Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Confessions of a Young Man Free to Trust

When my Dad died, it was easy to accept. It was abundantly clear that I couldn't change the outcome. When he's the next room over, on the verge of "the rattle", it's fairly clear it's out of my hands. At this point, too, based on recent expereinces in God's presence, it was fairly clear that it was in HIS's hands. In deep prayer the transformation in my soul that occured by trust and acceptance of God's hand and plan in my Dad's death was not so much a change that occured in me as much as a newfound freedom to accept the reality of the God-happenings. I knew at this time, actually, that there would come a time when it would not be so abundantly clear to me that things were in His hands, and that it would not be so "easy" for me to assent to God's Reality.

I knew that there would be times when I would remain in the illusion that I could change and manipulate the situation to suit my percieved needs and desires. I knew that there would come times when I would thereby hope and expect to gain the freedom I had earlier found in assent and acceptance of God's doings over which I clearly had no control. A time such as this has come.

I am part of a recently formed small group of study and fellowship in my church. I quickly entered into a relationship of sorts with our leader, who I eventually came to percieve as very "modern". Now, for the purposes of this blog, it is nearly irrelevant just how "modern" he really is, or even what that means. What is relevant, however, is that this percieved modernity of his rubbed me the wrong way. I proceeded to enter into numerous long and arduous conversations with him over email about the various issues and topics involved in the situation, of both modernity and small group. Eventually it came out that he was uncomfortable with what he percieved as a personal issue toward him. Now, I actually like the guy, but I eventually then realized that I actually did have some strange dark spiritual cloud over me in regards to my relationship with him. What exactly could this could have been?

I dunno, could it have been that I was under the illusion that I had freedom in my grasp through the measure of control over the situation (OK, not "situation", but God's very reality as well as this very person, this human being) afforded me by my role in these very email conversations in which he and I were engaged, rather than accpetance of the reality of the situation of both his "modernity" and of the environment at small group? Clearly, this is a false freedom, as I had already both learned and warned myself when my Dad died. I did not pay heed. In prayer, then, after my issues and/or tensions with this friend/leader of small group had been resolved to some degree (at least the ones that I had separated out as personal), I felt lead to reread Traveling Light, by Eugene Peterson. And a blessing it has been.

In the midst of discussing Paul's horrible ailment and the Galatians satisfaction taken in ministering to him in that time, Peterson writes this: "Packed into a single word satisfaction is a vivid reminder: freedom does not come by getting control of things or people but by freely assenting to the reality of being, whether that being is a stranger's illness, or a crushing disappointment, or an incomprehensible failure, or a futile desolation." (p. 130). Freedom does not come by my ability to or hope for changning small group to fit my own abilities or hopes.

"We discover the meaning of the free life in acts of compassion and loving service, not in running after people who make big promises to us...Freedom comes from trusting, not manipulating." I now see more clearly before me the path of humility, service and self-sacrafice, the pathos of God given through His Spirit. I see it in regards to a particular issue that has in the past brought to me great frustration, anxiousness, bitterness and even at times anger. I see that I must accept. I see better what a third party helper from God said to me, "my simple advice is to you is 'humility' ... pursue the way of the cross .. (Phil 2)...My suggested course of action is allow them their modernity ... " The key word there is ALLOW.

FURTHER, I see now that I WAS one of those people who manipulate or control to "get what they want"; I WAS making a mockery of freedom and abusing the dignity and rights of not only my friend but all the people with whom I've engaged with on the topic of "modernity"! I have done this in the name of the freedoms stolen from us by modernity (how ironic now are my comments on the ironies of modernism?)! This is my confession. I am sorry. Even in sayng it I sense God's mercy, love and forgiveness...and a rush of freedom to ACCEPT! Not that I would have described it at the time as manipulation or coercion; I even would have been conscious of their possibility. But I was blind to the illusion which I had forseen previously as my Dad was about to get "the rattle".

"I was blind, and now I see." "Freedom comes from trusting, not from manipulating..." It's not a question as to whether I was actually "manipulating". It's a bigger question that points ultimately to acceptance and trust, or a lack thereof. "Few people are willing, or able, to accpet us just as we are and then to encourage us in being who God created us to be and who we can by by his mercy."

As The Message version of Philippians 2, to which my third party helper from God made reference, says: "If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand."

