another signpost of insanity on the path of illumination
this morning, while stuck in traffic and half-listening to morning edition i had yet another "great" idea. during next year's haunted happenings event in the great city of salem i am going to monk up as saint francis and offer words of blessings, canticles of praise and, yes, calls for repentance to friend and foe alike.
i'm already excited about the stories i will have to read, the texts i'll have to memorize and the mud i'm going to smear on my bare legs and burlap wrap in order to pull this pietistic piece of performance art off. i hope that, with just a little more training dizzy can stand in as the wolf of gubbio and i'm hoping that someone signs on to play clare.
for the record, i think this certifies that i am on the precipice of spiritual insanity. i would like to accuse the Spirit of God of inciting such ideas and pastor phil wyman of encouraging me to live them out.
while reading david g. benner'ssacred companions: the gift of spiritual friendship and direction this evening, i was struck by the way many of the christian mystics have framed the spiritual journey. oftentimes, you will hear mystics talk about the way of Jesus as being one of purgation, which is a time of repentance in which we let go of our: false selves, sinful schemes that we suspect will result in pleasure and attachment to our material possessions; illumination, which is a time of growing intimacy with God's Spirit and an openness to His paths towards pleasure, beauty, goodness and truth; and finally, as we persevere in love of God and others we reach a place of union, wherein our desire is submerged in the desire of God and our identity is not so much based on what we believe about Christ as it is exemplified in the way we incarnate Christ in this broken world that is so desperately in need of re-creation.*
as i ruminated over the reading, i began to realize that this frame of purgation, illumination and union can really help me understand my occupational life up until this point. for instance, over the past six years i spent my workdays selling products i (mostly) did not like to people i could not connect with in order to secure the financial futures of people who already have more than enough. i don't want to sound like a martyr. most of the time i was paid fairly well for my duties, i wasn't oppressed and my menial plight did not differ much from billions of other workers in the world who toil for sustenance.** my response to my circumstances, as many of you know, was to bitch, moan and generally make my occupational plight a burden on others. i did not, in fact, rise above my circumstances like an n.t. wright volume unexpectedly bursting forth from purpose-driven ashes and, in general, considered my plight an opportunity to develop a shtick rather than an opportunity to learn obedience, perseverance and solidarity.
but regardless of my resistance to such occupational purgation, God, by his completely unmerited grace, saw fit to lead me towards a place of illumination or connection, where my commitment to compassion*** and the gospel of reconciliation can be utilized on a daily basis to empower a population that i know and love. i truly feel like i failed the first grade, but for some unknown reason has still been promoted to the second.
i guess what i'm saying is this. i don't know why God saw fit to grace me with an opportunity to spend my days doing something i love, after i failed to love Him and others in the midst of jobs that i hated. i don't deserve to work at a place like rectangle. but i am thankful for it and during this period of my life i want to be open to the empowerment of God's Spirit and obedient to His will, for i know that His Spirit is the source of compassion and the effective means of reconciliation, and i know that His will is to redeem all things, including people who were created in His image but branded with the label "retarded" and wayward pastors who couldn't seem to follow Christ in less than ideal environments.
as for union, i don't know what that stage will bring. but i do hope that it will signal the end of my current state of mindless enthusiasm wherein i have been inspired to tack "inspiraquotes" like "we can, we will," "fake it until you make it" and "i don't know what the future holds, but i know who holds the future" on my bulletin board.
* i'm pretty sure that i failed to use semi-colons correctly in that previous sentence. just thought i would save you grammar queers the time that it would take to point that out. ** i realize that, being a wealthy, white westerner, i would probably be sustained by some means whether i worked or not, but i'm aiming towards the idea of solidarity here. work with me people! *** which i generally pour upon those i see fit in circumstances that i respect. yeah, i've still got a little, okay a lot, of growing to do.
