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March 24, 2013

By Daniele B. – december 2012

'King David', painting by Giovanni Francesco B...

‘King David’, painting by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (il Guercino) c. 1768 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prompted by a friendly discussion group I decided to write my thoughts on David, our founder. Since the reboot, discussions and comments about him have abounded, but for the most part, the tendency has been towards extreme polarization, negative or positive and all rather unrealistic. There are accusations and excuses, apologies and apologetics, demonization and divinization, and so little from such arguments to really engender credibility. Extremes, especially emotional ones, tend to distract from core issues. In my view, rather than asking if David was a saint or a villain, it would be far more helpful to ask if God had anything to do with him, and if so how? Did God really choose and use him, and if so in which way and what can we gather from it for today? Regardless of whatever opinion one may have about the man, anyone who has lived through the forty plus years of Family history, knows that there was more than just a man behind it. There is ample evidence, as well as countless personal experiences, attesting to the fact that God was deeply involved with this movement of the Spirit. It is then crucial for us to understand how the God factor played in this, and since there undoubtedly were also human factors, equally important is to recognize which is what and how the various elements impacted our history.

Perhaps it could help sort things out if we were to look at the very model which David used on himself, that of King David of old. Interestingly our founder affirms that in an early prophetic message God himself had told him “What if I will that thou be as wicked as David of old, that the excellency of the power may be of God–that I may be glorified!” What merit is there to this statement? Is human weakness a needed factor in helping people to recognize the handiwork of God? Perhaps. Let us check if there is ground for such a supposition. When we look at David of old, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For most Christians it is the Psalms, the encouragement that they have been to countless millions through the ages, as well as the messianic prophecies contained in them. But if we were to ask what they thought about him as a person, what kind of answer would we get? – At best that he was a rascal, but most Christians are so far removed from the events of his life that they cannot really see how wicked he really was. If we take a closer look, especially from the perspective of today’s Christian morality, what would we see? Horror! Most Christians are familiar with the story of the beautiful bathing Bathsheba, and Uriah, the husband whom David sent to death so that he could take the woman. Though bad enough in itself, few people are aware of the years David spent as a bandit, using mafia like tactics to support himself and his army, not to speak of the time in exile and the raids he conducted while there. Then there are instances like the killing of 200 men, then sexually mutilating them and bringing the severed parts as a trophy to the King in order to get his daughter in marriage (1 Sam 18:27). There is polygamy, the taking of other men’s wives, the multitude of concubines and, when old and dying, a young virgin, probably one of his favorite treats, was put in his bed to try and revive him. By present standards David would rate no better than the worst sexual offender in our jails, some even considering him deserving a death sentence.

So how can such beautiful praises and prophecies, as those contained in the Psalms, come from such a character? Did God have different moral standards in David’s times? Does he expect more today that he did then, or could it be that even though God does not condone crime, yet His love and grace exceed above and beyond it? A somewhat confirming thought is found in the Gospels, where Jesus told the dying criminal “today you will be in paradise with me”. This fellow had just admitted that he deserved the death sentence (Luk 23:41) and we can only imagine what weighted on his soul. Jesus forgave him, as he also forgave those who had just appointed to him, though innocent, a death sentence. There seemed to be no religiously moral judgment coming from Jesus in that moment, but simply unlimited, unconditional love. Theologian Greg Boyd said “religion keeps you farther from the kingdom than the worst debauchery and that is why Jesus said to the Pharisees “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom ahead of you”. Note that Jesus didn’t say that they wouldn’t eventually also enter the kingdom, but only that these ill reputed people would get in before them. Here it is the unfathomable paradox of God’s judgment and mercy that runs contrary to all our religious expectations, as well as our human sense of fairness. Morality, human morality doesn’t appear to be as absolute a matter when it comes to God, while for us it is fundamental for the proper functioning of our society.

Considering this should we then accept King David as a role model? Most certainly not! Nonetheless I don’t think anyone would want to discard the Psalms simply because of the author’s behavior. In spite of the man’s crimes we simply recognize God’s ability to work even through such an odd instrument. The Psalms end up standing on their own and are judged by the fruits they bore, not the man who wrote them.

In David’s case it actually becomes easier to separate the human aspects from God’s work than it is, for example, with Paul. Paul told us very little about his human sinfulness, except by generalities, when in Romans 7 said that he wasn’t able to perform the good he wished to and instead always fell into doing the evil he didn’t want to, but gave no details about it. Though he sometimes said “this say I and not the spirit”, because of his “saintly” reputation all his words have been exalted by some as the “direct word of God.”