In my freedom to accept those with whom I don't necessarily agree, I am filled with the humility of Spirit not to "manipulate" them to suit my own fancy (which I'm sure doens't fit them very well), but to encourage them through "lending a helping hand", to "encourage them in being who God created them to be." "...allow them their modernity ... It is the ones who are crashing and burning under the weight of a depleating modernity that people like you can and should minister to ..." It becomes a quesiton of free acts of service, compassion, love and kindness rather than an issue of "Us vs. Them", of some modernized, abstracted, "Right vs. Wrong", "versus" over which a dark could is bound to hang. Heading toward his dying act of a freeing (for us) trust on the cross, the sky became dark for only a few hours. How can I "be deep-seeded friends" with "Them", who is against the "Us"? It is not possible, necessary or called-for. There is a deeper calling at the heart of what Is-simply-Real.

In praise I would like to end this post with a quote from my previous post from yesterday: "Where I pray on this tree between the earth and his feet is the line between being ripped to pieces, shamed and separated from God, and...? I pray with my staff and my staff is my prayer. In what chapel is the marriage of slavery and service? I pray that my heart would do the dance of understanding given by the supplications of the Spirit. May my heart be filled with a humble need for the God of Holyness and Freedom. May I catch a glimpse of the shining imagless-image as it catches me along its yellow brick path."

[I am posting this for a friend, who tried to do so but could not]

The link would not let me post a comment.

"manipulating" this the key issue I took from your post.

So many ills we face and humanity has created, in particular in our
world today, is due to non acceptance or rather "manipulating".

Institutions both religious and governmental have fostered this. It is difficult for has not to have these attributes both as a notion, congregation and person.


There is something compelling and moving about what you are trying to say about the nature of freedom and spirit, but I can not for the life of me get any sense of what transpired between you and the leader at your church. So elliptically presented! Can you clue us in slightly? Without a more concrete sense of what transpired it's hard to go on to grasp the general concepts you are exploring.

Sorry Tom,

That would involve a long and invovled explanation of our small group in general, its history and some of the particular happenings in the last seven months. Then it would also involve some explaining of some of the 50 plus pages of emails (when printed - yes, that much) that delved into both the theoretical stuff behind what was going on in our small group and the personal issues that arose and were largeley reconciled between he and I in the process of all of that. Plus, it's hard for me to know what to get into and what not to get into...ther are people who will read this post who know both of us and might be slanted in a direction by something I say wihtout that being my intention. In other words, someone might begin to develop some of my own unjust bad feelings toward my friend if I were to go explaining what happened from my perspective, getting into all that craziness.

Now, if you want, I can still get into some of that, where I feel comfortable. Give me the nod, and I'll start typing an explanation...

I guess one place to start to give you an idea...OK. Lets take your movie for example. Lets say someone in an authority position "ahead" of you decided that there were not only just some lines they wanted edited from your movie, or a little bit of a different feel to one of the music pieces in one of the scenes, but that they wanted the film to have originally gone in a whole different direction with an entire other and different grounding/set of reasons/idea for how the world (or your movie) works.

This is in a sense basically what happened. To sum up, lets use the words modernity and post-modernity, although I don't really like those words sometimes. Basically, the actual practical environment of our small group is highly influenced by our leader's educational philosophy called "constructivism". Constructivism, to put it in MY words, is philosophy of learning that is rooted in the idea of information processing, of course rooted far back in Descartes (the "father of modern science"). Constructivism, however, states that the learner doesn't just recieve information passively. He must, through experiences, of a tangible, visual or auditory nature, "experience" the "information" in order for it to be "really learned", out of his own volition and will.

OK, great...all that sounds well and good. But, without yet getting into very particular things about events at small group, let me go a bit into how my own "theoretical" bent might not agree so much with this "constructivism". I'd say the way to describe the situationt aht is closest to my heart would be to look to mysticism. Obviously, this constructivism, as you can see from the name, is based on the idea of our conceptions of the world, which of course will be expressed in language. At a very deep level my starting point is with the LIMITS of language to not only speak or describe reality, but to, of cousre, do the same with or about God - which of course would be the idea at a church small group.

Now, to get into the practicals a bit. With this "constructivism" there will be what could be percieved as a lot of "creativity", "exploration", "fun", journeying together along the path to our "better conceptions" of reality or God or whatever, which of cousre too get expressed more correctly or better or whatever. Basically, what would practically occur might be able to be described as more "liberal". A small church group lead by a constructivist wouldn't look much like a Catholic mass. At the same time, however, as one of my small group members commented, "it feels like we're always having to come up with something...always spinning our wheels" fruitlessly (he was at that time referring to MORE than just our past seven months, but the idea applies). On a practical level, I'm not Catholic, but I would actually appreciate something more Catholic, in the sense that we aren't always "having to come up with something". There is already something HERE for us to PARTICIPATE IN. There is a pre-existing "structure" in which we can enter through the proper doors and have room to relax and breath and find the presence of the One True God. The God who COMES TO US, who SAVES US, who INITIATED the covenant. We are free to RESPOND to God, rather than "spinning our wheels".

