Legalism: [a ]claim that overt action in conforming to rules for explicit behavior is what makes us right and pleasing to God and worthy of blessing. Dallas Willard
To say that this is good would be a slap to the face.
Human development/stage development/stages of faith serve to help us name experiences and inner movements of the heart and mind. They seem to be perennial and travel throughout generations and history. They’ve help me to face my own inner angst and longings.
The Hebrew Scriptures are divided into three major sections: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom books. Theologian Walter Brueggemann observes that these three excellently represent the development of human consciousness itself. 
The Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) gave the Israelites the Law and a sense of their chosenness. For natural and healthy self-development, any culture or family follows a pattern of first providing structure, which develops identity, boundaries, and self-worth as beloved and special. It is easiest to start with an initial sense of “order,” as even educators now recognize.
The books of the Prophets represent the birth of good and necessary critical thinking. Without it, we remain far too self-enclosed and smug. The lack of healthy self-criticism within both Judaism and Christianity shows how little attention we’ve paid to this part of Scripture. (We read the prophets as if their only function was to “foretell Jesus” which is really not their direct message!) The Roman Catholic Church did not allow prophetic/critical thinking for almost 500 years after the Reformation, nor did the United States for most of its 200-year history (slavery and segregation are the most obvious examples). When the floodgates opened in the 1960s, there was no stopping critical thinking, and then it became widespread in postmodernism. Finally, Evangelicals are going through the same process on many levels.
While critical thinking typically arises in human development in the teens and early adulthood, it is usually oriented outwardly, in criticizing others. But honest and humble self-critical thinking is necessary to see one’s own shadow and usually well-hidden narcissism. Only when I encounter my shadow do I realize that my biggest problem is me!
The Wisdom section of the Hebrew Scriptures includes the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and many of the Psalms. Wisdom literature reveals an ability to be patient with mystery and contradictions—and the soul itself. Wise people have always passed through a major death to their egocentricity. This is the core meaning of transformation.
We have to go through interior deaths to reach the third stage of wisdom. Only here does contemplation and nondual thinking become possible; we can begin to learn to live with mystery and paradox and to develop true compassion. If stage one is order and stage two is disorder, then stage three is the final goal of reorder. There is no way around stage two! It is what Paul calls “the folly of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Conservatives tend to stop at stage one, liberals tend to get trapped in stage two, but only stage three is the full risen life of Christ.
Gateway to Silence:
Do not be afraid.
 See Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, 2nd ed. (Westminster John Knox Press: 2012, ©2003).
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available;
Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CD, MP3 download; and
Scripture as Liberation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.
My friend JT and I talk a lot about the subconscious. So if I were to say to him that the other morning, the first thing that popped into my mind was the phrase, “The unhurried life”, he’d ask me to sit with the phrase and see how it might be speaking to me.
I’d respond and say that I’m too busy to do that (two snare drum hits and a crash hit). 😉
I sat with the phrase. Why did my mind and heart lead me to this phrase? What might it mean for my current life context?
The God of creation worked for 6 metaphorical days (God did create but the Creation story seems to be rich with poetry and I don’t subscribe to a literal 6 day-24-7 narrative, although I believe God can do that!). He framed the world with earth and sky, sun and moon, water and land, plants and animals, humanity. And then He rested on the 7th day.
The creation account has an unhurried tempo to it. As a musician, I understand the value of tempo. A song too slow can drag. A song too fast can feel disjointed. The right tempo is needed to express the feel of the song. It can’t be rushed. The song needs to stay in the pocket in order to convey the feel and spirit of the melody and rhythm.
God’s work has a tempo. It’s unhurried. God’s work in creation has a rhythm to it and it feels like a beautiful song that has great feel. God was in the pocket. Deep groove.
God continues to work in our midst. We call this prevenience: God taking the initiative and working redemptively, salvifically, and strategically before I’m even aware of it. It’s the God who initiatives goodness into the ground, into our souls. He initiates the work, we respond to it. That’s what we call worship. God sets the tempo and feel of the song. We jump into the song and respond.
The unhurried life leans into God’s active work in our lives. We can listen and see what He’s up to, especially, when we are unhurried.
