William A. Walker III

Pastor, Professor, Theologian

Category: Spirituality (Page 2 of 4)

What is Communion?

“The Church does not perform the Eucharist. The Eucharist performs the Church.” – William Cavanaugh

What is the Purpose of the Lord’s Supper/Communion/The Eucharist?

That we might feed on Christ, be reconciled to God and to each other, and be strengthened for the living of the Christian life.

Some key Scripture: Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 10:14-17, Matt. 26:27

o In our worship service, while preaching and the pastor plays a key part, it is not at the center of what we do. Rather, communion is, and this is what the whole service is built around. The Bible has a very similar, progressive and narrative structure, building up to and culminating in the Gospels. The Eucharist represents this same center of the redemption history and story of the people of God.

o Secondly, through communion — literally, “common union” — we understand ourselves as a people who are called into a new society, a new brotherhood and sisterhood, which is called to have a starring role in the drama of God’s communication of God’s redeeming love to the world. Our society is a society in which there is a great loneliness and in which it is difficult for people to have experiences of community and solidarity. Communion subverts and offers an alternative to this.

The Roots of Communion

Passover: was called the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” Leaven or yeast was always a symbol of corruption to the Jews, and this very special Passover bread was to have no leaven in it. It symbolized the purity of Israel, redeemed by God’s grace. Then there was wine — a symbol of life and blessing.

“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

That is why the “passing of the peace” was introduced just prior to receiving Communion!

What is a Sacrament?

  • “Visible sign of an invisible reality,” or “outward sign of inward grace” — a reality that doesn’t depend on us, but that includes us nevertheless! Ordinary things, everyday things, are being transformed by God into the means of God’s self-communication. Sacraments are about God being present in and among and through the ordinary, transforming and fulfilling, not destroying it.

Table or Altar? (Transubstantiation, real/spiritual presence, or Memorial?)

  • It is significant that the doctrine of transubstantiation did arise until 800 years after Christ!
  • This is not a transaction (transubstantiation), but nor is it merely a ritual (memorial).  Here we gather, acknowledge the real presence of Christ in a powerful metaphor (consubstantiation), receive what is always available in plenitude, and are sent out.

Five Big Communion Themes:

I. The Incarnation: why Communion is a celebration of our embodied-ness/physical life (all five senses)!

  • solidarity/relatedness, suffering, non-dualism, sacred and profane joined

II. Dependence on God: how Communion is a celebration of our life-source

  • God is our food! (John 6:48, 53, 54) to participate in abundant life, first here and now, but also hereafter

III. Christ’s self-emptying example: Communion expresses how we are to live in the world as servants

  • goes back to the incarnation, but this particularly stresses modeling the way Jesus lived

IV. Journey of Thanksgiving and Response

  • with humble, repentant and grateful hearts for what God has done and is invites us into

V. Shalom! Communion celebrates being restored to right relationship w/ God through Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection.

  • We know that our relationship with God, our fellow human beings, and the rest of God’s Creation, is not as it ought to be
  • Shalom means not only the absence of violence and oppression but also the satisfaction of every spiritual and physical need. The time of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God is one of healing, of sight to the blind, of the lame walking, of the poor being fed.

We are called (gathered) and empowered (sent) to witness to the Kingdom of God (God’s will done “on earth as it is in heaven”). The Eucharist is the hinge upon which this going and sending turns. So the life of the church, especially its worship and Eucharist, is a foretaste of the Kingdom that is to come.

Leander S. Harding, In the Breaking of the Bread:

“The existence of humanity in the Garden was a priestly existence, an existence of grateful offering to God. We fell from that vocation. We forgot who we were and what we were made for. We began to crave the world as a thing in itself. The Creation became an idol instead of a means of feasting on God’s love. Jesus has come to restore us to our original vocation. In and through him we now bring the world again to God, and the Creation, beginning with the bread and wine, again becomes the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. ” (p. 48).

