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Chrysalis: John Frye

posted by xscot mcknight

Conversion and conversions will be themes of this blog for the next couple of weeks. This series on Chrysalis is about Alan Jamieson’s book Chrysalis: The Hidden Transformation in the Journey of Faith. Today’s comes from John Frye.
Having embraced Alan Jamieson?s transformational process creatively symbolized by the life-stages of the Monarch butterfly with its chrysalis, I pondered the comparisons between pre-chrysalis people and post-chrysalis people. Some folks express a pre-chrysalis (pre-critical) faith that is very tidy, with clear black and white categories, offering happy certainty to life and, sadly, generating rejecting judgments of others. The post-chrysalis, post-critical faith folks have moved past those things. Post-critical faith people are marked by a pervasive graciousness. ?To be gracious means to act mercifully or compassionately? (87). This graciousness comes from the other side of the chrysalis, from the other side of ?the dark night of the soul.?
?Having sat with their own suffering, their own pain, their own disappointment or disenchantment and, often, their own failure, post-chrysalis people are more profoundly aware of their own humanity. This heightened sense of their own humanity enables them to connect with the humanity of others? (91).
Jamieson?s book prompts many uncomfortable questions. As a 30 years plus pastor, I reluctantly concluded that American evangelicalism seems to be populated mostly by people with a pre-critical faith. Recent polls of non-believing Americans report that Christians are viewed as ?anti-gay,? ?judgmental,? and ?hypocritical? ?–the marks of an immature, pre-critical faith. Questions: How is it that followers of the God-made-human have become so inhumane? Is it because we, pastors and people, leaders and followers, teachers and students, grow up in a pain-avoiding, pleasure-seeking, extremely therapeutic culture? Is it because we foster a popular spiritual piety that judgmentally questions at least and deprecates at most serious doubts about the faith, questions searing depression, misunderstands paralyzing despair and avoids personal pain? Is it because we have lost the ability to hear John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and the new widow in the pew? Have we lost the ability to honestly and safely say, ?I?ve lost God? or ?I don?t believe anymore? or ?My faith means nothing to me?? Has the American success ethic overwhelmed the Christian suffering ethic? Have we become a Church filled with ?Job?s counselors??
Alan Jamieson reframes the dark sides of life within the enduring spirituality of the Church, allowing us to embrace what we?ve been conditioned to avoid. Jamieson?s presentation of the organic nature of spiritual transformation helps us shed the lop-sided, often shame-producing, trappings of a painless spirituality. We are invited to relax with God, to rest in God?s unconditional love, to relax with ourselves and with others. We are free to wait with hope, to listen with love, to genuinely ?grace? others who believe and behave differently from us. We are liberated from defending God or ourselves or our faith. We can smile knowing that God and truth are their own defense. We are free to be fully human, with our doubts, weaknesses, questions, and failures. We are free to be truly human, to be like Jesus, the human being.



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Nancy

posted September 2, 2008 at 6:02 am


John: Interesting questions that no doubt I’ll fall short in an attempt to address.
I’m not sure that the followers of God-made-human have “become” inhumane. History would indicate there have always been some followers who have acted inhumanely. I just finished Karen Armstrong’s “The Spiral Staircase”, her spiritual memoir, as it were. She suggests that such inhumanity may in part be due to fundamentalism of any sort, be it Christian, Muslim, etc. She also delineates between belief and praxis and one might extrapolate that those who have a faith almost entirely reliant on “right belief” would be at risk for such judgmentalism and inhumanity. Whereas, if one not only believes in grace, mercy and compassion but lives it out on a daily basis, there is less risk for such.
Maybe spiritual progression has to do with working one’s way into such balance? It would seem precritical faith is often markedly about learning “right belief” for one’s faith and gradually you begin to learn how to put it into practice. It seems to me, at least in my own experience, that praxis is where one actually begins to experience real transformation. So, perhaps the fruit of growing more balanced in belief and praxis produces in many a post-critical approach to spirituality?
Don’t know but it would make fascinating research.
Thanks for your thoughts!



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Bob

posted September 2, 2008 at 6:36 am


So if you hold conservative beliefs you are in a immature pre-critical faith. So St. John of the Cross is liberal or or Emergent now.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 2, 2008 at 6:50 am


Bob,
That’s a little too sarcastic for this blog. But, I don’t think you’ve read Jamieson carefully enough to know that, instead of moving liberal or emergent, he draws in this book instead upon the deep church tradition and finds support in the Christian classics like Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross.



