Our identity comes from God alone. Our status with God–our relationship with God–our salvation–is not earned. But it can be “worked out.” That is, if we have accepted Jesus’ reconciling sacrifice for us, if we have “signed up” to be His apprentices, if the Holy Spirit is residing with our spirits, our lives will be an expression of that fact–of our salvation.
#YouWillNeverHearMeSay is trending on Twitter right now–or at least it was five minutes ago. Here’s the thing, though. You might.
There’s something I noticed about six months ago, which is layered on top of something I noticed about four years ago. The four-years-ago thing is that I’m pretty sure 100% of people (that includes me, in case you thought I was an exceptionalist and even worse at math than I am) have to learn to listen well. That is–we are not born good listeners. Some people have a greater aptitude for learning this vital skill, perhaps, but it is not a default for anybody.
The six-months-ago thing I noticed, though, is that not only are none of us good listeners by default, but many of us are actually anti-listeners. That is, we hear the noise in our own heads as if it came out of the other person’s mouth. We hear what we expect. Frequently it comes down to whether we are inclined (for good, bad, or zero reasons) to like or dislike whoever is talking.
One Sunday (about six months ago), I was preaching, as I typically do on Sundays these days. I don’t remember which sermon it was, but in the sermon, I said something like, “I’m not making a statement of value here about other faiths than Christianity, but it is not true to say that ‘all religions are the same.'” Then I went on to talk about some relevant-to-the-rest-of-the-sermon distinctives of the faith held by most of the people in the room, to support my statement.
After the service, a pleasant young man from out of town who had visited a few times with his young family approached me enthusiastically. “I just have to say,” he said, “I really appreciated what you had to say today–about how all religions are really the same!”
I was left to conclude that this young man was inclined to feel favorably toward me for whatever reason (possibly because I had a rapport with his wife and little daughter) and so interpreted what came out of my mouth as being what he wanted to hear. I suspect if, for some reason, he had instead taken a strong dislike to me, I could have said something more palatable and he would have heard the opposite in that case, too. But I don’t think this was a quirk of this young man. I think we humans do this all the time–in our places of worship, in our families, in our politics. I know I catch myself doing it.
So while it may be true that there are some things I would never say, first of all, I’m not sure what they are at the moment, and second, I can’t promise you will never hear me say them. You might, if you’re inclined to think I would.
Lent’s coming up. I think I’m going to try really hard to give up my preconceived ideas about people enough to listen to them well. It might be the hardest Lenten “fast” I’ve ever done (or a close second to not-saying-mean-things-about-Starbucks-customers), but it seems worth trying. Who’s with me? We can support each other (and practice together!) in an Online Spiritual Conversation Group. Let me know in the comments, or contact me.
Most of the time (not all of the time), I try to push myself through the pain and the dark. Yesterday, in the face of discouragement and doubt (which, unusually rapidly, has pretty much dissipated today), I had on my calendar that I was going to finally finish putting together the new Pilgrimage course, The Walk. I didn’t work on it. I blogged instead. And then I thought, I’m going to keep putting this off until I actually officially schedule it and invite people to it, I just know it.
So, I made it a Facebook event. What follows is the description. Registration survey to come.
I Want Jesus to Walk With Me I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Whichever way you put it, the Jesus life is evidently a long journey…at a walking pace. A lot of things can happen between Here and There.
2020 life, though? That’s the opposite. Things are big, loud, fast. Instant, no less. Even the Church has gotten caught up in the rush. What if Jesus is putting on the brakes? What if Jesus is inviting His people back into the Walk?
If you have found yourself asking: Why is their Jesus so different from my Jesus? Why don’t I believe the things I used to? Am I losing my faith? Why are Christians such jerks? [or, you know, another word for “jerk”]
If you have found yourself asking: Why are so many people leaving the church? Whatever happened to truth? What’s deconstruction and why are so many “so-called Christians” doing it?
…it may be time to take The Walk. Intended for both Christians in the church and Christians/skeptics/deconstructers trying to get or stay out of it, The Walk is a compassionate exploration of stages of faith as understood and described by Christians in earlier centuries, across the theological spectrum, and exhibited in the biblical stories of Jesus’ disciple, Simon Peter.
Individuals make take this course but it is particularly ideal for established leadership or ministry teams, as well as ex-church groups of friends, to engage together. At this time, there is no upper limit on group size.
Stay tuned for more details.