“God wants all of life to be Eucharist for us. God wants all relationships, all human transactions, all our work, all our interaction with the rest of Creation to be Eucharist, a partaking of the life of God that causes thanksgiving to well up in us and draw our hearts to God and t a new unity with each other.” (p. 34)

“In this peace, the natural divisions of race, class, age, and social status that keep people apart are overcome. Even the categories of righteousness and unrighteousness, of decent and indecent people, are overcome.” (p. 43)

Gilead Quotes, Part III

Let me say first of all that the grace of God is sufficient to any transgression, and that to judge is wrong, the origin and essence of much error and cruelty. I am aware of these things, as I hope you are also. p. 155

In Scripture, the one sufficient reason for the forgiveness of debt is simply the existence of debt. And it goes on to compare this to divine grace, and to the Prodigal Son and his restoration to his place in his father’s house, though he neither asks to be restored as son nor even repents of the grief he has caused his father…

I believe it concludes quite effectively. It says Jesus puts his hearer in the role of the father, of the one who forgives. Because if we are, so to speak, the debtor (and of course we are that, too), that suggests no graciousness in us. And grace is the great gift. So to be forgiven is only half the gift. The other half is that we also can forgive, restore, and liberate, and therefore we can feel the will of God enacted through us, which is the great restoration of ourselves to ourselves. p. 161

One of the ladies . . . got herself into a considerable excitement talking about flames, that is, perdition, so I felt obliged to take down The Institutes and read them the passage on the lot of the reprobate, about how their torments are “figuratively expressed to us by physical things,” unquenchable fire and so on, to express “how wretched it is to be cut off from all fellowship with God. I have the passage in front of me. It is alarming, certainly, but it isn’t ridiculous. I told them, if you want to inform yourselves as to the nature of hell, don’t hold your hand in a candle flame, just ponder the meanest most desolate place in your soul. p. 208

And what is the purpose of a prophetic except to find meaning in trouble? p. 233

The Lord absolutely transcends any understanding I have of him, which makes loyalty to him a different thing from loyalty to whatever customs and doctrines and memories I happen to associate with him. p. 235

Here is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, in comprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence? p. 238

There were two further points I felt I should have made in our earlier conversations, one of them being that doctrine is not belief, it is only one way of talking about belief, and the other being that Greek word sozo, which is usually translated “saved,” can also mean healed, restored, that sort of thing. So the conventional translation narrows the meaning of the word in a way that can create false expectations. I thought he should be aware that grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any numbers of ways. pp 239-40

There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us. p. 245

Quotes from Marilynne Robinson's Gilead

Gilead-Photo-1 When my father found his father at Mount Pleasant after the war ended, he was shocked at first to see how he had been wounded. In fact, he was speechless. So my grandfather’s first words to his son were “I am confident that I will find great blessing in it.” And that is what he said about everything that happened to him for the rest of his life, all of which tended to be more or less drastic. I remember at least two sprained wrists and a cracked rib. He told me once that being blessed meant being bloodied, and that is true etymologically, in English – but not in Greek or Hebrew. So whatever understanding might be based on that derivation had no scriptural authority behind it. It was unlike him to strain interpretation that way. He did it in order to make an account of himself, I suppose, as most of us do… (p. 36)

I got pretty good at pretending I understood more than I did, a skill which has served me through life. I say this because I want you to realize that I am not by any means a saint. My life does not compare with my grandfather’s. I get much more respect than I deserve. This seems harmless enough in most cases. People wan to respect the pastor and I’m not going to interfere with that. But I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books. This is not a new insight, but the truth of it is something you have to experience to fully grasp. (p. 39)

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One sermon is not up there, one I actually burned the night before I had meant to preach it. People don’t talk much now about the Spanish influenza, but that was a terrible thing, and it struck just at the time of the Great War, just when we were getting involved in it. It killed the soldiers by the thousands, healthy men in the prime of life, and then it spread into the rest of the population. It was like a war, it really was. One funeral after another, right here in Iowa. We lost so many of the young people. And we got off pretty lightly. People came to church wearing masks, if they came at all. They’d sit as far from each other as they could. There was talk that the Germans had caused it with some sort of secret weapon, and I think people wanted to believe that, because it saved them from reflecting on what other meaning it might have.

