Jun 9, 2014

Stages of Faith

             A single verse of Scripture sums up the young life of Jesus. “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
            Human development includes each of the four areas Luke identified to describe the ways in which Jesus grew up (see Table 1). The doctrine of the incarnation teaches us that Jesus underwent the full human experience. He was “made like His brethren in all things” (Hebrews 2:17—italics added). Thus, when Luke said that Jesus grew in stature, we understand that he was referring to his physical growth. At twelve, Jesus was likely maturing in some of the same ways that tweens and adolescents physically mature today. Whiskers may have started showing up on his face for the first time. His voice may have cracked here and there as it deepened. And, who knows? He may have experienced the growing pains that often accompany pubescent growth spurts.
            When Luke said that Jesus grew in wisdom, we understand that he was referring to the development of his intellect. We know that the thinking of children develops along with their bodies. For example, an infant is mesmerized by the game of peek-a-boo. To the infantile mind, it is no less than magical whenever a mother or father disappears and reappears saying “Peek-a-boo”! As the infant grows into a school-age child, the magic is dispelled. The child moves from what developmental psychologists call the sensory-motor/pre-operational stage to the operational stage of cognitive development. They understand that one object may be placed out of view behind another object without actually disappearing. At this stage of intellectual development, children are able to understand the world in concrete terms. So, we begin teaching children the ABC’s, basic arithmetic, and all the names of the Capitol cities.
            Typically in later adolescence, some children move from the concrete operational stage to formal operations. At this stage of intellectual development, the child who once thought peek-a-boo was magic now reflects on the nature of joy, surprise and love. Abstract thinking and reason is now possible. Hypothetical problems may be considered. Intellectually, formal operations plunge a person into the deep end of the pool, so to speak.
            Not everyone moves into this stage of intellectual development. Most of life only requires concrete operations. Those who develop to this stage will not necessarily spend a lot of time thinking and reasoning abstractly (except, perhaps, physicists and theoretical mathematicians). Yet, the ability to think at this level is a mark of full intellectual maturity. Paul said, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
            When Luke said that Jesus increased in favor with men, we understand he meant that Jesus developed socially. Researchers in the area of human development have come to see that social development is as important as physical or intellectual development. At various stages in our lives, we develop important social qualities like the ability to trust, a sense of self-efficacy, initiative, productivity, a sense of identity, and the ability to experience and maintain close personal relationships. For example, children who fail to bond with a parent before age five or so often develop attachment disorders that make it difficult for them to function socially. In today’s world, the importance of EQ (emotional and social intelligence) may outweigh the importance of IQ.[1] Jesus was a master of social skills. He grew to the heights of emotional and social maturity.
            When Luke said that Jesus increased in favor with God, we understand he meant that Jesus developed spiritually. It might sound strange that Jesus grew spiritually. After all, Jesus was God’s son. How could he possibly become any more spiritual than that? Again, the doctrine of the incarnation suggests that Jesus learned to relate to God as a man (Hebrews 5:8; cf. Philippians 2:6-8). He developed a deep prayer life, a thorough and discerning knowledge of Scripture, and the ability to listen and respond to God in obedience. The fruit of the Spirit grew abundantly in his life. Jesus became the most spiritually mature human being that has ever lived.
Luke 2:52 & Human Development
Intellectual Development
Physical Development
Favor with men
Social Development
Favor with God
Spiritual Development
Table 1
            Like Jesus, all people experience a process of physical, intellectual, social and spiritual development. Those who follow Jesus will find themselves at various stages of development. We all begin as baby Christians who must then grow in our walk with the Lord (See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:13; 1 Peter 2:2). In a healthy church, each stage of physical, intellectual, social and spiritual development will be represented. M. Scott Peck said, “A true community will likely include people of all stages.”[2] Peck was referring to stages of faith development—which parallels and is affected by all the other aspects of human development.
