Spiritual Discipline, or Disciplined Spirit?

I recently read a devotional written by Christian philosopher Dallas Willard. I’ve read Willard’s other works on Christian prayer and have found it to be insightful and quite helpful. The excerpt that I read was from a collection of devotional readings produced by Richard Foster entitled, “Devotional Classics.” This particular reading was taken from Willard’s, “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” While I appreciate where he is coming from, I have some reservations. For those Pentecostal type folks out there, I had a ‘check in my spirit.’

I wondered why those feelings were present. It was a simple reading. No big doctrinal discussion. Something to contemplate. Then it hit me. The term ‘disciple’ smacked me upside the head. Why, though? That word is used throughout the New Testament to describe the followers of Jesus. Hey! I’m one of those! Then I realized what triggered me. Willard coupled the word ‘disciple’ with the word ‘obedience.’

Now, many in the Evangelical traditions may ask, “So what? Disciples are obedient to there Master.” Nothing out of the ordinary with that. That’s true. Regardless of the tradition, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, fill in the blank, disciples follow a Master. Christians are followers of their Master, Christ. Or, so the saying goes. The last time I checked Jesus was nowhere to be found. At least not so we can see Him on T.V., or something. And that presents a problem. Who decides what Jesus would say or do in the 21st century?

Back in the early 1970’s I was part of what has become known as the ‘Jesus Movement.’ We were for all intents and purposes a rag-tag bunch of hippies who professed faith in Christ. I believe to this day that God was active during this period. It was exciting! We thought that we had somehow been called by God to reclaim and rebuild the original spirit of the Church that existed in the 1st century. We believed that what had happened in the book of Acts was happening again in our time.

We gathered together to worship and sing and hear brothers teach about the scriptures. Some of us moved into common households so that we could ‘hold all things in common.’ There were a few men who assumed positions of leadership. We believed that they were anointed in the same way that Timothy and Titus and the elders of the early church had been. And, we were taught that we were to be obedient to these men as ‘unto God.’

Now, I want to make it clear that there was no subterfuge involved. We, all of us, were truly trying our best to follow the words of the Bible as faithfully as we could. The only thing was, we were NOT the Church of the first century. We were not wrestling with what it meant to follow a dead Messiah in a pagan culture. We had 2,000 years of developed theology to follow. And, we lived in a culture unlike anything that the first church would have understood. Basically, we were privileged white kids trying to emulate a movement that began as an oppressed minority.

To return to the devotional, we were taught that discipleship has as its root the idea of ‘discipline.’ Physical, spiritual, and emotional discipline. We began to see the Bible as a User’s Manual. It had all of the answers on how to live a vibrant and successful life. That is, if one would follow all of the rules faithfully. And, the elders were there to make sure that we did follow them. In effect, we became disciples of those elders, who we trusted were disciples of Christ.

Alas, experience has taught me something else entirely. The Christian Bible is a collection of writings by many, many people from many, many different time periods. It has inconsistencies and contradictions and holes in it. For instance, there’s nothing in the Bible about water on Mars. The fact that our Sun is actually a star somehow got past the Biblical writers. What to do about global climate change isn’t addressed. Shoot! Global climate change itself missed the writers’ cut. The fact is that the Christian Bible does not, it CANNOT, have all of the answers for people to live vibrant and successful lives. And, it truly was never meant to fill that role.

So what? What does any of this have to do with my devotional? Willard made the statement that obedience, by  itself, was sufficient for a person to live the so-called ‘abundant life’ promised in the Gospel of John. In a way, that may be accurate. But, because of the manner in which it is taught to so many poor, unsuspecting people, it is not. In so many fundagelical churches people are taught that they must grit their teeth and press forward in order to reap the benefits of discipleship. They even have a saying, “Fake it til you make it.” Pretty cool, huh? No! It’s not. This is another link in a long chain that binds people. They try. They fail. So, they try again. They fail…again. All the time feeling inept, unloved, strange, or an anomaly. After all, didn’t their spiritual elders tell them that this would work? But, it didn’t. They think, ‘It must be my fault, my lack…my sin.’ So, the link is forged. From my perspective the link is forged in the fires of Hell.

The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” I think that is pretty good advice. Truthfully, until we can rest and be still we cannot be transformed. No amount of sweat and grit will suffice. We can batter and bruise our bodies. Yet, we will still be lacking. In more than one place the writers of Scripture mention a ‘still small voice,’ or that God isn’t in the tempest and flame, but in the gentle breeze.