NOTE: *****This is the first run of a new Pilgrimage course. It is being offered THIS TIME ONLY at $125 per person, which is half off what it will cost as an established course. No group rates will apply at this price but they will be negotiable in future.*****
I don’t suppose there are too many people following this blog who followed my very first blog back in the day, but if you did, you know that one time I had breast cancer. What is less well known is that I have also struggled long and hard with comparatively mild but still medicatable anxiety/depression. But I’ve been cancer free for over a decade now, thank God, and haven’t needed mental health meds in almost that long. (There was about a month, four years ago, when I had a weird bout of depression made more weird by the fact that I had never had it without anxiety before; it was different and scary but somehow cleared up as suddenly as it arrived.)
And then I woke up this morning and found myself journal-crying. And then crying through my cardio workout (new gauge for levels of depression: depressed enough to sob through cardio; not depressed enough to skip the cardio). There are some pretty glaringly obvious other symptoms I’ve been experiencing since New Year’s which indicate to me that this current round of depression is connected to Time of Life, but the last time I preached we talked about how our bodies and our souls are a lot more interconnected than a dualistic Western worldview would lead us to believe, so my emotional/spiritual life has taken a beating here today, too, regardless of how much sense my intellect is trying to talk into me.
Here’s what happens in my soul when my body chemicals mess me up: I take my calling personally and myself too seriously. Like, I mean, when I try to introduce people to Jesus and they don’t want to know Him, or like when I stopped working at that one church and all the kids I was trying to disciple for seven years more or less explicitly rejected everything I had been trying to teach–I take it as a rejection of me. I used to do this all the time, until something happened when I took the course on which I have largely based Stepping Into the Story, when it finally clicked on a soul level that everything I do is about Jesus, and He isn’t necessarily finished with people even when they and I aren’t in each other’s lives anymore, and He brings the people into each others’ orbits when He intends to, and not when He doesn’t, and it’s really up to Him so I can just do what He’s given me to do and not worry about it.
Except when body chemicals are involved, apparently. Today when I woke up, the two biggest thoughts in my head were 1. Church attendance is shrinking again when it never grew that much to begin with and the financial hole we just crawled out of is sucking us back in, and 2. I really thought Stepping Into the Story had turned a corner and I’d be able to run two groups of it during the same season, of three people each, but instead I only have two people signed up, still, total, two days before one round of it starts. The combination of these two thoughts seemed like the worst thing in the world. And so, cardio sobbing and journal crying.
I’m not sharing this to be self-indulgent (although another side effect of today’s mindset might be not having an accurate analysis of my inner motivations. That might be a side effect of being human, too, though), but because the Pilgrimage is really for broken people. I mean, people who know they’re broken. Maybe it’s just a handful of us, limping or crawling or dragging ourselves along on this journey, recognizing we aren’t the superheroes and spiritual experts we’d like to be. But maybe that’s all there need to be. I don’t know.
I do feel like, in my own pilgrimage, God has given me some glimpses of light and the road ahead, some understanding of the pitfalls I’ve experienced on the road before, and some desire–and maybe even call–to share what I’ve gleaned with others who want the insight. But I suspect that sometimes, as I carry on this road, I project that I have it all together and am just waiting to bestow pearls of expert wisdom on people. Sometimes I might forget that I’m still on the journey toward healing myself. Or sometimes you might. So mornings like this one just passed are really a gift, a reality check, a reminder–for me and also for you. I need prayer to keep going. So do you. And we need to journey together. This pilgrimage was never meant to be traveled alone.
So I teach this course called Stepping Into the Story. You may have heard of it. (But probably only if you’ve been here before.) It’s this very-small-group (3 plus me) course that meets once a week for 12 weeks via video, and together we dig back into our pasts to see where or how God has been present back then, even in the dark, leading us to where we are now, and giving us some tools and direction for where we’re going next.
Every time I teach it, participants come away grateful that they did it, amazed at how they encountered God, and/or months or even years later they tell me they’re still taking things away from that course that are impacting their lives now.
Also every time I teach it, it feels inordinately difficult to find even three people to sign up. For some reason this surprises me more as time goes on instead of less, because each “next time,” there are more people who have taken it, survived, and are talking about it with enthusiasm. But the fact is, most people would still rather not revisit their pasts. I get it. Most people have also experienced some degree of drama or trauma. Why would we want to reexamine that? Sometimes people bolster this understandable aversion to looking back with Bible verses (“forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” anyone?) and theology. I think there are also some solid biblical reasons for life-review in the company of God and trustworthy companions, but I had a little epiphany the other day about one more reason it might be hard to get motivated to join this course, and that’s what I want to talk about right now.
Every time I teach SITS, or promote it, for that matter, I talk about “what if God were there, even in the dark times”? Well. What if He were? Does that make the fact that you lived through those times better? Or worse? If He were there, and you still went through it, that must mean He didn’t do anything about it, right? Why would you want to find that out? What’s more, how could you continue to trust Him if you learned that He was?