The temptation is to believe that I have to make things happen. I have to hustle. I have to work hard. Nothing comes easy in this world! Even typing this I start to rush the tempo. I’m not opposed to hard work and effort. Heck, sometimes I’m working a 12-14 hour day. But what I’m learning to be opposed to is a reactive tempo that speeds up or slows down beyond/below the gracious work of God in this world. My compulsive disease to be about the “next thing” prohibits me from being attentive to the work God is initiating in my life. And today, the work meant listening to the phrase “the unhurried life”.
Redemption, healing, renewal. These are the acts God initiates. This is the good tempo.
I won’t let up until you pay attention. You haven’t been very patient or understanding lately. Or loving. I know you’re irritated and weary. How do you think I feel?! I have to do life with you 24-7.
Could you please hit the pause button and let’s retreat?
This weekend, I had the opportunity to be a retreat speaker for a spiritual formation retreat hosted by North Coast Calvary Chapel’s Young Adult Ministries. I had a wonderful sharing and being with the retreatants. It was personally refreshing for me as I sensed God speaking to me and abiding with me. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity.
What follows are some notes and highlights of the retreat.
My task for the first session was to offer an introduction to what spiritual formation is, offer some information on spiritual development theory based on a few thinkers on the subject (Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard), and to share some practical ways that we can engage in some spiritual disciplines (means) as we aspire towards our longings.
Spiritual formation is the process of undergoing a revolution of the heart and character so that it reflects the life of Christ. To be spiritually formed into the image of Christ, we engage in practices/disciplines that foster attentiveness to God’s voice, His presence, and His guidance. Without such experiences, we become less of the True Self and function more out of a disordered self. Usually that disorderliness is filled with disconnectedness, waywardness, and self-destructive patterns.
Spiritual Formation includes the task of looking within: to reflect on our daily life, and to seek God and his active presence in our lives. We use questions of reflection such as:
- What’s happening within and how is God working within?
- What is he drawing my attention to?
- What movements, as we take a moment to listen, am I most present to?
- Am I present to joy, hope, love? Or might it be frustration, anger, or hopelessness? Is it a circumstance? Perhaps a relationship, work, or finding my place in this world? Or might I be avoiding looking within for fear of what I might find?
- Am I lonely? Insecure? Avoiding others? Or mixture of all of it?
The goal of spiritual formation is to reflect the character of Jesus, as we peal back the layers of the false self in order to see the True Self that God has blessed us with.
The process acknowledges that our lives have become unmanageable and that if we are to become who we truly long to be, we are to trust that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to our original design of goodness. In Christian language, we call the unmanageability “sin”. It feels like such a dirty word in our culture but it basically means that we are trying to manage our lives on our own terms.
I see spiritual formation as a means to engage the process of transformation in my character, vocation, purpose, and personality in this world. It is of upmost priority in my life, mostly because I’ve seen how I can ruin my state of being based on disordered desires and decisions that I make. I need transformation. I can be filled with anger, short-tempered, judgmental, impulsive, compulsive. I need a framework–a vision, intention, means–to engage with on a daily basis in order to keep accountable towards growth.
Dallas Willard’s VIM
During the session, I explained how Dallas Willard understood spiritual formation. He saw it as a revolution of character and heart. Using the acronym VIM (in latin, vim means vigor, energy, enthusiasm), he offers a developmental theory for transformation:
- Vision: rooted in goodness, truth, and beauty, we need a vision for what we long for in this world, who we long to be. All transformation starts with a longing that we envision. For those who struggle with alcohol, the vision is to abstain from alcohol in order to live a healthier life (emotional, relational, physical).
- Intention: a decision to lean into a way of being, a profession or vow. We must make a decision towards the vision and transformation. Sometimes we make that decision 50 times a day.
- Means: ways for us to see our vision and decision realized. It might help to identify roadblocks in our lives (i.e. I drink when I’m stressed). Some other means can include meditation on Christ’s Teachings, learning from others in the Christian Tradition (saints such as St. Francis, St. Ignatius), both to fill our minds and hearts with new possibilities of being.
VIM is a standard way of developing a framework for any form of change. It can be used for goal setting, employee development, character development, breaking unhealthy habits.
Henri Nouwen on Formation
Words and language are essential when undergoing transformation. How are we supposed to understand what is happening in our mind and heart if we don’t have the words to articulate the movements happening in us. Henri Nouwen understood that if we are going to undergo the inward journey towards the transformation of heart, it is vital to learn discernment and articulation.
