From a List of Beliefs to Relational Knowing
I am re-learning to know God/the divine from a place of inherent connection. I have always had this, but it was interrupted by authoritarian dogmatic ways of knowing God for so many years. This connection to the divine is part of what I’m reclaiming. (And I find it ironic that this relational connection with God is one of the things evangelicals hang their hats on, but has become too often a form of control rather than a place to cultivate authentic relationship.)
From this place of connection, interconnectedness if you will, I get to explore and unearth and create and develop who I am, and get to explore and know more about who the divine I AM is. (I have a new book about this interconnected place of renewal, care, and exploration. Check it out!)
From a List of Beliefs to a Way of Knowing
I have been asked recently what I believe. As if there was a starting point of a certain type of Christian belief, and they expect me to chart a course to a new one, from one island to the next, and let them know where I’ve landed so they can understand where I’m at. But the course I’m charting, is to a different way of knowing, not to a different destination point.
I’m releasing and discarding dogmatic ways of defining and knowing. Right ways of being and understanding God.
Instead I’m starting with what is - me, the earth, the divine - and I’m exploring.
This shift from top-down teaching about God to curious exploration seems a lot like the difference between traditional education (let me teach you the facts about life), to Montessori education (I’ll help you explore and learn about the world).
Jesus + Know & Explore = Jesus is a Montessori Teacher
Isn’t this what Jesus did? He didn’t join the religious group that had decided all the right ways to live. He taught through story, exploration, and experience. Being with Jesus was all the learning you needed to do. He didn’t sweep in as the expert, demand loyalty, breed suspicion of being contaminated by “the lost,” or list a bunch of rules to follow. He didn’t jump in and say, “gotcha! Caught you sinning unintentionally there. Hope you have a get out of jail (hell) free card left!”
What if this is part of our revolution? Moving from top-down, centralized authority that tells us what to believe and demands obedience - right thought, true faith, right actions, etc. And instead we get to move to exploration-led, curiosity-and-compassion-based learning about ourselves, the divine, and the world.
The question then becomes not what we believe, but how we learn.
This was originally going to be the end of my article but wait, there's more!...
A little (actually, a lot) more on this…
We see this dichotomy in learning in so many places. Dualism and the Enlightenment that incorrectly taught us “mind over matter” is found in so many of our learning spaces today. (I recently learned that Rene Descartes who taught us "mind over matter" eviscerated his wife's dog while still alive to prove a point about this. A very gruesome example of the extent to which mind over matter can enable psychopathy and torture.)
Even science, which is theoretically about exploration and openness to questions and updating theories and explanations of the world has often been skewed by this issue. Some resources that open up broader ways of exploring include:
- Queer Ducks - if you look at animal sexual behavior without needing to explain away same-sex behaviors, the logical conclusion is that the default sexuality of most animals is bisexual
- Braiding Sweetgrass - removing the harmful and limiting effects of dualism in science and restoring kinship, care, reciprocity with the earth. Seeing ourselves as part of the earth in caring relationship with it, not over it.
- The Secret Life of Plants - (plant) life is more accurately explained by fractals than linear thought and equations
My husband had a book growing up called Pig Will, Pig Won’t. I was shocked when I read it. The basic idea is that if you're obedient, compliant, and helpful, you are good; and if you are not those things, you are bad, and should be punished so that you learn to behave. It is such an alarmingly clear teaching on how to be good and successful in an authoritarian, white supremacy, patriarchal, obedience-based society. And unfortunately has been the "norm" in our society for so long.
I much prefer the children's book Stick up for Yourself and the baby book No! My First Book of Protest. They teach that we can self-advocate, care for ourselves, and use our voice to create positive social change (in our immediate relationships and on a larger scale).
I recently came across a book I read as a kid: Psalty The Songbook's Book about Obedience. It made me cringe in the same way all the paternalistic obedience teachings do. I couldn't find a video of it to share with you, but I found something similar: an LDS Story about Obedience.
In contrast, What is God Like? is more exploratory and inclusive. It starts with what we feel and perceive in the world and notice what's life-giving. That is what God is like.
Mental and physical health fields unfortunately have their share of top-down "I know what's best for you" thinking.
We've probably all had an experience of hearing this subtext from a clinician: "I know what’s wrong with you and what’s best for you. I will diagnose you with something that will feel like a personal failing or character flaw. I will tell how you how to fix it and subtly shame you if you aren't able to measure up and get the results I promise."
This is so different from the clinician coming alongside you with their expertise to support you. That communicates "self-trust" in you - "you know what’s best for you." The subtext from the clinician here would be: "I am studying what people need, how they cope, and how to help you heal and thrive. I can bring expertise and presence to explore what isn’t working for you and what is, or what will. I can help you invite more compassion and collaboration into your inner world so you can see yourself as your own best ally and resource (psychology) and collaboration into your medical plan so you can be your best resource. In psychology, the modalities of Behavioral psychology or Freudian psychology might fit more in the clinician as the expert status, versus Liberation psychology or Internal Family Systems, which are more clinician as support and guide. (I'm not sure what the distinction would be in Medicine.)