We did this also with our founder David, but I believe we have grown past that and, if not, it’s certainly time for a more realistic view. Perhaps we should ask the same question as with King David, if we should hold our founder up as a role model in all specific aspects of his life, and I personally doubt that currently we would support that idea. The next question, however, follows right behind and it is about our founder’s writings and influence – “what to make of that?” As with David of old, I would suggest that we look at the role God may have played with it, regardless of what we think of the person. So what did God do with David and The Family? This is how I have come to see it:

On one side there was this man, David, who grew up in traditional American Christianity, he underwent a series of experiences and gradually came to see that something wasn’t quite right with it. Questioning the effectiveness and validity of institutionalized Christianity, he searched for a better model.

On the other side you had a generation of young people born and raised in postwar America and Europe. They had the best that the civilized, industrialized west could offer but they were dissatisfied and longed for something more meaningful, less materialistic and more loving. This lost generation and the preacher met in the beaches of California and there was an instant connection. The mix resulted in a sort of spiritual revolution and movement which embodied a syncretism of Bible principles and the sixties counterculture. The youth were discovering that Jesus was not the church “systemite” they had previously thought of, and the preacher also discovered that religion was not what he had been taught. David had a profound effect on the youth but they also had an effect on him.

By seeing the Spirit moving amongst these new converts in new and unconventional ways, David also was drawn into breaking away from his “system” – the religious one. This lead into new exploration, crossing the boundaries of traditional beliefs, trying what hadn’t been tried before and going where others hadn’t gone, at least not within that generation of church-going Christians. Those who lived through that period know there was something supernatural. They knew it wasn’t just David and that he himself was being propelled along by something much bigger. They felt it, saw it, lived it and it carried them in a journey of incredible, miraculous living. Was it all God? Probably not! Where there mistakes? For sure! But the otherworldly element was for them indisputable and how to define and understand that is what this is all about.

So how do we sort things out? How do we recognize which is the God factor and which is the human one, and then judge what is worth keeping and what can be done away with? We could agree on some criteria to apply all across the board to either discard or validate elements of our history and theology, but there is a problem with that. First, which criteria? Next, even if we would all agree on some criteria, by default these would become a sort of new orthodoxy and take preeminence over all else, so it seems a little risky.

In my view it would be a mistake to try and sort things out like the Church Fathers did with the multitude of writings circulating in their day. Orthodoxy was never our aim. The very nature of our experience was one of movement, change and new discoveries, so how can we embody that into a “closed canon”, when ours has always been an open-ended approach. That would reverse the very process that caused us to be born. We couldn’t simply take letters like Stop Look and Listen, For God shake Follow God, Diamonds of Dust, etc. and ascribe to them the quality of “inspired, canonical and orthodox” and then separate them from other writings to be defined instead as “dated, deutero-canonical or even heretical.” If we did that we would only repeat what others have done before us in absolutizing some teachings and texts, while banning others. We would seal matters in a theological formula and freeze everything into the mold of those criteria used to separate right from wrong – the criteria themselves becoming the new “authority”. Though seemingly an improvement, it could instead reverse the very direction of our movement; head us towards a pre-revolution state of things, a denial of our history, and to finally embrace the same belief system from which David had revoluted.

More importantly, in my view, is to understand the dynamics of change and revolution which gave us being, and to find within it that sense of direction which is now so needed. In essence we must strive to see God’s footprints and continue to follow those. Even if He’s leading differently today than in the past, it is by seeing His past footprints in relation to newer ones, that we derive a sense of direction.

Why do I believe it isn’t either practical or needed to sort out David? Because he was part of a process and not a final statement. He embodied a spirit of change, of discovery, of moving into new territory, but he was also a product of his generation and therefore his cultural baggage was ever present and did surface all over his writings. There was ambiguity at times, like there was with the early Christian disciples and their Jewish primacy ideas. In his departing from the forms of his past, David did not always come to final conclusions on things, but simply mused, considered and toyed with newer ideas, revelations and theories. His writings, except for very few, were usually transcripts of talks and not polished, well thought out discourses presenting a complete and final work. Due to their extemporaneous nature there were inconsistencies and a curious mixture of fundamental conservatism and radical liberalism.

David had an inquisitive mind and did not fear considering also the opinions of alternative Christianities, such as the Mormons, Catholics and others outside of mainline American Protestantism. The Family became the testing ground for many novel ideas and the surprising thing is not the amount of failed experiments, but the amount of successful ones. We are the people that saw God supply, lead, bless, empower and assist us into doing the unthinkable. In a nutshell we actually saw God operating outside of the box and we didn’t just theorize it but we actually did it, for years on end, and it worked.

