Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Alarming Sameness

The Christian spiritual life is very unspectacular, in spite of the ways we tend to market the exotic spiritual experience. On his television spots touting why you should visit his church, one mega church pastor claims, "You'll feel right at home in a second." If most worship guests decide in the first few minutes whether or not your church is for them, then what this pastor hopes is that most people will find community or a sense of belonging within the first visit to his church. Sure it feels good to be welcomed and greeted- to be noticed.

But the spiritual life is also about not being noticed. It's about finding within the purpose and motivation for serving others. Sameness doesn't have to be boring, far from it. It can be freeing to simplify what our motivation is in the spiritual life: to draw closer to God, to experience more of God, to be motivated out of love for God and others, etc. The challenge never goes away. The world system and our own ego always tries to seduce us into using our gifts in ways that undercut our spiritual health and others in the name of building up the self.

Jesus, in commenting on various uses of spiritual disciplines, explains that those who are gratifying ego needs "already have their reward." In essence he is saying that subverting the spiritual life to meet our self-centered needs serves no greater purpose, and certainly no spiritual purpose of connection to God or others. So when you're asked who sabotaged your spiritual well-being, you have only to reply, "It is I."

Church systems are certainly not immune from using the spiritual practices for their own ends and not always for the spiritual health of others. When clergy are burnt-out from their work, might it be because we have become so used to attaching our own institutional goals to the spiritual disciplines that we lose sight of our unique gifts and those we serve? The best book I know about clergy in spiritual direction is Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson. It is more prophetic, but it should shake you up, even if you are returning to it a second or third time. Peace.

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