Archives For Contemplative Sojourn

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ~ Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

“Repentance” has gotten a very bad rap in recent decades. As far as my own experience goes, repentance got utterly ruined for me by the televangelists of the ‘70s and ‘80s. “REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!” They’d yell it at me through my TV screen, their faces all red and blotchy from being so worked up. They acted like they knew something about me that I didn’t, and what they knew was really, really horrible. So horrible they were screaming at me to do something about it.

“REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!”

Maybe those televangelists sincerely believed they were trying to save me. But that’s not at all the message I got from their spittle-spray tirades. The impact they had on me was something more like the Shame Nun on Game of Thrones…

Only worse than that. Much, much worse. If those men were trying to move me toward God, they failed utterly. Few things pushed me away from the possibility of a loving God more effectively than the presence of a screaming televangelist on the TV screen or a street preacher on the west mall of my university yelling at students to repent as they made their way to class.

In the shadow of those decades, the admonition to “repent” has become so viscerally associated with religious abuse and the self-righteous judgment of others that nowadays you almost never hear the word used at all. And when it is it’s mostly as a mockery, or a joke.

But I believe there’s something really valuable about this word that we need to reclaim. Especially now.

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Liminal (definition): of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition.

A friend of mine who works with people systems in the corporate world made a keen observation about the United States the other day. We were talking about how divisive and angry public discourse has become among U.S. citizens in the last few years, and she said, “It’s understandable. The whole country is demonstrating the qualities of what we call a ‘chronically anxious system.’ Everybody’s nerves are on end. We’re all exhausted from being on ‘high alert’ for dangers and threats for a long time now. But we don’t yet feel safe enough to stop and take a collective breath. So we just keep spinning ourselves up over every new threat that pops up on the newsfeed.”

That pretty much nails it, doesn’t it? When I hear this, I immediately notice feeling a surge of compassion for all of us, even those I struggle to understand. I know what’s it’s like to feel anxious and not know how to stop feeling that way. It’s exhausting. No matter where you fall on the political or religious spectrum, we’re all feeling chronically anxious about things right now. It’s a point of common human connection we can all relate to.

So how did we get here? Where has all this nationwide anxiety come from?

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Longing for Home

July 16, 2017 — Leave A Comment

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:6-7

The Apostle Paul wrote the words above in a letter to his protégé, Timothy, as the elder leader reached the end of his journey. He proclaims it with such confidence, so certain in his appraisal of his life. But what did Paul mean when he said he had “finished the course”? How did he know it was finished? How did he know he had fought a “good fight”? What is a “good fight,” anyway?

There’s something that happens in the hearts of those who live long in the Faith, something they may not speak about often for fear of being misinterpreted as morbid or depressed. But every soul long surrendered to God will know what I’m talking about:

You are longing for Home.

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“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?” ~ Galatians 5:13-15

The 4th of July (a.k.a. Independence Day!) happens this week in the United States. It’s the big day each year where we celebrate our country’s freedom. As a nation, we may not agree on as many things as we once did, but we do all still agree that our freedom as a nation is important. We know that freedom never comes free, and we value those who have laid down their lives so that we may live ours in freedom.

That said, you may have noticed in recent years that we don’t all actually agree about just what that freedom is supposed to look like — what it includes or ought to include. Nor do we agree about what’s it’s for — whether our freedom’s purpose is primarily to serve ourselves, or primarily to serve others who are not as free.

So for this week in which we celebrate our freedom as a nation, I thought I’d offer some questions to spark a little deeper thinking about this freedom of ours, what it actually is, and what you actually want to do with it. Feel free to copy the questions below and carry them with you this week. That way you can pull them out and think on them whenever you get a few minutes here and there. If you prefer, grab a group of friends and talk through the questions together. It could make for some very interesting and insightful conversation.

Happy 4th of July!