            There are stages of faith development, just as there are stages of physical, intellectual, social and spiritual development. To be clear, faith development pertains to how people come to believe, not necessarily what they believe. Since faith is more directly tied to a person’s understanding, thinking and other intellectual processes, in many ways the stages of faith development reflect the stages of cognitive/intellectual development.
            M. Scott Peck provides a four-stage paradigm for understanding faith development. Peck starts with those in the chaotic/antisocial stage. These are either children experiencing the first stages of typical growth and development process, or they are what Peck calls “People of the Lie.” Of the latter, Peck says, “Their relationships with fellow human beings are all essentially manipulative and self-serving.”[3] People in the chaotic/antisocial stage of faith development believe in nothing greater than themselves. It is the stage of undeveloped spirituality.
            Stage two in Peck’s paradigm is the formal/institutional stage. Converted from a self-centered and chaotic life, stage two people may be new converts to faith or those that simply never moved past a pre-critical stage. Stage two may start out with childlike enthusiasm and thinking, but it typically moves into a pre-critical adherence to the formal and institutional requirements of the faith.
            Peck says that stage two people are the majority of churchgoers. They are emotionally attached to the forms of their faith whether or not they are attached to the essence of the faith. They are among the first to protest changes made in the forms and institutional characteristics of the church. To them, faith is a matter of bringing order out of the chaos of stage one. Like the concrete operational stage of intellectual development, stage two in faith development is characterized by rigid, black and white categories, and a tendency toward dogmatism and legalism. Nonetheless, stage two people typically have high morals. They are reliable, productive and responsible. They volunteer at church and they do a lot of good. The problem is that they tend to relate to God “as the giant cop in the sky.”[4]
            To bring their lives out of the chaos of stage one, and into the order that faith provides, stage two becomes a necessary and important stage of faith development. Faith may develop further, however. As James Fowler[5] points out, many people get stuck in this stage and do not move forward in their faith. There is a sense of safety tied to an unquestioning adherence to the formal rules and regulations of an institution. Many fear that moving out of stage two will cause them to lose everything. It is important for churches to show appreciation and patience to those among them who are in stage two.
            Peck’s stage three represents a movement similar to the transition from concrete to formal operations in intellectual development. In stage three, people wrestle with doubts about their faith. They use critical thinking to question their faith. The experience of this stage of faith development is unsettling and sometimes painful. The puritans spoke of the holy desertions of God. John of the Cross spoke of the dark night of the soul. Whatever it is called, stage three is difficult. Some are overwhelmed by the doubts and questions of stage three. It is important for churches to be safe places for stage three people to raise doubts and ask questions. And, stage three people need to know that it is okay if they do not have every matter of faith completely figured out and nailed down into nice and neat categories. Jesus encouraged those who are in stage three: “Seek and you will find.”
            Peck’s final stage is the stage of wisdom. A person does not enter stage four by resolving all the doubts and questions of stage three. Doubts and questions remain in stage four, but the critical process of stage three provides a principled foundation for a person’s core beliefs. Also, the anxiety of stage three is relieved in stage four so that one may truly relate to God as gracious, and see the bigger picture. It is important that churches recognize the wisdom of those who have wrestled with the faith and carry with them great wisdom and trust in God and his grace.
            Ours is a faith for thinking people who are dedicated to moving forward in the way of Jesus (John 14:6). There is one area in which we must remain as children. Paul wrote, “Yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). The Message puts it this way: “It’s all right to have a childlike unfamiliarity with evil; a simple no is all that’s needed there.”

