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Friday, May 13, 2011

My Third Spiritual Paradigm Shift.





 
def:"paradigm shift": a change from one way of thinking to another. It's a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis. It just does not happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change.
 Another use of the word paradigm is in the sense of Weltanschauung (German for world view). For example, in social science, the term is used to describe the set of experiences, beliefs and values that affect the way an individual perceives reality and responds to that perception. Social scientists have adopted the Kuhnian phrase "paradigm shift" to denote a change in how a given society goes about organizing and understanding reality.

Recently, I experienced a spiritual epiphany. Based on noticing I was spending more and more time studying what it means to be missional in following Jesus, including how to help others at imagine do the same (the inward/OUTWARD Spiritual Formation Workshop, for instance), I realized I was experiencing a paradigm shift similar to two previous shifts which revolutionized my Christian worldview. Each shift has deepened my understanding of walking in the way of Jesus. They've altered my reality to the degree I could not return to what how I'd lived before.

Paradigm Shift #1: Becoming a Christian.

When Christ opened me to the reality "he is," my life took a turn. A true metamorphosis had occurred. I was a truly born a second time, a "new creation in Christ," full of wonder in the new world the eyes of my heart saw for the first time. While I was still a jazz musician living in Boston with friends I'd come with from Albuquerque, I'd found something which remained very foreign to them (ultimately separating us), and utterly new to me. My life's trajectory was now altered in ways, at the time, I couldn't even imagine. I had no idea what lie ahead, but I knew an encompassing new reality was opened to me, a strange and magnificent new way of being tugging me inexorably into the enticing unknown. Many years later in my second spiritual paradigm shift, I'd recognize whispers of this new way were near very me, but I couldn't make them out.

Paradigm Shift #2: Inner Healing, Learning Listening Prayer, the Spiritual Gifts, and Retreat Ministry.

At about age 35, the Holy Spirit deemed it the appointed time to jostle my world. I was not in on that conference call. Nevertheless, change was foisted upon me. First, it came in the form of entering into a year-long journey of substantial inner healing. I had father issues mucking up my emotional works and putting severe limits on my confidence as a man. I went kicking and screaming, but I went and Jesus painstakingly unbound me. I experienced what it was like to not have emasculating fear and self-hatred.

Soon after my year of unbuckling, my brother-in-law, Steve, called to rave about a book he'd read concerning prayer. I've always known him to be a man of prayer, so when a man of prayer tells you a book has revolutionized his prayer life, not to mention his painting (he's a world-class artist), you pay attention. I bought the book, Dialoguing With God by Mark & Patti Virkler, read it and began to get up in the wee hours to listen to God with my journal in hand. What happened to me was as monumental as my conversion. I heard God's "still, small voice," and he told me things about himself and me that opened to me intimacy with him. Another deepening happened and I've never been the same. In fact to me, listening prayer is part of the "normal Christian life."

About that same time, my brother, Stacy (who is a pastor in Albuquerque with my sister-in-law, KayKay), called me out of the blue saying that God wanted me to be baptized in the Spirit. Such baptism had never been a burning issue with me. Tricia spoke in tongues, but it was always a quiet and intimate, personal prayer language. No big deal to me really. So, he visited. We talked for a day or two. On the day he was to leave, he and Tricia prayed over me. Nothing happened, so I went out to the backyard by myself and told God if this was something he wanted me to have, I wanted it. Voila! All this stuff bubbled up from somewhere, and I was hearing sounds coming from my mouth new, exotic and wonderful. Not only that, just after I was prayed for in church for the gift to teach, and in one way or another I've been doing so for 25+ years. I now experienced an intimacy with, and trust of the Holy Spirit beyond what had been a part of my life. A new reality opened to me, changing my spiritual awareness.

In 1988, Tricia and I, through another God-breathed set of circumstances, were invited to take the Elders from our church (The Barn) on a retreat. We'd never led a retreat. We knew how to listen to God, so we listened and put together a 3-day retreat from what we knew, and God blew their socks off. We were invited to take residence at the Center For Renewal, and gradually lead the church through Listening in Christ Retreats. In that same time, our counseling and spiritual direction ministries were birthed with no initiating from us, and we witnessed God use us to help people heal and experience the intimate love of Jesus for them.

My entire world would focus on such work through the late 80's and up to 2008. It was how I experienced the Presence of God most clearly, and what I saw as the way Christians were to live. Before my own healing and introduction to the contemplative spiritual disciplines, none of what I spent those 20 years doing was on the radar screen.

Paradigm Shift #3: Taking on the missional way of following Jesus and being church.

In the late fall of 2007, I came down with shingles and for almost two months was flat on my back. While the pain was very unpleasant, the fatigue was numbing, except . . .

As is my wont sometimes, I will purchase books which seem to leap to my attention, even if I have no express interest at first. In each spiritual paradigm shift, God has enticed me to books which would turn out to be pivotal with what he was doing in me or would do through me. So on the nightstand I already had Frost and Hirsch's The Shaping of Things to Come, Erwin McManus's An Unstoppable Force, and Greg Cole's Organic Church. I don't know why I had them. Keep in mind, church planting had never been an aspiration of mine. So I opened the books because I needed something to occupy my mind, and I felt unmistakably nudged to do so. The idea of living a missional way of life exploded in my head from there. I was hooked.

Within months, I and others became convinced we were supposed to plant a church in Northampton and take up the missional way of being church. None of us had ever done that before. It was compelling and 3 families voted with their feet to head north.

It has not ended with getting to Northampton. My paradigmatic shift has gone has gone further. Now, I can't imagine returning to my former way of walking with Jesus, or being part of a church ministry. Neither were pointless or unfruitful. I had rich times with dedicated lovers of Jesus. It's just that my eyes have been opened as profoundly as I when knew Christ was real at my conversion, or as I heard him speak to me the first time in listening prayer. My spiritual world morphed and became both unfamiliar and as if I'd been made for this new iteration.

I understand so much more about Jesus and his lion-hearted, revolutionary, subversive, counter-cultural, redemptive mission, what the Kingdom is and how it actually works, what the Church is supposed to be in the world, and how all believers are missionaries by definition whether they embrace it or not. I see church structure and culture differently, how leadership is supposed to work, and how we are to break through walls that stigmatize, neglect, oppress and divide peoples. Justice and love and freedom fill my thoughts in a way they never did. Love is the means by which people open to Jesus and choose to give themselves away in life-giving service.

While I still counsel and do spiritual direction, I view my role as a Spiritual Formation Catalyst in a more pastoral, mentoring, discipling way. I want to equip people who cross over imagine/Northampton's threshold and stick, to be fully engaged and devoted followers of Jesus their Lord and King. I now spend time getting to know and helping folks I'd shy away from a few years ago. I see their humanity, not their societal tag. I never did that before. I want to influence the community for the Kingdom.

Each paradigm shift has been God's work. Each links together providing a spiritual foundation for what he summoned me to next. Without each, I'd not have found any of what he called me to.
In reality, I don't know if the third is my last shift this side of heaven. I know seeing Jesus and his glory will pretty much be the zenith. What a curious and remarkable (for someone like me), journey it has all been. I foresaw none of it.

Perhaps my most fervent hope is that what these shifts were set to accomplish in and through me will do just that and more, so as the books are closed on my life, I fulfilled what I was made to do in spite of myself. 

Wouldn't that be marvelous. Make it so, Lord.
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