Harrowing Of Hell
December 5, 2021

Sermon Series #2 on Kingdom of God Intelligence: Curiosity Versus Dogmatism

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

Thanksgiving dinner recently gave me cause to wonder at the unnecessary cravings that plague me, particularly around food, particularly on Thanksgiving, particularly around cheesecake, and that weird desire to eat the entire thing after having one piece. It is not a long term, high reward survival activity…

But here’s the thing about cravings, they come from an ancient place. The human physiology hasn’t changed for 50,000 years, or something like that. And so, the body is hardwired to crave food, of course, but particularly foods that are super high in fat, like cheesecake.

These cravings blanket many categories, all that fall under the rubric of survival.  Like love that is associated with reproduction. Like social inclusion that ties us to the family. Like approval which keeps us in the tribe. Like cheesecake that gives us quick energy to outrun a crocodile when sipping water from the Nile River. We crave to stay alive. We crave as a means of reducing risk and uncertainty. It allows us to conserve energy, and if we can, achieve some status and prestige along the way.

These are all things carved into our core physiology at some level developed so we would survive the tundra of North Asia, or the savannas of East Africa. Those days of old were days of scarcity. Today we live in a place of massive abundance, and yet the old cravings persist… and a lot of product development geniuses have figured that out, and so, poke our cravings for their own profit… but that is for another sermon.

Today’s conversation is about an older place, that meets a newer place, that can bring each and every person to a better place. The older place. It is God, the creator and maker of all things; who was and is and is yet to come. This is the God who fashioned humanity with the cravings necessary to evolve into our most current package (aka: me and you). A package capable of navigating dangers that enabled us to evolve through history to a new place beginning the day Jesus was born.

Jesus is the new place. Jesus introduces us to the personal and particular reality of God. For 33 years or so Jesus lived among humanity. He taught about the Kingdom of God. Then he was murdered by our forefathers. Then came resurrection and he stood with us for 40 days, then he ascended. Ten days after that, the Holy Spirit came ripping through the world and implanted within every human heart a portal, a door, if you will, opening to a path that leads to the very depths of our soul. To walk this path is to wander across that verdant field where the particularity of our soul meets the eternity of God. We were made for this movement, this progression. This is next step humanity stuff.

I am not the first to imagine this: just type human evolution into a TED Talk search engine. Before that, Maslow fit it into his hierarchy of need. Before that de Chardin. Before that Kierkegaard. Before that Aquinas. Before that the Apostle Paul who said it this way…We are made for that peace which surpasses all understanding.                   

Here is the thing: I want you to pursue this deeper peace; I want you to unlock the door and walk the path to the very depths of your soul… to the lush landscape where the boundaries of your soul overlap with the reality of God. Do not be distracted by the cravings of old. Do not be diminished by the screen or the pie or the pursuit of privilege or reproduction or status that end in dust.

There is something deeper, truer, and more beautiful; there is something better, there is something more evolved. The humanity that has lived these past 2000 years, from that day of Pentecost to now, has capacity, some might say evolutionary imperative, to access the spiritual longing capable of re-organizing the world in which we live.

In the very same way our physiological cravings moved us from a world of scarcity to a world of incredible abundance; our spiritual longing has the capacity to moves us from selfish survival to soul-filled connectiveness with God and with one another. At a deeper level. At a truer level. At a more purposeful level…to the verdant fields of the Kingdom of God. Jesus told us about this and taught us about this. And then the Holy Spirit built the door right in here, and left it unlocked.

So, let’s talk about how we turn the knob and step over the threshold from physical cravings to spiritual longings; because that is the point of this sermon series we are in the midst of (You thought I forgot about the sermon series didn’t you… no such luck). This series is about the kind of intelligence needed to live in a post-Pentecostal world where the priority is no longer the perpetuation of our physiology, but the maturation of our souls. Or, as we like to say here at Epiphany; we are in the midst of an evolution into the peace which surpasses all understanding.

Kingdom of God intelligence is measured by our capacity to hold two opposing ideas in mind simultaneously; it is the capacity to sit with ambiguity and tension and uncertainty and anxiety with a sense of equanimity and ataraxy, which means calm self-assurance! Kingdom of God intelligence prioritizes the unleashing of love over the pursuit of knowledge. 

