A Jesus Christ Series: Part 15 — Pondering the 2013 Christmas Show

Each year over 40,000 people choose to attend the Christmas Show Awaited at Crossroads church in Cincinnati. I’ve attended several, and was surprised when several of Pat’s and my friends chose to attend this as our annual Christmas gathering this year. In the past our Christmas event with these friends has been things like the Christmas concert put on by the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

I was even more surprised when afterwards all of them had nothing but praise for the show – its professionalism, its lively energy with dancing and music, its inspiring message of light, life and freedom coming into the fallen world through Jesus Christ, and subtle referencing of Crossroad’s mission of outreach and service. And its central theme was clearly presented – the promise that Jesus would set us free (Though nowhere did the Show say how this freedom came about or what this would be freedom from – oh yes, freedom from sin, but what does “freedom from sin” mean exactly?)

The bulletin was clear, focused and quite attractively done.  Even the professional hospitality aspects of coffee, cookies, and well-managed traffic control were included – and all for free. Nothing could have been improved upon in my book. What was there not to be moved and inspired by in such an outpouring signifying the reason for the season?

And yet I had to ask myself why I was uncomfortable, anxious even, and not that inspired this year. This dis-ease with the show was something for me to ponder and explore, especially this year with all my writing about Jesus Christ.

Just before the show began I leaned over and shared with one of our friends that I was pleased that message of Jesus Christ was getting shared on such a broad scale in this event. With this as my sense, why did the show not mean more to me personally? Why could I not relax? And is that OK?

During the show I found myself noting down a few observations. Why could I not just let it play out, take it in, appreciate the artistry and enjoy the performance as the show that it was? Just leaving well enough alone is just not me I guess, so here is some of what arose in my awareness.

First the show was quite literal in its presentation – and this literalness was reinforced by the senior pastor who narrated the introduction –  Satan disguised as a serpent really did tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden, Mary really was a virgin, there were real angels appearing to shepherds, wise men (astrologers?) did come from the east following a star that “rested” over the manger where Jesus lay. While I believe this all may have occurred in some symbolic way and, if so, has meaning on some level, for me the meaning of these particularities does not lie in their literalness. Something much more is represented in this archetypal story, the true meaning of Myth. My 14 blog entries on Jesus Christ (posted since July) speak to some of these deeper meanings of the Jesus Christ story for me.

My next note taken during the performance: The grand scale of this performance (dancers, music, costumes, photography, etc.) stands in stark contrast to the message – Jesus born in a stable housing animals. It seemed to be a grand performance tied to lifeless dogma – a dogma built on literalness rather than on the powerful myth of this Mystery.  I noted that the extravagant performance felt in some way pregnant, stuck in literalism that has for too long begged to be transcended. This literalism reminded me of the nearby Creation Museum that depicts a literal Adam and Eve existing with dinosaurs and tempted by a serpent, all intending to support the literal biblical notion of a seven-day creation. While attempting to testify to the veracity of scripture by holding to its literalness, for me this holding to literalness instead takes away from the grandness of the Mystery represented in these archetypal stories.

During the show I began thinking of this grand presentation in terms of levels of consciousness for the audience it was serving. Let me introduce this topic of consciousness by sharing a recent conversation with my brother Paul, the Lutheran bible scholar. Paul and I meet 2 or 3 times a month, and I feel so blessed that he hangs with me, his older brother, through all of this Pathwork, Adyashanti, Peter Rollins, Ken Wilber, and other materials that have so impacted my spiritual life. Paul struggles to share with others where his older brother is in regard to the bible in general and Jesus Christ in particular. Yes, he worries about my going to hell, but does so with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, cutting me some much needed slack. Over the years he continues to respect my wrestling and where it takes me. So recently he said, “Gary, to understand where you are spiritually people would have to buy into the notion that there are different levels of consciousness, and folks are going to have to recognize that they are not going to understand you without being at the level of consciousness you are.” The implication seemed to be that he perhaps did not think that levels of consciousness were real or, if they were real and relevant, that he was at a high enough level of consciousness needed to understand his older brother.  Yet my sense is that just in knowing that perhaps there are levels of consciousness suggests to me that he is in fact at a higher level of consciousness than he may think and, whether he realizes it or not, that he “gets” me where I am. Thank you, Paul!

But now to relate “levels of consciousness” to the show, another piece is helpful. On the following Sunday morning (12/22) I was struck by the Ross Douthat article in Sunday’s New York Times. Douthat is a conservative Catholic, and I find his Sunday article, titled Ideas from a Manger, aligns with the idea of varying levels of consciousness. While Douthat does not name levels of consciousness per se, he presents several worldviews that cover the literalists, the dogmatists, the material atheists, and the mystics. Douthat seems to rightly think that folks are semi-permanently attached to one of these positions and defend their view against the others. This creates separateness and tension. He encourages us to be more flexible and accommodating and let the manger mean whatever it means from your particular worldview.