As I have walked, (maybe, crawled is a better word), along this spiritual path, I’ve found that the more I work and strive, the less I progress. It has only been in the last 6-10 years that I have learned that the Spirit of God doesn’t need our outward help. The Spirit needs us to shut up and listen. In the quietude of silent contemplation the Spirit, Ruach Elohim, chips and sands and refinishes. It is ALL grace and ALL God!

Perhaps, the most important insight for me is that I no longer have the shame and guilt that comes from FAILING to keep all of the rules. There truly is ‘no condemnation’ in following this path.

Please, if you’ve been troubled or weighed down by trying to follow all of those damnable rules; trying to force obedience; faking it hoping that you’ll make it; Take heart! Sit back! Relax! And, turn your heart toward the true lover of your soul. You’ll not be disappointed.

Which way? God Knows

This morning as I sat in contemplation, I began to think of the choices that people make during their lives. In the tradition that I came out of, people spent their lives trying to “discern” God’s will for them. We would fret and fume about making the so-called ‘right’ choices. We certainly did not want to make a wrong one and risk at the very least God’s blessing. And, at the worst, God’s condemnation. It was a nasty way to live. Always on the edge. Not quite knowing. Waiting for some Damascus road experience so that we could move forward with some degree of certainty.
As I reflected on this, the following began to form in my mind.

Many paths there are that we may choose.
Where do they lead?
God knows.
Which shall I choose? The one with rich, green grass?
What about the one flag’d gray?
Perhaps, the one of rut and mud?
God knows.
“Choose any,” a voice did say.
“For upon all I will with you stay.”

I think it doesn’t really matter. Follow you heart.
For God will be present and will bless wherever we roam.

More Musings on a Wednesday Morning

4.1.1The journey begins. No one said that it would be easy. Rocks; boulders; deep crevasses impede forward motion. Yet, forward we must go. For, to retreat…to backtrack…is futility itself. Clambering over obstacles. Vaulting over lacerations  in the earth, deep and unhealed that no salve can sooth. Forward, ever forward.

Yet above, you know, that place where God dwells insulated from the mundane…the “everyday.” The place where mere mortals press onward. Forward, ever forward.

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child.” But, I am no longer a child. I am enveloped by the ‘NOW!’ Beneath azure skies where the gods dance I am enshrouded by the nebulous mist of incense filling the temple of my heart. NOW! Pressing me forward, ever forward.

Attentive to the sound of my breath; my heart playing rhythms reaching out to the life that surrounds me. Searching for intimacy. Where are you, my Soul? Come! Take my hand as we leap, dance and run forward, ever forward.

In those days darkness will draw near. The sound of flies buzzing in my ears. I will lie down to rest. Sleep! Blesséd sleep! Yet, the journey does not end. For even now…I must press on forward, ever forward.

Walking the path of Ignatius Loyola

ignacio1Today I am embarking on a new spiritual journey. My Spiritual Director is going to lead me through what are known as the Ignatian Exercises. For the next 36 weeks, or so, we will travel a path first explored by the 16th century founder of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola. Born into the feudal culture of northern Spain, Loyola dreamed of being a part of the grandeur that courtly love and knighthood could provide. He very nearly realized his dream when he was severely wounded in a battle against the French. During the time in which he recuperated from his wounds he read books on the lives of Jesus and the saints. He discerned that people described in these lives exhibited many of the same heroic and chivalrous characteristics that he admired. At the same time, however, he continued to dream about life at court. As he continued to reflect on and examine his thoughts and feelings he noticed that as he contemplated the lives of Jesus and the saints, he felt inner peace and satisfaction. When he thought about life at court, feelings of dissatisfaction predominated. This awareness inaugurated his life quest that culminated in the development and propagation of the Spiritual Exercises. Loyola realized that through prayer, study and a process called examen, perhaps the cornerstone of the Exercises, one could “detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.”

