Success Is Not a Name of God

Many people know that Jesus taught many times using parables. A parable is a story that puts things “parallel” to one another in order to allow the space between them to illuminate what we are missing. Sort of like putting a frame around a picture. The frame is the tool the artist uses in order to show within the frame. To get focused on the frame is to miss the point of the art. Which is why we do not get hung on on the historical accuracy of the parables, we know that they are just the frame to show us something else.


Clearly I am not Jesus - on my best days I am able to be in the parking lot of his stadium. I am not a master story teller and I am working with the art form of parable, but it is not easy for me. What follows is not a parable, but an attempt to offer a frame in order to show a hyperbolic contrast in order to expose the question: What is success to God?

The frame is just two quotes. One from Dorothee Soelle’s book and the other from Jerry Falwell Jr’s twitter feed.

“Martin Buber said that “success is not a name of God.” It could not be said more mystically nor more helplessly. The nothing that wants to become everything and needs us cannot be named in the categories of power. To let go of the ego means, among other things, to step away from the coercion to succeed. It means to “go where you are nothing…” The ultimate criterion for taking action cannot be success because that would mean to go on dancing to the tunes of the bosses of this world.” - Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance

“Conservatives & Christians need to stop electing “nice guys”. They might make great Christian leaders but the US needs street fighters like @realDonaldTrump at every level of government b/c the liberal fascists Dems are playing for keeps & many Repub leaders are a bunch of wimps!” - Jerry Falwell Jr. via Twitter (Sept 28, 2018)

Again, I ask, what is success to God?

Being Led by An "Earless" Would-Be Bishop

Within the opening pages of Andrea Sterk's book Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church: The Monk-Bishop of Late Antiquity, lies a short story of a monk named Ammonius. Ammonius was well revered and beloved even as a monk living by himself. He was so appreciated that they wanted to make him bishop. Moving from the harsh desert to the accommodations of a bishop must have been a nice upgrade.

A group of men go to Ammonius to tell him the great news of his promotion. 

Photo by  David Rangel  on  Unsplash

Photo by David Rangel on Unsplash

Ammonius hears the news and polity rejects the invitation to the office of bishop. The group is a bit flummoxed, I mean who would not want to be bishop? They press upon him and it becomes clear that they are going to take him by force to the consecration services. With a quick thought, Ammonius grabs pruning shears and cuts off his left ear.

The men stood in shock looking at a severed ear on the ground and their would be bishop bleeding from his head. Ammonius reminds them that dismemberment disqualifies one to the office of bishop. Ammonius closes the door to his hut and the men leave. 

It is not necessary to point out, but can we just pause to admire how much of a boss Ammonius is? There is a deep beauty in clarity of call and purpose, in divesting of power, to sacrifice for a greater Truth. Lord may we all have such courage, imagination and wisdom.

The church has a deep theology of sacrifice, but contemporary practice is to expect sacrifice from others. Ammonius, like Jesus, remind us that the call is not to sacrifice others but to self-sacrifice. 

I want to be a part of a church that would cut off her own ear for the sake of refusing the temptations of power and prestige. 

Looking into the eyes of others is a drain

Eye contact is a powerful and complicated practice. We know that eye contact can impair functions such as visual imagination but it turns out eye contact may also impair our ability to speak.

According to research by Shogo Kajimura and Michio Nomura, they found that participants were slower to generate complex verbs when looking into the eyes of someone on a screen. Their conclusions were not that eye contact impedes our ability to formulate verbs, but instead,

"They said the results are consistent with the idea that eye contact drains our more general cognitive resources – the kind that we need to draw on when some other task, such as speaking, becomes too difficult to be handled by domain-specific resources. That’s why the more complicated the story you’re telling (or excuse you’re making), the more likely you are to need to break off eye contact.
Looking away when we’re talking is something most of us do instinctively as adults, but this isn’t necessarily the case for children. Past research has shown that young children can benefit from being taught to avert their gaze when they’re thinking."

Scriptures speak about a variety of humans unable to look into the face of God for various reasons. This metaphor of our inability to look into the eyes of God , may very well speak to a biological limitation we all have. For reasons that I don't understand, looking into the eyes of another person drains a lot of cognitive energy, which may explain why many days of listening to people share their souls I am exhausted - I may be looking at the face of God and it overwhelms me.