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Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” ~ John 6:29

The number one job of a follower of Christ is to believe in Jesus. This belief is not merely an intellectual assent to the reality of Christ, nor is it a dogmatic checklist of doctrinal truths that set you securely in the “right” religious camp. Believing in Jesus isn’t really even about being right in all our doctrines; it’s about being right in our hearts, and those are very different things.

(If that statement sounds heretical to you, consider: Did any of the original disciples have all their doctrine right about God? Was a doctrinal test the measure by which Jesus admitted the thief on the cross into paradise? Did he give a doctrinal exam to the woman at the well, or the lepers he healed, or Zacchaeus, or to any of the disciples before he called them to himself? Has any generation of the Church since the first one been correct in all of their doctrine? Even a cursory look through history shows us that every generation of the Church has missed or even perverted some key element of the truth of God and of Jesus. If right doctrine really were the criteria for being right with God, then no one in the history of the world would make it into heaven save Christ himself.)

The word “believe” in the original Greek goes beyond how we think of Jesus in the abstract. When it comes to the work of faith, what really matters is how much and to what degree we actively trust in him, and entrust our lives to him. In real belief, Jesus is not merely a consultant for our lives, not merely a helper, not merely a comforter, not merely a guide. He is our life. He becomes the air we depend on to live moment to moment, the ground beneath our feet that holds up our very existence.

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“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

I recently listened to a fantastic podcast series on Envy from the good folks at Ransomed Heart, and by “fantastic” of course I mean deeply convicting and painful to listen to. But it’s so so good and so worth the personal angst it will undoubtedly stir up. Here’s a link so you can listen to it yourself:

RANSOMED HEART PODCAST ON ENVY (PART 1 OF A 4-PART SERIES)

As they say on the podcast, Envy begins with a simple question: Why do I not have what they have? There’s nothing particularly dark or sinister about the question itself, but it quickly devolves into Envy (and then to resentment, hate and self-destruction) when it follows this path:

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“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find that he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” ~ Henry Ford

Vison…rather, a compelling vision, sets boundaries on our lives. It creates restraints (Proverbs 29:18). Certain ambitions become possible when counter productive behaviors are no longer an option. It this discipline? Yes…but it’s the compelling vision that’s Key.

Of these, there are two varieties: the “Hell, Yeah!” vision, and the “Hell, No!” vision. One moves you toward a vision of your life that you truly deeply desire and have faith you can attain. The other moves you away from a negative vision of your life that you absolutely loathe and have faith you can avoid.

Sidenote: ALL vision requires faith to activate. You may have a truly compelling vision of the life you genuinely desire, but if you don’t believe it is attainable for you (or for the world), then it’s just a fantasy dream, and will provoke you not to action, but to envy, hopelessness, and self-hatred.

As a coach, I have tended to look down on the “Hell, No!” vision as being too negatively motivated to be sustainable over the long haul. (We can’t meaningfully live solely off of what we are against; our hearts need something beautiful and worthy to be “for.”) Also, “Hell, No!” visions can sometimes be fueled by fear, which is a toxic motivation long term. (Who wants to build a life around avoiding what we fear? It’s much better to build a life that promotes and nurtures what we love.)

But, maybe I’ve been too quick to judge. Maybe “Hell, No!” visions have their place in our lives. After all, not all such visions are rooted in fear; some are born of righteous anger and a deep commitment to justice. And even if there is some fear fueling the vision, that has a formidable potency all its own. When confronting a viper in the wild, we all feel the pure rush of urgency to run away. Such a deep reaction to danger can be clarifying. It makes life simple, and the path clear. We are compelled to act, and such action can then take on a momentum of its own, even after the immediate threat has passed.

Even more than fear, however, a “Hell, No!” vision can inspire anger ~ the kind of anger that establishes firm, healthy boundaries around your life (which is, by the way, what anger is for). You may not yet have faith to believe you can attain the positive compelling vision you want for your life, or for the world…but you can nevertheless be crystal clear on the negative outcome you don’t want. That cannot be. That will not be.

And that is a faith of its own kind.

What do you think? Are “Hell, No!” visions ultimately helpful, or not?