I’ve been wanting to write a “Where Are We Now?” post for a while but 2020 was, well, 2020. Well, this is an attempt at that. It will be long. It’s mostly for me. But if you choose to read, linger, and hold your questions for the end. This is simply another chapter in my story.
As chaotic and, dare I say, transformative (ugh I hate that word ew gross) as it has been on a geopolitical level, it has coincided with some deep motions of growth and expansion in my own life, too.
For one, I was diagnosed this year with combined ADD/OCD, with diagnostic suggestions that I am also autistic. That’s a whole other article; suffice to say that learning that piece of information was like being given the solution to a 31-year-running logic puzzle. I’ve also undergone some deep, profound healing of old wounds from my previous marriage—that entire area of my life is lighter than I ever imagined it being able to be (though, now being the father to a daughter in the throes of tweenhood is its own peculiar crucible).
Additionally, I learned that I had mistyped myself on the Enneagram, and that I am in fact a 6 with a 5 wing, who struggles mightily with perfectionism, achievement, and belonging, the shadow of 6 moving to 3 in stress.
The enneagram six story describes my reality in stunning detail: I have always wanted to belong, and to be secure in that belonging; but because I am, at the very least, neurodivergent, as well as inhabiting a male body wired principally for homoerotic sexual expression, well, it’s made “belonging” kind of difficult. The other challenge baked into this is that my particular brand of six-ness, the counterphobic six, is the kind of person who always finds themselves in the position of contrarian.
All of this was within the context of having moved to a new city for a new job at a new church where I had two days of normalcy before COVID-19 shut the planet down. I love my new city, I just wish I could actually, you know, experience it. And it was a job where, going into it, my congregation would know that I was not someone who had followed a “typical” Christian journey. In fact, I was adamant about it in the process: I would be fully myself, fully present, unashamed of any aspect of my personhood as I stepped into this new call.
Which meant that I would have to step into the hazardous position of being “open” about publicly being an astrologer, about having one foot squarely in the world of the weird and wild and woolly. (Of course, that’s who I’ve been my entire life; I’m finally just now allowing it to come together in my public image and storytelling.)
An interesting thing that has happened to me recently is that, as I’ve become more and more public about being an astrologer (in the strange position I occupy as I am simultaneously a pastor in a mainline Protestant tradition) the more I recognize that I am, in my spiritual orientation, becoming more intensely Christian my thought and practice have become than I had previously realized—or expected, with as many times as I’ve complained to my husband, “I’m about 98% done with being a Christian.”
Indeed; over the last twelve years or so (beginning with my entry into seminary at Jupiter’s last transit of sidereal Capricorn, interestingly enough), I have deconstructed, and then reconstructed, my entire identity in faith through a consistent devotion to the pursuit of God through pursuing truth itself. That pursuit includes the kinds of truth one finds tucked away in the recesses, toward the margins, in the realm of the mysterious and unknowable and uncontainable—and sometimes scandalous. (For the astrologers in the audience, my natal Saturn rules my ascendant and occupies the 11th house in Sagittarius).
But for my part, the real joy has always been in the journey towards truth, not in the actual discovery of it. Often when we find we’ve grasped a bit of truth it turns out that we’ve just pulled off a handful of feathers and fur from the real beast. Instead of grasping, the call is to observe and to let “truth” be what it is without trying to master it (much more on this notion to follow).
My own lived experience as a gay man within a Christian holiness context was enough to tell me that I had not been given the entire story in my upbringing, and indeed, finding safe harbor as I sorted things out required me to draw a wide circle from the center of what was considered “Christian orthodoxy.”
And yet, I remained Christian, such to the point of now being, for all intents and purposes, “a professional Christian.” My work in this life feels deeply tied to the process of learning how to fully inhabit one’s inherited or inculturated religious identity in a way that is liberating for the individual and their community alike. (For the astrologers that are reading this, my natal Jupiter is conjoined the 4th house cusp, in sidereal Taurus, in an applying sextile to Mars in Pisces, who is received, and is the ruler of the midheaven.) That means that part of my work in this lifetime, as I understand it, is to turn the blade of truth-telling on the first truths I was told, the tradition of my forebears—but not in a clunky, scientific materialist rationalizing, reducing all the miracles to tall tales and the myths as nothing but fables.