It is true also that some things didn’t work; they were disastrous and caused harm. Some things were wrongly applied, misused and taken to bad extremes. It is then legitimate to ask what happened to David, to ponder if things went to his head, if he abused his position and so forth. Chances are that he did all of these. Those who lived close to him might indeed know better. For us who lived at a distance, the majority of Family members, perhaps his human failures did not mean as much. For the most part I would say that the general Family member lived a separate reality from that of David’s closest associates. We followed God the best we could, with the help of David’s letters, but were not as controlled as those closer to him, though I admit that in some places the leadership structure had become pretty controlling. Though, in the case of extreme abuse of power there was more often than not a correcting and balancing force at work.

Why I am bringing this up? Because, as with Christianity as a whole, even within The Family we had to deal with two separate realities: that of the general motivation of most people, and that of the administrative concerns of the fewer. On one side stood the aspects of a spiritual revolution that impacted us from within and lead us into a life of faith, spiritual discovery and growth. On the other side stood instead the practical concerns of government and organization of a global institution, sometimes tightly controlled, as The Family had become.

As a friend so aptly put it to me recently “The Family was born out of a generational desire to connect with and live close to God, in harmony with His Creation; to spread the ideas of love, peace, natural living, and to be dropped out of the “System” in the world where the hand-writing has been on the proverbial wall in ever brighter glowing neon iridescence. There was youthful exuberance (and ignorance),the willingness to make changes on a personal level as well as effect change on a societal level by being witnesses and messengers of sometimes difficult truths. It was exciting to be part of something which had promise, purpose and aspired to such kind and beautiful things. What happened?” Well, I suppose what happened to us is the same as what happened to every other new Christian movement in history. As with others before us, the practical “necessities” of governmental administration eventually clashed with the original ideas, and the movement was faced with a choice, either to continue in the original direction, to whatever that may lead, even the eventual dissolution of the group, or reverse the process towards mainstream ideas, following the same pattern as others and morph into an “established” religious institution.

David himself wasn’t always so clear on what to do and sometimes, to legitimate a more controlled environment, went against his own liberating discoveries and looked instead to his past, or to Old Testaments models. It was usually with the intent of solving problems arising with the running of what he perceived as our new nation, but the problem might have been with that very concept of a nation, which tended to institutionalize ideas and experiments, infringing on personal freedom and conscience.

We can all look back and make wise guesses on what went wrong and what possible solutions there could have been, but, realistically speaking, who could have done better? Again we must recognize that no religious organization ever got it all right or avoided the usual traps. There is a dark side to religion and no religious group has ever been immune to it. The point is not to learn how to be a better organization, one that avoids such pitfall, which is impossible, but to simply learn from our experience and keep moving and changing.

There is no actual state into which we can solidify, not even the most recent lessons and improvement, but we have to keep on seeing God and follow wherever He may lead. Success for us is not to become the Catholic or Baptist Church, but to simply keep moving with God, individually and, if He wills it, also as a group. If we do that then we are successful because we are continuing to grow, to leave old things behind and discover new and better things.

So what do we make today of what David once proposed as new and better things, like his many revelations? They must be seen for what they represented in ours and David’s process of moving and revoluting. They cannot be made into a static reality, absolutized as inerrant text, like some have done with the Bible, and say “anything different from this is heresy”. Instead we must consider those as part of a process of change and moving, and from that get a sense of direction, which is more important than the actual words themselves. How do we do that? Well if we just look at where David was coming from and then look at the type of changes God was inspiring and blessing, from that comes a sense of direction, just like looking at a road and seeing where one was before and where he is now, and seeing the direction he’s moving. No place in that road is ever the final destination, but if there is movement things get left beyond and the destination gets closer. No road is always straight but to continue in it one must have a sense of direction and, above all, keep looking to the One who got us started in that direction in order to also make the right turns today.

On some matters we might still need to walk a lot before we come to a clearer view of what we were heading for. For example there are traditional, ritual, moral and theological barriers that God took us out of. We were freed from man’s preconceived ideas and some binding elements of religion which we would not wish to return to. Some ideas, however, were just hints of possible directions and we have not yet come to a clear understanding of them. Others could be considered experiments and, as such, there is a wide margin of error. In any case, in spite of trials and errors we have come out of a preset way of understanding religion and have entered a completely different paradigm.