I totally get it. Actually, I feel like I’ve had this question in the back of my own mind on your behalf for years now, even while promoting this class, and only this week did I finally turn around and face it by articulating it. Thing is, after facing the question, I really feel like it’s just another reason to take Stepping Into the Story. If you are leaving your past in God’s hands, but a part of you is doing it because it’s scary to contemplate what would happen to your relationship with Him if the past were in His hands all along, it might be time to get honest with Him about that. If you find yourself with doubts you can’t tell anyone else about, or stuck in an endless cycle of faulty life management tactics, it may well be because of an elephant in the room between you and God, called The Past.
I’ve found–from my own experience and that of others, too–the door on our past doesn’t ever really close. Definitely it doesn’t if we don’t have a “family meeting” with God and work through it together. But the past can begin to feel different, and impinge on us differently, if we do take our courage in both hands and have that family meeting. Fortunately, also at this particular family meeting? Are a few other honest-to-goodness ordinary human beings intent on shining our flashlights into the dark with you. You’d be amazed at the brilliance of the gold we’ll dig up together.
Stepping Into the Story, Friday afternoon edition, starts on Valentine’s Day. We’re still looking for our third person. I’m hoping also to hold a Wednesday evening edition, starting on 12 February. So far no one has signed up for that one, but…all we need are three of you. You can do this. We’re in this together.
I have a friend–yea verily, one who occasionally reads my blogposts–who will argue with me that if Shabbat is not observed on Saturday, it’s not Shabbat. I think, for a Christian, it can be. Anyway, I practice it on Mondays and I’m still calling it Sabbath.
Two Mondays ago, I had a beautiful Sabbath. I had just got done reading about Sabbath in John Mark Comer’s new book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, and I was planning to preach about it the following Sunday, and so I was going to “do it right” that week; no social media at all (frequently I don’t make the full 24 hours), no errands, no shopping, no housework.
I’ve started this new thing where, on Sabbath when I read my Bible, instead of journaling about it, I try to illustrate some aspect of what I read–I have more time, and it gets me to notice different things in the text than I see when everything’s just verbal. I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately, but also thinking/talking about Jesus’ easy yoke. That day, it so happened that I read Jeremiah 26-29. The combination of those stories/prophecies and Jesus gave me some food for thought…
Then I did two workouts, because I like working out these days, and those have become something of a physical prayer for me these days. Then I mended a very special necklace (I know, that sounds like housework, but in this particular case it was more an act of worshipful restoration; some day I’ll tell you about the necklace, maybe). Then I took a walk and some photos. Then I did some Ignatian prayer exercises. The day was beautiful, I tell you.
Then the rest of the week was ridiculous. Busy, emotionally draining, stressful, migraine-full. I got to Sunday, got up to talk about Sabbath, felt completely scattered…and so was the sermon/workshop. That night I fell asleep exhausted, but then woke up at 2:30 and couldn’t fall back to sleep because I couldn’t shut my brain off about what a train wreck the previous day’s sermon seemed to me, and the things that needed to get done this week, and how maybe, in spite of everything I had just said yesterday, I was going to have to skip Sabbath this week because so many other things were time sensitive… Which was annoying, because not only was Monday my Sabbath, but this particular Monday was also my favorite non-religious holiday: Martin Luther King Day.
I did not skip Sabbath when I got up that morning, but it was a terrible one. I was exhausted, for one thing. And therefore grumpy. But also there were chores I hadn’t gotten to the week before, and an errand to run for the evening. I sat down to do some more Ignatian exercises, couldn’t find the guideline, didn’t want to find the guideline, sat in my bed and sulked. I tabled the time-sensitive work items but fretted about them most of the day. I stayed off social media and consequently forgot Martin Luther King. Which is terrible–that I would need social media to remember it.
Then some friends came over for dinner. Some really good friends who are completely relaxing to be around. We ate good food and drank good wine and laughed and reminisced and the entire world righted itself in that moment of Sabbath fellowship.
The time sensitive work items took care of themselves, it turned out–so thoroughly that I actually found time to observe MLK Day myself on another day of the week. (It was also, unfortunately, a sick day, and I am still sick–but sometimes even a mild illness feels like a gift from God if it doesn’t hang on too long.)
Neither Sabbath reflected any part of the reality of the week which immediately followed it–but maybe that’s because the Sabbath is meant to be the seventh day of the week. (Tuesday is the first day of my week in that case. A new thought…) It’s like the collector of all the stuff, good or bad, that filled up the week before. And if I didn’t intentionally set aside that day to offload that stuff with God, even if I was grumpy, even at Him, I suspect it would simply have snowballed right on into the next week.
Sabbath, y’all. Find a way to take one. Your life might just depend on it. I’m pretty sure mine does.