Monday, February 8, 2010

Ghost Ranch : tired by the length of our journey

The imagery in Isaiah 57 is poignant and cuts to the heart of idolatry. It begins with the death of the righteous person as blessing. He will not be present in a time of trouble. She will rest in peace. Picture by Stephen Larson

The idolater in these verses is constantly active in the worship of false gods, even to the point of slaughtering children. But here is one of the poignant images: a person so given over to their false gods or false ways, their denial of the Lord, that in that place where children have been killed they worship the ‘smooth ‘stones on which they were killed.
Another image: a person so bent on his false ways that he will send his servants into the world of the dead for luxurious items. But the saddest of descriptive language is God’s words to his own people, “You were tired out by the length of your road, yet you did not say, ‘It is hopeless.’”

All of this comes to mind when I read the many retreat descriptions under Religion, Spirituality, Theology in the catalog at Ghost Ranch one of our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)Conference grounds. One would expect retreats focused on God’s Word, Biblical Christology, discipleship as well as peacemaking and justice.

But instead, not among the smooth rocks of the Middle East, but in the middle of the hauntingly beautiful desert and mountains of New Mexico, Christians are encouraged to sit at the feet of other gods. To “deepen” their “connection to the Divine through nature with hikes on the ranch, a labyrinth walk, soaking in mineral springs and a ceremony to connect with” their “spirit animal,” a concept that has its roots in the spiritualism of the nineteenth Century.

Those who belong to the Lord are invited to experience a “new consciousness” which supposedly has to do with “a growing awareness of the interrelatedness of all things.” This retreat which is titled Ancient Wisdom & New Consciousness, tells the interested, “Ancient wisdom from the Hebrew scriptures, the words of Jesus, and the teachings of the Qu'ran can play an undergirding and inspiring role in the development of the new consciousness.”

Yet another retreat allows women to listen to their deep inner wisdom and find their woman soul. Perhaps the most troubling retreat is, “Discovering Christ: Mother & Lover,” taught by Wendy Farley. Part of its description is:

“We will spend some time working with contemplative theologians like Origen for whom intimacy with Christ was a path to our divine nature, Julian who envisioned the infinite compassion of Christ for suffering, and de Chardin whose depiction of Christ healing the mind/matter split provides spiritual resource for meeting the environmental crisis. These are strands of Christianity in which Christ is not an atoning sacrifice but rather a power that heals the wounds which separate us from our divine source, from the earth and from one another.”1

Beyond all of this are retreats that consider the works of many different religions. And one retreat that bypasses any god, focusing on silence with this descriptive tag: “We come from a great Silence, we return to a great Silence. In the interval we call Life, Silence can be our most helpful companion, coaxing us to hear the Wise One Within (WOW!). When we travel in Silence through our inner terrain we can find important clues to the life we truly want.”

Jesus spoke of harming the little ones. Millstones and the sea are better adornments, he said, then harming the little ones.The sheep of his pasture are to be given special care. Paul knew. "Savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men [and women] will arise speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."(Acts 20:29b)

We are tired by the length of our journey. We have failed to say it is hopeless. We need to return home to our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Please do not believe this statement. At the least, Julian of Norwich had a beautiful understanding of the atonement of Christ.


Pastor Bob said...

Ghost Ranch is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. But their programs, most of them, are more than a bit to the left of me.

Not all of them. They do hold workshops to train interim pastors. Not that I'm looking into that field at my young age.

Dave Moody said...

As to Julian-- it could be Julian the Apostate... although, at the end, He did acknowledge that the Gallilean had defeated him.

tongue (tentatively) in cheek...

Adel Thalos said...

It sounds like the name "Ghost Ranch" is quite of the dead. Every heresy from pantheistic monism to ancient gnosticism. Death house is right.

Viola Larson said...

Bob, I would love to see a continuing group of Evangelicals and/or the orthodox having conferences or Bible studies, etc. in that place it is so beautiful. And after all it is a Presbyterian conference ground. And I know there are other kinds of things going on their like the intern conferences, but as long as the religious conferences are all focused on so much syncretism I am sure the orthodox will stay away.

Viola Larson said...

I guess I forgot to say she was referring to Julian of Norwich. I'm not sure who she is reading to get the ideas she has.

Viola Larson said...


Pastor Bob said...

Hey, they owe me! I took work groups there twice. Of course it was back in 81 and 82. Maybe they don't remember me. But I do have pictures!

Pastor Bob said...

Ya know Evangelicals could seek to schedule our meetings there.

Viola Larson said...

I have thought of that-not just a conference but a witness time: )

Anonymous said...