Nouwen believed that:
“The key work here is articulation. People who can identify and articulate the movements of their inner lives, who can give names to their varied experiences, need no longer be victims of themselves but are able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the Spirit from entering. They can create space for the One whose heart is greater than theirs, whose eyes see more than theirs, and whose hands can heal and form more than theirs.”
Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit
I like Nouwen’s framework of formation using the concept of polarities as well to name the movements happening within.
It should be noted that authors start with longing. What is our deepest yearning desires in our hearts? For some, we long for direction, vocation, clarity. For others, we long for healing of past hurts, forgiveness, wholeness. The Bible is filled with passages that address our longings. One of my favorites is Proverbs 13:12,
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Nouwen encourages us to engage in a the daily spiritual disciplines of Lectio Divina and Silence and Solitude as prayerful means for transformation.
I offered the retreatants an overview of each discipline and then we had an hour to ourselves to engage in the practices.
*It is prayerfully reading the text to see how the Word is speaking to me in the present moment. It means that I read the text, and the text reads me. The Bible is not primarily for information, but for transformation. It is a way to read so that it names God’s active presence in our lives now!
My personal experience with the discipline has helped me to articulate what my longings are and how God is actively at present in my life.
Select a passage that is about 6-8 verses in length.
(silencio): silent, prayerful preparation as we come in touch with our desire to hear from God.
First Read: (lectio) Listen for a word, phrase, or image that captures your attention. Try not to overthink it. Just be attentive to it. It might be a word of comfort, discomfort, challenge, healing. Trust that the Word wants to impart His word to you. After the reading, we savor and reflect on this word in silence. This is a time to feel the word, not to judge it or try to give it meaning.
Second Read: (meditation) Read the passage a second time and reflect on how this word is touching your life. We might ask, “What is it in my current season of life that needed to hear this word today?” [NOTE: St. Ignatius encouraged imagination and wonder so if it was a parable or story, he would say to put yourself into the story. What is the setting? For example, in the story of Jesus birth, what did it smell like? What animals were there? What was the mood like? What character might you be in the story? What am experiencing? After we meditate, we sit in silence with this word again, trying not to overthink it.
Third Reading: (oratio) the movement to respond to the word. What is the invitation or challenge of the word? How might we respond to God’s invitation? Give full expression to the response. (NOTE: be present to whatever the response might be…fear, anger, hope, love, joy, self-awareness, wisdom). We center back into silence.
Contemplate on the word and rest in God’s presence and provision. Let this word nourish you throughout the day. Remember that God wants to enable and empower us to respond faithfully to His invitation.
Silence and Solitude
My personal experience silence and solitude has been a peaceful and restless relationship. The first season of practicing this discipline, I felt a sense of release, relief, and renewal. I felt more attentive to God, myself, and others. But it was also unsettling. I had nothing to “offer God”. I was “doing” anything for him. I was only offering my silence and presence. That seems to be more than enough. For ministry junkies or over-achievers, this practice seems to knock us off our throne. It reminds us that we’re not charge (Hallowed by Your name, Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be done).
“The longing for solitude is the longing for God. It is the longing to experience union with God unmediated by the ways we typically try to relate to God. By “unmediated” I mean a direct experience of God with nothing in between: an encounter with God that is not mediated by words, by theological constructs, by religious activity, by my own or other’s manipulations of my relationship with God. It is the practice that spiritual seekers down through the ages have used to experience intimacy with God rather than just talking about it.” – Ruth Haley Barton
One main scripture that captures silence and solitude is Mark 1:35, Mark 6:30 (Come away with me), and Psalm 46 (Be still and know).
- Find a comfortable place to quietly.
- Breath deeply, becoming aware of God’s presence (breathe), and your desire for communion with him.
- What thoughts, feelings, or life material do you notice? Don’t’ rush or try to make anything happen. Be still and know. Let your heart speak: is there joy, pain, hope, despair? What movements do you notice? A question? A desire? A loss?
- Remember that you are in God’s presence. Sit and stay with the most present movement you’re experiencing. Feel it. Be with it. What does it mean for you to be present to the movement and allowing God to sort it out, for him to do the work on your behalf?
