preacher and counselor). I saw the gap clearly in parishioners and counselees, but am yet in the process of recognizing it more often within myself.
Insight, of course, and good preaching, whether done by ministers, parents, friends, or therapists, can be a good thing. The wonder of intellectual insight, of mental understanding, is that it can be an essential key to actual change in life--a critically important first step. If we don't see the error of our ways, change becomes highly unlikely. But for all its wonder and potential importance as a key or first step, seeing easily becomes an escape from the leap-of-faith required to eat one's own words.
Then, preaching, or its secular counterparts cloaked in parental advice, friendly suggestions about what-you-ought-to-do, or professional directions given by doctors or therapists (parents, friends, doctors, and therapists are often but preachers-in-disguise who also sincerely believe they are just telling you for your own good) becomes a cop-out.
What we helpers--whatever we are called--commonly do, the error we so often share, is substituting the easier task of trying-to-get-you-to-see-so-you-will-change for our own failure to make the required leap-of-faith ourselves. Not that such preaching or parenting or counseling is an easy job, but, requiring only energy and not faith, it is simpler than facing the challenges of becoming whole ourselves--that is, of actually practicing what we so much more easily preach instead. Do as I say, not as I do, is far less demanding than becoming an example of what we preach--one who has eaten his own word.
With the goal of becoming-ourselves-together (heaven now)--that is, being a loving community, I focused on "thinking" (seeing, understanding), plus providing activities for putting the ideas into practice, as the key to reaching the goal. I was correct about understanding as the key, but I vastly overestimated its power as a tool in reaching the goal.
As important as understanding is, faith (courage) remains the major issue in bridging the gap between where-we-now-are (outside of Eden) and who-we-may-become. Intellectual insight, though a significant key to opening the door to beginning the quest for redemption, is no substitute for the courage required to take the leap into wholeness. Understanding salvation is like a map for a journey, possibly useful in planning, but certainly no substitute for the trip itself.
Although I recognized this fact, I also realized that I am powerless in creating or doing much more than pointing out, again intellectually, the necessity of courage. Exercising faith remains entirely within the domain of each individual. I could point out its requirement, even explain how it works, but I could do naught in giving it to anyone, or in making it happen. I did, however, have some ability to promote intellectual understanding.
With those persons who did seem diligent in trying to practice what I preached, I often recognized the underlying habit of trying to please an authority figure--shifted from parent to preacher. The survival mode of being-good, of achieving goals through trying to behave or please the "powerful one," remains one of the most pervasive and effective of all the available coping mechanisms. It was no stranger in Fellowship either.
In sharp contrast with rebellion for the same purpose, this mode easily cloaks itself as real change when it actually only involves improved acting. Those who followed this path of "pleasing the preacher" were no less sincere than those who sought salvation through rebellion; more easily though, I mistook acting-like-I-taught, "behaving" in this new way, with the larger issues of being and becoming.
In summary, the psychological device of projection offered a simple, yet dangerous-for-me, escape from the challenges of becoming whole myself. Cloaked in assumed-to-be virtuous robes of "helping others" I often projected the words I found before I had eaten them myself.
It was said of Jesus, he saved others; himself he could not save. I think I now have an inkling of what they saw.
6. GETTING TOO PERSONAL
Some, of course, may say I remained too aloof; that I never got personal enough. They wanted me, they may say, to be more of myself, "warts and all," with them. They never wanted a "high and lifted up" minister.
I respect this perspective. Perhaps they are correct. Certainly my own conscious wishes were to simply be "one of them," a fellow priest, but not the only real priest. I truly believed in the doctrine called priesthood of believers--that is, that all of us alike are called to be priests to one another. I was simply, or so I reasoned, able to devote more time to our common calling because they helped pay my salary.
My data, however, does not support what I imagine some may say--that I remained too aloof--nor my own wishes that I might have more completely joined in becoming "one of the flock." My actual efforts in that direction can be summarized in three major attempts on my part: first, joining the growth groups as simply one more member; then, joining the social and "outside the church" endeavors (canoe trips, parties, etc.) as "just a member" of Fellowship (revealing my personal peccadilloes and flaws); finally, and most revealingly of all, my divorce and remarriage in their midst.
Records (see later) show that upheaval in the church, including loss of members and income, was at its peak during and immediately after the period of my remarriage. Of course it is possible that there were dramatic changes in myself during this time which reflected in diminished effectiveness in my work. Maybe I changed so that I simply ceased to be useful in my ministry.
But, if so, I am unaware of any major differences in my work which could have reflected in such fierce struggles and so many withdrawals from the church immediately thereafter. I believe that these expansions in my personal experience reflected in increased quality in my ministry. I can only conclude that the reaction was to my personal revelations and the adjustments which they required of members, rather than to diminished effectiveness in my work as minister.
As much as I wished to simply "be personal" with the members of Fellowship, I found almost no long range information to support the feasibility of such attempts. Certainly there was stated approval, temporarily. "Hurray," some said initially, whenever I revealed my clay feet more clearly. "Glad to see you're like us." But these immediate affirmations were seldom confirmed in the long run. As best I can now tell, my personal involvements with members always had negative effects on my capacity to minister to them--at least as I understand the priesthood.
A telling comment, which I never properly respected, from my analyst long ago, remains both enigmatic and revealing. I was bemoaning the fact that a leading member of Fellowship, a very personal friend as well as primary financial supporter, had moved back to a more traditional church. My analyst's passing comment was: I'll bet his new minister doesn't go fishing with him. He was correct. Only now is the import of his observation beginning to soak in.
I see that parishioners did, consciously, "want me to be one of them." More literally, I think, they wished that I were simply "another human just like them," because, if so, the split, our primary deeper human problem, could be evaded by all of us. Although they wished I were "more personal" with them, they were not, I think, any more than was I, prepared for the consequences of such revelations.
The demands of our "common humanity"--me as "one of them" rather than "God's representative," were simply too much for either them or me at the time. Though consciously iconoclastic, even agnostic or atheistic, they still needed me as an icon, a remnant of the old days when "God was in His heaven and all was right with the world." And perhaps I, more than I then knew, needed the safety of such an illusionary role even more than they needed me to fill that vacant spot in their experience.
This ancient but remaining need for an icon, consciously rejected, had not disappeared. It became evident to me in two major areas: parishioners' desires for daily direction, and, more subtly and powerfully though hidden, remaining desires for a god-representative if not an actual God. The daily direction issue involved that difficult position of having a parent-figure without having an actual parent--that is, of having someone who "knows the answers" but who does not require you to take them. Mostly they wanted to make up their own minds; still, in some deeper part of themselves, they must have wanted to have someone around--not too close or dictative--who did know "what they should do." They wanted, as it were, to be free to do what they would, but at the same time to have someone they respected who could "tell them what to do," if they wanted to know.
On a deeper level, this amounts to the primal desire for a "perfect parent," one who cares infinitely and yet accepts unqualifiedly, one who both sets-you-free and at the same time remains completely responsible-for-you. In religious language, they (like everyone else!) wanted the freedom of having-no-god without the responsibility which is inherent in being human.
They wanted, as it were, to have their cake and eat it too--to be functional atheists, like kids whose parents have gone on vacation and left the house and all resources available to them so they can do whatever they want to, but who yet remain in the background to take care of any damages done, any problems which may arise in the course of the children's seemingly absolute freedoms. I suspect that they wanted, paradoxically, to be grown-up children, with all the benefits of freedom but without the responsibilities.
This is, obviously, stated too dogmatically and leaves no room for conscious intents to the contrary; still, it does point to what I now see as a central problem in Fellowship in regard to my personal presence among parishioners. Consciously, I think, they wanted to "see my clay feet," while at the same time to believe that I had none. They did not want a present God, at least awarely, but they did want His (or Her) representative.
In order to have their cake and eat it too, they wanted (don't we all?) a touchable god who can't be touched--an obviously impossible wish which I obviously tried in many ways to fulfill, for myself if not for them.
FELLOWSHIP CHURCH MEMBERS
Throughout the history of Fellowship many experiments with various types of membership were explored. Different categories were created at different times for local and non-local members, including such names as: Trial, Participating, Directing, and Supporting. The following list includes the names of all those who chose to join Fellowship during its 31 year history. Many other persons participated in the church and its various activities but chose not to officially join. Some of these participants remained involved for years. Their names, of course, respecting their choices, are not included. The date following each name is when that person first officially joined. Some had already participated for extended periods before deciding to join.
Aanestad, Melisa 1978
Aanestad, Woody 1978
Acosta, Kathryn 1982
Adams, Elizabeth A. 1982
Adcock, Richard 1965
Adcock, Sellers 1966
Allen, Rose Marie 1982
Almond, Helen 1970
Ames, Carrie 1973
Amrhein, Adrian 1969
Amrhein, Charlotte 1969
Arthur, Larry O 1969
Ashe, Althea 1983
Aucoin, Allison 1983
Ault, Frank 1983
Avant, Rosemary 1978
Aycock, Jr., Sellers 1964
Ayme, Harold X. 1969
Backman, Eula 1983
Bailey, Pat 1973
Baker, Damaris 1982
Balentine, Ann 1978
Bankston, Al 1967
Bankston, Dorothy 1969
Barnes, Gale 1979
Barnett, Georgia 1971
Barnett, Hardy 1971
Barnett, Jeanne 1965
Barnett, Stanley 1965
Barnett, Timothy 1974
Barron, Nancy B. 1973
Barton, Betty 1964
Barton, Deri 1966
Baxter, Richard P. 1966
Baxter, Shirley 1966
Beard, C.A. 1971
Beard, Jr. Robby 1963
Beard, Jr., William 1963
Beard, Jr., Nancy 1963
Beard, Jr. Gary 1963
Beard, Mrs. C.A. 1971
Bellar, Delphine 1963
Bellar II, Mel L. 1964
Bellar, Melvin L. 1963
Benton, Bill 1964
Benton, Eloise 1967
Benton, Mary F. 1963
Benton, R.G. 1964
Berdon, Beverly 1976
Bergeron, Karen 1979
Bergeron, Kathy 1988
Bernard, Patricia 1980
Bernharadt, Shirley 1973
Beyette, Gale 1979
Bilyey, Gregory 1988
Bingham, Ira 1972
Blanchard, Francis 1978
Blanchard, Louise 1977
Blank, Stephanie J. 1973
Bock Jr., Dorothy L. 1966
Bock Jr., Frank G. 1966
Bockrath, Gloria 1980
Bodker, Edward 1979
Bollich, Gale 1982
Bonnecaze, Janice B. 1969
Boudreaux, Eileen 1986
Boughan, Ramona 1979
Boutwell, Ruth W. 1979
Boyd, Marty 1972
Bradfield, Amy 1982
Bradford, Don 1982
Briscoe, Jim 1982
Briscoe, Kris 1982
Brocato, Rebecca 1972
Brown,III, Frank 1988
Brown, Lynn 1988
Brown, Virginia L. 1974
Brusko, Lynn 1981
Brydon, Bill 1966
Brydon, Joan 1966
Brydon, Valerie 1978
Bullard, Arthur H. 1963
Bullard, Davie 1964
Bullard, Michael 1964
Bullard, Mona 1963
Bullard, Scott 1964
Bullard, Stephen 1964
Burke III, William W.1982
Burrell, Tara Wilson 1986
Burroughs, Pat 1968
Burton, George 1981
Burton, Lois 1965
Busby, Patty 1972
Butts, Janet 1963
Butts, Mary 1963
Butts, Mike 1963
Buzbee, Billy 1973
Buzbee, Marilyn 1969
Buzbee, Paula 1969
Buzbee, William T. 1969
Byrd, David 1982
Caldwell, Deborah M.1977
Caldwell, Kathy 1977
Calkins, Bill 1981
Callahan, Karen 1982
Calvit, Margaret 1976
Calvit, Mark 1976
Camp, Jon G. 1965
Camp, Joy 1965
Campbell, Evelyn 1976
Cantwell, Carmen 1983
Cantwell, Mike 1983
Cappel, Mike 1973
Carlin, Susan 1973
Carraway, Mary 1988
Carrell, Clint 1981
Carrell, Mrs. Clint 1981
Carson, Pam 1977
Carter, Bernice W. 1978
Carter, Phyllis 1978
Carville, Ruth 1988
Caston, Edgar E. 1975
Caston, Helen 1970
Cavanaugh, M. Ann 1976
Cavanaugh, Melva 1971
Chambers, Carolyn 1963
Chambers, Carter 1963
Chambers, Gail 1963
Chambers, Mary Sue 1963
Chaney, Barbara 1976
Chappelle, Laurinda 1972
Cheatham, Douglas 1975
Cherry, Rosemary 1978
Choong, Elvin 1966
Choong, Mrs. Elvin 1966
Christian, D.T. 1969
Christian, Ellen B. 1969
Coey, Kathy 1982
Colley, Diana 1975
Collings, Bill 1967
Collings, Z. LaGene 1967
Comeaux, Dee 1969
Comeaux, Paul 1970
Comeaux, Tommy 1970
Comeaux, Willie G. 1969
Constantin, Suzanne 1981
Conway, Lillian F. 1977
Conway, Robyn C. 1983
Conway, Rodger B. 1975
Cook, Norma 1979
Cooley, Davelyn V. 1973
Cooney, Larry 1975
Copeland, Dee 1979
Corkern, Althea 1973
Corson, Martha G. 1970
Crawford, Galen 1963
Creft-Higgins, Sharon 1983
Crosby, Kevin 1963
Crosby, Ralph 1963
Crosby, Tempe F. 1963
Cross, Carole 1983
Crouch, Benita J. 1967
Crumbley, D. Larry 1965
Crumbley, Donna D. 1965
Crumpler, Nancy 1975
Crumrin, Jr., Paul A. 1975
Dailey, Gary 1979
Dailey, Larrianne 1979
Davidson, Doris R. 1973
Davis, Claire 1967
Davis, Diane M. 1968
Davis, Rosemary 1981
Davis, Winborn 1971
Davis, Yoma 1982
Dawes, Janetta 1988
Dawson, Brenda 1971
Dawson, Guy Charles 1964
Dawson, Larrianne 1964
Dawson, Larry S. 1971
Dawson, Ruby T. 1964
Dean , Robert K. 1973
Deere, Hubert E. 1977
Dees, Joann R. 1970
Dees, Mitchell 1971
Dengler, Herbert 1981
DeRouen, Patrick 1986
DeSoto, Jan 1979
Devall, Stella B. 1979
Douglas, James 1965
Douglas, Jed H. 1974
Douglas, Mary Ann 1963
Douglass, Delphine 1986
Downing, Robert D. 1979
Draper, Anne M. 1969
Draper, Karen 1979
Draper, Richard C. 1969
Dubois, Clarence D. 1973
Ducote, Lisa 1978
Duczer, Ginger 1988
Duczer, Steve 1988
Dudrow, Ann D. 1963
Dudrow, Mrs. D.E. 1965
Duke, George 1983
Dunn, Dee 1981
Dunn, Nancy 1963
Duperrouzel, Mabel 1979
Durrett, Douglas 1963
Durrett, Jackie 1963
Durrett, Joe S. 1963
Durrett, Suzanne 1963
Duvall, Stella 1979
Easley, Richert 1964
Eberly, Cindy 1972
Echeverri, Sybil G. 1984
Edwards, Abigail 1974
Edwards, Jr., Art 1974
Eiland, Millard 1967
Ellerbe, Claire 1968
Ellerbe, James E. 1969
Ellerbe, Jr., James 1974
Ellerbe, Nancy 1971
Engels, Fred 1974
Engels, Joyce 1972
Engels, Lisa 1974
Engels, Sonja 1974
Engels, Stephanie 1974
England, Martin 1966
Ernest, Anne K. 1964
Ernest, Anne 1965
Ershler, Norm 1992
Evans, Anita C. 1982
Evans, Ann H. 1963
Evans, Bruce 1963
Evans, Connie 1964
Evans, Constance C. 1963
Evans, J.O. 1963
Evans, Lynn 1978
Evans, Mark 1964
Evans, Melisa A. 1963
Evans, Richard C. 1976
Evans, Sandra 1963
Evans, Tela Kay 1963
Evans, Walter 1966
Eyster, Louise 1965
Fair, Calvin E. 1975
Falk, Darl V. 1982
Fields, Ben J. 1968
Fields, Elaine G. 1967
Fields, Joanna 1968
Fields, Lauren 1968
Fike, Cris 1971
Firestone, Barry L. 1967
Fisher, Pat 1969
Fiske, Cris 1971
Fletcher, Abbie T. 1970
Fletcher, Eddie 1974
Fletcher, Louis (Dub) 1970
Flewellen, Sid R. 1971
Flynn, Valery 1988
Fountain, John 1967
Frank, Anita 1983
Frank, Jerry 1983
Franklin, Mrs. L. 1965
French, Mary 1978
Freshney, Pam 1978
Frutiger, Enrique 1973
Fujisaki, Kuniko 1985
Fuselier, Francis 1963
Fuselier, Kay 1965
Galland, Jr., O.J. 1974
Galland, Jr., Mary 1974
Gallison, Melisa 1980
Galloway, Eleanor 1978
Galloway, Eva L. 1978
Galloway, Kuniko F. 1978
Gasperece, Greg 1982
Gates, Pamela 1973
Gatipon, Betty 1981
Gauthier, M.P. 1973
Glenn, Geri 1965
Glenn, Helen 1963
Glenn, Janet W. 1965
Glenn, John C. 1963
Glenn, Kathryn 1963
Glenn, Linda 1963
Golsby, Marsanne 1981
Gomez, Allen 1981
Gonzales, Donald 1982
Graham, Alton 1979
Graham, Dona Ann 1963
Grantham, Dorothy 1973
Gray, Sid 1983
Green, Norman M. 1972
Greer, Keith 1978
Griffin, Sonia 1991
Guarino, Annrose 1981
Guarisco, Elizabeth C.1979
Guarisco, III, David 1979
Guidroz, Peggy 1987
Gunter, Deborah K. 1980
Hagler, Roger 1963
Hall, Cindy 1967
Hall, Marion 1966
Hall, Milton C. 1967
Hall, Mrs. Marion 1966
Hall, Patricia A. 1967
Harbuck, Don 1964
Harloff, Amy 1978
Harloff, Bob 1978
Harrell, Ingrid 1982
Harrell, Regina 1975
Harris, Mary 1983
Hartung, Joe 1980
Harvard, Lillian 1982
Harvey, Pat D. 1965
Harvey, William T. 1965
Hatchell, Dayle 1972
Hatchell, Julie 1972
Hatchell, Lois 1972
Haug, William A. 1976
Hawkins, Carolyn J. 1967
Hawkins, Don Ray 1967
Hawkins, Fred 1967
Hawkins, Harold L. 1967
Hawkins, James A. 1967
Hawkins, Margaret 1967
Hayworth, Beth 1965
Hearn, Robert J. 1972
Hebert, Cammie 1983
Herrin, J.C. 1966
Hershey, Katharine C. 1967
Herthum, Laverne 1975
Hester, Nancy, 1981
Hickcox, Lorena 1972
Hickcox, Tom 1972
Hill, Janet 1963
Hill, Richard 1963
Hill, Sam Jr. 1967
Himbert, Heidi 1979
Hoback, Janet 1979
Hobart, Henry 1979
Hobart, Mrs. Henry 1979
Holley, MiMi 1977
Holmes, Izora 1963
Holmes, Keith 1963
Holmes, Ted 1963
Holmes, Teddy 1963
Hood, Marian M. 1981
Hopping, Michael E. 1972
Huggett, Richard 1982
Hughes, Suzanne 1969
Hughes, Vester 1971
Huot, Alan 1982
Huson, Roland T. 1979
Hutcheson, Ginny 1963
Hutcheson, Jere T. 1963
Hyde, Lavon C. 1980
Hyde, Robert H. 1979
Ice, Richard 1967
Ingwersen, Ginny 1968
Ingwersen, Kevin 1969
Ingwersen, Lee G. 1968
Isaac, Oneal 1992
Jackson, Phyllis 1981
Jackson, Rosemary 1978
Janssen, Lawrence 1967
Jenkins, Lee 1971
Jenkins, Maureen 1975
Jensen, David 1977
Jensen, Susan 1985
Joffrion, Linda 1982
Johnson, Bruce 1965
Johnson, Christine 1983
Johnson, Don 1963
Johnson, Duffy 1963
Johnson, Jeff 1965
Johnson, Leo Kevin 1981
Johnson, Nellie T. 1972
Jones, Arthur R. 1963
Jones, Carolyn 1971
Jones, Donna 1963
Jones, Joanna 1963
Jordan, Peggy 1988
Kahn, Joyce 1981
Kaiser, Jr., Cecil A. 1975
Kaiser, Mary Lyle 1975
Kaiser, Mary Lynda 1975
Kallies, Doris 1970
Kallies, Harry A 1970
Kansler, Connie 1980
Kenney, Rebecca R. 1972
King, Mary Lois 1963
King, Tom 1963
Kleine, John 1981
Klotz, Lee 1981
Kolar, Kathy 1973
Kolb, Anne Marie 1972
Kolb, Bruce L. 1968
Kolb, Larry 1969
Kriel, Janetta 1991
Lacour, Jr., John A. 1972
Lamb, Debbie 1963
Lamb, Jr., Charles E. 1963
Lamb, Natalie W. 1963
Lambert, Barbara 1979
Lambert, Fran 1979
Landry, Rebecca 1973
Lane, Pinky Gordan 1979
Langley, Marilyn 1978
Langston, Nova 1974
Lawrence, Bobbie G. 1967
Lawrence, Felton O. 1967
Lea, Iley F. 1973
Leach, Janis 1964
Leach, Jimmie 1964
Ledger, Clair 1979
Lee, Jean 1978
Lee, Rebecca 1975
Lee, Wilber H. "Bill" 1981
Lee, William H. 1982
Lesikar, Debbie R. 1978
Lethermon, Verdi 1982
Levy, Mark 1975
Levy, Shelley J. 1975
Lewis, David D. 1974
Lewis, Gwendolyn 1979
Liehe, Janet 1982
Lowe, Anita 1982
Luhtanen, Mark 1988
Magee, Betty 1968
Magee, W.Estus 1970
Mainard, Amy B. 1969
Mainard, Wesly 1969
Marabella, Diane 1973
Martin, Nell 1986
Martin, William 1986
Mascaro, David P. 1974
Mascaro, Kathy E. 1974
Mason, Betty 1964
Mason, David Jr. 1964
Mason, Paul 1964
Mayes, Cheryl F. 1982
Mayfield, Del 1986
McBroom, Martha 1967
McBroom, Paul J. 1967
McCain, Anne F. 1963
McCain, Ray 1963
McCright, Sue 1969
McDade, Claudia 1979
McElroy, Anita 1966
McElroy, Rodney 1966
McElwain, Dorothy 1976
McElwain, Mack 1976
McFadden, W. Ritch 1973
McGee, Noal F. 1968
McGee, Sara J. 1968
McKee, Barney 1967
McKee, Gwen 1967
McKelroy, Anita 1963
McKelroy, Rodney 1963
McKinney, Ray Jr. 1979
McLehany, Ilda 1970
McMahon, Aithel 1965
Mechana, Al 1983
Mechana, Fran 1983
Metz, F.Eugene 1965
Metz, Mary 1965
Meyers, Ben 1981
Michiels, Bettye 1964
Michiels, Jan 1964
Michiels, Mrs. Ray V.1964
Michiels, Vic 1964
Mickelborough, Gene 1972
Mickelborough, R. 972
Middleton, Anne 1967
Middleton, David 1967
Miksa, Fran 1973
Miksa, Mary S. 1974
Miles, Mary Ann 1967
Miley, Truett 1978
Miley, Wayne 1972
Miller, III, George R. 1978
Miller, Tobey L. 1981
Mills, George E. 1986
Mills, Yvonne 1981
Montestruc, Alice 1979
Montestruc, Frances 1973
Moore, Judy 1976
Moreland, Allison 1963
Moreland, Amy 1963
Moreland, Joe A. 1963
Moreland, Joyce J. 1963
Moreland, Ricky 1963
Moreno, Patience P. 1969
Morgan, Betty 1964
Morgan, Donald 1964
Morgan, O. Pat 1964
Morgan, Sharon 1964
Morgan, Sue 1964
Morgan, Wendy 1978
Mosley, Ruth 1982
Murray, Kenneth C. 1965
Mydans, Misty 1973
Neely, Joel 1991
Neely, Mona 1978
Nelson, Rick 1977
Nelson, Rosemary G. 1977
Nesbit, Ann 1983
Nesbit, Wally 1983
Nolan , Fran 1968
Nolan, kathleen J. 1982
Noonan, Bob 1981
O'Brian, Deborah 1977
O'Bryan, Paul A. 1977
O'Donnell, Nora J. 1977
Odom, Ava D. 1971
Oliver, Hoyt 1979
Oliver, James M. 1965
Oliver, Julie S. 1965
Oliver, Mrs. James 1963
Olliff, Debbie L. 1972
Olmsted, John M. 1970
Olmsted, Sondra Sue 1970
Olson, Kris 1980
Owens, Lee J. 1980
Owens, Shirley 1983
Owens, Susan 1975
Parker, Ila 1967
Parker, Paul T. 1966
Parrish, Walter 1986
Patrick, Nellie 1976
Patrick, Pat 1979
Patterson, Barbara 1963
Patterson, Gary 1963
Patton, Mike 1980
Payne, Steve 1965
Pearlman, Lynn 1973
Pearlman, William 1974
Pell, John 1974
Penton, Shirley M. 1977
Perkins, C.J. 1967
Perkins, Gwen 1967
Perkins, Karen 1964
Perkins, Kathleen 1992
Perkins, Sue 1964
Perkins, Tom 1964
Peters, Kristin R. 1982
Phelps, Dale A. 1968
Phillips, Ben 1965
Phillips, Billie Claire 1963
Phillips, Louis M. 1965
Phillips, Tom F. 1963
Phillips, Tom Bryan 1963
Pickering, Paula 1975
Pine, Ginger 1982
Pitts, Patsy 1974
Platt, Ann E. 1967
Platt, Ann S. Sr. 1971
Platt, Ann D. 1963
Platt, Georgia Ann 1964
Platt, Jr., George S. 1963
Platt, Steven 1963
Plieque, Ann 1981
Poche, Charles 1982
Poche , Marilyn L. 1978
Poleynard, Robin 1982
Politzer, Robert B. 1975
Porter, Michael 1969
Potts, Hal 1967
Potts, Jody 1967
Prince, Pat 1988
Purcell, Elizabeth 1965
Rainey, Carrie 1964
Rayburn, Randy 1981
Readinger, Elizabeth 1979
Readinger, Karen 1979
Reed, Joyce E. 1972
Reed, Shelby 1974
Reifel, Mary Lou 1988
Rester, Austin 1982
Rich, Joe A. 1968
Rich, Laurie 1968
Rich, Mellie H. 1968
Riche, Skip 1972
Richie, Michael 1970
Riley, Lou 1991
Riner, Ruth 1980
Roach, Anne 1971
Roberts, Jesse 1965
Roberts, Louise K. 1972
Roberts, Mrs. Jesse 1965
Robertson, Carol Lee 1963
Robertson, Ken, Jr. 1963
Robertson, Kenneth 1963
Robertson, Leslie Ann1963
Robertson, Marius 1982
Robinson, Marius 1982
Rochell, Joyce 1986
Rodda, Joy 1975
Rodda, Mike 1975
Rogers, Barbara A. 1967
Rogers, Claire 1963
Rogers, Debbie 1964
Rogers, Edith B. 1964
Rogers, Elgie 1965
Rogers, John D. 1967
Ross, Bill 1966
Ross, Sheila 1966
Roussos, Bettye 1987
Rovena, Mary D. 1975
Rovena, Mike 1975
Rovena, Shawn 1978
Royder, Carolyn 1964
Royder, Tom 1964
Ruckstuhl, Julie 1982
Ruffin, Ineatha 1983
Ruiz, Levon C. 1979
Saboe, Lois 1981
Sanchez, Gayla 1973
Savario, Mike 1983
Saxon, Gail W. 1973
Saxon, John R. 1973
Scarborough, Robert 1972
Schafer, Jimmie G. 1989
Scheffler, Astrid 1982
Schirmer, Roland 1972
Schledt, Karl H. 1980
Schluntz, Sally 1983
Schmidt, Betty 1982
Schmidt, Erin L. 1970
Schmidt, Janice 1970
Schulte, Marian 1984
Schutz, Sally 1983
Sechrest, Charles 1982
See, Elaine G. 1985
Shaffer, Jimmie 1988
Shanlever, James D. 1969
Shanlever, Sharon 1969
Sharp, William F. 1979
Simmons, Michael 1972
Simon, Dorothy M. 1979
Simon, Paul 1980
Sims, Judy T. 1974
Sims, Mark S. 1970
Sklar, Deanna 1982
Slack, John R. 1965
Sledge, Glenda 1969
Sledge, L.D. 1969
Small, Kathy 1973
Smith, Betty 1969
Smith, Catherine 1963
Smith , Cathy 1984
Smith, Dean 1977
Smith, Jan 1975
Smith, Kelly 1977
Smith, Marcus 1980
Smith, Mardel 1980
Smith, Mary Lyle 1975
Smith , Sandra 1981
Smith, Stacey 1963
Smith, Vernon 1988
Smith , Walter 1984
Smith, William C. 1963
Snider, Bill 1963
Snider, Judi 1963
Snider, Martha 1963
Snider, William Roy 1963
Sobotha, Karen R. 1979
Spayde, Danna S. 1978
Spears, Leonard 1973
Spears, Myra P. 1972
Speir, Karen 1982
Speir, Tony 1983
Spellman, Tara 1992
Spohrer, Kathy 1978
Spohrer, Mary 1974
Spruell, Leslie 1983
Stair, Patience 1969
Stark, Mike 1967
Steadman, Wayne 1978
Stegall, Joel R. 1967
Stegall, Ruth Ellen 1967
Stevens, Charles 1973
Stewart, F. Michael 1980
Stewart, Frank A. 1970
Stewart, Sherry 1973
Stigall, Tommy 1963
Stiglets, Billie Jean 1967
Stiglets, John P. 1967
Stoltzfus, Ila 1975
Stoltzfus, Neal 1974
Stotler, Sandra Lynn 1967
Strickland, Carlton D.1965
Strickland, Gayle 1978
Strickland, Mary Ann 1965
Strickland, Susan 1981
Sullivan, Angie 1986
Sullizan, Dianne M. 1982
Sutton, Maureen 1986
Swint, Don 1975
Swint, Tilda 1982
Tamas, Jacqueline 1974
Temple, Pat 1980
Templeton, James 1968
Territo, Jan E. 1976
Theisen, Maribeth 1972
Theriot, Linda 1981
Theriot, Mary Ethel 1967
Theriot, Michael 1967
Thevenot, Jerry 1969
Thevenot, Judy D. 1980
Thevenot, Marvin 1969
Thevenot, Mary 1969
Thevenot, Pat 1969
Thevenot, Richard C. 1969
Thevenot, Ronald G. 1969
Thibadeaux, Barry 1978
Thomas, Gwendolyn 1979
Thomas, Louis O. 1970
Thomason, Rosemary 1971
Thompson, Janet Y. 1964
Thompson, John 1963
Thompson, Lydia 1963
Thompson, Marilyn 1963
Thompson, Pat T. 1980
Thompson, Paul 1985
Thompson, Ruth F. 1971
Thompson, Ruth 1963
Thompson, Warren S. 1963
Thompson, Yvonne 1965
Thomson, Stuart R. 1981
Thorning, Glenn J. 1973
Thorning, Pamela 1979
Thyssen, Doris E. 1984
Thyssen, Theodore M.1984
Toms, Janet E. 1965
Toms, Jay Owen 1973
Toms, Jeff 1973
Toms, Larry 1965
Toms, Scott 1974
Townsend, Cliff 1964
Townsend, June 1963
Townsend, Ruby 1965
Trahan, Rose M. 1991
Truex, Duane P. 1974
Truex, Vada 1975
Truluck, Jane 1969
Truluck, Mack A. 1977
Truluck, Sharon 1977
Tull, Fairly 1972
Turner, Barbara 1982
Ulmer, Lodi 1963
Ulmer, Roger 1963
Van Scoy, Pat 1969
Vann, Frances 1972
Vann, Frank A. 1972
Vidrine, Blue Belle 1963
Vidrine, Marshall R. 1963
Vidrine, Martha 1980
Vince, Mellie 1974
Vining, Carol Lea 1963
Vining, James 1979
Vining, Mary 1979
Vining, Varina 1968
Vrell, Edwin Lee 1975
Wakefield, Ethel 1969
Walker, Kelso 1963
Wall, Laverne S. 1973
Ware, W. David 1975
Warren, Kay 1963
Warren, Robert C. 1963
Watkins, Charlotte 1963
Watkins, James 1963
Watson, Bettie M. 1974
Watson, Martha 1973
Watson, Patricia 1982
Watson, Richard E. 1978
Webb, Lucy 1980
Weber, Diana 1982
Weems, Jay 1967
Wells, John 1982
Wells, Michaela V. 1976
Welsh, Jeff 1981
Werner, Sue Belle 1963
Wesley, Gigi 1983
Wesley, Josie 1970
Wesley, Lee 1970
Wesley, R.J. 1983
Wesley, Ronald 1985
Westerman, Robert D.1969
Westerman, Sue 1969
Westmoreland, Tom 1967
Wheeler, Jean 1974
Whitaker, John 1974
Whitaker, Sylvia 1974
White, Durene 1970
White, Joann 1977
White, Richard W. 1970
Whitehead, Carla Kay1963
Whitehead, Carlton 1963
Whitehead, Holly 1970
Whitehead, Katherine 1978
Whitehead, Kay 1963
Whitehead, Sandra S. 1966
Whitmeyer, Audrey 1965
Whitmeyer, Fred M. 1963
Whittington, Dee 1970
Wilkinson, Brian 1986
Wilkinson, Susan 1986
Willhoite, Fred 1965
Willhoite, Lois 1965
Williams, Doyle 1965
Williams, Geri 1973
Williams, Lynn 1976
Williams, Ron 1978
Williamson, Ginger 1978
Williamson Jr., Sam E.1978
Williamson , Mac Tavish1982
Wilson, Diane B. 1973
Wilson, Evna E. 1979
Wilson, Mrs. Howard C.1976
Wilson, Stephen 1973
Wilson, Tara 1987
Wolfe, Michael 1978
Wood, Peggy R. 1967
Wood, Risdon S. 1967
Wood, Tania 1984
Woodham, Guy Rex 1965
Woodruff, Charles B. 1974
Woodruff, Linda K. 1974
Yeates, Peggy 1970
Yeates, Phil 1970
Zinn, Bob 1979
Zufall, Gretchen 1973
1963: April; Organizational meeting
July; First meeting of Executive Board
October; Rejected as member of Judson Baptist Association, Baton Rouge
1964: February; Accepted as member of American Baptist Churches, USA
September; Question of re-application to Judson Baptist Association voted down: 5-2
November; Purchased property at 136 South Acadian
1965: January; Held national Church in the World Conference
May; Meeting of Executive Board, combining Diaconate, Activities Council, & Cabinet
October; Judson Baptist Association again refused to accept Fellowship Church
1966: April; Published first collection of poems, Of One and Many
July; Pastor was recalled for 3 more years (vote,19-5 to recall)
August; Request was made to begin fee structure for Special Ministries
1967: February; Pastor became Church Moderator
September; Inquisitorial Chamber begun
December; House Church meetings started, 85% of members participating
1968: February; Received scupture from Frank Hayden, Southern University
July; Father Elmer Powell, St. Paul Apostle Church, preached
1969: June; Now Theology first published
July; Auditorium improvement begun
September; Mighty Fellowship Art Players organized
1970: January; Harold Hawkins became Assistant Minister
July; Special Ministries fees established
September; Salvation Courses inagurated
1971: March; Purchased house at 158 S. Acadian
October; Political Action Forums held
December; Certain Days Are Islands published
1972: March; Sponsored 2nd Annual Convention of American Baptist Churches of South
August; Church featured on tape Religion in the South
October; Published contribution records of members as "Honor Roll"
1973: February; Crisis meeting on money and work needs
March; Made all Special Ministries on fee basis rather than for "services to church"
September; Reorganized to have Trustees, Diaconate, and Activities Council
1974: March; Chrysalis Coffee House begun
October; Left committees intact but decided to handle all functions at business meeting
1975: October; Spiritual Milestones sermons preached
Published Experiments In Church
1976: Fellowship Ministry Press organized
Published Milestones: Guidelines For The Way
1977: Published: In No Fancy Words, Who Am I?, and, How It Is For Me.
Tempe Crosby's Sea Shells In Pairs also published
Church joined Louisiana Interchurch Conference
1978: Sermons on Human Odyssey first preached
Published: Questings, and, Jesus: Man For All Time
1979: Made last payment on $25,000 loan for church property
Serious effort to confront membership responsibilities
Published: Human Odyssey and Being Close
1980: Began FELLOWSHIP COOPERATIVE and FELLOWSHIP RETREAT CENTER
ublished: I Love The Sea and Quickies For Singles
1981: Leased land for FELLOWSHIP COMMUNITY AND RETREAT CENTER at Saline
Building improvements made for $16,000
1982: Minister announced separation from his wife in preparation for divorce
Serious conflicts in church developed
Extensive reorganization plans were initiated, including member responsibilities
1983: New membership requirements approved; Sign-In for church services was begun
Minister married Anita Lowe
Published: It's Not Fair
1984: Financial condition deteriorated; Sale/lease back of property placed $120,000 in account
Membership requirements suspended
1985: GROWTH CENTER begun
Faced "greatest crisis in 22 year history"
1986: FELLOWSHIP COMMUNITY, a committed core group was begun within the church
Financial crisis continued
Began Contracts With Minister during Fall Commitment
1987: Reached end of '84 monies
Dropped all fees except for Special Ministries
1988: Began Almost Anything Goes discussion groups
Video Tape Program inagurated
1989: The Man/Woman Book published by Quail Ridge Press
Began renting building to Baton Rouge International Folk Dancers
1990: Hired public relations person to publicize minister's services and church
1991: Established minimum pledge of $75/month for active members
1992: Church property put up for sale; house church meetings begun
1993: Newsletter discontinued
DREAM OF FELLOWSHIP
Although its corporate existence began in 1963, Fellowship history reaches back some thirty years into my dreams. I was born in the church--almost literally. My regular attendance began when I was two weeks old. Since that time, I can count on one hand the Sundays I have missed, barring illness.
I grew up in the church. Most of the significant events of my childhood were either in, around, or because of the church. In the community where I spent my first seventeen years, the church was the dominant influence. Even school took second place when there was a conflict of interest, such as activities on prayer meeting night. Town functions and ordinances were all subject to church scrutiny, since the mayor was also a deacon. The beliefs and practices of this single church permeated the ethos of the town. Persons outside the church were viewed as "lost." They were all potential converts.
My social life revolved around the church. It gave our parties, planned our camping trips, and sponsored our scout troop. Its regular activities provided the structure for my time. Both where we went and what we did were fitted to the schedule and approval of the church. The church gave me direction in life and recognition when 1 followed its course--which I almost always did.
There I met the girls I dated. And there I took them on dates. My courting was mostly at, or on the way home from, church activities. There I learned to sing, to speak before others, and to think about ultimate matters. I exercised my mind in memorizing Bible verses. I was rewarded for reciting them. I received approval for playing the guitar and trombone. At church camps I learned to swim, dive, meet people, organize programs, and discover myself.
My significant emotional experiences were related to the church. There I was converted. There I cried. There I rejoiced. In the church I found adults who saw me as more than " just a kid." For whatever their reasons, they treated me like somebody. What I thought, said, and did, seemed to matter to them. It would be difficult to overestimate the significance and influence of the church in my early lie.
I left home to pursue an education in the field of engineering. Yet even in college the church remained central in my life. My personal activities were focused in the church. I was never far from its long shadow.
Army life following graduation, though certainly not inherently religious, never took me far from the doors or influence of the church. My religious ties became even stronger in this period when they are traditionally diminished or broken. It was during this time that I was called to the ministry.
Now, to say that I grew up in the church is not to say that I was blinded to its' flaws. At first assuming it to be perfect, I soon became aware of the gap between what the church is and what it is supposed to be. I saw hypocrisy. I recognized discrepancies between what church people appeared to be and what they often were. I knew that those who talked of love were often unloving. I realized that those trying to save others were often lost themselves.
Somewhere in the painful course of these realizations and disillusionments, a dream was born in the recesses of my mind. I had a vision of a church without hypocrisy and double standards. I dreamed of a community of people who were open, honest, and caring. I saw a church where people were being saved, instead of learning to pretend. I imagined a body of folk who took Jesus literally when he said, "The kingdom has come," and, "behold, the kingdom is within you." I dreamed of heaven on earth instead of only in the sky after you die.
I imagined a body of people who were acceptive rather than rejective, who were humble sinners-being-saved, rather than self-righteous saints who had arrived. I dreamed of a loving community where beliefs did not divide and legalism was not king. In brief, I dreamed of a church which was what I had imagined church to be in the days of my early innocency. When I was called to the ministry, my call was to my dream, not to the existing institution as it was. I was called to the church ideal, rather than the familiar organization on the corner of Main Street.
After the army, I entered the seminary to educate myself in the ways of professional church. I went to learn how to minister. At that time, I perceived the most accessible avenue to my secret dream to be through the door of working with youth. I thought the young would be most open to the sharing of my vision. I, therefore, accepted my first assignment as youth director in a five-thousand member church. Soon I learned that activity and programs based on old premises were inadequate. Re-education was needed. So I shifted my course and became director of education.
For a time, this seemed to be the most productive route to the fulfillment of the dream. Again, however, reality crowded in. I realized that the necessary type of education was too often unacceptable, inappropriate, or impossible, within the existing structures of the church. Recognizing the greater freedom of a pastor in shaping a local program as he wished, I determined to move in this direction. Leaving the educational field, I became pastor of a young, liberal, university church. With the freedom to shape both the program and preaching, I proceeded with due haste toward the activation of the dream.
Soon I recognized, however, that even in a liberal church many members were not only uninterested but also resistant to change in the structures they had known. Respecting their rights, I attempted a dual ministry within the one church. I organized programs which were pointed toward the activation of my dream, and continued traditional ministries as well. By alternating leadership with my assistant minister, I was able to successfully maintain the dual effort for some time.
Eventually, however, tensions developed between the old and the new. Those involved in the embryonic dream-church resisted the traditional structures. In turn, the more conservative members opposed the liberal activities. Perhaps an eventual harmony might have developed if the racial issue had not been posited into the scene. Yet it was.
With court-ordered integration, the members could hardly avoid coming to grips with this immediate issue. The polarization already at work was magnified in the church. Liberal members wanted to stand behind integration. Conservative members resisted the change. war developed.
Again, I faced a decision. I realized that the pursuit of my dream would be impossible until the fighting could stopped, peace developed, and deep wounds could be healed. I agonized over my responsibility to this particular group of people and my dedication to a deeper dream. I weighed the prospects of making peace and rebuilding, against the possibilities of starting anew.
Certainly I preferred to pursue the dream within the security of an established church. Yet I did not know if this was possible. Would the old always squelch the new? Was it true that old wineskins can never contain new wine? If the racial issue had not been thrust upon us, would the division have come anyway?
Obviously a dual ministry to the dream and the establishment meant a division of my time, even if there had been no conflict. If I left the establishment I would leave its security, yet I would be free to devote myself fully to the dream. But could such a church exist and sustain itself in the real world? I did not know. I had never seen one. To be sure, it would be radically different from any church I had known before. Perhaps my vision was a pipe dream, possible only in my head.
Yet, I thought not. I believed my dream was valid. If it were or were not, I would never know until I tried with all my efforts. A half-try which failed in the established church would only prove that half enough is not enough.
Against this backdrop of indecision there were some who wanted to start anew, and others who certainly wished I would go--anywhere. Finally, out of the milieu of factors I reached a decision. I would pursue the dream. I resigned my pastorate.
Now it was sink or swim.
I would follow my dream.
MY MOMENT OF TRUTH
I hover today on my moment of truth;
that precarious instant in the process of life
where temporal destiny totters
on the frail thread of human choice;
where the unlived future cries out
through the pangs of a labored birth.
I hover today on my moment of truth,
that timeless point in existence,
where decades yet unborn shall return
in tomorrow-years and ponder through sleepless nights
the wisdom of the choice I now make.
Nor will they, 'neath the hoary hairs of experience,
be able to affirm with unquestioned conviction
whether I chose aright or fell prey to wrong,
for they, through their years,
will recall the trauma of decision.
They will view again the shadowy vision which is now mine.
Through memory's eyes they will see the foreground;
cluttered with the forms and props of an older age,
the once vital structures, bulwarks of safety,
still standing--but sterile and cold, filled with people
rushing hither and yon, seeking they know not what.
An atomic-aged people,
seeking radiation protection in forms built
to stave off stones and arrows.
A jet-aged people,
asking radar questions of a sunbonnet theology
and receiving repetitious evolution-aged answers.
A lost people, seeking meaning to a crowded loneliness
in an organized society of washing machines, blue laws, rhinestones.
A sad people, laughing, worrying, becoming more religious, filling more churches
while raping more and loving less.
And they will see again the graying forms
magnificently arrayed in ivy-covered tradition,
gloriously testifying of their steadfastness in an unsteady age;
oratorically proclaiming an unchanging truth
in a changing form;
valiantly but vainly trying to promulgate
an eternal message--cloaked in dying cultural robes.
These they will see--even as I do now.
And again, their hearts will be pricked
as they reach out with me to this crying, lonely people,
through the forms of an older age,
and realize the pain of failure
when the truth is unable to pierce the form.
And with sympathetic understanding they will know my deep desire
to fall in line with my brothers of the cloth,
to march arm in arm "like a mighty army,"
strengthened by their support,
comforted by their sympathy, and secure with the approval
of those who have followed the "higher calling."
With the amused detachment of the backward look,
they will see me now--hovering, hovering
between the clear-cut possibility of elevated status,
midst the graying, traditional forms.
And on the other hand, the shadowy vision of the
traditionally religious followers crying out
in the unspoken voices of the heart: "Is there no more than this?"
And as I hear them now
in the deep recesses of my own soul, I know
that my decision is already made.
Perhaps in the sleeplessness of long nights ahead
I shall ponder my path and long for my brother's approval,
but I shall arise in the morn and go forth
seeking--seeking to answer the heart's cry
through whatever form I may discover--always remembering
MY MOMENT OF TRUTH
HISTORY BY THE YEAR
On the night of April 28, a group of eighteen people met with me in my home to consider forming a new church. Those present included Bill and Nancy Beard, Tom Stegall, Roger and Lodi Ulmer, George Platt, Joe Durrett, Tom King, Gary and Barbara Patterson, James Watkins, Joe and Joyce Moreland, Warren Thompson, Carter Chambers, Blue Bell Vidrine, John Glenn, and Duffy Johnson.
The decision to proceed was reached and organizational meetings were held on two Saturdays in May. By the 25th, fifty adults had signed requests for provisional membership. Thirty persons had pledged nine hundred dollars a month; Three, eight-session, orientation courses were started on Sunday mornings, Monday afternoons, and Wednesday evenings. Growth groups were initiated and private counseling sessions scheduled. John Glenn, assisted by James Watkins and Donna Jones, started planning an educational program. Warren Thompson was appointed temporary moderator along with other temporary leaders; All these meetings were held in the homes of interested persons.
