Poemen said that someone asked Paesius this question, ‘What am I to do about my soul? I have become incapable of feeling and I do not fear God.’ He said to him, ‘Go, and live with someone who does fear God: and by being there, you too will learn to fear God.’
~ The Desert Fathers
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” ~Acts 20:22-35
A good night’s sleep, which has been a hit and miss experience these days, waking up surprised to see brightening sky outside. I don’t see it directly, my view from bed is trees that mostly hide the hills (and houses). There’s a window that nicely reflects what is to the east, where I can see when the day is starting and sometimes what it has in store. I close my eyes again, my thoughts wandering, and as wandering thoughts can do, leading variously in helpful and unhelpful directions.
I had a burst of discontent last evening, frustrations building up like lava in a volcano. Anger, irritations, depression, all circling around my academic and pastoral career. The roller coaster of opportunities, strong affirmations, encouragement always seemingly intertwined with dismissive responses, bypassed options, called into the mix then pushed to the margins again and again by frenzied leaders.
My mind tries to justify my experiences, making me a good guy who has been unjustly wronged, composing notes, devising strategies, plotting new projects, having conversations where I push back and make my case. My thoughts go from active counterattacks to distracted, depressive resignation, as the negatives storm my mental castle, putting my peace and hope to flight.
The surprisingly restful sleep invites me to get a new start today, and as my distracted thoughts try to break in again, I close my eyes and begin to listen.
I hear a slight breeze in the trees, each kind of tree with a different voice in response. What I think are mountain quail chirping to each other, then the squawk of a Steller’s jay. I hear the twitter of chickadees and patter of squirrels running around. My thoughts turn from self to my setting, trying to figure out what I’m hearing with each sound made outside.
I open my eyes. A hummingbird is at the feeder outside my window. I see movement in a distant tree and realize it’s two squirrels in a high branch.
I think back to where I was a couple years ago, where my view was the back of a neighbor’s two story house and animals only rarely visited. We were disappointed in attempts to find our way back to family and familiarity, and then I was fighting feeling like both God and Fuller had marooned us in a place where we never felt settled.
Thank you, God for creating a surprising opportunity and now we are here. I look out and see beauty and I am invited to peace for the first time in a long while.
I welcome that thanksgiving stirring within my heart, a geyser of hope rather than seeping, burning lava.
My thoughts turn toward thinking about remembering God and the journey we take. I think about what this means for our call to respond to God and our selves in authentic ways.
That issue of authenticity is both really popular but also really, honestly, missing in so many cases, not least of all in far too many Christian communities. That’s not as much a critique as an acknowledgement of human tendencies, how pride sneaks in to make us justified and to rationalize how we’re responding to the life around us and the life within us.
The human brain is a master at rationalization and making artificial connections. This is what both magicians and scammers take advantage of, tricking our brain into assumptions that aren’t in keeping with reality.
It’s not too much to say, I think, that one of the key tasks of psychology is to unknot the assumptions we make and the dysfunctions we’ve been led into by others and ourselves. But those knots are very complicated indeed, and sometimes pulling on the threads in the wrong way can lead to some sense of progress but actually end up tying the knots tighter.
We tell stories of ourselves to help as make sense of our part in the world around us. But when we’re surrounded by competing stories we find ourselves caught between who the world is telling us to be and who God has made us to be. We may keep Christian categories in part but find a way to prioritize world’s stories and bolster our own attempt to justify our fitting in them.
We do this with all the ways that the world asserts are necessary for our identity: money, success, sexuality, food, the power of our will over others, the acceptance by others for our inclusion into their community. These can start as temptations but easily drift into what I’m now seeing are pseudographies: falsehoods that define us and how we look at our past, present, and future.
These pseudographies become our new kind of Way, our rationalizing narratives that justify excusing sins of all kinds: anger, lusts, greed, laziness, gluttony, vainglory, acedia, pride. They worm their way so deep into our psyche that we feel not only justified in them as rational responses to our experiences, but even more, that to take them out would somehow leave us without identity.
Inauthentic communities preach Christ but breed these dysfunctions, because pseudographies then become the models we see all around us and shape our theology in all its forms.
We justify our broken narratives with fancy sounding new orthodoxies that portray God other than what God has revealed or emphasize aspects that may be true but are not what God prioritizes.
We justify passions and then actions that reflect these distortions which then feed into more and more diversions from the path we’ve been called to, our true story that the Spirit has created us for.
Slavery is a great example of this process. Love God, love your neighbor, became de-emphasized for absolutizing nuances of other doctrines and hierarchies. Violence became rationalized, the people de-humanized as just holders of unwelcomed opinions or unfamiliar customs.
