christian life

Starting the Spiritual Life

The more that I engage with the sayings of the desert wisdom the more I come to see how little I really know about the Christian spiritual life. For instance, I struggle with anger and I try really hard to say the right things. I do not want to offend my neighbor and I do not want to say things that do harm. Of course I fail at this, but I still feel that the “ideal Christian” would never say anything hurtful. And then I read this:

They said of Abbot Pambo that in the very hour when he departed this life he said to the holy men who stood by him: From the time I came to this place in the desert, and built me a cell, and dwelt here, I do not remember eating bread that was not earned by the work of my own hands, nor do I remember saying anything for which I was sorry even until this hour. And thus I go to the Lord as one who has not even made a beginning in the service of God. - The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton

Pambo thought, right up to the point of his death, that self-sufficiency and not being a drain on anyone (by avoiding bread he did not make) was virtuous. He thought that never saying anything he was sorry for was a saintly. And then, right at the point of his death, he saw that this “ideal” way of living was in fact not the way of God at all. Receiving hospitality and seeking reconciliation are the very beginning steps of one in the service of God.

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It is faithful to seek reconciliation. It is not faithful to keep so quite as to never offend or to think all that you say is without flaw. It is faithful to receive the work of others. The deficient one is someone who has never asked for help.

I am reminded once again that American values are not Christian values. The pious self-sufficient individual might think they are at the pinnacle of heaven, but Pambo says they have not even begun to walk the mountain.

Maybe Don't Pray for People So Much

Praying for someone or for a situation is a common Christian practice. Prayer brings us into solidarity with one another, but it also is a confessional posture. Praying for someone often suggests a powerlessness to a situation and that we pray that God may intervene. Prayer is a powerful practice that bathes the Christian life and it is good a right thing to pray for people.

Sympathy vs. Empathy - Brown and RSA

My co-pastor and wife showed the Brene Brown clip making the distinction between sympathy and empathy. Brown points out that sympathy is a noble thing, but sympathy is something that one feels at a distance from another. When a tragedy strikes we send our sympathies. These are well intentions, but sympathy can only get one so far. Which is why Brown points out the need for empathy.

Empathy is that posture of being with someone who is in the pit or dark night. Empathy requires that we sit with another. That we move toward them and be with them. Empathy is with another while sympathy is for another.

Christians are called to pray for people to be sure, however Christians have the greater call to pray with people. In order to pray with people we have to move to where the people are. We have to go out into the world and not just pray at our dinner tables for the world. We are to pray with the dying not just for those on hospice. We are to pray with the prisoner not just for the incarcerated.

I am comfortable praying for people but praying with people has changed my life.

Is Jesus Your Private Lord and Savior?

"Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?"

I was asked the question in college just about each week I attended the after-church-social-time at the coffee bar down the road from the church. I did not have much money and discovered that the evangelical church had money and would buy deserts in bulk. I participated in worship but then sat through the social time so I could take a few of these baked "meals" to go.

This important question is not one to scoff at. It is a question about your priorities, values and how you were living them out. If Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior then that means that your priorities and values reflected those of Jesus. Christians think that the priorities and values of Jesus are very good and trust that the world is transformed when they are lived out. 

Too often when we think about this question of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, we (the Church) has failed to communicate what just that means. We have gotten lazy and just let the fringe define what this means. So let me be clear: accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior is not a punch card to heaven. It is not the secret code or the earned merit to get access to the Grace of God. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is personal, it is not private. And therein lies the difference. 

Photo by  Dayne Topkin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Jesus is not your private Lord and Savior. In fact, Jesus not not anyone's private Lord and Savior. Jesus does not do private. Jesus is very personal, but not private. 

Accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior means at the very least you are living with those you find abhorrent and frustrating. It means being committed to upholding the value of another person even if you are repulsed by them. Yes, we need to keep proper boundaries when there is abuse, but boundaries drawn to isolate ourselves from everyone so that we live "just me and Jesus" is a misunderstanding of boundaries. 

If Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior than it means that you have given up the idea of exclusively practicing spirituality or religion on your own "private" time and "private" way. If your relationship with Jesus is private then you are treating him as your butler, not your Lord. 

Like Parenting, Christianity is Less Carpenter; More Gardener

A few weeks ago Hidden Brain had a wonderful little episode titled Kinder-Gardening. You can listen to the episode to the right if you would like.

If you have not heard this episode, it focuses on two competing metaphors for being a parent: a carpenter and a gardener. Where most of the books parents are encouraged to read and much of the conversation about how to raise children are influenced by the parent as carpenter metaphor, it stands to reason that for most of human history it is the parent as gardener metaphor that has guided us. 

The key difference in these metaphors, as you can imagine, is the locus of control. If a carpenter does the proper work they will get the proper product. The carpenter is a metaphor of control and is the dominate metaphor for living in the United States. Those of us in the United States have a false sense of control in our lives that it is almost laughable at how fragile we are when we are only slightly out of control. Just watch many Americans stand in a line or have to wait for the server to bring the menu, you can see frustration boil over because the lack of control is maddening (I know this all too well myself!).

Photo by  Igor Ovsyannykov  on  Unsplash

The dominance of the carpenter metaphor bleeds into parenting to the point that society believes that raising children is like building a table. Just look at the most popular books on parenting. The carpenter parent metaphor is booming business. However, for anyone who has raised a child you know that there is so much that you cannot control that it is almost laughable to think that anyone could build the proper child to being with! Thus the metaphor of parenting as gardener may be more helpful.

Just as you cannot control the weather, birds dropping odd seeds and bugs eating your fruits, so too you cannot control much of a child: their DNA, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their friends, etc. Parenting today feels like having to unlearn the carpenter and learn the skill set of the gardener. 

Which leads me to Jesus. 

Jesus was raised by a carpenter and yet the vast majority of his parables use gardening imagery. In fact, other than the parable of the foolish builder in Matthew 7 and again in Luke 6, I could not think of any parable that connected to carpentry. 

It is interesting to me that even Jesus had to unlearn the carpenter and learn the skill of the gardener so to teach God's children how to live. 

Perhaps the invitation is to put down the hammer and pick up the shovel.