The name, Fellowship Baptist Church, was selected and later approved by the Secretary of State. A charter was developed. On May 28, for $140, the new church made its first purchase of two used desks, two chairs, and a typewriter. I was paid $408.30 on June 1. Appropriately the Fellowship next purchased a large coffee pot.
By June 6, four children's classes for various ages were scheduled in different homes on Sunday mornings. Four growth groups, limited to eight adults each, were filling up. My counseling schedule had two vacancies left. Adult classes, also meeting in different homes, were scheduled on Contemporary Religions, Introduction to Theology, Introduction to the Bible, and Introduction to Church History--led by John Glenn, Dick Hill, Ray McCain, and James Watkins. Fellowship occasions were coordinated by Nat Lamb. Pledging reached $1,084.00 a month. The second newsletter closed with these words:
The growth of a true fellowship in Christ, a real church, is not automatic with organizing activities. If this group is to become more than any other organization it will be because the individuals involved personally allow it to be so. Activities may engage you, but only your personal choice will allow real fellowship to come to be.
That choice is yours. May it be so.
On June 25, a lengthy charter setting out purposes, procedures, and membership requirements was filed with the Secretary of State. With four children's groups, there orientation sessions, four adult classes, and growth groups, all meeting in different houses each week, someone said, We meet ourselves coming and going.
The first Executive Board, meeting on July 1 with all eleven members present, decided to rent a house at 954 Highland Park Drive, for $75/month, and to purchase chairs for up to $200. Contributions to date had reached $2,132. A general church meeting was planned for the last week in July to discuss and vote on the charter, the pastor, and to elect permanent officers.
During July, the 8 orientation sessions on the subjects: Introduction to Church, Meaning of Church, Salvation and Beliefs, Christianity and Life, Toward Understanding God, Revelation and the Bible, Structures of Fellowship, and Life of the Church, were completed. Sixty-eight persons had enrolled and 14 had completed all 8 sessions, becoming eligible for voting membership. On the 14th of July, at the first morning worship service, I preached on The Will of God.
On August 4, the Diaconate was formed with a senior deacon and senior deaconess. A library was started. At board meeting, Joe Moreland moved that a mimeograph machine be purchased "for as little as possible." With 40 ballots cast, the new church accepted the provisional charter, approved the appointed officers, and called me as temporary pastor until elections on April 1, 1964. In September a budget of $1,411/month was approved. Committees which had been studying baptism and church affiliations reported. This statement was approved:
Accepting believer's baptism as a symbolic experience of death and resurrection in Christ, (Romans 6), we baptize by immersion unless circumstances deem otherwise. Such decisions will be made by the membership committee. Members are accepted from other churches on statement of the meaningfulness of their baptism.
The search for suitable church property continued. In the meantime the church accepted an offer of the Unitarian Fellowship to sublease their facilities at 5803 Government Street for use at times not being used by them. Two services were scheduled on Sunday afternoons at 3:30 and 5:30 with adult education between.
The church voted to apply for admission in the Judson Baptist Association. At their annual meeting in October the association refused to accept Fellowship Church. Three reasons were given: "No permanent location; no adoption of 'the Articles of Faith'; and no adoption of the church covenant." By virtue of its contributions to the Cooperative Program the church was already considered a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. It proceeded to investigate dual-alignment with the American Baptist Convention, the Congregational Church, the Unitarian Church, and the United Church of Christ. As a result of these studies the Executive Board pursued the possibility of membership in the American Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ.
In December the first twenty-one voting members were officially approved. They were: John Glenn, Melvin Bellar, Ralph and Tempe Crosby, Joe and Jackie Durrett, Bruce and Ann Evans, Bill and Nancy Beard, Duffy Johnson, Warren and Marilyn Tompson, Billie Claire Phillips, George and Ann Platt, Ken Robertson, Joe and Joyce Moreland, and Ted and Izora Holmes.
Participating members included: Delphine Bellar, Carol Lee Robertson, June Townsend, Edith Rogers, Tom and Sue Perkins, Bob and Kay Warren. Supporting members were: Mr. and Mrs. Tom King, Tallahassee, FL.; Nancy Dunn, New Orleans, Bob Benton, New Orleans, Gary and Barbara Patterson, Rolla, MO., Aithel McMahon, Baton Rouge, and Mr. and Mrs. Larry Toms, Jonesboro, LA.
The year ended with thirty-one provisional members, six participating members, and twenty-two voting members, a total of fifty-nine resident, adult members. In addition, nine supporting members were listed. Total income for the 9 month period was $8,329.70. The church had assets of $714.74, including chairs, desks, and typewriter ($140), folding chairs ($162.74), a mimeograph machine (10 years old--$257.50), and a phonograph ($154.50).
In February of 1964, the church's application for membership in the American Baptist Convention was approved. The first official church elections were held in March. Warren Thompson was elected moderator along with the following members of the Executive Board: Ralph Crosby, John Glenn, Nat Lamb, Ann Evans, Mel Bellar, Duffy Johnson, and Joe Moreland. I was called as pastor for a three-year term.
In April the Fellowship Baptist Church Investment Association was formed as a way of raising money needed for church property and expansion. Investment shares were issued in twenty-dollar increments. By June, three hundred seven shares had been sold. Invitations from the Liberal Synagogue and St. John's Methodist Church to utilize their facilities were considered. It was decided to continue the search for permanent property. Dr. George Head, of the American Baptist Convention, visited the church in May.
In July, negotiations were begun to purchase the facilities of the First Christian Church at 136 South Acadian Throughway. Dr. Jitsuo Morikawa and Mr. Martin England, of the American Baptist Convention, visited the church in August. Building negotiations continued; a $35,000.00 loan request from the American Baptist Extension Corporation was approved; and the property and facilities were purchased for $36,000.00. The first services in the new building were held on September 6, 1964.
John Glenn replaced Warren Thompson as moderator September. A motion to reapply to Judson Baptist Association for membership was defeated five to two. Organizational changes were made, involving establishing several new committees including Political Action and Social Service committees. A decision was made to sponsor a Church in the World Conference, focusing on the extremely tense racial situation in the south.
The Church in the World Conference, held January 25 through January 27, proved to be an exciting event. Some one hundred twenty-five persons from Florida, New York, California, and points between, gathered to discuss, listen, and ponder ideas about the role of the church in our society. Dr. Carlyle Marney was the featured speaker. Other addresses and testimonies were given by Dr. Robert Soileau, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Dr. Fred Willhoite, Jr., Government Department, L.S.U.; Dr. Robert Otto, Philosophy Department, Mercer University; Dr. Lewis White, Southern University; Miss Elizabeth Miller, American Baptist Convention; four pastors--Charles McCullin, Baton Rouge, Clay Lee, Philadelphia, MS, Jerry Chance, Bogalousa, LA, and Robert Collie, Kentwood, LA, who had been involved in racial tensions in local churches in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Perhaps the most significant element in the conference was the fact that both white and black persons concerned with segregation in the churches of the sough met together to face a divisive issue. Restaurant and local hotel accommodations for black participants involved some tension. Reported members of the Klu Klux Klan were noted taking down license plate numbers of those attending sessions. A full-page report was later given in The Christian Century, a national publication.
In February, an orientation team from the American Baptist Convention, headed by the Rev. LeRoy Cunningham, visited the church. A dance group, bridge class, and art class were started. the tape library was also initiated.
The Baton Rouge Human Relations Council met with the church in March. I was currently serving as chairman. Women of the church held a retreat. Rabbi Marvin Rezenikoff was guest speaker at a Sunday service. Dr. Kenneth Cober, Director of the Board of Education and Publications of the American Baptist Convention, visited the church.
In April, Joe Durrett was elected as moderator. Poetry and art contests were held, and the men went on retreat. May featured a family retreat, the initiation of growth groups for children and continuation of the church orientation sessions. Serious money problems were developing. My raise was not given and the secretary was not paid.
During the summer the church held a retreat with the Baytown group. Helen Glenn started a junior art class. Tape mailing was organized; auditorium pews were slanted so members could see one another; the dance group continued to meet. Membership requirements were changed so that growth group or counseling were no longer required for voting membership. The church voted 19 to 1 to reapply for membership in the Judson Baptist Association. I attended a six-week session at Union Seminary in New York.
September brought the formation of a drama group and the reorganization of the youth choir. Adult orientation sessions were begun again. A seminar on children was held. Adult classes on: World Religions, Man in the Modern World, Martin Luther: his Life and Theology, contemporary Theology, and Contemporary Literature, were begun. A creative writing group was formed; another family retreat was held; and a square dance was arranged in the fellowship hall.
The Judson Baptist Mission's Committee refused to present the church's request for membership at the annual session because it had not been received eight weeks before the meeting as required (It was only six weeks early).
Serious financial shortages forced consideration of cutting the minister's and the secretary's salaries. After a meeting, which adjourned at midnight, an all-church meeting was called. A proportionate giving plan was developed.
In November, Mr. DeWitt Bateman was ordained to the ministry by the church. An art exhibit was held. Dr. Dale Moody of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary spoke to the group. A Fellowship family album of biographical data on members was started. A youth drama group was started. I led a Church Renewal Conference Retreat in Palestine, Texas, for ministers from Texas and Louisiana. The year was climaxed by a Christmas family party and the traditional New Year's Eve dance.
Existential Philosophy and Historical Background of the New Testament were the subjects of new adult classed begun in January. A church service featured creative expressions from the group. Orientation sessions were started again. A new church sign was erected.
In March, Women of the Church retreated, and Mr. J.C. Herrin, Assistant General Secretary of the American Baptist Convention visited the church. April brought the publication of the church's first collection of poems, entitled, Of One and Many.
The Head Start program for underprivileged children was being inaugurated in Baton Rouge. Because meeting places were difficult to secure (because the program was racially integrated), the church voted to offer its facilities. A family retreat was followed by a men's retreat. A couple's growth group was started and Joe Durrett was re-elected for a second term as moderator. Affiliation with the United Church of Christ was again explored.
A youth-talk-back on What I Don't Like About Adults, church services featuring Spoon River Anthology and Death of a Salesman, and an evening of free-style jazz and poetry reading came in May. In June, I was recalled for a second three-year term as pastor. A re-commitment service for voting and participating members, an Agape Meal, communion service, and baptism were held.
Ralph Crosby was elected moderator in July. An art seminar featuring Frank Hayden and Van Chambers of Southern University was held. A rock music performance and a seminar on Psychology and Religion led by Dr. John Stabler, L.S.U., rounded out the month. The church voted deep appreciation to Mrs. Duffy Johnson for three years and two months of secretarial service, mostly without pay.
Summer brought some 75 children of all faiths, colors, and backgrounds to the building for the Head Start Program. A near accident was reported on Acadian Throughway when a driver turned to watch a Catholic nun sweeping the sidewalk in front of a Baptist church. Sister Maria, who headed the school, was to become a continuing friend of Fellowship Church.
Verbatim, a publication of the writing group, made its first appearance in September. The church voted to sponsor a mission group in Baytown, Texas, and established for the first time a fee schedule for private counseling and growth group ($10 for counseling, $5 for growth group). The fall seminar schedule included these topics: Philosophy of Religion, Religion and Psychotherapy, and the Philosophy of Art. Dr. Carl Berreckman of the L.S.U. Philosophy Department lectured. A square dance was held and orientation sessions were begun again.
October brought serious financial problems--again. I was notified that the church might not be able to pay my salary and was asked to consider outside, part-time work. The Baytown Fellowship was organized, a rock music group played for the church, and Dr. Armin Sheler of the L.S.U. Fine Arts Department spoke. The church decided in November to drop the word, Baptist, from its official name. In its quest to become an ecumenical church, the designation was often misunderstood.
January activities included a concert at the Sunday service by Mr. Charles Walker, concert pianist, Southern University; a lecture by Mr. Wayne Shannon, L.S.U. Department of Government; the beginning of a course on Creative Encountering; a seminar on Racial issues of the Day; the inauguration of a weekly teen-time with the pastor, and a college-student open-discussion with the pastor.
A request to the American Baptist Convention for me to be appointed as a church extension pastor was approved. Under this provision the American Baptist Convention would contribute $200.00 per month toward my salary. The Executive Board also moved that the pastor assume the position of church moderator.
In February, Dr. Ralph Mason Dreger of the L.S.U. Psychology Department, spoke to the group. Ken Murray became Music Director; Joan Brydon, secretary; and Ann Platt set up a schedule for supervision of children over eight years of age during the worship service. Hymn books were purchased. A madrigal singing group was started. A room was made available to the B'aha'i group of Baton Rouge for March. Colonel Robert Emerson spoke on Extra-Sensory Perception and Dr. Paul Parker organized a group to pursue the study of psychic phenomenon. An open growth group was formed and a class on Situation Ethics started. New forms for worship were explored. Jim Templeton added to the spirit of worship with his consistently fitting piano improvisations.
A Christian Living Workshop was held in April. Classes included Studies in Ephesians, and Dialogue in Concerns. Discussions were led by a family counselor and Mr. Winborn Davis. A service organization was begun; Barbara Shade, drama coach from Southern University, taught Israel Folk Dancing.
Dorothy Bock became Fellowship Committee chairman and Nancy Beard, pianist. The summer program included a speech class, a modern dance and mime course, and an art course. Money problems developed again. George Platt became finance chairman.
In September, Joel Stegall became the church's first paid Music Director (fifty dollars a month); a class on Christianity and Communication was taught by Harold Hawkins. Fall saw the beginning of the Inquisitorial Chamber--a class for hearty souls willing to take a hard look at difficult subjects like immortality and afterlife--led by Paul Parker. Supporting member contribution requirements were set at ten dollars per month.
House-church meetings were begun in December. Eighty-five percent of members attended one or more. The church's second volume of poems, Who's Afraid of Being Adam?, was published. A recorder group from New Orleans, led by Carolyn Jones, performed during worship service. During the year forty new adults joined the church and thirteen left--a new increase of fifty-four percent.
Miss Marjorie Wilson, Educational Consultant from the American Baptist Convention visited in January. Organizational changes included uniting functions into the Diaconate. Harold Hawkins was the new chairman. Operation Biography, a book of information about members which was begun in 1965, was updated to include new members. House-churches continued; junior-high students studied Judaism. A dedication of babies was held.
In February the church accepted a large original sculpture from Frank Hayden of Southern University to be hung in the auditorium. Spring activities included meetings dealing with racial tensions in Baton Rouge, a communications workshop, church fishing trip, Agape Meal, a program on Church and Race, a church retreat, and the beginning of inter-racial house-church meetings.
Summer programming included a Jewish Passover Feast of Unleavened Bread, led by Rabbi Marvin Reznikoff; seminar on Child Development; seminar: Must Doctrines Divide, with Rev. Sam Allen, Louisiana Council of Churches, Father Elmer Powell, Catholic priest, Rabbi Reznikoff, and Dr. Evans; seminar: Problems of Real Integration, Mrs. Pat Miller, Louisiana Council on Human Relations, Mr. Harold Hawkins, Community Advancement, and Mrs. Georgia Dreger, Psychologist.
Father Elmer Powell, Negro pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, was pulpit guest. House-church focused on: Concerns of Singles, Facing Marital Problems, and Accepting Religious Doubts. Other activities were a family retreat, all-day picnic, family camping, group theater-going, men's fellowship, women's fellowship, bridge and ping-pong tournaments, a square dance, four inter-racial fellowships, and Sunday evening Agape meals.
Bruce Kolb became the new Music Director. The church was accepted as a member of the Louisiana State Council of Churches. Fall and winter programming included: Theological Studies led by the pastor; Exploring Mysticism, Dr. Paul Parker; and workshops on Learning to Listen, How Others See You, Clarifying Your Self-Image, Examining Your Values, Exploring Your Feelings, Examining Beliefs, Neurotic Guilt, Coping with Anger, Making Friends With Wants, Accepting Sexuality, Learning to think Worry, Anxiety and Depression, Being Dominant or Submissive, Dealing With Dependency, Sibling Relationships, Creative Rebellion, Marital Conflicts, and Facing Your Roles.
In November, a seminar on Existential Eschatology was held; a Lebanese love feast was enjoyed; work with the East Baton Rouge Parish Detention Home was started; a food service mission project was begun and the 12-week, basic theology seminar ended. American Baptist support to the pastor ended in December.
The year began with a children's dedication service and an adult seminar series on the Serious Game of Parenthood. In the Detention Home Mission Project, members met regularly with groups of five to six children assigned to them.
A class on Meaningful Bible Encounters was started. A group was formed for exploring Extra-Sensory Perception and mystical experiences, and a Jewish Passover supper was held. In April, Al Bankston became part-time, assistant minister at a salary of fifty dollars per month. Orientation sessions were started again, and the church faced the challenges of becoming an ecumenical fellowship. Twenty-two members were received by June.
A baby dedication, family retreat, and visit by Dr. Paul Brand, medical missionary, highlighted the Spring. A kindergarten directed by Mrs. Margaret Hawkins was started. During the summer Al Bankston and Harold Hawkins preached on two occasions. Pot luck suppers were held. Seminars focused on Arts in Responding.
To improve circumstances and versatility in worship arrangements, an auditorium improvement fund was started. Of $7,000.00 needed, some $1,500.00 was collected. Fall and winter programming included a Self-Understanding course for private study and theological studies on: Religious Language, Theology in Perspective, Process of Salvation, Who Goes to Church?, Toward Understanding God, and Bible In Perspective. These studies were the basis of what came to be called Now Theology; that is, a theology founded on the here and now, rather than on an afterlife. Other workshops were concerned with: Affirming a Person, Representing Yourself, Personal Defense, Purposive Communication, Meeting Criticism, Expressing Love, Love and Questions, and Responding to Rituals.
A group calling themselves, The Mighty Fellowship Art Players, presented a satire of Fellowship Church in November. Men went on a fishing trip; orientation sessions were held; and the Bayou Players from McNeese State College presented a play, White Lies, directed by Francis Fuselier.
Highlights of the year included an increase in local adult members; addition of the assistant minister; beginning a two-day children's program, a building improvement campaign, the Self- Understanding course with sixteen percent of members enrolled, thirty percent of members in growth groups and/or counseling, and explorations in the use of lighting, drama, and recorded music in worship.
Harold Hawkins was approved as the new assistant minister in January. A program of Drop-In Encounters with the minister was started. Members were invited to stop by and discuss matters pertinent to them. Joe Rich, finance chairman, reported that money problems were developing. The new budget was not being met. A flea-market sale was held to raise money. The pastor began a series of lectures on the theology of the church. In March, these lectures were mimeographed, bound into a volume entitled, Now Theology, and sold for $5.00 each. A mission project was promoted involving the International Hospitality Foundation work with foreign students at L.S.U. Women of Fellowship organized and held a gourmet dinner. The seminar subject was Sin, Sex, and Practicality. In April, Mrs. Ann LaFosse exhibited her art in the building. An article about Fellowship Church appeared in the American Baptist magazine.
Money problems mounted. The pastor proposed a system designed to strengthen financial structures. It included setting dues for directing members and charging fees for all special ministries, including counseling, growth groups, self-knowledge courses, workshops and other courses. An open discussion was held and the church finally made the painful decision to accept the proposal. Dues for directing members were set at ten dollars per month. Fees for special ministries were: workshops: $20; personal evaluations, $75; Self-Knowledge course, $100; growth groups, $10 per session; counseling, $15 per session. Persons who tithed were not expected to pay fees.
The house-church, Koinonia Times, was started at the building on Wednesday evenings. Dr. Valerion Smith presented music at a service. The tape ministry was expanded; approval was given to the formation of a Southern Region of the America Baptist Convention. New voting procedures, including ballots to directing members, were established. The Political Action Committee was activated.
The church faced a difficult decision when presented with a membership request from a black man who had never attended services and was then in jail accused of attempted murder. The premise of openness to all was tested as the church voted to accept him. Some members later withdrew from the church.
With full integration of the Baton Rouge school system due in the fall, and tensions high, the church voted to contact all churches about joining in issuing a public statement to the community urging cooperation. Letters were sent to two hundred sixty-five churches. Only five dollars and one hostile letter accusing the church of being communistic was received in reply. The Fellowship proceeded to place its own ad in the newspapers.
Summer activities included an art exhibit by Mary Ethel Theriot, a baby dedication, a forum on Sex Education in Public Schools, led by attorney Tommy Benton, and an art exhibit by the Aquarius Arts--a group of black artists. A Sunday worship program featured paintings, sculpture, and poetry.
The Reverend Toby Van Buren, Unitarian minister, was a pulpit guest. A service was presented by members on The Meaning of Marriage. Harold Hawkins resigned to become a Unitarian minister. Fall and winter workshops included these subjects: Understanding Salvation, Developing Sensitivity, Embracing Emotions, Learning to Be Rational, Accepting Sexuality, Being Responsible, Becoming Transcendent, Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen, Spiritual Defense, Accepting a Person, Representing Yourself, Dealing With Conflict, Making Marriage Creative, Living Single, and Responsible Parenthood. The Self-Knowledge course continued.
October brought a tightening of organizational procedures and the beginning of the Sermon Lab--a Sunday morning discussion of the previous week's sermon. George Platt was appointed as Diaconate chairman, Paul McBroom, activities council chairman, and Bob Westerman, trustees' chairman.
In November the church lost the use of a piano which had been on loan from Marshall Vidrine. A piano fund drive was started. Mission work was done with the Baton Rouge Council of Human Relations. A Christmas bazaar Was held in December. The year ended with twenty-one percent of members in growth groups, nineteen percent enrolled in Individual Salvation workshops, and eighteen percent enrolled in Salvation With Others workshops.
January activities included two dance classes for adults and children, redecorating of the library, expanding tape library, and mission work with Operation Upgrade--an adult literacy program. European supper was held in February. The Mighty Fellowship Art Players presented their annual satire of the church. Mission work included work with The Phone--a twenty-four-hour listening service for the community and international student work. Tempe Crosby became editor of the newsletter. A Yamaha piano was purchased for $795.00.
In March, the house at 158 South Acadian Throughway was purchased for $15,500.00, to be used as a children's building and nursery center. The Edward Albee play, The Zoo Story, was presented during worship. John Olmsted preached in April. Mission work involved food for a family of eight, work with returning prisoners from Angola, and anti-war discussions led by the Reverend Delton Pickering; a yoga class and parent's workshop were started. Five house-churches were meeting monthly.
May featured a creative writing worship service, drama group, family retreat, writing group, missions work with the Louisiana State Mental Health Center, providing a building for meetings of Recovery, Inc. (an organization for returned mental patients), the purchase of four air-conditioning units and installing a fence around the children's play yard.
Summer included a communion supper, loan of the building for a Tri-Parish Consortium of black and white parents discussing school problems, services led by Paul McBroom, and Barney and Gwen McKee, starting a nursery school, and the beginning of the Working Out Salvation courses on a private basis.
A new poetry book was started and the Now Theology course was offered on cassette tape. Extensive termite damage was discovered in the children's building. In September the Listening Room was established for use in hearing tapes, study, working on courses, and private meditation. The salvation course was offered by mail. The minimum contribution for directing membership was raised to fifteen dollars per month.
A political forum in October introduced members to candidates in the current local election. Discussions were arranged to guide in voting decisions. A Communion supper, Christmas bazaar, and mission work with mental patients rounded out November activities. December brought the publication of the church's third book of poetry. Thirty-two persons contributed the one hundred poems included in Certain Days Are Islands.
A new approach to utilizing the courses on Working Out Salvation began the year. Members were invited to schedule a monthly conference with the minister and skip around between the fifteen sections which seemed most pertinent at the time. The poetry group continued; the tape ministry expanded; and an artists' guild was started. A Sunday evening open-house for artists featured presentations of art and poetry reading. A new eight-week, directed growth group on Learning to be Emotional and Responsible was started in February.
In March, Fellowship Church hosted the second annual Convention of the American Baptist Churches of the South, with sessions held at the Mount Zion First Baptist Church. The convention was a new experience in inter-church cooperation. Guests included Mrs. Marcus Rohlfs, President of the American Baptist Convention, and Dr. Harvey Cox of Harvard University.
Thanks to Miss Holly Whitehead, the church was featured in a full-page article in the Sunday Advocate newspaper under the title, Salvation is Serious Business at Baton Rouge's Non-Church Church. The Mighty Fellowship Art Players presented A Satirical view of Fellowship Church, Part III, in April. After a time in the army, Bruce Kolb again became Music Director in May. He and Rodney Stuckey presented a Program of Renaissance music, on guitar, lute, and recorder. Hardy Barnett preached at a morning service. Women's Club garage sale netted four hundred dollars.
The annual church retreat was held in June. The pastor's office was moved to the old nursery room. Renovation of the children's building was started ($2,300.00), and a new carpet was installed in the auditorium and foyer. Paul McBroom cut the infamous hole from the old carpet and kept it as a souvenir. Tom Buzbee began a class on Now Theology. Earl Taylor, a black tenor soloist, presented a morning concert for the church. Money problems were again developing.
August brought the beginning of a Wednesday evening prayer group, alternating with a Bible study group--led by George Platt and Hardy Barnett. The church was featured on a tape, Religion in the South, produced by the American Baptist Convention. HolIy Whitehead, Paul McBroom, and Jackie Durrett were interviewed along with the pastor. A worship service directed by Bruce Kolb featured slides, music, and a children's choir around the theme, Childlikeness in the Kingdom of God. With repairs completed, a children's building work day resulted in a freshly painted interior.
September featured four sessions on the subject: Facing Death. A doctor, a lawyer, and a representative of the Baton Rouge Memorial Society were utilized as the pastor guided members in dealing with this aspect of life. Mrs. Margaret Hawkins made a second attempt with a Fellowship Nursery School, this time in the children's building next door to the church. A house-church was begun in New Orleans, directed by Paul McBroom.
October brought a free pop concert entitled Solomon's Secret--an original song growing out of a sermon by the minister--featuring Mike Cappel and Frank Vann. How It Is conferences, regular monthly spiritual check-up sessions with the minister, were initiated. The tape ministry was featured in Quest, a publication of the Division of Parish Development of the American Baptist Convention. The article said, When you can't be there yourself, a tape is the next best thing ! The cassette tape library of Fellowship Church, Baton Rouge, La., has brought much enjoyment and fellowship to its listeners. The church provides a comfortably-equipped listening room by appointment and even tapes Sunday services for Monday morning listening.
The church voted to sponsor a school for two to three-year olds in Dallas, Texas, directed by Sue Perkins, supporting member. The need for a new heating system brought about a fund drive for $2,350.00. Individual pledges to the church budget were published for the first time. Naturally, some did not approve. Tom Buzbee started a class on Creative Encountering. Members began joining the Baton Rouge Memorial Society, an organization for lessening the costs of funerals and giving individuals a choice in the means of burying or disposing of the body at death.
The fall budget drive was expanded to include commitment to membership, work, and programs, as well as money. New program offerings included special counseling in the areas of pre-marriage, marriage improvement, vocations, and theological understanding, developmental groups, and a new individual study course on Tolerating Pleasure.
In November, a six-session study of Now Theology was started by the pastor, the heating system was installed, and a new brochure introducing Fellowship Church was published. The budget of $3,000.00 per month was under subscribed and money problems developed. Individual contributions for the year were published for the first time.
December included a bake sale by the Women's Club, the beginning of a monthly parent's discussion group, an Agape Feast, and a candlelight communion, plus, of course, the New Year's Eye party--this year at the John Glenn's.
The Bible and How To Use It, was the January course offered by the minister. A baby dedication was held. Published SALVATION IS BEING HUMAN, six lectures identifying salvation with being sensitive, emotional, rational, sexual, responsible, and transcendent. Sponsored, in cooperation with the American Baptist Convention, a new racially inclusive, ecumenical church patterned after Fellowship in Atlanta, GA . Chad Hale was called as minister.
In February shortages in church finances and workers became critical. Church decided to raise minimum contribution for Directing Membership to $25 per month and begin charging for all Special Ministries conducted by minister. Contribution records were again published.
Other activities included: Acoustical Rock Concert; Wine and Cheese Fellowship at the Platts; Work Days; Ping Pong Tournament; Church Retreat; Fellowship Square Dance; Creative Writing Group formed; Mighty Fellowship Art Players performed; Tenth Anniversary Celebration held; Courses on Dealing With Guilt, Listening to Dreams, and Art of Loving were taught by minister; Tom Buzbee led Political Action Group in work with drugs and taxation; Tape Ministry was featured in INPUT, a national publication of the ABC.
Fellowship Church was featured in a book by Jessyca Gaver, YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH--THE BAPTIST STORY. Four pages were devoted to describing the church as one example of diversity among American Baptists. Fellowship is the only ABC affiliated church in Louisiana.
GRANT, FATHER, a collection of 63 prayers by the minister was edited by Tempe Crosby and published by the church.
A newspaper article on Tenth Anniversary Celebration noted: ...four basic premises are the foundation for the experimental church, according to the minister...that the church would 1) focus on the kingdom in the here and now and in this present time; the possibility of heaven on earth; 2) explore the possibility of salvation through being human, being oneself rather than imitating God; 3) honor functions, not forms, so that programs would serve the people, not the people the programs, and 4) strive to maintain conditions of freedom so a member would have the chance to explore his own beliefs, seek his own life-style, and choose his own spiritual path.
Activities included: began a Teenager's Growth Group; Little Las Vegas Night for fun and fund raising; Patience Stair chaired Garage Sale; Basic Adult Education Courses begun; Adult Exercise Classes; Purchased mimeograph machine for $325; Political Candidates debated at the church; New Mighty Fellowship Art Players performed; Fellowship Art Exhibit held; Chrysalis, the transformation of nursery building to community coffee house was begun; Held What's Wrong With Fellowship discussions; Acadian Christmas Bazaar held; Traditional Christmas Eve Service, and New Year's Eve Party at George and Ann Platt's.
Dr. Evans led sessions for American Baptist Ministers in Atlanta on: Changing Roles of Ministry, New Forms in Worship, Money in the Church, and Pastoral Counseling.
Serious financial problems again confronted in October.
In January CHRYSALIS held artist gatherings. Other activities for the year included: Wine and Cheese Parties; Bake Sales; Little Las Vegas (poker fund raiser); Big Garage Sale, Patsy Pitts, Coordinator; Longville Retreat; Drama Classes begun; Annual Fellowship All-Star Softball Game; Second Annual Acadian Christmas Bazaar.
Fellowship Press, a new printing ministry was organized by the Publications Committee, Tempe Crosby, Chairperson; purchased offset printing machine with garage sale money. Published Experiments In Church, Story of Fellowship.
Dr. Evans preached 10 sermons on spiritual milestones.
Activities: Kathy Kolar became Youth Director in February; FAFCA -First Annual Fellowship Choice Awards, a roast of adults by teenagers (Rated R) was held; Chrysalis concert was written up in Gris Gris; Youth Nature Class continued on Sunday mornings; Family Retreat ad Camp Atokapa; YWCA sponsored Belly Dancers Class was held; Bi-Centennial Fellowship Family Reunion; Rodger Conway become The Yard Man; Chrysalis Art Exhibits were held; Little Las Vegas Night; Fellowship Art Players Production; Third Annual Acadian Christmas Bazaar.
George Platt concluded 10 years of teaching Junior Church School Class, longest position held in Fellowship to date. Pinkie Gordan Lane, English Professor at Southern, read poetry at Sunday services.
MILESTONES: Guidelines For The Way, published by Fellowship Press, came out in June. A series of sermons on Being Close was begun in the Fall. Dealing With Guilt, an introduction to one of the Private Learning Courses being developed by Dr. Evans was published.
Activities: Teenagers studying other religions visited various services; Rodger Conway repaired the sidewalk; IN NO FANCY WORDS, a volume of George Platt's poems, was published by the Publications Committee; Fellowship Art Players presented Fellowship in Perspective, including a severe roasting of the minister; Yoga Classes with Michaela Wells; Adult Retreat at Longville; Tom Buzbee class on Women In The Bible; a Leaderless Discussion Group (later to become The Pitt) was approved; Canoe Trip on Tangipahoa; Cochon-de-lait with Marvin Thevenot; decided to remove Nursery Building.
WHO AM I?, a new book by Dr. Evans, was published in January; Calvin Fair's introduction of members highlighted the newsletter. Published HOW IT IS FOR ME, by Dr. Evans, in October. SEA SHELLS IN PAIRS, by Tempe Crosby, came out in December.
Church decided to join the Louisiana Interchurch Conference. Approved a Partnership with Council on Aging so that Fellowship provides facilities for Acadian House Gift Shop to be managed by Council on Aging. Building and Fund Raising Committees were established; raised Directing Membership to $48.50 per month and Special Ministries by $5 per session.
Dr. Evans began a series of messages on the Human Odyssey; St. Patrick's Day Party at Ruth Thompson's; DISCOMANIA Dance; Kisatchie hiking trip; began accepting pledges for a Church Building Fund as plans were completed; Longville Retreat; SAFCA--Second Annual Fellowship Choice Awards, "the roast to end all roasts" of Fellowship members, was held in September; Tom Buzbee taught Now Theology Class.
Church organization was changed to include a Board of Directors to oversee the entire operations of the church and coordinate activities. QUESTINGS, a book of poetry by Fellowship members and friends, was published by the Ministries Press. JESUS: MAN FOR ALL TIME, by Dr. Evans, was published in July. Rick Nelson and Carlyle Marney died, both effecting Fellowship Church.
Ended the year with $9,690 in the building fund. Received an award from American Baptist Churches, USA for "finishing the year among the top four churches in per capita giving" to ABC mission budgets.
American Dame was presented by the Drama Group, directed by Wendy Morgan. The final payment on the original church loan of $25,000 from the American Baptist Extension Corporation made on November 11, 1964, was made in April. A Note Burning Celebration was held as SMASH--Supporting Members Appreciation Sunday Hallelujah, in May. Ralph Crosby, a charter member, lit the match.
A serious effort to clarify Directing Membership was made. The November list showed 40 Directing Members, 77 Participating, 53 Supporting, and 11 inactive; total, 183. Minister tried to confront the Board with many needs for workers on church activities. A new Membership and Organization Brochure was published. Diaconate responsibilities were clarified.
The Book Ministry of the church was featured in an article in the May 5, STATE TIMES.
At the end of the year American Baptist Churches, USA, presented a Certificate of Recognition for having surpassed their 1979 goal in the United Mission Program.
MILESTONES was reprinted; Second Annual St. Patrick's Day Celebration; THE HUMAN ODYSSEY, by Dr. Evans, was published in March; Oriental Cooking Classes with Kuniko; Demolished the Nursery Building for $1125; Disco lessons; April Garage Sale; May Tangipahoa River Canoe Trip; Yoga Classes, Michaela Wells; Art of Loving Workshop, Tom Buzbee; SMASH Bar-B-Que in May; Mary Benton, Church Historian, completed organizing of church records; Photography Class, Gayle Strickland; BEING CLOSE was published in July; Joan Brydon concluded many years of mailing the newsletter; Art Players presented more AMERICAN DAME; Spooky Halloween at David Jensen's; Mary Anne Forehand, Director of Communications of the American Baptist Churches, USA, visited the church for preparation of an article on Fellowship Church; Fellowship on the Tangipahoa, again; Ballroom Dancing Classes; New Year's Eve party.
I LOVE THE SEA was published in January; Krewe of Tres Tacke had its first ball in February; St. Patrick's Day Celebration; April Canoe Trip; SMASH Weekend in May; Martha Watson re-elected as President of the Board; QUICKIES FOR SINGLES, a cookbook from Fellowship, was published; a new Adult Education Program was begun, Ed Bodker, Chairman; Gwen McKee became new Director of Fellowship Press; Little Las Vegas; THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH was presented by Art Players; Annual Canoe Trip; Church remodeling was begin in December.
FELLOWSHIP COOPERATIVE, an experiment in koinonia among members and friends of Fellowship, was begun. The idea was to purchase individual properties on a 15 acre wooded plot in Saline, Louisiana. Dick Watson headed the Property Development Program.
The FELLOWSHIP LIFE MINISTRY, an overall plan including development of a Retreat Center in Saline, expanded local activities, and major renovations of the church building, was approved in October.
An extensive Basic Education and orientation to Fellowship was begun; Marvin & Judy Thevenot taught "Surviving Love Relationships" in Adult School; Tres Tacke, again; St. Pat's Party at Ruth Thompson's; Folk Dancers performed at Sunday Service; SMASH in May; Melva Cavanaugh and Mary Rovena reelected to Board; Tom Buzbee became Associate Minister; Creative Expression Class begun, Ed Bodker; Ming Lee and the Magic Tree was presented by the Repertory Theatre, Windy Morgan, directing; Hoyt Oliver moved to Saline to begin work on the Fellowship Retreat Center; Percy Quin Retreat; Most Valuable Players presented Sis Who Pass While the Lentils Boil; Men's Retreat was held at Saline, led by Hoyt Oliver; Halloween on Elbow Bayou, with David Jensen; Sunday's At Two, drama group led by Windy Morgan; building improvement costing $16,000 were made during the year.
In August the church signed property agreements with J.O. and Constance Evans to accept gifts of land and lease to be used as a Retreat Center and future community at Saline, Louisiana. Plans for the Center were developed and lots were made available for purchase by church members. Hiking trails and camping sites were prepared. Property Restrictions were filed for development of the Fellowship Community and extensive developmental plans made.
Verbatim was resurrected as a new church publication and open forum headed by Tempe Crosby, Ed Bodker, and Hoyt Oliver.
Approved remodeling plans for the building; Auditorium lighting was improved by Mike Patton; Dr. Evans advised the board of his separation and impending divorce from his wife; Marvin Thevenot was elected Board President; A new Adult Education Course with fees to be charged and split between leaders and the church (60/40) was approved, Evna Wilson, Chairperson; Minister proposed extensive changes in overall administration of the church, involving expansion of his work to include more active roll in administration. Through efforts of Wayne Steadman and many others, Dr. Evans was nominated for the Templeton Foundation, Inc., yearly award.
Serious and extreme tensions developed within the church, resulting in open conflicts. A revised organizational plan creating Councils to oversee each area of church life was approved. Requirements for Directing Membership were clarified. A Ministering Council, headed by Evna Wilson, was initiated. FAT -- Fellowship Appreciation & Thanksgiving -- Sunday, in November. Building improvements costing $32,300 were made during the year.
Land owners in the Saline Community now included: Dick Watson, Janet Toms, Pam Freshney, David Jenson, and Patricia Bernard.
A re-organizational structure was proposed and approved. Under the new plan active members were expected to share in the work load, be financially responsible, and act responsibly in relation to one another (40% of local members were not contributing at this time; 80% had accepted no work responsibility).
Oriental Dinner in January, Kuniko Galloway; IT'S NOT FAIR published in February; Women's Room begun; Fellowship Counseling and Guidance Program was inaugurated to make member skills available to each other and the general public, with fees to be split with the church; Fees for members for Sunday Services, Minister's lectures, and Newsletter were approved at $8, $7.70, and $10/year; The Sunday Morning Sign In Sheet was begun.
The Fellowship Community idea was inaugurated; A letter was mailed to members to clarify desired membership status; June Board meeting recorded "a fair amount of negative feedback regarding the membership status letter." House Church meetings dealt with Step-parenting; Bruce Evans & Anita Lowe were married in June; SMASH Weekend; Drama Group presented ARSENIC & OLD LACE; Activities Night--supper and play, was inaugurated; Fellowship Service Program, offering 44 different services from members, was begun; Amite Canoe Trip; The Sunday morning PIT, an open discussion group was re-activated. Building improvements were completed with $6,600 being expended.
The year brought many resignations and withdrawals from the church. Resistance to responsible membership was obviously great. Pledges toward the '84 budget were $4000/ month; average expenditures for '83 were $7100/month. General Fund was $12,000 in arrears.
Special Teens Group organized; Saline Retreat subject: Being Emotional; Pit Discussion Group continued; Mexican Supper, Mary Rovena; Annual Crawfish Boil, Lee Owens; Saline Retreat, Right & Left Brain; May Garage Sale; Tangipahoa River Canoe Campout; Wednesday Suppers; Halloween Costume Party, Gloria Bockrath.
The GROWTH CENTER was proposed as a ministry of Fellowship "aimed at expanding and extending personal growth opportunities both to members and to persons outside the church." The move represented an attempt to make a division between "church" and "growth activities" with a return to more traditional church emphases plus an expansion of growth services offered.
Membership requirements, including contributions and services, inaugurated in 1983, were suspended in November on vote of Directing Members. Deteriorating financial condition was again confronted. Board President Marvin Thevenot conceived an idea for changing property equity into liquid assets. In June this plan was culminated with a sale/lease back arrangement. To accomplish this, I borrowed $120,000; the church agreed to legally sell the property for this amount, in exchange for a 12 year lease at a monthly rate of $1,686.87. This arrangement made $120,000 immediately available for financial survival. The building and property had been purchased for $36,000. Improvements and additional property costs amounted to $69,900 for a total investment of $105,900. Temporarily, financial problems were "solved."
A new GROWTH CENTER sign was erected, indicating the public invitations. Initial offerings included: Celebrate Yourself, Evna Wilson; Therapeutic Massage, Vernon Smith; Advanced Assertiveness, Gloria Bockrath, plus lectures and workshops by Bruce Evans. The CENTER was featured in a full page article in the State Times headed: CENTER OFFERS EVERYTHING--Legal Advice, Encounter Groups, Massage, Nutrition, Feelings, Sexuality, etc. The brochure explained the GROWTH CENTER as a place for understanding and seeking whole health--well-being in body, mind, and spirit. Other workshops included: Progressive Relaxation, Confronting Biology, Embracing Sexuality, Projecting Emotions; Learning to Think.
Guided Encounter Groups were begun; lectures on roles of Prince, Princess, etc., were begun; Yoga Classes with Michaela Wells; Tangipahoa River Canoe Trip; Retreat: Let's Get Emotional/Mental; Men/Women studies were begun; Orson Welles Costume Party, Gloria Bockrath.
A statistical study in July showed that local membership had dropped 42% since previous July. In a November letter to the church I began: We now face the greatest crisis yet in our 22 year pilgrimage toward becoming a caring community together. Never since the beginning has our imminent dissolution appeared more likely on every level--financial, numerical, and organizational. For Reasons not altogether clear to me, our attempt to become a community without commitment is now failing miserably and rapidly...If we simply continue on our present way, barring miracles unforeseen, Fellowship will soon end...
To confront these facts, the Fellowship Community, A ministry of Fellowship Church for persons who wish to belong to a committed spiritual family, a core committed group within the larger fellowship, was begun on six month trial basis. Its goal was to explore creating a spiritual family based on realistic commitments to one another--to the family and its members, to facilitate experiences of koinonia, to explore a new style of professional ministry, and to become the backbone of Fellowship Church.
The plan included a bartering system among members and new forms for ministerial encounter. Members were to contribute services and fees toward the community. The overview read: A 'realistic' community based on reason, aimed at love; an attempt to activate our best approximations of reality in a reasonable effort to become a loving community.
The first meeting of Fellowship Community was held in January. Members signed pledges of commitment to one another, discussed services to each other, discipline, and a bartering system for exchanging services. Fifteen persons signed up as members of the Community. Each member made commitments for work they will do for the Community and services they will offer for bartering. Monthly reports were made by members to each other.
Inventing Reality discussions, Gayle Strickland; Rolfing and Shiatsu Massage available at the building; Male Sexuality discussion, Janet Toms; Women's Sexuality, Ann Dudrow; Pot Luck Dinners at church.
An attempt was being made to distinguish and connect the emerging Community of persons making commitments to one another and Fellowship Church, the ecumenical organization. Invitations were open to both or either; Adult Retreat as Saline, Arts In Loving; Acupressure workshops, sponsored by the Growth Center.
In June, vote was made to extend Fellowship Community for six more months; Nine persons signed up as continuing members; First attempt to seriously confront subject of angels and demons began; church bought first computer; Fall Retreat at Saline.
Funds acquired from sale/lease of building two years previously were almost exhausted, again forcing church to face itself. Twenty three persons met at Marvin and Judy Thevenot's for difficult decisions. Group decided to continue the experiment in church, but with Bruce taking over responsibility for administration, programs, and finances. Board would continue as review and advisory body. Decided to drop fees for church services, but to keep fees on all special ministries. Options to members include: Community venture, Growth Program, Teaching Program, and Individual services.
Financial pledges were also made to the continuation of Fellowship; Winter Retreat at Saline, Finding Your Angel; New brochures were created and distributed on the various programs of Fellowship, along with concerted efforts to expand and reach outside persons; still, by December, less than $3000 of the $7500/month minimum budget had been pledged. During 1986 the church lost $4,173/month.
The Fall invitation to membership included contracts for 3 major programs: Teaching, Growth, and Community, plus 4 ways of relating to me: as Priest, Teacher, Counselor, or Mentor, with each individual choosing his or her way of relating.
Year began with my concerted efforts to get persons to sign me up as their minister in either of the above noted ways; 23 persons signed contracts with me; Sunday Forum, a lecture/discussion session following Sunday services was inaugurated; Member-led discussions and Open Encounter Groups led by minister were started; Celebrate Yourself Workshop, Evna Wilson; Retreat to Saline, Art of Loving; Self Esteem Workshop, Gloria Bockrath; Spring Retreat, Becoming Whole; May Retreat, Developing Creativity.
Policy changes were made in May: all fees for church services--Forum, Discussion, etc. were dropped; Fellowship Community was opened to all without commitment or charges; The church Board of Directors was officially dissolved, with the Diaconate to act as legal representative of the membership and to give assistance to minister in planing programs; June Retreat, Answering Angels; Pot Luck Suppers with Kuniko and Rodger; Angel/Demon Tests developed by minister and offered to members; Assertiveness Workshop, Gloria Bockrath; Fall Bazaar for fund raising; Confronting Sexuality Workshop, Bruce Evans.
In October, financial reality again confronted us; monies from the sale/lease had been completely exhausted in August. The church was $10,000 behind on its rent and my salary, and I still owed over $100,000 on the note. Almost half of all church support was coming from fees collected from my counseling services. Throwing in the towel was seriously considered but rejected. Instead, new directions were taken, including: Worth-ship Services, Becoming Yourself Programs based on angel/demon exercises; Almost Anything Goes Sunday evening ventures; I would seek licensure for counseling, so insurance could be utilized in payments, and a serious advertising campaign was launched.
AAG -- Almost Anything Goes encounter/discussion groups were begun on Sunday evenings; first topic, Pornography: Curse or Blessing?; February Retreat, Reality and Illusion; Nursing Home Service Group organized; St. Patrick's Party, Ruth Thompson; Pot Luck Suppers; May Retreat, Communication and Power; Summer Faire in June; Video Tape Program, led by Wayne Steadman, inaugurated, making Sunday services available to the public; Fall Retreat, Kissing God; Fall Bazaar; Jambalaya Dinner, Marvin Thevenot; Ann Platt honored for her 501 worship centers for Fellowship services; AAG died from lack of response during the year.
By November, all incomes from the church, my counseling fees from those within and outside the church, building rentals, and Fellowship Press were 35% below our minimum budget. My salary was 60% in arrears for the year; no payments had been made to my retirement fund. A low key letter about my ministry brought 42 pledges and book orders from members and friends of Fellowship.
February Retreat, Being Yourself/Godly; Wayne Steadman's continuing video work brought good response; Sunday services were followed by open discussion times; May Retreat, Your Self Is Too Small; Man/Woman Book, published by Quail Ridge Press; Saturday Pot Luck Dinners; Baton Rouge International Folk Dancers began renting space on Friday nights and invited members to join; Fall Retreat, Nitty Gritty Loving; Winter Retreat, Alone and With; A public relations person was employed to design advertising materials for the church; 27th Annual Christmas Eve Service held.