at this point in g13's arrested development he: a) often mistook himself for an african-american b) was still waiting for his balls to drop him from alto to tenor c) was heavily medicated d) frequently wondered why he wasn't getting any action e) could still beat the hell out of his younger brother f) all of the above
one more thing. last week i was reminded of how much i hate manipulative evangelism when we watched a video entitled, epidurals are evil at our bradley method class.* now, i must confess that i love our bradley teacher and i think the aforementioned method of coached childbirth is quite helpful. however, sometimes the bradley content either implies or flat out asserts that non-natural childbirth methods are, well, pretty much of the devil.
for instance, two weeks ago we watched a video that made the following assertions - by which i mean literally, they were pasted across the screen in times new roman font while playing "watch out big breasted teenager, freddy is going to get you music:"
"500,000 women in america undergo cesarean sections every year. 300,000 of these cesarean sections are medically unnecessary."
"obstetricians hate women!"
"if we want peace in the middle east, the first step is natural childbirth.**"
after the video was over, our instructor asked us what we thought of the video and i bit my lip and resisted the impulse to respond with "hello? any of yous ever heard of marshall mcluhan?!" now that i've had a couple of weeks to reflect on the video i still think that it sucked.
in sum, this video convinced me of two things:
1) christians are not the only ones who participate in manipulative proselytism***
2) however and whenever i invite people to follow the way of Jesus, i should not do so in a way that either demeans or clearly misrepresents other options
i'm telling you, as far as manipulative tripe, the thief in the night had nothing on this video. if the video wasn't shot in 1976, i'd swear it was produced by rudolph hess dick cheney.**** in all seriousness, i'm sure that a number of people who have chosen not to walk in the way of Jesus have been as offended by "gospel presentations" as i was by that video. that thought makes me sick.
* as the pixie pointed out, i should probably mention that i, and i would suspect the majority of the other members of the class, chose the bradley method because we already think that natural childbirth is a good thing and perhaps even a preferential option. thus, as the pixie also said, the video did smack of "preaching to the choir." ** okay, i might be sprinkling the last two statements with a dash of hyperbole, but in my defense the main speaker on the video did say that "for many years obstetricians have kept women from knowing their bodies" and the last screen shot was a revolutionary question that started thus: "how can we expect peace in our world, if individuals are brought into the world in a violent way?" *** i'm threatened to add a rant about soy loving, jamba drinking chi omegas here, but, ummm, i won't. **** yeah, i know that comedic references to nazis are almost always in bad taste. quick, can anyone name an american propagandist? thank you dr. james.
open source teaching on spiritual accompaniment, take II
i posted the picture above not only because i am proud of my beautiful wife, but because we have recently become convinced that bearing children is the best way to grow God’s Kingdom. when a man decides to grow the Kingdom of God through procreation he can be assured that his seed will not spoil upon rocky soil and, unless his wife is thwarting God’s providence with pharmacological elements, the devil will not snatch the seed away. before you quibble with these assertions the pixie and i would encourage you to read a full quiver: family planning and the lordship of christ. now, onto our conversation about converts who do not spring forth, fully-formed from our loins.*
what i’m reading
theology of the community God, by stanley grenz. simkins’ comment in the last thread encouraged me to read grenz’s discussion of “outreach” which is found on pages 501-510 of this impressive tome. b already summarized grenz’s argument, so i won’t bore you by doing so again. however, i will say that his understanding of outreach as including proclamation and presence, focusing on disciple-making and utilizing the subversive power of prayer is a helpful matrix that will likely inform my consideration of spiritual accompaniment.
hannah coulter by wendell berry. i just finished this story last night and i must say that was overwhelmed by it. the picture of the port William “membership,” which is a group of extended family and friends who work together, support and serve one another (and i would say “worship together” if that would not leave you with an emaciated image of these people who fully understand that worship is more intimately connected to work, suffering and service than it is to what pew or perfectly padded, individual, theater quality chair you sit in, what songs you like to sing and what elements are included or excluded from worship) is absolutely startling. hannah’s story is not simply a sentimental rendition of “blessed be the tie that binds” but is a simple, yet elegant consideration of both the passions, commitments and tasks that connect us to one another and the opportunity each of us have to enter into the eternal even in the midst our ordinary lives. my words could never do the story justice. just read it.**
mere discipleship by lee camp. i’ve read this helpful, yoder-influenced, introduction to discipleship before, so i thought i’d see what he had to say about “evangelism.” camp’s small chapter on evangelism is an excellent example of what grenz terms “evangelism as presence.”
