What Does It Matter?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on being a Methodist and reflecting on a recentarticle by Richard Rohr.  From that article I got some great questions and had some good discussions.  However, one response I had not expected came up and it surprised me.  I was asked a number of times in different ways, why does it matter?

Indeed!  Why does it matter if as a Methodist I read Richard Rohr?  Well, generally, it does not.  John Wesley read widely and encouraged his pastors to be informed.  But Wesley questioned a lot – nearly everything he read he examined it, tested it and then wrote about it.  There were few things he did not have an opinion on in his day and just because a person was a Christian writer, one did not get a free pass (Madame Guyon surely got no free pass from Wesley, nor did Toplady or Whitefield).

Still, the question was a fair one to ask and so I have been asking myself why it matters since for some it does not.  I can say it matters because I took vows at my ordination to do theology in a certain way, but it goes deeper than that alone.  In my opinion it is part of being honest with myself and with those who come to me seeking my direction and companionship on their spiritual journey.  

So I put myself back in my own shoes, going back to when I have sought out a spiritual director for myself.  I thought about the questions I ask, unconsciously usually, as I choose books and authors to read.  I came up with four, starting with...

1.  Who informs you?

I am no fan of Mark Driscoll.  Thought I was at one point, then I listened to a few sermons and…nah.  Recently I came across this video on youtube and all of a sudden I found a new respect for the man. 

I won’t be listening to his sermons every week now but I respect how he comes out in the open and shares about who informs his life.  I know where he is coming from and I know who Mark looks up to in his life.

Being in a spiritual direction relationship means the directee has to have a level of trust in the director from the beginning.  When you are about to sit down and begin sharing your faith journey, the struggles and joys you have with God, knowing who has informed a spiritual director’s life and ministry can matter.  My director is Roman Catholic.  I chose this director, in part, because of the tradition, because of who informed them.

2.  How do you do life?

This next one comes out of the first.  Who informs you as a Christian, or as a director often influences how one does life.  As a United Methodist spiritual director, I’m going to live out my life by those practices of my denomination.  For me, the “open table” of Communion (anyone who earnestly repents of their sin is welcome to come to take Communion) is part of how I do life – it is a value.  Free grace is another.  The means of grace, those practices of personal prayer and devotional life as well as being engage in issues of justice and mercy matter deeply.

I don’t go to a spiritual director to delve into their life – I’m going because I need someone to trust who I can share mine with them.  However, I need to know spirituality is not just a job but a vocation.  A director’s own life should influence a directee in a positive way toward holiness.

3.  Can you listen to me?

We change as we are shaped by God’s grace and the circumstances of life.  However, if those who inform you are not modeling in themselves a willingness to listen, are you going to be able to listen to me?  Are you able to listen to the Holy Spirit at work in my life?  The writer of Proverbs says it well, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (13:20 ESV).”

4.  What will you say to me?

If I say I am United Methodist, you can look that up.  If I say I went to Garrett-EvangelicalSeminary and Asbury Theological Seminary and gave you the names of my professors and their classes and publications, you can look those up too.  You may already have come up with opinions just based on that alone!  You still will not know what I’ll say but it is likely you’ll have a better idea than if I withheld that information.  If I say that denominational affiliation or faith tradition does not matter?  You may well walk away thinking I’m living in denial. 

If you are a director, you come from somewhere and those places and experiences and teachings will shape you.  You may react against those formative experiences but that is something to be honest with yourself about for sure.  But have you thought about how it might come out with a directee?  If I am coming to you for spiritual direction and my story touches on those things, what will you say to me?  Are you listening to the Holy Spirit, your tradition, or your favorite author?

I expect these are not the only ones I ask.  I also think the application applies to more than just spiritual direction.  I think very few of us can say we have grown up on an island and have not been influenced by other people and experiences.  It matters because being authentic is not a buzz word for me.  It is similar to the word I use for one of the men I respect most in my life, my dad.  The word that best describes him?  Integrity and if for that reason alone, then I want to have integrity when I care for and guide people on their spiritual journey with God.


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