February Retreat, Pursuing Ecstasy; Monies were collected outside the budget to pay for public relations person; Bible Study group begun; June Retreat, Individuals Together: Intimacy Issues; Video Taping of services continued by Wayne Steadman; May brought financial problems; my salary was unpaid for 5 months and housing allowance unpaid for 2 months; Brochures of various workshops, lectures, and professional seminars available by the minister were prepared and circulated; American Obscenities was the subject of the mid year sermon series.
By August, professional brochures were ready from printer and an attempt was made to "market the minister" beyond the church in an effort to raise money to keep the church viable; Fall Retreat, Salvation in Camelot; November pledging toward '91 budget of $6975/ month brought 23 pledges of $980/month by end of month -- 7 local members and 16 supporting friends -- 86% short; Christmas Eve Communion Service. Total contributions for the year were lower than any in 28 year history, down 14 % from '89; remained solvent by paying no salary or retirement for minister and only 80% of housing allowance.
Winter Retreat to Lake Saline, The Rhythmic Life; St. Patrick's Supper with Ruth Carville; Memorial Service for Wayne Steadman in March; May Retreat, Practicing Presence: How To Be Here; May Garage Sale, Sonia Griffin; "Driving Miss Ruby" to church arranged.
Through June, 66% of church giving was from 7 persons; 33 % of regular attenders had given nothing, 50%, less than $7.50/Sunday; no minister's salary paid, housing allowance and retirement behind by $3000; by September it was again decided to require contributions.
Beginning Oct 1, active members were expected to pledge a minimum of $75/month, other participants to pay a fee of $25/event, with guests welcomed free. The Worth-ship Events schedule was made flexible, shifting from Sunday to week nights; 15 unpublished books by the minister were advertised to invite contributions; Pot Luck Suppers, Tara Spellman; November Retreat to Lake Saline.
Pot Luck Dinners at the church; Where To From Here, open discussion on church led by Tom Buzbee; Sunday morning breakfast gatherings; in May, lack of finances led to putting the property up for sale and starting holding Sunday morning House Church meetings, beginning at "Miss Ruby's" in Port Allen; June discussion on Our Future; meeting times returned to Sunday mornings; group decided to keep same format and charges: $75/month or $25/Sunday; services continued at Ruby Townsend's while building was up for sale; Newsletter, weekly for 29 years, was reduced to "periodically."
Ruby Townsend, Fellowship's oldest member and last of those joining in 1964, died in January; the property still had not sold and services were brought back to the building; the newsletter was monthly until April, and then discontinued; services were held each Sunday in the minister's office throughout the year.
Sunday discussions continue each week in my office, along with my counseling services and growth group.
EXPERIMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Although Fellowship is largely a failure in outward ways, as noted in the introduction, I believe that we have pioneered in exploring many possibilities which will become accepted and amplified in the future. We have been, I think, a prototype of the growing edge of "what's happening in religion today." We did not cause or start the wave, but did, I believe, correctly sense some of the shortcomings, the "signs of discontent" in traditional religion, and experiment with some of the possible changes which the winds of time were bringing about. We were "ahead of our time" in the sense of widespread acceptance and social success, but not out of the mainstream of socio/religious evolution.
I do not see myself or Fellowship as literally "new" or even "creative," as much as careful in reading the signs of the times. We "sniffed the winds of change" and tried to get on board the ship of "changing church" sooner than others. Our insights, as shaped and activated in Fellowship, were widely sensed and shared by many others; we simply took more chances in putting them into practice--more directly and somewhat earlier than most. Many of our experiments which were radical at the time, for example, in racial integration, are now widely accepted and implemented in mainstream churches today. Others, such as our ecumenical stance, are yet in infancy is most churches.
The potential contributions of Fellowship Church lie, I believe, in its major distinctions from the prevailing stances of traditional religion and secular healing. Taking elements of both approaches to human well-being, Fellowship combined what we viewed as the positive parts of each into one integrated "plan of salvation"--a way of finding "the good life" in the here and now. From traditional religion we drew our primary language and overall focus on ultimate issues of human life. From secular psychology and medicine we took knowledge and skills for healing human "dis-ease" and disease in immediate experience--in my opinion, the best of both worlds.
From the wealth of available theological knowledge about ultimate issues and psychological (plus medical) knowledge about immediate mental and physical problems, Fellowship gradually shaped a unique approach to the ancient question, What must I do to be saved (made whole, healed, or otherwise able to experience well-being)? Avoiding traditional religious projection of "the good life" (called heaven) into the far distant future--an afterlife in some "other world" or "spiritual" sphere, and the prevailing secular avoidance of human concern with ultimate issues (meaning-in-life, hope, death, and love), Fellowship evolved a way of seeking what religion calls salvation and the secular world calls health (mental and physical) in the present world.
Fellowship came to present and represent a radically different answer to the age old human question about salvation or, as non-religious folk call it, being happy. In consort with traditional religion, we talked and dealt with God and love--the ultimate life concerns; in company with psychology and medicine, we faced immediate, "this-world" issues of "mental health" and "feeling good."
Fellowship's answer to our most common human concerns about finding "good living" was drawn from both traditions, and yet was radically different from the prevailing stances of either. It was religious--yet proposed a "plan of salvation" which was very different from those available in traditional religions; it was secular--but distinctively unlike popular medical and psychological models of "health," both physical and mental.
Following are what I consider to be the major experiments of Fellowship and our possible contributions to the continuing evolution both of popular religion and secular psychology. I predict that many of these pioneering endeavors, though radical in their time, will become accepted in days ahead and give shape to the church of the future as well as predict changes in psychology.
From its inception, Fellowship was both a community and an experiment focused primarily on the well-being of its members and friends who chose various degrees of involvement. Its major contributions lie in the positive effects which it had on the lives of those who were involved. These, of course, are immeasurable.
But in the course of its ministry, along with many traditional church activities--Sunday services, sermons, religious education, mission projects, etc., Fellowship was continually engaged in experimenting with new possibilities on the forefront and growing edge of religion and psychology. Some of these experiments were inherent in the original organization and stance of the church; others evolved as we attempted to creatively approach challenges which appeared in our search for community and salvation in the here and now.
Some of these experiments were immensely successful; others were miserable failures. We tried many new approaches which worked, and others which turned out to be "rabbit trails." I enumerate those experiments which I consider to be most significant to us who were involved, and possibly of interest to others concerned with the future of religion and psychology in America.
Space does not allow for a full analysis of each; brief summaries, however, are included. At the end of our first ten years, the church published a book on our experience until that time. Entitled Experiments in Church, the premises and results of our venture during that time were amplified. Excerpts from that book are also included here.
Here is a brief list of some of our experiments which I consider to be most significant. I list them in the order of their importance, as I now view them, plus my Score Card, based on a scale of one-ten, of our success with each. Others, naturally, may rank them differently, and give varying scores.
1. SECULAR RELIGION
Our most significant overall experiment was, I think, an attempt to wrest the spiritual quest from its entrapment in historical structures of organized religion, and return it to the secular world where we believed it is rooted and certainly needed. Specifically, this involved a focus on salvation of the whole person, heaven in the here and now, and church in the present world rather than in preparation for some possible other world.
Score Card: 90% success
2. UNION OF PRIMAL RELIGION & MODERN PSYCHOLOGY
In the face of the historical church's continued focus on a separable "soul" distinguished from "body," and with psychology's focus on "mental illness" separated from spiritual salvation, we believed that a union is called for. Experiments in this direction underlay many of the efforts of Fellowship.
Score Card: 98% success
3. MINISTER AS PRIEST/PSYCHOLOGIST
Merging religion and psychology called for a minister who functioned both as traditional priest--presiding over the primary human mysteries and social rituals, and as a psychologist or counselor--dealing with the "personal problems" of "heart" and "mind." The challenges of these often conflicting roles were continually at the forefront of my endeavors in Fellowship. I always wore at least two hats: on Sundays I was preacher-in-the-pulpit; from Monday through Friday (and usually Saturday morning as well) I was counselor-in-the-office.
Score Card: 80% success
4. FULL LAY-LEADERSHIP
Traditionally modern religion is paternalistic, both in its theology and leadership. Authority is held by a church hierarchy and its established leaders--Popes, priests, rabbis, and ministers. Lay-persons are, of course, involved in varying degrees in carrying out the work of the church in its daily operations. Still, the power remains almost exclusively in male hands; hence the true leadership lies outside the control of "secular" laypersons, especially, females. Fellowship explored a radically different style of leadership in which laypersons, especially women, were entrusted with the authority of the church.
Score Card: 40% success
5. ECUMENICAL CHURCH
In spite of much talk about ecumenism in organized religion today, its practice is primarily limited to a few "ecumenical services" each year, plus sharing costs and responsibilities on various community service projects. The reality of a truly integrated church, beginning with race and color, but extending to creed and behavior, remains relatively unexplored today. Fellowship attempted the radical possibility of becoming a truly "inclusive church."
Score Card: 90% success
6. NATURAL THEOLOGY
The possibility of heaven in the here and now, rather than in an after-life, called for a re-interpretation of traditional other-worldly theology into the language of this world--for a natural or now theology. From its beginning Fellowship was continually involved in experimentally developing theological perspectives for this quest.
Score Card: 98% success
7. SALVATION AS BEING HUMAN
Other-worldly theology has traditionally posited salvation through what is commonly understood as becoming godly (or "good"), which involves the relative negation of humanity. Fellowship's primary quest for salvation in this present world called for a radically different understanding and approach; we explored the opposite possibility of salvation through becoming thoroughly human rather than godly--that is, of holiness through whole-ness.
Score Card: 95% success
8. SALVATION COURSE
Many specific classes, workshops, and programs aimed at assisting persons in working out their own salvation in particular arenas of life were developed and presented throughout the history of Fellowship. The most comprehensive of these was an extensive salvation course offering guided direction through tapes, exercises, reports, and consultation with the minister in 19 specific areas such as: Accepting Your Body, Dealing With False Guilt, Tolerating Pleasure, Learning To Listen, Art of Worship, and Being Led By Spirit. Many persons participated in these courses, some over a period of several years.
Score Card: 35% success
9. KOINONIA COMMUNITY
Throughout history various religious groups have attempted to form separated communities of persons who were dedicated to religious ideals and who shared possessions in common. Fellowship also explored such a quest, but with notable differences from the usual endeavors commonly viewed as "cults." We tried to establish a community with private ownership and cooperation rather than communism, a place for shared living in areas of mutual concern, but with separate individually owned property.
Score Card: 0% success
10. FELLOWSHIP COMMUNITY
From its beginning Fellowship explored possibilities for having a dedicated core group within the church structure, yet with full acceptance of persons with lessor degrees of interest or commitment. These included various types of membership--such as, Directing Membership for those willing to make commitments and assume responsibilities, and Participating Membership for others only interested in taking part in specific activities. Also a core group, called Fellowship Community, for those more committed to the efforts of Fellowship, was organized within the overall church structure.
Score Card: 20% success
11. REASONABLE VERSUS EMOTIONAL RELIGION
In the conflicting arenas between reason and emotion, "making sense" and "going by feeling" or "faith" (external direction), traditional religion, we believed, has opted for the activation of the right-brain over the left. Reason and logic, products of left-brain evaluation and "sense-making" have always fared poorly in popular religion. Fellowship consistently explored the possibility of "being reasonable" about religion, in contrast with "just taking it on faith," that is, of shifting the traditional emphasis on right-brain domination to left-brain direction.
Score Card: 50% success
12. ANGEL/DEMON RECOGNITION
While evolving a natural theology about life in this present world, we also recognized the reality of spiritual forces traditionally confronted in language about angels and demons. We explored the resurrection of these terms (Along with God, Christ, Holy Spirit, etc.) with this-worldly, realistic, interpretations. Some 32 such angels and demons were confronted, pinpointed, and clarified; psychological-type tests and inventories were designed for helping individuals explore their own particular stronger and weaker angels and demons.
Score Card: 25% success
13. GROWTH CENTER
As a ministry of the church to the community, Fellowship created and operated a Growth Center organization including specific programs and services aimed at many facets of human well-being not commonly a part of organized religion. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, nutritionists, counselors, masseurs, masseusers, etc.--both from within and without the church, were organized to offer their services at minimal rates in an overall program of whole-health, including education, evaluation, treatment, and guidance.
Score Card: 25% success
Space prohibits including the details of each of these experiments. I have chosen only one, our work at developing a theology of the natural (Number 6 above), to amplify here. Although other possible contributions are not specifically detailed, many reflections of each appear in other chapters. I chose to include a brief summary of NATURAL THEOLOGY (most often called NOW THEOLOGY during Fellowship's history), because I think its possible interest and value to others may be more immediate.
"Thank you for sending us the Now Theology series of lectures. I rate them right along with Konrad Lorenz's, On Aggression, as being some of the most important words I've ever read."
"I need the Now Theology very much. I have had--and hopefully will continue to experience--the 'now' life, but lacked the theology. Thanks for making the Bible a 'now' revelation."
"One thing that attracted me the most in my coming to Fellowship was the so-called Now Theology which is pointing to a kind of 'today' understanding of what it means to be fully present to life."
Fellowship's focus on salvation in the here and now rather than as preparation for an enhanced afterlife called for a re-look at Christian theology as popularly understood. Since common interpretations of the major theological language--God, heaven, sin, hell, salvation, etc., view the subjects as otherworldly rather than this-worldly, the words are often confusing.
For instance, if God is understood as a Sky Father or Super-magician outside of reality as we know it, the name may become a distraction from thinking about touchable reality. So long as heaven is understood as "a place to go after you die," as in popular interpretations, this word is irrelevant in trying to understand "good life" in the present world.
If salvation is seen as what you do to get a ticket to some other place later, the word has no value in regard to how to find happiness now. In fact, its use is counterproductive--calling to mind magical, unreal, rewards for specialized forms of subservience, rather than realistic steps to take in becoming responsibly whole.
We believed that even though Christian theology has popularly evolved to this general focus on otherworldly concerns, this-worldly interpretations are not only viable, but perhaps closer to the understanding of original founders and writers. To its credit, theology, even when commonly taken to be about post-life issues, does provide a language for focusing on ultimate concerns--life and death matters, the grandest and worst of human possibilities. Even if theological subjects are seen as otherworldly, still they provide words for looking at the deepest and highest of human concerns.
My understanding of religious history is that when organized religions shifted attention and therefore theological interpretations from the immediate concerns of their constituents--"soul matters" in the here and now, a void was created in human endeavors. Whereas priests had previously been healers of "body and soul"--that is, of the whole person, religious attention was gradually seduced by Platonic thought away from human wholeness into a focus on "soul," which, in sharp contrast to early Hebrew understanding, was seen as separable and better or "higher" than the "merely" physical body.
As the Christian church came to focus more attention on "soul" rather than "body"--as though they are divisible, attention to physical or bodily concerns was increasingly left to those outside the church. The profession of medicine arose first to deal with "bodies" which religion had largely abandoned. At the same time the church's understanding of "soul" as a separable entity led it to ignore problems which predictably arise when human beings are split within themselves. Medicine could deal with physical concerns, but was not prepared to cope with the "other part" of humankind, previously included in the word soul.
By this time the word mind was emerging to name what had previously been called soul, since religion had lifted "soul" out of the body. The stage was set for psycho-logy, literally soul-knowledge, but then seen as mind-knowledge, to appear on the human scene. Later, psychology, like medicine, has properly arisen to focus on the "other part" of humankind, the "inward part," which religion had long since abandoned in its increasing focus on "souls" and other-world-ism.
Organized religion had, in effect, priced itself out of existence as the social organization concerned with well-being of human beings in the here and now. Physical healing, for the "tangible part," was the domain of medicine; mental healing, for the "intangible-but-real-part," was now in the hands of psychology. Organized religion was left with only a theoretical "soul" for its subject and an agenda about its transport to another theoretical "place" in "the sweet bye and bye," plus, social services in this "bad" world.
Those who did not buy the otherworldly theories of religion consequently had no reason to get involved in churchly activities. Those who did, could reasonably participate in organized religion; but when they had real immediate concerns with body and/or mind they had to go outside the church for "treatment." Priests and preachers were no longer "qualified" to deal with either physical or mental "health"--major human concerns of us all.
This, at least, was how I viewed the secular and religious scenes in America. If Fellowship was to deal with human wholeness, which was now the domain of medicine and psychology under the name of health (physical and mental) rather than salvation (which was by then considered to be about ghostly "souls" only), then a radical re-interpretation of theological language was necessary. Somehow the language and doctrines of religion needed to be confronted again if the activities of religion were to be understood as relevant in this present world.
The task loomed monumental. Religious language, in almost all popular understanding, had nothing to do with physical and mental "health"--which, as I understood salvation, were the principle subjects of theoretical Christianity.
Throughout the history of Fellowship the decision to re-interpret theology, to try to reclaim an old language which its principal users had largely made irrelevant to daily life in the here and now, remained a lively one.
Why go to the trouble?, one might logically ask. Why not let the "dead language" of theology go the way of Latin and other out-lived languages? Why not simply accept current medical and psychological jargon, "health" language, rather than trying to resurrect "salvation" talk? Ordinary folk already understood, for example, "mental health" and "losing your mind," even the reality of "getting your head on straight." What they didn't see was what these escalating human concerns have to do with religion and theology. Why try to bridge such a huge gap in popular understanding?
Certainly it would have been easier to simply bring "mental health" language into the church, as was happening anyway--and leave theological theories languishing in seminaries, left to apply to otherworldly beliefs of those few who are still interested in such. Two major concerns, however, lay behind our effort to try to reclaim religious language for application to good living in the present--first, a theoretical issue: Some of us believed that the developers of otherworldly interpretations in the historical church had abandoned the beliefs of founders, such as Jesus, in leaving daily concerns of constituents in favor of theoretical other worlds.
Current "soul" talk, as we saw it, is erroneously based in Platonic philosophy rather than, for example, Jesus' theology. His concern for a real kingdom "at hand" and "within you" had been abandoned by organized religion in favor of an imaginary kingdom "after death" and "in the sky."
Or so we thought. We believed we were returning to primary Christian roots, a this-worldly focus of founders, rather than continuing to make religion increasingly less relevant to daily life. In this endeavor our own self-righteousness may have been an undue temptation!
But the second and far more relevant reason was entirely pragmatic. It has to do with the practical value of having an ultimate language for dealing with ultimately important human issues. Even with familiarity and practical reasons for using medical and psychological jargon in thinking about human well-being, both these languages lack the history and primal connection of religious language.
Even if God-talk and salvation language has, in later history, been diverted toward the nether world and away from immediate "health" issues, still it remains deeply imbedded in the human psyche as relevant to our shared concerns with ultimate issues of meaning in life and death.
We may comfortably use, for example, medical language--"being sick" and "getting well," for physical discomforts; but sick and well seem shallow for giving voice to the painful divisions of heart and soul. We may also use psychological jargon for "getting our heads on straight" and trying to be "mentally healthy"; but when confronted with deeper issues of hope, love, and dying, theological language still seems to work best for giving voice to eternal concerns of heart.
For all the abuses of historical religion--coping out on present human soul-suffering, focusing on other worlds, perverting religion for social manipulations, etc., still it must be credited with preserving a language for the ultimate issues of life.
When we simply "have problems" with body or mind we call a doctor or counselor; but when push comes to shove in the foxholes of life, we don't seek a medic or shrink. We want a priest, or else we pray to God "however we conceive Him (or Her) to be." For all our social sophistication, intellectual atheism, and dependence on medicine and psychiatry for taking care of us, in direct emergencies we revert to our deepest and still-best languages, namely, those of religion.
Professional psychology has gone far in developing detailed in-house jargon for nuances of socially unacceptable or "abnormal" behaviors. Its various Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals contain carefully numbered and distinguished behavior patterns which allow for refined professional theories and discussions, plus communication with insurance companies. Unfortunately this wealthy private language is relatively unavailable to the public and often less than helpful when it is.
The deepest problem, however, with both medical and psychological languages is that for all their utility within the professions, neither contain either words or concepts for the primary place of personal responsibility in human well-being. Psychology, for example, does well in delineating multitudes of variations in mental "diseases," even, as does medicine, in pointing to external causes, such as, depressed mothers, dysfunctional families, abusive fathers, co-dependent relationships, stressful social conditions, and, increasingly, chemical imbalances. Continuing debates weigh the balance of blame between nature and nurture, heredity and environment.
Certainly all these and other issues are relevant in physical and mental "health." Still, past germs and circumstances, neither profession ventures far into the realm of personal responsibility as a relevant cause of either bodily or "emotional" disfunction.
Neither, for instance, has concepts for either love or sin. Psychology offers many theories and useful words for tracing inward genetic and chemical causes, plus outward family and social sources of "emotional illness"--but what about our own responsibility in what we become? What about the reality of human choice in the various forms of physical and mental dis-ease? Don't we as individuals have any part in our loss of health and happiness?
Religions have love for positive choices and sin for negative choices--plus their assorted concepts of each. Even if the words have suffered serious abuses in history, still the language for personal responsibility has been kept alive. I believe that one of the major limitations of psychology is its failure, as yet, to develop even a crude concept for sin--that is, for what each of us personally has to do with "going wrong" in our common quest for "good life." Psychology may help us see how chemistry or parents or society have gone wrong, yet is woefully lacking in either a language or concepts for what we ourselves have to do with our own "damnation" (in religious language) or "craziness" (in mental talk).
This quest for a useful language for both love and sin--for personal responsibilities in positive and negative well-being, became a central focus in Fellowship. The challenge was twofold: first, to reclaim primary concepts from historical abuses of popular religion which had largely succeeded, we thought, in pricing the words completely out of this-world utility, that is, to define them as relevant to real-life choices in the here and now. Secondly, utilizing the insights and scientific discoveries of both medicine and psychology, to reconstruct concepts for personal responsibility in how-we-go-wrong (sin) and for our own part in how-we-get-right (salvation).
The assumed need for a workable language was based on the premise that concepts, though subject to abuse, can be critically important in understanding our responsibility in diminished well-being and for charting directions for the reclamation of personal wholeness and happiness.
"Thinking" or understanding--for example, about love and sin, is obviously to be distinguished from the existential states which the words represent. No amount of mental-grasping, of "seeing" (in our mind's eye), can save us ("make us happy"). Still, understanding can be potentially invaluable in avoiding futile efforts and charting productive courses toward a "better life."
Or so we assumed in Fellowship. In summary, we thought that psychology has done well in stepping into the void created when traditional religion shifted from the care-of-souls in the here and now to an alliance with social structures in this world and a focus on disembodied "souls" for an imagined world-to-come. It has failed, however, to move beyond professional jargon for classifying symptoms, into the market place where concepts for ultimate human issues are sorely needed. The "long suit" of religion--language for ultimate issues, was, we thought, yet to be confronted by present day psychology.
Theologies (God-talk) for a theoretical future or otherworld were abundant; but theology-for-now--a language for ultimate issues in our present context, seemed to us to be sadly lacking and badly needed. So we set about to develop one.
In broad summary, the following concepts evolved during the relatively brief history of Fellowship. Since I am the present spokesperson, I assume responsibility for the "definitions" given here. In practice, however, I think that I was largely taught by the members of Fellowship and those individuals who dared share their personal struggles for happiness with me in private and group counseling through the years.
Here I include only the barest outline and explanation of some of the major theological concepts as they were re-interpreted in Fellowship. For further amplification, see my other books, especially The Human Odyssey, which correlates religious language with that of psychology and secular society.
Seen from its most distant perspective, Fellowship's theology--the religion of Fellowship, is about the spiritual life of human beings in this present world. In its sharpest contrast with traditional religion which, for all its activities and involvements in this world, remains primarily focused on an assumed-to-exist otherworld, Fellowship's entire theology is about experience in the natural world of the here and now. All the major subjects of religion--God, salvation, heaven, hell, etc., are understood in Fellowship to be about immediately possible human experiences in every person's present lifetime--not about post-life or non-earthly geography.
By present world, we mean the physical universe as encountered by humans through sense capacities--tangible reality perceived by our bodies through touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound; the "natural world," commonly called. In contrast with traditional religion which is ultimately focused on a "super-natural" world and "super-natural" events--miracles, magic, etc., Fellowship's entire concern was with the natural world which is commonly explored by scientists of various sorts.
Our concern was always with the ultimate in this-worldly experience, human possibilities which exist between the time of everyone's physical birth and death--"the best" in natural bodily life, not a super-natural existence in some sphere, place, or dimension "beyond" ordinary breathing, eating, defecating, etc. The only "other world" in Fellowship's concern was a potential "other world" of human experience which is presently being missed by many--"other" only in the sense of not-necessarily-known-at-the-present-time.
The possibility of an afterlife or reincarnation--core subjects in popular religion, was never the focus of Fellowship's theology. We never presumed to know about such unknowns; maybe there is, maybe there isn't, a "future life"--in either case these are legitimate subjects for scientific exploration, not the major concern of theology--at least as practiced in Fellowship.
The popularly accepted Platonic split between body and soul, or body/mind and spirit, was never a premise for us. All evidences of this division were taken to be signs of "mental illness" or an extremely widespread form of spiritual schizophrenia--the result of sin as understood in Fellowship (more about this later). Spirit, as we used the word, a synonym for soul, was taken as a verbal symbol for personal wholeness, not for some separable "part" of a person as commonly assumed in Platonic philosophy in its many current versions.
Soul, for example, was not seen as some "indwelling part" which can "come" or "go out of the body--that is, is separable from body. Spirit was never understood in Fellowship as a third "part" of a person, as in "body, mind, and spirit."
Instead, soul and spirit were understood as names for human wholeness--unified body/mind, rather than merely a second or third component of humans, the so-called "religious part." One does not "have," in Fellowship's theology, "a soul" or "a spirit." Everyone may be spirited, or "have soul" as colloquially understood, especially in popular music and food ("soul music" or "soul food"), but not in any literal sense. Indeed, these latter states, where one is seen as spirited, or "having soul," were understood in Fellowship as the goal of religion as distinguished from science, medicine, and even psychology.
Only when we are whole, wholly ourselves--that is, when body and mind are activated, embraced, and in harmony--does soul or spirit come to exist. Literally speaking, soul and spirit are existential rather than anatomical words; they are words about being, rather than about things, such as, parts of a machine. They are about a quality or living rather than a quantity of elements.
We "have soul" when we are "really with it"--that is, exist in a fully integrated fashion, when all human elements are harmoniously operative. We "lose spirit" when we are "out of it"--that is, when we cease to be whole, when we are split within, when body and mind are at odds with each other, when we are divided rather than integrated.
In Fellowship theology there is no such event as "saving one's soul" apart from body and mind, because there is no such entity as a soul to begin (or end) with. More about this later when we consider salvation; for now the point is only to note another major way in which Fellowship theology may be distinguished from that of traditional religion.
In summary, the entire focus of Fellowship's theology can be bounded with the space and time words here and now. All theological words--God, Satan, heaven, hell, etc.--are about potential human experiences in this present physical world which scientists explore with microscopes and telescopes, where the big fish eat the little fish, and where death is our common destiny. All the spiritual events--salvation, resurrection, judgment, eternal life--are happenings which occur while clocks continue to tick between the time of everyone's exit from their mother's womb and their deposit in womb of Mother Earth--the natural world, that is.
NATURAL (or NOW) THEOLOGY, the chosen title for Fellowship's perspective on reality, is essentially about fullness of life in the here and now--the church's motto from its beginning. We left speculations about other worlds, an afterlife, and all "there's and later's" (possible "sweet bye's and bye's") to others. We never assumed that "we are right" and "they are wrong"--that is, that "there is no afterlife," but instead chose to focus on "the good life" now. All the major theological doctrines which are briefly explained next are to be understood in this overall context of the ultimate possible human existence between birth and death.
One other overall clarification about the language which follows may be useful before I begin: all religious talk is metaphorical. Whenever human experience is "languaged"--that is, spoken with our language which is based on the concepts of objects in time and space, it must be "metaphored," translated into verbal pictures which are rooted in our things in time/space concepts. We must create verbal pictures, metaphors, which in some recognizably way touch the language of common thought.
Consequently, all the religious talk which follows is figurative rather than literal. The proverbial "streets of gold" which pave heaven, are, for example, figurative, not literal. Since literal gold represents one of our highest and most universal human, tangible, values, it becomes an apt metaphor for pointing toward a quality of human experience which is also at the apex of human possibilities. To say that "heaven has streets of gold" is to metaphor--to point at, with literal language--the nature of this potential experience.
And so with all theological language, as intended here; potential and identifiable personal experiences are translated into literal language which is used figuratively--that is, metaphorically. This, of course, is in contrast with much popular use of religious language which is often meant to be taken literally, for instance, that God is a "real person" and heaven is a "real place somewhere." Fellowship viewed any such literalism of religious language to be a serious spiritual danger in all but the most primal circumstances, such as, introducing children to the subjects of religion. Literal Gods, like real Santa Clauses, are, in Fellowship's perspective, to be understood figuratively as soon as a child or adult is able to do so. Otherwise, all religion becomes but an excuse for remaining infantile.
But to identify religious subjects as figurative rather than literal is not to say they are unreal rather than real. All the human experiences named with religious language are extremely real--that is, they exist as real possible experiences for human beings. Figurative and literal are words about how language is being used, not about the reality of the subjects being named.
Metaphors are chosen because the nature of our language (based on things in space/time), being largely to be taken literally, does not easily lend itself to profoundly real subjects which are outside the realm of tangible things. Metaphors, figurative language, are chosen because they work best, not because the subjects referred to are "mere figures of speech" or "imaginary."
In summary: all religious language was interpreted in Fellowship as metaphorical--as the best way to speak in our literally based language about profoundly real subjects which exist in the dimension of human experience, but not in the objective world of entities--objects in space/time.
In Fellowship's understanding, any metaphor may be potentially useful in certain circumstances for voicing spiritual experience; yet none can be taken literally without serious misunderstanding and undermining the very experience they are intended to represent (such as, going to the North Pole to find Santa Claus). Nevertheless, as noted above, a serious need remains for a language to represent ultimates in human experience. In Fellowship we determined that even with its dangers, religious language remains the best possibility. On this premise, the following perspectives evolved.
HEAVEN & HELL
The two most common human ways of understanding reality are through the dimensions of space and time. They are our best "measuring devices." Primary questions are: Where? and When? First we try to locate our perceptions, our "its," in space: "Where is it?;" then in time: "When did it happen?" Even before naming, our third major way of grasping reality, we try to "place" our perceptions in space and time.
As with all other reality, so with the realities of religion. We approach religious subjects just as we do all other unknowns, asking: Where? and When? Since the major subjects in religion are "the best life" and "the worst life," "good living" and "bad living," one of the first religious tasks is answering the natural question: "Where is this ideal life to be found?" Religion has traditionally answered with: "In heaven." Conversely, it has "placed" the worst life "in hell."
Heaven and hell are spacial metaphors for grasping the best and worst states of human existence. They are literally ways-of-being translated into the language of space; they are not literal places, geographical locations, such as, "in the sky" or "under the earth," but figurative places for "locating" literal states-of-existence. These real ways-of-being, the best and worst in human experience, are given spacial names as a concession to our language structure which uses space as its primary way of mental grasping.
When life is "as good as it can get," we are, in theological language, "in heaven." When "it can't get any worst than this," we are "in hell." Because religious talk has so commonly been limited to literal interpretations only, colloquial speech is often better for understanding religious language as used in Fellowship.
For instance, trying to describe the experience of being in a lover's arms, one may say, "I was in heaven," or, "She (he) took me to heaven." These are similar uses of language. No one thinks, on hearing such a testimony, that the person literally went to some extra-terrestrial geographical location. We commonly recognize it as a really good metaphor--which is the best we can do to describe such a blissful state of existence.
Or, when that same lover jilts us, we may with equal aptness confide to a friend, "I'm in hell since she (he) left me." Again the metaphor is useful in describing an awful state-of-existence in spacial language. One would erroneously conclude that the person had literally gone, for instance, under the ground.
Such colloquial uses of religiously rooted words are not only comparable uses of language itself, but also fairly good theology from Fellowship's perspective. The experience of "falling in love" and "going to heaven" in a lover's arms is one of the best available comparisons for the ultimate spiritual experience which is also called heaven. The agony of losing a lover ("It's hell to be jilted") is, conversely, both understandable by those who have lost one, and also reasonably good theology as understood in Fellowship.
The ultimate human conditions, heaven and hell, are both more and less than these comparisons with romance and its loss may convey, as will be described next; but the uses of language are similar and comparable. Both the heavens and hells of romance, and Fellowship's understanding of the spiritual conditions sharing the same names, are about real human experiences; but not about literal geography. Heaven, as understood in Fellowship, can be anywhere; as can hell. Both are real human possibilities, potentially present at any place in space.
We can "be in heaven," for instance, while in love, in California, or in jail--or all three combined. Or, conversely, we can "be in hell" in a marriage, in Hawaii, or in a millionaire's income bracket. These two major spacial metaphors are intended to allow conceiving the two ultimate human conditions with our most primary "measuring device," namely, the concept of space. Taken metaphorically, like the heaven of a lover's arms, they can be useful devices for understanding and communication. But taken literally, they become extremely dangerous; at least in Fellowship's understanding.
ETERNAL LIFE & EVERLASTING DAMNATION
Time is our second primary "measuring device." After Where?, we want to know When? and How long? When we bring clocks and calendars to measure heaven and hell, we are predictably required to push them to their ultimate limits. These ultimate human conditions require ultimate time for comparison. Eternal, everlasting, forever--time words pushed to their limits, are necessary for metaphoring the profundity of these our grandest human capabilities.
Heaven, measured in time, can be nothing short of forever. "As good as it gets" naturally has to be "as long as it can be." In terms of calendars, this must be eternal. Or, "How bad is hell?," measured with time, has to be everlasting. It really does seem, for instance, that the hell of being jilted "lasts forever." The nights following a lover's leaving are, if described from the perspective of time, "endless."
In Natural Theology the time words, like spacial words, are understood metaphorically. Eternal life--heaven as viewed from the perspective of time, is literally about maximized quality, not infinite chronology. In reality, there is no literal connection between this heavenly way-of-being and clock-measurable time. Eternal life, literally speaking, has nothing to do with measurable time. Because the experience of heaven is so magnificent, we must use the maximum time word as an apt metaphor; but we miss the intended meaning when we take eternal or everlasting as mere clock-time-extended-infinitely (even in the best of locations).
This does not mean that clocks cease to tick or calendars are frozen when we are in heaven or hell, but rather that the nature of the experiences are not touchable by time. In love, for example, "time stands till" when lovers are together, but "lasts forever" when they are apart. Age, likewise, is irrelevant. When in love, we "feel young" or ageless.
Just as the forever feeling in a lover's arms cannot be literally measured with a clock, so with the everlasting nature of heaven. And so with hell, which can only be accurately described with time related words when we stretch them to their limits. Damnation in hell is also beyond measurable time, unless we say it too is forever.
To summarize: using our most common measuring devices of space and time, the two ultimate extremes in human experience, placed in space as heaven and hell, can only be measured in time as eternal or everlasting. Taken metaphorically, these are the best we can do. If they are understood figuratively, they work well; but when limited to literal meanings only, they completely miss the point--as intended in Fellowship.
Both heaven and hell, everlasting life and eternal damnation are, in NATURAL THEOLOGY, potential human experiences open to everyone in every place and time. Any of us can "go to heaven" or literally "be in hell" wherever and whenever we happen to be. The kingdom of heaven, we believed, is, as Jesus said, always "at hand." And so with hell. We can also fall into hell at the drop of a hat, anytime, anywhere. Or "get out."
But to understand heaven and hell as potential ways-of-being in the here and now still leaves these states of existence rather vague. The best and worst ways-to-be point to the extreme nature of each, yet with little clarity. Traditional metaphors, for example, "streets of gold," "playing harps," "no tears and sorrow," "seeing old friends and loved ones," point to the desirable nature of heaven--but what do they mean if taken figuratively rather than literally? "Burning in hell forever and ever" is certainly graphic--but how can we understand this awesomely negative way-to-be, apart from metaphors of fire and time?
Many perspectives may be useful; here I choose three comparisons in which heaven as "it" (this heavenly state of existence) may be recognized beyond traditional metaphors.
Desire versus should. When in heaven we are strongly connected with our desires or "wants." This most primal element in humanity, the juncture between aeons of evolutional directives, now ingrained, and the more recently acquired gift of consciousness, the place where genes for body and genes for mind meet, is best recognized with the awareness of desire--simply stated: "I want to..."
When in heaven our ingrained desires are also in awareness (conscious recognition), and are honored. We "know what we want" and move in harmony with our desires. Asked about motivation in heaven, one is apt to say: "Because I want to."
Conversely, should and ought, the best clues to outside direction, are notably lacking when one is experiencing heaven. One is not directed by the rules of society or other persons, but is in harmony with his or her deepest sense of wholeness. In heaven, we are, in effect, "beyond should and ought"--that is, we exist within the sphere of personal "wants."
In heaven we do not ask, "What should I do?," but rather we wonder, "Who will I be?" Our questions are more about will and won't than about should and ought: "What will I do?," rather than, "What ought I to do?" "What do I want to do?," instead of, "What am I supposed to do?"
This does not mean that social shoulds are ignored or rebelled against so that one is still being negatively dictated by the rules of society--in this case, doing what he should not rather than what he should; it rather means that both shoulds and should nots cease to be the motivating force in one's choices.
For example, in many--perhaps most, instances, when one is in heaven, personal choices may also be in line with social dictates about what one should do. But the critical issue in heaven is that one is choosing what he wills to do, whether or not it correlates with external shoulds; in either case personal desire is at the root of action, not outside direction.
Such willing, acting from personal choice, is from one's wholeness, from all aspects of self--for instance, from "body" and "mind," "feeling" and "thought." Desire is meant here in its fullest sense, not merely "physical" or "emotional" urge only. For instance, in heavenly willing, one may respect a bodily urge or emotional want, and yet decide to act otherwise.
One may choose, for example, to push away from the table, even while "wanting" more food, or, to hold one's tongue while "wanting" to lash out at a loved one. The critical issue in heaven is that whatever one does or does not do is personally chosen rather than dictated by either an outside should or an inside urge.
With Sinatra one might sing in heaven: I did it my way, implying that movement is rooted in desire or "want," personal choice arising from one's whole self, rather than any should or ought that is based in social rule or even the desires of other persons.
Knowledge versus certainty. To say that one acts in the world from desire rather than should, from "I choose to..." rather than "I ought to...," is to point to the primary place of personal knowledge in human well-being (salvation, as defined later). Knowledge is a noun which allows us to talk about the experience of knowing. A major element in human capacity appeared with the rise of consciousness in Homo sapiens; more, as best we can tell, than any other form of life, we humans have the capacity for "holding knowledge"--that is, both for knowing, as do other creatures, but also for "knowing that we know." We perceive, as do fish and birds; but we have the additional ability to "hold perceptions" and transform them into conceptions--that is, "freeze what we perceive, in our 'mind's eye'," and "think about it."
In the context of time, we can consciously "remember" what we have previously experienced, as well as "know in our bones"--that is, ingrained in non-conscious ways. All living creatures "have a past"; but in distinction from them, we humans can know about ours consciously. Projected forward, this knowing of our pasts allows us to predict about the future, including the awesome possibility of conceiving our own deaths. Apparently no other creatures possess this grand blessing/curse.
Our considerable response-abilities (basic five sense capacities plus a possible sixth) which allow for a wealth of perceptions, combined with our later-to-evolve gift of consciousness (holding perceptions in awareness) which opens us to remembering the past and predicting the future, brought together give us a unique possibility for knowing--apparently more than any other form of life.
We humans are indeed gifted with an amazing capacity for knowing! In heaven here, we activate, embrace, and utilize this wonderful gift continually. While moving primarily from our engrained desires, we are always in the process of knowing--of responding in the present (continually perceiving), remembering past perceptions, integrating them in the present moment (called "thinking" or "reasoning"), and then deciding what we will do (or not do) on the basis of what we know.
To be human, we might summarize, is to be knowing. In fact, our species name, Homo sapiens, means knowing human. Along with breathing and other bodily functions, knowing ranks high with what we naturally do more than almost anything else. But human knowing is always limited by the "size of our brains" (cellular capabilities), by the extent of prior remembered experience, and by synthesizing capacities (ability to reason or weigh various perceptions, one against the other). We may have "much knowledge," but remaining human, we do not have "all knowledge." We may be extremely "niscient" or knowing, but we are not capable of omniscience or "knowing everything." Even about anything.
In other words, we are human in the perspective of knowing as in all other regards; which also means: we are not God. Fully capable of "ni-science" (knowing a lot), we are incapable of omni-science. To be human is to be knowing, but not to be all-knowing. As humans in heaven, we may be "really smart"--that is, possessed of much knowing (previously acquired perceptions made into conceptions) and capable of considerable present-tense knowing--response-ability with our various senses in each present moment.
As humans with vast-but-limited knowing, existing in an even vaster-unknown-universe, we wisely know-to-our-maximum, while continually standing on the growing-edge of awe. In heaven we know much, but continually wonder even more. Possessing various degrees of limited knowledge, we can always answer; but continually aware of the limitations of all knowing, that is, of being human rather than godly, we also know that we do not "have the answers."
All this to say that human knowing, which in heaven reflects in con-fidence (with- fidence=fidelity or faith), is never subject to certainty. As humans we may know-what-we-know confidently--that is, faith-fully; but we, short of assuming ourselves to be gods, can never "know-for-sure." Anything.
Self-confidence--affirming knowing faith-fully, is the apex of humanity, the way-we-are while in heaven; but self-righteousness--"knowing we are right," is not possible (so far as I know) while we remain in, or after we return, to Eden on earth. Assuming otherwise (as will be discussed next) is the essence of sin which inevitably exits us from Eden, heaven on earth.
To summarize: using knowledge--the noun for what in reality exists only as a name for the lively process of knowing--as a second "window," we may observe that when in heaven we are continually knowing, confidently (with-faith), but always without certainty. While "there," we may "know much," with which we stand confidently on the growing-edge of wonder; yet we never "know it all." Especially about that which we know the most.
Perhaps colloquial language is best for understanding this difficult-to-grasp, but still broad-gulf in the nature of knowing in heaven. In heaven, humans "are smart" but not "smart-alecy," confident but not "cocky"--certainly not "cocksure" about anything. Sometimes able to "answer," in heaven we can never presume to "have the answers." While affirming our knowing, we never assume the omniscience required for "knowing for sure." We may state what is "right-as-we-see-it"--that is, our honest opinions arising from personal experience, yet we, if we remain in heaven, never get "self-righteous" about anything, especially about ultimate issues, as are being considered here.
Sexy versus chaste. Perhaps the most distinctive earmark of traditional religions of all varieties is their common agreement on the virtue of chastity. Differing, at least by degree, in most other arenas, they converge in their identification of virgin and virtue, essentially as synonyms. In broad summary: sex, beyond extremely pre-defined circumstances, is anathema in traditional American religion. No other aspect of human potential is so widely suppressed if possible, controlled if not.
The severity of this attempt by popular religion to rule out if possible, rule on if not, is even extended to the primal source of language and thought itself. First, there is the attempt to rule sex out of the arena of common language--to prevent its being worded.
There are few "good" sexual words; and the best words for sex, the four letter ones, are generally deemed as the "dirtiest" of all words. In fact, sex and dirty are familiar religious synonyms. The subject of "dirty jokes" must be universally known. Everyone knows what a "dirty mind" is thinking about!
Not only is sex ruled out of language; the attempt is commonly extended to the realm of thought itself. It is just as bad, religious folk know, to think about it as it is to do it. And nobody, inside organized religion or out, needs to ask what it is. The most neutered of all pronouns (no nouns allowed) is the only religious and socially acceptable word to represent this "worst" part of being human.
The very best religious folk, priests and nuns, are obviously chaste. Jesus, in later religious projections, naturally had to be "born of a virgin" lest he be inherently guilty by association--that is, conceived by parents who "did it." The Virgin Mary, the "Holy Mother of Jesus" is a modern synonym for the essence of virtue. How "good" can one get? The present day Mother Theresa is probably the most universally accepted symbol for human good. And of course she must be chaste.
The next best folks, those who are not "good enough" for the orders of chastity, are laypersons who keep all religious rules established for management of this terribly unruly human capacity--the "moral folks" (and every astute layman, if not priest, knows that "morality" is primarily about sexuality). "Good Christians," for example, only do it with the "right person" (only one and that one a spouse married in the church), at the "right places" (certainly they are in secret), for the "right reasons" (procreation), and even in the "right positions" (naturally, "missionary").
Finally, the third best group, past the sexually chaste and the sexually moral (legal), are the sexually repressed--those who, if they can't remain virgins and "never do it," or always follow religious rules of "morality," at least try to keep it under mental control. They attempt to achieve some lessor degree of virtue by "not thinking about it" any more than they "have to." Mental repression becomes a type of third-level virtue for those who find chastity impossible and morality difficult.
The point here is only to note in passing the extreme degree of sexual negativity which characterizes traditional religion. The very idea of sex in heaven would, in most religious circles as well theology, be unthinkable. Unlimited time, unlimited singing, even unlimited gold (wealth) may be acceptable; but what about unlimited sex?
Perhaps this is the most distinguishing mark of Natural Theology, the mentality of Fellowship Church, as contrasted with traditional religious thought. Whereas organized religion is primarily "against it," Fellowship is "for it." Not only does Natural Theology affirm body as essential to, rather than separate from, soul, it also affirms gender--that is "sexuality," as one of the most primal elements in embodied humanity. Fellowship theology is neither otherworldly, anti-body, or anti-sexual.
Virtue, in Fellowship, is not the opposite of sexual, but rather the culmination of sexuality. Agape ("Christian love") is not the antithesis of Eros ("sexual love"), but rather its grandest fulfillment. In heaven, as viewed in Natural Theology, eros is climaxed in agape. "Making love" reaches its highest apex in "spiritual loving." If eros is about "doing it," agape is about "being it"--that is, doing brought to its fullness in being.
In heaven here, "doing it" is not the opposite of virtue, only the beginning basis. The "highest love" is sex-culminated, not sex-negated. Sexual orgasm, the climax of "physical sex" is fine, yet only a down-payment on spiritual sexuality which is much grander. If orgasm is ecstatic (ecstasy = beside or outside oneself), agape is transcendent (beyond self). Getting "outside ourselves" is only a glimpse of literally moving beyond self.
Translating the ecstasy of orgasm (the "climax" of sexual intercourse) and the transcendence of agape into more familiar language, we might say that in orgasm we go beyond the limiting traps of ego, which is, of course, terrifically liberating. But in agape, the culmination of "Christian love," we move even further into the wondrous realms outside self itself.
The nature of sexual orgasm requires letting go of all egotistical concerns ("Is my hair messed up?" "What will people think?," etc.) At that climaxing moment, ego--the psychic box which we all create in order to exist in family and society, is temporarily exited. Nobody remains ego-trapped at the instant of orgasm. For the briefest of times, we experience ecstasy--existing outside of ego--which is indeed an "earthy" escape.
A moment later we--especially us males, may return to ego and wonder, even ask, dumbly, "How did 'I' (as ego) do? (in sharp contrast with the way-we-were at the instant of being outside of our "fragile egos"). Yet for that one brief instant, Camelot does exist. Camelot, however, is not heaven. Perhaps it is a place to glimpse or get a foretaste of our fuller possibilities; but it is not the same as being there.