I am an an astrologer, raised in the Christian West in the twilight of the second millennium CE, raised within the hegemony of materialist reductionism, who values the hard sciences and shares, in one sense, the studied skepticism of my materialist peers. I, however, am that counterphobic six, and so I come into this life bringing “not peace but a sword.” I am willfully someone who spends time, energy, and effort into deriving narrative meaning from a collection of algorithmic data that, in general, has no known mechanism of physical causation and is nevertheless meaningful to those who seek it out as a storytelling technology, (gosh, what a mouthful). I believe that my own skepticism points itself toward hegemonic worldviews that suggest that the lived experiences of individuals are invalid if they do not square with the overarching cultural narrative. And when I show up in a space that has deeply entrenched expectations that seem to be preventing its participants from fully flourishing, well…
I ain’t got time for that shit.
I have never claimed that astrological reasoning is a hard science, nor have I claimed it as a path of ultimate truth. It is simply another language to describe reality—but it is a deep and powerful one, with stories so deep within human consciousness that they’ve been around as long as we’ve been able to curl our heads up toward heaven and wonder at the slowly wheeling stars. These myths take on the names of planets: “Saturn,” the myth of senescence, of rigidity, of strangeness; “Jupiter,” the myth of expansion and fecundity, the principle of self-transcendence; and so on.
The weird part is watching these myths unfold in time and imbue time with a particular mythic quality. Identifying the mythic quality of a particular moment in time and space—such a moment as an astrological birth chart represents—is what this storytelling technology endeavors to do. This core stands in opposition to neither science nor faith; it has always accompanied us; it is simply part of who we are as humans to look at the stars and find meaning therein. Every culture has an astrology.
As a result of marinating in this mythic complex, one which is in resonance (but not caused by) observable physical phenomena within our solar system, I have discovered anew the power of story, and the importance of the particular language we use.
I have learned that the myths in which we swim, the stories we tell to keep ourselves together, and the empirical processes with which we describe the cosmos in finer and finer detail all serve an important function for human wellbeing. They matter. They are all true, in a manner of speaking, and they all belong as part of the complete lived human experience.
This realization has deepened by virtue of my recent plunge into a philosophical tradition known as Integral Theory, perhaps one of the best models of reality I have ever encountered (and it is not without its issues, and Ken Wilber himself is only human, too). The whole field of integral theory would require much too long to go through here, but I commend to you not only the very readable “Brief History of Everything” by Ken Wilber, but also Wilber’s predecessor, Jean Gebser, and the lovely engagement with his work, Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness, by Jeremy Johnson. I have also been deeply aided as of late by the work of several voices I first encountered about eight years ago, in the aftermath of having come out, namely, Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, and Cynthia Bourgeault.
One of the essential principles of integral theory is the idea that everyone is at least a little bit right. And because everyone is at least a little bit right, everyone has a grasp on an aspect of truth that I, from my Western post-modern perspective, might not necessarily have. I need insight from traditions that maintain their connection with mythic consciousness, from the tribal identity given to me by Christianity, to the imaginal workings of psychology and esotericism, to the hard science of materiality that gives us a solid footing on which to stand.
Coloring outside the lines of the faith of my youth has given me the necessary perspective and language I needed in order to be able to “jailbreak,” so to speak, the cultural and theological language of Christianity, allowing me to find a way to inhabit it more intensely and more committedly than in the past. Understanding Christianity to be, fundamentally, a wisdom tradition, not just an illegal chthonic mystery cult-cum-social reform movement that we typically understand the Early Church to be. Christianity is a tradition of living wisdom. When I say “living wisdom,” what I mean is that at its core, Christianity has an experience of unitive consciousness, a lived experience of, “oh, hey, God and I are one with each other, and Consciousness is the supreme reality.”
That first lived experience in this tradition, the story of which we as Christians in 2021 CE are the inheritors of, was to be found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom, I think, was the first brilliant teacher of nondual consciousness in the West—and what made him especially popular and powerful was that his life was such a strong testimony against, and critique of, the way that imperial violence had become the main way of “safeguarding human welfare” in the West. It was time for humans to grow out of that (which is why we got the Buddha and the development of the Krishna tradition right around the same time historically, too, around the time of the exile of the Israelites to Babylon).
