Today, on a too-early Saturday morning, I unashamedly (well perhaps a little ashamedly) plopped Little J in front of some Franklin the Turtle so that I could bumble around for the french press and coffee. Somewhere between my first cup and breakfast for my daughter, I picked up this Bibly study course I’m doing together with a dear friend and neighbor. Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God is not normally the kind of reading/studying I do. I mean, just the title alone sounds pretty daunting, maybe because I’m too much a product of post-modernity. How can we ever really know, much less do, this vague and nebulous will of God? Lately, I’d have to feel like Charlton Heston (who is my iconic Moses) being spoken to by a burning bush to believe I’d ascertained God’s will. Or…I might just wonder if I’d been slipped a particularly strong hallucinogen…anyhow, that’s beside the point.
The point is that since the death of our church, my friend and I both have felt the need for a little fellowship, and since we live right across the street from one another and this course was one she was interested in, I figured, why not? I was desperate to share some God-talk with someone (besides my husband, who never seems to shut up about the Most High. But I digress…).
I should back up. The “death of our church” is probably not a phrase you hear thrown around that often. Some background: In college, I fell in with a group of Christians who wanted to meet outside of more institutionalized expressions of Church. “Open, Participatory Meetings” is what we sometimes called them. We were pastor-less, unbound by a denomination, and in love with Jesus and the idea of community (via something like the early church in Acts). We were each other’s church.
Fast-forwarding a bit: we all eventually graduated and each went our separate ways, but still we couldn’t shake the bond that had formed over all the singing, eating, and sharing we had done. Some of us made a decision: We would move to a city where we all felt reasonably comfortable (yet challenged) in pursuit of our dream of community. No co-housing, but getting into the same neighborhood – or at least, fairly close to one another – was the goal. And against all odds, we did, and we were joined by some who hadn’t been in our college group, but shared the same aspirations of living “church life” that we did.
But like all organic things, our church lived, and it also died. This is something that still gives me pause – there is no one reason I can give to pinpoint “why” this happened. I hope the answer of “it’s complicated” will suffice. Though even in our death, I’m still in love with those folks and the light of God I see in each of their eyes.
Needless to say – or perhaps I do need to say it – I’m now a little ruined for organized religion. So when I find myself doing a Bible study like the one I’m doing, and said Bible study actually speaks to me, I take note, and consider it my own miniature burning bush.
Are you still with me? I’m not used to myself “talking” so much – if you know me, you know that I’m a stereotypical introvert… i.e. no one would ever call me gregarious.
Back to the bleary-eyed Saturday morning. I ran across the verse that talks about denying yourself and taking up your cross to follow Christ. It made me feel squirmy and uncomfortable, as I always do when reading or hearing these words (Luke 9:23), and as I’m sure the original listeners must have felt upon hearing them.
I’ve usually thought about these words in the context of the material realm, which, I believe certainly is appropriate encouragement in our consumer-driven culture. But I think the reason why they’ve never sat well with me personally is because growing up, there were times when I was denied some very basic needs – I mean stuff that’s pretty low on Maslow’s hierarchy, stuff like the security of food, home/shelter, and family. Now, as an adult, I will neglect to take care of myself and opt to take care of others. Not because I’m a saint, but because I think I’m very susceptible to genetic pre-dispositioning – nurturing comes naturally to me, and if I’m brutally honest, I don’t think it’s worth it to spend the time on myself. Denial could be my middle name.
Not healthy, I know. But, hey, Jesus is the one who spoke these unhealthy and unsafe words to me, right? (Resentment, much?)
Thankfully, I was graciously struck by the idea that perhaps denying the self doesn’t necessarily mean a material or physical denial on my part. Perhaps it means denying my self, my ego’s neverending self-talk that perpetuates destructive patterns in my brain. Perhaps my cross to bear is the cross of discipline, the discipline it takes to allow for the space of transformation by the renewing of my mind. The discipline of a regular practice that continually invites the spirit of the loving, life-giving Creator into my mind and heart.
Am I really ready for this?
Because this sounds like something a lot easier said than done.
One day at a time, and…