Three Monks and One Sees

Benedicta Ward’s book has this story:

There were three friends, serious men, who became monks. One of them chose to make peace between men who were at odds, as it is written, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matt. 5:9). The second chose to visit the sick. The third chose to go away to be quiet in solitude. Now the first, toiling among contentions, was not able to settle all quarrels and, overcome with weariness, he went to him who tended the sick, and found hims also failing in spirit and unable to carry out his purpose. So the two went away to see hims who had withdrawn into the desert, and they told him their troubles. They asked him to tell them how he himself had fared. He was silent for a while, and then poured water into a vessel and said, ‘Look at the water.’ and it was murky. After a little while he said again, ‘See now, how clear the water has become.’ As they looked into the water they saw their own faces, as in a mirror. They he said to them, ‘So it is with anyone who lives in a crowd; because of the turbulence, he does not see his sins: but when he has been quiet, above all in solitude, then he recognizes his own faults.’

Today there are two major camps in the UMC. One claims the importance of peacemaking (Conservatives) while others are claiming the importance of tending to the sick (Liberals). Both camps have a good and Biblical claim on their task, and both are making good on the call. However, we now find ourselves in a bind where both camps are failing in spirit and there is such a turbulence in the Church. Neither camp sees the value of being quiet and still. Both camps are righteous in their cause and pouring water out, baptizing the work they do. Neither camp can see, as they churn up water, that we are drowning.

Photo by  Haley Phelps  on  Unsplash

The flailing and hand waving and crying out all is in an effort to ensure we can all stay a float through these troubled waters. It is the wisdom of the third monk that we need. The one who elevates silence, stillness, patience. Of course we do not give any merit to such posturing as it is seen as irrelevant and useless (all the while forgetting that Nouwen cautions us to the temptation of relevancy and that prayer is being “useless”).

And so what is the local church and church leader to do? How can we harness the wisdom of the third monk? Perhaps we can at least recall Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “Faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If you struggle, if you tense up and thrash about, you will eventually sink. But if you relax and trust, you will float.”

Church leaders, there is nothing wrong with the wisdom of the third monk. There is nothing wrong with stillness, waiting and trusting. There is nothing wrong with not doing “something”. There is nothing wrong with trusting in the buoyancy of God.

Is that not our call?

The Ideal Neighbor To Love Is a Dead One

Sorren Kierkegaard continues to be source of delight for my theology and imagination. I do not understand him so much of the time and yet and drawn to him with some consistency.


Kierkegaard said the ideal neighbor to love is a dead one. Which sounds awful and, on the surface, a rational to kill a person. This is where literal meanings and the true meaning are miles apart.

Literally, loving a dead neighbor is a horrid idea. If we have to kill people in order to love them then do we really love them? Of course not. So if Kierkegaard does not mean this literally, then what the heck is he talking about?

If we understand someone as our “neighbor” then we have made the distinction of them and us. Specifically, when we make the distinction that someone is “my neighbor” we are “other-ing” them. When we put people into categories, even the category of “neighbor,” we are prone to keep people in those categories and see them primarily as that category and not as a fully human person.

You may see where Kierkegaard was going with this when he suggests the ideal neighbor is a dead one because what is dead is not the physical person but the very idea of someone being an “other”.

It is like Jesus showing us the best way to destroy an enemy is to love them. If you love someone then they are, by definition, no longer an enemy. “Loving enemies” and “killing the neighbor” are two ways to express the same thing - there is only one way to have no enemies.

If worship is going to the theater, the congregation is not the audience

Rev. Dr. Todd Renner shared with a workshop he was co-leading something from Kierkegaard and his metaphor of worship as theater. I have not read Kierkegaard to know the context of this metaphor, and I have not taken time to look the source up, but here is how Dr. Renner shared it to our group. 

There were three aspects of traditional theater:

  1. Audience
  2. Actors
  3. Prompter (situated out so to cue the actors if they forget a line)

In worship it is commonly understood that:

  1. The congregation is the audience
  2. The preacher is the actor
  3. God is the prompter - provoking/inspiring the actors

Kierkegaard used this metaphor but argued:

  1. The congregation is the actor
  2. The preacher is the prompter
  3. God is the audience

I am not sure what to make of this at this time, it really is just something to meditate on and consider the role of worship in our lives. Consider what role you fill and where you see God in it all.