Possible

I’m reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. There’s a section in here that says so clearly what I used to try to convey so unsuccessfully. I used to frequent what others considered to be the dark corridors of human society; I was part of a community that other Christians I knew wouldn’t go anywhere near. I was really part of that community. I wasn’t there to just share the gospel and then leave. I wasn’t an outsider in their midst. They were my friends, and I was part of their lives as they were part of mine. In the end, I didn’t leave because I fulfilled my mission among them–I never intended to leave at all. I left because my presence there was creating such a severe rift between myself and those who insisted I was wrong to be there that I found myself having to choose between them and my own family.

I find this passage from Brennan Manning to communicate so clearly what I failed to convey to other Christians at that time, that I can’t help but share it here, in this place where I occasionally step out of my shell and reveal a bit of what lies beneath the surface of me.

Brennan writes,

Because the shining sun and the falling rain are given both to those who love God and to those who reject God, the compassion of the Son embraces those who are still living in sin. The Pharisee lurking within all of us shuns sinners. Jesus turns toward them with gracious kindness. He sustains His attention throughout their lives for the sake of their conversion “which is possible to the very last moment.”

God never leaves us, never forsakes us, never gives up hope that we will turn to him and place our trust in his heavenly care. Even when we’re sinning, even when we’re rejecting him, even when we want nothing to do with him, he eagerly awaits our attention like a mother whose baby is just beginning to walk away from her for the first time. Why shouldn’t we, as the baby’s brothers and sisters, dwell with our mother and our sibling in this place? Who knows, maybe if the baby falls, we will be there to pick him or her up and redirect them to the care that awaits them, because of the trust we have earned as people of love and safety. Wouldn’t a parent’s heart rejoice at such love between siblings? Aren’t we all created in God’s image, all descended from the same breath of God as one another, part of the same creation he so lovingly cares for, and doesn’t he ask us to care for it with him?

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Disciple

I think the concept of discipleship is really foundational to living the life Jesus calls us to live. For years I’ve found myself rather disgruntled at the way Christian culture tends to trivialize really important things like belief, community and following Jesus.

It’s not enough to think the right things. Even Satan believes that Jesus died and rose again so humans can re-connect to the Father, but he won’t have a place in eternity with God at the resurrection for that belief any more than we will for merely thinking the right thing. That’s not Christianity, it’s Gnosticism. We can think the right things all we want, but Jesus asks us to believe in him, and that is much more simple, and much more costly, than an education or a choice alone. Belief in Jesus isn’t only mental. It’s life-changing. Belief in Jesus involves learning to trust him with life and soul and heart and being, in this life as much as the next. It’s certainly not instantaneous the moment we accept him as our God, but true belief brings us into the embrace of the one who will gradually turn us into disciples. If we trust the bus driver to get us to our destination, we’ll at least get on the bus and let him take us there, even if it will take time to get there.

It’s also not enough to gather once or twice a week in a crowded and controlled environment where only a few end up finding the communal family bond with one another that God offers us through Jesus. Where many are able to enter in to the worship and prayer sessions, but many others aren’t, because they haven’t had a chance to become intimate with the people gathered there enough to step into that zone with them. We have the potential for a rare form of connection as the adopted sons and daughters of God to bond deeply and become a family. I’ve seen it in AA meetings, in therapy groups, in mommies-of-young-ones meetings, and in smaller, tighter settings of faith communities gathering to do life together in celebration and love. Where there is intimacy and safety, there is a rich opportunity for discipleship.

I believe it’s not enough to eat a teeny cracker and drink a teeny tenth of a shot of grape juice in a brief, solemn, although heartfelt, symbolic act, when Jesus said to dine together in celebration of his life and resurrection whenever we get together. We’ve lost a powerful, uniting demonstration of joy by losing the tradition of the love feasts. For me, it’s like the difference between a family gathering for dinner and a family gathering for a tiny snack. There’s a richness that’s missing from the snack table, that can only be found in the more sustaining dinner table–regarding the potential for relationship as much as nutrition.

Noah Stepro pointed out in his recent sermon series on Discipleship that “disciple” isn’t a common word in our culture. It’s not one of those words that everyone just understands upon hearing. It’s something that has largely fallen by the wayside in understanding and use. For example, our educational systems are largely filled with book learning and lectures, as opposed to hands-on learning at a master’s feet. Our religious systems are also largely filled with the same. I’m not berating sermons. I just cited one by Noah above. But they’re supplemental to a life lived in the dust of the one we’re following. We don’t get very dirty in a classroom, but when we walk in the footsteps of a great leader, we end up with dust all over us (especially where I live, where more dust grows than trees).

Brennan Manning writes in the March 25 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins, “Until I lay my head on Jesus’ breast, listen to his heartbeat, and personally appropriate the Christ-experience of John’s eyewitness, I have only a derivative spirituality. My cunning imposter [the fake self we project] will borrow John’s moment of intimacy and attempt to convey it as if it were my own.”

I would like to see a return to Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel, wherein Jesus asks us to make disciples, to teach people how to actually live the life he had just modeled for us. He doesn’t ask us to make sure everyone has right thinking, regardless of right living. He didn’t go through all he went through from his early experiences with his chosen people, to his incarnation, humiliation, torture, and even the worst kind of human death of the day, so we will believe academically that he did it all for us and then live without him anyway.