faith

Self Reflective Jesus

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” Luke 17:5-10

Every time I read a parable I wonder where is Jesus, and this time I wondered if Jesus was the slave. Like the slave, Jesus works the “fields” and tends to “sheep”, and at the last supper he served the disciples with an apron around his waist. Could it be that Jesus is disappointed in his own self that in all that he has done to serve them, the disciples still ask for an increase of faith.

If the disciples were with Jesus this long, and their faith has not increased (which is the bare minimum that would be expected of a teacher) then I wonder if Jesus is disappointed himself?

Is Jesus disappointed that for all that he has done for the disciples, they are still seeking an increase of faith? That he thought the faith of the disciples was increasing only to discover in the question that perhaps their faith as not matured? That is Jesus was, at this point, unable to get the disciples to think about beyond just their individual faith.

Could Jesus be confessing, in his own Jesus way, that his ministry feels worthless because he was was failing to do “what ought to have done” - the bare minimum?

Is Jesus saying he feels worthless because he has only been able to do the bare minimum and not accomplish a greater mission in these disciples?

Am I frustrating Jesus because I am often interested in increasing my own faith at the expense of being interested in the greater mission of God?

Lord have mercy.

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 Antifragile Body of Christ

Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile speaks of the fragile, the flexible and the antifragile. These three concepts are names used to describe how something or someone might respond to a shock.

Photo by  Vittore Buzzi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Vittore Buzzi on Unsplash

The fragile breaks with a shock.

The flexible absorbs a shock.

The antifragile requires shock to develop.

When I was younger I would say my faith was fragile. I would pray for something and if that something did not happen, then I would fall to pieces. If there were one too many “bad things” happening I would begin to abandon notions of God and love.

Of course, most of us grow up and we discover that our fragile faith or fragile selves will not make it in the world because shocks come. We discover how to be flexible. We are encouraged to roll with the punches and remain nimble in our lives. We know that shocks come and we should do what we can in order to absorb the shocks the best we can.

The fragile and the flexible still remain suspicious of different shocks in our lives and we would rather be flexible than fragile. However, even the most flexible regresses to a more fragile state. Flexible gymnasts at sixteen become fragile at ninety. Plastic containers become brittle overtime. Fragility is the endgame of the flexible.

Taleb introduced me to the idea of “antifragile.” This is the way of being in the world that does not shy away from shocks but need shocks in order to develop and mature. The classic example would be the immune system. Unless the immune system is shocked with virus and sickness the immune system does not develop. It needs the shock of being sick to become healthy.

The shocks in the UMC these past several weeks are real. Some in our churches are broken in light of these shocks. Others are trying to absorb the shock and make statements that “push back” to the decisions of a General Conference. Everyone processes and moves through these shocks differently, however the people and churches that I am drawn to are the antifragile. Those that take the posture that the shocks are needed if the Body of Christ is going to be strong and healthy.

The Body of Christ may be sick, but it is not dead.

The Faith Trip

Many metaphors make up the language of faith. Anytime someone talks of God, it is through a metaphor. Jesus uses metaphor when describing the kingdom of God. The prophets use metaphors to critique the powerful. Modern Christian teachers use metaphors to help us grasp the work of God today.

One of the metaphors we lean on to describe our growing, dying, maturing and learning is our “faith journey.” The faith journey is a rich metaphor that allows the speaker to utilize additional metaphoric language to paint a fuller picture of the journey. We can talk about a “guide” or a “map” that help us on the way. This is a helpful metaphor to be sure.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Until it is not.

Listening to others talk about their “faith journey” I hear a conviction that the “journey” is headed somewhere specific. Often called “heaven” but sometimes called “peace” or “joy”, the faith journey metaphor builds in it a basic sense that there is a time when we will “arrive” and we have yet to get there. It is also assumed that when we arrive at this destination that all will be better or something.

The power of the metaphor of “faith journey” is neutered when we use the metaphor with a predetermined destination in mind. Having a destination in mind means that we not only are not going on a journey but that we also have little faith.

To go on a journey is to emphasis the process of traveling, not the destination. When we go somewhere, say for vacation or for work, we do not use the word journey to describe it. We say we took a trip to Florida or we have a work trip this week. I have yet to hear anyone say, “I have to journey out for work on Thursday.” Or even, “we journeyed to Disney.”

The language of trip presupposes that the point is the destination. Otherwise why would you leave home at all if not to “arrive” that the destination.

The language of journey presupposes that the point is the process of traveling. It is the process of learning and trusting the guides will take you places that you did not predetermine. It is the language of faith that there are things in the journey that are more important than the destination, if only we were not focused on the destination.

We are on a the faith journey, not the faith trip.