Most days my kids have no idea what my wife and I do as parents. I realize that because when I was a kid I didn’t either. Besides the work piece (which is always funny when I hear about take your kid to work day - really?!? I am a pastor – my kids go to work with me once a week), my kids seem to have selective amnesia about what happens around the house.
Yep, before you are 18, your laundry automatically shows up clean. Your food magically appears at each meal. Your shoes walk by themselves into your bedroom. The electricity comes automatically into the house as does the wireless internet.
Honestly, it never occurred to me to talk with my folks about this (though I know they told me about it), not until I needed to have lights at my first apartment and wanted to have heat come winter time. Then it became real important and in time, I realized just how important having good conversations with your parents is. Today, my parents are two of my best friends and I know I am so blessed to still have them with me.
Funny thing is, we often look at God in the same way, we take God for granted as though God exist to get our laundry done. I always wondered when we really started taking God for granted (and granted, it can be argued we always have). In his book, “A History of Christian Spirituality," Urban T. Holmes, remarks that it came about around the 18th century. In Holmes examination, it came about alongside Jonathan Edwards’ work. As moralism was becoming the main influence on the infant USA religious landscape, Edward’s preaching on piety, that we should be obedient to God as the all-powerful father, was sentimentalized into this moralism. As a result, “God became the kindly grandfather, whom we can expect to satisfy our every whim (138).”
As Holmes notes, this was certainly NOT Edwards’ theology or teaching (though Holmes is no friend of pietism either). Nevertheless, our Christianity in the USA was tainted by this assimilation. That assimilating and the resulting view of God, has left us with something far less fulfilling than what most of us have been looking and longing for in our faith journey especially here in the 21st century.
This is not a fulfilling understanding of God for me. Of course, it was sufficient for a time...far too long a time I might add. Yet, it is this view of God that often appears, regardless of preacher, theology or denomination,.It is an underlying approach to God in our modern Christian thought. It misses completely the unique life of Jesus and his call to his follower, his friends. To view God in such a bland, banal fashion is simply not what I hear in words like,
29 “… "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first." Mark 10:29-31 (NKJV)
Our Christianity has grown comfortable with this approach to God. As I study for certification in Spiritual Formation, the attachment in some of our modern spiritual writings to this limp version of God is like tasting the stench on our tongues from stagnate pools of what once was living water. So while Father Thomas Green is writing about our attachment to possessions, I think the words are also relevant to our beliefs namely, “It is not what we possess but what we are attached to – what possesses us – which makes us unfit for, incapable of inheriting the kingdom of God (168, When The Well Runs Dry).”
For faith and church to be more than platitudes, acrostics, and bibliolatry, we must have a holistic approach and understanding of what has gotten us to where we are. For us to go forward, we must examine more than our theology and our productivity. When he writes regarding the politics and the church, Dr. Frederick Schmidt targets us Methodists when he says…
"Methodists are fond of talking about the resources of Christian theology as lying in Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. That list is inadvertently read as a list of two resources unique to the church (Scripture and tradition), alongside two resources shared in common with everyone else (what goes on inside our heads and what goes on in our lives). But when Christians talk about reason, we are talking about reasoning with the church, and when we talk about experience, we are talking about the experience of the church." (from Winning the White House and Losing Our Souls)
I think he rightly targets those of us who claim the praxis theology of John Wesley. We do have an approach that is more than just balanced and unique. It is an approach consistent with the spiritual practices of the Church going back through the centuries. It is an approach that can be argued, crosses the lines of West and East.
It hit me when I finally listened. I heard God when I truly learned what John of the Cross meant when he told about the “dark night of the soul,” not from someone’s interpretation but from John’s own writing. It became personal when I stopped just praying with my mind but through what Holmes describes as “intuition.” All began to be clear and happened for me when I heard God say, “You’re not my servant, you’re my son.”
And that led me to prayer. Not in general but more specific, more traditional, more scriptural. I know more of the history and practice of the prayer known as “The Jesus Prayer” through other sources and especially from reading “The Way of Pilgrim.” But I always knew it as something else. I knew it as the prayer of the tax collector…
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14 (NKJV)
In the next few posts this is where I’m going to sit for a while. In Jesus’ words and his stories, in the lives of his followers and in my own, I believe there is more here than we have mined. There is more of God here in these words than we have yet to know. And I grow more and more convinced as I pray this prayer, we need more of God and far less of us.