And someone at the margins woke up. Someone at the margins had a lived experience of unitive consciousness that popped them open so deeply that they were able to see the entire planet aflame with the presence of God. This is someone whose very way of living and being, because of their openness to the presence of God in all things, was so free that it was a threat to people whose sense of security and safety depended on maintaining a particular social order, a particular structure of consciousness. So the hammer tends to fall on these kinds of people.
And what we see in the life of Christ is the world’s rejection of someone who had every right in the world to lead a violent resistance against his people’s imperial dominators, someone who had every right in the world to fight back against his captors and executors, someone who chose instead to live a life of committed, aggressive nonviolence. Someone who forgave the mob lynching him. “Tetelestai,” he is reported to have said, “I’ve done it. I’ve loved them all, up to the very end.” And he bowed his head and gave up the ghost, so the story goes.
So as my study deepens, I find myself spiraling ever more deeply into this story, and that continues to intensify my commitment to Christian identity, quite in spite of myself—and not just Christian identity in general. I specifically am feeling more and more explicitly “Wesleyan,” the tradition in which I was formed as a seminarian, the tradition that this very blog emerged from, and the tradition at the heart of the faith I inherited from my parents and godparents. Thanks to this exploration “outside the lines,” I finally have language for John Wesley’s fundamental theological principle that makes sense to me, namely, “entire sanctification,” which he also called, “Christian perfection.”
I’ve come to recognize that what Wesley called “entire sanctification” is a state of consciousness that other traditions would recognize as “nondual.” It is the state of consciousness spoken of by the Eastern traditions and demonstrated in the expression of masters from those traditions. God uses all available vehicles to speak, after all.
Nonduality is what I believe Wesley experienced at Aldersgate, as filtered through his religious vocabulary of 18th century Anglicanism, ripe as it was with memory of the English Wars of Religion. Nonduality is not simply a state of consciousness, neither is it simply the result of mental gymnastics that allow us to reconcile opposites (and that’s a good way to approach it, but not the only way). Nonduality is a structure of consciousness itself, following Jean Gebser, who describes an “aperspectival [or nondual] consciousness” that allows one to view other structures of consciousness—archaic, magic, mythic, and rational—through the lens of their mutuality.
The stories that we have inherited in our religious traditions are, by and large, humanity’s fumbling attempt to put this experience of nonduality, of what Wesley calls “entire sanctification,” into language that could be understood by the people with whom they trafficked, and understood within the general structure of consciousness that predominates in a culture at a given time. But we are always growing, and as we grow, our understanding of these state-stages and structures of consciousness—the interface for our experience of Reality itself, if you like—has a tendency of outgrowing where we’re at and bringing us into deeper recognition of the still-grander story that enfolds us all.
That work requires, in some ways, shedding old stories like a snakeskin if they have become too toxic, and yes, there is much within Christianity that has become toxic and deadly.
But there is another path, too, and it is the path that I willfully choose: I believe that part of the work can be done by inhabiting a Christian identity fully and justly. That is made infinitely easier by having experiences of nonduality, experiences that pop us out of our understanding of the way this material world of paradoxes and conditions manifests, and allows us to see reality from the perspective God sees: the reality being experienced and the one experiencing it of a piece; they are the same thing, a single motion, a single gesture, like the flow of electromagnetic current through a magnet.
And that full and just inhabitation of Christian identity has been massively, massively assisted by people who made a practice of moving towards this realization that we are already fully enfolded in the presence of God, and nothing can separate us from it. It is those individuals whose likeness we find painted on wood boards in egg tempera and glued to the outside of Dollar Tree novena candles, people who make love manifest because they know they are love made manifest before anything else.
So Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.”
How do we get there? How do we get to that particular state of sublime oneness and stay on that razor’s edge long enough to “wake up?” Well, fortunately, the Christian identity, when fully realized and fully inhabited, gives us a way to do that, and a way to conceptualize it: it is the gesture of willful self-emptying.