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Nancy

posted September 2, 2008 at 7:04 am


I don’t recall reading anything in “Chrysalis” that used words like “conservative” or “immature” to describe the pre-critical phase of some people’s faith journey. The implications in such a suggestion would be unproductive. Like liberal = intelligent/mature and conservative = unintelligent/immature. That just makes no sense to me.



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josenmiami

posted September 2, 2008 at 7:36 am


this sounds like another awesome book that I should read … I have had my own struggles trying to fight my way out of my own caccoon lately … In order to keep up with all of the good books I learn about in this blog, and face the 30 or so book waiting for me this semester… I need clone myself twice and spend all my time speed reading.
Thanks for this, John and Scot. This speaks to a real concern for me as a 30-year pastor as well. One of the real clear commands of Christ is “Do NOT judge” … and yet it seems rampant among Christians. I have been working for the last 5 or so years to deal with my own anger and judgment. Too bad I was not able to do that 30 years ago before I became a pastor.



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MatthewS

posted September 2, 2008 at 8:40 am


John,
Thank you for your words, rooted in your years of experience and service. I was looking forward to reading your response.
I attempted to study the book carefully. I got the impression that Jameison considers calling homosexuality “sin” to be symptomatic of a pre-critical faith. Would you agree with this reading?



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MatthewS

posted September 2, 2008 at 8:54 am


I should have said “homosexual behavior,” not “homosexuality.” I meant to refer only to behavior.



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John Frye

posted September 2, 2008 at 10:35 am


For those of you taking issue with my responses to *Chrysalis*, please read in the post, “…I reluctantly concluded…” Maybe you don’t conclude the same things; O.K. with me. As far as “immature” is concerned, I take it that a caterpillar is an immature state of a Monarch butterfly.
“Inhumane” is exactly the word to use for how many Christian parents and pastors react to and treat *their* Christian young gay children who “come out” to them. It is not a simple, biblical(?) and rational disagreement they express; it is hateful, alienating behaviors and attitudes…just like Jesus modeled for them.



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Kacie

posted September 2, 2008 at 10:37 am


What is the difference between a pre-critical faith and the faith of a child? Is it possible to not have a dark night of the soul and still gain spiritual maturity?



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Kacie

posted September 2, 2008 at 10:38 am


Just to clarify, by “faith of a child” I am refering to the words of Jesus in which he speaks positively of the faith like a child’s.



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John Frye

posted September 2, 2008 at 1:57 pm


Kacie,
As I understand it, the “faith of a child” in Jesus’ day was not marked necessarily by innocence or gullability. Jesus used children as incarnate expressions of *powerlessness* to his disciples and adult audience(s). Christian faith isn’t driven by power or desire to dictate to others; it a faith that in the powerless position (child and slave) simply receives and serves.
So, a post-critical faith still must be marked by “the faith of a child.”



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Kacie

posted September 2, 2008 at 2:13 pm


Thanks John, I ask because I blogged about walking through my own crisis of faith and “dark night of the soul” a couple of years ago. I emphasized the necessity to walk through my doubts and questions rather then avoid them so that faith might mature.
After a while a friend/acquaintance told me (gently) that she had felt offended by my writing as someone that had never been through a crisis of the faith. She felt defensive, saying that faith doesn’t NEED to walk through a dark night in order to be mature. I’m sure she had a point – I was defensive of my own struggles becuase of fear of judgement.
Since then I’ve wrestled with this issue though. I agree with you that our church culture so often stays with a comfortable faith instead of walking through chrysalis. But is chrysalis a necessary part of a spiritual journey?



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John Frye

posted September 2, 2008 at 4:22 pm


If you define the “dark night of the soul” as a time of pain (of any kind), then Chuck Swindoll once said, “God rarely uses a person greatly who has not been hurt deeply.” That is a way of saying that Chrysalis is a part of maturing into a useful servant of God. In a therapeutic culture like ours (that is lapped up unwittingly by undiscerning evangelicals), pain is considered alien to the “everyday with Jesus is *better* than the day before” crowd. So, yes, IMHO chrysalis a necessary part of the spiritual journey.