Well, even the once-might Mo-Ranch in the Texas hill country is falling into this same Slough of Despond.

Are these conference centers like the canary in the coal mine?

Kattie W. Coon said...

"Ya know Evangelicals could seek to schedule our meetings there."

A young Evangelical Associate Pastor friend of mine once complained of the lack of good leadership in our presbytery, and actually worked to reduce his congregation's financial support for it (including withholding per capita). I asked "what committees have you served on?” The AP replied "none". I said, "then you're comment is really about yourself, right?" The AP is now serving on the Presbytery Church Development committee, and is working to help raise funds.

Anonymous said...


Do you just troll around Presbyterian websites looking for something to offend your sensibilities?

If you and Toby don’t approve of the offerings at Ghost or MO Ranch, develop your own. Of course this takes time, planning, and money. No time for moaning and groaning.

The “Discovering Christ: Mother & Lover” conference looks terrific. I believe. I believe.

John McNeese
Ponca City, OK

Viola Larson said...

I am a Presbyterian. I have the right to be on Presbyterian sites. Ghost Ranch intrigues me, because of its beauty and its past links to an artist’s community. Many in my family are artists. Here I am referring to children, mother, sisters, nephews, nieces and ancestors. (Most of the pictures I put up are by one of my sons.)

No, I don’t hang out at the Stony Point site unless an article turns up connected there. But I was reading on the Outlook site once again saw the Ghost Ranch site. I know they were attempting some changes and hoped for the best. (Yes, I am nosy.) So I looked, the opposite is true. We have been joking a bit here in our comment section, but it isn’t a joke. It is very sad.

One of the thoughts I should have noted is that most, not all, but most of the classes I mentioned are connected to the on going programs at Ghost Ranch. They shouldn't have my name, (Presbyterian) on them.
So seeing which retreat caught your attention, does that mean you don’t believe in Christ as an atoning sacrifice?

Anonymous said...


Your research turned up for this season the same kinds of problems I found when I visited Ghost Ranch and went through their line-up about a year and a half ago.

Here is a link to the story I wrote, very much like yours:

It is so sad: such beauty, such emptiness. Surrounded by the glory of God, Ghost Ranch seems to major on everything else but the truth and reality of our sovereign and glorious God.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Viola Larson said...

That is a great article Jim. If I had known it was there I would have borrowed and linked.

Pastor Bob said...

Maybe we ought to schedule a conference on the proper ways to interpret Scripture at Ghost Ranch. If accepted we should take a larnge3 group. Assuming that the conference was qccepted as a program

Dave Moody said...

I was going to suggest PRMI do something on Spiritual Warfare @ Ghost Ranch...

Adel Thalos said...


That is a suggestion I can support.


At what point does financial support (by way of holding conferences) of those "still orthodox in the PCUSA" to such organizations that have the monicker of PCUSA turn into codependency of heresy addicts?

Beloved Spear said...

If that was all they offered, it might be problematic. But in addition to the offerings that are a wee bit leftish, there are also others that would seem fine for all and sundry.

I know, I know, a little liberal leaven ruins the whole loaf...but then again, simul justus et peccator. The programs there are hardly an impediment to the faith. And if you don't like 'em, just propose something that might be more amenable. Take a group. Lead a group. Although honestly, it's a better place for doing some First Book prayer than Bible study.

Anonymous said...

Dear Beloved,

We are gathered here this day to join this man and ...

Wait. That's something else.

I would like to think like you do about Ghost Ranch, basically: "Sure, there's some odd stuff, but (1) it doesn't hurt anybody, and (2) there's some good stuff, too. So just take your pick and don't be a nit picker."

But it doesn't really play out like that. First, it DOES hurt someone to direct prayers and adoration to the creation rather than the Creator, to focus on a broken self rather on a glorious Lord and Savior, to ignore the glory of God and fail to acknowledge God as God. Ghost Ranch seems focused on what is not God, to the detriment of glorifying God and building disciples. That, I would suggest, is very damaging spiritually, and SUCH a waste of good real estate!

Second, could you identify for us the good stuff you apparently see in the programming mix with the questionable stuff? Eighteen months ago, I really tried to find programming that looked solidly orthodox, and I didn't see any. The whole lot was weak to attrocious. Maybe it has changed for this season? That would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath.

Eighteen months ago I tried to find Christian worship there on Sunday morning, and the only offering was New Age drivel. Very nice people, but very questionable "worship." There wasn't a good option to find. Has that changed?

Sadly, Ghost Ranch seemed like a tremendous waste at best, and a heterodox outrage at worst. It was so pathetic to witness firsthand.

