Richard Rohr talks a lot about needing Ego Strength in the first of half of life so that we can survive and cope. It helps us develop identity, our gifts and talents, and help us to get on with life. This ego strength is sometimes not received when we were growing up. It would require parents and a community of support that mirrored us, spoke life into us, and parented us in such a way that we felt we had something to offer this world.
So many of us grow up not really knowing who we are, chasing relationships (i.e. partner, church leadership, boss, work, fame, etc) for validation, trying to figure out who we are and if we’re good enough. We don’t have the ego strength to be sure of ourselves.
He also talks about needing both unconditional and conditional love. Conditional love would be the equivalent of the 10 commandments in religion or a parent who is constantly setting limits and boundaries. I had some leaders in my life that provided conditional love too often. But it made me a better musician, student, and thinker. I didn’t like the mind games but I was pushed.
I had a boss that offered both types of love as well. She was very demanding and expected results. But she showered the team with lots of encouragement and respect. Yet if we screwed up, we knew about it. I did my best I.T. work under her supervision. I wanted to meet her expectations. I was better for it.
If we don’t have rules or laws, we’ll never know if we’re in danger or if we’re about to cause danger. The Bible says not to covet. We’re told not to do that. And when we do it, we see its effects. We need some conditional love figures in our lives to help us grow. We need a healthy dose of law and love for spiritual vitality.
We also need to lay down our first half of life ego strength so that we do not become narcissistic. The world doesn’t revolve around us. Church does not revolve around us. Both will continue beyond our contributions or hostile feelings towards it.
I’ve been following Rohr’s work on 12-step spirituality and was also inspired by Dallas Willard’s high praise of spiritual transformation via 12-step groups. Why is it intriguing to me? What is the draw? I’m sure I’m an addict in a few different ways. And I’ve been experiencing pain and “bottoming out” in different areas of my life. I guess I like the framework and hope it offers. I no longer have to escape pain. I can be aware of it and learn from it.
Here’s one quote that stood out to me, mainly because I was raised in a highly religious setting and God has been stripping me of my “use” of Him: “The highly fortified religious ego is perhaps the most resistant to change of any, because “God” is used to maintain its own security and superiority.”
Here’s the rest of his post. If you don’t subscribe to his daily meditation, you might consider it.
The Twelve Step program gave meaning and effectiveness to transformation. “Salvation” is not just something you believe, but something you begin to experience. Both Jesus and Paul were change agents. They were hated by their own groups precisely because they were constantly talking about change. The first thing Jesus said when he started preaching was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The word usually translated as “repent” is the Greek word metanoia; this might be best translated as “turn around your mind” or change. But most of us won’t move toward any new way of thinking or actual change until we’re forced to, which usually means some form of suffering or some disturbance that upsets our habitual path.
Addicts–the majority of us–have an intense resistance to change. We like predictability. That’s one of the reasons addicts find it easier to have a relationship with a process or a substance rather than with people. People are unpredictable. But it feels like this glass of wine or going shopping (or whatever it might be) can change your superficial mood very quickly. Even though the mood shift doesn’t last, it makes you feel like you are in control for a while. You don’t have to change your thinking; you don’t have to change your way of relating to people. Basically, you stop growing at that point. They say you can usually tell when a drug addict began using, because he or she will reflect the emotional maturity of someone at that approximate age.
Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) said it so well: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” The Twelve Step program understands you can’t change people by mere knowledge or willpower, whereas much of organized religion seems to think you can. For example, you don’t become more charitable by saying to yourself, “Be charitable!” You actually become more charitable by noticing when you are not being charitable and “weeping” over it. But none of us want to see our own faults; they usually have to be shoved in our face or we have to fall right into them. At least I do. And even then, many will just deny their mistakes more forcibly. Peter’s three denials come to mind here.
Transformative religion goes against our basic survival instinct which is to live. But darn it, the spiritual teacher is always telling us to die. You can see why the ego resists. The addict puts up a fortified wall against change, against death to self (the false self), and therefore against all real spiritual growth. A.A. understands that it usually takes a bottoming out experience to break that wall against change. The highly fortified religious ego is perhaps the most resistant to change of any, because “God” is used to maintain its own security and superiority.
This is the addictive pattern of thinking that characterizes so much of our religion and politics today. It creates very cognitively rigid, dualistic thinking in service to the ego. This thinking is largely impregnable to either love or logic. Could this be the deepest meaning of sin?
I never quite knew how to word this concept until now. Forewarning: provocative statements up ahead…
“This is how God trusts incarnation. God allows us to see God and uses that as his word. It’s through us. Therefore the text itself is three steps forward and two steps back. It gets it, it loses it, it get it it loses it…My Jesus hermeneutic is like this: Jesus never quotes Joshua and Judges. Most of Joshua and Judges are two steps backward books. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be in the Bible, I’m fine with that, there’s a lot in my life that’s two steps backwards. The text mirrors human development and growth and understanding” – Richard Rohr
Here’s the second quote I liked: “When it says Yahweh says… I know they [the writers of the Bible] wouldn’t like this but Yahweh didn’t say that. They said that. Like we do. We project our own consciousness onto God to justify our own evil behavior. We still do that-but that’s a totally different narrative for an evangelical.” – Richard Rohr
I always “knew” this as felt knowledge but couldn’t figure out words for it.
The 12 Steps (a revised version posted below for Christian Spiritual Transformation) has been something I’ve been interested in for the last 5 years or so. Dallas Willard and Richard Rohr (along with others) have used this machination as a means to surrender our lives to King Jesus and be transformed by the power of the Spirit. My hope and prayer is for constant transformation in my life. I am addicted to many things, none the least which include popularity and being right.
- We admit we are limited and mortal; that we need help.
- Come to believe that Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s plan of bringing fruitful and lasting life—starting right now—to anyone who will come.
- Make a decision to trust everything to the loving direction and power of Jesus, God’s Christ.
- Make a searching and fearless inventory of the ways we are selfish or harmful to others or ourselves, as well as the ways we’ve seen God do better, or offer to do better, through us.
- Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the full content of our inventory.
- Become entirely ready to act in the opposite spirit of our wrongs, and be transformed in Christ’s likeness.
- Humbly seek to empty ourselves of our selfish agendas as Christ did, and ask God to fill us with his Spirit.
- Make a list of all persons we have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
- Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continue to take personal inventory and, when we are wrong, promptly admit it.
- Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with the Father through his Son and Spirit, praying as Jesus teaches us to pray, and as the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
- Having found real life and love and hope in Jesus, we try to give grace to all, ready to give an answer for our hope, and try to practice his ways in all our affairs.