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Book Excerpt - The Blind Man's Elephant

Finding The Elephant, The Blind Man’s Elephant

“So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!”

The Blind Men And The Elephant, John Godfrey Saxe, 1881

I still remember the hot, cloudless day in August when I first stepped foot on campus even though now it is more than fifty years ago. I had turned down a full scholarship to Yale for a Master’s degree in finance. So here I was at a small bible college to get a degree in theology. While some viewed my choice of bible college over Yale as a great lapse in judgement, I felt quite the opposite. To me a choice between a degree in finance versus theology was the classic choice between mammon and God.

Even as a child I had questions about God, creation and life. Our great kosmic puzzle [the theological kosmos versus the scientific cosmos], life, had begun creeping into my consciousness, enlarging my global awareness. My first notable recollections of the world outside my neighborhood and elementary school occurred when I was about nine years old. When the sisters teaching Sunday school said that God was everywhere at once, I wanted to know how that was possible. The sisters couldn’t explain except to say, “It’s a mystery.” [See the Feature article, And, It's Still A Mystery]. If the adults couldn’t figure it out, what was I to do? My young mind wrestled with that one for a long time.

It was about the same time that I learned nothing traveled faster than the speed of light in our universe. Naturally, I wanted to know what would happen if I turned on a flashlight at the back of the spaceship going that fast. Would the light just pile up inside the flashlight until we slowed down when it would explode out all at once? Or if we slowed down to just one mile an hour less than the speed of light, would the light just come out v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y? And what would happen to a fly buzzing around inside the spaceship if, while it was flying forward just at the moment we attained the speed of light, would it just freeze in mid-air? And while I was traveling on this spaceship, how was it possible I would age more slowly than my friends back on Earth? The universe I heard about seemed much stranger than the one I experienced everyday. Why did God make the cosmos this way?

I don’t know if other nine-year-old kids thought about these things because we only talked and played neighborhood football, basketball or baseball depending on the time of the year. But those questions and a lot more grew with me until I felt I just had to know the answers. I’m still this way today. I want to know the answers to the many questions my mind still pops out for me to think about. The Prologue and chapters in this book are answers to some of them.

Walking on campus to classes the first day was very exciting for me. I was, in hindsight, very naïve in some ways about my “true believer” expectations. In my twenties, I had formed ideas and opinions about many theological issues. And I thought I had the answers to many of my questions. Getting into bible college and getting my degree in theology surely would provide the missing answers to all my questions. But what I hadn’t counted on was that spiritual growth and understanding are a personal lifelong process not found within the confines of a ready-made package handed out by organizations. It isn’t something that mysteriously appears in toto when they hand you the piece of paper that is your degree. In fact, by the time graduation rolled around I had more questions than answers. This was a blessing in disguise. Had I walked off campus for the last time thinking I knew the answers, I would have missed out on the adventure of a lifetime.

One big lesson I learned wasn’t in any of our textbooks. Namely, it is entirely possible to spiritually outgrow the organization to which you belong. Like many others, I always looked upon “my” church as the provider of all answers in a sea of other churches who hadn’t gotten it right. But as Christ said, some grow ten fold, some thirty fold, some sixty and others one hundred. While most people probably believe their church is the one hundred-folder, in fact, no organization is that. The reason is the larger and more successful a religious organization becomes, the less it is open to change, which equates to the lifelong process that is spiritual growth.

Plus, organizations by definition run on money. Become successful enough to grow large and financial overhead becomes a major concern. Supporting it is an even bigger concern. With churches, too often financial success is equated with spiritual success when in fact it’s very likely the opposite. It’s the God and mammon equation. Thus organizations tend towards stability at the point they reach their greatest growth in numbers rather than continually challenging beliefs in order to grow spiritually. And the largest numbers are found at the bottom of the spiritual growth pyramid.

Organizations, and churches are organizations, do not have a spirit as opposed to human beings. Thus any organization cannot grow more than its human leader. Organizations tend to be a reflection of their leadership especially when it comes to religion. In order to remain a true believer, one’s spiritual growth cannot exceed the church’s understanding. However, spiritual growth, contrary to indoctrination efforts, is not found on an organizational chart. Thus, the decision to leave a religious organization can be a very tough time in a Christian’s life. After all, why would anyone seriously join a church to begin with if they felt it was the wrong one?

Some organizations have put the fear into its members that if they leave the organization, they leave their opportunity for salvation and will surely suffer in everlasting hell fire or some other eschatological Hades. This is done it appears, mostly to protect the organization rather than out of a genuine concern for the individual. God holds no such sword over our heads. He is concerned for our salvation not our damnation. We are told to seek first his kingdom, not seek first a religious organization especially as there are more than 30,000 Christian denominations that sincerely believe they are the way to salvation. How many Christs are there?

When we get to that proverbial fork in the road of life, do we accept God at his word and walk the narrow path set before us or do we stay in the sheltered protection of the organization? Much to their credit, some church organizations try to grow and change as they learn. But too often, their organizational inertia makes this a slow and difficult process often resulting in compromises ultimately made for the well-being of the organization. Thus, the decision to challenge one’s beliefs and leave an organization is a major turning point in any Christian’s life.

We cannot grow spiritually beyond the head of a church unless we leave the organization, which I did. Interestingly, after I left the church, members with whom I was very close sincerely asked me if I still believed in God. To them, the organization and its leadership had become synonymous with, and was the portal to, God. I’m sure this is common to very many denominations. While I can understand their feelings and see their point of view, I replied that it was because I believed in God rather than the church organization that I left. I had spiritually outgrown the organization and its leadership.

Now, all I had to do was find the elephant.

The book’s chapters and the website’s articles chronicle the adventure on the way to finding the elephant.

The above is excerpted from the Preface, Finding The Elephant, The Blind Man’s Elephant. References to Feature and Sneakers articles are not in the book.

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