The parents of these young soldiers would come to me and ask me how the Lord could allow such a thing. I felt like asking them what the Lord would have to do to tell us He didn’t allow something. But instead I would comfort them by saying we would never know what their young men had been spared. Most of them took me to mean they were spared the trenches and the mustard gas, but what I really meant was that they were spared the act of killing. It was just like a biblical plague, just exactly. I thought of Sennacherib . . . and I said that their deaths were a sign and a warning to the rest of us that the desire for war would bring the consequences of war, because there is no ocean big enough to protect us from the Lord’s judgment when we decide to hammer our plowshares into sword and our pruning hooks in spears, in contempt of the will and grace of God. (pp. 41-2)

My grandfather told me once about a vision he’d had when he was still living in Maine, not yet sixteen. He had fallen asleep by the fire, worn out from a day helping his father pull stumps. Someone touched him on the shoulder, and when he looked up, there was the Lord, holding out His arms to him, which were bound in chains. My grandfather said, “Those irons had rankled right down to His bones.” He told me that as the saddest fact, and eyed me with the one seraph eye he had, the old grief fresh in it. He said he knew then that he had to come to Kansas and make himself useful to the cause of abolition. To be useful was the best thing the old men ever hoped for themselves, and to be aimless was their worst fear. I have a lot of respect for that view… (p. 49)

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Memory can make a thing seem to have been much more than it was. But I know she did look right into my eyes. That is something. And I’m glad I knew it at the time, because now, in my present situation, now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. Boughton and I have talked about that, too. It has something to do with incarnation. You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any. Boughton agrees. (p. 66)

Richard Rohr's Intro to the Enneagram and the Three Triads

The Enneagram is a very ancient tool (recognized by some members of all three monotheistic religions) whose Christian origins can be traced to the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century. I first learned it in 1973 when it was taught to me by my spiritual director, Jesuit Fr. Jim O’Brien. The Enneagram is used for the discernment of spirits, to help us recognize our False Self, and to lead us to encounter our True Self in God. The Enneagram was originally intended to help spiritual directors train and refine the gift of reading energies, or “the reading of souls,” and support the transforming of people into who they are in God. By forcing us to face our own darkness, the Enneagram leads us to address that same darkness as it shows itself in culture, oppression, injustice, and human degradation.51E4hrZVAiL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

No one willingly does evil. Each of us has put together a construct by which we explain why what we do is necessary and good. That is why it is so important to “discern the spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10). We need support in unmasking our False Self and distancing ourselves from our illusions. With the self-knowledge that the Enneagram gives us, we are not dealing only with the acknowledgement of sin. (Note: In the Enneagram tradition, “sin” is simply that which doesn’t work, i.e. self-defeating behavior.) We are also letting go of what only seems good in order to discover what in us is really good: our soul, our True Self.

We overcome our evil not by a frontal and heroic attack, but by recognizing it, naming it, and letting it go. The Enneagram works by insight. Once we see our False Self for what it is, we are no longer attached to it, and it no longer blocks us from realizing our inherent union with God. The Enneagram helps us see our own compulsive blindness and how we are acting at cross-purposes with our best interest. Realizing that, we can eventually flow with our gift and integrate our sin, our shadow, our failure, the “stone” which we rejected. We finally see that I am what I am, good and bad put together into one self; and God’s mercy is so great and God’s love is so total that God uses even my sin in my favor! God is using all of me to bring me to God. That is the Good News!

The Enneagram defines its nine human types on the basis of nine “traps,” “passions,” or “sins.” These sins can be understood as emergency solutions that were used in early childhood development as a way of coming to terms with one’s environment. They were necessary for survival. But the older we get, the more clearly they reveal themselves as much of our problem. We are addicted to one early set of glasses and also blinders!

