Jesus

Satisfying Our Dissatisfaction

listening to Peter Rollins talk about different philosophical ideas always makes me long to be as smart as he is. The other day I heard a lecture he gave and he was talking about being so many of us are dissatisfied. He spoke of two postures of how we address our dissatisfaction - Conservative and Revolutionary.

The conservative is dissatisfied with how life is and believes the way to satisfaction is somewhere in the past. Be it a certain decade or a time in the persons life, it sounds like the conservative is not so much a person as it is a tactic to satisfy our dissatisfaction. I act conservative sometimes when I think of how much “better” and “simpler” life was when I was in high school. Of course, there is no way for us to go back in time and so being conservative means we are trying to bring the past into the present in order to satisfy our dissatisfaction.

The revolutionary is also dissatisfied but this posture is one that believes satisfaction is not in the past but in the future. We act like the revolutionary when we believe that life will be better when we get “over there”. Be it with a different house, job, government, afterlife, or whatever, the revolutionary tries to bring the future to the present. Of course, Rollins points out, that most revolutionaries that succeed in their task are often among the first to be killed by this new reality.

Rollins’ point is not that conservative or revolutionary is better over the other, but that they are two sides of the same coin. They both believe that life is about satisfying our dissatisfaction, they just disagree on the tactics.

Rollins says there is a different posture, a different coin if you will, that both the conservative and revolutionary are suspect of - the Rebel. The rebel is not seeking to satisfy dissatisfaction but to be satisfied with dissatisfaction.

The rebel shows us that being dissatisfied is a feature and not a bug to the human condition. Dissatisfaction gives us energy and that energy, if ever satisfied, would be hellish. It may be difficult to imagine, but if your sports team won every game they played and it was a forgone conclusion they were going to win, then sports would be boring. You would loose the energy to participate in the game because you know you will win.

The rebel does not play the impossible game of trying to satisfy dissatisfaction but plays a new game all together and learns to be satisfied with dissatisfaction.

Photo by  Robert Anasch  on  Unsplash

While the religious leaders of his day wanted Jesus to look to the past to satisfy their dissatisfaction, the zealots desired Jesus to bring the future kingdom to the present. Jesus resisted the conservative and the revolutionary postures toward the dissatisfaction in the world.

Jesus was a rebel who showed us the way to address our dissatisfaction - by being satisfied with it.

If People Are Free, Then We Will Preach Bondage

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The wonderful and always worth listening to MockingCast had a recent episode that in part highlighted why the Gospel message is one of freedom. One of the co-hosts, RJ, stated that if you believe that people are in bondage then you will preach liberation and if you believe that people are free you will preach bondage.

Sit with this little insight for a moment. Consider the Container Store. It is an entire store profiting on the idea that you and I are so free in our lives that we are willing to pay for some plastic containers that can bind up our cabinets and closets. We pay for calendars and schedules that bind us to our commitments and responsibilities. How many diets are preached that are built around binding you from eating certain things? In a land of plenty of food where we are free to eat whatever and whenever we want, we do not know how to handle it. So we pay for some binding. Sometimes freedom is so open that we are prone to wander, prone to leave that which we love.

The gospel of binding is all around us because we are under the impression that we are too free.

This bleeds into church messages. Often churches will craft messages in ways that assume that people are too free and what people need is to be bound up. They need to be bound in what to believe. Bound to follow laws or rules. Bound to action and inaction. If our messages are help bind people, it could be that we believe that people are too free.

Conversely, if we craft messages that are meant to liberate people it is because it is assumed that people are not free at all. Jesus preaches and teaches in such a way that assumes that people are bound and they need liberation. He does not give more rules to follow - in fact he speaks of only two. He preaches release of the captives and the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus preaches and teaches one of liberation because he knows the people are too bound. But it not just humans that are too bound. When given the choice to liberate or bind the demons living in a man in Mark 5, Jesus liberates the demons to go into the swine. Jesus saw that even the demons were bound and needed liberation, and so he extends mercy to allow them to enter into the swine.

This does not mean Jesus’ message is without binding. Far from it. In the moment of glory, Jesus allows himself to handed over to a people who believed he was too free, and they tried to silence him by binding him to the cross.

