Wednesday, April 26, 2006

That says it pretty well.

"It is crucial to move from principle to practice — from idea to embodiment. The Word became flesh. And we beheld his glory. The essence, the very being of the ultimate, was there for us to look at, to behold, to touch, to be with. Just as we see God in the historical Jesus, now people will see God in us, as the resurrected Jesus forms us into a literal cell in his own global body. Of the early Christians it was said, 'See how they love one another.' About us will it be said: 'If you want to know what God intended for human life to be, free of the idols which can’t produce, which can’t save us, look at that little group, that little cell. That’s who God is. Hang around with them. You’ll be touched by the divine, by eternity, by the holy'.” -- Gordon Cosby


Monday, April 24, 2006

12 steps toward Christlikeness

Alright. If you want some background about why I'm doing this, see the previous few posts, and feel free to ask me as well. The guts of it is this: God has invited us all to join with him in the renewal and healing of the world. Of course, the first thing he wants me to help him renew is me. (Not really my first choice.) God has highlighted (repeatedly and from all kinds of sources over the last few years) the twelve steps of AA as the means he's chosen for me and some of my friends to bring ourselves to Jesus and learn how to live anew; how to become that which God has died to create.

Below is my working version of the 12 steps, which I have modified to pursue not just a life of serenity, but life in God's will--his reign on this earth through Jesus. For those of you that are familiar with the steps, you will notice that I have changed, among other things, the verb tense from a past tense to a "present continuous" tense. This is more accurate and helpful to me, since I'm hoping to be doing all the "steps" as a lifestyle, long after the first time through, as the steps hopefully become a regular rhythm in my life. Changing the tense has made the original step ten obsolete, which I think was providential for me to be able to include a practice not among the original 12, but has been a necessary part of my (re)formation. I'm totally open to questions and feedback (even the "T, you're crazy!!" kind), including recommendations for changes. So, here they are:

In order to give ourselves fully to God's dream for us and others, we adopt the following practices:

  1. Admitting that something is wrong—in us and/or in the world at large, and that we are powerless to fix it.
  2. Coming to believe that Jesus is God's appointed Way for healing the entire universe.
  3. Turning our wills and our lives over to the care and unfolding work of God through Jesus.
  4. Making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves (paying particular attention to our fears, our wounds, our sources of comfort and vexation, and our failures to love.)
  5. Admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the contents of our inventory.
  6. Becoming entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character and to become a different person.
  7. Humbly asking Him to remove our shortcomings, to make us into his likeness, and to give us his Spirit.
  8. Making a list of all persons we have failed to love, and becoming willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Making direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Dwelling on God's loving actions toward us, and, therefore, loving God in return with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
  11. Seeking, through prayer and whatever other means Jesus recommends, to improve our friendship with God through Christ, praying primarily for knowledge of His will for us and for his Spirit's power to carry that out.
  12. Having experienced some genuine transformation as a result of following Jesus, we gladly share Jesus with others, and let God continue to lead us in all our affairs.

Allow me to say (with AA) that I am not claiming to live up to these all the time, or even ever. This list makes my stomach flip a little to be perfectly honest, and making it public kicks it up a notch--but even that is a confirmation to me that I'm on the right track. This is a scary and exciting thing. Becoming more transparent is part of this anyway. I'm very glad I expect some company on this road. For the forseeable future, and hopefully longer, this is how I'm going to submit myself for recovery from 'normal' life, into eternal life, the kind Jesus came to bring, until further notice from the One rightfully in charge.

I feel like I'm reaching the apex of the big ascent at the start of a big roller coaster . . . I am nervous and smiling. Lord, help us!!

Friday, April 21, 2006

A plan of transformation (or, for entering the dynamic reign of Jesus)

As may have been obvious from my last post, or certainly from Mike's post, our little band of disciples is taking a serious look at the twelve steps from AA (watch out for the loud colors). "So who's addicted to alcohol?" you may ask. No one, that I'm aware of--we have other drugs of choice. But AA itself realized that their 12 steps (which were born out of a combination of scripture and experience with alcoholics) might have application in other endeavors besides pursuing sobriety, and they have been right.

I'm not going to go through all the reasons that have led our particular band of Jesus students to look at the steps as a means of getting ourselves on the Way, but let me throw out a few summary reasons why I personally respect the steps as a fully viable way for a group of disciples to guide and examine their supposed discipleship to Jesus:
  1. Helping people to enter the reign of God, which is here and now and will last forever, seems to be the thrust of Jesus' ministry and purpose for us.
  2. "Entering a reign" of any kind involves the submission of our will and our lives to the sovereign, and thereby trusting the sovereign a fairly great deal for wisdom, protection, etc. The overlap between the will of God and "the reign of God" is substantial, to say the least. (See the Lord's prayer) Therefore, entering the kingdom can often be accurately discussed as a matter of entering the will, or activity of God. As Jesus said, "Calling me 'lord' isn't the issue; the issue is doing the will of my Father." This is, in reality, more of a moment to moment issue, than a once-and-for-all event; more about discipleship than what we've tended to call 'conversion.'
  3. The twelve steps of AA deal with alcoholism indirectly, as a symptom of a larger disease.
  4. The larger disease is a life that is lived for self, and by self. It is a life unwilling to submit to the reign/will of God out of distrust, fear &/or pride.
  5. Hence, the steps focus primarily on getting a person to stop doing life their own way, and give their life, one day at a time, to God to run instead--to surrender their little kingdom, with its little rescources and knowledge, to God's kingdom.
  6. AA embraces the reality that what will be needed to stop the particular 'sin' of drinking, is a total overhaul/transformation of the person. Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good, is the way Jesus put it.
  7. If the one who sins is a slave to sin, it makes sense that getting (and keeping) a new master is part of the solution. In this vein, talking about our addictions rather than just our sins seems to be a more helpful and honest way to talk about ourselves.
  8. I've met few people who were more humble, honest and truly transparent than those who were working some version of the steps.