Kenosis is derived from Paul’s rapturous poetry in the letter to the Philippians (and you could tell he really liked the church at Philippi because he was willing to give them this heavy duty theology, the fruit of his own crucible). Paul writes,
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,Philippians 2.5-11
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Kenosis is the primary gesture of Christ—and if John is right in identifying Christ as the Logos [spermatikos], the reasoning principle of the entire universe, then, the fundamental nature of existence is fruitful, it is abundant, and that offering-up is the primary gesture of the ground of existence itself. Consciousness gives itself away. Now, bring this down to the level of humans, who are, perhaps, the most “conscious” entities we know of to date, leaving all paranormal possibilities aside: kenosis, for a human, is the gesture of holding whatever it is that you have, or whatever it is that has come into your life—people, places, things, ideas, experiences, bodies of knowledge, sexual partners, material earnings, status and image, family ties, and our very life itself—with an open hand, offering it up, not clinging to it, not getting obsessed with it.
Living from that place is tremendous. It is also dangerous, because someone who lives from a center of kenosis, fully and gently, is someone who cannot be contained or silenced or stopped in their giving by any force invented by human beings. Nor, as Paul goes on to say, can even the silently turning heavens themselves thwart the unfolding of a person’s kenosis, and Christ’s kenosis on our behalf, and the whole of Godhead’s mutually-emptying interbeing. And it is this being swallowed-up in the infinite kenosis of the Supreme Reality that Paul is speaking to in language that could be understood by his peers, by his hearers. He was truly a revolutionary in his first century context. And yet, he, too, is not without his problems.
I believe that kenosis is the principal theological innovation of the Pauline tradition. But because old habits die hard, and we are so keen on “having a brand,” what we got was a body of knowledge that built up because most of us weren’t ready for the real deal, we weren’t ready to live kenosis fully and completely. Accordingly, we got much of it completely, spectacularly wrong because it flies in the face of common knowledge and offends the very sensibilities that have allowed our species to evolve to this level of consciousness in the first place. (I shouldn’t have to invoke the various ways that Christians have “gotten it wrong” throughout history).
But I do think that Jesus spoke to that kind of reality, too, in his ethical teaching—but once you’ve started to read Jesus’ parables through the lens of kenosis, you start to see it everywhere. It’s constantly staring you in the face, never violently, but it stares at you and challenges you. “This is the full height of God made manifest in humanity. This is the path to the life of the ages,” as Jesus called it, and as Paul interpreted it. And I think there is a particular warning here as well: if we are focused on “getting it right,” if we are focused on “achieving the life of the ages,” we run the risk of missing the point entirely, because we become attached to achieving nonattachment.
And this is where the language of grace comes in, and later on for John Wesley, where the language of “a second work of grace” hits: in his view, yes, you were definitely “okay” if you were a Christian, if you were baptized, but you would not be able to enter fully into what Wesley understood as “the kingdom of heaven on Earth” unless you were also seeking after this gift of God’s “second work of grace.”
What Wesley did was he figured out what the Desert Mothers and Fathers in their cells figured out, and what monastics throughout history figured out, and what, Martin Luther started to get (but I believe his hatred of Jewish people sullied his vision, as did that of other reformers), that the Supreme Reality is the one who catches up with us, not the other way around. God finds Us.
Consciousness is the initiator in the dance of us waking up to who we are. And part of the work of being “fully a Christian” is to put ourselves in such a state of mind as that we’re most prepared to receive the gift, even if it’s still a gift that must be received.
(We’ve all received a peach candle in our lives—we’re never ready to receive it, we don’t really want it, and we just pawn it off on the next person. But what if that gift is something vital to us that we know we need and immediately resonate with? Then, yes, then—that’s when a gift truly becomes a gift—a gift actually worth giving away, ironically. Such is kenosis.)
So here I stand, thigh-deep in the work of figuring out how to fully inhabit my Christian identity with the full knowledge that I do not have any claim to being “right,” and that my articulation of my own experiences is mine. I also recognize that there are those in this world for whom I am a veritable devil, besodden as I am with witchery and sodomy and mixed poly-cotton blends and pepperoni pizzas, jealousy, envy, strife, sadness, sins and abominations one and all. But here I am. I can do no other; because I am baptized. I am beloved.