Ego, as intended here, is a symbol for one's sense-of-self--the mental box which we individually create for safety's sake in living with others, and into which most of us escape, thereafter identifying "it" as ourselves. Once this is done, we mostly believe that "it" (our ego) is "I"--that is, myself. But even deeper or past ego, there is the perceived boundary of self which separates us from the larger world of reality.
This self, which commonly contains an ego, also prevents or limits communion with ultimate reality. Getting out of ego (as in the ecstasy of orgasm) is certainly an advance over the living-death of continual entrapment in ego. Still, however, the larger boundaries of self exist, preventing worth-ship in the universe ("worship of God," as defined in Fellowship).
Before we can experience the wider transcendence into heaven, we must also get beyond our selves, becoming, as described in DESIDERATA, children of the universe,--that is, apart-of-all-that-is, rather than existing only as separated selves in-the-midst-of-reality. This latter emergence, transcending self, is what agape is all about.
In the culmination of eros in orgasm we temporarily escape ego (our sense of who-we-are); but only in the fulfillment of agape (transcending even the boundaries of self itself) do we enter the larger dimensions of heaven. The best of sex, we might say, is a downpayment or glimpse of heaven; it does "seem like" or "feel" heavenly.
These, however, are but appropriate metaphors for heaven. We move from metaphorical meanings to literal language only when we go the next step and transcend self also--that is, make the leap from "making love" to being loving. When eros is culminated in agape, bedroom metaphors become literal theologies. "Good fucking," for example, ceases to be but a crude and socially unacceptable metaphor; it then expresses articulate theology--at least as understood Fellowship whose concern is heaven now.
To summarize: in sharp contrast with traditional theology which views sexiness as the opposite of virtue or "real love," and hence heaven as an essentially non-sexual place, in Natural Theology, sexiness is a primal basis for all real love. Just as we must be embodied in order to be human (more about this later under salvation), so we must be engendered--that is, sexual, in order to be wholly human.
Sexuality, as understood in Fellowship, is a primal element in humanity. Through the activation of sexuality, as culminated in orgasm (and the exodus from ego), we begin a pilgrimage which, if we are faith-full enough, leads to the transcendence of self where we come to be in heaven here.
In Natural Theology the goal, insofar as sex itself is concerned, it to be discretely orgasmic--that is, to exist with one's sexual capacity fully embraced, to be continually-capable-of-orgasm as contrasted with frigid or neutered, and then to act pragmatically in current society.
Discretely orgasmic is also to be distinguished from the more familiar forms of sexual rebellion in which one simply "acts-out" sexually, openly breaking social rules for sexual behavior. "Acting-out" sexually (flaunting religious "morality") may herald an advance over the more "virtuous" forms of sexual-negation; but such behavior is usually shy of even orgasmic existence, and certainly far short of literally being discretely sexual.
In heaven here one is "sexy" plus much, much more; to be less than "sexy"--the virtue in traditional religion, is certainly no way to "get to heaven" in the here and now. In fact, it will predictably keep one out. A person who "can't stand" ego-threatening orgasm is certainly ill-prepared for the faith-demanding experience of also transcending him or her self--which the agape of heaven always involves.
Religiously virtuous, and even socially pragmatic, chastity (in this era of AIDS), may garner churchly rewards and physical tenure; but neither of these are tickets to heaven in the here and now. For this, the courage to exit ego, as occurs naturally in orgasm, and the faith to transcend self, as is chosen in agape, are essential.
GOD AND GOOD
God, in Natural Theology, is good personified, a grammatical, not a theological issue; Ultimate good is what God is all about. Self and society are two major dimensions of good, never separable in the final analysis. Self is like inches in the yard of society. Though inseparable in reality, the two may be visually distinguished; we can see this difference in our mind's eye.
Ideally, both are in harmony, inextricably bound together; each is both for itself and the other. Just as inches (selves) exist and find their being in yards (societies), both essentially a part of the other and therefore for both themselves and the other, so self and society are inherently bound together. Since they are finally inseparable, inches are never at war with yards, or vice verse; nor are selves and society. Ideally.
This harmonious balance, each both for itself and the other, is the ultimate good--what God, the personification of good, is all about. Thus, in the final analysis, good for self and good for society cannot be separated. Just as what is good for inches is good for yards, and vice versa, so what is truly good for self is also good for society.
Ideally, religion is about ultimate good, what is best for self/society--the unit; not one or the other, or one over the other, and certainly not one against the other, but rather the harmonious ideal of both/and. Good religion, in this perspective, is about the ultimate good of the unit, self/society.
Unfortunately, in the world today, religion has slipped from this ideal position to become a servant of society rather than mediating the good of the unit. It has, in effect, taken sides, favoring yards over inches, society over self. It has become one more social institution, like education and government. Both school and church (the structure of religion), are now, in effect, agencies of society. Theoretically religion is about ultimate good; but in practice this ideal is commonly abandoned in the now social institution called church, the structure of religion.
Only the language, theology, and theoretical goal (best for both) remain in the church itself--the socially practiced religions of today. Current major religions are, in this perspective, powerful tools of societies in selfish service of themselves. Theoretically about saving souls (selves), they are, in practice, about saving societies. Never mind the selves which they preach about being for. Churches are generally in service of the values of the societies within which they find themselves; while touting the language of soul and self, they are, in practice, about the subjection, even negation, of self, in the service of goals of society (or at least each particular church-institution as an arm of society).
To clarify this issue I introduce two useful words, genes and memes. Genes are names for segments of DNA, a basic substance of self. Memes (a term coined by E.O. Wilson), in parallel, are names for basic units which activate and power societies. Genes, we may say, make selves go round, while memes are the driving forces of social groups. Genes, for example, move selves to be sexual, sex being the evolved way selves reproduce themselves.
Memes, likewise, move societies in ways which perpetuate themselves. Social values are to societies, what sex is to selves. Societies naturally promote the values which keep them in existence (such as, paying taxes, being patriotic, not stealing or murdering).
The point here is simply to note that religion, which ideally remains concerned with ultimate good, that is, of the self/society unit--specifically, of both genes and memes, has currently lapsed into the camp of one rather than both. That one, obviously--in spite of what is commonly preached, is society. Religion, and churches, their agencies, are now like social memes. They exist as servants of societies, though they keep the language and theology of ultimate good. Just as sex is a selfish gene in service of self only, so religion has become a selfish meme in service of society.
Purporting to be about soul and self, traditional religion, we believed in Fellowship, is in reality about society. Self is valued only as it serves society (including the social institution of church). Naturally it must be kept minimally alive in order to serve; but like slaves in service of a king, selves exist only to serve. The grand ideal in what Fellowship saw as a perversion of religion is unselfishness--that is, negating self in service of the values of society.
Cleverly, traditional religion talks about soul, even saying, sometimes, Be yourselves. The Golden Rule is: Love others as you love yourself (italics mine). Children who survive, however, must quickly catch on to the charade. They say, Be yourselves, but they actually mean, Behave yourselves, or, Have fun as long as you keep our values. When self and society run into conflict, traditional religion, being a meme of society, naturally sides, even unwittingly, with society.
As a device of memes, traditional church is primarily at war with genes which exist in service of self. This fact is not inherently bad; memes, like genes, need agencies in their service. Religion has been and remains extremely valuable in this function.
Natural Theology is aimed at actualizing religion in its ideal sense rather than just being another social institution. We tried, in Fellowship, to reclaim religion for ultimate good, often failing to recognize the power of the worldly church in service of society.
Sin, in Natural Theology, is a name for "how we go wrong," what we do to lose "good living." Sin is a human move which results in unhappiness or, more literally, in un-wholeness. Sin names the way we reduce or split ourselves, ceasing thereafter to be whole persons, "all that we can be"--and therefore "living the good life."
Sin is not about what "they do to us" or any fault of others; rather it concerns individual responsibility, personal moves for which we pay in lost joy. In religious metaphors, sin is that which separates us from God, which gets us kicked out of the Garden of Eden (place of pleasure on earth). Sin keeps us from being in or going to heaven.
Any generalization about "what people do" is, of course, audacious. We are individuals, and, in a sense, everyone's "problems" are unique. Even so, there do seem to be shared faults common to us all, things which humans do in "going wrong." These are named sin in Natural Theology.
Although sin is commonly understood in a religious sense only--that is, as about ethics, morality, or "being good," rather than "bad," in Fellowship sin represents the broad category of human error, "how we all go wrong." Consequently, in Natural Theology, "sin," though drawn from theological language, is more like a secular than a religious category. In psychological jargon, sin is a personal move which results in pathology of any degree--from mild neurosis to extreme psychosis.
To understand sin, as intended in Natural Theology, the first major distinction is this: Sin is a spiritual event, not merely a physical or mental act. Like love and hope, sin is about an event of the whole-person, the integrated organism, rather than of any parts alone--such as, of body or mind, hand or head. Spiritual events or moves are, for example, not merely physical deeds or mental acts--something you can do in the world, with hand or body, or think ("believe") in your head or mind.
This means that sin is a way-of-being, not merely something to do, either as an act of body or mind. The entire dimension of sin is the existential realm of being, not tangible and/or intangible doing--that is, physical behavior or mental thought. This means that sin, as understood in Fellowship, can never be identified with any particular thing one can do or not do, either physically or mentally. There is nothing you can do, with your body or mind, which is inherently sinful. Consequently, there is no "it" which is sinful or "bad," which "I" can become bad by doing "it" (or thinking "it").
Nor can spiritual events be seen directly. Just as we cannot identify love with any particular deed or act or word or idea (they can all be faked), neither can we "see" sin. We may see signs, expressions, or reflections of spiritual moves, but not the events themselves.
On the other hand, any deed of thought may reveal, evidence, or reflect sin; yet no act or idea can define it, since sin remains in the dimension of spiritual events. This means, in summary, that the nature of sin is deeper than deeds of body and/or mind, behavior or belief. We never have the luxury of knowing-for-sure about anyone else's sin, since we cannot see the move directly. We can say that such-and-such an act seems to reflect sin; we can learn to predict the connection between certain deeds, for example, theft or murder, and sin; yet we can never know-for-sure.
In fact, we cannot even catch or know our own sin directly, since it is deeper and less "visible" than deeds and ideas, even than conscious decisions or feelings. We do not "just decide" to sin, or not to.
This is a primary distinction between Natural Theology and the beliefs of most popular religions where deeds and thoughts do define sin. In traditional understanding, sin (for those relatively few individuals who still consider it a viable subject of relevant word), means "doing bad things" or "thinking bad thoughts"--that is, doing things, physically or mentally, which "you are not supposed to do." To broaden the category, in popular theology, sin is expanded to include "not doing" the things one "should do"--that is, there are sins of "omission" as well as of "commission."
To say that sin is a spiritual event, rather than a physical or mental act, is both to distinguish it from deeds only and to affirm its reality as a move of the whole person. Sin, in Natural Theology, is always an event emerging from the integrated individual--that is, in the realm of being or who-one-is, rather than in the physical or mental dimensions where one can act apart from the core of being.
In reality, being, or who-we-are, is usually revealed in what we do, physically or mentally; but, and this is the critical distinction: not always and certainly not inevitably. We can be ourselves, unexpressed in deeds of body or mind; or we can act in the physical and mental dimensions in ways which are not indicative of who-we-are. We can, that is, act deceptively--both with others and with ourselves. It is this human possibility for deception, of others and self, which requires this primary distinction if one is to understand sin as identified in Fellowship.
All the behaviors, especially misbehaviors, and "bad thinking" (such as, "dirty thoughts" or doubting religious doctrines), are defined in the context of one's particular family, society, or church. The "bad deeds" are those which violate existing social structures; "bad thoughts" likewise threaten established belief-systems used to structure a group.
Structures are, of course, required for societies to exist; and ways of maintaining them are essential for social progress. But the error of traditional religion, as understood in Fellowship, was shifting attention from spiritual events at the heart of sin which gets us exited from Eden, to physical and mental acts which get us in trouble with parents and policemen--that is, social authorities.
All sin, in Natural Theology, is, as confessed by David in the Bible, "against God" rather than against rules of society. After King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed, he confessed in his prayer: "Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned..." Certainly he had broken commandments prohibiting both adultery and murder; yet he understood his sin in the context of his relationship with ultimate reality (God) rather than in the breaking of the rules of religion and society. In like manner, Fellowship viewed all sin to take place in this larger context of our relationship with reality-itself rather than in the more limited spheres of family and social misbehaviors.
A childhood reflection of the traditional understanding of sin in the social context only voices the threat as: "Step on a crack, break your mother's back." In other words, breaking a rule offends the current powers-that-be over you. You "upset your mother by disobeying her." So it is with all the social rules--civil and political, as well as family and church.
But in Fellowship's understanding of sin, we "Step on a crack, break God's back," not simply mother's. That is, we break the primary connection between ourselves and ultimate reality, not just our good favor in the immediate social context of family and other groups.
To speak literally about the spiritual event which characterizes sin in the dimension of being rather than doing only, we may summarize by saying that sin is a way-of-non-being, a move which separates us from God or being-itself. Sin, literally speaking, is a quality of being characterized by the negation of being-itself--at least of our individual experience of being. We sin by splitting ourselves off from reality-as-it-is. Since we are incapable of actually destroying reality (only, as science notes, of "changing its form"), what we do through sin is split ourselves; we cease to be whole and thereafter exist "divided within ourselves."
Sin, in the final analysis, is about self-destruction--that is, destroying our whole-selves by doing that which leaves us split-within and "dead" in spirit.
Perhaps colloquial language is the best summary: Before sin we are "with it," "in touch with reality." After sin we are, in varying degrees, "out of it," "out of touch with reality." Before sin we are happy and joyful in the world-as-it-is; afterward, we "lose heart," find "our spirit's dead," and are generally "unhappy," "caught in the blahs," "miserable," or, "depressed."
But how can we understand this spiritual event which has such dire personal consequences? What is this movement we make which leaves us "out of Eden"? Psychology teaches us what our parents "do wrong," as though we need additional instructions for blaming them. Currently the blame is being shifted from mothers to fathers; but aside from the faults of parents--plus those of society, circumstances, bad genes, and chemistry--what is our part in losing happiness. How do we personally "go wrong"? "Their fault" is easy enough to see; but what, if anything, do we ourselves do to negate our own wholeness and therefore happiness?
Before amplifying Natural Theology's answer to this immensely relevant question, I pause to note what I believe to be the major shortcomings of modern medicine and psychology, namely, their avoidance of this question. They have no "doctrine of sin." Carefully they analyze the causes both of disease and dis-ease, of physical and mental "ills," which lie outside the realm of personal responsibility. Diligently they seek out germs, viruses, genes, and chemical "causes," along with parental errors, ecological flaws, and damaging social circumstances. Lacking, however, is equal attention to what we ourselves have to do with our various diseases and dis-eases, our pains of body, mind, and especially heart.
Whatever the reasons, it is this void in current secular attention which is confronted in Natural Theology's attempt to redefine sin. Even though traditional religion has kept alive the language of sin, it has, as we viewed in Fellowship, completely abandoned any understanding of the spiritual event in favor of shifting the definition to social misbehavior only--that is, doing and not doing, thinking and not thinking, particular acts of body and mind. In summary, we cannot turn either to medicine, psychology/psychiatry, or traditional religion for an articulated answer to the nature of personal responsibility--what we ourselves "do wrong" which costs us happiness or "well-being" in the here and now.
From the largest perspective, Natural Theology's answer is that we sin by playing god rather than daring to be human. We abandon the faith-demanding process of activating real humanity, commonly referred to as "being ourselves," in favor of the easier illusion of assuming godhood. We try to "be godly" rather than being human--that is, evolved Homo sapiens.
Our sin is not simply that we act godly, fooling others into believing that we have powers we do not, in reality, possess; but rather that we fall for our own acts. We assume godhood, which, of course, we cannot do in reality--only by splitting ourselves off from things-as-they-are, that is, the "real world." Through sin we cease being human and become "false gods."
"False godhood" may be recognized from several major perspectives, such as, omnipotence and immortality--that is, ignoring the reality of human limitations and assuming we "can do whatever we want to" (if we "try hard enough" or "have enough faith"), or the reality of death by pretending that we "have forever" (are "going to live again," albeit in "some other form"). But the most immediate and persistent way of recognizing the abandonment of humanity in favor of false godhood seems to be with the third attribute of God, namely, omniscience (all-knowledge or "knowing-for-sure").
In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, sin is metaphored with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The most common form of the human temptation to "play god" seems to lie in our apparently universal quest for ultimate or certain knowledge--that is, of what is truly and inherently and finally good and evil. In Natural Theology, this proverbial "apple," is understood to represent all certain-knowledge of good and bad, right and wrong--not merely "good and bad" in the religious or moral senses of these terms, but also in the secular sense of inherently true or untrue.
The nature of humanity includes vast, but always and finally limited, knowing. We can, with our unique capacity for consciousness added to our shared-with-other-animal sense-abilities, know much. But, and here is the critical point where sin enters the picture: we are, while still in the reality of this Garden of Eden, limited to "niscience"--that is, human-knowing, rather than omniscience, ultimate or godly-knowing. We can know-what-we-perceive, plus transform our perceptions into conceptions (with the gift of consciousness) and then ascertain our opinions (mental summaries) of "what we think." But here our human possibilities end.
We can know; but we cannot "know-for-sure." We can, while still human, be confident-in-our-knowing; but we cannot, without escaping humanity into godhood (false, of course) be certain "that we are right."
This latter move, from confidence to certainty, from an affirmed-opinion to a godly-assertion, is the meaning of the "forbidden fruit" as understood in Fellowship. As humans, we can "think we are right," even firmly believe our opinions to be correct; but we abandon humanity when we take the next step into "knowing-for-sure," or, literally assuming that we "are right."
Perhaps the concept of judgment is the best way to grasp this profoundly consequential spiritual move identified in Fellowship as sin. Concluding what we have come to call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached: Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1-2). Of all the possible ways of looking at how we go wrong, judgment, I think, gives the most consistent clue. Even here, we cannot finally identify sin with the act of judging itself, since no spiritual move is inevitably tied to any physical or mental act; still, judging seems to come as near and be as consistently expressive of the spiritual event of sinning as any I have yet observed.
Judging is playing god by "putting down on" or "setting up" some aspect of reality--a person, place, thing, or oneself. Though more commonly recognized in "looking down on,"--seen as a negative judgment, the act is equally dangerous, even more insidious, when we "set up"--that is, "look up to" or idolize some part of reality, usually seen as positive.
In religious language, judgment is about "deviltry"--making a devil, and idolatry--making a god. In the first case, one projects responsibility for negative actions onto a self-created "bad" force "out there" ("The devil made me do it!"); in the second, one imagines a positive power "out there" who may be influenced to favor oneself ("If I am good, God will bless me!"). These imagined figures become the major forces in traditional religion.
In the secular world, outside organized religion, the same practice occurs; only there the outside "forces" are seen in the form of other persons or impersonal circumstances which are deemed to be the cause of negative and positive actions.
In both cases--religious and secular, in psychological language, one projects real personal powers "out there," giving up a measure of personal responsibility. One plays god in the act of creating a devil (a bad force) or a god (a good power) onto which portions of one's actual personal powers are psychically projected and thereafter related to as though they are actually "out there."
Judging is to be distinguished from and contrasted with discerning or discriminating. Although the dictionary does not note this difference, it is critical in understanding the nature of sin as understood in Natural Theology. Discerning or discriminating is perhaps the most pervasive of all distinguishable human experiences, as innate and essential as breathing itself. In fact, we might think of discriminating as "mental breathing," the natural, consistent "pulsating" of the mind, distinguishing this from that, drawing mental divisions between the flowing wealth of human perceptions acquired through our basic five senses.
Literally, discriminating is the way conceptions are formed from perceptions. More than any other single human function, living well is predicated on discriminating well, drawing sharp and accurate lines among diverse perceptions, and then acting accordingly--for example, "This is a green apple; that is a ripe apple. I will only eat the ripe apple." Such essential discriminations are synonymous with knowing. To discriminate is to know. Knowledge is but a name for accumulated and remembered discriminations--that is, lines drawn through acts of perception, and summarized as conceptions--thereafter called knowledge.
A guideline for good living might be: Always discriminate as accurately as your perceptions allow; be discriminate to the highest possible degree, and then act or move in the light of your best discernments. But, if we are to avoid sin which inevitably costs us our "good life," we will never cross the line into judgment. Always discern; never judge.
In broad categories, judgments may be made about it or about I--that is, about external reality, including other people, or about one's own self. "It (he or she) is bad (or good)," or, "I am bad (or good)." The same type judgments may be made in secular (non-ethical) language such as "It is (or I am) right (or wrong)."
Although the dictionary and popular understanding do not make these distinctions--judge, discern, and discriminate are commonly used as synonyms--the distinctions noted here may be seen in the following ways: To discern (used here as a synonym for discriminate or know) is to see/weigh/decide--or to perceive, form a conception, "think about it," and choose what, if anything, to do. If an action is taken, it is an outgrowth of one's experience, a reflection of one's wholeness. One may then say, "I will do such and such...," or, "I choose to ....." Such a decision or choice is seen as practical or impractical. It is made on the basis "of my opinion" which may or may not be right, but is "the way I see things just now."
On the other hand, to judge is to go far beyond a personal discernment (an "I think...") to form a godly conclusion ("It is..."). The move is from human knowing ("niscience") to godlike omniscience (knowing-for-sure). The judgment may be made on the basis of an immediate omniscient conclusion, a prior judgment, or one accepted from others.
In either case it is not simply a reasoned-out personal opinion, but is an assumed godly dictum. With a discernment, the result is viewed as practical or impractical; but with a judgment, the conclusion is right or wrong. In the first case, it is "In my opinion..."; in the second, it is "the truth." In the first, one knows that "I may be wrong." In the second, one assumes that "I am right."
With discernments, moves are on the basis of "I will (or won't)." With judgments, moves are on the basis of "It is right (or wrong) and I should (or shouldn't)." With discernments, moves are acts of courage, since there is no certainty involved; but with judgments, moves are acts of obedience--simply doing what one should do. Consequently faith, in regard to discernments, is primarily about "nerve," "guts," or courage; as related to judgments, faith is essentially about blind ignorance--that is, refusing to think and be reasonable, "just taking it on faith."
As noted earlier, sin is a spiritual move which cannot be identified or seen in specific acts of body or mind. If judgment, one of the ways of identifying sin, is an unseen spiritual event, then how may it be recognized? How can we know when we or someone else is judging rather than simply discerning?
The answer is: we can never know for sure about anyone else's sin, since we cannot see the internal difference between discrimination and judgement. Even our own sin is seldom subject to conscious recognition at the time of its occurrence. More often it is only recognizable in retrospect.
SIGNS OF SIN
Even so, there are many signs or clues which may reflect the reality of spiritual moves of sin. These, however, are merely "symptoms" rather than the "disease" itself. Each may occur and be present for reasons other than sin. Still, the statistical probability of their connection is, I believe, very high. When we find any of these signs or symptoms, the likelihood of sin is great.
Again, colloquial language is perhaps best for recognizing these "symptoms" of sin. The first and most pervasive sign is "feeling bad" or unhappy, physically and/or mentally. The cost of sin is spiritual death, in proportionate degrees to the extent of the sin. This consequential loss of spirit is most immediately recognized in "feeling bad," in contrast to the well-being ("feeling good") which is the natural human condition prior to sin.
Certainly there are many physical diseases (germs, viruses, etc.) and harsh circumstances which inevitably cause bodily discomfort; most commonly, however, we are able to avoid, adapt to, or change these external dangers without loss of happiness or a sense of well-being. Most of the physical discomforts commonly experienced--various aches and pains, stomach and bowel disorders, stress, tension, and even allergies--are, I think, the immediate and long range results of personal sin.
Also, the wealth of "emotional" (spiritual) threats--uncaring and abusive parents, impersonal and dictatorial social situations, harsh work environments, etc., are unquestionably the lot of all persons some of the time, and of some persons all the time. Each of these destructive forces may naturally lead to various fears, defensive modes of behavior, and serious limitations on the ease of personal happiness. Even so, by far the majority of "emotional disturbances"--fears, anxieties, depressions, compulsions, and multitudes of psychiatrically diagnosable "mental diseases" are not caused by "bad" genes, chemistry, parents, or society, but are the result, I think, of our own sin.
My best current estimate is about 90/10--that is, 90% or physical and mental woes are initiated by personal sin, while only 10% can accurately be credited to germs and viruses, genes and chemistry, parents and bosses, or harsh social and work circumstances. In other words, "We have met the enemy," as Pogo, et al, have noted, "and he is us."
In spite of our huge propensity to claim innocence, blame others, and plead "not guilty," most all personal unhappiness--"feeling bad" physically/mentally, is, I conclude, more properly related to the reality of individual sin. This is not to belittle the immense effects of the 10% external negative forces to which we are subject, but rather to point toward a more accurate balance between real causes of human misery--those which we can properly blame on circumstances and/or other people, and those for which we bear personal responsibility.
"Feeling judgmental" is a second major sign of sin. Whenever we "feel like putting down on others" or someone in particular, especially "on ourselves," sin is likely to be at the source of this symptom. "Feeling judgmental" is perhaps best recognized as "getting mad at" another person, circumstance, or oneself. "Mad at," as intended here, is a psychological rather than a merely physical "feeling."
We naturally and healthily feel angry when someone steps on our real toes--or otherwise harms us physically or impedes our progress toward personal goals. This inherited capacity for emotional reaction in preparation for coping with reality is, however, quite different from the psychological event of "getting mad" at those who only "step on our toes" symbolically--that is, who offend our "precious egos," or more literally, our false godhood assumed in the course of sin.
Quite properly we feel angry, experiencing the real physical emotion evolved to assist in coping with reality, when truly confronted by opposing circumstances; but we sin when we make the judgmental spiritual move of "putting down on" that which opposes us, especially when the offense is to our own false godhood ("Who does he think he is, getting in my way!").
Erroneously, society and traditional religion often identify the emotion of anger with sin itself, as though "it is sin to get angry." More accurately Paul, in Ephesians 4:26, warned: "When you are angry, do not resort to sin." The emotion of anger is an essential ingredient in the human condition and consequently has no innate connection with sin. But more wisely, whenever we are angry, we carefully avoid going the next step of "feeling judgmental" ("getting mad at").
Judgments typically begin with external projections in which we "get mad at..."--that is, blame another person or outside cause for our own discomfort, and then "put down on" them or it. In time, however, these external judgments tend to be turned inward. Instead of judging them or it, we blame ourselves; we "get mad at" ourselves. The sin revealed in these latter forms of self-judgment tends to be even more insidious and damaging than judgments projected outwardly, perhaps because they are even harder to detect and stop.
Although judgments are more commonly recognized when directed downward, when we "put down on" others, or, "look down our noses" at the negatively judged other, sin is equally evident when the direction is reversed--when we "put up on," or, "look up to" another. Setting others up--idolizing, adoring, even worshipping them, is, of course, socially acceptable and generally encouraged.
Still, judgment is judgment, whether viewed negatively in "looking down on" or positively as in adoration. Sin is equally evidenced in either, regardless of the direction, or the social rejection or acceptance, of each. In fact, judgments evidenced in idolizing or "looking up to" another tend to be even more spiritually destructive, perhaps because they are so acceptable and lack social support in their recognition.
"Feeling judgmental"--whether directed downward or upward, at others or at oneself, is often evidenced with language clues. Although the spiritual act of judging cannot be finally identified with any language, any more than with particular deeds or thoughts, certain words do seem to more regularly accompany judgments. These include: too, should/ought, and always/never.
First the word too, as in, "I'm too fat," or, "You're too fast," "My nose is too long," or, "You are smoking too much." Each of these too statements implies the assumed omniscience which lies at the source of sin, allowing the judgments to be made. I may, in fact, weigh more than average for my height and age; but who am I to know-for-sure that I am too fat? You may be going faster than I prefer; but, without assuming the godhood required for omniscience, how can I know that your speed is too fast?
The second set of words, should/ought, is commonly used in such statements as: "I should be on a diet," or, "You ought to try harder," or, "I should not be so angry," or, "You ought not to smoke so much." Again, these words are clues to the likelihood of underlying sin which allows the implied judgments to be easily made--as though I know-for-sure what should or ought to be, or not to be.
Always and never: "I will always love you," or, "Things are never going to change." "You always treat me like that." "I will never make that mistake again." Each of these statements are clues to the sin of assuming godlike omniscience--certain-knowledge about what will happen across time. Also, omnipotence as well as immortality, the other two major attributes of gods, are implied. What grand powers I must assume to declare that I will always do anything, certainly something so demanding as loving! Chronological words, such as, always and never, imply a grasp of time which must be beyond the reach of mortal humans.
These language clues are, of course, only clues. The sin does not lie in saying or not saying them; nor does their use necessarily mean that a judgment has actually been made. Each of these words can certainly be used in their ordinary and colloquial senses with no judgment involved.
I can, for example, convey a truthful observation in saying, "I am too fat"--meaning only that I am over the average weight for those my size and age. Or I can say, "You are driving too fast," meaning, "too fast for my comfort." In like manner, should/ought and always/never are valid words for ordinary human observations, mere opinions from one's own perspective.
More often, though, these terms seem to be associated with the kind of judgments which arise from the sin of assuming godhood. They should not (this, I hope, is an example of safe usage) be taken as proof or certain-evidence, but only noted as possible clues for one who wishes to be attentive to sin. They have proven especially useful to me in trying to confront my own sin.
A third major set of signs of sin, evidences of playing god rather than being human, appears in the specific ways we try to not-be-ourselves, that is, attempt to negate innate human capacities. Not-being, in its broadest categories, specifically includes: not-wanting, not-sensing, not-feeling, not-thinking and trying to be non-sexual.
Humanity may, of course, be viewed from many other perspectives; but these five--wanting, sensing, feeling, thinking, and being sexual--seem to be common to all humans. We sin, as noted earlier, when we try to "be god" rather than being-who-we-are, namely, human. Consequently, our vain attempts at godhood may be recognized in efforts to hide or negate various elements of humanity.
Wanting, for example, is perhaps the deepest and most primal element in humanity. Desire--first, for air, then food, and thereafter for resources essential to self-survival and enhancement--is common to us all. To attempt to snuff out desire, to try to not-want, is to strike at the core of human being. Not-wanting is the most elemental form of suicide. Consequently, in the quest for godhood, which is the source of sin, not-wanting, or the attempt to, becomes a major sign of sin.
Sensing, the capacity for perceiving stimuli from the outside and inside world, is a second major part of being human. Seeing, hearing, smelling, etc., combine to provide the bridge and connection between I and it, that is, between self and world. To live well, this connection is essential. Sin is evidenced whenever I attempt to negate this bridge by not-sensing--not seeing or hearing, for example, what in fact I am created capable of seeing and hearing. Trying not to see or hear, that is, to honestly sense my surroundings, is a second evidence of sin.
Being emotional, commonly called "feeling," is a third major human capacity. To be oneself, is also to feel normal human emotions--glad, sad, mad, and scared--in response to sensed reality. In the sinful attempt to play god, another common evidence is the effort to not-feel--that is, to negate this emotional part of human capacity.
Further along the evolutionary scale the capacity for thinking has evolved. We all have ability to "think-for-ourselves," to be somewhat reasonable, along with the more primal and pervasive capacity for being emotional. To be human is also to think, that is, to activate the degree of "sense-making" capacity we have been given. Conversely, we sin when we attempt to negate this part of ourselves, whenever we "try not to think." Not-thinking, like not-wanting and not-sensing, is another sign of sin.
Finally, along with these shared, pre-gender capacities rooted in the first 44 chromosomes in each of our cells, there are also the last two, either XY or XX. To be human is also to be gendered, that is, male/female, with countless variations along the sexual scale. Whenever we are being ourselves, rather than trying to play god, we are sexual also.
Being sexual, like being emotional, has proven problematic in stabilizing societies. Hence, controlling sexual desires and feelings is an essential responsibility of all social groups. This much is also human; but sin is committed whenever we go beyond sexual responsibility and try to become non-sexual beings. Then we are playing god. This latter move of trying to negate given degrees of sexuality is, like other attempts to not-be our wanting, sensual, feeling, and thinking selves, another common evidence of sin in today's society.
For clarity, this third set of signs of sin--not-wanting, sensing, etc., is literally about not-being, as distinguished from acting or pretending-to-not-be. Certainly we may, for sake of survival as well as enhancement of circumstances, often pretend, for example, to not-see or not-feel. But acting-deceptive-about-being is not the same as not-being.
Honest deception is a critical part of existence, from chameleon lizards to careful children; but chosen deceptions, acting-like what is true is not true, are different from self-negations. Only the latter are signs of sin. Pretending, for another example, to be non-sexual (especially for males) is a regular element in most social relationships; but our sin is evidenced when we go the next critical step of playing god by not-being sexual.
In summary, fooling others is often pragmatic as well as loving; sin is not necessarily signified in public deceptions. But when we make the next move and fall for our own acts--that is, fool ourselves in the attempt to deceive others, then sin is evidenced.
Being human, who-we-are, that is: wanting, sensing, feeling, thinking, and sexual, is culminated in the last-to-evolve capacity for conscious awareness. Can there be any surer sign of sin than negated awareness? Not-being any part of who-we-are, not knowing-what-we-know, must be one of the best evidences of our own original sin.
CLARIFICATIONS OF SIN
Because sin is so commonly understood as an act of body and/or mind only, further clarifications may be useful. What, for example, is the relationship between prejudice and judgment in sin as understood in Now Theology?
PREJUDICE AND JUDGMENT
Prejudice, understood as pre-judgment, is to be distinguished from judgment being amplified here as a major clue to the existence of sin. Everyone is inherently prejudiced in the literal sense of this term. By definition, the nature of evolution and genes is that certain pre-judgments are written into our innate scripts. In addition, early learning adds further information which is then "ingrained" if not engened--for example, that fire burns. We all have pre-judgments, are prejudiced, about the hotness of fire. We learn, for survival's sake, when we see or feel fire to react immediately, without "having to think about what to do."
Such pre-judgments about "our own kind"--that is, our kin, our family, our blood, our gene-pool--are, I think, also "ingrained." All parents, for example, are prejudiced about their kids; certainly we grandparents are, about our grandkids ("Got time for a few pictures?").
More seriously, and dangerously, racial prejudices--a sense of personal identity with "our own kind," are but a part of this same genetic pre-judgment. "Something within us" inclines us to an unthinking attraction to, and protectiveness about, those with whom we share the most genes.
Many such prejudices are natural and innate, and to be distinguished from judgments which are at the heart of sin. Sin-related judgments only begin when natural prejudices, rooted in genes and early learning, are themselves judged by an individual to be good or bad. Prejudice itself is not sinful; it is only natural and therefore to be expected in every confrontation with new stimuli or circumstances. This, if you will, is the true genius of evolution: that all creatures, humans included, "learn from experience," becoming naturally prejudiced about what has served best for survival in the past.
Avoiding the sin revealed by judging, we "keep on learning" from all new experience--that is, beginning with our pre-judgments (all that we have inherited or learned before), we continue to be open to receive and evaluate new data, just as our ancestors and we ourselves have done previously. But when we sin, we don't.
Instead, we judge ingrained inclinations or acquired learning to be inherently good or bad. We play god with prior knowledge, judging it and/or ourselves, rather than remaining responsive to new information and experience, thereby participating in the continuing process of creation and evolution.
In summary, prejudice is not sinful; it is the crowning jewel of evolution. But judging any prior prejudice to be inherently right or wrong is indicative of the spiritual move of assuming godhood, fleeing humanity, and thereby sinning. Racial prejudice, for example, is natural and not inherently sinful; but judging such prejudices to be good or bad is indicative of the type of sin which costs us good living.
The Nazi or red-neck versions of such judgments are evident enough; less obvious, but often more destructive, are liberal versions where one is not merely adamant about prejudice, but is self-righteously prejudiced against prejudice itself. These latter sinners are often more dangerous in the long run than are the first!
Perhaps such sinful self-righteousness (playing god by assuming omniscience) is nowhere so evident as in religious beliefs--tenets, creeds, doctrines, notions, and codes of behavior judged to be inherently right. Secular judgments (i.e., that mother knows best) are problematic enough, but religious judgments (i.e., that God doesn't like such and such) can be disastrously destructive not only to those who make them, but also to those who must live around others who do.
Because such religious judgments are not only viewed as inherently sacred by those who hold them, but also socially acceptable even by those who don't, they can be immensely tempting, inviting judgments about them.
If sinning via judgments about secular prejudices, such as, racial discrimination, is tempting, judgments about religious prejudices, such as, godly discriminations, are doubly so.
RIGHT AND SIN
Everyone's way, the Bible notes, is right in his own eyes. Assuming our own perceptions, and therefore conceptions, to be right--in the sense of accurate or correct, is normal, natural, and certainly not to be identified with sin. If I perceive, for example, that fire burns me, it is only natural that I take the statement, "Fire burns," to be right. Or, if I feel sweaty, I naturally think the conception, "This room is too hot," is right. Or, conversely, if I have learned that the world is round, I will think that you are wrong if you say, "The world is flat." And so on.
Such trust in the accuracy of our perceptions, and the conceptions which emerge from them, is, as best I can tell, at the heart of confidence (which means: with-faith), which is crucial to any sense of personal well-being. We must "believe we are right" if we are to live confidently in the world.
What is the connection between this common experience of "being right," which seems to be an essential element in good living, and the judgments which lie at the heart of sin? First I note that although they sound and often appear to be the same, they are vastly different in experience. Confidently feeling right about one's perceptions/conceptions and the sin of self-righteousness are in no way synonymous. Paraphrasing Paul's teaching about anger ("Be ye angry, but sin not") we might say, "Be ye right, but sin not."
But how can we see this critical difference? How can we understand the gap between being confidently right and sinfully judgmental? The leap into sin has been made, I think, when we move from, "This is how I see it," to, "This is how it is," from a human, personal, confession of our own experience, to a godly, impersonal, declaration about "the truth."
Being human requires the faith to affirm one's experience with reality, to be honest about "the way I have found it to be"; but sin calls for turning godly instead, self-righteously (omnisciently) proclaiming that I know-for-sure that my perception is a grasp on reality which must be universal for everyone--in other words, that I, being godly, know more than my truth; I also know the Truth.
Honest experience naturally leads to true-to-me; but sin occurs whenever one projects his or her perceptions and experience on to anyone else, assuming that since if is true-to-me it must also be true-for-you. The godly move is from individual honesty to universal Truth. Personal honesty in responding to reality normally leads to confident opinions. Were we, prior to sin, to speak literally, every sentence about reality would be prefaced with: "In my opinion...," or, "As I see things...."
For example, "In my opinion, a good breakfast is a healthy way to begin a day." But whenever I go the next grand step and assume that my opinion is universally "the Truth," and can freely say, "You ought to eat breakfast because it is good for you," then my sin has predictably occurred.
Or, as a warning to me at this instant, I might write as an honest human being, "As I see things, judgment is a major evidence of sin." But if I go the next huge step and preach, "You ought not judge because it is bad for you," then my own sin would call for confession and repentance.
In summary, sin cannot be identified with the word right because it is properly used both for self-confident-about-human-perceptions and for self-righteous-about-godly-conclusions. In both instances one appears to "be right." But in the first, before sin, one simply "feels right," or, "is of such and such an opinion"; whereas in the second, one "knows he is right," and it has nothing to do with only his opinion. "It is right." When one simply "feels right," without sin, his or her mind is continually open to new information which may lead to "being wrong," plus a move to a new and perhaps completely different "answer." After sin, however, one's mind is closed--that is, he is defensive about his position and not able to hear or receive new or different information. After all, he "already knows he is right!"
The rightness which precedes sin leads to answering--or more literally, a willingness to answer with one's present information, to share personal perspectives; but after sin, one "has the answers"--that is, may act authorative about "the Truth" which he presumes himself to possess. Before sin, advice or "preaching," unless asked for, is rare and tentative; afterward, it is abundant and commonly inflicted without request.
CONSCIOUSNESS AND SIN
Sin, as noted above, is a spiritual move rather than a physical deed or mental thought. A spiritual move may be revealed or concealed by either deeds or thoughts, yet can never be identified with either. To distinguish sin from thinking is also to separate the move from any direct connection with consciousness. It is entirely possible to sin "without knowing it" consciously. In fact, it seems to me that almost all sin is committed without personal awareness at the time. Even while in the midst of the damning spiritual move, we may "feel like," even "think" we are "doing the right thing." Almost no one, as best I can tell, sees that he or she is sinning when they do do. Only in retrospect, if ever, do we come to recognize our sin as sin.
Perhaps recognition does occur the very first time, for some; but even then, and certainly thereafter, we almost inevitably project or blame our sin on others. We typically assume ourselves to be innocent. "It is not my fault." Rarely, if ever, is sin a conscious choice. In our beginnings, we are, I think, innocent; but after sin, we evade real guilt, personal responsibility for our sin, and assume a false innocence which we often cloak thereafter with a false guilt, a kind of psychological shame rooted in super ego or conscience rather than in ourselves.
In fact, sin is commonly cloaked with "good intentions." Not only do we "not decide" to sin ("don't mean to" do it), we usually justify our breaks-with-integrity with a host of "good reasons" for what we have done. That the proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions testifies to the essential disconnection between actual sin and "well meaning" humans--that is, persons without conscious awareness of what we are doing at the time.
But to note that sin is not necessarily, and even rarely if ever is, a conscious choice, is not to place the responsibility for the move outside ourselves. Indeed, this whole endeavor to re-define sin apart from deeds and ideas is to re-establish and realize personal responsibility in losing wholeness and happiness. Even when we do not see, recognize, or realize in consciousness at the time, still we are personally responsible for these moves against our integrated selves. No one else can "make us" sin; and no one else is responsible for our sin. We do it ourselves, even without awareness at the time.
The point of such recognition is to provide options for correction. So long as we perceive ourselves as innocent victims of circumstances or the misdeeds of other persons, we have no option but to blame them and seek redress or redemption from others--both notably unproductive choices. Only to the degree that we re-assume responsibility for our loss of integrity, do we also regain the possibility for becoming whole again.
But how can we be responsible for what we "don't know" we are doing at the time? Perhaps comparison with other spiritual moves may clarify. Hope, for example, is a positive spiritual move. Hope, like sin, is a real spiritual state or event, yet it cannot be identified with any specific behavior or thought. Hopefulness is crucially important in good living; to exist without hope is an awesome way-to-be. Still, we do not simply decide to lose hope, any more than we can regain it by conscious decision alone. Hope, like all spiritual events, is profoundly relevant, yet beyond control by the fragile powers of conscious thought. And so with sin.
RESPONSIBILITY AND SIN
Commonly, responsibility is understood as a synonym for duty or "doing what one should do." Literally, the word is about response-ability or ability-to-respond. Human wholeness or integrity and response-ability (in this literal sense) are inextricably bound together. To be human is to be able-to-respond--that is, to be moved and to move in accord with one's perceptions of reality. As noted above, we may sin without conscious awareness of what we do; still, we are and remain responsible for our sin. We pay, even when we are unaware of what we have done. The cost or results of sin are the same, despite conscious ignorance of the facts.
Moving from the common definition of responsibility as duty to its literal meaning may help clarify. In the spiritual move which we have identified as sin, this act of integrity which is against integrity itself, we in some measure sever our response-ability; afterward, we are not as response-able as before. We responsibly sever or diminish our own ability-to-respond, usually, as noted above, with "good intentions."
For example, perceiving a personal threat such as physical or emotional injury by another person, we may, without sin, feel fearful or angry and cope by fleeing, fighting, or simply attempting to hide ourselves physically or by deception ("I did not see anything..."). So far, response-ability is not only maintained, but heightened in the attempt to survive intact. To the ability-to-perceive, we have, in the latter instance, added the expanded ability-to-deceive, which requires even greater response-ability.
So far, one is still coping with a threatening force, the offending other person, on a level emotional plane. The other is not judged bad and "put down on," but pragmatically coped-with in the light of one's perceptions of personal threat. Response-ability is maintained, even in the process of coping. But with the spiritual move of sin, a portion of one's personal ability-to-respond is split off and commonly projected on to the offending person. Power, as it were, is taken from oneself and given to the other when we move from practically-coping-with to judging the one who has, say, "gotten in our way," or, "tried to hurt us."
When we, in our mind's eye (or wherever we may metaphorically position the move) "put down" on the offending one, change him from mere offender to real enemy, removing him from the level human plane to a "downward place," we thereby sin, unwittingly giving up a portion of our own response-ability through negatively empowering the other.
Since we are not truly godly, possessing the omnipotent power to actually lower another person, we cannot literally "put them down" except in the illusion of our mind's eye. Actually we succeed, in such acts of sin projected externally in our judgment of the offending other, only in negating our own wholeness, splitting our integrity, dividing ourselves--and losing thereby a portion of our response-ability.
Sometimes, of course, the move of sin is not projected externally, in this example onto an offending person (the situation would be the same when the "other" is an object, animal, circumstance, or fact-of-life), but is done to ourselves directly--that is, instead of moving against the other, we move against ourselves, "putting down on ourselves" rather than on them. Instead of blaming them, we blame ourselves.
In either case, in the attempt to remove them or ourselves from the level human plane (where all are equal), we end up splitting ourselves in the legitimate attempt to protect ourselves, whether by destroying the other or escaping response-able presence as ourselves. We unwittingly negate our integrity or wholeness, becoming less able-to-respond than we were before.
Perceiving a threat, we move--and this is the act of sin--beyond simply coping, to an attempt at removing the apparent source by judging and "putting down on" the person, object, place, or circumstance. This is the move toward godhood, an omnipotent-like ploy. But the actual "putting down on" the other is a "setting up" of ourselves.
In order to judge the other as bad we have to place ourselves above the human plane, as though we are god. We effectively remove ourselves, even as we attempt to remove the other. Or, in the second way, when we try to remove ourselves directly by "putting down on" ourselves rather than the other person, to blame us rather than them, to save ourselves by "hiding" from reality, the same result ensues.
Whether we sin by projection, playing god by trying to remove the other, or by turning the blame on to ourselves, we actually attempt to negate reality itself. Consequently, whether directed externally or at ourselves, all sin is literally "against God," as David confessed.
Paradoxically, in an attempt to evade personal response-ability, whatever its scope or limitations may be, either by blaming the other or ourselves, we may end up innocent in our own eyes (as we see ourselves) or super-responsible (in the duty sense of the word), but in either case we lose a part of our ability-to-respond to reality as it is. Thereafter, we are partially dead as spirited persons, incapable of responding with the full extend of our inherited capacities. In the misguided attempt to irresponsibly blame the other ("The devil made me do it"), or take responsibility on to ourselves ("It was all my fault"), we sacrifice some of our true respond-ability; with it goes a part of the human capacity for happiness.
We usually "mean well," but we end up confirming the pave stones on the proverbial road to hell. Spiritual sin is indeed a costly mistake, even if our company is universal.
Fellowship's "plan of salvation," evolved, practiced, and honed through 31 years of exploration, can be summarized in five "steps":
1. GET REAL
2. JOIN UP
3. THINK FOR YOURSELF
4. DO YOUR OWN THING
5. MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR
By "plan of salvation" I mean the way to good living, the answer to everyone's primal question: "What am I to do with myself if I want to be happy?" To be human is to be faced with constant decisions about which way to go, what to do, or, what is the best path toward "well-being"? What should one do if he or she wants to live well, to have a fulfilled life, to, in religious terms, get to heaven?