Which brings me to the attribute of Kingdom of God intelligence I want to focus on today… curiosity. That is the word I want you to remember today, curiosity, and particularly the curiosity that unlocks the longing for spiritual maturity, over and against the dogma of knowledge that leaves us on the wrong side of the door to our souls. 

Dogmatism is about the tribalism that litters some Christian communities, whereas spiritual curiosity is an open ended, dynamic inclusiveness. Dogmatism claims to know what is on the other side of the portal to our soul, without crossing it; spiritual curiosity takes the leap of faith. Dogmatism is about religious compliance, while spiritual curiosity is about metaphysical inquisitiveness. Dogmatism is about telling, while spiritual curiosity is about self-exploration and careful listening. Dogmatism is often what drives people from the church, or keeps them from coming to the church in the first place.

In fact, it was dogmatism that drove me from the church, leaving me to wander for years in a spiritual haze, mistakenly seeking knowledge, when my soul was really longing for love. I was banging around the vestibule in front of the soul’s portal unable to find the doorknob; until I stumbled across a learning church like Epiphany, that encouraged my curiosity within the framework of what Jesus taught and modeled in his life.

Because of this learning church, St. Paul’s Cleveland Heights, I reduced my pursuit of right answers, which tended to lead to dead end dogmatism, in favor of spiritual curiosity that unveiled occasional glimpses of my soul. And what I discovered, and what I want to share with you, is that curiosity and longing to go hand-in-hand; that our systems, as designed by God, these bodies that we haul around, are organized for curiosity more than dogmatism. God is no rookie. God makes no mistakes. We are hardwired for the pursuit of those verdant fields where our souls meet God’s sovereignty.

Let me explain by citing brain chemistry and using a Christmas example. Studies show that the joy children experience around Christmas gifts is greater in the anticipation of the gift, than in the liking of the gift after it has been received. The same is true with gamblers, incidentally. They get more of a kick when pulling the slot machine lever than in winning the pot. It is a brain thing.

The nucleus accumbens part of the brain, also, I think, known as the hedonic hot spot, lights up 100% of the time when observing the wanting of something, verses 10% of the time when the thing wanted is obtained.

What does this have to do Kingdom of God intelligence and curiosity vs. dogmatism? God is no rookie.  God makes no mistakes. Well, we are wired for wanting more than having. We are wired for longing more than possessing. Which is why curiosity, and being a learning church, is so much more vibrant than the dogmatism of Christian fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism claims answers, while a learning church explores possibilities. Fundamentalism claims knowledge, while a learning church is in pursuit of love.  Fundamentalism leans against that door implanted here by the Holy Spirit, while a learning church throws it open, jumps the threshold, and heads down the path toward that place where our soul flows into the presence of God. And so, how do we foster our spiritual longing in a learning church?  How do we intentionally walk this path toward the presence of God?

There are many ways, but here is an exercise to consider. Write down your biggest questions. They can be anything really. Why aren’t I taller? Why is the sun yellow? Why did I get fired? Why do good people experience bad things? Why was I born? Where do I go when I die? Pick a question, whatever question seems to fill your imagination, or piques your anxiety. Write it down. Then consider it again, and rewrite it another way, just to open a different perspective on the same quandary.

Finally, go to the Gospels with this question in your heart. Take it to Jesus. Run it through the filter of his examples and teachings. Challenge him with it. If you take this exercise seriously, and step into it, I can guarantee you three things:

  • That I have no idea what, if any, new knowledge you will gain regarding your particular question. Maybe none. Knowledge isn’t the point.
  • But I can guarantee you will come away from this exercise with more love… more love for God and more love for your neighbor.
  • And, finally, you will find that along the way, occasionally, you will tumble into the peace which surpasses all understanding and access more and more your innate Kingdom of God intelligence.

And connecting to your innate Kingdom of God intelligence is critically important, which is why I have taken time to put together this sermon series; because it is this type of intelligence, this top type of intelligence, that God has formed us to evolve into, so as to best bring about God’s vision for creation. By increasing our Kingdom of God intelligence we unleash love.

There is a plan.
That is the plan.
We know the path.
We have access to the portal leading to that place where our souls walk the verdant fields where God reigns. It is a path that leads back to the garden of Eden, where we walk easily in the presence of God; where we live and move and have our being in that peace which surpasses all understanding.

This is the purpose and point, and indeed, the imperative, behind the presence of a learning church like Epiphany.