If we believe that people are bound then we will preach liberation. When we preach liberation, the powers and principality that are dependent upon our bondage will come for us. These powers will seek to discredit, shame, bind and even kill the one who assumes that people are in bondage.

No wonder so many of us would rather wave flags and banners proclaiming how free we all are. In our chants of freedom we are blind to the ways we are in bondage. In our assumptions that people are free our messages become binding and restrictive.

In a bit of tragic irony, when we assume people are free, we have liberated ourselves from receiving the True freedom that comes from God in Christ. And we remain in bondage, assuming we are free.

Pray then Contemplate then Meditate then Pray...

Photo by  Motoki Tonn  on  Unsplash

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Listening to different groups of people I hear three words used to describe some of their practices. The religious (often conservative) use the word prayer, academics (often liberal) use the word contemplate, and mystics (not just Christians) use the word meditate. Sometimes there words are used interchangeably in popular culture, but my lived experience teaches me that these are not different words for the same practice, but rather three different practices. The trouble is, most of us just do one of these when we really need all three.

Prayer is many things, however at the core, prayer is paying attention. it is the act of paying attention to the needs around us. It is paying attention to gratitude. It is paying attention to the hurts and pains in the world. It is paying attention to what the still small voice of God whispers to us.

While prayer is using our peripheral vision to pay attention, contemplation is the practice of focusing on something. It is focusing on one scripture or one concern. It is focusing on what God is inviting us to do or become.

Meditation is the practice of letting go. If prayer and contemplation are about opening our eyes to different degrees, meditation is about closing them. Not closing them to the pain of the world or the concerns of God, but closing them so to empty ourselves. Meditation gives us access to our limitations and shows us how we are not in control or in what ways we are limited to effect change.

To pray, contemplate or meditate in isolation is not only difficult to do but we are missing out on the fullness of these practices. They each build upon one another and connect to one another. We pay attention, we focus, we release, only to pay attention once more.

Since we are just out of Lent, perhaps it is easier to pull the example of Jesus from Matthew 26 36-42. First Jesus prays (pays attention):

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 

Jesus is praying and in doing so he is paying attention. He is paying attention to his situation becomes grieved and agitated, even to death. Jesus asks the disciples to “stay awake with me” to pay attention to what God desires.

The story continues:

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 

Now Jesus moves from praying to contemplating. He is focused on the real possibility right before him. He narrows his choices to two - let this cup pass or thy will. Additionally we wonder if Jesus frustrated with the disciples because they are asleep or because they are not paying attention? The story then makes the final turn toward mediation:

Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

Jesus lets go of a desire to control the outcome. He is aware of his limitations in the situation. He clears his mind through meditation and said “the same words” of release to God. Once this threefold movement is complete, Jesus remains frustrated, not at his impending death mind you but at the disciples who could not even do the first step to stay awake, pay attention, pray.

Tossing Jesus Off A Cliff

…And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The group is excited because they are anticipating that Jesus is going to not only do great things among them, but probably even going to give them a little extra. Like when you go to a restaurant and know the server and they tend to your table a little more than others and bring you a birthday dessert even though it is not your birthday. This town is looking to get the hook up, as the kids say.

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Jesus says that in fact God has a history of giving favors to people other than the chosen ones. Jesus cites two times when Elijah and Elisha both were sent not to the chosen people but to the foreigners.

The people around Jesus got super angry and move to give him the death of a heretic. All because Jesus reminded them that God is less interested in giving the “extra good stuff” to the chosen ones and more interested in integrating the ones that the people of God thought were downright unrepentant sinners.

Imagine a group of people agreeing that they are in the right, that Jesus should take care of them first, because he is one of them, and they are the majority. Jesus says he is not going to do that but go to the hated minorities. Perhaps people cry out, but we are the majority Jesus and we are the faithful ones! Jesus might have reminded them that they should be the first ones to understand why he is to go integrate the minority. Instead of seeing that grace compels us to move beyond what we identify as kosher or orthodox, they decided to drive Jesus off a cliff.

But that was a long time ago.