Like other religious groups and secular-help organizations, Fellowship confronted this most basic of human questions and arrived at its own "plan of salvation"--way of succeeding or "finding the good life." Along with countless other "ways to be saved" (for example, by faith, by works, by a "good stiff drink," by a lover, or innumerable combinations) Fellowship also explored for a "path" (recipe or set of directions) for finding happiness. But unlike other "plans" familiar to me, Fellowship's was both different--as a variation on the common theme, and also uniquely distinctive in its inherent premise.
In sharpest distinction from others, we always viewed our "plan" with tongue in cheek, that is, with the unstated recognition that all such "plans," ours included, are inherently a joke. In reality, we recognized that there is nothing one can do to "be saved." No plan, ours or any other, will "work for you." Being happy (which we identified with "well-being" or salvation) is a state-of-being, not a reward or result of any type of doing (More about this later).
Fellowship's "plan," which I summarize next, was an outgrowth of our basic premises, including the quest for happiness on earth rather than in an afterlife. It was discovered and developed in the process of our explorations; we, in effect, learned it together. I, of course, am the present spokesman for the group; but largely I am giving concept and voice to what I learned from the members of Fellowship, along with my own personal experience, in seeking fullness of life in the here and now. Together, I and they, evolved this "plan" which we experienced in the School of Hard Knocks,--that is, in our shared life with one another.
Only now, in retrospect, am I able to articulate this "plan" as clearly as these five "steps" may imply. In practice, while our "plan" was taking shape, we mostly stumbled along, discovering first one aspect and then another. Then, following emphasis on one or the other of the "steps," we were faced with exploring their relationship with each other. I believe, however, that all of these final elements were there in the beginning of our experiments together, cloaked often from awareness, but continually operative in the stances and activities of Fellowship.
Although the Fellowship "plan of salvation" can be summarized in these five major "steps" or phases, in practice they are all connected and inter-twined. Only in theory (mind's eye) can they be separated. Because religious language (God, sin, salvation, etc.) is so commonly understood as being about something "unreal" or "other-worldly," and because secular language (health, happiness, fun, etc.) is usually taken to be about "non-religious" subjects, I will use both (as we commonly did in Fellowship) to clarify this unique "answer."
Before amplifying the five distinguishable "steps," I present broad perspectives on Fellowship's "plan of salvation." Fellowship was, from the beginning, concerned with "good living" in the here and now rather than in some imagined there and later. The possibility of an afterlife--a supposed form of existence beyond human mortality--was never a concern or focus in Fellowship.
As previously amplified, all religious "places," such as heaven and hell, were assumed to be here, in this present physical, earthly, world. The kingdom of heaven, as the Bible refers to "good living," was never projected into an afterlife, but was taken, as Jesus spoke of it, to be "at hand" or "within you." Hell, likewise, was understood as a state of human existence experienced in this lifetime rather than as a place to go after we die.
Fellowship never presumed to know that such places do not exist, or judged these ideas to be but childish imaginations, as many atheists are prone to conclude, but only to shift the focus of attention from their possibility to this present lifetime, before the grave. The salvation we sought was in this life time; the heaven we hoped to enter was on this earth; the God we wished to meet was in the "Garden of Eden (meaning pleasure)" which most people call "this world." We neither affirmed nor denied the possibilities of post-grave resurrection or reincarnation--an afterlife of any sort; we simply left such speculations up to others while we focused on "being saved" now.
This major shift of attention distinguished Fellowship's "plan of salvation" from that of most other traditional religious groups. On the other hand, from secular perspectives, our approach to "the good life" differed from psychology and medicine in that it included attention to ultimate issues, such as God and love--"spiritual" concerns.
Both physical and mental health, which ignore matters of meaning and ultimate reality, are, we concluded in Fellowship, also short-sighted and limited in their approach. We sought to combine real concerns of each discipline without falling either into the magical beliefs of traditional religion or the materialistic beliefs of traditional secularists.
One other major distinction of Fellowship's answer to the ultimate question--What's it all about, Alfie?--lay in a radically different understanding of any "plan" of either salvation as religionists call it, or mental health as psychologists call "the good life." Fellowship's "plan of salvation" or answer to: "What must I do to be happy?," was, as stated above, always tongue-in-cheek. Behind or beneath our answers about "what to do?" lay a primary awareness of an essential distinction between all doing and being itself. Ultimately, we recognized that there is nothing one can do to be "saved." Being, the realm of happiness and salvation, is inherently distinguished from doing--all acting and behavior.
Literally speaking, no deed or action, no "plan," no-thing one can do, has any essential connection with being whole or happy. Recognizing this primary fact about the relationship between doing and being--that is, their inherent disconnection, Fellowship's "plan" did indeed sound like just one more how-to-do-it scheme in a religious and secular market which is already flooded with quick-fixes for unhappiness.
But not so. Our "plan" embodied the joke about all "plans"--both religious and secular, namely, that none of them "will work" in the sense of guaranteeing the rewards they promise. Being happy or whole, it turns out, is not achievable by any prescription, recipe, or plan-of-action. There is--sorry about this, nothing we can do to be. Speaking literally, the bad news is: there is no way to find happiness; Nothing works!
And yet there is "work" which seems to always precede or underlie happiness. In quest of being whole there are potentially positive directions which can be given. Call them a "plan" if you please, but understand the humor in such a "recipe for salvation." It won't "work for you," but it may guide your "work" as you seek fullness of life.
This is the joke: speaking literally, there is no "plan of salvation," either religious or secular," which is guaranteed to "work for you." The answer is: there is no answer. There is nothing we can do, even if done perfectly, which can "make us" whole or happy. And yet there are guidelines, we believed in Fellowship, which can be given. It is in this playful sense that Fellowship presented its own "how-to-do-it" guide to personal happiness in the here and now.
In summary: "step" one, GET REAL, means: become yourself; be whole; be saved. Be who-you-are as a separate one, apart-from all other persons. Next, JOIN UP means: join the human race--that is, become a real, as-you-are person in community, in the society in which you find yourself. Be close and connected to others, intimate, without giving up who you are. In addition to being yourself (step one), be apart-of the human community. Get Real with others.
In Fellowship we used the word ecumenical to represent such an openness to others which JOINING UP always requires. By ecumenical we meant: go beyond the traditional lines of division as commonly drawn by race, religion, and creed--skin color, beliefs, and modes of behavior. Accept and JOIN UP, join-in with those of other races, ways-of-thinking, and ways-of-acting.
Step three, THINK FOR YOURSELF, means in Natural Theology, be honest about your own real beliefs, including doubts and disbeliefs. The critical issue in GETTING REAL, that is, being your wholeself, in regard to mind or "thinking" (one significant aspect of who-we-are), is to become honest about perceptions and thoughts also. Whereas traditional "plans of salvation" call for adhering to so-called "right beliefs"--those of the individual religions or denominations, which they assume to be "right," Fellowship took the radically different position that only honest believing can save one. No particular ideas or beliefs can be assumed to hold magical powers to save one who adhers to them--or so posited Fellowship.
The "way" to be saved, as related to mental activity, is, Fellowship found, to honestly think one's own thoughts, no matter what they may be. Instead of making a virtue of "not doubting" the assumed to be "right beliefs" of a particular religion or denomination, Fellowship encouraged honest doubt as the only path to discovering one's true perspectives.
For example, believing there is a God is a traditional religious belief commonly held sacred. "You can't," for instance, "be a Christian if you don't believe in God and in his son Jesus Christ." Fellowship took the position that no degree of diligence in accepting this or any other idea will save one. Instead of "believing in Jesus Christ" as the only way to salvation, for example, Fellowship supported each member's honest doubts about this and other religious notions.
Wholeness includes mental integrity as well as bodily unification. We had no answer to the question, What are the right beliefs?, because we held that personal honesty is the critical issue in fullness of life in the here and now.
The fourth phase of Fellowship's "plan"--DO YOUR OWN THING, is an affirmation of the principle that only self-chosen paths of behavior can reflect personal wholeness. To find happiness we must also affirm the human capacity for choosing our own way. Apart from such choice--the activation of each person's potential for "deciding what to do" in each situation--all behavior is but an act or charade. Only "being real," that is, doing-what-one-decides-to-do, can result in personal wholeness and therefore happiness.
The popular notion, especially in religions with their various denominations, that "acting right" or "behaving oneself" (defined differently in each group) is, like "thinking right" (holding to the "right beliefs"), essential in salvation, was essentially discarded in Fellowship. Just as we found that there are no "right beliefs," so we discovered that there are no "right behaviors" or ways-of-acting which guarantee happiness.
All ways-of-acting or life-styles, like prescribed beliefs (ways-of-thinking), can be followed without personal wholeness. No such prescribed behaviors, we found in Fellowship, inevitably lead to personal salvation.
Instead of offering some new or different "right ways-to-live," Fellowship encouraged its members to choose their own ways, based on personal experience, in deciding what to do in each situation as well as in overall directions. Instead of "Do the right thing," Fellowship said, in effect, DO YOUR OWN THING--that is, live creatively, continuously choosing what to do instead of seeking outside direction or trying to follow a prescribed behavior deemed "right" by others.
The fifth and last "step" in Fellowship's proposal is: MAKE LOVE. This colloquial expression is intended in its fullest connotations. First, making physical love, or being sexual as one aspect of humanity, is affirmed. Again, in sharp contrast with traditional religions' well recognized stances of sexual suppression, and popular associations of sex and sin in all but the most carefully controlled circumstances, including positions, Fellowship took a positive stance about sexuality in general and "making love" in particular.
But MAKE LOVE, though rooted in sexuality, is assumed to include all other aspects of self, others, and world. Past physical "love making," Fellowship affirmed being loving in all of life. Whereas traditional religions make a virtue of self-denial, self-sacrifice, even martyrdom--none of which can reasonably be considered as self-loving, Fellowship held that all other expressions of love in the world begin with a full affirmation of oneself--loving oneself, it may be called.
Loving others, is, of course, affirmed in all religions; but in Fellowship this was never viewed in the popular sense of "living for others," or, "trying to help people," certainly not "trying to save them." We viewed loving others as but an advanced step in loving oneself, an increased degree of "selfishness," not an opposite of self love.
From loving self to loving others, Fellowship's "plan" at its most radical level proceeded to affirm loving the world--that is, loving reality, "the real physical world" including all its "laws of nature." Again in contrast with most religious perspectives which, in effect, view this present world--physical reality as we find it--as something to be evaded or escaped from (as in seeking a "better life" in "another world"), we supported the perspective that "this world is a good place." The popular notion of a "bad world" which needs improving if not escaped, was never supported in Fellowship.
Love, understood in Fellowship as the last "step" in becoming whole, begins with an affirmation of sexuality and extends all the way to ultimate reality--self, others, and the "real world" as it is.
Finally, according to Fellowship's "plan," the result of GETTING REAL, JOINING UP, THINKING FOR ONESELF, DOING ONE'S OWN THING, and MAKING LOVE, is heaven-on-earth. This, we discovered, is a "way" to know God in the here and now. We may meet God, enter the kingdom of heaven, through these "steps." Fullness of life, the happiness or wholeness which is a common human desire and possibility, is to be achieved, we found in Fellowship, through this path. Now for amplifications:
1. GET REAL
All religions in theory and, I suspect, in their earliest practice--at least as envisioned in the minds of their founders, are about improving the quality of the lives of their followers in the "real world." With time, however, it seems that a radical shift inevitably occurs; the focus turns 180 degrees. Either the "real world" gets changed from "this world" to some imagined "other world" beyond the one where we find ourselves--in the future or in an assumed "other realm"--or else the emphasis here is reversed from "getting with it" to "getting out of it." Usually both.
Consequently, in spite of their theories, theologies, sermons, and stated intents, religions--and denominations within them, tend to be focused on some "other world" rather than this present place as experienced with the senses of the body. They commonly try to provide comfort and aid in this world, yet end up focused elsewhere--"beyond" or "other-than-here-and-now."
Some see the "other world" literally, as a "place beyond the sunset," that is, post-this-life and the grave (heaven in the skies; hell under the earth); others who do not hold for an afterlife, or even a reincarnation (a future return to this earth,) focus on "another world of experience."
In consort though, whether concerned with an afterlife elsewhere or a better-life on earth, both end up with an emphasis which is most clearly seen as "getting out of it" rather than "getting with it." Salvation in the first is like getting a ticket to an other-worldly heaven; in the second, like acquiring access, for example through "self-improvement," to a "better life" in the future. The two approaches often appear essentially different and at odds with each other--as, in fact they are in many aspects of their practices. In common, however, both see "it" as elsewhere or later.
Neither focuses on "it" as the stuff of genes and body, on "reality" as grasped by chromosomes embodied and activated in desires, feelings, and perceptions. Both use the same word, real, but their "reality" is not what is most primally experienced by the obvious substances which we recognize as "I." Their "reality," the "it" they seek, is, for both, other than the "it" commonly understood in the colloquialism quoted above, namely, "getting with it."
When "it" or reality is understood most primally and sensually, popular religions--both the afterlife and the improved-life varieties on the same theme, are ultimately "a'gin it" rather than "for it." The first and more conservative groups hold for an essential split between physical and spiritual (body and soul), while the second and more liberal groups of religionists avoid the ultimate split but still "put down on" body in daily life (see it as instrument or possession) and "up on" mind.
Even though those in both religious groups, conservative and liberal (for example, evangelical Baptists and liberal Jews or Unitarians), claim their focus to be on "reality" (defined differently), "reality" for each is finally different from what an ordinary, non-religious person sees as the "real world."
Using the same language, their "realities" are not the same. For instance, the Ultimate in Reality, as a liberal name for God (which includes the word reality), is rarely understood as what an ordinary person means by "getting real" or the "ultimate in reality."
This is the difference I attempt to articulate here. Because the same word, reality, is used by all, seeing the essential distinction in the ways it is commonly used may be difficult. Finally, I think that colloquialisms may come closer than learned dissertations in representing this important distinction. For example, comedienne Joan Rivers' advice, "Oh, get real," as contrasted with any minister's message, "Pray to God" (even when named the "Ultimate in Reality"), may reveal the relevant distinction.
Few persons take the two messages to be the same; most everyone will understand them in entirely different categories. The first, of course, is at the essence of humor; the second is "deadly serious." The second kind of religious message, common in all churches (even though the language and definitions vary considerably), is, even when understood as about "reality," quite different from the focus of the first "get real."
I belabor this distinction in order to note what I consider to be a major difference between the focus of Fellowship and other churches (and religions) as best I understand them. Although Fellowship was always in a religious context, was "a church" (a non-profit corporation) in the eyes of the law, met (often) in "a church building," used traditional religious forms (such as prayer and worship services) as well as religious language (God, salvation, etc.), and was even viewed, I suspect, by many as "just another church" which "was different" (even weird), but still in the "religious" ball-park, the deeper facts are to the contrary.
Unlike other churches (even religions), both conservative and liberal, traditional and "new age," Fellowship was from its beginning focused on "reality" as secularly understood, never on "reality" as "other-worldly" or different-in-this-worldly. We were about "getting real" as advised by Joan Rivers and commonly understood by laymen. God as "Ultimate Reality," as I preached and intended, was a name for the ultimate in this reality, not some imagined "other reality." To meet the "real world" as it is (not as we might wish it were), is to meet God--at least as I intended my messages to be understood. To "get with it" is, inevitably and certainly, to "get with God."
"GET REAL" in Fellowship meant "get human," not "get godly." My messages were about becoming increasingly more human, more embodied, more fully Homo sapiens--never about becoming more disembodied or even about improving oneself. We sought the ultimate in this-world-ism, not some other or better world. To become increasingly "real"--as you are (rather than may imagine or wish yourself to be), was viewed as the way to meet God, a religious name for the fullness of reality.
We were returning, we thought, to the theoretical intents of most religions, at least to those of their founders--that is, to a focus on full-living, to truly becoming what psychology has come to call oneself (avoiding the popular understandings of soul), rather than supporting some imagined escape from the earthy realities of personhood.
Even the more established stance of providing comfort and support to individuals until they can get to the "better world" was placed on back burner in Fellowship. The awesome challenges inherent in "becoming real," of "getting with it," were held forth, even when traditional comforts such as those commonly offered by prayer and promises of another life which softens the harsh reality of human death, may have been expected.
In early Hebrew history (as I understand it) no split was perceived between body and soul (later to be called "mind"). The whole-person--body/soul, in immediate time and place, was the religious concern. The "priest" was both healer and politician. As healer, his concern was with "whole-health"--that is, well-being of embodied persons, not simply of disembodied "souls." As politician, the direction and management of social groups in which individuals found themselves was of equal concern. Religion, at least in this older understanding, was focused on the present reality of persons in time and space--on best-possible living in this world, not on some imagined "other-world."
In time, however, with the rise of Platonic thought in which psyche (soul or mind) came to be considered separable or apart from soma (body), and of far more importance, the focus of religion shifted from "whole-person" to "soul" only, with soma or "body" relegated to second place. Religious organization also came to be viewed as a separate institution apart from existing social structures, not the idealizing force within all politics.
Christianity, as it were, compartmentalized itself, focusing on an imagined separable entity, thought to exist, for a time, within the body. It also largely withdrew from existing social structures and began to focus on "other-world" concerns rather than being the yeast in present society. In fact, it became more of an irritant or judge of society than a participant in its positive evolution.
Focus on "soul" as separable and better than "body" naturally led to an elevation of "soul" (soon to be synonymous with "religious" concerns) and a "put down" on "body"--even a judgment of "it" and its natural desires as "bad" or "evil." But as religion continued to separate itself and its focus from the real world of physical health and social concerns, the human problems which remained focused therein did not diminish or go away. All the glorious promises of a "better world" elsewhere and later did not eliminate immediate pain, suffering, and injustice--nor the legitimate human concern with them, only a poultice for them.
These human cries for help with immediate concerns led, I think, to the rise of what has now become the profession of psychology or "mental health." When religion vacated the premises of immediate personal concerns arising from whole-person dis-ease, a void was created in the "helping profession." Priests were there to deal with the immaterial "soul"; but who would help with material bodies, especially the "diseases" which were coming to be associated with "mind."
First, enter medicine (and "witch" doctors) to deal with the illnesses of "body," now left stranded by vacated "souls." Then later came psychology to deal with problems of "mind" which had been left detached (in theory) from physical "body." These two major "healing professions" arose, I think, in the absence of primal religion which had vacated responsibility for whole-persons in immediate social circumstances. Although psychology came to consider "mind" as its concern, the root of its name--psyche, means soul in Greek, which earlier (before the Platonic split) had referred to the essence of human being, the "heart," we might say, of human reality.
As psychology came to prominence, Christianity which had isolated itself from current, real problems of its followers, while focusing on the "other-world" and an imagined afterlife, increasingly found itself out of touch with current living. At the present moment, psychology is, I think, nearer in its focus to primal religious concerns than is the traditional Christian church. Literally, Psychology is America's religion today.
Whether or not I am accurate in this broad historical summary, the current situation--in practice if not theory--does certainly evidence a fourfold split in human concerns: religion (for "souls"), medicine (for "bodies"), psychology (for "minds"), and politics (for social concerns). I place soul, body, and mind in quotes to indicate their assumed divisions or imagined-to-be separable existences.
Religion as about reality, indeed the Ultimate in Reality, has been replaced by a "religion" about non-reality (as scientifically and commonly understood), about some "other-world" of either space and time (conservative religion), or type of human experience (liberal religion.) Real concerns have largely been left to medicine, psychology, and politics.
Intentionally or not, popular religion is primarily about comfort in the often difficult real world. Its primary service is providing psychic insulation from the vicissitudes of reality--a belief system about a "better world," a theology supporting such speculative wishes, a "plan of salvation" for how to get to it, a support group of similar believers, and authoritive parent figures (priests and ministers) to manage the insulating structures.
Marx was, I observe, accurate in viewing traditional religion as an opiate of the people. Popular religion is like a socially acceptable psychic narcotic whose primary function is to help people "feel good" in a scary world, through a system of comforting and protective beliefs and practices. Freud, sharing this understanding, could reasonably speculate about The Future of an Illusion--which he apparently understood religion to be.
This was the scene, as best I understand it, into which Fellowship was born. Although in a "religious" context (it was a "church"), Fellowship was never like traditional churches, either conservative or liberal, in regard to its real focus. Unlike "religious" groups which had primarily non-real (other-worldly or "spiritual" as opposed to physical) concerns, we focused on the ultimate-in-this-world concerns--those currently attended by doctors, psychologists, and politicians, healers and directors in the real world.
As noted earlier, Fellowship was truly a "Non-church Church" in that its focus on the ultimate in this-world experience took it out of the realm of "religion" as popularly understood, and into the world of medicine, psychology, and politics--the "real world."
In principle (theory) and practice, we explored "church-in-the-world" (the subject of an early Fellowship conference)--that is, becoming a "church-of-what's-happening-now." This perspective was not, of course, forced on anyone (indeed, it cannot be); members were accepted with the old understandings and beliefs in religion as a comfort or insulation from the real world.
Whenever possible, without denial of reality, I assisted and participated in such comforts. Certainly comfort is commonly needed, especially when we encounter the more difficult aspects of life in the real world. Still, the deeper focus on reality, rather than escaping--or even extended insulation, remained the concern of my ministry. (As noted earlier in MY ERRORS, I always had difficulty with this balance.)
2. JOIN UP
The second "step" in Fellowship's "plan of salvation" was explored in our venture into the heady waters of real ecumenicity. JOINING UP, as reflected in an organizational stance, is about community or openness to intimacy. Before pointing out Fellowship's explorations into this second phase of the salvation process, I amplify the phenomenon of JOINING UP itself.
Step one, GET REAL, is about becoming yourself as separate from other persons--your private or personal self, we may call it. After the umbilical cord is cut at birth, we all exist as separate, "cut off" persons, contained in our own skins. We are, in observable ways, apart-from the outside world, including all other persons. We are lone ones--a-lone-ones in a primal and essential sense. To become ourselves we must first activate or become those elements of humanity which are posited within the skin which appears to separate us from the rest of the world.
But, though we are "cut off," en-skinned, none of us exist--at least for long--in isolation from the outside world, for example, from air and food. Skin, it turns out, is a permeable boundary. We appear to the eye to be "cut off" and entirely separate, while in fact we remain essentially connected to other elements without which we soon cease to exist. Through the pores of our skin and other orifices we remain connected--taking in and giving back--to elements of the world outside our skins. Our "edges" are not so solid or impervious as they appear.
Likewise with social connections. Obviously "cut off" from our mothers, still we cannot exist for long without relatively continuous connections with her and/or other human beings. Separated in some ways at birth, yet we remain apart-of our families which are themselves apart-of larger social communities. Even though we appear to be a-lone-ones, as John Donne noted long ago, No man is an island, entire unto himself... We are all also, as he wrote, a part of the main.
Our existence, paradoxically, is both as a-lone-ones and as apart-of-ones. We are at one and the same time a-lone and a-part-of. What seems to be logically impossible is nevertheless true. I--and you--am both apart-from and a-part-of the outside world, both physically and socially. As separate human beings, apart-from everyone else, we are also members of the human race--in ways less obvious to our eyes, a-part-of everyone else.
The second "step" of Fellowship's "plan of salvation" involves GETTING REAL about this less obvious fact-of-life, accepting our a-part-of-ness as well as our apart-from-ness. In the broadest sense, it involves joining the human race, accepting our common and shared humanity, becoming a member of the Family of Humankind. But in its more immediate sense, JOINING UP means accepting and activating "membership" in the social groups in which we find ourselves--the various "clubs" of the human race.
This self-evident situation is the basis and reason for the second "step" in Fellowship's "plan" for happiness. If we are to become real and whole,we must do so in context--that is, in the physical and social worlds in which we find ourselves. We must "find ourselves" (become who-we-are) both as a-lone-ones and as apart-of-ones--both as separate from the world and as connected to the world, that is, in private and in community.
Inherently, we are all a part of the human race; but human capacity allows us to lose both awareness of this fact as well as our harmonious connections with the rest of the human race. In this second "step" we rejoin the human race--that is, accept the fact that we do exist in community as well as alone, and learn to do so well. We become not only human beings (our separate selves), but also members of the human community (our communal selves). To our aloneness we add withness. Without negating separateness we come to "be ourselves" together with others--our larger and fuller selves.
Joining Fellowship was viewed as one part of the process of joining the human race, existing in the community of other Fellowship members and friends. If Fellowship was to be a place for becoming whole, it first had to invite personal wholeness (GETTING REAL), but also invite becoming one's social self--GETTING REAL with others.To represent this necessity, Fellowship tried to become an accepting community open to all persons who wished to be in such a group.
Although most churches are theoretically "open to all persons," in practice this theory, we observed, is seldom made operational. Specifically, we noted three major barriers which commonly short-circuit openness to human intimacy: race, creed, and behavior. Many churches sing about whosoever will may come.
Yet in deed, religion has in large measure come to be identified by racial roots, creedal systems and behavior patterns--the "right" blood, "right" beliefs, and "right" behavior. Otherwise one cannot join; or, must "convert," and is soon excluded when thought and action rules are violated.
We determined in Fellowship to do as much as we possibly could to remove these traditional walls and truly become a place for joining the human race, rather than becoming just one more exclusive religious club. The invitation to JOIN UP, if it is to become real, must certainly go beyond these common religious barriers. If we were to be a truly inclusive church, a place where people are invited and supported in becoming fully human, we had to remove these major walls.
Only extremely limited intimacy can exist, we thought, if the church excludes persons on the shallow bases of color, beliefs, or behavior. If one has to "look right," "think right" and "act right"--with right pre-determined by others, before "joining the club," then the church cannot possibly be a place for joining the human race.
Consequently, Fellowship tried to become a church which can sing whosoever will may come and actually mean it--that is, to be a community which accepts persons of all races, creeds, and life styles into full membership and participation. This means, in practice, that Fellowship tried to be racially integrated, ideologically inclusive, and non-judgmental about behavior. (Only in retrospect can I begin to recognize the audacity of this effort.)
First, and with far less threat than the latter two, Fellowship began as a racially integrated church. There were, to my knowledge, no other such churches in Baton Rouge at the time. In 1963 the winds of racial prejudice were still at storm gale proportions in the South. To merely "advocate integration" was sufficient cause for social rejection at the time. (Two years previously my wife had been fired from teaching in Baton Rouge High School after I preached a mild sermon about racial integration.)
Then, in order to be a community where honest thinking is encouraged rather than prohibited, we established ourselves with no "official doctrines" or required beliefs. Members in Fellowship were invited to "think for themselves," that is, to explore and be honest about their own beliefs rather than blindly ("without doubt") adhering to beliefs of others. Mental honesty, including honest doubting, was encouraged. Not only was doctrinal latitude allowed, but even atheism--disbelief in God, was acceptable in Fellowship.
Finally, in order to invite and support behavioral honesty rather than general phoniness, Fellowship established itself without "official behaviors"--that is, without "right ways of acting." In contrast to traditional religious groups with strict codes of behavior required for membership (or certainly inner-circle membership), we set out to become a church which was relatively non-judgmental about behavior. Again, personal honesty--in deed as well as thought--was encouraged and supported in Fellowship.
For example, a conservative life style was as officially acceptable as a liberal life style. Selfish behavior was allowed along with self-less behavior. "Helping others" was, of course, encouraged; but so was "helping oneself." Behavioral tolerance was added to racial and credal tolerance in Fellowship.
As nearly as we could, we tried to become a community which affirmed being over behavior of any sort. Personal honesty, understood to be essential in "step" one of Fellowship's "plan of salvation," was elevated over "perfect acting" by any standards. There was, as nearly as we could uphold the principle, no "right behavior" in Fellowship--no way to achieve status, certainly not virtue, through "acting right."
In summary, in order to be a community which invites persons to GET REAL rather than to escalate racial prejudice, intellectual dishonesty, or phony acting, Fellowship tried to eliminate these common barriers to human intimacy. As best we could, we said to all: "Come on in; JOIN UP. Join this community of persons who do not exclude on the basis of race, creed, or behavior."
"It is okay," we said in effect, "to be your honest self with us. Become who-you-are in community. Join the human race, beginning with this particular group of persons who affirm being human over acting godly."
This was Fellowship's way of personifying "step" two, JOIN UP. Whether in Fellowship or elsewhere, our understanding was that JOINING UP in whatever social context one exists is an essential part of becoming whole and happy.
3. THINK FOR YOURSELF
This third "step" in Fellowship's "plan of salvation" is an amplification of a part of Step One--GET REAL. Thinking is one aspect of human potential. To become oneself includes embracing this capacity also. Conscious thinking represents the latest-to-evolve major human gift--the apex, we may say, of evolution to date; or, in religious language, God's newest offering to mankind. As the latest/newest capacity, it is like icing on the cake--full of delightful possibilities, but also the most frothy and fragile.
We all have possibilities of thinking for ourselves, of "being reasonable" as it may be called; but in comparison to older and more established capacities--for example, emotions and desire, thinking is the new kid on the block, often a showoff, yet relatively weak and still not quite at home in the bodily system. It is more like a wonderful new toy than the bread and butter of human existence which is more rooted in selfishness and sexuality than in being reasonable.
Even so, thinking remains an extremely relevant part of who-we-are if we are to live well in the rapidly changing world in which we find ourselves. The older capacities--desire and feelings, for instance, evolved in the jungle. They are excellent and ingrained, well designed for primitive survival; yet they are inadequate for meeting the ever-changing circumstances of modern society. For this, we need think-ability, the capacity to reason, to "put two and two together and come out with four" rather than simply "but I don't feel like it."
Even though fire, for example, is attractive to the eye, once we learn that it also burns, it is no longer reasonable to insert hands; in like manner, after we learn about the effects of stress, smoking, racial prejudice, ecological abuse, and the AIDS virus, it is unreasonable to participate in our own predictable destruction, even when our older genes incline us otherwise.
But for these more advanced forms of reasoning, not yet ingrained in genes, we need to embrace think-ability also. Smoking and racial prejudice, for instance, may still "feel good." If we don't activate reasoning, we are primitively inclined toward that which we now know can damage both our personal and social bodies.
This to briefly note the fact that whereas thinking is relatively new and fragile in the overall human pilgrimage, it becomes increasingly relevant to our continued existence on the planet, and certainly to personal well-being in this era of fast-change. The luxury of prejudice, including religious pre-judgments called doctrines or dogma, is far too dangerous for the emerging 21st century. If we are to "grow up, " to GET REAL, to face reality as it now is, we need--we concluded in Fellowship--to more openly and fully embrace the human capacity for thinking.
This premise seems logical enough when we deal with more mundane matters, such as, hands-in-fire, stress, smoking, etc., but it becomes more difficult to face in regard to ultimate issues, such as, love, hope, meaning, God, salvation, death, and eternal life. Society tends to support thinking about immediate issues--health risks, for instance; but traditionally, religions have cornered the market on opinions about ultimate issues, closing the door to reason or thinking for oneself about more weighty matters of human existence.
In their commendable efforts to provide comfort to individuals confronting ultimate issues, such as, death, religions have unwittingly (I am benevolent here) done so at the expense of other human capacities which are sorely needed for fullness of life in the here and now--especially think-ability. The comfort of ultimate answers, religious certainty, for instance about what happens after death, seems to be highly desirable by most persons; but the price of closed-minds--which all certainty requires, is, we determined in Fellowship, too high to pay at this time, especially when it undermines capacities needed for living well now.
Religious prejudice--"beliefs," the assumption of "right answers" about ultimate issues, has regrettably become the foundation and bulwark of religions. Even though they venture into other aspects of life, such as behavior, tenets remain at the core of religious structures. Religions are founded and maintained by allegiance to certain distinctive beliefs--intellectual pre-judgments; denominations or sects within major religions define their existence by variations on the primary belief systems of their parent religions.
Christianity, for example, which is founded on a "belief in Christ," includes many sub-groups with various pre-judgments about particular aspects of Jesus' teachings. In common, all share core beliefs which become the foundation of organized "services" and other activities.
As noted, these dogmatic assumptions provide a significant element of comfort to adherents in confronting ultimate issues of life. For instance, we all face the challenge of finding meaning in life; it goes, it seems, with the human territory. A meaning-less life is hardly worth living, as everyone knows. But facing such an awesome issue on our own is indeed a grand quest; what a temporary relief it must seem to have a religion which provides a ready-made "right answer" without our even having to think! Just imagine: being given the meaning of life, along with the answer to what happens after death, without even devoting a single moment to thinking about it!
This, of course, is precisely what religions traditionally offer to their followers--creedal security blankets for life in a scary world, a gift few can decline and none can reasonably blame them for. Facing ultimate issues as an individual is indeed an awesome matter, one requiring considerable faith; but more about that later. For now, I simply note the dilemma faced in Fellowship when we began to recognize not only the comforts of creeds, but also the price tags inevitably attached, namely, closed-minds in all areas where beliefs exist.
Only in retrospect can I acknowledge the brazen choice of Fellowship to risk throwing out the baby blanket of beliefs in quest of the reclamation of human think-ability. At the time, it only seemed reasonable! Now, however, I can at least dimly see the threat inherent in letting go of ultimate answers in favor of affirming the newest and yet fragile human capacity for individual thought.
This, however, was what we rather unwittingly did. In order to invite GETTING REAL and to become a place where embracing and exercising human capacities was not only permitted but also encouraged, we dropped the ancient religious habit of offering sacred beliefs to members. Instead of telling what to think, extending the comfort of ultimate answers, we chose to offer instead, a climate for thinking--beginning with immediate subjects and extending to ultimate issues of life and death, including love and meaning.
Ecumenical, as noted above in Step Two--JOIN UP, as an invitation to all, means that we held no sacred beliefs, no pre-established notions, religious or otherwise, which a person had to accept in order to be a "member in good standing."
Once a Jewish man came with a friend to attend a Sunday service. He apparently enjoyed the occasion and continued to visit regularly. After several months of quietly sitting in the back of the auditorium each Sunday, he motioned me aside after a service to ask this question: "Do you have to be a Christian to belong to this church?"
His apparent meaning as well as the ultimate humor of his question struck me fiercely. I could not but laugh as I tried to respond to both by answering: "I do not know of any church where one must be Christian to belong."
He must have understood me on both levels; with a smile he went back in, took a membership card, and returned the next Sunday with his request to join. He was welcomed and remained a member for several years.
Perhaps THINKING FOR YOURSELF can be better understood if the distinction between beliefs and believing is drawn. Beliefs (the nouns) are static entities, "frozen thoughts," the remnants of prior believing. They are like dried bones of previously living mental activity. Believing (emphasis on the ing part of the word), on the other hand (as the verbal form, the participle, implies), is active and alive. Beliefs are symbols of what-has-been; believing is a name for mental activity which is yet alive in the present moment. One can be believing; one can only have beliefs.
Beliefs may also be recognized as mental possessions, "things one has," or, "holds in his (or her) mind." One may properly say, "I have my beliefs." Such mental entities can be staunchly defended, protected, and even promulgated. They may also be used as power devices for manipulating other persons. As possessed "things," they can either be rejected or honored and adored.
Believing (the participle rather than the noun), conversely, is never subject to possession in time and space. It is an on-going event which only exists in the process of itself. One may be believing or not-be believing, but one can never possess believing. Like breathing, believing only exists in the process which the word names. We may use the phrase, "holding one's breath," as though breath were an entity, but this is a metaphor. When one ceases breathing, it is no more. Both breathing and believing are ways-of-being, or, we may say, "things to do or not do." In either case, both are events rather than entities, ways-of-being, not things-to-have.
Although the noun, beliefs, is commonly used for religious opinions, with thoughts reserved for secular notions, both are essentially the same. The same parallel between beliefs and believing exists between thoughts and thinking. Thoughts (the nouns) are but dead representatives--symbols, for thinking, which is lively and on-going. We may have our thoughts, just as we have our beliefs. Both are mental entities subject to possession and hence rejection, along with various other uses as noted above.
In order to write, speak, or communicate with each other, we must, in effect, temporarily "freeze" or "push the pause button" on the on-going process of believing or thinking. Just as we may "pause" the drama on a VCR tape in order to focus on a single frame, so we may temporarily "pause" the lively process of believing or thinking in order to examine or share a single "frame" (a belief or idea).
But not for long. Soon the tape will be ruined--and the thinker. We may "hold our breaths" and beliefs, briefly, but if life of body and mind is to continue, we must soon be about the business of breathing and thinking.
Temporarily "pausing" the on-going process of believing, "framing" it into static beliefs for examination or communication, is not the same, however, as permanently killing the process of believing and substituting dead beliefs in its place. We must briefly transform lively believing into static forms if we are to examine or communicate with one another; but if we are to stay mentally alive we must not kill the process (the thinking-capacity) and fall into the trap of idolizing old beliefs.
To do so, we discovered in Fellowship, is to miss the kingdom of God in the here and now. If we are to be saved, we must be believing--that is, continually in the on-going process of thinking our own thoughts, without ever falling into the trap of idolatry--idolizing a single belief or thought.
In the Fellowship "plan of salvation" we must be believing, but can never have beliefs (except as temporarily "framed" pictures for purposes of examination or communication).
To become ourselves (embrace human potential) includes thinking as well as all other given capacities; this "step" involves activating "head" as well as "body"--that is, thinking, as well as breathing and feeling, etc. More specifically, this means thinking for ourselves, or thinking our own thoughts, as distinguished from adopting and adoring the thoughts or beliefs of others.
We came to view the traditional religious mode of honoring and propagating sacred beliefs as but a mental form of idolatry, which is, of course, forbidden in historical Christianity. We also recognized that the traditional identification of mental doubt with religious heresy undermines the whole process of thought or reason which is predicated on the ability to freely accept or reject any notion. Indeed doubt, understood as the mental act of critically examining a perception or notion in the light of prior experience or reason, lies, we observed, at the very heart of think-ability. Without such doubt there can be no honest thought. Doubting, we may say, is the first prerequisite for real thinking.
What traditional religion has in effect done is make a virtue of not-thinking (called "taking it on faith") by excluding the prerogative of mental doubt in all those arenas deemed sacred by each particular group (for examples, beliefs about God, miraculous powers of Jesus, or the existence of an afterlife). In Fellowship, noting this situation, we found ourselves in the untenable position of supporting doubt while existing within a social institution which condemns it.
Even so, THINKING FOR YOURSELF, as we understood it as a necessary phase in becoming whole, also includes religious beliefs, as well as all other secular thoughts. Hence Fellowship, in the attempt to personify this perspective, invited honest doubting, as an essential part of all thinking, about traditional religious beliefs as well as other secular notions.
Past the rather limited domain of religious beliefs, this "step" is also to be activated in everyday events of daily life, both past and present. To THINK FOR YOURSELF is to be continually responding to reality as personally perceived, forming conceptions which arise from personal perceptions ("what you see"), rather than accepting anyone else's ideas ("how they see it"). In the process of THINKING FOR YOURSELF, the ideas of others are of course one more source of personal perceptions. They too are to be taken into account, along with non-verbal data.
The critical point in self-thinking is that no one else's thoughts are accepted as a substitute for thinking-for-oneself. "What-they-think" (including their religious beliefs) will certainly be considered as one more bit of data for grist in the mill of one's own mind--but, and this is the distinguishing feature, only one more. Even when the other person is loved or honored, still their thoughts can never be accepted-without-doubt if one is to be a thinking-person.
For example, one who would be saved according to Fellowship's "plan" may certainly respect the thoughts or beliefs of her parents; but she cannot automatically accept any parental belief without question, without sacrificing her own mental capacity in the arena of that particular notion.
Suppose, for instance, a parent tells a child about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. A child who keeps on THINKING FOR HERSELF will certainly entertain this parental information. But, and this is the critical factor, she will never simply accept this or any other parental notion at the cost of sacrificing her own think-ability. She will, in order to maintain her given capacity for thinking, take this information and continually weigh it against her other experience and perceptions.
Perhaps, for pragmatic's sake (i.e., presents at Xmas and money under her pillow), she will keep her opinions to herself; still, for salvation's sake (as understood in Fellowship), she will remain personally in charge of her own conclusions, continually thinking for herself, even if deception is required with parents. She will lose a significant part of who-she-is if she ever, in effect, "hands over her mind (her think-ability)" to her parents or anyone else, including religious authorities, such as, a priest, pope, or preacher.
Because, it seems, that everyone does, more or less, make such sacrifices of mental-abilities in the process of physical survival and social membership, this phase of Fellowship's "plan" is essentially a reclamation of previously abandoned personal capacities. We tried, in Fellowship, to become a place, an organization, where one is encouraged and supported in the process of "getting her mind back" from whomever or to whatever it has been previously sacrificed. This, of course includes honesty in believing about ultimate issues (which are commonly seen as "religious"), but in the larger sense one must embrace honest thinking about everything else in everyday life.
Much of the actual "work" of relearning to THINK FOR ONESELF focuses on the nitty gritty business of becoming honest about what actually happened in one's earlier life as personally perceived--that is, about remembering and admitting to one's self what growing up was truly like, not as reported or stated by parents or others, but as an individual found it to be. Then, honest thinking about the present, "how one truly sees things"--for instance, in personal relationships and private encounters, commonly becomes a second major focus in the on-going process of thinking honestly.
Salvation, as we conceived it, certainly involves more than thinking, even mental honesty at its fullest activation; but salvation never excludes this the latest gift of evolution, no matter how fragile thinking may be or how dangerous its activation may seem in social circles.
To become one's self, to be saved or whole, we found in Fellowship, phase three of the on-going process involves the resurrection and continual activation of the human ability to THINK FOR YOURSELF.
4. DO YOUR OWN THING
THINKING FOR YOURSELF leads naturally to DOING YOUR OWN THING. This fourth "step" in Fellowship's "plan" is about the normal progression from thinking to doing--that is, from honest mental reflection to translation of "seeing" into action. It is about "living out" one's mental perspectives, bringing inward truth to outward activation, being oneself in the world.
Human potential, expanded through evolved capacity for consciousness or what we have previously called think-ability (the possibility of "being reasonable"), includes a limited amount of intentionality or will-power. We all have some degree of capacity not only for thinking for ourselves, but also for choosing what we do. We can, in some measure, create our "own way."
Before amplifying, I note the sharp limits, the extreme parameters, of creative capacity. That which we can, in reality, intend or will ("choose to do") is, though wonderful, extremely bounded by other realities entirely beyond conscious human control. I have a degree of choice, but, statistically speaking, most of what I do is entirely beyond the limited sphere of intentionality. Will-power, we might say, is grand, but relatively small.
To take a small example, I can choose to "hold my breath" briefly; but the larger issue of breathing is mostly beyond conscious control. I may, through a single choice of suicide, stop it; but while living, I have very little choice about breathing. Whatever I do or don't do, breathing goes right along without any control or direction by "me" (my choose-ability).
Or I may choose to lift my hand, or, if with you, to touch you--or not; but most of what handing involves (skin shedding, palms sweating, flowing blood, germ fighting, etc.) is beyond any of my personal choices. It, we might say, just is, regardless of what I decide or don't.
Further up the evolutionary scale, my desires and emotions are also largely "given"--that is, preexistent to consciousness. I may choose, in small and limited ways, "what I will do with my feelings," but mostly "they" exist independently of my will-power. Although "What scares me," for example, is largely "given," I may choose to reveal or try to conceal my fear.
Jumping to ultimate issues--such as, birth, aging, and death, my capacity for intentionality is severely bounded when I approach either of these extremely significant personal matters. Again, my choices may effect the latter two; still, they remain largely beyond the relatively tiny sphere of "my" decisions. Would that I could, I sometimes fantasy, "decide not to age," or die; mostly, though, I cannot. Nor, it seems to me, can anyone else.
The point is, human powers--what we can choose to do, though immense, remains relatively small in the larger picture. Though potent rather than impotent in some regards, we are never omnipotent. We can "do some things," but certainly "not everything," even all that we "can think about doing."
Within these impossible-to-define parameters, we may precede to think about what doing our own thing realistically means. I summarize, for openers, with these phrases: To DO YOUR OWN THING means to choose your own way in the world, to live creatively, according to "your own lights" rather than those of others. As Thoreau might have said, it means "to march to your own drummer" rather than being dictated by "the beat" which others hear (or say they do).
Specifically, DOING YOUR OWN THING includes choosing your behavior, deciding "how you will act," "what you will do," in each particular situation and circumstance. In the broad context, parents, societies, and religions, are diligent in "telling us how to behave," even defining various behaviors as good or bad. In such limited perspectives we may even presume to become virtuous or evil, depending on behavioral conformity to pre-defined determinations of what we should or should not do.
Although this identification of being with behavior, which ignores the essential distinction between the two, is widespread and commonly accepted in society as well as religion, the fourth "step" in Fellowship's "plan" requires confronting this error. Human virtue, we reluctantly came to see, can never be identified with any specific form of human behavior. Nor can human evil.
Both good and evil, extremely important issues in human wholeness and well-being, are beyond definition in terms of any behavior--or so we concluded in Fellowship. We may, in fact, act "good"--that is, behave in accord with family, social, or religious rules or commandments; but no such behavior, even should we manage to do it perfectly, can make us whole. Acting "good," regrettably, is not the same as being good. The latter is only possible, we came to see, when we are truly DOING OUR OWN THING.
This realization in no way belittles the importance, even necessity, of acting "good" according to social standards when one wishes to maintain social acceptance; but it does respect the essential difference between social acceptance and personal wholeness. The first may be achieved through "good" behavior (defined variously by each group); but the second, so far as we were able to determine, can never be found through any acting--even perfect performances.
Being whole requires, along with THINKING FOR YOURSELF, DOING YOUR OWN THING, that is, choosing to live creatively in each instant, activating one's limited degree of intentionality.
Beyond stating the principle, little else can be said to define what a person's OWN THING may be. Because we are all individually created by a unique-in-all-the-world combination of 23 fatherly and 23 motherly chromosomes, what we may become, as the Bible says, "doth not yet appear." Still, if we are to become ourselves, we must dare to activate in the daily world our fullest degree of intentionality as we choose to DO OUR OWN THINGS.
Or so we determined, and tried to become a place for activation of the multifaceted behaviors of those who chose to join us in Fellowship. We could not tell anyone "what they should do" without going beyond what we knew; but we could encourage everyone to regularly choose "what they would do"--that is, to will or create their own honest behaviors to the full extent of their embraced human capacity for self-determination.
In the Fellowship "plan," no doing can save you (make you happy); but personally choosing whatever you will do is an essential phase of the overall process of meeting God in the here and now.
5. MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR
This last "step" in Fellowship's "plan of salvation" is the largest and most comprehensive of all. It is placed last because it requires success in the first four in order to be followed. MAKING LOVE, as understood here, cannot be done without GETTING REAL, JOINING UP, THINKING FOR YOURSELF, and DOING YOUR OWN THING.
Or, stated in degrees, as we all live: only to the extent that one is successful in these four does this last phase become possible. Twenty-five % success in 1-4 allows for 25% success in # 5; 50% success in 1-4 opens the door for 50% love-ability--and so on.
This last "step" toward wholeness is also about the major-direction-of-life, the overall thrust of one's every activity and involvement. It is at the same time about the highest and also the most elemental of human possibilities. At once, ultimate goals and immediate movements are combined into one's major direction. This is about the holy grail, the quest for literally being loving in every event of life, including death.
Before amplifying, what I mean by MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR, understanding the underlying principle may be useful. The first chapter of the book of Genesis ends (vs. 31) with this awesome declaration: And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good--suitable, pleasant--and He approved it completely... (Amplified Bible).