There are more reasons I dig the steps, and I'm open to talking about them or the ones above. The guts of it has been my understanding of the kingdom of God, discipleship, and what God has always been inviting us into through Jesus. I think the steps have a better handle on God's offer and what becoming a disciple means than most churches.

For a couple of weeks, everyone in our group has had an opportunity to look at the steps, and think about what our primary purpose is, as little Christs in the making, according to God. Everyone was encouraged to make any changes to the steps that they felt would be necessary or helpful in light of that primary purpose. We will likely share everyone's thoughts this weekend, and I look forward to some good insights. I plan on making my version of the primary purpose and the steps the subject of my next post.

+++Thank you, God, for leading me again to a place where I can be honest, unashamed, and hopeful--all at the same time. Your love, your leadership, is amazing. Thank you. +++

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Step One (and maybe two)

One of the comments to the last post was essentially, "I agree, Jesus talks to us as addicts when he talks about money. But what do we do about it?" Here are few thoughts in that direction, and I'll probably stay with it for a few posts. (Because of the path our church is on right now, my friend Mike also has some great thoughts on this issue. Feel free to think a few of your own.)

A big reason for making the previous post was to be part of the solution for myself and others: Every addiction is harder, if not impossible, to overcome if you deny that it is an addiction. If we come to terms with the fact that we are in fact addicted to money (and many other things), we have just made our recovery much more likely to succeed. And this is not as simple as it sounds. I'm sure someone will read this or the previous post and inwardly say, "It's not like Jesus, or any of the biblical writers, actually used the term 'addiction'." True enough; they didn't have that language. But go and read the things they did say. I guarantee you their words will not make your denial any easier. You probably won't make it past what Jesus said himself, assuming you start with him. God gets us, and he tells us what he knows. You can build your life on it or not.

The reason that calling an addiction by its name is important is that it changes which actions actually make sense for us to take, and which don't. I don't even know how many of our current actions as individual followers make no sense in light of our attachment to money and other things of this world. We are steeped in society's expectations and practices ("people who don't know God are deeply concerned about these things"--what we will wear, what we will eat, etc.) Images of nice things are the staples of our minds' intake. Our eyes are full of them, and our body follows. They keep us putting thought, energy and time toward taking care of the things of this life. We're cultivating weeds. The seed of God's new creation is being neglected for weeds and thorn bushes.

But what can rival money's images and expectations? Is there a vision that can spur us toward godliness and contentment, toward truly productive lives and actions? There is. And according to Jesus, the image is that of God getting his way on the earth. He called it the reign, or kingdom, of God. It was Jesus' favorite topic; it's arrival was his message, his good news; it's continued emergence is the center of the prayer he wants to teach us. As Jesus made abundantly clear, God has not abandoned this earth to the dark powers. This is his world, and he's decided to keep it, and make it the way he wants it. God has already planted the Seed of his rule in this world, and it is growing. Eventually it will be the largest tree in the whole earth (it may already be). Christians often mistakenly think that this world is getting the fate of the devil rather than the fate of Jesus and his followers. It will be tested, and with fire, but that fire will result in a new heavens and a new earth: all that wasn't planted by the Father will be completely uprooted; all not made with the master carpenter turned to ash. But things made with his gold and precious stones will remain. Healing, removal of demons and their lies, kindness to the poor, and true knowledge of God, these are just a few of the staples of the growing and inevitable reign of Jesus, the King, in the world.

Some may be thinking, "This is great, but what does this have to do with our addiction to money?" Everything. Money has captured us by visions and/or experiences of what it can do and by convincing us that there are no functioning alternatives. It has brought us into a lifestyle which is organized around getting and spending money. It casts a vision ahead of us and our paths are chosen in accordance with that vision. (Jesus' statements about serving God or money are all about this.) God has cast a rival vision and offered a rival path. Money isn't just an object, it's a paradigm, a way of ordering your life. In order to leave the money-ordered-life, you need a wholistic alternative, and you need to know what that alternative can do for you and those around you. The gospel Jesus brings is that alternative. "God is reordering the world around himself. Consider your options and trust this good news." It is not an event; it is a Way. But, assuming that actually living this Way is more involved than praying a prayer to get into heaven, how do actually we jump ship from the kingdom of money in this life into the emerging reign of Jesus? Does God's alternative mean we won't have jobs?

But I think this enough for one post.