Ok, so why am I even considering this process? After all, I’m old and feeble. My life has been lived according to the standards and expectations of our culture. I’ve worked hard at a vocation to provide for my family. All of the requisite activities of parenthood and marriage have been accomplished. Yet, like Loyola, I continue to strive with feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness. I have labored for 40 years in an industry that creates in me anxiety and a great sense of helpless entrapment that eats away at my soul. Even family life does not completely fill the void in my heart that our culture, particularly the evangelical culture that I was a part of, claims that it should. There are those who would say that all I need to do is surrender to God’s will and all will be well with the world. But, that begs the question…what is God’s will? And, I’m not really that interested with all things being well with the world. Occasional happiness and satisfaction would be quite alright. I’m not hoping to experience any profound theological insights. Nor, am I envisioning some kind of neo-monastic lifestyle. The Exercises are about self-discovery. They are a tool for discernment and direction. They are a way to know and experience God’s presence in one’s life. That is why I am forging ahead with Loyola.

As my Spiritual Director and I follow Loyola’s footsteps, I hope to write about the experience here. Perhaps any who read this blog will have insights that can help me and other readers. Please share these in the comments. Do I think this process will be a panacea that answers all of my life’s questions? Not at all. But, even at this stage of my life I must have some direction about my vocation…my calling…in life.

Musings on a Wednesday Morning

I love sitting in the stillness of the morning. Outside there are the sounds of crickets and the occasional acorn falling on a nearby rooftop. A candle, the scent of cinnamon, burns and fills the room with autumn. My thoughts wander here and there. They touch memories and sensations within me; without me. In the core of my being, my heart, I sense God’s presence. Peace. Be still, O my soul.

riverI allow the Muse to guide me. ‘Where shall we go? To what far off land or sea or star?’ Perhaps, we’ll simply drift on a river as it meanders through green fields. We listen to the sound of the water flowing gently over a bed of small rocks and pebbles. It tells tales of aeons past. It knows the fish and the fowl by name. Ancient people traveled along its banks; floated on its back. Never tiring, it bends and winds its way from its source to the Great Sea. There its life mingles with that of the Other in brackish love-making in which it is embraced, consumed by this One. Is this not the way of it? We travel the path before us. Touching and being touched we grow and we learn. From our beginning, our source, we are destined to live, laugh, cry…love. If fortune smiles upon us, another may join in our journey. A companion, a friend…a lover. However, our path and theirs are not the same. Even though we walk together I have my own quest. And, you have yours. Joyful as our time spent together may be, one day our ways must diverge. You will be joined to Another. Embraced by the One who is the true Source. And, I…I will flow into the Great Sea.

On Being Vulnerable

I’ve begun work on a story that I think should be told. This project requires that I dig deeply into my mind. I search for memories, sights, smells and experiences that I can use as structural support for the story and its characters. As I reflect and remember, I realize that there is one thing that I’m really pretty good at. It’s not my job. It’s not playing guitar. It’s not writing. Although, I am pretty good at all of those. No, what I’m best at is something much darker. I am really good at breaking relationships. From my earliest memories I find I have a knack for hurting people. I don’t know why. Perhaps, I’m self-destructive and can’t allow anyone to get too close. I have a constructed a safe zone that no one is allowed to enter. When someone tries to get a bit too familiar, Bam! Explosions and gunfire erupt.

At one time in my life I would put myself out there. I shared my deepest thoughts and feelings with people. Maybe, this was to encourage them to do likewise. Usually, they didn’t and I felt naked and ashamed. Over the years I learned to cope and hold back. If I don’t place my life on the altar of Relationship, then no one can take a knife and cut out my heart.

I envied the Mr. Spock character on Star Trek. Emotionless. I could not be hurt if that emotion was eliminated. But, I’m not Vulcan. Crap! Green blood sounds so cool!

I found that the only safe place to be was in solitude. There, I don’t have to deal with and interact with other people. I don’t have to live up to whatever expectations they have for me. I don’t have to be anxious about not meeting those expectations. But, in a social construct like a community or a family there is always going to be stress and tension. Especially, for someone like me. Yeah, there are times when I like being with others. But, on my terms. I know, this is really a selfish way to live. I should have to wear a sign, “Alert! Narcissist Walking!” At the end of the day, I’m left feeling ashamed and guilty.

In this place, this ‘life’ I’ve built, there is a glimmer of hope. You see, even when I’m alone, I’m not really alone. There is One who knows me intimately. One who is always present. One who sees me at my worst. This One, let’s call him Jesus, understands. He has experienced what I have. He knows failure and forsakenness. When he was murdered he was left naked and exposed. As he offered his final, tortured breath to God, he failed to have faith and felt the reality of being left alone. At that moment, God learned what it’s like to be human. This is a person that I can trust.