I would say, however, that these are not simply different worldviews. Rather I would say these worldviews tie to corresponding stages of consciousness and further that we evolve through several levels. Using his example of how folks receive the manger message, the earliest level of consciousness is believing the myths of the bible as literal truth, with God being out there somewhere and our being separated from God by sin. It is a world of magic and belief in good and evil spirits, etc. Here there is little self-responsibility (beyond “Believe this and be saved”) – everything depends upon God and God’s balance of Righteousness and Love. Of course in some ways it does – it is all Grace – but not in the way it is often taught in fundamentalist circles of most religions.

Another broad level of consciousness Douthat describes is materialistic atheism. In this consciousness we say there is no such thing as a spiritual world and that we are 100% responsible for everything in our lives, individually and collectively. This is the world of the atheist. At the high end of this materialistic consciousness there is a sense of egalitarianism and of looking out for one another. Still there is no reality beyond materialism, but at least folks are working together, though there plight is ultimately hopeless – the Dark Night of the Soul.

Finally we evolve into more of a mystical level of consciousness and come to realize intuitively that there is a Spiritual world, the Mystery of all Life. God reenters, but in a very different form from that of the magical level of consciousness.

So as humans on the planet we collectively and individually evolve from 1) “no God” to 2) a “Magical God who takes care of us or punishes us” to 3) again “no God” – in our materialistic atheistic stage of self-reliance (or us-reliance), to 4) Higher states of consciousness, Mystery, and finally Unitive Consciousness.

I see Douthat illustrating these levels of consciousness as he describes the various interpretations of the Manger scene, but he does not introduce the evolutionary nature of consciousness behind the various worldviews he presents.

A more detailed description of these various levels of consciousness is given in Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics. In August of 2008 I gave a presentation on, or rather provided a discussion outline for, these levels of consciousness and our evolution through them to our Cincinnati/Dayton Ken Wilber group (open if interested in this outline — see especially the summary on page 3). As I look at this presentation now I smile in that this 2008 piece is a bit tedious and probably dated, but it expands the notion of consciousness and helps me understand why I was not entirely on the same page as those who had such flowing praise for the Christmas Show. I was just too caught up in what this show was all about for those attending from various levels of consciousness and wondering about what they really walked away with. Would they be inspired to return? And if so, what would be their reason? Would the road to freedom that was such a prominent message of the show be explained and offered as an experience?

But I also found myself asking whether or not such a show could do harm or confuse people. To be sure, if a person were at level 1) no God, the Show would be an offering to take him or her to level 2) a “Magical God who takes care of us or punishes us.” Yes this would be some improvement in one’s state of freedom. But what about those at level 3) or 4)? Whether or not a person grew up in a church, in today’s materialistic culture he or she has probably advanced to level 3) the materialistic atheist stage where the scientists, thinkers, and self-responsible folks reside.

For those at level 3) consciousness, to follow the Christmas Show story literally would tell such a person to devolve into level 2) the consciousness of magic. This may sound attractive, even logical in some way, and be considered at first, but at level 3 consciousness this story would eventually not pass the test of reasonableness. And such a person – the materialistic atheist –  may then hold Christianity as something he or she tried but in the end found irrelevant for him or her due to its unreasonable literalism. So I would say that if this happened the Christmas Show would have done harm, inoculating such a person against evolving spiritually to the next levels of consciousness beyond materialistic atheism – the steps toward level 4) which is more of a mystical spirituality where one stands in awe of the great Mystery that Life and the Cosmos is and lives into that Mystery moment by moment – from life to death — to LIFE.

But it is challenging for a church to meet and support folks across a wide range of consciousness levels – what I have arbitrarily called Levels 1 through 4. Some need the literal trust in the story line, others need to individuate away from dogmatism and find their own truths. Those seeking truths need to get beyond the questions and live the Mystery that Birth, Life, and Death are. So perhaps I can let go and let the show go on for what it is, a show, and simply enjoy it from that perspective. Remember, God works in mysterious ways and can use anything as a tool to move us forward in our journey. In fact this Show has now helped me get a little clearer concerning my journey. So thank you Crossroads! On the other hand, something in me feels violated by this notion. And I notice that I feel free enough to say that that is OK too.

Shared in love, Gary

PS Here are Pathwork Lecture materials that relate to this blog entry:

Pathwork Lecture 88 Religion: True and False

Pathwork Lecture 105 Humanity’s Relationship to God in Various Stages of Development EXCERPTS

A Teaching on Prayer from Lecture 105