I think when my friend heard me offer my various opinioins, from the beginning, he understandably interpreted my position on the limits of language as grounded in post-modernity or "deconstruction". I have learned a thing or two about this postmodernity lately, and taken a thing or two from what I've learned. But I came away from our "arguement" dissatisfied that it became about modernity and postmodernity. One reason, too, that he interpreted what I was saying as so postmodern is because in my "description of the ideal church" I didn't go such a Catholic route. I simply took the route of trying to break our current (mis)conceptions, the very "idea" of "conceptions" being rooted in "modernity" anyway. So then my ideas, for example, were not to center church so much on the sermon (logical concepts expressed constructively in language), but on maybe what might here be termed our "experiences" or "practices" of our spiritual formation - prayer, fasting, serving the poor, whatever. Anyway...

Also, Tom, at the beginning of my relationship with my friend, he and I had a conversation that he interpreted as my asking him to "disciple" me. This is not what occured, but it was his assumption and/or perception. Then, suddenly (from his perspective), we start talking about all this modernity and postmodernity stuff, having disagreements and what-not, and suddenly I don't respect him enough to want him as my discipler (or this was his perception of the course of events). He was, understandably I think, hurt. Our clarification of the exact nature of our relationship, and of that one original conversation in which the word discipleship was mentioned, actually ended up being a HUGE turning point in our conversation, for the good. This was probably the nubmer one factor, from his end, of the personal aspects of what occured.

But anyway, the whole thing lead up to this post...about acceptance. Basic point being that he and I are VERY different in certain respects. It's not up to me to go trying to change his mind on this crap, which in essence, whether I admitted it or not at the time, what what I was hoping to do. It's up to me to love him, encourage him, and even "lend a helping hand". "It's in God' hands". I have to trust that. In that trust is my freedom. The giver of my freedom is the God in whose hands we are.

That was probably more than you bargained for, Tom, but thanks for asking for the clarification instead of just letting the confusion pass on by with an "oh la la la". I hope that helped!

hello Jason,

I am Rodney Neill from the church and pomo blog (I got the link to your blog from there).

I was interested in your very honest account of your relationship with your church leader and the need for humility.
After many years as a disillusioned ex-believer out of the church I had a life changing renewal of faith experience 3 years ago - I guess I see the Christian life in terms of paradox,keeping opposing truths in tension and am attracted to mystery now rather than the black and white certainity of my earlier Charismatic/evangelical upbringing.
However because of reading of philosphy/theology I have sometimes felt a smug sense of superiority and pride that I know more than my more evangelical friends - I have evolved into a higher level of understanding. That is where the lesson in humility comes in !!!!!!

Hey Rodney,

Thanks for your comment and affirmation of my blog post. Welcome back to the fold! I too struggle with what it is you apepar to be referring unthinking naive ignorace of my family that is just kinda wierd it seems to me sometimes (well, not so much ignorance, but just like an unthinking ambivalence I guess...?). But whatever it is, I am learning that when I isolate myself from "that" (from THEM) in any way, whether in judgement or condemnation or pride, I am left on an island by myself. I get lonely, my heart shrinks and I get to thinking pretty self-righteously. None of that, or its consequences, is from Christ or of his Spirit. I am learning to put him first in these ways...and this post was definitely part of that...although my friend to which I make reference in this post is certainly not naive, ignorant or unthinking.

Also, too, for me it has helped lately keeping in contact with the theological blogs to which I provide links on the right hand margin of my's easy not to get prideful when I go there! Those folk know what they're talking about (and it's not just your habitual "modern" evangelical Christianity - they're struggling through stuff)!

God bless, Rodney,

Browsing through your back pages... Interesting that you associate these two experiences: the death of your father and the disrupted relationship with your small group leader. Maybe there's no need to accept the death until it becomes inevitable; before that it seems like struggle is part of every relationship -- or at least every interesting relationship. Freedom to assert difference seems just as valid as freedom to let go of the possibility of togetherness.
Very interesting thought. I'm gonna have to agree with you. But before my freedom-giving revelation, I wasn't so much freely asserting difference as fighting to change things that weren't necessarily in my power to change. But yes, its good to hear you say that. Its the other side of the coin that I can easily recognize and engage in with you, but which is more difficutlt to see and do with my friend. And I don't think that's because I know him personally, and you in cybrespace. I think if you were Christian and leading a small group, I don't think I would be presenting you with the same resistence I've presented to my current small group leader.
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