So, over time I’ve begun to allow myself to be a tad more open. I try to ‘pull back the veil’ that conceals who I am. It’s hard, to be sure. Vulnerability is dangerous. But, nothing that can happen to me compares with what Jesus experienced. And, nothing can separate me from his love.

Vulnerability…how do you look at it? Is it important? Why? Why Not?

Where I come from…and a bit about Where I’m Going

I’ve been blogging since 2009. Originally, I started it as part of a class that I was taking in seminary on technology and the Church. The blog was to be an integral part of a website I developed. Well, the website was built, but never published. However, I got an ‘A’ in the class, and that was my focus at the time.

Although I only wrote sporadically, I kept the blog open. About a year and a half ago, I had a heart attack. It was serious. In fact, it should have ended my life. Why didn’t it? Providence; a strong body; luck…I’m not sure. As a result, I began to reflect deeply on my life. I suppose that most folks who experience such life altering events do this. For me, it took the shape of looking within myself. I began to get out of bed earlier in order to spend time with God. Over a few months, this time began to grow until I was hopping out of bed at 3:30 A.M. Ok, people think I’m nuts for this, but it is the result of grace, not willpower, I assure you.

I began to query God about my life’s purpose and vocation. You see, I’ve been frustrated with my life. The things I do to get by in this world vex me. I know; I know; I know that what I am doing is not my calling. So, I turned to Creator for answers. The response? “Write. Just, write.” Ok, God, I can do that! Uh, wait…write what?

This is a question that I’m sure many others are asking. If I am to write, what the hell am I supposed to write about? I whined and cried for months about this. “God! You want me to do this, but You aren’t opening the doors for me to accomplish it! Waahhhhh!!!”

Recently, I have begun to dig around a bit. Perhaps, God has planted some seeds that are beginning to germinate. Writers’ websites have become standard daily fare for me. I must know what it takes to build a successful writing career. Yes, I said it…a writing ‘career.’ For over 40 years I’ve been doing something that is not fulfilling and, for lack of better words, a waste of my gifting. I’ve been very successful at doing something I really don’t like. It’s time to start working at something I do.

Back to the Beginning…

Anyway, I digress.

I wrote couple hundred posts. Most of these, ok, all of these were directed toward a specific audience. That audience was the faith community that I had been a part of for most of my adult life. I wrote to challenge that community. But, most of all, I wrote in order to get their approval. The results were disappointing. I got excited over 30 views in a day. Most of the time, it appeared as if no one was out there. ‘Hello! Anybody there?’

Nope, it was just the echo of my own voice reverberating around an empty chamber. I think that the main reason for this was that I was trying to please someone other than myself.

Reflecting…

So, I began to take an assessment of my life. Where did I come from? What has been important to me? Where does my passion really lie? The responses are freeing.

I grew up in the 1960s. It was a time of social and cultural shifts of the tectonic kind. Continents of social convention and propriety were crashing together creating mountains and valleys that would change the course of modern history. And, I was on the ground floor! By the time 1970 rolled around I was an aspiring young freak and rock-n-roll lead guitar player. Those of us at that time were anti-everything. There was no established taboo or moré that was above questioning. Then…I got a job. It wasn’t a great job. But, I had money in my pocket and gas in my car. I began to forget about my rebellious teenage years. There were real rewards for dismissing the idealism of youth. After all, you can’t by food on principles. You need hard currency.

Spirituality

During this same period of time, I had a spiritual experience that sent my life on a new trajectory. I began to believe in a higher power that cared about me. No one else seemed to. I embraced this fledgling spirituality with gusto! I read books, (mostly the Christian Bible), I went to meetings, I offered my music, and I found a community. To receive such a boon was life giving nectar to a culturally estranged young person. In response, I gave myself away. In order to continue to connect and receive the sap from the root, I left my true self somewhere else. You see, for us, that was called ‘dying to self.’ Yeah, Jesus loved us. He just didn’t particularly care for who we were. So, we had to change…conform to something else. In our case, that was to embrace conservative ideology. We read and learned from people like James Dobson, and later Al Mohler and John Piper. We voted Republican. We put away our rock-n-roll and embraced something called Christian Contemporary Music. (Call it what you may…but, “music” is stretching it.) All the while, I found myself drifting further and further from the person that God had made me to be.