Scriptures on spiritual formation
Acts 17:28 “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”
Mark 1:35-38 (inward) Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 (outward) Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
John 17:24,25 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Colossians 1:24-29 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I became a certified spiritual director back in 2009 at the University of San Diego. Prior to the course, I was reading some of Dallas Willard’s work and was getting exposed more to the world of spiritual formation. The course opened up a new world for me that included how I viewed God, myself, and transformation.
In Willard’s book (co-written with Don Simpson), “Revolution of Character”, the authors aim to give a brief overview of how spiritual change happens. In some ways, the book is more of a devotional that one can read, pray, write, and meditate with. It’s mostly based on Willard’s, “Renovation of the Heart”.
I personally need change and transformation in my life. I’ve constantly been on the hunt, trying to find ways that I can be loving, gentle, patient, wise, others-focused, humble, peaceful, courageous. I’m grateful for Dallas Willard’s works and the gift that spiritual formation has been in my life.
I’ll be offering some few thoughts on my readings and hope they inspire you to purchase the books and read for yourself so you can engage a “Revolution of Character”
Ch. 1 – A Revolution Has Begun
“Those who drink the water I give them will never again be thirsty. The water I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Jesus of Nazareth, John 4:14
*We can drink this water and it will gush out of us. Immediately the order is set: drink first (personal experience) and then the outflow. I forget this a lot. I want to care for others, be about my busy work, parent well, be a good husband, do do do!, and I neglect drinking water (both figuratively and spiritually). I want to drink this water. I need new life in me and gushing out of me.
*The fibers of our being are divine! We are made good/good (see the story of Genesis). What a juxtaposition to what many of us experience in life: brokenness, befuddled, and bored. Yet we are made for good.
*We experience this new life water in Jesus. Other drinks leave us unsatisfied and wanting.
*This water flows out of our sense of being, not straining or demanding, or even sheer will. There is flow with this type of new life water. It comes from the center of who we are.
*This water is marked by love, joy, and hope. As we lean into this way of being, the lesser parts of us “peace out”. In a sense, it’s not about becoming less selfish, angry, or irritated. It’s about becoming love, joy, hope.
*We learn these new habits and rhythms through prayer and other spiritual disciplines that draw us closer to Jesus.
*The reality is that this type of life sounds great, but seems out of reach, even for those who go to church or pray every day. Why: “…we don’t approach and receive the life Jesus offers us in the right way…we…need an understanding of the depth of our problem and how Christ works to redeem each element of our nature.” p. 11
*In many ways, this type of transformation reminds of the 12-Step tradition. It begins with us admitting that we were powerless and that our lives had become unmanageable. The next step is that we needed a Higher Power greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity. In many ways, this is such a relief. I don’t have the power to overcome the deficit in my life. So I need a life of surrender.
*Inner transformation happens slowly and intentionally as we cultivate the ways of Jesus in our life. This is good news! We can work on a “soul competency” that enables us to live in wholeness, power, and goodness. We don’t have to be ruled or mastered by our broken habits, anger, or boredom. We don’t have live defeated lives!
*The way we live and respond in this world is a result of who we have become in our center (the heart). We are all shaped and formed. No one escapes it.
*The heart can be influenced and transformed. There is a method to the madness. Change is possible! It can be shaped to reflect the life of Jesus to be a loving presence, aware of God’s presence in our lives.
*This new heart will have the ability to impact and influence those in our spheres: family, business, communities. “The work of Christ always begins in our heart and moves outwards into our everyday experiences.” p.12
*”To get to that place of increased self-knowledge, honesty, humility before God, and a consistently Christlike attitude, we must step away in moments of reflection or even times of personal retreat to examine the inner workings of our human nature” p.13
*Jesus is the one true spiritual master that can guide our hearts and the movements of inner transformation in our lives. He knows what needs to be changed and how to go about it.
*The revolution of character starts within as we partner with Jesus and His way of being in this world.
*To flourish in this life, we need to experience a heart transformation. Much of it begins with a vision of who we long to be, a recognition that we are not that person, and that we need a higher Power (Jesus) to help us in this new way of living.
*Christian spiritual formation is about us becoming like Christ himself. It’s driven by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This is not a passive process, but it is a gift of grace that we receive.