[1] See Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.
[2] Peck, M. Scott. The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. New York: Touchstone, 1987.
[3] Ibid., p. 189.
[4] Ibid., p. 190.
[5] See Fowler, James. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. New York: HarperCollins, 1981. Fowler presents a six-stage paradigm for understanding faith development.

May 5, 2014

Stages of Faith and Spiritual Development

In college I majored in Human Development. I had already started working in ministry and I thought I might pursue a graduate degree in counseling. So, instead of majoring in Bible or Christian ministry, I chose Human Development (a program that focused on lifespan/developmental psychology). Then, I did continue with a graduate program in counseling. And, my favorite class in grad school was Adult Development & Transitions. I've always found the human potential for growth and development fascinating. Physical development is very interesting. I remember learning about critical periods of development for physical functions like sight. If an eye is inhibited from developing sight during a critical period of development, the eye may never develop sight. The stages at which an infant develops strength in her bones or begins to fine tune her motor skills is also very interesting. But, for me, the most interesting part of studying human development was intellectual and cognitive development. It is an amazing process that can go on well into later life. Jean Piaget's stages of cognitive development were crucial to my understanding of how people grow or fail to grow intellectually. But, there is also Social and emotional development. This part of human development is probably more important to a person's overall well-being than physical or intellectual development, and the complexity in this area is astonishing. Erik Erickson's eight stages of psychosocial development are also foundational. But, I believe we are not merely physical beings. Nor are we merely intelligent or social beings. At the core, we are spiritual beings. As a pastor and counselor, I find that understanding the ways we grow and develop spiritually to be among the most important considerations in understanding ourselves and others.

Consider the following stages of cognitive and pyschosocial development and think about how these developmental stages might mirror or complement spiritual development.

Piaget's Cognitive Development Stages:
1. Sensorimotor Stage - Birth to 2 - Infant knows the world through their movements and sensations
2. Pre-operational Stage - 2 to 7 - Children begin to think symbolically and learn to use words and pictures to represent objects. Also, in this stage, children are typically egocentric and see things only from their point of view.
3. Concrete Operational Stage - 7 to 11 - During this stage, children begin thinking logically about concrete events. Able to use symbols for concrete things and events, but not adept at abstract reasoning.
4. Formal Operational Stage - 12 and up - At this stage, the adolescent or young adult begins to think abstractly and reason about hypothetical problems.

Erikson's Psychosocial Stages:
1. Trust vs. Mistrust - birth to 18 months - Children develop a sense of trust when parents/caregivers provide reliability, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.
2. Autonomy vs. Shame - 2 to 3 - Children need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.
3. Initiative vs. Guilt - 3 to 5 - Children begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.
4. Industry vs. Inferiority - 6 to 11 - Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.
5. Identity vs. Role Confusion - 12 to 18 - Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself (adequate self-awareness and integrity), while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.
6. Intimacy vs. Isolation - 19 to 40 - Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.
7. Generativity vs. Stagnation - 40 to 65 - Middle adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by investing in children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.
8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair - 65 to death - Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness and despair.

I look forward to engaging with you on this topic. After some discussion on the relationship between intellectual/cognitive development and psychosocial development with spiritual development, I'll begin a blog post on Fowler's Stages of Faith development.


Apr 26, 2014

Another Eye Surgery

So, I had one more eye surgery this past week. I've really lost count. My mother says it was #16, but I think she's counting 5 or 6 laser procedures. Either way, it's been a lot. 20 years ago, I had a procedure to build a filtering bleb in my right eye. This was done to allow some relief to the high pressure in my eye. Regulating eye pressure was the main problem I struggled with during my teen years. When I was 19, the bleb was surgically built and the pressure stabilized--for a day or two. Then, the bleb collapsed, my pressure spiked and I was rushed into emergency surgery (with no anesthetic I might add), to rebuild the bleb. It lasted for over 20 years. Last week, my surgeon at Casey Eye Institute and I agreed that it was time to repair the bleb one more time. It had spread out and was so thin that the risk of infection or collapse was a serious problem. Also, the 'filtering' part of the bleb had turned into a tunnel opening going between the inside of my eye to the bleb (it's supposed to take a circuitous route like a filter). So, the docs fixed it. Well, they actually removed the old bleb and put a patch over the hole in my eye, effectively making a new bleb. The patch is cadaver tissue. So, I told Shannon that I have a zombie eye now. I thought that was hilarious right before the surgery--I think they had started me on something to relax me. I went home with a little bit of pain that grew into a little bit more pain. I thought my pressure might be up, but didn't realize how high it was until the next day at my post op appointment. The intraocular pressure (IOP) was at 40 (it's supposed to be under 20). So, the doc 'tapped' the eye--yep, like a keg. The pressure went down to 27 but quickly rose back up to 40. So, he pulled a couple stitches on the patch to loosen it a bit. That did the trick. The pressure went down--down to 7, then 5. Which is low, but okay. If pressure gets too high, the optic nerve is damaged--you go blind, maybe lose the eye. If the pressure drops to zero, the eye could hemorrhage and that's really bad too. So, keeping it in the sweet spot is the key.