what I’m thinking
after reading berry, i cannot help but wonder how a sense of place informs and influences our willingness and ability to introduce others to and invite them to follow the way of Jesus. i have long thought that place is an essential element of one’s vocation and, reflecting on my occupational life, such a statement does not seem without merit. for instance, when i was slogging through days at sentimental somethings i found myself speaking words that were not meant to foster life,*** entering into meaningless office conflicts and flat-out gossiping much more than i found myself musing about the Kingdom of God and modeling the way of Jesus. at the ss as well as at lightway i regularly felt guilty about fostering a culture of death instead of one of life, but i never found a way to genuinely follow Jesus in those environs. fortunately, at rectangle, my new employer, my work (largely) consists of empowering others and creating a context in which people with challenges can focus on ability instead of disability. unsurprisingly, i can already tell that interpersonal fault lines and unnecessary gossip exists at my new employer, but, so long as i focus on being an incarnation of compassion and reconciliation i believe that i will be able to introduce more life than death into our community.
and, speaking of rectangle, i had an interesting conversation with a couple of employees after work in an off-site location.**** after one of my fellow employees asked me a question concerning the layout of his office and a second employee teasingly promised me that i could listen to wow worship tunes any time i wanted on her xm radio a third employee spoke a bit about the sectarian religious environment he once worked in where volunteers were apparently required to reveal what translation of the Bible they utilized before serving soup. the mere mention of conservative christianity in the conversation led someone else to bring up the deplorable, manic ravings of pat robertson and jerry falwell. this led another co-worker to say that “people like that is the reason i don’t have anything to do with christianity,” and, before i knew it, i responded by saying “anytime you hear someone using the teachings of Jesus or the church as a platform for power, run away from them, for you can be sure that the gospel of Christ is not one of power but of love.”***** in years past, i might have been slow to denounce robertson, falwell, dobbie and the like, for “whether by false motives or true the gospel is being preached!” but now i’m not so sure that such proclamations of power have much to do with the gospel. moreover, if the such political and social rants do produce conversions, i fear that the new followers will likely be deformed if not still-born. as i left the conversation i promised my co-workers that they wouldn’t have to worry about me seeking to proselytize them anytime soon and i immediately began to wonder what that promise said about my ever-evolving understanding of following Jesus.
i’m makin’ me some super bowl queso tonight. that’ll be mm, mmm, good, bitch!
what do you think
what do you think about my promise not to “proselytize” my rectangle co-workers? do you find such a promise unwise? could you make a similar promise?
do you think that place really does have a significant effect on vocation? how does your sense of place effect your attempts to follow Jesus (assuming, of course, that you do so)? do you think that the contemporary church suffers from regularly elevating non-local men and women to leadership? could the contemporary church’s reliance upon non-local leadership be related to the current focus upon imported evangelistic programs such as the purpose-driven church?
are there any additional books that you would recommend as i continue to prepare for the “spiritual accompaniment” discussion i am going to facilitate next week?
can you forgive me for being so loquacious? thank you for reading.
* i trust that none of you took this seriously. i do not believe any of the assertions posted above, but i could not help myself. ** a tip o’ the hat to rick for turning me on to berry’s work. i think i’m going to read nathan coulter next before diving into berry’s his essays and, perhaps, his poems. *** such phrases were expected and accepted in this workplace, fortunately. though i did ultimately realize that terms like (f _ _ _ i _ _ d _ _ c _ _ b_ g) were a bit too much. don’t you just love hangman? **** take note, potential censors! ***** of course, i probably wasn’t quite so eloquent, but that’s the power of editing for you.
i am a thirtysomething worker bee who hails from massachusetts. by day i find jobs for individuals with significant disabilities and by night i spend time with my pixie-like wife and share life with my friends at the gathering in salem. my deepest passions are following Jesus Christ, extending God's compassion to the poor and obsessing about the Saint Louis Cardinals.