To paraphrase Shakespeare, there is nothing foreign, but thinking makes it so. To Bruce Fitzwater, there are no actual foreign cultures or languages, only those that we’ve not yet attempted to understand.
Raised on North America’s Pacific Rim in Portland, Oregon, Bruce has long been aware of the need to bridge the cultural divides between West and East. For two years early in his career, he taught philosophy and religion at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Following completion of course work for a master’s degree in philosophy, and after taking a course-changing class in Christian Science healing, he received, as he puts it, “an almost visual answer to prayer leading me to return to my hometown, returning to the tall grass ‘in the field.'” After returning to Portland, Bruce began advertising as a Christian Science practitioner in 1974, and became a teacher of Christian Science 11 years later. He has traveled extensively in the US, Africa, and Asia as a Christian Science lecturer, and served ten years as Committee on Publication for Oregon.
Recently Bruce Fitzwater talked with Journal Senior Writer Warren Bolon about the history and future of global Christianity, and of his love for the practice of Christian healing.
Bruce, you’ve been schooled in Western culture and philosophy as well as taught and lived in the Far East. Has living and working on the Pacific Rim influenced you discernibly?
Well, I don’t think geography is destiny. I feel, though, that a significant theme of the 21st century will be the West adapting to the economically rising East, especially China, and the East assimilating technology and values from the West. Viewed from a spiritual perspective, we are witnessing the Christ leavening through divine Truth and Love the spiritual foundations of both East and West.
Do you think the mutual misunderstanding between East and West is lessening now?
I lived in the Far East during the Vietnam War and the tragic upheaval of the Cultural Revolution in China. At that time, one was affronted by the assertion that the East and West would always be mutually alien, if not antagonistic. In my city even the difficult, multitoned Cantonese dialect seemed to compound the cultural distance. Christianity, though, as well as our experiences of affection and friendship, point to humanity’s unity. Love and Truth are foreign to no one. The Apostle Paul, in the geopolitical culture of his period, witnessed the same truth: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” [Col. 3:11].
How did you move mentally and spiritually from teaching in Asia to Christian Science healing? Did you have your own bright light on the road to Damascus, as Paul did?
Not literally, but the call, though, was only a little less imperative. Rather than a flash, it was a persistent leading, as if traveling forward on a railway that gently, though markedly, rounds a corner. I valued and enjoyed studying and teaching philosophy. It was certainly a way to exercise thought. Philosophy awakens important questions about life, reality, and the nature of God. However, in philosophy the human mind examines itself. To human sense the spiritual truth of being can seem elusive. My academic colleagues were seeking truth as directly as they knew through philosophical methodology. But I realized, for me, truth was better served through spiritual sense and the demonstration of Christ-healing.
Were there some specific issues that brought out the contrast between human and spiritual thinking for you?
One perplexing study in philosophy is termed the problem of evil: Could an omnipotent and all-loving God create or allow the existence of evil? Interestingly, before her discovery of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy had pondered this question for decades. In Christian Science, she came to a response that was logical, humane, practical, and had previously been lived out perfectly by Christ Jesus himself. Rather than accuse God, the infinite good, of creating evil, Mrs. Eddy had the courage to profoundly challenge the validity of the evidence against God’s goodness and power. Her work presented humanity with a breakthrough in metaphysics regarding what is, indeed, real. This solution of the problem went beyond the academic classroom into Science that demonstrates marvelous outcomes. I felt what the world needed from me was not an article in a philosophical journal, but to further, in some degree, the demonstration of God’s goodness toward humanity.
You stated previously that Truth and Love were transforming both East and West. So you believe Truth is even transforming Western Christianity?
I love all Christianity and have a heartfelt affection for real Christliness in all religious denominations. In my view, Christianity, overall, is the most spiritually active religion in the world today. However, I feel that worldwide Christianity hasn’t yet fully come into itself.
Why do you think that even after 2,000 years worldwide Christianity has not yet reached its full potential?
Christ is the spiritual headspring for all humanity. Jesus neither left a written record of his teachings nor were his disciples even able to understand fully the basis of his life. So differing accounts and interpretations came forth after his ministry. In the following centuries, the understandable desire to unify Christianity and to embody the significant elements of Jesus’ teaching into a theology was not without tumultuous and often violent disputes.
I’m sympathetic with the problems religious leaders faced at that time. To understand the significance of Jesus’ life and healings, they had to employ their limited conceptual vocabulary. This led them to extensively employ the model of a human person. It was generally agreed there was one God. However, they also acknowledged the Father to whom Jesus prayed; they experienced inspiration termed the Holy Ghost; and in Jesus they recognized the presence of spiritual qualities, transparency to godliness, and the manifestation of divine power. Yet, if all of those were divine “persons,” then how could there be one God?