I'm glad I still have my eye. Before the last two surgeries I got a bit despondent about it. I had thoughts about just getting rid of the eye--maybe, get a fancy glass or corral eye! Then, I could have fun watching people try to decide which eye to look at--actually, most prosthetic eyes are really good these days--no wandering eyeballs, etc. Still, I'm glad that my eye is still kicking. It may not last forever. But, it's made it a long way so far. I kinda want to see how far it can go!

Don't watch this if you are squeamish! It is a surgical procedure.

Aug 9, 2013

What the Monks Can Teach Us (Part 5)

Practicing Humility and Being Authentic

Columba Stewart describes humility as “radical self-honesty.” We must dismiss any notions of humility that suggest a “poor-me,” shrug-of-the-shoulders attitude. We need not think lower of ourselves than we are to be humble. We only need to think realistically, honestly and sensibly about who we are. Humility is not a synonym for low self-esteem.

Humility in Scripture is always the absence of sinful pride. Goodness and sinfulness are at war within us, and it is a zero sum game. The person who works at practicing humility displaces pride in everyway. In one fell swoop, the devil’s foothold is taken away.

Benedictine Monks followed the RB’s instructions on humility,* which are largely based on the Psalms:

The seventh step towards humility is for him [he who would become humble] not only to claim that he is beneath everyone else and worse than them, but also to be convinced of this deep in his heart, humbling himself and saying with the prophet, ‘I am a worm and not a man, hated by others and a laughing-stock to the people’ (Psalm 22:6). ‘I have been raised up and then humiliated and thrown into confusion’ (Psalm 88:15), and also ‘It is good for me that you have humiliated me so that I might learn your commandments’ (Psalm 119:71). [RB 7.51]

Dennis Okholm says, “Understandably, this does not fit well with a culture that is afflicted with self-esteemia.” But Okholm encourages us to take a closer look at the RB’s instruction on humility here. There is a progression from Psalm 22—‘I am worm’—to Psalm 88—‘I have been … thrown into confusion’—to Psalm 119—‘It is good … so I might learn.’ Okholm concludes:

In other words, we go from a false sense of self to a painful self-recognition, which is the only place where listening to God can happen.+

Actually, all 12 steps of the RB’s section on humility are summed up in the first.

The fist step towards humility is to keep the fear of God in mind at all times.

Seeing yourself as your really are—as God sees you—is what humility is all about. It prevents pride from entering the heart and frees you to love and serve God and others.

So, why don’t people simply practice more humility? The problem is that pride is easy and humility is hard. Being humble requires faith—a deep trust in God and his perspective. If I am to accept that humbling myself and serving is the truly good and right thing to do, I must believe this with all my heart. I must believe that from God’s perspective the humble shall be exalted (Luke 18:14; 1 Peter 5:6). If I am not thoroughly convinced of this faith, I will inevitably succumb to the ‘pride of life’ (1 John 2:16) that dominates the world, especially western culture.

So, we learn from the monks that practicing Biblical humility, as taught and modeled by Jesus, requires discarding our false sense of self and seeing ourselves from God’s perspective, and increasing our faith in God, trusting that the path to true greatness is through humble service. That word ‘service’ is the key. You want to practice humility? Then, you must get down and wash some feet (John 13:3-15). Service in any form (not just foot washing) is the path to humility. The monks practice humility by first serving each other and then serving the world in various ways (e.g., education, healthcare, social work, goods and produce, crafts and arts, etc.). Perhaps, we can learn from the monks by learning to serve those who are closest to us (i.e., spouse, children, local church, neighbors, etc.), then serving the world outside our personal world (our personal cloisters). This could really change how we see ourselves and build our faith in a Great God, who exalts the humble.

