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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reminding people of Jesus

Today I've heard two people speaking - one via a Podcast (James Alison a Catholic theologian and Priest) and the other at Ponsonby Baptist Church where our guest speaker was Michael Hardin (a Mennonite speaker and author). The following are some highlights that challenged me. These are in my own words and recollection - not necessarily direct quotes. You can check out both people for yourself in the links above. Interestingly when I checked out these links just now I discovered that Alison and Hardin both draw from the work of Rene Girard in regard to understanding a non-violent atonement. In fact both know each other's work. Alison has written a recommendation for Hardin's new book. A strange synchronicity when I listened to both of them in one day!

James Alison talked about how often we use the word "faith" to mean something to strive to have more of. e.g. "If I had more faith I could believe God would..." or "If only we'd had more faith this or that might have happened." Another way "faith" is often used is when we talk about "the Christian faith"meaning a set of doctrines or a belief system. Alison suggested that faith is actually a gift that comes from relaxing when we know we are loved and liked by someone. In human terms when we are secure in the love of someone who both loves us and likes us, we relax! We can be who we truly are without fear. When we know we are secure in the love of God who not only loves us but likes us as well, we relax. In other words we are given the wonderful gift of relaxing, trusting - having faith - in that ultimate security. And, as Alison went on to say, from that place we are drawn to behave in certain ways, ways that match the character of the one who loves us.

This is where Michael Hardin's sermon connects. He spoke about radical discipleship. It was, in many ways, a hard hitting sermon because radical discipleship is! It means committing all I am and all I have to the service of following Jesus. That's an easy sentence to say but a complex challenge to live out. The point I want to emphasize is the first sentence in Hardin's sermon: "The world does not need one more Christian." That certainly got us all listening! There are 2.1 billion Christians in the world and at least twice that many hungry and destitute people. Being "Christian" hasn't as yet transformed the world. As Hardin said, he doesn't particularly want people to say when they get to know him: "Oh you must be a Christian." But he would be delighted if instead they said: "Oh you remind me of Jesus."

To me this is where both speakers come to a common point. When I relax into the security of knowing I am loved by God (with all my faults and foibles), I am drawn  to live in ways that respond to that love. That is more likely to remind people of Jesus than if I am trying to "have more faith" or "be a worthy Christian."

Lent begins this week. I am going to make it my Lenten practice to pray that every day I will be aware of living in a way that might "remind people of Jesus".

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spiritual relaxing

Another quote from Beatrice Bruteau's book Radical Optimism which I've featured in the last two Blogs:

"I think most of the spiritual life is really a matter of relaxing - of what Meister Eckhart called Gelassenheit - of letting go, ceasing to cling, ceasing to insist on our own way, ceasing to tense ourselves up for this or against that..."

What an astounding idea: most of the spiritual life is about relaxing! How different that is from all the striving and proving and working harder we tend to think is evidence of a spiritual life. It even sounds different from the exhortations to "surrender" or "let go" which can sound like a pretty stern challenge. Of course Bruteau proceeds to say that it is about letting go - or surrendering if you like. But to see that letting go as a relaxing into the love and wisdom of God (rather than a striving to be "a more selfless Christian") makes all the difference. Why would I want to cling when I could relax? I think it all comes back to love. We cling when we fear that there's no-one there to catch me if I fall; that there's no way to keep safe unless I keep control... But when we know at the deepest level that we are held in divine love it is safe to relax, safe to let go, wonderful to surrender control to the Lover.