Jim Berkley
Seattle, WA

Abundancetrek said...

Thanks Viola for pointing out some of the great courses offered at Ghost Ranch. I wish I could go.

Thank God for Freedom! Freedom to explore Spirituality in its great variety. I think God loves what we are doing at Ghost Ranch and in many other "thin places" where people are opening up to all kinds of possibilities for creating more and more compassion and peace and justice and sustainable abundance.

One of the critics of Shuck and Jive said that he would read S&J to know waht not to believe!

I find I can do that with many of your posts. A christ who doesn't want us to explore, experiment, find connections, celebrate variety, is not a Christ I can believe in or want to believe in. Thank God many Presbyterians are open to the beauty and wisdom and love and truth of so much more.

love, john a wilde + whitesboro ny

Anonymous said...

The crux of a major problem is found in one sentence by John Wilde:

"A christ who doesn't want us to explore, experiment, find connections, celebrate variety, is not a Christ I can believe in or want to believe in."

First, the statement contains a straw man argument. Simply because there ARE boundaries of belief--truth and fiction, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, faith and disbelief--does not mean that Christ would not want us to use our minds, learn, grow into the fullness of God, find the beauty of God's truth, and so on. It looks to me like Wilde describes in absolute terms a situation that does not exist, and then he dismisses it. Reducing into a straw man the complexity of God's desire for us to know him as he truly is, Wilde makes a major mistake.

Second, Wilde appears to construct a false dichotomy: You can (a) be forced to be uncreative and xenophobic, or (b) not believe at all. This should not be reduced to a dichotomy. There ARE other options, such as thinking deeply enough to grow beyond banal popular slogans into a robust and faithful understanding of the magnificent purposes and will of God--and THEN believing.

But on top of that, there appears to me to be hubris in a statement that tells God that God doesn't conform to what John Wilde wants God to be. God defines himself, apart from the fancies of any overindulged set of personal expectations. If God doesn't conform to the pattern of what Wilde wants God to be, there are two options: God can change his glorious self, or Wilde can change his inadequate thinking. The latter seems appropriate to me.

My father-in-law was once sitting on the porch with his grandmother. She complained that the sun was in her eyes, and he replied, "Well then, there are two possible courses of action: You can move the sun or you can move yourself."

When Wlde is confronted with a God who may differ from the personal deity substitute that Wilde has apparently constructed, he is perfectly free to actually change his understanding of God to conform his perception to God's reality. What shows utter hubris, however, is trying to remake God in Wilde's own image.

We don't move the sun, but we can move ourselves, if we have the faith and humility to do so.

Jim Berkley
Seattle, WA

Viola Larson said...

That reminds me of one of my granddaughters. She almost became Catholic on the grounds that the Catholic authors are the best writers. She was mostly reading my books. Who can read such authors as Evelyn Waugh, G.K. Chesterton, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Dorothy Sayers, Flannery O’Connor, Sigrid Undset, C.S. Lewis, George Herbert, Charles Williams, etc. (Not all Catholics) all excellent all different, all orthodox and buy into such a skewed view of Christianity.

Abundancetrek said...

Jim Berkley wrote: But on top of that, there appears to me to be hubris in a statement that tells God that God doesn't conform to what John Wilde wants God to be.


First, Thank you for responding to my comment. This is what this forum makes possible and I love it!

Second, have you ever thought that there may also be hubris if God doesn't conform to what Jim Berkley wants God to be? I don't deny that my understanding of God may not be what God is. What makes you so superior as to believe you know better than I do?

Third, the straw man argument simply doesn't make much sense to me. I wasn't trying to be logical so much as to make a point about my beliefs and values. I think God is found working in all kinds of ways and I see no reason to restrict God's actions and presence to narrowly-defined and stifling Christian creeds and doctrines. I embrace Christian creeds and doctrines wholeheartedly, enthusiastically, but not in the literal ways you and others define it and reduce it IMO.

BTW, I feel reduced and diminished when you refer to me by my last name over and over again. It seems to me that this forum is informal and friendly enough to be on a first name basis. Or maybe I'm not Christian enough to deserve that kind of friendship and respect?

Finally, maybe it makes you feel better to claim that you are right and I am wrong. So be it.

love, john a wilde + whitesboro ny + + “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting” – E. E. Cummings

Viola Larson said...

You are not a fool, instead you are a very intelligent person. That being said, to say this, "I see no reason to restrict God's actions and presence to narrowly-defined and stifling Christian creeds and doctrines. I embrace Christian creeds and doctrines wholeheartedly, enthusiastically, but not in the literal ways you and others define it and reduce it IMO" is to be very deceptive to others listening to you.

