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Rabbi Akiva and His Questions

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Rabbi Akiva was walking home one night on the same path he always traveled, except that this night was incredibly foggy and he missed his usual turn off the path.

Soon he encounters a massive fortress.

At the gate the Rabbi hears the voice of a guard yelling to him from the wall, “Who are you and why are you here?”

Upon hearing those words, the Rabbi asks: “How much are you paid for your work?

“Two shekels a day,” the guard responded.

Rabbi Akiva then looks up at the guard and says, “I will pay you twice that if you follow me to my home and ask me those very same questions every single morning.”

The Time I Hear a Sermon in the Bathroom

This very hard working man violating two social mores in one moment: 1) the oft cited rule that socially acceptable conversation avoids politics and religion and 2) the unspoken rule that conversation between men in the restroom is restricted to dads coaxing their sons to aim properly. So when he said, “give me a word.” I was caught off guard.

Photo by  Paul Green  on  Unsplash

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

I shared with him that I have been reading about Saint Moses who said that a monk should sit in his cell for the cell will teach you all you need to know. I said I have been reflecting on this as a need for silence and solitude in a hyper-connected and noisy world.

The worker smiled and grunted with satisfaction. So I asked in return “give me a word.”

The worker began to tell me the story of the rich man who avoided Lazarus their whole lives. He recalled how when they both died the rich man, from hell, asked that Lazarus would come, from heaven, to give him a cool drink. (Those of you who know this story from the Gospels can fill in the details.)

I smiled and grunted with satisfaction.

We “man hugged” (the handshake where you pull each other to bump chests and slap the back of the other two times before you disengage) and went our separate ways.

The life of the Christian is one that holds the call to action and the call to contemplation in tension. It is not sufficient for the social justice warrior to dismiss the need for silence and stillness. It is not sufficient for the hermit to dismiss the prophetic action need in the world.

You may think that action and contemplation are opposite ends of the spectrum, that they cannot coexist in one church much less in one person. We are led to believe that we must be either/or. Justice or worship. Action or contemplation. Left or right. Unity or disunity.

The deeper call of Christ is not either but both. Perhaps this is in part why the way of Christ is so difficult – you have to embody a constant and unresolvable mystery.

It is easier to take a side.

My Doing Impacts My Vision

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I love the idea of being still, but my own sense of self-worth is wrapped up in "doing". There is a great little story from the desert teachers in the Christian tradition that goes something like this:

So the two went away to see him 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. Then 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.’

The irony of course is that in all my "doing" I cloud up the waters and cannot see very well. I then think that since I cannot see very well it must be because I am not working hard enough to see clearly, so I work and stir up the waters even more. 

I love to see clearly. I struggle to be still. 

Parable of man on an island and the UMC

There is a story that Peter Rollins tells in his book Idolatry of God and it goes like this:

There was once a man who had been shipwrecked on an uninhabited deserted island. There he lived alone for ten years before finally being rescued by a passing aircraft. Before leaving the island, one of the rescuers asked if they could see where the man had lived during his time on the island, and so he brought the small group to a clearing where there were three buildings. Pointing to the first he said, "This was my home; I build it when I first moved here all those years ago." "What about the building beside it?" asked the rescuers. "Ho, that is where I would worship every week," he replied. "And that building beside that?" "Don't bring that up," replied the man in an agitated tone. "That is where I used to worship."

While this story is not factually true, this is a True story. Anytime there is a quest to find the "perfect", "pure", "correct" church we will always be disappointed and leave. If we believe the Church we are in is not upholding the ideal that we believe it should be upholding then we will always be building new churches.