life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

taking up the cross and following....

A friend on a forum I read regularly asked:

"If anyone would be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."

According to this statement of Jesus, self-denial is either prescriptive to discipleship (must happen in order to become a disciple), descriptive (it is a necessary, ongoing part of the life of a disciple), or both.

Ironically, self-denial seems hardly to play any part of my life. How about you? If you will, ask yourself, when was the last time you denied yourself anything for any reason, let alone for the sake of Jesus? Is it possible that our surrounding abundance inhibits our admission into the school of Christ?

What do you think? And please share if you have any recent experience of self-denial.

I wrote this answer but didn't post it there. Thought I would put my response here:

I don't think Jesus is talking so much about the cross aspect of things as he is about us following him. The cross is at minimum a warning that where he leads may not be pleasant, nor where we want to go nor lead to what we want to do. But implicit in the statement is that he is the one doing the leading, and that his leading is not from some remote location, but right there next to us or just ahead of us. Our self-denial focuses more on letting him direct our paths. In other words, I read this set in the context of relationship with the living Jesus. At least, that's how those he was speaking to would have taken it, right? I sort of imagine the following dialogue:

Jesus: So, have you decided to follow me, sign on to my mission to rescue the world?

Me: Yeah, I guess so. So where are we going?

Jesus: No telling. You can never tell where these things might end up or what we'll encounter. I have pretty good instincts, though, when stuff happens. Guess you'll just have to trust me, huh?

(a pause)

Me: Yeah, I guess so. So what is it we're going to do?

Jesus: Well, it kind of depends on the situation, but it'll be God-come-near stuff, Kingdom stuff, like valuing everyone. You know, widows, poor people, the uneducated and hungry, the mentally ill. Those kind of people. All kinds of people, really. The self-absorbed, the addicts, the successful and unsuccessful. We'll look them in the eye, listen to their stories, ask their opinions and value and try to understand their answers. In short, we'll live with them in their world. Of course, all of this is sure to upset the power brokers, and we'll have to stand up to them, sunshine their abuse of or apathy toward the powerless, show it to be the devil-stuff it is. And I'm not just talking pagans here. There are probably more of these folks who are religious than not. By the way, you especially don't want to fall prey to that kind of attitude. If you do, I may have to slap you a bit to wake you up, get your attention. In fact, if you do stuff that hurts one of my little ones, well that's really bad.

Me: Got it.

Jesus: Do you?

Me: Okay, I think I get it, but you are probably going to have to straighten me out when my zeal leads down the wrong path. So what's going to happen if we stand up to these in-charge people?

Jesus: Well it won't make them happy at all. That's for sure. They have a tendency to get quite nasty. In fact, God may have to send a number of our community into the situation before the power brokers lose their grip.

Me: Oh, so you'll lead in a crowd of us so that we'll be safe and win in the end?

Jesus: Who said anything about safe? I was thinking more that if these abusive power brokers chew enough of us up and spit enough of us out, they eventually will lose their teeth.

Me: You mean I could die from it?

Jesus: Well, that's how it happened for me. Not that it will happen that way for you. Who knows? You might be at this a very long time. But even if it happens the other way, it's not the end of the world, you know.

Me: I know. (a long pause) It doesn't sound like much fun.

Jesus: Suffering is never fun. But that's missing the point, isn't it? Think of the company you'll be in, the community you'll be going through this stuff with, the joy of being in partnership with God for that which is truly good and valuing and rescuing. The good news is that the community only gets tighter and better and bigger. Hopeless, angry, abusive and used-up people get rescued from themselves and each other. People start loving each other like God does. Nuts, we could march straight into hell and there's nothing they could do to stop us. God's God-come-near Kingdom-way-of-living is never going to be snuffed out. Quite the contrary. (a short pause) Most important...

(at this point Jesus looks straight into my eyes)

Jesus: ... I... will... always... be... right... here... with... you.

(a very long pause)

Me: Okay. I'm in.

Jesus: Good! So are you ready to get started?

Me: Sure. What do we do first?

(Jesus puts his arm around my shoulder and we start off)

Jesus: Okay. First, you know all that stuff in your house? You don't need it all. I'm envisioning this huge garage sale, maybe Ebay. And the money you get for it.... Remember that guy at the freeway offramp? Well, he's been pretty hungry lately, and you could.....

(sound fades as we walk off together)

I know this doesn't speak to everyone who reads my blog. But it's a dream I think God has for the world. At least, that's what I think.

Grace and peace,



Blogger Marshall said...

Hi, Owen,

I was re-reading the post above - which is beautiful - and thinking about my own walk lately, which has grown very eastern. As you know, I no longer accept by faith the belief that Jesus literally rose from the dead, but I do find fascinating parallels between his teaching that we should deny ourselves and my learning from other traditions.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I mean is to describe my morning meditation today. All I did was to sit still for ten minutes and pay attention to the moment. Continually, there arose a list of pressing concerns: must deal with Mr. B today (which will be unpleasant), must solve Ms. V's problems (which may prove recalcitrant), must call Glen (is 8:00 too early?), must make doctor appointments (routine, but, boy!, can I procrastinate!), must contact my brother Jason (boy O boy!, can I procrastinate!!)... Along with these thoughts came feelings, of course: Man, Marshall, you have really... Why don't you just... I found myself rehearsing or replaying.

Many voices rose within me reminding me that I have urgent ties to which I must attend, and other voices rose within me chiding me and judging me for putting things off, while others rose in anxiety and fear, while others...

Meanwhile, I sat and re-focused time and again on breath and the present moment...

...which might sound selfish, perhaps...

...but in the hope that later in the day, when pressures mount, something more placid and wise than "me" might engage. For in all that fussing during meditation, I wasn't really concerned about Mr. B, Ms. V., etc., but about how they affected me, how I would word things, how I would save face...

For "I" am a mass of conflicts, opinions, concerns, worries, needs, drives, yadda yadda, not well equipped to be much help to anyone. But I am also the simple, clear calm of a silent moment, in touch in some mysterious way with the divine. And I find in simple meditation a way to deny self and grow in wisdom (or Wisdom, if you like).

I guess what I am saying is that the denial of self might take various forms, but I suspect all require discipline. I also suspect that the process will first yield "selfish" fruits - greater peace, happiness, unconditional love and acceptance of self (even with all its nagging) - but that out of this greater compassion for self will arise greater compassion for all.

9:26 AM  

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