Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Articulating My Witness
Over the course of the last six months I’ve devoted most of my time to understanding and shaping a coherent understanding of discipleship. I’ve tried to balance the interior work of the Spirit, sanctification, with the exterior work of mercy, justice and compassion. This effort has been essentially constructive, bringing together so much of my life and ministry over the last decade. While it has been a painstaking effort, it has also been quite fruitful.
One element that is essential to the life of discipleship is the active witness one disciple can make to the transforming work of the Spirit in and through a relationship with Christ. I’ve spoken of this in terms of making an authentic witness. The definition is that a person bears witness to their own story of how they experience Christ. An individual story doesn’t supplant the Gospel story; instead, it is an extension of the story. A spiritually maturing witness to what Christ is doing to bring healing, new life and hope in a person’s life can be much more effective and powerful than a witness that is given out of a written script. This witness doesn’t eschew the Scriptural witness; rather it effectively re-presents the Good News as it has been revealed in a specific person’s life.
It strikes me today that if I’m going to call my congregation to understand an articulate this sort of authentic witness in the world, I’d better be able to give them an example of how it’s done. So here goes a first draft of my witness:
I’ve spent the better portion of my life pursuing a well defined understanding of theology and scripture. It has been important for me to be able to talk about the God I’ve come to know through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in ways that are practical, articulate and invitational. I’ve always known that God was more about opening doors to deeper understanding rather than creating obstacles. This pursuit has been more an academic pursuit and a practical pursuit than a personal pursuit. Not that I haven’t been completely divested from a personal involvement and experience of the pursuit. I’ve had throughout my life what I’d consider to be significant “spiritual experiences”. Most of these experiences were more random in nature. They were happy occurrences that came along with any variety of experiences.
What I’ve come to realize is that these experiences were anything but random occurrences. In fact they were bread crumbs along my journey. The bread crumbs led me to the Academy for Spiritual Formation that provided a framework for me to take my interior spiritual journey in a considerably more intentional way. As I have learned to be more intention in my relationship with Christ, no longer am I simply going from bread crumb to bread crumb. Through a more disciplined life of spiritual practices, I’m experiencing a deeper intimacy with God. As I’ve grown in my intimacy with God, I’ve been opened to incredible experiences of healing for hurts that I’ve struggled with most of my life. With the healing has come great trust in the promises of God that were given so completely in Christ: resurrection, eternal life and a life of discipleship. I find myself able to proclaim with a depth and confidence that is far beyond what I once could muster that Jesus is the Christ. I can say that a life lived in relationship with Christ is the pathway to life that is eternal not in quantity only but also in quality.
As Robert Frost wrote so many years ago, it may seem like the road less travelled but I can say that for me…taking that road has made all the difference.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting My Cage Rattled
I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at this point, but I am in awe at how deftly the Holy Spirit is able to ferret out the deep seated obstacles and hurts that get in the way of God’s sanctifying grace. The last three years have been a roller coaster. I know that the Spirit has led me through the painful depths in coming to terms with the nature of my relationship with my father and over the heights of exhilaration as I’ve experienced God’s presence in ways that I wouldn’t have thought possible. Even through the ups and downs, I can say that all is trending up. Most recently in this e-ticket ride I have had to come to terms with the true nature of the narcissism that exists in my life.
I’ve shared before that part of the revelation that has come through the journey toward a perfecting spirituality is the fact that I was raised by a father with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Being raised by a narcissist, my life carried the imprint and the scars of his way of engaging in relationships. By the grace of God, the love of my mother and myriad people that have loved and supported me along the way, my world view doesn’t mirror his. My view of my self was very deeply imprinted by this upbringing. As a result, I have engaged in an ongoing struggle, over the balance of my life, with the narcissistic self-view that has remained firmly rooted. In my best moments, again by grace, I’ve been able to live faithfully and sacrificially according to my faith. In spite of this, I’ve had to deal with the times and circumstances where I acted more out of self preservation.
I’ve been given this incredible gift of faith, healing, resurrection and ministry by the grace of God. I give thanks for the ways that I’ve been able to share these gifts. I lament the ways that I’ve denied this discipleship, caring more for my own well being in ways that have been deeply narcissistic.
At the risk of appearing as if this is self-flagellation, I am drawing a distinction between appropriate self-care and narcissism. There are times in all of our lives where it is important and necessary for us to retreat. These are the times that we need to recharge. From the standpoint of spiritual formation, however, retreat is not about the escape “from”. Retreat is about a movement more deeply into the heart of God that one might know healing and restoration. The narcissistic retreat is the movement into self. It is a bunkering into the indulging of one’s own needs. While the details differ from person to person and situation to situation, the narcissistic retreat is essential a juvenile (if not infantile) collapse in on one’s self.
I can say now that God has been at work for a long time to dig out around this root. This bent toward narcissistic retreat has been a need for healing for a good many years. Even though this realization has been a source of some anger and pain in recent weeks, I can see how God’s grace is at work and how healing is flowing. The final piece of this is that I have also come to terms with the fact that this essentially lifelong pattern won’t just simply evaporate. This is something that I choose to live away from as I seek to engage more and more in a perfecting spirituality. As I choose to fold this part of my life and experience into my relationship with God, I will be able to live more completely into my call and discipleship. I will be a better steward of all that God has given me.
The journey continues…