*Benedict offers 12 Steps toward humility, foreshadowing the modern 12-Step movement centuries ahead of time.
+Okholm, Dennis. Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants. Grand Rapids, MI: BrazosPress, 2007, p. 72.

Feb 18, 2013

What the Monks Can Teach Us (Part 4)

The Monks teach us that living a simple life is a blessing. Simplicity is a Christian virtue. Jesus said,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV)
The Monks knew that living a simple life was not about downgrading the good things of life, or that riches are innately evil. The problem is the tendency we have to put our faith and trust in the abundance of things instead of trusting God.

It is true that some monastics have held up poverty almost as a virtue. This is not how the greatest rule for monastic order sees poverty, however. Benedict of Nursia instructed in his rule:
Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble because of his weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown him (ch. 34).
Benedict seems to identify "needing more" with weakness and "needing less" with strength. Paul wrote from his prison cell:
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. (Philippians 4:12)
At first, we might be impressed by Paul's attitude of contentment in circumstances of hunger and need. But, We ought to be impressed by Paul's ability to be content with plenty as well. Being able to live contently in any circumstances is the "secret."

As Richard Foster makes it clear in his book entitled The Freedom of Simplicity, living a simple life frees us up to be available for God's use. When we have little, we are content. When we have plenty, we are free to use what we have for God's use. Foster says,
What we discover from the New Testament witness is the combination of a penetrating criticism of wealth with a carefree, almost lighthearted attitude toward possessions. It is a combination seldom found today.
I would suggest that the one place this beautiful combination has and continues to be seen is in the life and witness of the monastic tradition. We would do well to learn from what the Monks can teach us.

Jan 16, 2013

What the Monks Can Teach Us (Part 3)

The Monks are big on Obedience. The hierarchical structure of the monastery is one evidence of the essential role of obedience in the monastic life. Most people run from obedience. We tend to prefer the path of the rebel (with or without a cause). Nevertheless, obedience is a part of life. Indeed, to truly live life well means knowing when and how to obey well.

Think of the fisherman who feels the tug of a solid bite on his fishing line. The fisherman "obeys" the fishing line's tug by yanking back on his fishing pole and setting the hook. To do this requires some attention to the fishing line. I remember when my father took me fishing on one of our family camping trips. We sat out on the lake and dropped our lines deep into the water. I had a bobble connected to my line so that I could see as well as feel the tug of the fishing line when I had a bite. After a few minutes, nothing happened. I began looking around the lake, down in the boat and just about everywhere except for the fishing line. Then I heard my father say, "Ryan, you got a bite, you got a bite!" But, by the time I refocused from my distractions it was too late. The fish had slipped off the hook.

Christian Monasticism sees obedience as listening. In the original languages, the two words obey and listen are semantically connected. Older English translations often used the word "heed" to express this connection: listening so as to obey. The first word of St. Benedict's Rule is "Listen." Being able to listen (obey) well in life is the foundation of monastic spirituality. When monks read Scripture, they speak it aloud and listen to it with focused and reflective attention. This kind of meditative and prayerful reading of Scripture is described in Latin as Lectio Divina (Divine Reading). Listening is so important to living the abundant life that Jesus brings to us (John 10:10).

The sacrament of the moment, or as Will Derske calls it, a “life of one piece,” (sound familiar) is a central theme of Benedictine monasticism. Joan Chittister writes in Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, her devotional commentary on the Rule of Benedict:
The Spiritual life, in other words, is not achieved by denying one part of life for the sake of another. The spiritual life is achieved only by listening to all of life and learning to respond to each of its dimensions wholly and with integrity.[1]

James 1:19-20 reminds us,
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
The art of Christian listening is something the monks can teach us. They listened to authority in Scripture, in the accountability of their Christian brothers and sisters, and in the work of God throughout the whole world. May we learn to listen well.

[1] Chittister, Joan D. (1990). Wisdom distilled from the daily: living the Rule of St. Benedict today. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 16