The nine sins of the Enneagram eventually were reduced by Pope Gregory the Great to the “seven deadly sins”: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, lust, and lack of moderation (or gluttony)—plus the two “sins” of deceit and fear. It is worth noting that we in the Western tradition have never unmasked and named these last two as sins as such, even though the Bible says, “Do not be afraid” 365 times, I am told. Yet they are the most pervasive sins of our society, which are all the more dangerous because we don’t see them.

The nine Enneagram types are arranged clockwise on the circumference of a circle for teaching purposes. They are then clustered together in three groups of three, or triads.

The Eight, Nine, and One are called the gut people. Their center of gravity lies in the belly, where the “raw material” of their existence is located. They often experience life as too much, somewhat like a full body blow to which they develop a characteristic defense: Eights hit back, Nines back off, and Ones try to fix it.

Two, Three, and Four are the heart people, or the social types. Although this is considered the feeling triad, they actually have no direct access to their own feelings. They experience themselves in reaction to the feelings of others! They unceasingly develop activities to secure the devotion or attention of others. Twos pose as lovable and helpful, Threes play whatever role “goes over” best publicly, and Fours put in an appearance as someone special and authentic (to themselves).

Five, Six, and Seven are the head people, or the self-preserving types. They are all plagued by fear and anxiety, which they cope with differently. Fives try to master it by gaining more and correct knowledge. Phobic Sixes link up with an authority or group for security. Counter-phobic Sixes may take foolish risks or make pre-emptive strikes to overcome their fears. Sevens deny and avoid pain and create fun and fantasy. All three are clever ways of largely living in your head.

While we do have a little of each type inside us, we all have one preferred stance, one Enneagram type, which we cannot change entirely, but which we can move toward redemption, transformation, the True Self. The Wing Theory illustrates that each type is balanced by developing the numbers on either side of it. For instance, the Four is balanced by developing both their Three and Five “wings.”

The Arrow Theory helps us know what maturity might look like and warns us if we are not doing well. The Direction of Integration is where the ray leaving your number is pointing (see the diagram above). Thus, when the Five is doing well, they resemble a healthy Eight and apply their solid research to bringing peace and justice to the world. The Direction of Disintegration would be found on this diagram by reversing the line which is pointing to your number. When the Five, for example, is not doing well, they take on the characteristics of an immature Seven and develop abstruse theories about everything.

The Soul Child Theory fits hand in glove with the Arrow Theory because the number we resemble when integrated is the same as our original or Soul Child number. In other words, as we mature, we return to our primal knowing of who we really are, i.e. our True Self. Thus, our “original sin” could be viewed as our particular Enneagram compulsion. It is the way we originally separated from our Truth.

The whole Enneagram diagram is called “the face of God.” If you could look out at reality from nine pairs of eyes and honor all of them, you would look at reality through the eyes of God—eyes filled with compassion for yourself and everyone else!

Compassion and Contemplation

Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion.  Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.  In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion.  Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion.  The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but person are accommodated to the norms.  Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement.  Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context. — From The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

Say that I am musical and attend a concert.  From one point of view I am totally passive.  Indeed, unless I am passive, unless I cease from activity in the usual sense, the music is wasted on me.  But after the concert is over I find that I am quite tired, happily tired no doubt, but tired nonetheless.  My tiredness shows that my passivity in the concert hall was also a deep form of activity.  To receive and take in the music was spending of energy.  So also in the prayer of contemplation, when the mind and the feelings are quietened and we become passively receptive in the presence of God, our passivity is a deep and costly form of activity.  It is action of the highest human order which always consists of letting go and letting God take on.  And when at prayer we are thus receptively passively active so that we let go and let God take on, then it inevitably colors and gives wings to all we are and do.  That is why, at regular times, we should cease from action in the more superficial sense in order at prayer to find that receptive passivity…  And this in turn gives the depth of God’s own love to what we do in the ordinary sense in the wordaday world. — From Tensions by H.A. Williams

Learning from the Crowd: A Holy Week Reflection on How We Turn Against Jesus

[This post originally appeared on the Missio Alliance blog two days ago as part of their special Holy Week Series.]

