Saturday, April 8, 2023

Can I Frame My Story with Jesus' Story?

When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.* 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I retired from doing ministry more than a year ago. It's not been an easy year. I vastly underestimated how difficult it would be to let go of being in active ministry as a clergyperson. Who am I?  Not a label or title, I know. But the question is far from an intellectual exercise. My once and future work and calling is really for others to accomplish. 

The Jesus of the Passion is the one who chooses to share in my diminishments and losses. For much of my life in Protestantism, I missed a central dimension of the good news embodied in the Crucifix, Jesus' loss of control- of God, others, and his physical agency.  In the empty cross of Protestants, Jesus cannot be identified by his wounds or humiliation. Here, in his Passion, and beginning with his being taken into custody of the authorities, Jesus loses control. 

Long ago I had a talk with a campus minister. My personal spiritual disciplines which I practiced so rigorously had lost their meaning and relevance. Everything that was once so certain and formulaic now seemed empty and pointless. I could only tell you what I no longer believed. The campus minister, who represented an evangelical tradition, cautioned me not to leave everything behind. The problem was that I didn't know what to keep or discard. 

All my systems of explaining God will pass away. I build them up, only to see the erosion of their structures rust, weaken and fall. When the real comes, what is unreal will fade away.  But this perspective requires time and a seeking heart.

When Jesus rode the donkey with her foal into Jerusalem, I picture a sunny day. We wave our palms with joy, lay our precious cloaks down for his pathway into the city. Prepare the way for the King! I don't want to see his coronation on a cross. It's a metaphor for the end of having Jesus the way I want, and actually, having everyone the way I want. 

So many expectations of God, church, others, and self are assaulted, then crucified. What does it mean that God does not weave a web of protection and deliverance around Jesus? Why can't God come through for once? What about friends scattering to leave Jesus alone with his accusers?  Did three years of following Jesus really help them when they ran away as fast as they could?

The Dunning- Kruger Effect theory suggests that we have blind spots when it comes to seeing ourselves as others see us. I tend to overestimate myself. This explains, in part, the disciples own assertion of "we are able" to follow you to the death, Jesus. But is this really the measure of faith? The story points us in the direction of returning compassion and love for violence and ridicule. Jesus embodies this transformation. 

The church- and world- is full of dreamers who want others to live up to their ideals. What is a telling measure of faith? What is needed is for followers of Jesus, and those sent out (apostles) to begin to embody Jesus' way of transforming indifference, bitterness and blame into compassion, patience, and gentleness. 

*Or "us" for gender inclusivity

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