Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why Jesus?

Why read Why Jesus?

Bishop Will Willimon has written a concise and helpful introduction to Jesus- with wit and wisdom. Readers will benefit from his breadth of knowledge and depth of insight. This is a solidly biblical presentation of Jesus Christ. To do this, he uses only 137 pages and all of the notes are Scripture references, with most from the Psalms and the Gospels/Acts.

But the book could also be titled Why, Jesus? In each chapter, Willimon includes several "asides to Jesus," making it more of a three- way session between the author, us, and Jesus. Too, the technique encourages the reader to ask questions, to admit or surrender their doubts. "I've spent my whole adult life studying the parabolic teachings of Jesus. And yet I confess that, to this day, I really don't know for sure why Jesus told the parable of the dishonest manager who swindled his boss and who, in turn, was goofily praised by his boss. I don't know what to do with such a patently absurd story. Why, Jesus?" p.32

Thus, the more I read, the more I discovered that my thoughts were transformed into prayer. This is what the spiritual discipline of study is meant to bring to us. Using the words of another servant as catalyst and spark, you begin to receive blessings and wisdom that make the printed words bread for the day to come. One example of blessing is Willimon's brief reference of "green grass" in the middle of the desert, the setting of the Feeding of the Five Thousand stories. All four Gospels are referencing Psalm 23 (the Lord making us lie down in green pastures) and Isaiah 35 (the Messiah making the desert bloom). pp.67-68

Why Jesus? So I can get what I want or because Jesus works or because I've tried everything else? Willimon argues that framing the answer this way is misleading: "Jesus is God's means of getting what God wants out of you...Jesus is God's self-appointed means of getting down to us...Really now, if you were dreaming up a useful god to fulfill your every wish and run your every errand, would you have dreamed up Jesus? No way." p. 116

Willimon answers for himself, why he is a Christian: "Because Jesus called me. To be a Christian is to be someone put here by the great delegator. If the world doesn't like the idea of your being a follower of Jesus, a Christ- bearer into the world, you can say 'Take it up with Jesus. This whole thing was his idea. I tried to beg out of his assignment, but you know Jesus; he won't take 'no' for an answer." p.117

Call it Celtic or post-modern, for Willimon, Jesus is followed before he's known. Christian practice precedes understanding. And even then, it's a matter of faith, not certitude.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What's Your Image for Spiritual Health?

Jesus never really said much, as far as we know, about keeping his life well-balanced. Even so, alot of people have told me through the years that's exactly what I should try if I am to do better.

Regardless of what you're trying to balance, the image that comes to mind is the guy struggling to balance all the plates at the circus. He works really hard to maintain a brief moment of equilibrium until the act is over. All the while we hold our breath to see if he can really do it.

I'm not sure all the trying is ever worth the moment of so-called perfect balance. Juggling stuff always ends in dropping something. It puts all the attention on us.

Instead of balancing plates, we need to ask, what will make us feel more integrated and less fragmented? According to the book, Strengths Based Selling, the four rules of integration are: 1) There is no end date to integration 2) You cannot do it alone 3) You have to think small and 4) Integration is a choice, but it's never perfect.

One of my early teachers in the spiritual life, Elizabeth O'Connor, forwarded the idea that growth in the various centers of our lives was more important than simply keeping our schedules full and balanced. Her book, Letters to Scattered Pilgrims, was seminal in establishing for me that movement, not stasis, was apart of who we are and who God is. The life centers she discussed focused on our historical, intellectual, emotional, and moving centers.

That we're invited to grow and move toward God and our true selves is the gift of any age. It's not about trying, willy-nilly, to balance what we already have, but ways of being open to the new that God wants to bring into our lives.

We make room for God and the movement of the Holy One and ask the question, 'God, where and how do you want me to grow and to experience more of your fullness of grace and love? And how will I share that over-abundance with others?

One of the metaphors Jesus used for this God- life experienced in us was the one of a spring gushing up to eternal life. John 4:14. With God, there is always enough for you. Isn't that a better, more holy, less hectic picture than that of a plate-twirler?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Story

The characteristics of adult children of alcoholics sometimes left me more puzzled and feeling, well, different. Working with a skilled spiritual director equipped me to better see and appreciate the child I was meant to be, born to be.

I grew up Christian, was baptized and confirmed in a healthy community of faith. I went to church and Sunday School regularly. One of the greatest gifts to me from family and church was a trust in a loving God. Without it, I would be in a very different place spiritually, or even no place at all.

At the same time we kept our church experiences and realities at home apart from each other. A dichotomy existed. This is how addictions grow, fester, and persist. They are enabled by a conspiracy of silence. Or we smooth over the dysfunction by using words like "heavy drinker" instead of alcoholic.

In adolescence, I coped by trying to control, manage or avoid the explosive feelings within and people and situations around me. I did what I could do to keep the peace, especially once the booze started talking. I tried my best to reduce conversations to pablum- and even tried not to feel or think at all by numbing -out chemically.

For much of the first half of my life, the true self that God loved and created and called was in almost total dormancy. Yes, I graduated, was ordained, began and continued in full time ministry with major blindness to the one and only self. Spiritual direction and the disciplines were optional. A workshop I once attended on "The Image You Project" well describes the theme of those first 10 years in full time ministry. Don't get me wrong: wonderful opportunities to grow in wholeness did exist. Not easy finding them though. 

Greater acceptance of my true self and honest friendship with others is a journey, not a destination. This journey is wrapped up in the love and grace and movement of God. Refusing this true north is the sin I choose. My choice to live out of God's abundant love is the gift I can offer.

Oldies but Goodies