This last directive is based on a translation of this verse to mean, in effect: Reality is very good; this world--as it really is--is a truly fine place. Every aspect of creation is not only "suitable," but potentially "pleasant." Or, stated negatively: Reality is not bad, something to be evaded or avoided. The world is not an evil place to be escaped from, but rather a wonder-filled environment to be engaged in. The Laws of Nature--birth, responsibility, "big fish eating little fish," aging, and death--that is, "the way reality seems to work" is not "bad," too much to be endured, and from which we need relief or escape; rather the "laws of nature" are "good"--in fact, the best God has been able to come up with so far.
In summary, the basic premise of this final phase of becoming whole is that the ultimate goal is to get in the world of reality, rather than to get out of reality--to "get with it" rather than to "get out of it," to "get into things" rather than "on top of things." To MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR is based on the notion of a good world to be "gotten with" rather than a bad world to be "gotten out of," insulated from, or even "improved on."
The human quest, according to Fellowship's "plan," is to become as real as we possibly can, intimately apart of this essentially "good earth" with its wonderful "Laws of Nature," rather than to get "in control of Mother Nature," "on top of reality," or otherwise "out of" any aspect of reality as we find it.
It is through "getting with it," according to this perspective, that we meet God, the ultimate in reality, in this present world--in the here and now. The "more real" we become, the more we meet God. Ultimately heaven, a name for "the best there is," is to be found on this earth in this "Garden of Eden," potentially present everywhere and all the time, whenever we succeed in becoming fully present in reality as it truly is.
Specifically, we came to translate this ultimate goal into two parts: First, MAKE LOVE; this as distinguished from MAKING WAR. By MAKE LOVE, we mean all that this widely used word commonly implies, plus more. By NOT WAR, we mean, rather than engaging in destruction, negation, or even "winning" and conquering.
First: MAKE LOVE... "Love," of course is one of the most diversely understood words in the English language, used for an incredibly wide variety of human experiences ranging all the way from selfish sexual intercourse ("fucking") to unselfish self-sacrifice for the good of others. How can we understand such a word that represents a spectrum of life styles ranging from that of Hugh Hefner ("making love") to that of Mother Theresa ("loving others")--with innumerable variations in-between?
Before attempting to clarify love as intended here, I digress to amplify several broad perspectives about the subject of love itself. I use five R's to summarize: Real, Recognizable, Rare, Readily, and Realizable.
LOVE IS REAL, RECOGNIZABLE, AND, THOUGH RARE, READILY REALIZABLE.
1) REAL. First, I affirm the reality of love, the existence of this phenomenon in a scientifically oriented world which tends to view love as "not really real" except as a "psychological state" or "spiritual ideal"--in either case, not a proper subject for scientific inquiry. Love is commonly presumed to exist, if at all, outside the dimension of reality-as-presented to our senses, the "physical world" as we may perceive it. Congress, for example, could not "reasonably" appropriate tax money for study of such an "intangible, not quite real," subject.
The Fellowship perspective is in direct contrast to this popular understanding. Love, as viewed here, is extremely real, in fact, the most real of all that is real. Instead of lying outside the realm of physical "realities,"--beyond the domain of "legitimate scientific research," we saw love as existing at the heart and core of reality itself. Far from being some cryptic psychological or esoteric "spiritual" illusion, the Fellowship view was that love is properly seen in the same perspective as all else which our senses may grasp--sights, sounds, smells, etc.--all that is known as "physical reality."
Love, according to Fellowship, is not some "figment of the imagination" in the category of hallucinations, spooks, psychological quirks, or spiritual ideals. Quite to the contrary, love is seen here as very REAL, every bit as real as war, which we readily recognize to exist and properly call for a huge defense budget. Were this Fellowship perspective commonly shared, it would be entirely reasonable to fund an even larger "Love Pentagon"--governmental complex for fostering the causes of love rather than war.
Love, we held in Fellowship, is properly viewed in the same sense of reality as war--except more so.
2) RECOGNIZABLE. Although the reality of love is not as easily visible to the eye as is war, it is, nevertheless, subject to recognition by everyone--even little children. When love is present, somehow we all have the capacity to know that it is here. Certainly we can tell when it is absent. We can know, on some deep, difficult-to-explain level, when we are loved--or not. As yet, we have not devised scientific instruments, such as, smoke detectors or brain scans, to measure its intensity; still the reality of love is recognizable when we "open our eyes" to it.
The point of this generalization is to keep love in the same sphere of reality as, for example, molecules, germs, or viruses, but to lift it out of such minute or hidden categories as only scientists can discover with complex instruments. Love is as real as a virus, but not nearly so hard to detect. We may need a doctor or scientist to tell us about germs and molecules; but we all, I believe, have the innate capacity to recognize the reality of love.
3) RARE. Even so, love, as understood in Fellowship, is extremely RARE. Though very REAL, it is also quite uncommon. The phenomena which popularly claim the name, such as, "motherly love," or, "brotherly love," may have elements of the love of which we speak here, yet cannot be identified as the same thing. One may live a whole life time and only get a short glimpse of the type of love being affirmed here. In fact, many persons have probably only heard of it, never having seen it in reality.
It is easily possible to be born, grow up in a family and society, live a "normal" live, grow old and die, and never see or experience more than minute degrees of love--if any at all! Unfortunately, the human experience of love, as understood here, is all too RARE in most people's lives.
4) READILY REALIZABLE, the fourth and fifth R words in this introduction are to confirm the fact that love, though regrettably RARE in common human experience, is still presently possible. Its relative rarity, which we may compare to gold, diamonds, or winning lottery tickets, does not mean that love is hidden or unattainable. READILY implies immediately--at-this-present-time. REALIZABLE testifies to its potential activation by everyone.
Love--the type being amplified here, may often be impossible to find "out there"--that is, to see-being-practiced by another person, or to find-being-extended to oneself. But insofar as we as individuals are concerned, love is always--in every time, place, and encounter--possible. Innate in human capacity, I believe, is the continual option for loving, for personally experiencing this REAL human event, regardless of its common RARITY. We may not be able to find or get love, but we all, so long as we continue to breathe, have the possibility of becoming loving ourselves. The kind of love being affirmed here is, though RARE, READILY REALIZABLE.
In summary, this apex of real human capacity in the perceivable physical world (not just in some possible "other world") is literally, we believe in Fellowship, "at hand." Not only can we all RECOGNIZE this REAL but RARE phenomenon when we see it, but we are all inherently capable of loving whenever we dare do so. Such love is READILY REALIZABLE.
One other generalization seems relevant before trying to confront such love in practice: Even though all can do it (literally be it), none can have it. Love, it turns out, is not subject to human possession; we cannot "capture" love, or "make it stay." We can experience loving, yet, like breathing, we cannot, in reality, own or otherwise have it to any degree. The nature of love is such that, while READILY RECOGNIZABLE in experience, it is never subject to "being pinned down." Like a moon beam on water, it can easily be seen yet never "bottled" or otherwise tucked away for safe keeping.
Just as this is true in daily experience, so it is with "mental capture"--trying to "pin love down" with words and ideas. This fact is particularly relevant in this book because here we are limited to communicating with words. Regrettably, for us who so like to understand things, love is almost as elusive to language as it is grasping with our arms. Love, as best I can tell, is not subject to possession either by subjective persons or objective definitions.
We may love and personally know the reality of love; yet we cannot, so far as I know, ever possess it, even in our mind's eye. I know of no words capable of defining love, of "pinning it down" so that we can finally say "this is it," or, "that is not it." Paradoxically, we can experientially know, yet we cannot mentally define, love.
This does not mean that thinking about it, as we are doing here, is not possible and feasible; only that it is, in the final analysis, inconclusive. We may profitably, with words and notions, point at the reality of love; but when we are finished, we will not have defined it in the sense of having it boxed accurately in a set of mental categories.
What follows is just such an attempt to point as sharply as I now can at this REAL and RECOGNIZABLE phenomenon which lies at the apex of human possibilities--but this with full recognition that, so far as I know, no words (mine or anyone else's), will finally capture what love is. At best, we can attempt to point well with words less likely to lead us astray in our quest. Still, to remain safe, we do well to recognize these limits of language and human ideas when we come to this culminating human potential.
After all is said and done, we will only have pointed at something which is finally available only in experience--which may or may not include conscious thought, but cannot be grasped with mind alone. I shall try to point well, but I do realize that I don't have it myself; sometimes I do it, and I am able, I believe, to speak about it with some clarity. Still, not having it, mentally or otherwise, I cannot, I know, give it either. Nor can you, I suspect, get it yourself.
Love itself is amplified in a later chapter on THREATS; for our purposes here, I summarize the diverse parameters of love into three major categories: sex, romance, and caring. Making love, of course, is most commonly understood to refer to sexual activity, "having sex." Caring, at the opposite end of the scale of usages, is usually understood to be completely different--about non-sexual "concern for others." The Greek word, agape, is sometimes used for this latter type of love, also known as "motherly love," or, "Christian love."
Romance, falling somewhere between the two, involves elements of both. This type of love, which we traditionally "fall into" (and later "out of"), is viewed as having sexual elements, but also self-sacrificial components. Such lovers, who have "fallen into" it with each other, becoming "romantically involved," may be both basely sexual and also unselfishly caring--at least for each other.
As intended in this "step" of Fellowship's path to heaven now, love is understood to embrace the entire spectrum of popular usages--from sex to caring, including all the vicissitudes of romance. Traditional understanding, which sharply splits this continuum of love into oppositional elements--for instance, sex versus love ("Do you love me, or do you just want to have sex?"), or selfish (self-concerned) versus unselfish love (agape or other-concerned), is foreign to Fellowship's perspective of love which includes the entire range.
By MAKE LOVE, we mean all of the above--be sexy, romantic, and caring. The third type of love, agape, or, "Christian love," is understood to be the ultimate in selfishness, not, as popular understanding holds, the total negation of selfishness. Sexuality, as seen here, is but the most primitive or elemental form of "selfing" or "being ourselves." Six hundred million years of sexual evolution have written sex, through our X and Y chromosomes, into every cell of our bodies. Most primally, we are sexual; to become who-we-are, we have no option but to embrace this ancient part of ourselves also.
But evolution, God's creating, did not stop 600 million years ago. We are sexual creatures--plus more. This moreness includes the possibility for the kind of love we have come to call romance--the type we "fall into," especially when we risk intimacy "without thinking." Romance is, we might say, psychological chemistry. Romantic love "just happens" (or it doesn't); through romance we "connect" below the level of conscious thought. We are "just drawn" to each other. "Somewhere across a crowded room...," etc.
But if romance begins below the level of consciousness, it also carries us beyond anything else we consciously know. It "transports us." Such love "flies us to the moon." It introduces us to "heaven now." As anyone who has been there knows full well: Romance is "heavenly" (when it is working!). Small wonder that we adore, even worship, the gods and goddesses we "fall in love with." They do seem to "take us to heaven."
At this top side of romance we "go beyond ourselves." We seem to transcend the bounds of "selfishness" in "unselfish" concern for the loved one (at least the continued possession of the idolized other). The innate selfishness of sex (What can be more personal or selfish than an orgasm?) is overbounded into dimensions of total concern for the other which are unknown in mere sexuality. Through embracing our selfish and sexy selves we seem to somehow overcome ourselves and, as though by magic, become able to so completely care for a lover that we are willing to sacrifice our most prized possessions, even ourselves!
Or so it seems, until "love dies" or a lover turns elsewhere, whichever comes first.
In the predictable despair following failed romance, many have sought solace in a type of platonic, non-sexual love which is made entirely of seemingly "unselfish" elements of romantic love. This is the type of caring, the Mother Theresa variety, which has been identified with "real love"--agape or "Christian love." In popular understanding such love is the exact opposite of the kind which ordinary folk are inclined to make. The latter is viewed, in this traditional perspective, as base, low, even dirty, in comparison with "Christian love" seen to be high, noble, clean, and certainly devoid of any dirty sexual activity or even motivation (Could Jesus, for example, have "done it"?).
To be selfishly sexual, in this popular picture of love, is a choice bound to negate our "higher selves" which are only assumed to appear when we succeed in "overcoming the temptations of the flesh" and unselfishly devote ourselves to the service of others. Or so goes this familiar religious ideal which we find deeply imbedded in societies attempting to find themselves through rejection of "the flesh." Or conversely, to achieve agape, the ultimate in loving, one must "conquer the flesh," become totally unselfish, and, ideally, be martyred in service of others.
I summarize these familiar perspectives on love only as a backdrop to note that Fellowship's stance in this last "step" toward heaven now is entirely at odds with them. MAKE LOVE, as intended here, springs from a different understanding of the relationship between self, sex, and caring for others. The Fellowship view of love is as a single continuum which is rooted in primal sex, grows into romance, and matures in agape. Caring, the latter aspect of love, is not an opposite of sex, but rather the culmination of primal sexuality activated in society--"loving everyone" instead of only oneself and one's family.
All potential agape--the kind of love which does indeed appear to be "unselfish," is actually the ultimate in human selfishness. Nothing is conceivably more selfish than the quality of human experience inherent in daring to care for another. In orgasm, the ultimate in sexual love, we transcend ego; but in agape, as the fulfillment of selfing, we literally transcend ourselves.
Agape, then, is not non-sexual or "platonic love" (though it may appear to others to be so), but rather it is sexuality expanded to its fullest potential--through orgasm and beyond. The popular ideal of non-sexual "Christian love" is understood in this perspective as an idealization of socially-accepted schizophrenia, making a virtue of human splitness and calling it "love." The converse condemnation of lust, "down and dirty" sexiness, is but a socially acceptable form of self negation.
When this continuum of love--beginning with "selfish" sex and reaching toward "unselfish" (appearing) agape--is split, with one pitted against the other, the resulting human condition of one attempting to achieve such an "ideal" is predictable "mental illness." Literally, schizophrenia--splitting of self, is the only way to achieve such an appearance.
Ironically, well-intentioned persons in quest of the highest life has to offer must, in the traditional perspective, commit spiritual suicide, cut themselves (as self-conceived) off from the very roots of reality-based agape. And conversely, only persons who rebelliously refuse to accept this popular religious model, "selfishly" insisting on being sexual in spite of society's view of sex as dirty, have a chance of achieving the degree of personal wholeness necessary to realistically love another person.
In summary, Fellowship's view of the unsplittable (in reality) continuum of love, sees agape as the apex of making love ("sexiness"). Along the way, the distinguishable elements include: making love (when feasible), romance (whenever "chemistry makes it happen"), and caring (when one's degree of wholeness allows).
For clarification, the first may be viewed as physical, the second as psychological, and the third as spiritual. "Love making" is primarily a physiological event focused on primal instincts, penetration and reception, friction and climax. Romance, the second part of the process, is rooted in physicalness but expands to include psychological elements of humanity. Certainly it is "chemistry," yet much more.
In romance the psychological events of projection and introjection become operative. In romantic love we "find our missing half" and magically "get it back." We, as everyone who dares fall in love knows abundantly well, "become whole" together--at least we feel that way. As long as such love lasts, we indeed have a "piece of heaven," certainly a glimpse, while in the other world of a lover's arms, of what-might-be.
But then, in time, we always seem to "fall out." Predictably, of course, because the "sense of wholeness" achieved in capturing our missing halves (embracing our projected "shadowed selves") is finally an illusion. We can never, in reality, own another person. They only seem, while we are engaged in the psychological events of projection and introjection, to "make us whole." The vision is legitimate; the reality is only psychological--that is, based on a psychic phenomenon which ignores other essential aspects of reality.
Still, romance does provide a glimpse of wholeness or heaven. Locked in its magical realms, we get a taste, a "down payment" we may say, on real heaven which is possible if we dare move beyond the merely physical and psychological capacities into the wider realms of becoming spiritual also. If so, we withdraw psychological projections, those previously unrecognized parts of ourselves discovered in the mirror of a lover; we cease our introjection (attempt to own) the other, and free "our" lover to become him or herself, even as we chance the fuller becoming of who-we-are, often in their continued presence.
Then, if our courage is sufficient, we are ourselves freed to explore these more heady (and hearty) realms of caring, as a culmination of body and mind, physical and psychological, now united as a basis for the fuller experience of spiritual agape.
The second half of this final directive: ...NOT WAR, is intended to place love making--all the way from sex to agape, in its larger perspective. War is taken as a symbol for the opposite course. War is first about winning--conquering, "getting on top of things"--persons and places. Finally war is about destruction and negation, the direct opposites of love which is concerned with affirmation and expansion. We cannot go in both directions because they are essentially opposed to each other. Either we make love or we make war, we strive for intimate involvement or for impersonal dominance--one or the other, but not both.
War, as intended here, or dominance, is not about the forms of protection essential for maintaining oneself in the world. To see the world as "a good place" is not to ignore the obvious fact of the "law of the jungle," namely, survival of the fittest, reflected in the observation that "the big fish eat the little fish."
God's "very good" earth includes these seemingly unjust and unkind ways-it-is also. Good, in the Fellowship perspective, is not synonymous with benign, passive, or safe. Reality, though wonder-filled, is also inherently dangerous. No life form is safe from other life forms which have evolved capable of feeding on it--people included.
And feeding may occur in both the physical and psychological realms. People, unlike fish, since we have suppressed cannibalism, are seldom subject to being eaten physically. But not so psychologically; we remain immensely vulnerable to "emotional cannibalism," being "eaten alive" in socially acceptable, legally un-punishable, ways. Continually.
To become oneself in the social worlds in which we find ourselves is an extremely dangerous matter. Even in this "good world," psychological predators abound, often garbed in the most socially acceptable robes. The point is, emotional survival--"making it" on the psychological level only, even without caring, is a socially demanding challenge, calling for artful self-protection.
Love, as affirmed here, certainly includes a major element of self-affirmation, including protecting oneself from destruction, negation, or even "put downs" from others. To an outsider, "taking care of oneself" in the presence of emotional predators may sometimes look like war. Even so, it is not.
The MAKING LOVE "step" of Fellowship's "plan" includes self-protection, even when fierce encounter is required. There is no virtue, in this perspective, in martyrdom--allowing oneself to be deprived, injured, hurt, or otherwise "done in" ("screwed") by anyone. Indeed, this variety of "tough love" includes careful maintenance of self-space.
The point: NOT WAR does not mean not careful, including being fiercely care-full for oneself and the space for caring relationships. In the overall economy of caring--for oneself and others, agape at its grandest, warlike behavior may often be appropriate. Such warlike activities, however, are never aimed at winning, conquering, "getting on top" of the other, "putting down" on anyone; certainly they do not aim at destruction or negation. Instead they seek to maintain the boundaries and spaces which agape always requires.
MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR aims at transcendence-through-immanence, not ascendance-through-dominance. In this quest, one with intact self-boundaries seeks the ultimate in intimacy, not the isolation of complete control. Such transcendence is to be distinguished from self-absorption. It is movement beyond self with another, not the loss of oneself in another. It is the ultimate in self-affirmation, "selfishness" in its most complete form.
It is, in a word, heaven. On earth.
In summary: our experiments in Fellowship led us to a "plan of salvation" quite unlike those traditionally proposed in organized religion or other secular programs for finding happiness.
With tongue-in-cheek, aware of the difference between doing and being (behaving and becoming), and consequently, the fact that "nothing works" for us, in Fellowship we found these five "steps" relevant in becoming ourselves on the way to knowing God in the here and now:
1. GET REAL
2. JOIN UP
3. THINK FOR YOURSELF
4. DO YOUR OWN THING
5. MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
"Resurrection: Never thought I'd thank anyone for saying words, offering thoughts, making suggestions so that I, after taking these in and relating them to my own situations and emotions, allowed myself to cry on Easter Sunday. (Crying, for God's sake, on Easter when we're supposed to be happy because He Is Risen! and, by God, we ought to act like it, right???) Wrong. Matter of fact, your messages for the last several Sundays have struck the sort of sparks within that send me home swimming in tears. Plus all the other tears--a veritable river of tears--in the past weeks, days, hours. I'm still not entirely comfortable with these tears; still feel a bit embarrassed and chagrined at times; still hear the old voices telling me to buck up, be brave, put that smile on my face, remember that tomorrow will be better. So act like what I'm not.
"Thawing out isn't easy. In fact, it's scary to say: I've been badly hurt, I'm lonely, I'm frightened of the future, and I'm sick of being sick. I've run myself ragged staying busy, busy, busy, so I wouldn't have to think about being alone, alone, alone. For a year I've been telling myself that I still loved my job and not daring to admit that it's become miserably depressing. Clutching at today's importance (as it has seemingly related to me), I've managed for quite a long time to ignore and avoid actual, present reality in my life.
"You may appreciate, then, that Fellowship's unorthodox, indeed contradictory and controversial approach to life, threatened me greatly. So much that I avoided the church for three months. And I'll be truthful, too, about why I came back. There wasn't any other place to go! I'd been all the other routes; I'd tried all the other methods; and, believe me, it hasn't been easy, either, to sit there Sunday after Sunday and discover a new lie I've been living with each and every service. Your messages have had an uncanny, almost eerie, relationship to my own particular situations, to my own unique place in space and time.
"The aching sense of loss is ebbing. I loved a man very deeply and sincerely. I was, for as long as possible, completely committed to him. Losing him, and going on, has not been easy. (Oh, how fervently I vowed I'd never let anyone hurt me again.) And yet...yet...l find myself lately remembering the happy times, the bright moments, and love given and received. I can even take a deep breath, swallow hard, and say, Yes, I'll try again. I won't quit--I'll accept the risks of living and loving, scary though these may be, too. Because I have known happiness before, in many areas of life, I will not resign myself to being emotionally numb, to being one of the living dead.
"Of course, the fears are still coming, too. I may be awash in them when I see you next. But they're in order; they're healing. One day, before too long, I'm going to hear myself laughing again. I'm going to feel the laughter--touch the inner wellsprings of joy--smile a real smile...someday...again...and again.
"Still scared? You bet This isn't one of my well-trod, familiar paths I'm standing on. It's a whole, new road ahead of me and not very many of the people I know and associate with are walking along it. (They'd be telling me to take a drink, swallow a tranquilizer, stop crying, please!) But I'm glad I'm finally here. Glad I've taken the first step. And, you know something? More than any year I can ever remember, this spring, this day, this hour feels like Easter. Inside me. Thanks and thanks and thanks for pointing out the path . . . "
In retrospect I recognize certain inherent threats in the nature of Fellowship which eluded me in my early naivete. By threat I mean something scary or unconsciously perceived-as-dangerous, in spite of what one "thinks" (consciously) about the subject. Often things-we-seek, and truly believe we want, carry deeply concealed threats which entirely evade awareness. Nevertheless, in time, such threats, even while yet unrecognized, are likely to emerge, dictating behavior--all protestations and denials to the contrary.
To understand such threats, imagine that your body has a "mind of its own," perhaps in your stomach. This body-mind is both different and separate from your head-mind. It also "sees," yet not the same things which you see with the eyes of your head-mind. Whereas you can imagine what you will, even apart from reality, "in your head," your body-mind is limited to its actual experiences. While "you" are day-dreaming, for example, your body-mind remains locked in the School of Hard Knocks (daily experience) and is regularly learning to "see things" as actually experienced by your body--no matter what your head-mind may be thinking.
In time, these two "minds" may develop with quite opposite perspectives on reality. You can think you want something (in your head-mind), which your body-mind has found, in its experience, to be extremely dangerous. For example, you may consciously think (in your head) that you would like to visit a strange city on your vacation. But if your body's actual experience with strange places has been scary (perhaps you once got lost in the woods or a shopping mall), then in its mind, you shouldn't venture into such unfamiliar territory.
Approaching your vacation, your head-mind may be excited about seeing new things, while your body-mind strongly objects, remembering its bad experiences with strange places. As the day of leaving nears, your stomach may "speak itself" through a stomach ache or diarrhea, saying in effect, "No, No; don't go." Boarding the plane, full of exciting thoughts about what you will do, you may find yourself sick at your stomach, reflecting the ambivalence of your two minds. You want to go "in your head," but your "guts have a different idea."
This second type of "body thinking" is what I call a threat. Even though what one sees with the eyes of his head-mind ("thinks he wants") is highly desirable, when the body's experience is contrary, it is likely to "voice itself" with a feeling of threat, even in the midst of conscious excitement.
I now see several such threats which were inherent in Fellowship from the beginning, none of which I perceived earlier. The obvious conscious desire, near universal it seems, for each of these human possibilities which were made available in Fellowship, certainly cloaks any inherent threat. Even so, I must now conclude on the basis of repeated evidence, that the dangers are also widely perceived, even if not in consciousness.
I refer to the inherent threats in: FUN, FREEDOM, WHOLENESS, and LOVE, plus others in various spin-offs of these four major human desires.
First, I note that each of these experiences seems to be universally desired. Almost everyone wants, or so we think, to "have fun," to "be free to do whatever we please," to "be whole (ourselves)," and certainly to "find love and be loving ourselves." Or so we say.
A closer look, however (at least an extended look), reveals that each of these goals, no matter how desirable they may appear at a distance, contain inherent threats which commonly overpower or supplant efforts to achieve these human possibilities. In spite, for example, of how much we say we "want to have fun," and how much conscious attention we devote to "trying to have a good time," there do seem to be inherent aspects of pleasure--and also of freedom, "being ourselves," and love, which are deeply perceived as threatening; so scary, in fact, that our most diligent efforts devoted to their quest are predictably undermined by unconsciously recognized fears evoked by each.
I now think that these threats, especially when unrecognized, account for much of the failure of Fellowship. Many persons who knew about Fellowship and "thought" it was "really a good idea," never came, I believe, because they were already too experienced at responding to these threats--that is, were already "caught up" in avoiding them. Many others who came, briefly, and then dropped out for various "reasons," were, I also believe, appropriately reacting to their own deeper awareness of the dangers inherent in the FUN, FREEDOM, WHOLENESS, and LOVE, which Fellowship naturally invited.
Before I proceed to amplify these possible threats as I now understand them, I want to register my belated, and often begrudging, respect for the power which they commonly wield. I am far less inclined to be judgmental of those who react to them, myself included, than I have often been during the history of Fellowship. In spite of my affirmation of the wonders as well as virtues of FUN, FREEDOM, WHOLENESS, and LOVE, I am now more tolerant of the demands they make on anyone who would seek them. Specifically, I am "more understanding" than I have ever been of those who "stayed away in droves," even while singing the praises of Fellowship and often sending money for its support; also of those who dropped out of Fellowship, often at the height of their involvement, when, I see in retrospect, they encountered various of these threats.
THREAT OF FUN
From its inception, Fellowship was "pro-pleasure." Both in its theology (my preaching) and in practice (its programs and activities), Fellowship took a positive stance in regard to fun--to "having a good time," to "feeling good," to "seeking pleasure." Traditional religious affirmation of martyrdom as a virtue, with spin-offs of an anti-self and anti-bodily-pleasure stance, was not only unsupported, but openly contradicted. Prevalent associations between sin and pleasure ("This is so much fun, it must be sinful") were systematically avoided and directly confronted as erroneous whenever possible. I preached often about the goodness of pleasure and dangers of popular associations between fun and evil.
Many of the planned activities of Fellowship were directly focused on "fun for fun's sake," that is, on doing things just because they were pleasurable. For example, canoe trips, camp outs, "Fun Night at Church," and a generally festive attitude even in the midst of our "more serious" occasions, such as, Sunday services, were common. Drama groups, craft clubs, poker parties, Ladies Nights Out, etc., were organized and sponsored "just for the fun of it." Children as well as adults were encouraged and supported in "having a good time at church" as well as away.
Annual spoofs about the church, its "weird" members and minister, were popular and indicative of the general "pro-pleasure" stance of Fellowship. None of the traditional religious gloominess, longfacedness, and "let's be serious about this" attitude ever prevailed for long. Laughter was common; jokes were accepted, and humor was familiar even in the midst of our "most serious" endeavors. I once preached a sermon on The Fun of Funerals, affirming the humorous aspects of even the most somber activities.
Traditional religious negativism about sex in all its diverse forms and manifestations was never a part of Fellowship. We were, from the beginning "fer it" rather than "a'gin it"--that is, affirming of this primal and essential aspect of humanity. Common churchly "moralistic attitudes" were never overtly present in Fellowship. Being sexual as well as emotional and reasonable were each affirmed as primary elements in humanity--which was identified as the basis of salvation.
An early series of sermons on the theme, Salvation is Being Human, in which sexuality was affirmed as essential in becoming ourselves on the path to knowing God, was printed and used in classes in the church. Persons with differing sexual orientations were always accepted in Fellowship without judgments beyond our common prejudices.
The point is: an affirmation of fun--of pleasure in its many and diverse forms, quite in contrast with the traditional church stance which identifies religious with serious or anti-fun--was always a primary part of Fellowship Church. In the beginning this only seemed reasonable and logical; the older serious religious motif, the well-known anti-pleasure stance, was already seriously eroded in society beyond the church. It seemed, back then, that Fellowship was only accepting in a religious context what was already "common knowledge" outside the church. The established church seemed to be the only social agency which still identified hedonism with evil; secular folk were openly "out to have a good time," traditional religion notwithstanding.
I thought, back then, that we were only getting on the bandwagon which had been rolling along for a long time in spite of the established church's efforts to throw it off track or paint it as "sinful." I now see more clearly a deeper and commonly unrecognized phenomenon which I have labeled elsewhere as fear of fun. Before amplifying, I note that I choose the word fun ("fear of fun") as representative of pleasure in all its aspects--from the simple fun of being tickled to the profound ecstasy of being "beside oneself"--from the pleasure of seeing a sunset to that of having an orgasm.
I use "fear of fun" as a name for what may otherwise be seen as: fear of heaven, of ecstasy, of "letting go," of flying, of being "out of control," of relaxing (being "caught off guard," "with one's pants down or slip showing," or, of death, especially death of ego, which heaven always requires. I have written elsewhere about the FEAR OF FUN:
Fun is almost universally affirmed--consciously. Even parents who obviously elevate good behavior to virtue status are apt to tell their children, for instance, when they go out to play, "Have fun." And personally it seems that we all agree with what Freud called the Pleasure Principle--that is, a common human preference for pleasure rather than pain. We consciously want to "have a good time." Almost nobody "wants to hurt." We work so we can go on vacation and "have fun." We save so we can retire and "do the things we always wanted to."
Or so it seems.
To broaden the issue, what we "really want," we say, is not simply to "have fun," but to "be happy." We, by common consent, "don't like feeling bad"; we "don't want to be depressed"; we "want to feel good." We want to have as much fun as we possibly can. A little fun is good; more is better. Joy would be wonderful.
We want to succeed; nobody wants to be a failure. We aspire, we think, to ecstasy, to "being beside ourselves" with pleasure. We even want to go to heaven--a place, we are told, of everlasting bliss.
Or so we say.
Certainly I have said so, and have been consciously diligent in quest of all types of fun--from small time pleasures like eating ice cream, to big time ecstasies like going to heaven. I have never consciously sought pain of even minor degrees. I literally hate shots, not to mention "feeling bad." Even when my religion seemed to frown on certain types of "worldly pleasures," and I went along through abstinence, still I was careful to separate the "wrong kinds of fun" from fun itself. Often I have preached on the virtues of pleasure. Lest I be misleading, I have never seriously used the familiar phrase, "This is so much fun, it must be sinful." I did not want to participate in the error of identifying fun with sin, even in jest.
Would that these conscious efforts were all that I have seen--or done! Alas, though, I now think that most of this massive elevation of pleasure--both the secular search for fun and the religious quest for bliss--the diligent search for happiness, wanting "to have a good time," plus the desire to "go to heaven" where happiness is supposedly forever, is but a cover-up for a dark, pervasive FEAR OF FUN.
We do, I think, both say and sincerely believe that we want to be happy, to "feel good," to "have fun," to succeed, and even to "go to heaven (sometime later!)"--if we are religiously oriented. Underneath, however, I have come to see a slightly veiled yet powerful suspicion of any pleasure past mild fun, and a deep fear of the explosive nature of all profound ecstasy in everyone, including myself, who has let me know them well. These suspicions and fears seem generally to be denied in awareness. I seldom recognize them in myself, wishing to think that my consciousness is all of me.
In retrospect, however, I can see how I have systematically avoided fun, even while pretending to myself to be looking for it. Certainly I "want to succeed," but how regularly I have sabotaged my own efforts, usually blaming my failures on others. In all my shots aimed "out there," I have most often succeeded in shooting myself in the foot!
I do not know what it means, but I am convinced that this FEAR OF FUN is far more prevalent than we commonly admit. I suspect that its roots may lie in the suppression of sexuality which has seemed so necessary for structuring stable societies. Two powerful forces meet when instinctive sexuality is confronted with social requirements. Both are immensely relevant; yet we have seldom melded them without one or the other suffering greatly.
At this present time the powers of society are shakily yet persistently dominating the older reproductive forces of nature. For all the "sexual enlightenment" of this age, the powerful and pervasive forces of human sexuality remain severely suppressed at best; most often, and often most disastrously, they are also deeply repressed--that is, totally denied access into consciousness.
The relevance of this observation here lies in the inherent pleasure which evolution has managed to ingrain in all that is essential to its continuation. The genius of genes is that they have somehow succeeded in adding fun to everything that works to their own best interests. Whatever is good for survival has also been coded to "feel good." All the way from sights to sounds and tastes, from eating to resting, that which keeps us alive also tends to look, sound, taste, and feel good.
And that which is most essential in genetic perpetuation has naturally evolved to be the most pleasurable. A good sight, such as colorful Fall leaves, is nice; a good sound is "music to our ears;" good water tastes good. A good meal is a delight, and a night's rest "is most relaxing." But when we attempt to measure pleasure, orgasm, pragmatic in genetic reproduction, tops the charts.
The problem emerges when these powerful pleasures, in all their diverse and graded forms, must be integrated into society--which requires only a relatively minor degree of reproduction to maintain itself quite well, and which gets along best when sex is mostly kept under wraps. To cut a long story short, society--through parents, religion, education, legal structures, and its other institutions, has found suppression to be a most functional way to curtail the forces of individual sexuality where they threaten social stability.
And we, as members of just such a society, all seem to have learned quite well how to deny the powerful forces of our own sexuality. The problem is: even so, sex still "feels good." Our genes do not unlearn as easily as our minds. This easy, everpresent source of pleasure remains continually at hand.
Which leads me back to the issue of the FEAR OF FUN. I suspect that our common, reasonable, suppression of sexuality is at the heart of the generalized fear of pleasure of all sorts. By curtailing fun, we succeed in keeping the sleeping giant of sexuality at least partially it its cave.
Whatever its source, I think that this commonly denied FEAR OF FUN, cloaked in obsessive efforts to find pleasure "out there," even in heaven after death, is far more real than I ever thought. The great American assumption of the "right to happiness" and its perpetual pursuit is, I think, but one more cover for our deep resistance against pleasure itself, here called the FEAR OF FUN.
Though commonly unrecognized, I think it must be a universal fear in society--where we all live--because social acceptance, which is primally important for self-survival, thrives best and is most easily achieved by self-control, even denial and negation, in favor of "good behavior." Even though the desire for individual salvation, personal happiness, is also, I believe, an innate instinct, we all learn early the extreme importance of "what they think" (as a clue to our social acceptance), and few of us ever stray far from its power, even when caught in the throes of rebellion against it, especially along the road to heaven here--that is, toward "being ourselves" when or where there is any risk of rejection by those deemed critical to our social well-being (for instance, "loved ones").
This fear is especially evident to me in regard to our two most primal instincts, the most powerful and ingrained forces of our first 44 and last 2 chromosomes--namely, those for self-survival ("selfishness") and self-reproduction ("sexiness"). Our pervasive fear of being ourselves is revealed in the threat of compliments, self-affirmation, "attention" of all sorts, having our pictures taken without posing, and any other situations where we are "put on the spot" or revealed as being "outstanding" or "different" in any significant way.
Even when we consciously seek compliments, "attention," and public affirmation, few seem capable of tolerating such stimuli without "putting down on ourselves" at the same time, let alone of luxuriating or basking in the limelight of recognition by others. Our deeper unconscious fears of "selfishness," of standing out as "different," seem to speedily undercut any outward success in truly affirming our unique selves.
Fears in regard to the activation of the last 2 chromosomes, X and Y--those for sexuality, are even more evident in society. In spite of our apparent "preoccupation with sex" (as evidenced in its driving power as the most successful basis of advertising--sex will even sell soap), the threat of the pleasure of "being turned on" in public, of "being caught" with any overt personal interest in sex, let alone any degree of erectile tissue engorged while with other than lovers, is easily recognized. Fears related to orgasm, the most ego-transcending of all our animal capacities (appropriately called "climax" or "ecstasy"), are, I think, but one more manifestation of our shared fear of fun.
When Lady Chatterly cries in the arms of her lover at the fateful instant, "I die, I die...," she but voices, I think, our common fear of ego-death which is regularly required of orgasm. In less dramatic terms, I believe that this same fear, on even deeper levels, is evidenced in resistance to therapy and to any real prospect of entering heaven in the here and now.
In summary, the threat of fun--dimly perceived in its minor degrees (such as, delight in seeing colors), but more clearly recognized in sexual experience--may be seen as the fear of "letting go," of "losing control," of "relaxing for a second," of "flying," of "losing myself," and finally, of death itself.
Unwittingly, even naively, Fellowship, with its logo and emphasis on fullness of life in the here and now, evoked, I believe, these near universal, diverse though denied, fears of fun in its manifold manifestations. One of the unrecognized causes of Fellowship's failure was, I now think, the commonly unrecognized threat inherent in all pleasure.
THREAT OF FREEDOM
As with FUN, so with FREEDOM; we all, it seems, want "to have good fun" and "to be free"--to think our own thoughts and do as we please. We innately resist, as best I can tell, being told what to think and made to do what we do not choose. We like to "make up our own minds," to "decide for ourselves." Desire for FREEDOM, like FUN, appears to be written into the human script, inscribed in our genes.
We must be taught many of the social virtues, such as, sharing and self-denial; but not these two universals. We come, as it were, already "educated" in pleasure and "doing our own things." Neophytes in serving others, we are born with PhD's in serving ourselves--especially in regard to "feeling good" and "doing as we please." As all parents know, children "want what they want when they want it," and resist mightily the will and direction of those who bear them (and the initial responsibility for them).
Soon, however, parents and society step into these arenas of FUN and FREEDOM with dictates of their own. Before we know what is happening, literally, they begin to curtail our innate pleasures, such as, defecating-at-will, and start telling us "what to do" ("Stop crying," for instance). Our inherited gifts of how-to-feel-good and do-what-we-want-to are rapidly confiscated by those who "care for" us. Before we know it, "they" are telling us what we can and can't do, squelching our inclinations toward both FUN and FREEDOM.
As with body first, soon with mind. When the human capacity for conscious thought emerges, "they" waste no time in exercising authority over our minds as well as our bodies; rapidly they begin to tell us "how it is" and "what we should think." In the overall process of becoming civilized, the innate gifts of FUN and FREEDOM--the inborn knowledge of how to have a good time and how to decide, perhaps the grandest products of aeons of evolutional history, are all too soon taken over by "the powers that be."
We may lose control over what-to-think and what-to-do, but the memory, it seems, remains. No matter how civilized we become--thinking the "right thoughts" and doing the "right things"--somehow primal urges for FUN and FREEDOM, even when repressed and consciously put aside like the toys of childhood, seldom seem to disappear entirely. Deeply, as best I can tell, we all continue to cherish these inherited urges.
When family and society phase into religion, the control of FREEDOM to think and act is taken over by accepted beliefs and commandments--ideas-to-be-accepted-without-question and behaviors-to-be-followed-regardless. In religions we are told what-to-think and what-to-do, especially in all those arenas of life deemed relevant by the authorities.
Faith, an essential element of all religions, is commonly understood to be accepting-without-question-what-one is-told--that is, believing without doubt. Doubt, of course, is a primary element in free thought. Faith, consequently, becomes identified with "not thinking," while doubt, the core of all thought, is identified with sin. To "be religious," we must "take it on faith, that is, believe-what-we-are-told without personal thought, especially the established beliefs which are most obviously unreasonable.
Furthermore, virtue or goodness is defined in religion as "acting right," following all the commandments, behaving "as we should,"--this too, without thought or reason and regardless of circumstances. FREEDOM to choose what-to-do in all arenas of behavior deemed significant by each religion is, of course, absolutely denied.
Sin is expanded from thought-freedom ("doubting" sacred beliefs) to action-freedom ("breaking" behavioral rules). In fact, religions can be generally defined and pragmatically followed by their particular beliefs and behaviors deemed to be inherently "true" and "right."
The summary result, in both society and religion (when they are not synonymous), is a serious curtailment, if not complete take over, of FUN and FREEDOM in significant areas of life.
Recognizing these facts, and respecting deep human desires for FUN and FREEDOM, plus their essential place in becoming whole persons who are able to live well, we determined in Fellowship to create one church where both were honored and maintained. In practice, as true ecumenicity requires, Fellowship chose to have no sacred beliefs or behaviors. Members were encouraged to honor their own beliefs and to chose personally appropriate behaviors. FREEDOM, like FUN, was extended to, rather than taken away from, Fellowshippers.
In my earlier nievete, I correctly recognized the above noted powerful human desire to be FREE. Without exception, as far as I know, everyone who came to Fellowship was initially attracted and enamored by the FREEDOMS which were obviously extended. I know of no other church anywhere, even among those considered most liberal of all, which so consistently invited and maintained the personal FREEDOM for beliefs and behavior as did Fellowship.
What I failed to see, however, was the immense threat which inevitably seems to accompany the activation of this primal human desire. FREEDOM, it turns out, for all its innate appeal, is an immensely scary possibility--certainly within the boundaries of a social group. In my youthful exuberance over establishing a social context, even a religious structure, for openness of belief and extended freedom for self-chosen behavior, I was relatively blind to the hidden personal challenges which such FREEDOMS also hold.
Paradoxically, that which we seem to desire the most, it turns out, is also among the most threatening of possibilities. FREEDOM, I came to discover, though a consciously craved condition, must loom perilously dangerous to everyone in its activation. Like New York, it seems "a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there"; or, more aptly, like heaven, a greatly desirable place to go, "but not just yet."
FREEDOM is obviously fun to think and dream about, and as best I can tell, among the most innate of our human urges; paradoxically, however, I must regrettably conclude that it is also deeply perceived as terribly dangerous by everyone I have been privileged to know well. I now suspect that this observation extends to everyone who lives, as we all do, in a social group.
In summary, FREEDOM, though widely wanted, is "really scary" in reality. "Better," we must all believe (often in spite of what we think), to keep it "out there," safely tucked away in the dream world only.
These conclusions have crowded themselves, uninvited, into my reluctant awareness. But why are they so? The sense that I have been able to make of them, so far, is this: FREEDOM, as many others have recognized, is but one side of a single coin in reality; the other side is correctly labeled: RESPONSIBILITY. To have FREEDOM, the innately desirable human state, is, regrettably I recognize, to also have RESPONSIBILITY. There is no such real experience, in reality, as one without the other. Childhood, it seems, prepares us for the first, but leaves us seriously "uneducated" for the second.
Everyone, apparently, wants FREEDOM; but few, if any at all, learn to equally love the RESPONSIBILITY which is inevitably attached. We seek the impossible split of what in reality remains a single coin--to gain the first side, while rejecting the second. Whereas FREEDOM seems-to-be deeply desirable, it must be that RESPONSIBILITY is what scares us so badly. Or is it the FUN which is also inherent in FREEDOM?
In either case, I have come to recognize, something is terribly threatening about FREEDOM. I suspect, on further analysis, that the threat is related to our vast inexperience in being both FREE and, at the same time, RESPONSIBLE in society. Experience with real FREEDOM is largely limited to times when we are alone. We can only be truly FREE when no one else is present--for example, locked in our own rooms, or "behind the bathroom door." On the other hand, society ("they") decide and dictate to us "our responsibilities" (for example, our "chores," and how we "should behave"). Almost never do we learn to freely choose them.
The common result is that we only know (have extended experience in) RESPONSIBILITY in isolation from FREEDOM. In practice, we only know FREEDOM when we seem to be separated from RESPONSIBILITY; conversely, when we are "acting responsibly" we are following the dictates of others. We may learn a bit about both, each separated from the other, but rarely do we have much practice with the two together--as they inevitably are in reality beyond our groups.
In other words, we learn, in the hot house of family and other social groups, the illusion of FREEDOM separated from RESPONSIBILITY, and vice versa; but not both together. Because group-acceptance is far more important, initially, than the pleasures of FREEDOM, we wisely learn to accept some measure of social RESPONSIBILITY as it is defined and dictated by others (quite apart from personal FREEDOM).
We must do whatever it takes (act sufficiently responsible) to remain accepted in groups which supply necessary resources for life. Personal FREEDOM sacrificed in maintaining social acceptance is but a reasonably loss. We can survive, even if personally deprived, with minimal FREEDOM; but not without the resources of our groups--even if they come with required RESPONSIBILITIES which are not of our own choosing.
My point is simply to note how ill-prepared we must all be for confronting the real fact of the single reality: FREEDOM/RESPONSIBILITY--not FREEDOM and RESPONSIBILITY, as we have learned to divide them, not one or the other, but of the inevitable connection, outside our social groups, of both/and. To be FREE, in the larger world of reality, is also to be RESPONSIBLE.
All this to note a possible explanation for the paradoxical phenomenon which emerged in Fellowship--namely, the threat of FREEDOM. Perhaps as but a predictable reflection of our common experience amplified above, we all seemed to have fallen in love with the FREEDOM to believe what we chose, to honestly entertain actual doubts about religious subjects (i.e., "Is there a God?," etc. etc.), and to face the option of being FREE to decide how to act ("What will I do with myself?"). A place to be intellectually honest and open, plus to be accepted while exploring behavioral FREEDOMS, was understandably delightful!
For a while. And for many, only for a short while!
Soon the ominous shadow of RESPONSIBILITY reared its threatening head. As nice and "freeing" as it was to be able, for example, to "believe whatever you want to believe," soon the challenges (the RESPONSIBILITY) of truly confronting one's actual beliefs emerged also.
Likewise with the FREEDOM, for example, to chose one's own life style rather than being dictated by parental demands or religious commandments. Certainly it is fun to be free "on Saturday night"; but, many discovered, the "morning after" is inevitable. If FREEDOM comes, RESPONSIBILITY is never far behind. "Sowing and reaping," to use the Biblical metaphor, are indeed bound together--even when a temporary gap seems to exist.
Well-intentioned parents and priests may hold RESPONSIBILITY at bay from children and parishioners for a time, feeding and supporting them as though manna still falls regularly from heaven. Eventually, however, the "facts of life," including the inevitably connection between FREEDOM and RESPONSIBILITY, are bound to appear. In the carefree days of childhood, the reality of "chores" (shared family RESPONSIBILITIES) must come; eventually "things must be paid for," rather than magically appearing without cost.
We may "dance free" for a time, but as even Conventional Wisdom knows, eventually, "If you're gonna dance, you have to pay the piper." Or as a plumber wag noted, "The water is free, but you have to pay for the plumbing." The illusion which parents often create, even with the best of intentions, that FREEDOM and RESPONSIBILITY are separate phenomena, remains just that: an illusion.