I tend to think this was God’s doing and not simply the crazy idea of a man. Personally it has set me on a road of discovery for which I am very grateful and wish to continue on. Granted, I have had to also do a lot of personal growing from the inherent defects of our paradigm, but the flaws of one system do not automatically validate another. For example I see many other Christians that are very active, loving and bearing fruit. I admire them and love working and fellowshipping with them to a degree, but I could not bear myself to be brought into the religious bondage of fear, guilt, and twisted morality that are part of their traditional paradigm.

Perhaps what induces the greatest fear into most Christians, and makes even non Christians reject their god, is the very image of a wrathful god that sends most of humanity into eternal fiery torments. I do appreciate the fact that David dared to question the theology behind that image, as it seemed so incompatible with everything else we were learning about Him.

Our understanding of God’s nature was Love, and our motto was “Love is all the religion you need”. As such we gave little credence to traditional dogmas, like eternal damnation, and David first challenged that belief with these words which offer a much fuller perspective:

“I’ll NEVER be satisfied until EVERYBODY on Earth is saved which will never happen of course. But I’m looking forward to the day when–maybe another shocking thing for some people–when everybody or at least almost everybody will be saved–at least there won’t be many left in Hell if any, and I think that’s when God will be satisfied too.–But that’s a long way off!” (Old Bottles – ML 242)

That was a first step, though incomplete, and taken in fear that some wouldn’t understand for the fact that it violated traditional theology. In those words, however, there was a sense of direction which Maria later pursued, resulting in the ML “Not Willing that Any Should Perish.” (ML3042)

There are probably more things that could be developed further, things from talks, revelations, dreams and visions for which interpretations were partial, inconclusive or even wrong. Time has passed and God has vindicated many things from David’s words, but others He hasn’t, so that weaknesses and flaws within his reasoning are also visible now. Nothing surprising, as he was also traveling that same road as we were, though coming from a different starting point. Being from a different era he probably struggled to embrace our radical ways as much we did towards his more traditional ones. So in which direction was this odd combination moving? If behind it all we do recognize God’s leading hand, His foresight and engineering, then the intended result was to create a more radical, liberal form of Christianity, a more genuine one, without the encumbrance and trappings of traditional, institutionalized religion. Such a Christianity is indeed a most unstable type, of which there were other models before but never lasted, and the fact that we did for so long is nothing sort of a miracle. As the saying goes “it’s better to have loved and failed than never to have loved at all” and I would paraphrase to “it is better to have been, even for a short while, than never to have been at all”. God is the One who brought us into being, for His purpose, so whether for a moment or for an age, He will do what He has planned to do.

In explaining the idea of a sense of direction deriving from David, I used the sample of “Not willing that any should perish”. Another such sample could be our “Law of Love”, something that got a lot more attention and became a defining feature of our type of Christianity. Of all our beliefs, the LOL was probably the most thoroughly developed, with many writings dedicated to it and thus becoming also the most theologically defined.

A somewhat similar concept was also embedded already in the radical counterculture of the sixties and that’s probably why it so instinctively resonated with us all as the “right thing”. We immediately and unquestionably embraced it, but in our model of social experimentation it had both, positive, as well as negative effects. In spite of difficulties, the concept was never abandoned, because it was so central to our view of God, scripture and revelation, but within the framework of our high demand organization, excesses and abuses tended to become institutionalized.

In order to avoid further misuses, much deliberation was dedicated to the effects, dynamics and applications of the LOL, which led to an increasing reigning in of certain freedoms and the legislation of others. In the end the LOL turned into another system of laws. Understandable as it may be, it kind of made things worse because it further institutionalized matters instead of freeing people to follow their own God given conscience and act according to the laws and customs of the countries they resided in.

While thinking that we were retaining our original LOL theology, we had in effect transformed it into another volume of “thou shalt and thou shalt not”, a direct contradiction to the very sense of direction found in the original idea of the LOL. Needless to say a better course has been taken now, one which allows people freedom to manage their own lives under their own responsibility. It removed the idea that the ML’s are to be considered as near infallible and released people to make their own judgment. It doesn’t mean the ML’s were wrong, or that they are irrelevant now, but simply that personal choice and conscience must be respected first and foremost and that people must, according to these, decide what they may or may not apply. When Christian freedom isn’t preserved then the dark side of religion begins to appear.

The LOL is a wonderful idea, but because it was overly sexualized, then institutionalized, and later, to correct excesses, rendered into a legal system of do’es and don’ts, it has now become something that few people even care to speak about. As a matter of fact there are other Christians who speak and publish about similar things more than we do.

Again I would propose that even regarding our LOL we catch the original sense of direction and continue with that, and not necessarily the words that were spoken at any one stage of its development. Past words are important to determine a sense of direction, but they cannot be absolutized and are less determining to further development.