There were further problems regarding salvation. Many understood that mortal man, as the term is used in Christian Science, was not, and never could be, worthy of eternal salvation. They were correct about this, but the problem arose because they mistakenly identified themselves with the mortal sense of man. So how were they to be saved? The endeavor to construct a codified Christian orthodoxy, although well-intentioned by some, produced in the fourth century a majority report that, though serviceable, obscured the unity of man’s spiritual selfhood with God as it was lived by Christ Jesus. My feeling is that throughout the world today, East and West, those who are investigating Christianity, as well a Christianity’s current adherents, are overdue for a more authentic Christianity.
Do you feel the leavening of Truth is already working within worldwide Christianity?
Truth has ever been leavening Christian history. The light of Christ has always continued to uplift conceptions of God and man. Even in the late fourth century, for example, in St. Augustine’s writings (though some of his views are dismissed today) one finds expressions of spiritual sense and its precious insights. Martin Luther, though, more than any other reformer up to his time, both in his person and in his though, served humanity as the load-bearing hinge upon which swung open a door admitting direct inspiration from the Gospels. A few years ago, I enjoyed learning some German and visited the sites of Luther’s life, including Erfurt, Wartburg Castle, and Wittenberg.
In Luther at his best, one finds the qualities of courage, spiritual honesty, strength, perseverance, and a deep reliance on God in his accomplishing what many thought impossible. He achieved all this in the face of both cultural and religious antagonism. Although Luther’s passion was to seek Christ directly by turning only to the Bible, I feel he did not free himself from viewing the New Testament through the lens of those doctrines codified in the fourth century.
We find, also, the qualities of the spiritual reformer in Mary Baker Eddy. Her discovery of Christian Science came of an unencumbered inspiration from the Bible’s Word of truth. Her healing and teaching has opened the Bible to the entire world, unmediated by a limiting theology.
You also mentioned that Truth is leavening thought in the East. In what ways?
There’s almost an industry today of journalists and scholars interpreting the current development of China and South Asia. Let’s focus, though, on Christianity in China. In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century Christian missionaries had a significant presence in China, but by the time the communist government was established in 1949 there were, perhaps, in all, only a few million Christians. However, following the Mao period ending with the Cultural Revolution, a time of severe affliction for many Christians, there were found to be many times that number.
There is clear evidence of Spirit’s leavening throughout China today seen especially in the unofficial home churches, as well as in well-attended state-registered churches. There also have been many remarkable accounts of healing through prayer. Most Chinese Christians are evangelical in outlook. As they have become more confident, they’ve sought their specific mission in the advancement of Christianity. Some have come to feel that God is giving them the task of completing the Christian evangelical circumnavigation of the globe, bringing it full circle back to Jerusalem.
These evangelicals note that initial influence of Christ Jesus’ life 2,000 years ago spread both east and west from Jerusalem. The primary response to Christ, though, was first in the Mediterranean and then in Europe. European settlers brought various forms of Christianity to the Americas, and then the West set out to evangelize the world. Chinese Christians, noting this momentum of westward expansion, perceive the next step as bringing Christianity completely across Asia and back to Jerusalem. Of course, this evangelization moves right through regions predominately inhabited by Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. I find the bold scope of this “back to Jerusalem” vision quite breathtaking.
Do you think that all these long-standing beliefs and traditions of the East are soon to radically change?
We’re working on a large canvas here. Year by year there is significant change, but I have no specific sense of the timing. However, experience has shown me not to underestimate the effectiveness of truth in destroying error. During the time I was in Hong Kong, in mainland China everyone appeared to be waving Mao’s little red book and testifying to the wonders of a new, revolutionary life under collectivism. For one to believe that such delusion can long be acceptable to humanity is itself a delusion.
Similarly, in the early ’80s I was quietly escorted into East Germany to meet with a group of clandestinely assembled Christian Scientists. At the time, I confess I believed the propaganda that East Germany was a united, committed, and strong communist state. Events unfolded that demonstrated otherwise ten years later. Had I been consulting spiritual sense more, I would have more consistently been able to realize that there is no rock, no sanity or unity, outside Christ.
How has being a Christian Science practitioner helped you in trying to understand the currents of human thought?
I feel it’s been immensely helpful in that the activity of Christ, unbeknownst to materiality, is the inexorable spiritual truth causing human thought to be stirred. In Christian Science one discerns humanity’s needs from the basis of divine Science. From the perspective of being “seated at the right hand of God” [Matt. 26:64, New English Bible,], contemporary currents of both good and evil are perceptively discerned. Whenever one witnesses trends aggressively arguing man’s separation from God, we can be certain that they will soon self-destruct of their own falsity. The Bible clearly admonishes us to trust in the understanding we gain from God and to “lean not unto thine own understanding” [Prov. 3:5].For me, the Christian, scientific understanding of life is an ever-turning to childlike spiritual truth. This turning away from the false but pervasively popular patterns within the material sense of life ensures a clearer perspective.
What do you think are the chief obstacles in achieving spiritual progress?
When our affections are spiritually transformed through Soul, we progress naturally, because we are following our true heart. Mrs. Eddy notes that “a false sense of what constitutes happiness” is a major obstruction to spiritual progress [Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 9–10]. Passive absorption into the belief of material selfhood is dissolved by Soul rebirthing our conception of identity. In this new birth, as Paul names it, we joy in another’s good. Mrs. Eddy remarked, “the good man’s heaven would be a hell to the sinner” [Science and Health, pp. 35–36].