Fellowship, and especially myself as minister, participated diligently in this illusion for as long as possible. Finally, however, reality crept in. When this discovery was allowed "to soak in," the heady waters of FREEDOM in Fellowship became, I think, too threatening for many to continually navigate. The older "securities" of family directives or religious dictations (dogma and commandments), what "they" said to believe and do, even when recognized as grotesquely unreasonable and ultimately illusionary, were often re-embraced gladly.
RESPONSIBILITY is an inevitably aspect of FREEDOM, of breaking out of the bondage and benefits of dictation by authority figures (parents, society, church, etc.). Being responsible for oneself--personally, financially, and all other ways--is inherent in the FREEDOM to become oneself. In Fellowship the fun of rebelling against old authorities was supported; but when persons were confronted with accepting the personal RESPONSIBILITY inherent in such FREEDOMS, the threat emerged quickly. The fun of "letting it all hang out," of saying what I please, "shitting where I will," for example, also brings the threat of such limits as, "you can't shit in a communal bed without an effect on others," and in any "family" a responsible member must help with chores (money, duties) if he or she is to remain for long in community--or if the community is to remain for long. These threats, I now think contributed significantly to the short happy life of Fellowship.
THREAT OF WHOLENESS
Being whole means "being all we are created capable of being,"--that is, activating our entire human potential, "being all that we can be." Imagine that a human being were a 16 cylinder Rolls Royce automobile; being whole would be running smoothly on all 16 cylinders, rather than creaking along with only 3 or 4 cylinders operating.
Or, if a person were like a circle, wholeness would mean being "rounded out" rather than split down the middle and existing as half a circle only. The opposite of whole, obviously, is partial or less-than-whole. For example, since we have two eyes and two hands, to function as a whole person means seeing with both eyes and using both hands. In being less-than-whole we might try to see with only one eye, and work with one hand tied behind our back.
Although we are created capable of "being all that we can be," obviously, many never activate more than a minimal amount of actual potential. Often unique talents as well as basic capacities, for instance, mental abilities, are never brought into full operation. Capable of thinking, often we "don't think"; able to be emotional, sometimes we "don't feel anything." We commonly, as it were, go around like 4 cylinder automobiles or half-circles when we are potentially 16 cylinder Rolls Royces or complete circles.
Even though we, for many reasons, fail to embrace our given potential, it seems to be the nature of capacity that it "cries out" for activation. If we "can be," we "want to be"--that is, if we have the capacity for "doing something," for example, seeing and using our hands, thinking and feeling, then these very capabilities seem to "have minds of their own." They "want to be activated," even when we "think they shouldn't," or, "try to suppress" their activities.
We have a natural urge, a genetic inclination, I think, to "be whole"--completely activated. We are "not satisfied" living as half persons, with capacities and talents lying dormant. We deeply desire, I believe, to "be ourselves," indeed, our "fullest selves." Suppressed parts of who-we-are, not yet brought into light, "call out" for freedom. Denied elements of our "real selves" press for acceptance and utilization.
In summary, my observation is that whatever we are, we are inclined to be, even when we, often with good reason, try to act otherwise. Human capacities innately strive for activation. Half-persons are "inwardly driven" to become whole persons. We deeply and truly want to be all that we can be.
In Fellowship's theology, salvation is wholeness. We "are saved" by "becoming whole"--that is, by embracing and activating the entirety of our given human potential. Salvation, as I often preached, is being human. We come to "know God" by "becoming ourselves." When we are being-who-we-are, we are in the "presence of God" who is "Being-itself."
The fabric of Fellowship was a context for the translation of this theology into practice, a place, that is, for becoming whole. Fellowship was an invitation to "become yourself," to "know God" through being human. Since we all, so long as we live, are at least partially ourselves already, the invitation was to the fuller activation of our humanity--to become even more of who-we-are.
Half-persons, as it were, were invited to become whole persons. Invitation, encouragement, guidance, and support were extended to anyone who came to our services or activities. Fellowship, with all its voices, said: Be all that you can be. Activate your human potential. Stop negating yourself. Don't settle for half-ness. Don't "just exist"; become fully alive. Be yourself and become your larger self. In so doing, you will find God.
If my first observation--namely, that we all possess an innate desire for wholeness, that we are not satisfied existing as half-persons, with being any less than we potentially are and therefore can become--was correct, then theoretically, an organization which supported such a process would be highly desirable. Furthermore, a theology which affirmed such a deep-seated human desire, though sharply contrasting with traditional theology, should--again, theoretically--be appealing to those with religious backgrounds who had not found the promised salvation in other churches.
Both of these conclusions proved to be correct. Initially and temporarily. Many persons who heard about Fellowship were fascinated with and attracted to an "organization for wholeness," a place where anyone was accepted and encouraged to "become yourself." Also, many persons dissatisfied in their own churches found the theology of Fellowship "exciting" and much like their personal beliefs which were unsupported, even deemed heresy, in their own churches.
Soon, however, and consistently, contrary data began to emerge. For all its fascination, "reasonableness," and initial appeal, something about the phenomenon of wholeness, the basic premise of Fellowship, seemed to be threatening! Paradoxically, that which seems to be what we all want and are deeply driven to seek, turns out to be, at best, of limited appeal, and at worst, anathema. The prospect of "heaven on earth" turned out to be like the proverbial "heaven in the skies"--a nice idea, but who wants to go now!
Perhaps I am wrong in my observations; maybe there is no desire for wholeness. Maybe people prefer to be less than we possibly can. And, in regard to this theology: perhaps I am wrong here too; maybe the traditional view that God and salvation are "other-worldly" issues, that we best know God by "mortifying the flesh," that is, by negating or escaping humanity, are correct. Certainly, my second premise is contrary to popular understanding about the nature of God and personal salvation.
But I think not. I still believe that this understanding about human nature inclined to wholeness is correct. I remain a believer in the theological stance noted above. However, I also want to be honest about my data concerning the failures of these ideas in practice. My theories and my experience with them in practice fail, in far too many instances, to add up. Something, no doubt, is amiss.
The sense I currently make of this paradox is that in spite of a natural tendency toward wholeness, even a deep universal desire for "being all we can be," and of the real possibility of salvation through being human (God's presence knowable in the here and now), still a very powerful, real (though commonly unrecognized) threat stands in the way. I now see what, in my earlier naivete, I failed to acknowledge: the threat-of-wholeness.
Even though we deeply "want to be ourselves"--all that we can be, and even though God may be knowable through "becoming fully human," there remains a real and formidable threat in achieving this singular goal. No matter how wonderful the dream seems, or how exciting the prospect of "happiness now" appears, still the path toward human wholeness is filled with enormous and scary challenges.
Enough to tempt anyone to turn back.
Specifically, threats I now recognize include those noted above under FUN and FREEDOM, plus powerful others. Wholeness certainly is inherently FUN and immensely FREEING. Hence, all the threats associated with either of these experiences are also present when we approach "becoming ourselves." Plus more.
In addition, there is the threat of change, of leaving the familiar. Like it or not, living as partial-persons, far less than we might be, is the common human condition (as best I can tell). We all have much practice, "time-in-grade," with "running on a few cylinders only," with existence as "half-persons," with keeping our "true selves under wraps." We already know much about how to "get by" (to survive) with many of our capacities squelched or carefully suppressed. Now ingrained patterns of repression, learned in childhood and long utilized, help us "make it through the day" if not the night. And Conventional Wisdom, that powerful dictator of human behavior, is: Better to keep the ills you have than fly to those you know not of.
Being half-a-person, even with its known ills, is observably familiar, while the so-called "joys of heaven," certainly on earth, are scarcely known at all. How dare we fly to those we know not of? Maybe wholeness, salvation on earth, isn't what we imagine it might be. Perhaps it is an even worse ill! Or so goes, I find, a common way of dealing with the threat of any unknown, even a potentially better state of existence--which wholeness certainly is for most of us.
To better understand the appropriate extent of this fear of change in Fellowship, seeing the scope of the change which Fellowship actually invited may be useful. The invitation to wholeness in the here and now, in sharp contrast with a promise or hope for completion in the "sweet bye and bye," calls for a radically opposite approach to our most primal genetic instincts, namely, selfishness and sexiness. Societies throughout the ages, certainly our own, have traditionally dealt with these powerful drives through the mode of suppression, even negation when possible.
"Don't be selfish," for instance, is written into social scripts, both secular and religious. Be a good citizen; be patriotic; give yourself to the public good. Pay taxes without question. Obey all laws as though they were sacred. If called for, give your life for your country. These familiar secular messages are first supported and even amplified in most religions, where selfishness is identified with sin and self-sacrifice, even martyrdom becomes a virtue. The extent of religious suppression of sexuality is so widespread, consistent, and well known that I need but mention it here. Everyone knows that sex and dirty are religious synonyms, as are God and cleanliness.
Into these social and religious arenas where most everyone's teachings and practice have dealt with instincts almost exclusively by judgment and suppression, Fellowship naively and innocently invited a 180 degree change in approach. Instead of "putting down" on primal instincts, Fellowship elevated them.
The highest virtues were posited as through and beyond being "animal," not to be achieved by "rising above" or negating instincts. In a social and religious world saying, "Don't be selfish and sexy," Fellowship came saying, "Be both selfish and sexy, plus much more."
Virtue in Fellowship lay in an opposite direction from Conventional Wisdom and traditional religious doctrine; no "points" were gained here by self-denial or self-sacrifice. Indeed, these were seen as signs of emotional disturbance or "craziness," certainly not honored as virtuous. Here the call was in the opposite direction. Love was presented as the ultimate in selfishness, not to be found through self-negation. Ecstasy or transcendence, as viewed in Fellowship, is beyond orgasm, certainly not to be realized through sexual-repression.
Aside from the content of these different messages, to be considered next, the extremely radical nature of the change itself, the extent of our totally opposite approach, even yet remains difficult for me to face clearly. Fellowship did not call for a slight shift or minor degree of change in approach to the basic issues of life; it invited a radical difference. All the inherent threats of change were astronomically multiplied in Fellowship.
Beyond the inherent threat of any change, even one supposedly "for the better," wholeness brings others which are commonly experienced as far worse. First, there is the predictable threat of embodiment, of coming to be embodied, rather than to exist (in imagination) as "one" having a body (as though one were a "soul," "personality," "self," or "I," who owns or perhaps temporarily resides in a physical body. The grandest genius of popular religions may be that they support, even "guarantee," the notion of existence as a separable entity only residing in a "mortal body" while truly being an "immortal soul" (or whatever).
Outside of religions, in the secular world, the notion of having a body rather than truly being embodied is no less popular. Even when it is not called a "soul," the prevalence of the idea of an "I" or "self" who merely inhabits or "uses" his or her body is still widely accepted. The point here is that whether one is religious ("believes in having a soul") or secular (doesn't "believe either in a soul or afterlife"), the phenomenon of supposed existence apart from the tangible, mortal, substances of body is widely accepted.
The potential threat inherent in becoming embodied, whether as a believer or an atheist, is hard to overestimate. To be embodied, only the first step in "becoming human," means embracing being mortal rather than immortal--with all the challenging aspects of mortality, such as, continually changing, never "having the answers" (knowing anything for sure), always in the process of aging, and predictably "going to die (cease to exist)."
As though these negative threats of being human rather than godly (not omnipotent, omniscient and immortal), are not enough, those on the positive side seem, paradoxically, to be even greater. Also inherent in being embodied are all the natural challenges of the other aspects of humanity--such as, being selfish and sexual, plus emotional, thoughtful, and capable of minor degrees of consciousness. We cannot "be ourselves"--that is embodied, without confronting the 44 chromosomes in each of "our" 50,000 billion cells, which, in effect, demand that we be selfish (survive at all costs and get the best while we do). Also there are the last two, X and Y chromosomes, also in every cell, which dictate being sexy, no matter how socially dangerous or "nasty" it may seem.
In addition to being selfish and sexy, in becoming whole we are also confronted with the challenges of immensely powerful and difficult to control emotions, easily evoked by almost every sense experience.
As if the threat of fickle feelings were not enough, we also are "gifted" with a measure of capacity for being reasonable, of adding "sense" to "how it feels." Although primarily directed by pre-conscious genetic wisdom, as humans we have also evolved a slight degree of capacity for consciousness. However small it may be, we cannot become human without embracing this last-to-evolve capacity which so often casts a harsh light on all its older and more powerful cousins.
How naive I had to be to ignore these relatively easy to see, everpresent threats, which always lie in the path of human wholeness! Especially when the process of "becoming who we are" must always be pursued in the context of society which is best served by suppression and control of most all--certainly the deepest and most powerful--elements in humanity.
Fragile civilization, which only emerged in the last half of the last second of a 24 hour evolutional clock, faces the immense challenge of containing powerful forces of innate selfishness as well as the terribly unruly and eternally capricious tides of the sea of human sexuality. No small task for this Johnny-Come-Lately to the scene of ancient reality. Small wonder that it has mounted such massive efforts to contain, and suppress whenever possible, the wonder-filled forces of selfishness and sex.
But for all the advantages and present necessity for social structures, the inclination toward personal wholeness remains, I think, powerfully present in us all. The values of "fitting in"--that is, being socially acceptable, though critically important, especially at early ages, never quite succeed in erasing older and deeper urges for "being ourselves." Between these two powerful forces--the necessity for "fitting in" and the ingrained drive to become whole, the threat I am noting here must be born.
Both are important; each is powerful. Neither can be evaded for long. Yet--and here is the rub--they remain primarily at odds with one another. The interests of society (any social group, such as, a family) are best served by a careful containment of the most powerful inward elements of its individual members, most notably, inherent selfishness and sexuality. Although selves must not, of course, be totally erased--since society depends, in the final analysis, on the existence of individual selves who also reproduce themselves--they need to be sharply reigned-in to meet the needs of society.
For example, social groups are best served by "unselfish" members who are ready and willing to "serve others," even to patriotically risk their lives in support of group goals. And, since a minimal amount of sex can result in a sufficient number of new members of the group, the powerful human sexual urge can be pragmatically repressed and still adequate reproduction for society's needs will ensue.
Furthermore, "illicit" sex can easily undermine fragile structures of social groups, for example, family units, military operations, business alliances, legal entities, and private property arrangements. All in all, "a little sex can go a long way." Societies do well to keep it under wraps as best they can.
But while social groups, to which we all do and must belong, are busy trying, for their survival's sake, to control selfishness and sex, Mother Nature, older and wiser, remains alive and well, urging us all through her engened biological directives, to selfishly survive, and to sexily reproduce ourselves.
In the midst of these two powerful "voices"--the stated directives of our newer "City Fathers" (the "Powers That Be") in our various social groups, and the silent calls of our ancient Mother Nature--we all live, move, and try to find our being--our selves, that is. In this, we have no choice. Both are there; each is essential as well as present. And we are all left on our own in choosing personal answers to their calls.
Will we try to be good children and citizens only, negating ourselves? Or will we rebel against family and society and try to be independently selfish and sexy? Or how will we perform such a challenging balancing act--trying to act unselfishly while being ultimately selfish; trying to appear chaste and non-sexual while X and Y initiated hormones rage willy nilly throughout our various personal encounters?
Because Social Directors (parents, teachers, preachers, and policemen) demand attention and obedience, while the silent urges of Mother Nature can be partially suppressed or kept hidden away in secret rooms of house and mind, we all, it seems, learn first and primarily about behaving ourselves rather than being ourselves. The dictates of society take powerful precedence over inclinations of self. Crucially important "fitting in," with its manifold directives for being "good" and "unselfish," certainly not sexual, seem to initially prevail in everyone's personal experience. Social salvation comes first.
Only later do older urges toward personal salvation, toward "being ourselves," tend to re-emerge. By then we are well-schooled in social virtues of behaving ourselves and being chaste; we are established members of various social groups which will also define our being for us. Socially ingested directives, our "conscience" ("Step on a crack, break your mother's back"), plus our socially defined selves ("I am a good son and citizen, father and minister," for instance) combine to largely determine who-we-are, at least as far as we consciously know ourselves. The older but long denied siren calls of Mother Nature to be our embodied selves hardly stand a chance of being heard, let alone responded to.
Into this power-packed arena where the forces of society have been so long pitted against those of our more tolerant Mother Nature, where the loudest messages have from our beginning been, "Behave yourself; do not be yourself," came Fellowship, naively proclaiming: "Be yourself; be your wholeself."
Because, I now think, the message of Fellowship resonated with the long suppressed voice of Mother Nature ingrained in us all, it initially "felt good" to those who heard it. Also, because I am good with logic and "sounding reasonable," my theological stance of identifying God, Being-Itself, with human being, "made sense" to those who deeply wanted both to be religious as well as be themselves.
The inherent threats, however, in this profound shift from behaving to being, eluded my awareness back then. Trapped in my own deeper desires to be myself and my skilled sense-making abilities, I failed to see how dangerous and demanding such a paradigm shift inherently is. The challenges of my message were amplified because I, unlike other religious leaders who have championed a mere reversal of the social message, namely, a rebellion, retreat, or withdrawal from society, was calling for both good selfhood and good citizenship. I did not sanction what I recognized to be a finally futile attempt to get out of the world and society; rather I preached and called for becoming ourselves in the world as well as in our social groups.
Either one or the other--being selfless in society, or being religious (or oneself) out of society (either on an island, in an isolated cult, or in a proposed "other world" beyond this one) would have been an easier appeal. But no! I had the naive nerve to call for both--behaving without sacrificing being, and being ourselves without withdrawing from society. Without seeing what it would take, I called for both/and--for being good citizens and good persons at the same time. I preached, in effect, be good and act selfless, and at the same time, be good and selfish; also, be good and chaste and be good and sexy. Like water and oil, the two do not easily mix.
An early sermon, Sex Is Clean, in a society which primarily views it as dirty, and certainly as obscene, must have been paradoxical as well as titillating. Preachers, as everyone knows, are supposed to be "against it"; how strange to find one "for it."
But if primal sexuality itself is threatening--as certainly it is, the larger prospects of personhood or wholeness which includes both gender and our deeper and more primal humanity from which gender arises, are even scarier. Most of us, it seems, have so identified ourselves with one or the other of our more apparent gender stances, namely, male or female, that the prospect of being more then "just a man" or "only a woman" looms as terrifying--especially for us "males."
If we are socially afraid of sex itself, we seem to be even more fearful of leaving tenacious identifications with our most obvious genders--of moving on, that is, to first embrace our opposite gender "shadow" and then to accept androgyny itself. In males, the obvious threat of homosexuality is, I think, but a slightly veiled cover for male fears of our own feminine components. We fear being "sissy" because we are threatened by the X chromosomes in all our cells, preferring to believe that we only have Y chromosomes--that is, only testosterone-initiated "masculine" traits.
Past the threat of homosexuality lies the deeper issue of homophobia--the fear of "homo" or humanity itself. We males are commonly threatened first by our own "gayness" (feminine components), and then, even more so, by androgyny which underlies gender itself. The same, I think, must also be true for females.
The ideal of wholeness--being who-we-are, "just being ourselves," "embracing our human potential," "becoming all that we can be,"--which inevitably involves both gender and androgyny, is scary enough when we but face the powers of our primary gender sexuality in a society which largely seeks to keep all sex under wraps. Then confronting cross-gender shadows, the larger dimensions of everyone's fuller genderedness (male's femaleness and female's masculinity), adds to the challenge. Finally, going beyond all genderedness without negating any of its scope, and embracing androgyny from which gender itself arises--well, the size of this threat is perhaps impossible to note in ordinary words. It must be "humongous"!
My naive proposal of heaven now rather than later, if-at-all, ignored the challenges both of behaving-well and well-being when attempted separately, and certainly of the exceptional demands of putting the two together. Even the theoretical rewards and immediate as well as implicit delights of such an idea could do little to alleviate inherent threats of such an audacious invitation. No matter how appealing the idea of heaven-now, of "being yourself" without having to go to an island or get out of this world, may be, the practice of pursuing it is truly filled with awesome threats.
Wholeness, I now see, though genetically impelled and consciously desired, is an immensely scary human pursuit. Fellowship unwittingly called for confronting these threatening ghosts.
Such a challenge requires a faith more akin to courage than the traditional variety better seen as ignorance than as nerve. The churchly kind of faith, which is familiar in our society, calls for believing the unbelievable--accepting on "faith" an unprovable premise which actually makes little sense when you think about it (Jesus walking on water, for example, or the notion that "Jesus saves"; for that matter, the whole idea of a Sky Father who cares and "watches over us"). Although one who practices such a "faith" will scarcely acknowledge its non-sensical nature, objectively "believing that which has no proof" is easy to identify with what is more literally seen as ignorance (literally, ig-noring reality as recognized by our senses).
Whatever its definition, the popular kind of "faith" remains primarily a mental phenomenon, a matter of believing of disbelieving, of thinking such-and-such is true or not. The only courage it requires is abandoning the human capacity for reason in favor of more primal memories of that seemingly magical realm of childhood which was indeed populated by omnipotent (from a child's perspective) "gods" called fathers and mothers. The colloquial expression, "blind faith," is literally accurate. This popular variety of "faith" is best served by mental blindness, not seeing what often is abundantly evident to anyone who dares to "look" (think).
Even though defending irrational "faith" calls for courage in a secular society which likes to think of itself as reasonable, the "faith" itself remains primarily a mental activity (actually a non-mental-activity) rather than a truly spiritual experience. On the other hand, facing threats inherent in becoming whole in a society which sanctions half-ness, even making self-sacrifice a social virtue, does inevitably require spiritual courage--"guts," it may more graphically be called.
The faith which Fellowship requires is a living rather than a dead faith--a being faithing rather than simply having "a faith." It requires the move from "I see..." (a dead "faith" of the mind only), to "I am..." (an experiential faith); from "I see it" to "I am it. This also requires the courage or faith essential to withdraw projections and embrace personal powers.
This I see now; but not back then when the potential glories of self-full-ness overshadowed the all-too-real threats of wholeness.
THREAT OF LOVE
The threat of love is perhaps the most paradoxical and difficult to understand of all those which have been inherent in the structures and activities of Fellowship. Everybody of course wants "to be loved." Who among us doesn't dream of, if not actively seek, someone to love us "just as we are"? The ideal of "being a loving person," that is, one "who loves others" is almost as universal, I think, as the wish "to be loved." We all seem to want both to be loved and to love--at least until we get disillusioned in its quest or lose hope of ever finding it.
The experience of "falling in love" remains one of the most vital and memorable events in the entire lives of many persons. What can rival the ecstasy of the sense of completion and wholeness which is sometimes experienced in the arms or "unqualified acceptance" of what we believe at the time to be a true lover?
Even those who have been so terribly hurt in the quest for love that they have given up on ever finding it, retreating into cynicism or even despair, seldom lose their regrets. The powers of the old dream, even if the search is abandoned, continue to have their effects.
Poets, artists, musicians, writers, and theologians, as well as common folk, have praised the wonders of love throughout recorded history. "Love," as countless songs and persons say and believe, "is the greatest." Perhaps the best known of all Biblical verses is this: ....but the greatest of these is love. How could it possibly be that something so universally acclaimed in both secular and religious worlds is threatening?
To grasp the threat, we first need an understanding about love itself. "What," to quote an old song, "is this thing called love?" Because the single name, love, is used in such a wide variety of ways, we must first delineate the subject. Here I only wish to speak of love in its ideal sense, that ultimate virtue which, in Greek, was known as agape. In Christianity, such love or agape is identified with God. "God," as John noted in the Bible, "is love." In other words, when we talk about love in this ideal sense, we are actually speaking about God.
"Whoever loves," John went on to note, "knows God, since God is love (I John 4:7,8)." Like God, from whom love always springs, and is, agape can never be defined in the sense of identifying it with specific forms of thought and/or behavior. We cannot say, for example, that a particular act--such as "helping," is loving. Often "helping" is loving; but then again, in other circumstances, "helping," may be very unloving (as parents sometimes must reluctantly note). As with this act, so with all others. Love obviously is, yet is, like God, impossible to "pin down" in easy definitions.
And yet to speak of love, we need a shared understanding. My best sense, so far, of "what love is" follows. For clarity, before I begin, I note that this is not so much an attempt to define love, to "pin it down" with words, as it is an effort to point toward love's undefinable nature with the medium of language. We cannot, as best I can tell, "pin-love-down," anymore than we can grasp or define God with words. What we can do, however, is point toward some of its broadest and most predictable elements, each of which may at any given time be hidden and cloaked with its opposite.
Just as we may generalize about God, in order to speak on the subject, without ever "pinning-God-down," so we may do with love (which John identifies with God). For example, we may, as many theologians agree, speak of God as Ultimate Reality, and as omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. With these extremely broad categories, we may pragmatically approach the subject of God with less danger of misunderstanding or "missing God" in our ultimately futile attempts to define in language the ultimate in reality.
In like manner, we may approach the finally undefinable nature of love with similarly broad categories. The three elements which seem to me to be most commonly present when love (agape) exists are: accepting, affirming, and freeing. Just as we may point toward God with language by saying that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal, so we may look toward love and say that love is accepting, affirming, and freeing.
Again, for clarity, I note that such words may point toward, but do not define, God or love. In any given situation love may appear in an opposite garb; it may, for instance, seem rejecting (as during discipline), rather than accepting. Or to use an even broader category to note problems inherent in speaking accurately about such an elusive subject as love, we could generally say that Love is "lifeing"--that is, that Love gives life. In most circumstances this is true. Love, most often, strives toward giving and keeping one alive, and then to enhancing life. But, since reality includes death as well as life, love, at times, supports dying also.
Even so, to understand, to see-at-all, we at least need broad categories for "thinking about it." I have found these three--accepting, affirming, and freeing--to be most consistently present when I find love to exist. By accepting I mean that love first of all allows the other, the loved one, into its presence without judgment. Love, as it were, "opens its arms" to embrace a loved one safely into its presence. When we truly love someone, we accept them "as they are" into the openness of our selves. We say, in effect, "Come on in; the water is fine. You may exist in my presence without harm. I will not hurt you. I accept you as a separate and lovable person. I am here with you and you can be here with me."
Stated negatively, love does not reject a person in his or her essence. It does not say, "You are not Okay; you are bad. You cannot be honestly in my presence." This does not mean that love accepts all behaviors of a loved person, everything, for example, that he does; but it does mean that love accepts the person, the essence of the individual, even if specific behaviors are rejected. For instance, I may lovingly accept a person, yet not accept his hitting me or slapping me in the face. However, in the larger sense of the word, love begins with accepting another as he or she is--that is, their right to be a person separate from oneself.
But love, as I understand it, does not stop with acceptance only; it goes the next step in also affirming what it at first accepts. Acceptance is essentially passive in nature; without "doing anything," it allows. Acceptance, for instance, does not harm or reject; yet it does not proceed beyond passive allowance.
But in this second step, love begins to "move." It adds active affirmation to passive acceptance. It says, in effect, "I not only accept you as a person, I also affirm your personhood. I both acknowledge your right to be here, as you are, and I assert your right to the fuller becoming of yourself."
Affirmation may or may not involve a physical action, but certainly a spiritual move takes place. A positive, supportive, expanded part of one's selfhood is extended toward the other. In affirmation, one "reaches out" to the other in a caring manner. In step one, acceptance, love says, "You're Okay; I do not judge you. You can be here without getting hurt." In step two, affirmation adds, "Go for it. You're not only all right with me, acceptable as you are, but I encourage you in the fuller activation of yourself in my presence."
With affirmation, the expanded openness of the lover invites the loved one to increased honesty, to the expansion of him or herself. In this second phase, it is as though love says: "I see and accept who you are; but I also wonder if there is more. Are there aspects of yourself which are not yet revealed to me? Are you holding back? Would you care to be more of yourself than you have yet shown to me? If so, I am willing to stand with you, again, without judgment or harm."
Such affirmation is positive, yet not "pushy." There is no demand or requirement for more; only a loving invitation. If the loved one chooses to remain forever as first accepted, to never reveal or become any more with the loving one, love also affirms that right.
Most often, however, ones loved thusly do choose to chance becoming more of themselves in the presence of an affirming lover. Invitations to "fuller becoming," to increased honesty or selfhood with the lover, are likely to be accepted.
When so, the third major aspect of agape, namely freeing, becomes operative. Love, not only accepts, and affirms; it also frees. The invitation extended in phase two is here given its wider dimensions. One who loves in this sense of agape does not presume to know who or what the other may become. Yet, daringly, such a lover adds the gift of freedom to his earlier offerings of acceptance and affirmation.
In this last and most challenging phase, love "says," in effect: "I honor your right to the fullest becoming of yourself, even though I do not know what it may be. I have accepted you as you are, affirmed your right to be yourself with me; now I free you to whatever unknown dimensions of yourself you may dare to discover." In the first two phases of love, a sense of possession may exist, as though one has or somehow owns the loved one; in this latter phase, possession is abandoned. Freedom has no room for mine. When love dares move to this final plateau, it risks the total loss of the loved one.
For unknown reasons it may be that the "flight"--the fullest becoming of a loved one, calls for a parting or separation from the one who has dared to accept and affirm. When so, even though love may not understand, and strongly wishes that it might be otherwise, true love chances such partings, either temporarily or permanently. Love, when it is agape, can also "let go." Freedom is its final gift to the one loved.
Certainly freedom does not require parting. One loved thusly may continue to soar in ever expanding circles of their enlarging self while remaining in the presence of the loving one. Indeed, granting the gift of freedom in addition to acceptance and affirmation may lead to greater contact and even more wonder-filled encounters. When so, the rewards of love are expanded for the one who has dared to grant freedom also.
Still, such is not always the case. When loved ones deem parting as necessary, loving ones dare to give this freedom too. Without clinging or regret, they freely stand as accepting and affirming of the right to leave as they did of the earlier right to come into the presence of one who "agapes."
The purpose of this brief survey into the nature of love is to establish a basis for understanding threats which are predictable in its pursuit. First, consider the challenges inherent in acceptance, the first phase of agape.
"Unconditional acceptance" is probably the most commonly identified and widely sought attribute of love today. There seems to be a universal longing for "unqualified acceptance," for being loved "just as I am," being cared for without any "measuring up." Acceptance in its most desirable sense is taken to mean without-any-conditions. Who among us doesn't carry a deep and profound desire to be completely accepted "just as we are," without qualifications?
I suspect that this powerful longing is resident in primal experience in the womb, which is, of course, universal. We humans may be unique in many regards, but we all share womb-experience. Although "primal memories" about the time remain a theory, the commonness of the experience and the evidence of its powerful remnants support the existence of such memories. I think that on some deep and "unthinking" level, we all "remember" and predictably long for what the womb must have been like for everyone.
The womb, I submit, is our first contact with God, personified just then in Mother. In that grand and glorious beginning, conditions could well be described as "unconditional acceptance." In all our beginnings we are literally accepted without qualifications, "just as we are." First, we are completely "supported" in a bag of waters. We needn't even hold up our limbs or head; all is "held" for us. Nor must we do anything for ourselves, including feeding and tending. All is given--and taken--through the umbilical cord. Mother provides everything that is needed and good, and takes away what is waste. We are all pre-born "with a silver spoon in our mouths"; we are "held and fed," totally free, as it were, "to pee and shit in our own beds" without ill consequences.
We can, in fact, "do anything we want to whenever we want to." All actions of which we are capable are not only permitted, but must even seem to be encouraged. We can roll and kick, turn and squirm, play and sleep, completely on our own. All this while supplies and nutrients are freely dispensed without our even having to ask or otherwise indicate an interest. Magical Mother is always at hand (and foot and arm, etc.) to give and do and allow whatever we need and want and desire, without our ever lifting a hand or making a request.
We are "unconditionally," it must seem, "accepted just as we are."
I italicize seem to emphasize that all these presumed conditions in the womb are from the infant's perspective only. The seemingly "unconditional acceptance (love?)" is never literally true. We, even as unborn embryos, are profoundly "conditioned," even if unawarely. Totally aside from his and her chromosomes which define and shape ("condition") every aspect of what we are, the seemingly Magical Mother's chemistry--her hormones and emotional states, not to mention her actions (Will she sleep on her stomach?), and even intentions (Does she want to be pregnant?)--also "condition" the nature of our womb-haven (heaven?).
The point is, the "unconditional acceptance" of the womb, no matter how it may seem to an embryo and perhaps be remembered by "us" who emerge from "them," is, in fact, profoundly "conditioned." Even so, such is the nature of our first encounter with ultimate reality, later to be called God. Small wonder, it seems to me, that such "womb-memories" become the first and most deeply desired aspect of what we will later call love, and never move far beyond hoping for its resurrection, later if not now.
But so much for beginning experiences and possibly primal memories; once we are exited from our common Eden, shared learning soon becomes radically different. Past the briefest of times and most limited of arenas, the messages of Mother, soon augmented with those of an even more powerful, it must seem, Father (He is the one who may first be consciously identified with God), change from "unconditional acceptance" to regular rejection--certainly of those aspects of ourselves which are most innately given.
From the continual feeding to which we have grown accustomed, we must immediately confront regular rejection of our demands. For crying and biting--natural responses to deprival, we soon draw frowns if not swats. For wanting constant contact and attention, plus total freedom of action (for which we have had a "lifetime's" experience), we soon encounter reprimands.
Thrust with the unasked for responsibility of disposing of waste material, something for which we have no practice, the rejective demands of what they will virtuously call "toilet training," are all-too-soon followed by punishment when we "mess up." Before we can grasp what right means, we must learn to do "it" in the right places. And I need not mention what is apt to occur when we first discover the pleasures of what they will call "playing with ourselves."
In summary, the wonders of "unconditional acceptance," "just being ourselves," are soon--for most of us, long before the beginning of conscious memory--replaced by unnatural demands for "good behavior." The name upon the door of our first home, had there been one, of Unconditional Acceptance, is soon replaced by another which might well read, were we able to do so just yet: Completely Conditioned Acceptance, or, more accurately for many of us, Regular Rejection If You Lapse Into Being Your Self. The innate joys of being, most of which bring social rejection, must soon be replaced, if we are to have any acceptance at all, with the secondary satisfactions of behaving ourselves.
When we are old enough to venture beyond the relatively acceptive circles of family, to enter the world of non-blood-relations, plus school, church, and the laws of society, the experiences with potential rejection for lapsing into "being ourselves," increase dramatically.
Though we may have some primal memory of an illusion of "unconditional acceptance"--for which we still dream--all of us have vast and extended experience, since the memory we know about begins, with "very conditioned acceptance," far outweighed by considerable practice with regular rejection whenever we "got caught" being ourselves. Past the relatively narrow spaces for personal privacy (and even there acquired "conscience" often dictates our rejections), we have all been told, for most of our remembered lives, both what-to-do as well as what-to-think, at least "what we should" in both arenas. And when we have ventured beyond should and ought, rejection has seldom been far behind.
The relevance of this common knowledge here (Need I have reminded you?) is simply to note the extreme disparity between the dream of "unconditional acceptance," whatever its source, and our extended knowledge and practice with its absence. We all know, I submit, more about how to exist with imminent if not immediate rejection, than with evident acceptance. No matter how powerful our desire may be for "someone to love us for ourselves alone, just as we are," few of us are practiced at tolerating such a dream, certainly for long.
Enter Fellowship Church, with its theology of salvation is being human, which translates into the message: Be yourself, and with its extended acceptance of wide ranges of both belief and behavior. The childhood dream for what is relatively unavailable in most families, and certainly denied in society and organized religion, was overtly offered in this strange, new, "Non-church church."
No inherently virtuous behaviors or life styles were required or expected in Fellowship. Unlike authoritative ministers, priests, and rabbis, who preach and stand largely for the "right things to do" as well as their own versions of the "right beliefs," I presented myself as open and acceptive to a wide variety of behaviors, both social and sexual. I was both priest and counselor; even though I "preached" (many could never bring themselves to call what I did on Sunday a "sermon"), I remained the accepting counselor during the rest of the week.
And unlike any other church I have known, Fellowship never assumed itself to possess the "right beliefs" about anything--from a theology of God to the practice of sex. From the beginning, true ecumenicity was our way of life. Not only did we openly accept persons of all races, a stance which did not exist in Baton Rouge at that time, we also welcomed persons with any religious perspective (or none)--Catholics, Protestants, or Jews, for example--along with those who had no religious beliefs, agnostics and atheists included. Along with its message about "being yourself" as the path to salvation, Fellowship extended circumstances for "practicing what we preached."
Although the acceptance of Fellowship and myself was certainly not without some "conditions," it was, I now recognize, closer to "unqualified" than that available in any family, club, or church I have known. We appealed, I think, to the universal dream, if not memory, of "unconditional acceptance."
That's the good news; but the bad news, noted above, which I naively failed to recognize earlier, is that in spite of a common desire to "be accepted as we are," few of us have much practice in enduring its challenges, let alone its other profound invitations. In "Schools of Rejection" we are well trained. Even if we "don't like it," at least we have practice in knowing how to endure and survive in its midst. But in a "Church of Acceptance" what are we to do?
Acceptance, even with "conditions," thrusts us rudely into the midst of all the ignored challenges of facing who we actually are, in spite, often, of the favorable images of ourselves with which we have practiced living. The idea of "just being ourselves," no matter how appealing it may be in our dreams, becomes, in the light of day--certainly it did in the light of Fellowship, an extreme threat.
Acceptance "as we are," though innately appealing, also means that many of our learned ways of coping with reality, survival mechanisms which were effective, for instance, in rejective ("dysfunctional") families, are no longer useful. We are unfortunately thrust into a new and strange arena where old learning ceases to work. We gain, as it were, the gift of Okay-ness; but we lose the security of older coping patterns.
For example, thinking the "right thoughts" (believing in traditional dogma) and "behaving ourselves" (keeping the rules of the family, club, or church)--both highly effective forms of impressing the powers-that-be and thereby achieving status in a social structure, are suddenly lost when we are simply (profoundly?) accepted "as we are" (without "having to measure up" in thought or action).
What is one to do when everything that formally "worked" is no longer useful. All the old securities of "having the answers" (even if you personally disagreed with them) and "knowing how to behave" are suddenly gone? The threat in such a huge unknown must be immense. And such it turned out to be in Fellowship.
As though the threat of an immense amount of acceptance were not more than enough, Fellowship also added affirmation, the second dimension of love. It said, in effect, through my messages and its programs and activities, "You are not only Okay, accepted (tolerated) as you are; you are also fine (inherently good-enough)." Fellowship affirmed humanity, personal "allrightness" without any necessity for "improving yourself," such as, "getting over" being selfish and sexy. Inherent aspects of humanity were affirmed without pressure to "get better." Self-affirmation in Fellowship meant that one's inherited, natural, even instinctual self was entirely sufficient-without-change.
Familiar social and religious agendas aimed at self-improvement, "getting better," becoming "mature," etc., were in large measure deemed unnecessary. "What a relief! You mean I'm not only Okay, but I'm also affirmed as I am?," a new member might well have felt. "Yes," Fellowship in effect, replied.
If acceptance is scary, adding affirmation can only increase the sense of threat--which, as best I can tell, we did. What is one to do if there are no obvious standards to meet? The faith-demanding challenges of such a brush with the exciting unknown were naively thrust onto members of Fellowship.
But the threats didn't end there. The agape of Fellowship often dared to extend the final element of love to its stance of acceptance and affirmation, to wit: freedom. "You're welcome to come in, sit down, relax, and simply sit if you please," the church in effect said. "You can be a 'good member' as-you-are, invited to all phases of church life, but always 'in good standing' without any required change."
At the same time, my ministry (preaching as well as counseling), plus many of the church's activities, invited one to further explore freedoms which were previously unknown in a family or religious group. Various structured programs, such as, "Self-knowledge Courses" and "Growth Groups" were available. "Exploring freedom" was the basic theme of each. Church activities, such as, political action groups, drama clubs, poetry societies, investment clubs, poker nights, women's and men's groups, all tacitly invited members to freely explore unknown dimensions of themselves.
All the inherent threats of FREEDOM noted above were magnified in Fellowship with its invitations to FUN and WHOLENESS on an open and regular basis. It was almost impossible to be involved without regular confrontations not only with being one's present self, but also with the challenges of becoming one's fuller self. Affirmation of present selfhood was certainly at hand; yet the FREEDOM to explore unrecognized and unembraced human potential, "who-one-might-become," was also evident to all who chose to get involved.
Only in hindsight can I recognize the immense threats inherent in love--in the extension of acceptance, affirmation, and freedom, when rejection, negation, and human bondage have been our familiar securities.
When affirmation is added, the error of identifying love with the illusion of "unconditional acceptance" only is also confronted. The perhaps universal childhood illusion emerging from "womb-memories" which knew naught of Mother's influencing emotions, certainly nothing about the ebb and flow of her hormones which were regularly "conditioning" the embryo's world, is brought into the light of awareness. Although acceptance "just as I am" is the first aspect of love, it is far from the culmination of agape. After acceptance comes affirmation; and then, before love is complete, freedom for the fullest becoming of one's whole self is also added.
One of the most widespread human errors I have recognized is this limited identification of love with the "womb-memory" of acceptance only. In this error, love and mother with her symbolic connections with womb and home (places of acceptance), become the entire nature of love itself. Caught in such an illusion, any degree of personal RESPONSIBILITY (inherent, as noted above, in FREEDOM) is viewed as "non-loving." "If you loved me," so goes this popular notion, "you would accept me unconditionally"--that is, "you would be RESPONSIBLE for me."
In reality, where love always resides and is, in fact, identified ("God or Ultimate Reality is love"), "unconditional acceptance" is but the barest beginning of agape, indeed, the womb-time only. Soon real love goes on to add affirmation and then freedom; otherwise, it is still-born.
At this point of reaching the edge of the limited illusion of "unconditional acceptance," which can be identified with "being loved" irresponsibly, another and larger threat appears: in reality we cannot be loved for long without being called to love. In the beginning, the acceptance of another, the first element in love, appears like the "womb-memory" of "unqualified acceptance." In this first light of love, the delight of confession--"getting honest," "letting it all hang out," "just being myself without risk of rejection,"-- is like lolly-gogging in the womb of acceptance.
Soon, however, the fact that all human love is conditioned, rather than "unconditional" as the womb must have seemed, emerges. There are, in all reality, limits. No thing or human is, in reality, without limits. None of us is God (omnipotent, omniscient, immortal). At best we are fully human--which is also to say, limited. Any love which is real introduces us to this reality too--gradually and kindly when possible (like caring parents who bring a child to the "real world" of human limits gradually), but nevertheless certainly. To play God, as though truly "unconditional acceptance" is real, for too long, becomes unloving (as "overprotecting parents" often discover).
When any loved person reaches this edge of another's capacity to maintain the illusion of "unconditional acceptance," that is, when their humanity also appears, a loved one, who remains in the presence of love, has no choice but to become a lover him or herself. And to become a lover one must also begin to offer what he was at first offered, namely, the gift of acceptance, for openers. Instead of remaining a recipient only, of the acceptance of the lover, now, when the limitations of the lover appear, one must also become a giver of what he was at first given; he must become an acceptor--or else love is over.
If, as noted above, the three elements of agape--acceptance, affirmation, and freedom--are inherently threatening when one is on the receiving end of the line, when they are being extended from another, as they were in Fellowship, then the challenges are grandly magnified when one is further invited to become a lover as well as a loved one. Getting loved is scary enough; but who can adequately express the awesome "terrors" which precede the terrific wonders inherent in becoming a lover?
Because being loved inevitably leads to the door of loving, its challenges in Fellowship became even greater. Members who were tempted by the illusion of "unconditional acceptance" and dared to remain for affirmation and even freedom, were finally faced with the mysterious fullness of agape, where being loved is culminated in loving.
With God, that is.
THREAT OF INTIMACY
Success in confronting the threats inherent in FUN, FREEDOM, WHOLENESS, and LOVE, opens the door to three others which add even more difficulty to their predecessors. Whenever WHOLENESS leads to LOVE, and one dares to become loving, then INTIMACY becomes an option, and POWER is predictably. Then, EGO itself is called into question. Each of these possibilities, no matter how desirable they may seem, are also laden with predictable threats.
Consider the scariness of INTIMACY, which, of course, is highly valued and widely sought, especially by females. We all, males included, seem to want some degree of closeness, in at least a few relationships. By INTIMACY I mean existing in proximity with another or others--both physically and emotionally. Closeness begins with bodily nearness and extends to proximity of "heart" as well--that is, being "heart-to-heart" as well as "hand-to-hand." Such INTIMACY involves lowering barriers, such as, roles, defenses, and other forms of protection. To be INTIMATE is to be open and honest with another, to be, in some measure, "at-one-with,--as though we both are one.
The desirability of such a state is perhaps also initiated by primal memories of womb experience, beginning times for which no word is more descriptive then INTIMATE. In the womb, we are certainly "close," literally "at-one-with" mother. This too must be our first foretaste of a state of existence which we will later call heaven or heavenly. Easily the two--INTIMATE and heavenly--become associated. "It's heavenly to be as close as we are," lovers commonly feel and voice in a near infinite variety of ways.
For whatever reason, INTIMACY is commonly identified on a deep if not conscious level with an extremely desirable human state of existence, a wonderful "way-to-be." But if we all want, regardless of gender, to be close to some degree, what is threatening about such a supposedly wonderful state? The existence of such a threat became apparent to me long before any reasonable answer was available. I have puzzled for a long time about the paradox of why we seem to so powerfully resist or fear such a desirable state. These are the possible reasons which I have discovered so far:
First, is the threat of the unfamiliar--of any unknown state. Familiarity may, as Conventional Wisdom notes, breed contempt in time, but it never seems to lose its power to bring a sense of comfort and security. And the unfamiliar, that which is new and different, no matter how desirable or beneficial it may be, seems to remain threatening to some degree to most everyone. As other Conventional Wisdom goes: Better to keep the ills you have than fly to those you know not of. In other words, beware of the unknown.
In spite of shared human experience with the wonders of an INTIMATE womb, past birth few of us ever find the same degree of delight in closeness with other also-born persons. Even further INTIMACY with the same mother soon brings opposite results. The "total honesty" of the womb does not turn out to be so positive later. Most children soon discover that a degree of "dishonesty," even if told it is bad, works better in achieving desired results in the outside world.
We learn, in other words, to keep a "healthy" degree of distance, not only for survival's sake, but also for the enhancement of our circumstances, from other persons--mother included. We may deeply remember the wonders of womb-INTIMACY, but they are rarely duplicated in the outside world. Even if we succeed in establishing a functional and satisfying INTIMACY with mother or some close friend, our times of safe closeness seldom compare in duration with times when "total honesty" is more problematic than fulfilling.
Summarizing our most common post-birth experiences: all of us, I suspect, know far more about the practicality of "keeping our distance" than about positive INTIMACY.
No matter how highly touted or deeply desired INTIMACY may seem to be, the wealth of human experience weighs against risking such a change. If we get close, we may get hurt,--indeed are likely to, is the far more familiar common knowledge. Who among us does not have powerful memories of "being hurt" or "let down" or "disappointed" or "taken advantage of" or "used" or even "abused" when we have chanced "opening ourselves" to another, sharing our secrets or INTIMATE self?
The point here is simply to note that the power of any conscious desire, plus primal memory, for risking INTIMACY must always be weighed against a person's actual experience-since-birth in "what happens if you get close." Since we all, it seems to me, have far more time-in-grade learning to "keep our distance" than with being INTIMATE, any choice to be close is likely to be seen as a major change, a move from the familiarity of safe distance to the unfamiliar (even if desired) state of dangerous closeness.
This, as any other change from what-is-known to what-is-unknown, is likely to be perceived as threatening for us who have learned to deeply respect the security of the familiar over the prospects of the unfamiliar. And true INTIMACY is certainly a relatively uncertain state for persons I have known.