How can you say you wholeheartedly embrace Christian creeds and doctrines which assert that Jesus is the unique Son of God, very God of God, that he rose bodily from the dead and is coming again, that humanity is sinful and cannot even know God without Jesus and his death on the cross, and say that. You don’t believe any of what Christians have professed down the years. Died for, in fact. You wouldn’t die for the literal truth of any of that. It seems to me you are just using Christianity as some kind of feel good religion while embracing a lot of false ideas.

Abundancetrek said...

Dear Viola,

You are smart too and I really appreciate your blog and the great conversations here.

Maybe I'm not wrong!

Your certainty must be some kind of comfort to you or maybe you have to keep convincing yourself because of an uncomfortable feeling about your certainty when confronted with another worldview.

What I believe deeply, strongly, with plenty of scholarly support, is that the writers of the Bible knew that they were offering myth, metaphors, stories, symbols and archetypes. They knew they were offering truths which go beyond scientific or historical facts.

Just today, in a fantastic e-course I'm taking at, Swami Atmarupananda brought our attention to this powerful verse from the Bhagavad Gita:

Through devotion one knows Me truly, who I am and what is My nature. Having known Me in truth, one forthwith enters into Me. (18:55)

This is a lot like a saying of Jesus:

I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

The Bhagavad Gita was written 1000 years before Jesus. The sages of the ages all find the source, the foundation, of our wisdom traditions.

Why not open yourself up to the immense variety of wisdom and joy humanity has been able to taste? It really is a wonderful world.

And you are a wonderful person. Viva Viola.

And now it's time for pancakes on this Shrove Tuesday here along the Erie Canal.

love, john a wilde (whitesboro ny) + + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

Viola Larson said...

John W.
I hope you enjoyed your pancakes.

I am not a wonderful person but I do have forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ. That is a beautiful gift from Jesus. But he is the one who is named wonderful. See Isaiah 9:6, also the 13th chapter of Judges.

A question: by what authority do you know that all of the authors of the Bible were "offering myth, metaphors, stories, symbols and archetypes?"

This saying, "Through devotion one knows Me truly, who I am and what is My nature. Having known Me in truth, one forthwith enters into Me. (18:55)" is not at all like this saying, "I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)"

Jesus wasn't saying we should know him in truth but that he was truth. And it isn't through devotion that we know Jesus, instead the Father reveals him to us as does the Holy Spirit through his word. There isn't anything we can do-he comes to us and places us into a relationship with the eternal God. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

It is his righteousness, all his work, his life, death and resurrection.

Abundancetrek said...

Dear Viola,

I suppose the difference between you and me when we ponder other wisdom traditions is that I am looking for common ground and finding it and you are looking for differences, even their faults, and finding it.

A very powerful book on the early church and how it developed its beliefs is WHO WROTE THE NEW TESTAMENT? by Burton Mack. There are many more but that would be a good start if you really wanted to explore a different worldview than your own when it comes to the study and meaning of ancient texts.

I suspect your approach to Burton (and many others) would be to find fault in his scholarship and his journey but I live in hope!

Like it or not, more and more of us are waking up to the reality that Panentheism or even Pantheism is at the heart of all of our wisdom traditions including Christianity. Supernatural theism is dead.

I don't think anybody has expressed this reality better than Alan Watts in MYTH AND RITUAL IN CHRISTIANITY. He really got to the deep meanings found in our fantastic symbols and stories.

One more recent thinker about reality I cherish is Diarmuid O'Murchu who wrote QUANTUM THEOLOGY.

I know it's hard to give up the God you have been led to believe in all these years. But you did give up your belief in the Santa Claus that lives in the North Pole, didn't you? And maybe you still believe in Santa Claus. I know I do. Get it?

You are united with Christ. You are wonderful. You are fantastic. Viva Viola.

love, john a wilde (whitesboro ny)+ + "The quest for a story is the quest for a life.” — Jill Johnston quoted in The Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron

Viola Larson said...

You just amaze me. "Supernatural theism" is NOT dead. Millions of Christians still hold the same biblical views about God they have always held. They are still dying for that belief in Jesus, who is the unique God/man while you so easily cast him away. How can you make such a statement? C.S. Lewis saw pantheism as the one great adversary to Christianity. It really is the debate about whether we are gods or God is God. It is arrogant to suppose that we are God or any part of God as in panentheism.

Abundancetrek said...

Is it arrogant to be honest?

john a wilde
whitesboro ny