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John Frye

posted September 2, 2008 at 4:24 pm


Kacie,
I wrote comment #13 to you. I’m sorry and embarrassed that I forgot to address you with your question.
John



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Mike

posted September 2, 2008 at 8:40 pm


John,
Good read of Jamieson. Like some of the commenters, I once wondered, why the heck do you have to go through “dark night of the soul”? Seemed like strange stuff.
But, then I started serving among people for whom “rah-rah”, “you need an attitude change” kind of slogans ended up increasing their pain instead of decreasing it. That’s when I got an inkling that something might be about these hyper-critical and post-critical faiths, if I might use that vocabulary.
And, when I went through a “dark night”, whew, I wondered if there was any God, and any hope for me. Long story made short, my wife was patient, my colleagues in ministry were patient: because I sure was impatient. I made some important discoveries about the Trinity that I doubt I would understand apart from a painful restlessness that would not be easily calmed. My guess is that it took more than 3 years to get out to the other side…but, if this makes sense: I know I went through it and that I’m not all that distant from it either.
And, now while around plenty of pre-critical and hyper-critical people, I know that the Lord will attend to them. Call it a strange mark of confidence that really hurts.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 2, 2008 at 8:43 pm


Mike,
Nice comment. Thanks.



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John Frye

posted September 2, 2008 at 9:30 pm


Mike (#15),
I am grateful for your comments. There is something about the community of post-critical faith, those post “dark night of the soul” people that helps us “get it.” In contrast, someone like Bob (#2) thought I was critical of conservative faith. I am conservative in faith, but not in attitude. Lots of us in the emerging conversation are conservatives, most prominently Dan Kimball. Pre-critical types seem to have an invisible chip on their shoulders about anyone who thinks, speaks and acts differently than them. Your phrase a “painful restlessness that would not be calmed” helps me put words to some of my past Chrysalis experiences. Thanks much!



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Nancy

posted September 3, 2008 at 7:05 am


John: You mention something above that I think is important for those of us trying to understand the process of spiritual growth – “my past Chrysalis experiences”…emphasis on the plural of experience. Many will end up in that dark place more than once. For me, I could say that I have been drawn into the “dark night” twice (so far). Each episode was quite unlike the other but there are some similarities as well. The pain of the dark night is one of the more pronounced of these similarities. You also have expounded well on the importance of this issue. Many do seem to believe our faith should be easy or painless and lead to nothing but “positive” emotions and yet, I agree, the opposite seems to be true at times. From a psychological perspective, I’d say that struggle and pain can lead to growth, resilience, maturity and depth of coping skills. It seems naive to believe that it would be any different for spiritual development. People who have experienced such pain are not “better” than those who have not but it sure seems to make them more complicated and compassionate.
I just read something by Brennan Manning this morning that I thought was related to this point and rather beautiful:
“…the dawn of trust requires letting go of our craving spiritual consolations and tangible reassurances”.
May each of us find ourselves increasingly experiencing such a faith.



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John Frye

posted September 3, 2008 at 8:35 am


Nancy (#18),
I am with you regarding your observations. I like the phrase of post-critical people being “complicated and compassionate.” I think it’s the “complicated” aspect that drives crazy those who need certain, uncomplicated categories for everyone crazy, and leads them to judgmentalism and rejection.



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Jonathan Brink

posted September 3, 2008 at 9:45 am


Scot, you asked, “Have we…?”
Yes. And what’s really great about it is that there is still hope. There’s still the possibility for everyone to become a butterfly. I love that.



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Richard

posted September 5, 2008 at 4:02 am


As I reflect on my “Dark Night of the Soul,” I am left with not much more than it was real, necessary, awful, great and unaviodable. It is the time of focus to the greatest power – a time of absolute recognition of the powers of the soul which are, Nada. A time of complete awareness of the futality of trying to live or having the power to do so therein.
A time where the reality of seperation with God kills you only to, as if coming out of the other side of a black Hole, you are brought to behold the face of Jesus Christ, and your dawn is that God realy, truly, is who you never before could even imagine Him to be – all and in all.
Then I try to imagine those who went before us to the beasts, fire, spear, cross and mob because they were blessed because of their belief on whom they never even seen their “Dark night of the soul, not to mention Getsethame,” Burns in our heart as the Light of the Holy Spirit, the dawninhg of the new day.
Bring it on Heavenly Father, Divine sustance, Pure Presence, Oh Perfect Love who castest out all fear, bring on your Triumphant Joy Christ Jesus. Make our hands dirty with His as He reproves darkness in the Light of the Love He is.



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