When the threat of any new thing is combined with the threat of possibly "being hurt again," most of us are reasonably "gunshy." We have learned both to "keep our distance" and to "not get burned twice." Together, these are powerful barriers to risking INTIMACY again.
We know, as it were, that we can survive, at least "make it,"--that is, keep our self-boundaries intact, if we keep a "safe distance" from others, if we "don't go giving our hearts away." What we either don't know, or certainly know far less about, is if we can be INTIMATE without losing ourselves. This, I think, is the greater threat which is inherent in all human INTIMACY. We may, if we "get close," be destroyed, lose the most primally important thing in all of life, namely, ourselves.
The hope may be that we find or become, in the folds of INTIMACY, our larger selves; but the common and more powerful fear, I believe, is exactly the opposite. The greatest danger in human closeness is the potential loss of who-we-are, certainly of ourselves as we have come to perceive or know who-we-are. For all the exciting possibilities of becoming more which seem to be offered in INTIMACY, the very real dangers of becoming less, indeed of the loss or destruction of all we have become so far, are also present.
Before these, we naturally and predictably quake. What could possibly be more threatening than losing ourselves? In our genetic, if not conscious, values, self-survival--with 44 out of 46 chromosomes in every human cell devoted to its maintenance, must certainly be the deepest and strongest of all our motivations.
All this to note that when Fellowship, by its very nature, naively wandered into a stance of regularly offering invitations to everyone's increased INTIMACY, it unwittingly invited these threats also. The siren call to salvation through WHOLENESS inherently leads one into the Valley of INTIMACY, which, for all its promises, is also filled with not only the threats accompanied by any change, but also the real dangers of loss of self.
Furthermore, LOVE, by its very nature--no matter how virtuous or desirable it may be--inherently calls for INTIMACY also. Acceptance, for instance, the first element in agape, invites INTIMACY; affirmation, the second phase of love, tempts one to expanded INTIMACY. And certainly freedom must awaken the most primal of memories, one of which will inevitably be the heavenly recollection of womb-INTIMACY. All in all, INTIMACY is perhaps the best of all synonyms for agape itself. Indeed, to know God who "is love," is to be INTIMATE with Ultimate Reality--that is, with "everything that really is."
This may be heaven; but it is must also lie among the deepest of all natural human threats, the long shot gamble of risking INTIMACY without losing ourselves.
THREAT OF POWER
One of the least recognized aspects of agape, human love at its apex, is POWER. To be loving is to be POWERFUL. No other human state, such as, physical strength, psychological dominance, social status, or political clout, inherently manifests as much actual POWER as does love. We are educated to think of love as gentle and kind, even submissive and docile. These are indeed sometimes attributes of agape; yet even more inherent, though less obvious, is the quality of POWER.
Jesus, one who personified love, was said to have "spoken as one who had authority" even though, from the perspective of society or political structures, he had none. The reference is, I believe, to this attribute of POWER which is inherent in being loving. In spite of his lack of social power, Jesus walked among people as an immensely POWERFUL person.
Again, in regard to conscious desirability, as with INTIMACY so with POWER. Everyone, theoretically, wants both closeness and POWER. Who among us "wouldn't like to be more powerful"--that is, to have more control over his or her own life and circumstances? At least this seems to be what most of us consciously think. This, I now believe, is because we seldom recognize the threats which are as inherent in POWER as they are in INTIMACY.
The problem, again, as best I can understand it, is twofold: change and inexperience. First, to be POWERFUL, would certainly be a major change for most of us. Possessed POWER would be a trek into a vast unknown. We are all far more familiar, since conception as well as birth, with relative weakness than with even a modicum of POWER. From the beginning "they" hold POWER over us; "they" control not only the resources which are essential to our well-being, but also to our very lives and destinies. "They," it must seem to every child, "have all the POWER.
To go from a state of relative POWERLESSNESS to being inherently POWERFUL is a major change, a move into the strange and risky unknown. As previously noted, this invokes the threats which accompany any human venture into unfamiliar territory.
In addition to the change inherent in such a move, inexperience is also common. We all know, first hand, far more about how to survive by our wits than with POWER itself. We learn, in the School of Hard Knocks, how to "make it" with relatively less POWER than the adults and older siblings or friends who surround us during formative times. Some, of course, are "bullies" and learn to wield overt POWER; but most of us must learn to achieve what we seek without much obvious POWER. Though it must look, to us who do not seem to have it, very desirable, the fact remains that we have little practice in how to advantageously wield POWER. Such inexperience adds to the threat of change itself.
Just as persons with the POWERS of new-found wealth are seldom able to manage it positively, and are commonly "done in" in time by the very resources they so deeply dreamed of, so it goes with all forms of overt POWER. Inexperience all too often leads to abuse. As English historian, Lord Acton, noted, Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.
Somehow we must all intuitively sense this danger inherent in "absolute power," and properly feel some threat in being thrust even into positions of relative POWER. And, as observed above, love also brings POWER. Obviously those who we love can wield POWER over us, far more so than can persons we "don't care for." Less obviously, but probably even more dangerously, I suspect, is the threat of POWER within ourselves.
We all know, from long experience, that we "can stand" the limited stimulation inherent in low levels of pleasure (a "little bit of fun") and small degrees of POWER; but what about grand excitements and huge amounts of POWER? If immense pleasures scare us (as in "fears" of sex), I think that the threats of immense POWERS must be even greater.
Most pleasures, and hence their dangers, are confronted in relative privacy where we need deal only with ourselves; but with POWER, we also face threats inherent in what we might do with or to other persons. Most social learning, with parents as well as society outside the family, teaches us about how to exist and succeed in submissive positions, in places of lessor POWER, rather than with dominance over others. We learn, that is, how to live with others when we cannot easily overwhelm them. But what might we do if we could? Will POWER tempt us to "act foolishly" or to do things which result in rejection by society or those we love?
Even short of absolute, will the POWERS inherent in love corrupt us? As illogical as these possible threats still seem to my conscious mind, my experience confirms that for these or perhaps other unknown reasons, the POWERS which I have found to be associated with agape do seem to be extremely threatening.
The point here is only to note that Fellowship, in extending some measures of acceptance, affirmation, and freedom--the elements of love, unwittingly invited such threats as are inherent in these human experiences. We may have proposed and partially extended what we all most deeply desire, all the way from fun to love, but we also, with or without awareness, invited the threats which are inherent in these common human dreams.
Heaven, certainly on earth and through the door of being and becoming ourselves, presents, I can attest without question, not only the prospects of awe, wonder, and fullness of life, but also immense personal threat to whatever degree of security we have achieved so far. Perhaps I am in error about the causes of these threats; maybe they come from different sources than those observed above. But as to their reality, this, it seems to me, is beyond question: Salvation as proposed in Fellowship is certainly scary.
THREAT TO EGO
Finally, and perhaps greatest of all, the stance of Fellowship is a threat to the structure of EGO. By EGO I mean an acquired sense-of-self as contrasted with real-self. Literally, ego is a false-self. The possibility of EGO must begin when we first realize the pragmatics of deception--that is, the practical value of fooling the powers-that-be, first recognized in Mother. Initially, as best I can tell, we all come to the outside world as our real-selves--innocently, honestly, being-who-we-are without deception. At first, "What you see is what you get."
Fairly soon however, certainly within the first few months, we must all begin to realize in our budding awareness, which is yet without language and therefore advice, that "honesty is not always the best policy." Biting the nipple, for instance, a natural and honest reaction to insufficient milk flow, may prove in an infant's experience to be less effective than cloaking aggression with a smile. Mother may respond "better" (meaning: as I prefer) to dishonest cooing, grinning, and waiting, than to biting, kicking, and screaming. If a baby pay's attention, this can become an invaluable lesson, even if, as many adults think, he or she is still "too young to learn."
Learning from such experience, as it seems we all do regardless of how "innocent" parents may imagine us to be, we wisely discern the benefits of dishonesty--that is, of deception in the service of survival (resources, protection, and acceptance, not to mention, love), of adaptation-to-reality as perceived. So far, so good. Enhancing survival through artful deception seems to be an ingrained trait of all species which have successfully stood the tests of time. Even little fish and grown deer do it. Certainly, Homo sapiens have excelled in evolving this immensely practical capacity for deception.
Such honest-deceptions, especially those artfully executed, must rank as one of the most essential human skills in successful selfhood, of remaining our real-selves in contexts which respond "better" to approved-appearances than to natural-expressions. Perfecting the artistry of fooling-our-mothers, et al, while at the same time remaining true-to-ourselves, is certainly a required course in the School of Hard Knocks which every child who graduates into Good Life must successfully matriculate.
Honest-deception requires the high art of merging personal honesty (being who-we-are) with the skills of deception (appearing-to-be what, in fact, we are not), without--and this is the critical issue--loss of either. While honestly-deceiving, one is acting with full knowledge of his own act, much like a highly paid stage or screen actor or actress might do.
Should such a child acquire proficiency at each, he/she would be, for practical purposes, successful both in fooling-mother and in not-fooling-him/herself at the same time. Had the child yet acquired the capacity and skills of language, he/she might say (in private, of course), "I know I am acting"--that is, "I am honest enough to recognize the value of hiding my real-self just now in favor of an appearance which works better with you, and to skillfully present such an image for your approval, all the while remaining scrupulously attentive to the fact that I am engaging in deception." Such is the nature of honest-deception, before sin.
Unfortunately, it seems that none of us quite succeed in managing this critically important balancing act without falling into sin. If we survive, we must all learn to deceive; that much is required. But deceiving others without falling for our own act must require more faith than we are able to muster at the time. The temptation to self-deception must be too much for any of us!
Two mitigating factors also seem to be continually present: first, the powers-that-be--Mother, in the beginning, seem to know what we are thinking, to be able to read our minds. While we are yet novices at deception, they may quickly see through our childish ploys, defeating our efforts to fool them. Certainly their perceptions, and hence capacity for detecting deception, are vastly greater than those of any child. Often mothers even tell children this lie ("I know what you are thinking," or, "You can't fool me."); which only tends to confirm a child's experience about the difficulty of fooling parents.
To support parent's huge advantage in powers both of perception and deception, they commonly call in the forces of religion and society--virtue, ethics, morality, and law, to be on their side also. They tell and teach that deception is bad, that "it is a sin to tell a lie," that "You shouldn't try to fool your parents (or anyone else)." On the other hand, they teach that "honesty is the best--and only good--policy." You "should always tell the truth (supported, sometimes, by references to good George Washington and his proverbial cherry tree cutting)."
Even without identifying themselves with the virtues of religion ("God doesn't like children who lie"), parents commonly issue such authoritative orders as: "Don't try to fool your mother," or, "Don't lie to me." Often painful punishments are administered in support of these dictatorial policies of parents and religion. At early ages we are rarely able to detect the duplicity of parents, the fact that their dictates are a one-way street, applying only to us and not to them. Freely they may go ahead deceiving us, for example, lying about Santa Claus and sex, plus much more, while teaching or demanding that we don't have the same options. Outside the home and under the authority of law, telling non-truths becomes a crime as well as a sin.
When these two factors are combined--the apparent fact that parents can easily detect our deceptions, even read our minds, plus the widespread teaching that only honesty is inherently good and deception is always bad, their power can only add to the temptation to fall for our own survival-motivated deceptions.
Instead of remaining honest with ourselves, and therefore whole, we must all be tempted to the temporarily easier course of lying to ourselves rather than risking the challenges of lying only to them (such as, punishment and/or rejection). Powerful, genetically ingrained, instincts for survival continue to operate, directing our essential deceptions; but no comparable forces have yet evolved to direct our continued honesty with ourselves, to prevent the addition of self-deception to other-deception.
For example, when a second sibling threatens the security and resources of a first child by usurping the attention and affections of their shared mother, the dethroned child naturally feels angry and aggressive, "like hitting the baby." Quickly, however, he or she must often realize that such expressed feelings and/or acts are not only unacceptable but also counter-productive. In the face of, "Of course you love your little brother as we do," "Don't you dare hit the baby," "Be a good boy/girl and help take care of your baby brother," an older child quickly recognizes the value, even necessity, of deception--in this case, of pretending not to be angry and cloaking any urge to hurt the intruder.
So far, so good; evolved inclinations to deceive for sake of survival take over. Wisely we begin to adapt behaviors which increase our best results, such as, to act "good." We soon learn to put on a smile when tears about our loss kingdom would be more truthful, and to pat rather than pinch our challenging rival, at least when parents are present!
But with these pragmatic deceptions come the demands of remaining truthful with ourselves in regard to them--that is, of being honestly-deceptive, fooling them for practical reasons without fooling ourselves at the same time. It must be that in such early experiences the boundaries of self first emerge into awareness. To know that we are fooling them, we are called, perhaps for the first time, to realize that we are truly separate and apart from our parents, ones in the midst of others who are not simply an extension or part of ourselves. These are the boundaries of self which will become crucially important in the future when we are forced to exist in the "real world" beyond the securities and illusions of every family structure.
But for now, the only question is: what to do with our inclinations toward practical deceptions? Shall we deceive awarely and become artistic in fooling others while remaining honest with ourselves about our acts? Shall we attempt to negate instincts toward self-preservation (for instance, anger and aggression) and become "good" and "unselfish" so that we have no need to deceive? Or shall we simply continue to deceive, as experience teaches us, but also turn the deception on to ourselves as well as our parents--that is, pretend not only to them (i.e., that we are "good") but also to ourselves--that we are not being deceptive, but are truly "unselfish" and "good"?
Evidently this latter choice is by far the more common, perhaps even universal, option taken. Pragmatic deception is naturally easier when the deceiver can devote all attention to the deception, without having to remain equally attentive to the act-of-deceiving itself. When a deceiver does not know that he is deceiving, then his entire attention and energy can be freely given to the deception. Also, the threat and challenges of becoming a separate-self, which are inherent in being both honest and deceptive at the same time, must loom large at the time (as they seem to ever after).
Whatever the motivations may be for this move from honest other-deception to dishonest self-deception, it all too commonly occurs. The positive element is the practical continuance of deception in the service of survival (plus its enhancement). Whatever we do with ourselves, we continue to fool our parents (as they, usually without acknowledgement, do with us).
The long term negative part begins as we start to include ourselves in our practical deceptions. We fool them so well that we begin to fool ourselves also. We, for example, act so "good" that we fall for our own act, coming to believe that we truly are "good." Or, vice versa--we act so "bad" that we come to believe we are "bad."
This is the spiritual move which we came in Fellowship to identify as sin (See: NATURAL THEOLOGY). Here I have summarized to explain how I understand the genesis of EGO to occur. When one as a real-self recognizes the pragmatic necessity of deception in order to take care of him or herself, and wisely but honestly creates such a deception, no sin is yet involved. In fact, this is but the beginning of self as distinguished from other (at first, other is mother). But now the stage is set for the possibility of sin, of ceasing to be a whole, integrated self, of creating a fictional or false-self, and then identifying oneself with this created EGO which, in reality, remains but a figment of one's own fertile imagination.
In the most common example, a child acts "good" (deceives mother) to enhance his or her standing with her. Genetic wisdom prevails. Just as an infant fawn may lie deceptively still to protect itself from detection by a predator, so an infant human may act deceptively "good" to maintain protection, plus other rewards, from its own mother. Ideally, this is the beginning of self-distinguished self, of one who is truly apart from mother, by recognizing this distinction through the act of honest-deception.
But such ideals must be extremely rare, perhaps universally missed; more familiarly, the child does such a good job of acting "good" that he falls for his own act. Abandoning the honest part of the deception, he identifies himself with the "good" act, splitting or separating his sense-of-himself off from the deception itself.
Instead of remaining a clever whole-one who wisely and honestly deceives, he becomes, in his mind's eye at least, the "good child" image itself, one who certainly would not do anything as "bad" as deceiving! In other words, he becomes, or so he believes after this sin-related move, a "good boy." Severing awareness with his own clever deception, he thereafter believes himself to be "good," for instance, one who "wouldn't hurt a flea," certainly not his baby brother or sister!
Or, if the "good child" role has already been taken, a second child following the same course may opt for the "bad one" role, identifying him or herself with acting "bad" rather than "good." In either case, whether one escapes his real-self into the image of acting "good" or acting "bad," (being the "good" or "bad" one), the result is the same: creation of an EGO, an image or sense-of-self, which is not truly the real-self who knowingly acts "good" or "bad" for practical reasons, but is literally a false-self.
To say that an EGO formed thusly is a false-self is a literal statement which is contrary to the perception of one who creates and escapes into such an image. When one severs connection (the move of sin) with his honestly-deceiving self and then identifies who-he-is with this EGO or created false-self, he then "sincerely believes" that "it"--the false-self--is I. His real-self is, as it were, at best forgotten, and at worst denied or negated. The "good (or bad) child" becomes, or so he believes, who-he-is thereafter. Any hints, evidences, or recollections of the real-self, the clever but honest-deceiver, are carefully avoided or disowned.
These moves of self-deception must begin as small but significant steps in specific instants and circumstances--"tiny denials," we may call them at first, single events in which a child simply lies to himself, for example, in one act of telling mother, "No, I didn't mean to hurt you (or baby sister)." But when such simple self-deceptions are continued, expanded, and maintained over a period of time, the budding sinner escapes further and further into a pervasive pattern of such denials, that is, into an image or sense-of-self which is consistently separated from remembered deceptions. In time this EGO or false-self is so thoroughly taken, by the fallen sinner, to be who-he-is, while fragile connections with the real-but-deceptive-self are denied and repressed, that the real-self becomes, as it were, totally foreign if not forgotten.
"It," in time, truly seems to be "I." The image which was originally created with the wisest of reasons, the "best of intentions," but which remains literally false, is finally identified as reality itself. What was real (one's evolved self) is now taken to be unreal, even non-existent, while what is literally but a figment of one's imagination is accepted as reality.
As time goes by and we children "grow up," these images of who-we-think-we-are tend to be covered, cloaked, and hidden from others for further practical reasons. For example, once one identifies himself with a "good child" image, he may then learn to hide even this image itself in order to enhance acceptance in groups beyond the original family. By the time we are physically grown, our EGOS have commonly become carefully concealed and protected sub-structures, which--even though not literally real, we guard and defend with all we have, as best we can, because we "honestly believe" that "it" is "I."
Living as though our EGOS are I, we thus become thoroughly "phoney" without recognizing the fact ourselves. Others may easily "see through" our egotistical endeavors; but we do not. We diligently live as though "it" is "I." We protect and defend our "fragile EGOS" as though each encounter is a life and death issue--as, in our deluded mind's eye, it seems to be.
I include this extended explanation of how I think we must all acquire deeply hidden false-selves which we erroneously identify as who-we-are, in order to amplify what I suggest to be the finally most significant cause of the failure of Fellowship. I think that what I have described above is the post-sin human condition of us all, including members of Fellowship. After we sin, falling into the false-selves which we create (at first with the best of reasons), and then cloak our self-identified EGOS, we exist, as it were "on top" of this false, pathological sub-structure. Although "it" is not literally or correctly who-we-are, we truly believe that it is, and live as though our fiction is the truth.
But in this precarious and certainly unsatisfying position, we long and look for a place where we can "get real," where we can "be accepted as we are (that is, as we conceive ourselves to be)."
Enter: Fellowship Church--a place, an organization, a group which offers and extends just such acceptance and freedoms. "Come on in, just as you are," was the prevailing stance and message of Fellowship. Which, of course, is wonderful. At first.
The freedom, indeed invitation, to act-out without rejection the various and assorted covers which we all develop to cloak our "precious EGOS" erroneously identified as who-we-are, is initially exciting and invigorating. Fellowship was immensely successful in becoming just such a place where the heady winds of personal freedom could be experienced--for many, for the very first time in a social or religious context.
But the freedom to act-out EGO-structures in a relatively safe context also held a hidden danger, a concealed EGO "time bomb." As long as Fellowship simply supported indiscriminate freedoms, it was naturally perceived positively, even wonderfully, by those involved in such flights. However, the nature of initial honesty is that it naturally leads to increased honesty. Honesty, we might say, begets more honesty--which, for a time, seems even more exhilarating.
But only for a time. Because hidden beneath multi-colored coats of EGO lies EGO itself--the pathological, sin-produced, false-self which is initially created to escape the challenges of responsibly remaining one's real and honestly-deceptive self. As long as experience in Fellowship was limited to claiming the granted EGO-freedoms, it remained an exciting place, an experience to be bragged about.
But the hidden "time bomb" was ticking, unheard. As the layers of the EGO onion were peeled away, we participants were unwittingly moving toward our own sinful, sick sub-structures. My messages--the theology evolving and being preached--invited "getting real." The activities of the church--the parties, plays, canoe trips, as well as the services and programs--supported ever increasing honesty and self-awareness. For those also involved in personal counseling and growth groups the invitations were even more seductive.
Unwittingly, as we moved further from the recognized sins of parents, childhood religion, and those of other persons, we were all moving closer and closer to the possibility of confronting our own sin. The heady winds of EGO-freedom came, in time, to blow against the fragile structures which we had each erected for our own survival, but which had also become our seemingly safe tombs.
Facing the sins of others, even our beloved parents, is freeing; moving beyond their dictation is naturally fun; but confronting our own false-selves, which we have for so long taken to be the "real me," can loom as awesomely dangerous, indeed, "life-threatening." After all, we have most often come to "sincerely believe" that "it" is "I!" To confront the possible loss of EGO, the recognition of its falseness, with little or no remembrance of the power of our real-selves, is, I now believe, one of the most threatening of all human experiences.
This profound threat was the "time bomb" silently ticking away in the beginning of everyone's experience in Fellowship, eventually to be heard by some. I now believe that this dawning recognition lay at the heart of the "dropping out" of many of those who chose to leave Fellowship. Sometimes they "just quit coming"; sometimes they "got upset," ostensibly by some particular quirk of another or event in the church, blamed their leaving on "it," and departed; sometimes they "simply lost interest," or, "became more involved" in other endeavors; sometimes they believed, I think, that they "had graduated" and were ready for greener pastures. Where I had personal knowledge of the various exoduses from Fellowship, I think that in every instance, regardless of stated or perceived reasons, that threat to EGO was a critical core.
After all, Conventional Wisdom remains: better to keep the ills (and EGOS?) we have, than fly to those we know not of. And who can remember the Eden we left when first we ate the forbidden fruit? Jesus taught that we cannot find ourselves without losing ourselves. Long before the psychological language of EGO, he pointed, I think, to this threatening truth. We must risk the loss, indeed the death of EGO, our false-self, before we can be born again as who-we-are, reentering this wonder-filled Garden of Eden--heaven on earth.
"The church is already past my wildest dreams. It's the most honest encounter that I've ever had in a church. Fellowship is such a challenge. It's very daring to be invited to jump into a room of darkness, especially if you're used to having the 'trip' all planned!"
"The teachings of Fellowship Church have enabled me to grow, to know, to be a real person. When I find myself in any kind of situation that befuddles me, instead of my former 'going into a rage,' I calmly use my brain, my body, my feelings, and I allow the moment. Then I pull out former Fellowship classes, sessions, experiences for my next move. (That was very hard to describe. I guess I've never really thought about the whole situation in context!) What I'm trying to say is that I'm grateful. Very grateful. The good life is...there is no word. I fall and I regress and I lack sometimes. But now I have a pretty good idea how to get back. . ."
"There are so many things I am grateful for about Fellowship. Lately I have been so glad for my Fellowship friends. There's a kinship that is unlike that of any other friends from any other walks of life. Another thing I've been particularly aware of lately that I credit Fellowship Church with is my ever-growing sureness. I am more able now to move through life with confidence and sureness--to make my own decisions, stick to them without need to waver with the wind (wind mainly being other people's words), and stand tall in the face of whatever comes as the result of my moves! Wow! Life is fun I'm so glad to be a part of it all."
"We feel so far removed and out of touch simply because life cannot stand still; and these three years since we left have brought changes equally. The names and places I read about in the church letter are so foreign, but ah! that 'house church' is very familiar. Those were really wonderful times, and I wish I could feel as much growth since then as I felt then."
"Now I know what we have been doing over here---having a House Church. And since much of our inspiration for forming it came from Fellowship, perhaps you might like to claim a share in it. It was about five years ago that we became so dissatisfied with the local rneaningless worship service with its vain repetitions and struck out to search for something better. Perhaps the main instigation for our finally making a break came with the realization that we weren't worshipping the same God. The one they go for is a white, middle class, rather low-browed variety. We didn't quite understand this until we had some Cambodian students visiting us with skins too dark to take to church, even though they were interested in attending. No wonder Cambodia doesn't like us."
"Music had always been the most meaningful part of former worship services and I found a choir that welcomed my alto voice, if not my color blindness and that helped fill in some of the void, but it wasn't enough. Here, too, I felt suffocated by the devotion to tradition and the distrust of any innovation....and the scripture I read keeps begging 'Sing unto me a new song.' Despite our differences I feel that for the first time we are experiencing 'koinonia.' For the first time in years I feel that this sort of service is acceptable in the Lord's eye...and it is such a good feeling, I wanted to let you know so you could celebrate with us."
"Thanks for giving me the chance to attend the finest conference I've had the opportunity to participate in. It was provocative, challenging and stimulating. I don't believe I've ever done so much facing up in such a short period of time."
"I am currently taking an eight week orientation course at Myers Park in Charlotte. The initial sessions give me hope of finding there many of the things I have missed since leaving the immediate contact of the Fellowship."
"Dear Fellowshippers, As David, the kiddies, and I gathered around the table on Thanksgiving, I thought again, as I often do, that this year has been one of the two most blessed and bountiful I have ever had. The other, of course, was the year I was in Baton Rouge and was able to be active at Fellowship. I miss y'all very much."
"I have missed Fellowship Church very much. Very often I wish to share with someone an experience that I have had and I think of doing so with one of you. And on Sundays I miss Fellowship even more. I assume that you would be the first to suggest that what is in Fellowship Church--although unique--is not necessarily confined to that group. I believe that, too. And I hope that we can continue to grow in that direction ourselves and encourage similar growth in others. Thus far, however, this has been a slow process.
"What I'm saying is, 'Jesus it's beautiful and I want to!' I'm just full and I choose to share with the Fellowship, conscious of the fact that it was at Fellowship that it all began for me--when I first became involved."
"We have discovered since we left that there are a bunch more 'Fellowshippers' out here in the world. They just don't have a name for themselves yet. It was reassuring after leaving Fellowship to discover that the process of becoming a real person is not dependent on a guide and lots of fellow travelers; though they sure make the trip nicer. We miss you, and as we try to live each now, we look forward to being among you again."
"Dear Friends, What I am grieving over is not the leaving, but the leaving you there. Going away from you has been the personal difficulty for me during our transition from our meaningful life in Baton Rouge. Thank you."
"Now that the newness is not so new and the strange is familiar, and all company gone, well, we are homesick. We miss the parties and the fun, but most of all the listening and understanding of people we have come to hold quite dear.
"We do miss all of you and being there, but what you gave us in making church a reality can never be taken away. To whatever degree we learned to relate to people meaningfully, and to whatever degree we learned to live in a fulfilled now, then to that same degree we can never leave Fellowship Church; we take it with us. Our thanks to all of you who helped us come to know this."
"Although the Fellowship helped me move through many, many box-shattering awarenesses--most of which were agonizingly painful, they always helped me nurse the wounds they had helped me to create. During the four and a half years we were in Baton Rouge, many in the Fellowship were more our family than our own relatives. There will always be a very special place in my heart and my memories for the Fellowship group. Only the initial tearing down of unrealistic thoughts and beliefs was painful. With Fellowship came a new awareness of life, love, and joy! I have found that this awareness can be renewed anywhere, at anytime l am able to accept it--whether it be a sunset, a rose, a loved one's face, an inner feeling that a power too great to define is present, or any one of a million other everyday experiences. I try to fill each day with as much as 1 can, for I know from many past experiences, that heaven can be on earth . Agape... "
"I guess I never do get over things. They all tend to stay with me a long time. But I don't see any reason to get over something like being a part of Fellowship Church. I hope it stays with me forever. I had a discussion with my father the other night. He's quite involved in the Presbyterian Church, but also very disgruntled about it. I tried to describe Fellowship Church to him, and all he could say was, 'Don't just go join any church anywhere. You just won't find something like that.' I think I detected in his answer and in his attitude a desire to say, 'Why couldn't I have found something like that?' It's rare, very rare. Thank you for the rare experience."
"To my Friends outside of Fellowship, a word of explanation about the church. I became a 'Christian' at the age of twelve. In 1963 Bill and I became charter members of the new experimental church. We remained active members from the time it was born until we moved in 1968. I used the word Christian in quotes because it was from the time of the birth of Fellowship Church that I gradually came to know the meaning of being Christian.
"I believe that I am still growing in that knowledge. Mainly, to me, it means to live every minute of this life to its fullest and whenever possible to share my joy, my sorrow, my hopes, and my disappointments with others. In other words, to be me, and to share me with others. To me, this is the meaning of 'I am.'
"In 1964 Bill turned down an offer from another company because neither of us at that time would even consider for a minute leaving Fellowship. We still needed the guidance of the pastor and the remarkable Fellowship of that group too much at that time. By the time we left in 1968, we felt that we could carry on without its assistance. We still left with much regret! I will always be grateful that we had the opportunity to be a part of the Fellowship as long as we were.
"When I try to put my finger on Fellowship's greatest contribution to me, I would say that it was ridding myself of the tremendous burden of false guilt and false pride. Guilt is a very, very heavy burden to carry through life. False pride can cost us much privately and especially in our friendships with others. In my opinion and experience, most traditional churches only add to the weight of each. Christ said that he had come to free us. At Fellowship I found this to be a reality. Fellowship Church and its members accepted Bill and me with all our 'unacceptable quirks' of character, as we were, thereby helping us to accept ourselves and others as they are. I sincerely believe that without Fellowship's help Bill and I would have grown gradually more apart, instead of closer and closer into a very full and meaningful marriage."
"Thank God for Fellowship Church. Life is just so much more fun since Fellowship. It feels marvelous to have a religion so real I can lean on it and know it's not going to fall over (I might, but it won't!). It being God. It's hard to believe religion can be so delightfully believable. Thanks for the opportunity to feel a part of Fellowship Church."
"We moved back to Baton Rouge and I started going to ..... Church. It was like walking into a morgue. I tried to be interested, but it was unbearable. I quit going. I was looking for fellowship in a church, people who aren't afraid to worship freely, and talk about God. When some of my friends told me about Fellowship, I came. Fellowship is a 'whole 'nother church.' It offers me more than I thought possible on this earth. It offers honesty, realism, and gives, or hands you nothing. A person has to grow and develop in Fellowship. There are no rules of 'how to' all laid out. It comes from within!"
"I feel a need at this time to express thankfulness for what Fellowship means to me. For nearly two years I have been separated from the physical essence of the church. The first was one of much rebellion and personal tears, fears, and frustrations. The last year, as I look back, has been a constructive one. I have been consciously or unconsciously--I'm not sure which--founding my own personal church (an active organism that affects me almost every day.) It is a beautiful thing. I do not mean to infer any extreme thing like all-satisfying (although when my church functions it is that). It is just that there is something very real, almost tangible, that functions within me that was never there before. I feel a basic self-confidence and well-being under any circumstance, good or bad, that is joyous in itself. I do not know if this is a permanent thing but somehow it doesn't seem to matter. The important thing to me at this time is that I feel growth within me, and hope. And that no matter where I go I can carry my 'church' with me. I am deeply revered with this knowledge. Thank you for helping me in my beginnings, my birthing. No matter where I am you should know that I am part of your church. In Him."
"Since I have been in Pennsylvania I have continued to be amazed at my own existence. More specifically, I feel as if I'm living in the words of Paul--1st Corinthians 2:9. Situations at school which I believe would have been most disturbing a few months ago, are now just opportunities for me to get better acquainted with students and fellow faculty members. Though I have visited various churches here, I have not yet been led to become a part of any one. I shall keep looking, however, as I did in Baton Rouge. I looked for over a year before finding Fellowship."
"We are writing to request that our names be submitted for consideration as supporting members. We have talked about this quite a lot. We have found that no matter where we worship, there hasn't been the fellowship nor spiritual stimulation that we received when we were with our friends in Baton Rouge. It is for this reason and because we believe so much in what the church is trying to do that we would like to have some part in it."
"We went to the local Baptist Church last Sunday (Easter). Yuk! Wish I hadn't gone. That is not the answer to the void in our lives. Wish there was a church, any kind of church, that was geared for being alive and thinking. It's rather difficult to tell people that we will not attend their church because we are too religious, rather than not religious."
"My being with things in the past two weeks has been very big! ! I have 'gone on' when I thought I could not; I have 'done' when I thought I would not; and I have 'been' when I thought I am not."
"Dear Friends, I came across a definition in the dictionary on one of those side-road detours my eyes often take when looking up a word and becoming so engrossed in another that I forget what was my original destination...and it made me think of what Fellowship Church has meant to me. The word was 'Nirvana' and it was described as the dying out in the heart of passion, hatred, and delusion with a resulting emancipation involving a beatific spiritual condition, and freedom from the necessity of future transmigration. Now, I do not pretend or desire any freedom from passion, and I am more than ever before aware of reality, but I have attained (more or less) an aliveness that does shut out any need for a dessert course after this full course meal of the here and now. And I thank you for your part in it."
After her husband's heart surgery a former member wrote: "It will be eight weeks tomorrow since Bill's surgery. He is fine, but I've had a struggle lately. Would that I could have sat on the mountain top in that glorious experience of faith and strength and possessed that peace and knowing and calm forever. But such is not the way of life. I had to come down and study nutrition and cook three times a day and have dirty broilers, and pots, and more dirty broilers, and even more dirty broilers. I got buried beneath the dirty broilers, but I am pushing my way up and can sometimes see and occasionally feel the sunshine. I feel as if I may even fly again.
"I had an ugly battle with guilt again. Bill and I had asked and we had received. Oh, had we received! What an experience! Then I came home and got discouraged and tired because of 'little things' like too many broilers, pans, and dishes. As if I weren't grateful 'to still be able to cook for him. Guilt One hundred pounds on each shoulder again. Result: After a few weeks at home Bill feels better than I do. He complains a little when his back or legs hurt. Mine are hurting too. I open my mouth to say so, and Guilt. What right do I have to feel bad? Almost full circle back to ten years ago, I think at first.
"But it's not. I know where I am--down, beaten and bruised after my fall from the mountain top. A big difference though. I have experienced the sunshine, and the mountain top, and I was learning to fly. This I know too. And I will fly again. With love and affection... "
In response, another wrote: ". . .she assures me through her letter that what she has gotten from Fellowship, neither time nor distance can diminish. And for me who sometimes doubts, and sometimes falters, (called humanism, l am aware) it is very comforting to know I can fly again, too. Would you believe soar...
"Fellowship completely changed my life. I am not among the millions of physically living, dead people who say they look forward to their physical death so they can have their assured 'pie-in-the-sky,' not giving a moment's thought to their present spiritual death. These are the same 'dead ones' who blindly stumble through their's and others' lives, creating spiritual havoc wherever they go, in the name of 'right and good,' holding a Bible, spouting that they are right, because they are 'saved.' In Fellowship I found a very fertile place to grow upward and outward. I was constantly surrounded by the right stimuli for growth--in our discussions of ourselves, and our actions with others in relationship to Christ's teachings in the now world."
A charter member recalled: "I remember:
--When we had our first sessions on sex and B.B. got tangled up in all those yards of tape from the recorder.
--The Christmas party when K.F. and the children made a 'genuine' Mexican pinata out of a clay flower pot. When it finally broke, (with help from stronger members), children cut their feet on fragments of pottery scurrying For candy.
--Bridge or Hearts or coffee after Sunday night discussions with whoever else was in the same mood.
--The noise from the back of the church the first time wine was used for communion and M. and G. yelled, 'He gave us bourbon!'
-- A hospital visit, when everyone else was saying, 'Congratulations on the new baby, ' a different response, 'Maybe sometime you'll really talk.'
-- The hurt of leaving, the excitement of return, withdrawal, and the fear of being part of--and being accepted even though only half my little toe was in the door.
--The experience of trying to 'take' mannerisms of others I thought to be more weird than me.
--Typing material in the office and getting so engrossed that my fingers wouldn't type as fast as I wanted to read.
--Painting, talking, sharing on Thursday nights.
--Children coming home at noon on Sunday, eyes dancing, all talking at once of new plans made in church school, or sharing feelings of experiences of the hour before. They never have answered, 'How was church?, ' with 'Fine,' but always with definite statements."
Other members recollected: "I remember Barney's art class way back in May of 1967--made about a hundred dollars for the church!"
"I remember planning (and indeed enjoying) a trip to Mexico with the Westmorelands and M. Thevenots. We had a 'creative garage sale' which all the church members came to and bought our 'art' work so we could earn money to go."
"I remember especially the communion suppers Dub and Abby Fletcher hosted--fruit and cheese, and bread and wine and delicious encountering."
"I remember the melodious voice of Dorothy Bock, the creativity of Bruce Kolb's music, the excellence of Martha Westmoreland's piano playing, the vitality of Kay Fuselier..."
"One humorous experience Frank and I had was in the summer of 1966. We had been among the group only six months then. I was very eight-and-a-half months pregnant with Holly. Frank and I did the yard work at the church, every Saturday afternoon. The afternoon I'm referring to was extremely hot. Frank had almost finished mowing the yard. Only the very front was left. He looked so hot and tired that I told him I would, very carefully, finish mowing. He had gone in, gotten himself a cold coke out of the machine, and had come back out and was resting under a tree in the parking area. About that time, an elderly couple drove by very slowly. When she saw my very obvious condition, and that I was mowing, she looked at me like I was crazy. Then she spotted Frank resting under the tree. Responding only to what she saw at the moment, she gave Frank a look that would have shattered glass. If looks could have killed, he would have been a 'goner .'
"Although this happened in a matter of seconds, it is an experience that we will never forget. We've laughed over it many times."
A young minister wrote: "Fellowship Church raises a lot of questions in my mind. It makes me wonder whether a traditional church can ever really be much of a real church? I wonder is there any way to re-'form' a traditional church. I wonder do we have to start all over again? These questions are particularly pressing to me now that I am about to get out into the ministry full-time. I do not mind dying to self in order to follow Christ, but I am not sure that I want to deny self in order to give myself to an institutional church... .What I want to say is that Fellowship Church makes me rejoice. What I feel like shouting is: Praise the Lord Hallelujah! Here at last is one church I know of that is really awake!"
From a housewife: "After discussing and observing (and sometimes criticizing) the apathy or posed religiosity in the churches we have visited here in the East, we want to be definitely committed in a small way to the supporting of Fellowship Church. We believe the new 'experiment' to be practical, realistic, vital, and Christ-centered. It is not easy to walk in the unknown and so many fear to be alone with Christ in any effort. Yet, without question, people are hungry and pastors seem thwarted. How sad when Christ came that we might be free of all that keeps us from Him."
A denominational executive wrote: "I want you to know that those of us who visited from the American Baptist Convention received more in the way of inspiration and fellowship than we could possibly have shared with your group. I was helped personally to a new appreciation of the price that some of you folks have had to pay in order to be true to your convictions when they run counter to the cultural and religious atmosphere and practices of the area. You have a wonderful group of people with whom to work and our prayer is that God will sustain you in your witness as you work your way through the kind of organizational structure and affiliations that will help you to be most effective."
From a mother: "We enjoy the bulletin each week and wish we could share in the new church venture. Church organization, as we know it, is stifling and does not lend itself to the creative adventure of reaching others and bringing them to the liberating force of the love of the Savior. My husband and I appreciate your efforts and the faith to try something practical that reaches people in their individual daily problems and needs."
A school teacher: "We are excited about Fellowship and its program. It is just what we need with its emphasis on creativity in Christianity. I have felt for many years that there is a vast untapped source of spirituality in the creative processes of man which can be a major part of Christianity. Christianity has just got to be more than sin and damnation. "
A pastor wrote: "A copy of the newsletter of Fellowship Church was mailed to me by a friend. I found it very interesting. Would it be possible to be placed on your mailing list? I am very interested in churches that are doing creative things and I would like to know more about Fellowship."
From a seminary student: "Last week one of my professors asked me to see about mimeographing the sermon, 'Fellowship Church--Retrospect, Reality, and Prospect'. He was very impressed with the creative work that is going on there and would like other seminary students to be aware of this."
From a minister: "Thanks for the exciting things I continue to get from Fellowship Church. There are a lot of new ideas floating around among the churches, and some very good ones in some quarters. But what they mostly amount to is new approaches to the same old thing; and it's the thing that needs the renewal, not the approaches. The breeze from Baton Rouge brings an occasional scent of a new thing, and it's that, lonely and-isolated though it may be, that brings hope and encouragement into the dark recesses of the establishment. Thanks."
A minister: "You know, you amaze me. My anxiety had you buried long ago; but the fact that you not only survived, but keep on thriving, gives me a valid hope for Easter."
From a denominational leader: "The ministry of the Fellowship Church has been a source of continuing encouragement to me. There is a sense of life and vitality that is communicated in everything I read concerning the congregation."
From a Catholic nun: "Dear Fellowship, My association with you has been a refreshing experience. You have much to give and you did so, generously, in so many ways. To you we extend our sincere congratulations for your terrific Christian spirit and our thanks for sharing it with us. You have shown by your Christian love that day-by-day Christ-like living supersedes the sensational. May this priceless and rare element filter through to the lives of many people."
A couple: "We would appreciate any lead to a similar church as Fellowship in the Houston area. Weighing and evaluating church and denominational life can be both frustrating and establishing. We have been praying for a new kind of church."
A denominational executive: "As you may know, I have the privilege of receiving the mailing from Fellowship Church. Recently the excellent brochure on 'An Introduction' came through and I was very impressed with the statements of how Fellowship may be contrasted with the traditional church. These were exceedingly concise and moving statements. I wonder if I might purchase about fifty copies of this to share with area and executive ministers of the ABC? I think that they should see this kind of excellent material."
"....We teach everything in the world to people, except the most essential thing. And that is Life. Nobody teaches you about life. You're supposed to know about it. Nobody teaches you how to be a human being and what it means to be a human being, and the dignity that it means when you say, 'I am a human being.' Everyone assumes this is something you have, or you should have gotten by osmosis. And you know, it's not working by osmosis.
"My search for other options stopped with Bruce Evans, or better said Started. He continually challenges me to find the third option in a society of two extremes. To look beyond the two immediate options offered by our dichotomous political system, educational structure, secular society, and religious world for a third option which affirms my existence. He teaches me about life."
"I marvel at you, Bruce Evans. I was not present when dozens of men, including Albert Einstein, over many years synthesized physical reality, mathematical models, and careful observation of natural phenomena to arrive at a remarkable accumulation of physical laws reflecting both microcosmic and macrocosmic space.
"And now I am present when a number of men, including Bruce Evans, are synthesizing religious thought, history, and psychological advances to form a body of work that will form foundations for human advances in the future. And more than this, your work touches both the intellectual, physical and spiritual (emotional) parts which make up us all. I'm sure you know how important your work is. But I also want you to know that I know! I am so excited and overjoyed to be your student and witness and to be a part of your unfolding, and mine."
A college dean: "There is no question but what Bruce Evans has had a deeper, more meaningful impact on my religious thinking than any other person with whom I have ever had any contact. I became acquainted with Fellowship Church at a time of great turmoil and confusion in my own life. Looking back, I suppose I could say that I had desperately tried for years to find some meaning in the religious structures with which I had grown up. I had not found that meaning. Bruce was able to take the language of traditional Christianity that I knew--but which I did not understand--and present contemporary interpretations of that religion in such a way that I began to pull things together for my own life. I went to Sunday morning services, Sunday evening discussion groups and growth groups. Every occasion was lighting a new light for me. There was a constant 'Ah-ha! So that's what that means!' When I left Baton Rouge, I continued to hear Bruce's sermons on tape and in writing, along with his essays, poems, and other theological statements.
"More than any other writer whom I have read, Bruce has a sense of universality, contemporaneity presented in a language that is clear, simple, concise, powerful and easy to read. He is able to pack so much of importance into so few words that I am constantly amazed and educated.
"Bruce's thought transcends Christianity and traditional church to encompass existential philosophy, contemporary personality and behavioral psychology, social concerns, politics and an excellent sense of what it takes to be a good teacher. He has a gift of the poet, the counselor, the teacher and the priest all rolled into one. His existential interpretations of Christianity filter through his prospective and concern as an excellent personal counselor, make him unique among all the ministers I have ever known."
"I first came in contact with Fellowship in 1967, moved out of Baton Rouge a little over four years later, and in that time, I can truthfully say I got through more inhibitions, hang-ups, and various other limiting factors than at any other time in life. I'm still progressing, due primarily, I think, to the breakthroughs I made at Fellowship."
"Under the direction of Dr. Evans our church has become a caring, loving, non-judging ecumenical fellowship focusing on fullness of life. Based on the principles of being rather than doing and acting and believing certain doctrines...Being free from the burden of guilt...Being free from the shoulds or oughts of doing or acting in certain ways...Being free to question beliefs and encouraged to find out how it is in reality for yourself...Free to be me--responsibly, fully human. Being somebody frees me to be loving, giving, feeling, sensing, experiencing. By accepting myself I am free to accept others without judgement. A better understanding of myself leads me to a deeper understanding of God's love. This is the most liberating, freeing approach to experiencing God's love. I am more able to deal with the everyday problems of life in a more practical, loving approach. My feeling, sensing, hearing, experiencing has added a new dimension to my life."
Scattered memories of a charter member: ". . .civil rights . . . who can give me reason? . . . provisionary membership . . . a good time was had by all . . . make checks payable to Fellowship Baptist Church ... orientation ....... koinonia . . . received reports . . . newly affiliated . . . Church in the World . . . deal me in . . . you will be contacted . . . house-church . . .leaking mimeograph machine . . . investment association . . . People . . . but pews might change us . . . many thanks, Jesus . . . growth groups . . .leaving and returning . . .learning ... driving ... that's his problem ... Of One and Many ..
"In early efforts to define our fellowship, we called it 'an experiment in the possibility of more realistic church in our times .... a venture in faith.'
"Ten years later some have been members from the beginning. Others have joined and become a part of our growth. There have been some whose personal circumstances required their moving to other communities and other possibilities. And there are also those who concluded, for various reasons, that the 'experiment' was one which failed for them personally. For whatever the reason, each time we experienced their loss and the organization suffered. At times it was even feared that the pruning might leave wounds too deep to heal.
"In the University Baptist Church bulletin dated March 6, 1960, Bruce Evans wrote:
Today I met a man.
But not really.
Rather, our paths crossed.
The private paths of' our own separate worlds
made a juncture and we were there.
We told our impersonal names
and shook each other's hand
warmly and firmly--to convey our interest
which wasn't there.
We shared our views
on the weather, politics, the latest news,
and other foreign things which were not there.
And when the conversation lagged, we said:
'Well, glad to have met you.'
We lied, smiled, extended our hands again,
and parted--glad to be on our separate ways
from our little meeting.
Today I met a man.
But not really.
"Sunday morning we meet a man who was God. His name was Jesus. They called him the Christ. His feet touched our soil for less years than many of us have already lived. He died on a cross. But before he died, he supped with his friends in an upper room and said: 'This do in remembrance of me.'
"Pray God, we may meet Him. 'Really. '
"This, for me, has been and is what we are all about--meeting Him and meeting others who are meeting Him: Really! Every time it has happened and does happen, it is no 'experiment,' It was and is Church--Fellowship."
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