Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

born again, and again, and again, and...

No, this isn't a posting about eternal security, or camp conversions that are renewed every summer in the embers of the Thursday night fire, accompanied by singing. This is a response to the conversation in the previous post, "dude, where's my stuff?" I'm intrigued by how much chatter is created around ethical topics, and how little is created around topics related to heart care (see previous post on Bible reading).

I'm increasingly convinced that we modern Christ followers have a hard time seeing either the relationship or sequencing of interior and exterior matters related to transformation. Let me explain what I mean:

Relationship of interior and exterior: Sometimes it appears that there's a giant wall between sacred and secular, between spiritual disciplines and ethics, between heart formation and the way we live, between root and blossom. Some of us are intent on living out the faith and helping (or in our uglier moments, mandating) others in their ethical choices and priorities. Thus do we talk about materialism, earth stewardship, caring for the poor, justice issues, and sexual ethics. Others have priorities that are more centered on developing a rich interior life through the nurture of silence, solitude, prayer. But too often, these interior and exterior elements are seen as unrelated, and so it becomes possible to have a 'rich devotional life' but remain outwardly unchanged. Or the reverse can be true: deep commitment to ethics, while the soul grows barren.

It's vital that we see the symbiotic relationship of these two matters, because the truth is that each needs to the other if there's to be life. Devotional life, Bible reading, silence, and all the rest of our interior matters become nothing more than self indulgence if they don't lead to a change in the way we actually live. And any attempts to change the exterior without the needed interior fortification will result in glaring, gaping holes in our lives.

As a pastor committed to soul care, both for myself and others, I'm looking for an ecology of the heart that sees the interior and exterior as an ecosystem; symbiotic, interdependent. Like any ecosystem, life is unsustainable unless the parts are feeding each other to create the whole.

How about you? Are you more likely to focus on ethics, or soul care? Exterior or Interior? I'm trying to name my own tendencies so that, this spring, I can bring things back into balance, after a very busy winter. Hopefully the balance will lead to nutritious soil, the planting of the word, and the blossoming and bearing of fruit in my home, neighborhood, church, and beyond.


At 6/5/08 16:51, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last couple of weeks I've been trying to articulate, or at least understand better, a change that I have been feeling is necessary in my own life.

I feel like you have hit the nail on the head. This is something I long and desire for- this healthy, interdependent ecosystem. I know that my exterior is something that I am always striving to improve while the interior is something that, all too often, is pushed aside.

At 6/5/08 19:49, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard, you asked, “How about you? Are you more likely to focus on ethics, or soul care? Exterior or Interior? And my first instinct is to say that my interior soul care is the catalyst for my exterior ethics.
That’s the short answer.
In regard to your being “intrigued by how much chatter is created around ethical topics, and how little is created around topics related to heart care” I have a thought. Could it be that the accepted means of ‘salvation’ has become oversimplified. Romans 10:9 says; “That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That “confession” and “belief” seem to have been misinterpreted in modern-day Christianity. An expert in the Law asked Yeshua "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? What is written in the Law, said Yeshua, How do you read it? He answered: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." (Luke 10:25-28) I read the Bible to find out how to love Yahweh with all that I am
and find that it takes everything I have to understand how. I have found that the more I learn how to love Yahweh, the more I am enabled with the love necessary for my fellow human. I find this process to be at once the most difficult, and rewarding task of my life. But the more love I have in my relationship with Yahweh, the more deep and complicated and fulfilling it becomes. Along with this, my ethical nature continues to improve, not because I am working so hard on it, but because I am working so hard on my relationship with my Creator.

At 6/5/08 22:36, Anonymous Chad said...

can i confess that ethical/external issues tend to exasperate me and cause me to despair of a solution. which is not to say i don't get excessively excited about some new 'solution' to a major problem (like solar or wind energy for example) - they just always seem to let me down...

and it seems that an internal focus is more... achievable and so that is where i tend to focus - and yes, i hope that the external issues will work themselves out in the end; i try to have faith that God has actively claimed the ethical realm - justice in all its forms - and is always effectively working to redeem our broken world & if i focus on my relationship with him, the other stuff will play out, more or less, the best way that they can

At 7/5/08 00:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to thank the person who wrote the last comment for using the word "interdependent". I am currently teaching a garden class on interdependence in nature as well as from a nutritional perspective. However, I never considered it with respect to my life in this way.
The past few days I have been keenly aware of my ever-changing moods, many of which I believe relate to a lack of focus on the interior compared to the exterior. These also need to be in balance for one to be considered "healthy". Even if amazing circumstances and people are continuously showing up in my external life, the weight of disappointment can bring me down if I am not also focusing on the spiritual element. That "giant wall" between the two elements of our lives is really difficult to work around...or break down altogether. It's truly exhausting. In this overwhelming life where the two are so divided, how can we achieve that desired balance and focus on both...and not become even more exhausted in our attempts to do so? Thoughts?

p.s. Richard, I still did want to thank you for your post on excessive "stuff". Because that has been my area of focus these days, it was very appropriate and well-accepted by everyone I sent it to, regardless of their background and beliefs.

At 7/5/08 09:19, Anonymous donte said...

Exterior or Interior? I guess I’ve never really know anyone (myself included) who has shown a capacity to love others or God’s creation more than him/herself. I think its human nature to care for the needs of oneself before turning our attention towards the needs of others. I think that’s why we love Christ, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, and MLK because they showed an amazing capacity to love others not only in word, but also in deed. I know there are other lesser known laypeople that have done the same, but many of us limit our expression of love to other and the earth to words, bumper stickers, or an occasional rally or protest.

My time spent in church, reading the bible, praying, and even in small group often points me towards orthodoxy. However, it is only my time spent with people in need that I am pointed toward orthopraxy. I know that I need both. I get plenty of the former, but not nearly enough of the latter.

At 8/5/08 12:24, Anonymous Kristi said...

OK, I confess. I read this post before I even read the last one on reading the Bible; and I posted a comment as soon as I read the post on "stuff"! I think it's just easier sometimes to post on things that involve some controversy.

I don't really have much to add to what others have said other than I appreciate the idea that there is (or should be) an interconnectedness between the internal and the external, and that there is danger when one focuses solely on one or the other.

I agree with the idea that focusing on my internal soul-care should lead to outwardly caring for others. But I think that focusing internally (prayer, silence, Bible reading) can also give direction to the outward expressions. I believe that we must be intentional about feeding our souls (otherwise we have little to offer others) but I also believe that it's really easy to just stay there, in our quiet time without asking God how he might have us respond to people in need, the environment, systematic racism, etc.

God is faithful. I have yet to experience a time when I asked him to show me how I could be used as part of a solution when he has not obliged.

So I guess that's my challenge to people who want to do something about these overwhelming problems but feel like they're too big to tackle - ask God. And then hang on because it's a wild ride sometimes!


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