I remember learning as a child in Sunday school about how the Palm Sunday crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with great enthusiasm and anticipation. It never really made much sense to me how they could turn on him so much in just a week’s time, but I was too young to strongly question this. When I got older, I suppose I just stopped thinking about it. All that mattered is that I had been taught “the gospel,” namely, that even though we are fickle sinners just like the people on Palm Sunday, God sent Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. Well, I’ve since discovered that “how they could turn on him” really matters, and so I think it’s worth revisiting what “the crowd” during Holy Week teaches us about this gospel claim.

First, that God sent Jesus:

It is crucial to remember that before sending Jesus, God sent others. There’s a story behind the story. Most importantly for Jewish memory, God sent Moses, through whom God liberated Israel from slavery and gave to them the Law. This was their primal narrative. Life in Egypt was marked by the politics of oppression, much like in Rome. Pharaoh’s gods were at the head of the religious establishment, which was synonymous with economic affluence. Like the ancient Israelites, first-century Jews were subjected to the emperor’s reign of domination and awaited one who would “command peace to the nations” (Zech. 9:10).

The Israelites began to forget where they came from, that they were once slaves in Egypt. They started looking more and more like the Egyptians themselves. After Moses, God also sent the Prophets. They had to issue a warning. Liberation from slavery is a good thing – the most original meaning of the word “salvation” – but it can so easily develop into a new form of tribalism and violence. Their fear and anxiety led them to desire once more the security of Empire. They wanted their own king and kingdom. Before long, this also meant they needed their own slaves. In other words, the formerly oppressed were becoming the oppressors. Israel was being recreated into the image of Egypt:

“[Jerusalem] that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her – but now murderers! Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves as bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them” (Isaiah 1:21b, 23).

Jerusalem was “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34). Making his way to Jerusalem, Jesus knew though that the “chief priests, the elders and the scribes” neither wanted nor understood his sort of peace. This is why “[a]s Jesus drew near and saw Jerusalem, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41). Unlike Pilate’s triumphal entry on the west side of town, Jesus processes on a donkey, with no army behind him, and no news of conquest. While they’re not sure what to make of this, the people still chant, “Hosanna!” Maybe he really could be their deliverer…

Second, To die for our sin:

During Holy Week, we see in Jerusalem the same social system that was condemned by the prophets, the same one that Jesus confronted, and the same one that killed him. Like the prophets before him, Jesus was engaged in the dangerous business of challenging the Jewish high-priestly collaboration with imperial control. His teachings about the Kingdom of God were perceived as, and in a real sense were, a threat to the political and religious establishment. The day after Jesus’s arrival, he harshly and publically criticizes the temple and its complicity with the system of Roman exploitation in yet another street theater-styled demonstration – by driving out the buyers and sellers. This was an extraordinarily adversarial act.

Palm Sunday signals the beginning of the recurring journey of God’s people from Exodus to Exile – in one week. In first-century Jerusalem, the jobs of the high priest Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate were tricky and difficult. They had to both please Rome and quell the frustration of the Jewish people so as to prevent civil unrest at the same time. Was this the same crowd as before? Some scholars doubt it, but this wouldn’t change the lesson. The crowds did not really understand who Jesus was. They had seen him perform signs and wonders, but his teachings were scandalous. Just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, they were still scared because of their insecure material circumstances and easily swayed by the influence of their society’s scheming leaders.