Spiritual Formation: A unifying initiative with God, others, self, and creation.
Prayer: where mind + heart are wide open in the Presence of God, fully vulnerable-transparent, one with God + others + self + all of creation. God’s heart and our heart, fully open and meeting each other.
Spiritual formation was trending for a while. Then I stopped hearing much about it, but not after the subject made an impact on me. It’s actually been trending for millenia. The Psalms are a great example of someone longing to be one with God.
One of my favorite books on the subject is Henri Nouwen’s, “Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Heart” (link: http://a.co/c6HSUmA). He says that spiritual formation is “…not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves.” (K.Loc. 152)
Doesn’t that sound like something we long for?! To experience God’s nearness and heart in our hearts? His love in our hearts for others and for this world? God’s love for you and I in totality, with every movement within vulnerable to God’s unending grace? Breathe in/breathe out! Take it in.
And prayer becomes one primary way (in all it’s different forms) that sink into mind and heart before the face of God.
Prayer is like breathing. We don’t think about breathing, we just do it as a natural impulse to live. Like any habit or discipline, prayer takes time, effort, intention, grace. There are some days when prayer feels very natural and connected, but also at times, very rough and disjointed.
Sometimes I resist entering into prayer. I feel the resistance in my emotions, sometimes even in my body. So my prayer time my start with a quick acknowledgement of those feelings with God.
I long for my heart to be transformed and my hope is that prayer is a way to experience this formation in my mind : heart : soul.
Spiritual formation requires taking an inward journey to the heart. Although this journey takes place in community and leads to service, the first task in to look within, reflect on our daily life, and seek God and God’s activity right there. People who dare to look inward are faced with a new and often dramatic challenge: they must come to terms with the inner mysterium tremendum—the overwhelming nature of the inner life. (K.Loc. 194-196)
If we have a theology that views God as angry at us, or if we only see ourselves as corrupted sinners, it’s hard to see any good in us or others. I content that spiritual formation will help us to have a right, sober, and healthy view of God, ourselves, others, and this world as we see God’s activity in our lives.
I’ll be writing about Nouwen’s book on spiritual formation for the next few weeks. I hope you join along and see this as a journey to “Christ in you…the hope of glory”.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Spiritual growth in most religious traditions or self-help practices, is about learning to listen. Try it for a moment. Hit the pause right now. What do you hear? I hear crickets in my backyard, a distant airplane, the house creaking, a conversation I had with my sister, my kids saying “NO!”. What did you hear?
I’m not consciously listening for the things I just mentioned. But when I am intentional , I can hear.
Jesus the Rabbi offers a steady stream of wisdom and invites His followers to listen. I could have used a non-Jesus quote that talks about the gift of listening. But I’m rooted in a faith tradition that is shaping how I listen.
In effect, I’m being invited to is listen. It’s a learned habit, a practice. You and I have not always been good listeners. And guess what? We still have a ways to go.
So how do we listen? In other parts of the Bible we’re instructed to:
- be still
- be in solitude away from distraction
- be humble and learn to be a student
- acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers
What I’m hoping we can all do is learn to listen and be attentive to God, our emotions/thoughts/inner movements, and others. I desperately want to be a good listener. I believe in it so much that I’ve based my career on being a listener. So I’m listening to my own inner movements. There are movements within that clamor for my attention. Some are joyful and others are pitiful.
I want to incline my ear towards the One who is whispering the great Three phrases we long for: You are my beloved, I am pleased with, You belong to Me. I want to be attentive to these words because they give me the courage to face the other parts that scream at me:
“You blew it”
“Shame on you”
“Cut a corner…no one will find out”
“You’re so stupid”
“You don’t need anybody”
“You’re all alone and you’ll blow it”
“You’re not good enough”
Any time I hear these words, I remove myself from either/or thinking. I acknowledge the stress and circumstances I’m in. I acknowledge my fears. And I learn to hear the great Words that the Father spoke over His Son. Those same words are for you and I today. Claim them for yourself. Don’t be shy about it. You and I need them right now.