Today

Through several events, not the least of which was 5 years in seminary, I have begun to find my way back. It seems that God loves me for who I am, not for who someone else thinks I should be. God loves the rebellious person who pushes back against the accommodations of culture. Creator has imbued me with gifts that no one else has. Gifts that are to be used; placed on a mountain and not under a bushel. So, I have begun a new blog. I am reinventing myself and my presence in the world. I have no one to answer to but God and myself. I’m too old to do anything else. I’ve spent my entire life compromising, no…prostituting, myself to others. No more!

How do you feel about where your life-travels have taken you? Are you frustrated, like I’ve been? Are you content? Please reply to this and let’s talk.

Welcome to a new Blog Home

I’m a writer. I write about what I think is important at the time. I write about stuff that just needs to get out of my heart and head. (This stuff’ll drive you crazy if you don’t let it out!) I write about topics that interest me. I respond to bloggers in other universes. Mostly, I write cuz I gotta write.

For the past few years I’ve been living over at Blogger. It’s been a really great time! But, I think that it’s time to move to new digs. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and a vast majority of them swear by WordPress. So, here I am. As time goes on I’ll add some fun stuff…widgets and images and stuff to make this a tad homey-er.

I’ve imported my posts from Blogger so that they may be readily available for you or me. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Feel free to scroll through them. They will give you a better idea of who I am.

Hopefully, on this leg of my journey I’ll get the chance to meet you.

Won’t you take a minute to introduce yourself. Join in the conversation and let’s write!

How the Holy Spirit can show up anywhere.

This past Sunday I went with my wife to the church that my son and his family have been attending. Before going, I went to the church’s website to get some information about them. I was not impressed. And, after attending the service, I was less impressed. It was the same church that I had left. Only it had a better grasp of technology. It was more polished. But, a rock that is polished is still a rock.
They are a typical evangelical church. They truly love Jesus. And, they truly think that they are following Jesus. However, they, like so many other fundagelical churches think that their way is the ONLY way to follow Jesus. I disagree alot.
Their service was very much a patriotic thing since it was Memorial Day. Now, I do not want to take away from that. I am all for the veterans who have given so much for this country. But, I absolutely think that the Church MUST stay somewhat aloof to political leanings and patriotism. Ours is a kingdom that is NOT of this world.
Their guest speaker was Vietnam veteran who had lost both legs to a landmine. Of course, the requisite sympathy was evoked. But, this guy spoke to me. He talked at length about following a call. To me, that is like pouring gasoline on a fire. I do not think that I am following the calling that God has given. I feel like I am prostituting myself in order to pay my bills and keep health insurance for my wife and me. His words haunt me. I am deeply troubled. Could this be Ruach Elohim, the Breath of God, speaking? Could this be the Spirit that Yeshua told Peter and the others would come and teach them all things saying that I had no faith? Maybe. I am not sure. All I know is that in the most unexpected place, God may have spoken.

Moods and the Necessity of Keeping On

Again, it’s been awhile since I posted anything here. Honestly, I just haven’t felt like sitting in front of my computer and creating something that I think someone…anyone…would want to read. Now, for someone who enjoys writing, that can present quite a dilemma. What happens when a writer just doesn’t feel like writing? I don’t know. What happens when a doctor doesn’t feeling like ‘doctoring’? Ok, that’s not the same. But, you get what I’m alluding to. I have plenty to write about. That’s not the problem. And, hopefully over the next week I’ll get some of that out here. No. My issue has been that I just haven’t been motivated to do this.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that as I have been praying over the last year and a half about vocation, I keep being impressed by one word. ‘Write.’ My response to this voice has been, ‘Ok! Great! Uh, write what?’ That’s a pretty big question. If God wants someone to write, you’d think that there would be some kind of follow-up. “Ok, now here is the inspiration. I have a project in mind and I want you to get ‘er done! Write this…..”
Well, that’s not how it works, apparently. Recently, however, I have been motivated to move forward. With what, I’m not sure. But, since it’s harder to hit a moving target, I thought I’d better get to locomoting. I’ve set a deadline of May 31st to have a project set. Not sure if it will be fiction, non-fiction, poetry or a ‘project to be named later.’
That’s where I am this morning. Fortunately, I am on vacation for the next 10 days. Who knows what the next week will bring? Already, this A.M. I had a memory return to the front of my brain. A memory of adolescent love. Hmmm…. For those who know me well, this could be a dangerous endeavor. But, one must follow where the muse leads, I guess.
I’ll try to update this blog from time-to-time about this leg of my journey. But, getting the brain and hands to communicate can sometimes prove problematic. We’ll see. After all, it is a journey…not a project.