A singular theory of the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago does not truly characterize the origin of our being. Neither are our lives really located on an arc of human religious development from Abraham through Jesus to the discovery of Christian Science. Christian Science demonstrates real being is now lived in unconditioned eternal Truth. I began learning this spiritual reality in Sunday School, and I am thankful to be striving today to practice this reality more clearly.
What has been the primary motivation for spiritual growth in your own life?
Aiding others to realize health, harmony, and a clearer understanding of their unity with God has been my motivation for growing spiritually. It’s led me beyond what I might have done if I had been animated only by my present love of God and the need to solve my own problems. I’m very grateful for the privilege of these demands.
Could you expand on how we can pray for spiritual growth?
Mrs. Eddy stated that she “greatly desired” that we petition our loving Father-Mother for spiritual growth “mentally, meekly, and importunately.” I often turn to this thoughtfully woven statement, in which she assures us that the desire to be fed “with the bread of heaven, health, holiness” conforms us “to a fitness to receive” God’s goodness, “and great growth in Christian Science will follow,—even that joy which finds one’s own in another’s good” [Miscellaneous Writings, p. 127].
It may seem ironic that one petitions God to be transformed to a fitness to receive God’s goodness. The irony is ameliorated, though, as we realize that this petition functions not in motivating omnipotent wisdom, but in aiding human sense to magnify and cherish the desire for Godlikeness, obedience, and reverence. Faithful desire and striving serve to awaken perception to present perfection.
Earlier you observed that divine Love as well as Truth will unite humanity. How dose the nature of God as Love engender this unity?
Because Love is unchanging Principle, it is universal. As the nature and attributes of the Father-Mother come to be understood, it becomes clearer—as clear as the sun shining equally on everyone—that Love is indigenous to every race, nationality, and culture.
What is Love? Because I certainly can’t comprehensively characterize Love, it’s been helpful to identify universal elements within Love’s nature. These are the same in Boise as in Berlin or in Beijing. The first element of Love is seeing the “very good.” Genesis states, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” [1:31]. Divine Mind looks forth on its reflection and sees “very good.” So man, reflecting God as Love, sees this same “very good”—excellence in God’s creation all about us.
A second element present in Love is its nurturing, protecting, and cultivating nature. When we are caring for a dear one, our thoughts and actions naturally take the form of all that will aid, protect, nurture, and prosper. To the expression of selfless, befitting action is added the third element of divine Love, bliss. Love feels love, lives love, so as to be filled with a sense of God’s joy, goodness, and blessedness. The universal healing practice of love isn’t the performance of a duty, it is spiritual fulfillment.
The fourth element of Love that I turn to regularly is Love’s power. In Christ Jesus’ life we are sometimes astonished by the manifested power of Love. I’ve found that as I’ve prayed with Love and trusted Love, I’ve begun in degree to feel Love’s creative power—the Principle of every situation and individuality. Love’s all-presence is global and is the absolutely irresistible healing power for all humanity.
What do you see as characterizing that which is unlike Love?
Some time ago while reading Robert Peel’s second volume in his biographical trilogy on Mary Baker Eddy, I noted that he presented a very concise account of evil and its would-be operation. Peel characterized this error first as “the belief in a life apart from God,” and then explained that this belief “fought for its own existence” [Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial, p. 114]. The root of all misadventures, disease, attraction to and enslavement in sensuality—even death—is the false belief of man’s separation from God. No power or intelligence sustains this erroneous belief; it’s a blind advocate for itself.
Human sense is often mistaken about what is good and what is evil. Further, it believes that both are equally real. Christian Science has presented humanity with invaluable clarity regarding what in our experience is truly God-derived and hence good. Science, also, penetrates the appearance of error and reveals that it has no real being. These insights open up an expansive Christian life for all of us. I’m grateful to have embarked on this life and, oh, there’s still so much goodness yet to be demonstrated.
So, you feel quite hopeful about where the world is moving?
I believe the active leavening of Christ is the central theme of human history; it’s the signal force sculpting the future of humanity. The senses will be presented with the destructive elements of human mentality appearing to expand in their claims to power and authority. Yet each of these errors will collapse from the spiritually awakened thought that rises to oppose them and from their own contradictions and baselessness. We will also behold the wonderful goodness of the leaven of Christ acting within enlightened lives to bring forth healing inspiration, and greater justice and harmony.
The appearing of both error’s foundationless claims and the presence of ever more pure goodness are the effects on human sense of the one Christ. In recent decades we’ve seen many pretentious political and social systems as well as prejudices collapse. I feel God’s kingdom comes, not as a reigning of an ever-good human realm, but rather as human sense yielding to the recognition of God’s goodness and man at one with Him.
“One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, “Love thy neighbor as thyself;” annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry,—whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed.”