Don’t be afraid to listen to what’s happening within. God is in the midst of your “within” and you no longer have to fear the shadows. Befriend the shadow. Learn to hear what it might be saying and then offer it away in the Presence of the One who exclaims:
“I love You”
I’ve been following Rohr’s work on 12-step spirituality and was also inspired by Dallas Willard’s high praise of spiritual transformation via 12-step groups. Why is it intriguing to me? What is the draw? I’m sure I’m an addict in a few different ways. And I’ve been experiencing pain and “bottoming out” in different areas of my life. I guess I like the framework and hope it offers. I no longer have to escape pain. I can be aware of it and learn from it.
Here’s one quote that stood out to me, mainly because I was raised in a highly religious setting and God has been stripping me of my “use” of Him: “The highly fortified religious ego is perhaps the most resistant to change of any, because “God” is used to maintain its own security and superiority.”
Here’s the rest of his post. If you don’t subscribe to his daily meditation, you might consider it.
The Twelve Step program gave meaning and effectiveness to transformation. “Salvation” is not just something you believe, but something you begin to experience. Both Jesus and Paul were change agents. They were hated by their own groups precisely because they were constantly talking about change. The first thing Jesus said when he started preaching was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The word usually translated as “repent” is the Greek word metanoia; this might be best translated as “turn around your mind” or change. But most of us won’t move toward any new way of thinking or actual change until we’re forced to, which usually means some form of suffering or some disturbance that upsets our habitual path.
Addicts–the majority of us–have an intense resistance to change. We like predictability. That’s one of the reasons addicts find it easier to have a relationship with a process or a substance rather than with people. People are unpredictable. But it feels like this glass of wine or going shopping (or whatever it might be) can change your superficial mood very quickly. Even though the mood shift doesn’t last, it makes you feel like you are in control for a while. You don’t have to change your thinking; you don’t have to change your way of relating to people. Basically, you stop growing at that point. They say you can usually tell when a drug addict began using, because he or she will reflect the emotional maturity of someone at that approximate age.
Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) said it so well: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” The Twelve Step program understands you can’t change people by mere knowledge or willpower, whereas much of organized religion seems to think you can. For example, you don’t become more charitable by saying to yourself, “Be charitable!” You actually become more charitable by noticing when you are not being charitable and “weeping” over it. But none of us want to see our own faults; they usually have to be shoved in our face or we have to fall right into them. At least I do. And even then, many will just deny their mistakes more forcibly. Peter’s three denials come to mind here.
Transformative religion goes against our basic survival instinct which is to live. But darn it, the spiritual teacher is always telling us to die. You can see why the ego resists. The addict puts up a fortified wall against change, against death to self (the false self), and therefore against all real spiritual growth. A.A. understands that it usually takes a bottoming out experience to break that wall against change. The highly fortified religious ego is perhaps the most resistant to change of any, because “God” is used to maintain its own security and superiority.
This is the addictive pattern of thinking that characterizes so much of our religion and politics today. It creates very cognitively rigid, dualistic thinking in service to the ego. This thinking is largely impregnable to either love or logic. Could this be the deepest meaning of sin?
I’ve recently been struggling through questions of calling, effectiveness, and “next steps” (even though I feel fully affirmed by the employees I serve–and its leaders–as well as other pastoral leaders in my life). I’m in the boat, paddling, but it seems like the waters ain’t “cute” anymore. They’re getting faster and more complicated.
Based on the readings, it seems very natural and part of the life cycle of a pastor. I found the articles to be spot on with regards to my own questions, tensions, and desires. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s not to run from pain but to see what it might have to teach me.
For me, the articles are pointing to a reality that I’ve been wrestling with:
- what are my strengths and weaknesses
- what is my effectiveness and how do I measure it (being cautious of do quality ministry over quantity)
- how do I sustain myself long term
- who are the people in my boat that can help me navigate these waters (I have a few…you know who you are!)
- as a marketplace minister, what unique challenges do I have
The following articles are proving to be helpful and I hope they are beneficial to other pastors who are going through the process as well. This is only a preliminary reach of understanding the life cycle as a means to deepen the pastoral call and work. May God grant us wisdom and strength as we seek to live faithfully and fruitfully in Him.
- (a big fan of jesuscreed and scot mcknight)
- the evangelical covenant church seems to be a “health-oriented” community
- I felt like the first two links offered a more realistic picture of the cycle but it’s worth reading this one by Thom Rainer