De-humanizing allowed “Christian” rulers to wage wars, treat subjects as objects fueling their ambitions. Dehumanizing hierarchies and wars led smoothly into a return to enslaving others, justifying it all with high sounding rhetoric but really expressing an even more debased actions than ever before. Then sadly far too easily condemning whole generations to chains and abuse based only on rationalized differences that skin color makes in defining who is human, who is worthy of being treated with love and respect.
This was utterly against all that Christ taught and what the early church lived out, but the story had taken so long to take shape that no one noticed how far it had drifted from God’s vision for who we are to be. The Good News became a false story and oppressing, death, evil reigned with the Bible in hand.
That’s a historical experience of centuries. We replay this in our own lives and our own communities at a much smaller scale, a fractal falsehood that leads to dysfunctions and destruction we wouldn’t have envisioned then excuse away when confronted with them.
The pseudographies become their own chains on us, the inauthenticity can’t be acknowledged, the way that the world defines identity in terms of wealth, power, sexuality, recognition, and all the rest are assumed as absolutes around which our Christian identity must orbit. So, we battle over these things, justified in our affirmed righteousness that fits the pseudographies of others we respect.
This is a path of abuse, a path of death, one that Christians at all levels can fall into.
Sexual abuse by ministers or leaders never starts, after all, by them waking up one day and deciding that would be a good thing for them to do.
People don’t fall into wanting an ever-bigger building or ever louder sound system by reading the Gospels. It’s all a series of steps, a series of wants, a series of comparisons that lead to the point where it not only becomes a tendency it may even be seen as a justified good.
Until the light shines.
When this is on something clearly illegal the light is more often from the State than from within. When it’s socially acceptable, like greed can be, the light never quite gets through the filters. No wonder that atheism, more often than not, is a product of Christian culture than a ex nihilo reaction against it.
The way of true life means casting off the falsehood at its roots, being willing to let every part of our life be open to the Spirit’s transformation, not taking meaning from what the world values, or even those Christians around us who are being fed by that gruel. Pursuing true life means confronting our deepest selves, where the knots first start and truly converting, with our whole self, to the life Christ has given for us, through us.
What if we’re far down the wrong road? If our knots are so tightly wound and our pseudographies have not only many chapters, but also side narratives, appendices, illustrations, and others have invested through us down their own deficient paths?
What if we have caused brokenness in others, abuse, bad influence, corrupted expectations? It’s not just about stopping and trying better, there’s a swath of brokenness we leave behind us and within us?
Truly a body, a corpus, of death. Who will save us?
What is the path of being saved if we have already once been forgiven and have done all that we do in the name of the Christ who rejects our assumptions, passions, actions as representing not him but the other fellow?
The Spirit is the giver of life and hope at any point, even to us who are not only broken but have led others into brokenness, who have the scars of being broken by others, who carry the weight of resisting insufficient identities without having somewhere else to turn.
Jesus was dead for three days, after all, then came to life. That means there’s no point at which death, our false stories, have so overtaken us that we’re beyond hope, but we have to lean back into the Spirit, and be blown back into who we are called to be.
We need life, and we need this life together, because the Spirit is given to the community.
And that is why we not only must value life—salvation into wholeness—but also truth, in all its confronting and disturbing ways. We need become people who not only voice truth about external things–exegeting a Bible passage with skill, taking a moral stand on the political issues of the day. We also need to be, even more importantly, willing to be honest and forthright about that harder truth, about ourselves, our temptations, our weaknesses, our knotted-up threads.
If churches cannot be places where people experience that deeper life and who are invited into authenticity with a sharing of that deeper, harder truth, then we perpetuate pseudographies in the guise of faithfulness. People then have no where to turn to for genuine transformation.
There’s no easy way for this to get going, but once it does, there is an awakening possibility far beyond what we think or imagine.
Yet again and far too easily, that promise is drowned out by the cacophony of the world’s identities. We want to triumph through the world’s priorities, to show off, rule over, do what we want and to who in corrupted rationalizations of love or power. We think people will be impressed and drawn to us.
Meanwhile the Spirit is grieved, and rather than life we are pushed back into justifying our pseudographies as being what Christ calls us to.
This is where soul friends and honest vulnerability play a part, especially at the beginning before we get knotted up, but always an invitation toward redemptive rewriting of the story we tell about ourselves. We begin as people who are invited into a new life and then must be willing, persevering, to wander the heroic narrative from calling, to conviction, to rejuvenation, to be holy as the Spirit empowers us to be holy in all of its holistic expressions. In this, we overcome as Christ has called us, not giving in to defeat, by giving over all of who we are to all of who he is.
What is the truth about who you are, the deepest hurts, the most shameful tendencies, the ways you have been led the wrong way, the ways you have led others the wrong way?
We need to be a people who no longer live in the shadows, hiding from others because they too are hiding and we’re all embarrassed about being seen as less than saints.
We need to step together into the light, come what may, in the hope and promise that this light is the resurrection itself. The way to our true story is through the honest experience of facing our broken selves and being willing to help each other stay on the path of life.