When we figure out that Jesus is not going to give us what we want, and not in the way that we want it, whether we’re in a position like Pilate or the crowd, we easily turn against him. This “turning against” is the opposite of belief and repentance. It’s that tendency in all of us to let the ego take over, to be driven by fear, shame, and anger, and to close off our hearts. It is because of (“for”) the crowd’s sin of “turning against” him that Jesus dies.

Finally, on the cross:

Caesar, called “a son of the gods,” and “lord,” brings peace through conquest and the cross. Jesus, the Son of God, and Lord, brings peace by bankrupting conquest and the cross. Walter Brueggemann says this about the cross in The Prophetic Imagination:

“The cross is the ultimate metaphor of prophetic criticism because it means the end of the old consciousness that brings death on everyone. The crucifixion articulates God’s odd freedom, his strange justice, and his peculiar power. It is this freedom (read religion of God’s freedom), justice (read economics of sharing), and power (read politics of justice), which break the power of the old age and bring it to death” (p. 99).

Thus, the twofold theme of Holy week is this: radical discipleship in an unjust world means following Jesus 1) to a place of non-violent confrontation with the powers of domination and exploitation, and 2) on a path toward personal transformation through death to self (“deny themselves . . . and follow me.” – Mark 8:34). For “death to self” is basically open-heartedness that extends forgiveness even to enemies, just as Jesus extends it to the rulers and fickle crowd that shouts, “Crucify him!” In truth, we are all like the rulers and the fickle crowd.

In our post-Christian culture especially, but in any culture, the appropriate response to Jesus’s week in Jerusalem is not a proud victory cry that rushes to Easter morning for relief from a guilty-conscience and the fear of punishment. Nor is it for bold propositional assertion about the “truth of our belief.” But this is what we’ve frequently made it. Instead, for Holy Week, the charge to churches is bold embodiment of and deep trust in Jesus’s alternative practice of peace – not Caesar’s – one that is both humble and subversive, that liberates us from anxiety about worldly security and false narratives of certainty and instant gratification.

Only then will we be close to loving our neighbor.

Leveling the Field: Rohr on "Subverting the Honor/Shame System"

I’ve always thought the story of the woman caught in adultery is one of the most powerful in the whole Bible, and perhaps the most illustrative of Jesus’ posture toward sin and forgiveness (and for Christians, therefore God’s “posture” as well).  Here Rohr touches on the key points, which I take to be basically encapsulated by the paradox of “there is no condemnation/go and sin no more”:

Some form of the honor/shame system is seen in almost all history. In such a system, there is immense social pressure to follow “the rules” (almost always man-made). If a person doesn’t follow the rules, they are not honorable and no longer deserve respect. And anyone who shows such a “shameful” person respect is also considered dishonorable. (A certain US president, and one Pope, could not even talk about people with AIDS, much less help them.

Jesus frequently showed respect to “sinners” publicly (John 8:10) and even ate with them (Luke 19:2-10; Mark 2:16-17). In doing so, he was openly dismissing the ego-made honor/shame system. He not only ignored it, he even went publicly in the opposite direction. That preachers and theologians have failed to see this is culpable ignorance.

When Jesus was confronted with the dilemma of the woman caught in adultery, he masterfully leveled the playing field of the “honored” and the “shamed.” To the men accusing her, he said, “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7), and to her he said, “I do not condemn you; go now, and do not make this same mistake again” (8:11). What a marvelous consolation for people in all of history who have felt shamed or put down or defeated by others! Yet Jesus holds us to personal responsibility for our actions, too. This should please every fair-minded person.

At the same time, it was an opportunity for the self-righteous accusers to face their own darkness, their own denied and disguised faults. Hopefully they would learn from their ego humiliations. Truly holy people are able to embrace their failings and have no illusions about being better than other people.

Adapted from Francis: Subverting the Honor/Shame System and The Path of Descent

Willard on How We Insulate Against Real Change of Life

Paul and his Lord were people of immense power, who saw clearly the wayward ways the world considered natural.  With calm premeditation and clear vision of a deeper order, they took their stand always among those “last who shall be first” mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels.  With their feet planted in the deeper order of God, they lived lives of utter self-sacrifice and abandonment, seeing in such a life the highest possible personal attainment. 