What does it mean? It means that our LOL was a step out of a Christian legalistic concept of morality, of fear and law-based religion. It was a liberating and overall more God glorifying concept. One that vindicated His true nature and removed the stain that medieval Christianity still carried in today’s churchianity. It was as much of a change from traditional Christianity as the NT was from the OT. It carried theological implications which were never fully considered, but which are now being explored by countless others. Now, developing on that sense of direction, taking into consideration the past, what it meant to us, our experience with it, and then looking at the world of today and the necessities of the modern man, could the LOL hold special value? What kind of Christianity would that sense of direction propose to the world today? These are questions I consider most relevant.

Sadly, because of some institutional abuse of the idea, we seem to have retreated from it altogether and are tempted to move instead towards more stable, long-lasting, mainstream theology. While others are taking on from where we left off, and escaping the gravitational pull of tradition, we are instead tempted to return to them, to those roots from which David had departed.

Perhaps in our present insecurity we even wish to become a church and gain acceptability (though limited) within the greater fold of Biblical fundamentalists? Sadly this happens at a time when traditional theology is showing signs of aging and is well due for overhauling. While in centuries past theology, with its foundation in ancient philosophy appealed to the intellectually searching upper classes, today’s intellectuals see it at best as an educated holding on to antiquated ideas. It is not that theology is wrong per se, but it is trapped into an antiquated “orthodoxy”. The world has not grown weary of God but of religion, of its dogmatic theology holding on to dated, unsustainable ideas of morality. What they seek for is a new type of Christianity, one minus the prejudices, the fences and judgment that churches have constructed to protect themselves from competitors, their particular orthodoxy. At this time the LOL could instead offer a new theology and a Christianity allowing for the freedom that the world has already claimed, while calling everyone to a responsibility of Love with a capital L.

In our experience, having gone through the good and the bad of much experimentation, we have gained valuable skills in counseling others that are going through similar experiences. While even unbelievers think that if there is a God, He will only come near the religiously orthodox, we know it isn’t so at all. Of course we have also needed counseling ourselves, especially when we came face to face with the result of bad choices made under the excuse of the LOL. Nonetheless the whole world is faced with the results of such bad choices every day. It is the norm for them and traditional Christian morality does not offer a viable solution. For most people Jesus has become too closely associated with the dark sides of religion and the idea is that Christianity is a step back to the past.

When played by the old tune, Christian morality does not do Christianity any justice, nor does it advance its cause. Today it is mostly associated with hypocrisy, because while people are made to believe they should live by 2000 year old standards, it is all too obvious that they can’t, and so they either give up or end up living a double life.

The question then arises about other ideas found throughout David’s writings, like the Holy Spirit being female, the goddesses, other spirit trips, visions of heaven and more? Just the same as with the other samples I gave, there could be some valuable sense of direction to be further developed, or maybe not. For the most part I would let everyone decide for themselves and not insist on any institutional interpretation. I would leave the bags of grain there in the floor of our building, no matter what else we may change and simply let everyone decide for themselves what’s right or wrong.

It’s history but in that history there are God’s footprints, from which one may get a needed sense of direction. Early Christianity was full of different ideas and writings. Some were good, some bad and others were sort of in-between. When the new united Christianity decided to eliminate questionable material and imposed an official doctrine for everyone, it was the end of Christian liberty. Enforced orthodoxy gave then rise to the persecutions of Christians by other Christians and resulted in present traditions and theologies.

David was our founder and his writings were the gospel of our early years, our foundation, so to speak. Good or bad I would keep them all and not reform them according to present standards. It is sufficient to know that his words aren’t binding but are there simply to help us understand how God and man worked in that particular time of history.

I know it can be very confusing for a new convert to have to wade through so much material and risk reading things that would be hard to understand without knowing the context in which they were said. On the other hand David’s writings are available all over the world and cannot be hid, like our history, so what’s the point in hiding it. Might as well make the most of it and simply explain, explain the contradictions, the incomplete ideas, the successes and failures and have complete transparency.

If we just put David in a more realistic light and honestly admit his failures, people will be able to see also his successes, where he got it right and where the God factor played in. Furthermore we can continue to build in that sense of direction, the God factor, and see in what other areas David may have gotten something significant that deserves further development.

For me control, censure and revision are not appropriate solutions, but liberty and transparency are. Reinventing a structure by cutting away unsavory elements and rebuilding on what we may term as better doctrines, turns the determining criteria into a new “orthodoxy” that will invalidate other options. Freedom, openness, inclusiveness and transparency are for me the better road we have taken of late. May God grant us to continue with it and go all the way.

From → David

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