(Martin Luther, problematic as he is, was right on when he coined the phrase, simul iustus et peccator, and that’s the great gift of Lutheranism to the world wisdom traditions—something Wesley himself picked up on at Herrnhut).
It is Wesley’s method that “entrains the faculties” to receive the gift of contemplation. That was the point of Methodism from the outset: setting oneself up to receive the gift of contemplation. Yet Wesley’s method was not principally about being holy, though it certainly has that tendency; it was principally about surrendering, consenting to the presence of the Supreme Reality [God] moving in you and acting through you. You just get out of the way. And when you get out of the way, fully open to love, well, that’s where real holiness spills out into the world.
The monastics have always known this. And the eastern traditions never forgot, developing highly refined skills for achieving, and maintaining, this particular state of consciousness over the centuries. We mess this up when we grasp, when we cling to method or identity or whatever tool we think will “save us.”
And so it goes.
Where am I today, then? If someone were to ask, what would I say that I believed?
I am madly, madly in love with the Supreme Reality, whom I know by the ancestral name my parents and godparents taught me, the name Jesus Christ, Yeshua bin-Miryam. He is my All-things-in-All, he is my nothing-in-any. “At the sight of this, [his] shape stupendous,” full of reality in all its virtue, “all my peace is gone, all my heart is troubled,” stirred up for want of union, of a return to Christ as the one “in whom I live and move and have my being.”
(As an aside, Hindus have some of the most mellifluous religious language on the planet, by the way—and, if I were to hazard a guess, our name “Christ” and their name “Vishnu” are articulating the same experience of mystery.)
Yet, I come home to my mother tongue. I am Christ’s own. And, in the words of some of my very favorite monastics, “I will follow Him, follow Him wherever he may go. And near him I always will be, for nothing can keep me away—He is my destiny.”
And my birth chart shows it. (And, I believe, so might yours.)
Incidentally, where is Yeshua to be found? Where is the living Christ to be found today, and where might we see him? You know the answer: he is always to be found at the margins, at those crucified on the fringes of society, within those excluded and diminished for their difference. That is where my forebears found him following their Star to a distant land. That is where my ancestors found him in the life of their Teacher, who was ever and always with the wrong kind of people, eating and drinking. “He has a demon,” they said. Why? Simply because he dared to pour himself out for those incorrect people.
And so my following Yeshua has taken me to the fringes of Christianity itself, into distant lands, seeking for Christ, pursuing him like a dog chasing its game, like my dog running after snacks. Chasing him has taken me into the fellowship of people and life-ways that are not necessarily “good Christian fun.” But, incredibly, and without fail, there he is, and there joy is found, and there the Church springs up a new shoot even though it’s now growing wildly outside the garden. It might not even look like Church at all. And it certainly might not be evangelical. But nevertheless, it spreads.
And I am not talking about the spread of institutional Christianity; may God prevent us from bearing any more toxic fruit, at least. Nor am I talking about the Christian language. I am talking about the lived, embodied experience of unconditional love that stems from realization that one is One with the Supreme Reality. That we are all en Christō, as Paul puts it. That we all share ancestors, as others put it. That we are actors in the līla of Creation, the play of existence, as still others put it. And that changes everything.
As far as my practice, as far as the language I’m using to express my pursuit of this Supreme Reality, well, I’ll say this: my steps into Vedic philosophy and the world of astrology have not been fruitless. After all, one of the best ways to improve your English is by learning another language, and I offer gratitude to those teachers who have helped me to seek truth in other tongues over the last several years. But I have finally found a way through the practice of Centering Prayer, through the art and practice of an astrological model of reality for myth-making, and the gift of contemplation as transmitted by the Western Christian mystical tradition to bring this reality back into my mother tongue, the language of the Christian story.
We will continue to need to find new ways of articulating this experience as our ability to perceive the imaginal realm through our deepening tools psychology and spirituality. We will need to find new words as our understanding of the physical realm continues to press up against the limits of what is mechanically observable.
And we will continue to need to inherit, inhabit, and interpret the stories that we steward in this moment in history. After all, life is short; we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way alongside us. So, may I be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.