And through that way of living God gave them “the power of indestructable life” (Heb. 7:16) to accomplish the work of their appointed ministry and to raise them above the power of death.  During their lives, they both were men of lowly and plain origin and manner, when compared with the glittering and glamorous ones who dominated the world’s attention.  So most of their powerful contemporaries could not possibly have seen either of them for who they were.  Nor can we, until we have begun in faith actually to live as they lived.

But today we are insulated from such thinking.  Our modern religious context assures us that such drastic action as we see in Jesus and Paul is not necessary for our Christianity — may not even be useful, may even be harmful.  In any case, it certainly will be upsetting to those around us and especially to our religious associate, who often have no intention of changing their lives in such a radical way.  So we pass off Paul’s intensely practical directions and example as being only about attitude.  Or possibly we see in them some fine theological point regarding God’s attitude toward us.  In some cultural contexts Paul’s writings are read as telling us not to enjoy secular entertainments or bodily pleasures — or as commanding us to embrace whatever the current prudishness is.  We take something out of our contemporary grab bag of ideas and assume that that is what he is saying.  However, no sane, practical course of action that results in progress toward pervasive Christlikeness ever seems to emerge from such thinking.

The Spirit of the Disciplines, pp. 106-7

The Risk and Suffering of Love

This from Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost’s Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure and Courage, Ch. 3 (Interview here):

Learning to love, and therefore becoming mature, is no mean feat.  It requires putting oneself on the line and embracing the risk, even likelihood, of pain and suffering.  There is no way around this; St. Augustine is right when he notes in his confessions that every new love contains “the seeds of fresh sorrows.”  Our most perceptive thinkers have known this all along, and actually, except for the most sociopathic personality, we ourselves know this only too well.  We feel it every time we put our hearts on the line.  C.S. Lewis perhaps best captures this tragic element in love with these unforgettable words of insight and warning:

Love anything, and hour heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping in intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change.  It will not be broken; instead it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  the alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations [disturbances] of love is Hell.

To love is to suffer . . . and that’s probably why we generally don’t do it well.  Unwillingness to venture, plus a desire to be safe, holds us back from love.  To be sure, most of us do have a vision of what makes for a good life, and as believers we know that it involves growing in the love of God.  What we seem to lack, however, is the will to attain this good life of love. most of us prefer to skip over the pain and the discipline, to find some easy, off-the-shelf ways to sainthood.  Christian self-help spiritualities are a classic dodge of the real issues and manifestly do no produce maturity.  We do well to be reminded of the cost of shortcuts in Carl Jung’s penetrating statement, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

Richard Rohr on the Importance of Law

I cannot think of a culture in human history (before the present postmodern era) that did not value law, tradition, custom, authority, boundaries, and morality of some clear sort. These containers give us the necessary security, continuity, predictability, impulse control, and ego structure that we need, before the chaos of real life shows up. It is my studied opinion that healthily conservative people tend to grow up more naturally and more happily than those who receive only free-form “build it yourself” worldviews. This is the tragic blind spot of many liberals and free thinkers.

Here is my conviction: without law in some form, and also without butting up against that law, we cannot move forward easily and naturally. The rebellions of two-year-olds and teenagers are in our hardwiring, and we have to have something hard and half-good to rebel against. We need a worthy opponent against which we test our mettle. As Rilke put it, “When we are only victorious over small things, it leaves us feeling small.” Cultures which do not allow any questioning or rebelling might create order, but they pay a huge price for it in terms of inner development. Even the Amish have learned this, and allow their teens the rumspringa freedom and rebellion, so they can make a free choice to be Amish. And most do!

Perhaps no one has said it better than the Dalai Lama: “Learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.” This also sums up Paul’s teaching about the law in Romans and Galatians!

Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
pp. 25-26

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