Cutting Room Floor: Interruption – Frameworks & Filters

Standard

IMG_0715 - Version 2We all operate with certain ways of thinking, certain frameworks about what is Christian or not-Christian, what is good or not-good, what is right and wrong and best.

Everyone has these frameworks. Most of the time, they go unexamined. Usually great suffering brings them to the forefront, or great surprises, or great confrontation. We find ourselves asking questions like “If God is so……” or saying things like “I thought that….” or “It’s wrong to…” It’s at these moments that everyone’s a theologian. Not a great theologian, maybe–we probably aren’t all that consistent and are usually pretty blind to our prejudices–but the ways we think about the world and our place in it rise to the surface.

We have theological frameworks that we operate with. How engaged or disengaged God is in our lives, how holy the church should or shouldn’t be, what we should or shouldn’t expect of non-Christians, how we should structure a country economically. The Should’s reveal our theological frameworks.

And we filter life, too. What we hear and see or don’t hear and see, who we allow to influence us or not influence us. Happenstance and chance filter life for us: where we’re born and what language we speak and what climate we live in. The choices our parents and institutions and others around us make filter life for us.

Between the frameworks we live with and the filters that we’re surrounded by, it can be very, very difficult to get to the nuts and bolts of an issue, to get to universals, or objectivity, when it comes to thinking deeply about theological things. And the reason I mention this is that we are all stuck in the molasses of our circumstances, our prejudices, and our philosophies. Frameworks and filters are real, and part of reflecting theologically on life is to take stock of what we’ve accepted as right that isn’t right. This is something that we have to deal with even as we narrate to ourselves our life events, analyze what’s going on, make meaning of life and enact what we see.

We are texts in a context, and we can’t forget this as we enter into the process of making faith-sense of what’s going on in our lives. And if we remember this, we’ll do an important thing, a “must” when it comes to living a theological life, which is to go outside ourselves for counsel.

Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: Keep Short Accounts

Standard

IMG_0715 - Version 2On Forgiveness:

Justice, for God’s people, means mercy, forgiveness. If justice is a transaction, forgiveness is the opposite of one. It’s writing off a debt. To forgive is the hardest thing, because to forgive means you absorb the costs that you’re forgiving, it means the loss stays on your books, stays in your heart–until, of course, we take up God’s unending offer of peace and healing, and find it. Forgiveness doesn’t zero things out, right? Do we get this? If I say to you, “All is forgiven.” What I’m saying is, “I’m going to bear the costs of what you did, rather than make you pay me back. The costs are real. But you don’t owe me.” We can’t forgive, can’t show mercy, unless we realize that every act of forgiveness is an act of bearing the costs ourselves, of not demanding payback, whether that’s financial payback, or some meager replacement for the emotional and spiritual costs that we bear.

I’m beating this into the ground because, frankly, for me this was incredibly empowering to own. To forgive means that I bear the costs of your sin against me. I take on the costs, not you. To pray either, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” or “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” is to pray dangerously, because it invites God to use our standards and behavior as his own in dealing with us.

Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: Love

Standard

IMG_0715 - Version 2When was the last time we said no to that urge to give voice to something that takes away from another person? Because love does this, more than anything else: it makes other people more human than when we found them.

The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference: that what happens to those around us just doesn’t matter. What we say about them just doesn’t matter–who’s going to hear it? What we think about things just doesn’t matter–who’s going to know? What we do with our things just doesn’t matter.

And indifference, at its heart, is the choice to make ourselves more important than anything else, and our opinions, our wants, our needs, our goals, our vision, and our comfort the biggest and brightest things in the constellations of our universe.

But God is anything but indifferent: God is humanizing, because God pays attention to us, and through his attention we are made more human, more real, more persons than we otherwise were. We’re made into children of God because of love.

~ Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: “Let me talk about guilt, here”

Standard

IMG_0715 - Version 2Sometimes the most dutiful among us are the most guilty-feeling, no matter what’s going on: We feel like we should be doing more, we feel like we should be better than we are, we feel guilty about something, and until we’re sure of what it is, we’ll let that sense of guilt motivate our behavior in all sorts of ways. The Church, any congregation, is codependent in this, too, unfortunately, because guilty people make good volunteers, so, hey, come work it off.

Repentance realizes that our sin has cost us relationships. Feeling guilty is just as often wrapped up in our relationships, too. It’s wrapped up in our relationships in two very different ways, although they end in the same place for we guilty-feeling people. In one case, we’re the actor, the agent, the do-er; in the other, victim, the one acted upon.

In the first case, repentance is “feeling guilty’s” opposite, because repentance takes seriously a situation, a behavioral choice, and the relationship it has affected, and seeks to not do it again because the relationship is just so important to us. Feeling guilty lingers, unattached to any particular thing but affecting everything. If we are people who feel guilty all the time, and we know that it’s related to something we ourselves have done, part of my advice would be to be as specific as possible with your feelings; What is it in our past or our present that we have done that could really use the emotional house-cleaning work of repentance? Do our feelings of guilt have to do with some break in our relationship with God? Or are they related to some alienation we feel toward some other person, even toward ourselves?

“Feeling guilt” is often tied, though, to things we ourselves have never done. We are victims, whether evilly victimized by others, or victims of the capriciousness of the world, of an accident or force of nature. And we can deal with the nature thing, usually; it doesn’t leave us feeling guilty, but to be a victim of another person, to be sinned against, is a difficult, terrible thing. Because we recognize that the relationship was broken; but it wasn’t broken by us. People do come to places of forgiveness, discover in the peace of God and security of self an ability to not hold liable the one who hurt them, because the person can’t pay back what their sin cost anyway. And that forgiveness–which is not reconciliation, a thing that may not be called for at all in the situation–is both enough and basically a miracle. But many of us only inch and creep forward toward a place like that. And for those of us who have had another person hurt us, it is often the case that one of the marks of their hurt is the lie that we ourselves are responsible for it. Yet we aren’t; we can’t fix a relationship we ourselves had no part in breaking. And that lingering regret, that lingering disempowerment, can haunt us with guilty feelings for a very long time, until we come to a place where we can reject the lie that we have done anything wrong at all.

Feeling guilty, remember, is nothing like repentance. We probably think of them as similar, you know, “feeling repentful” and “feeling guilty”, but they aren’t. Guilt is a legal declaration; You’ve broken a law. You deserve to be punished. Feeling as if we’re waiting for punishment is a terrible way to live; feeling as if we’re working of a debt we can’t pay is a terrible way to live, particularly when we have been forgiven, when our debt has been written off. Being made to feel guilty for actions that we ourselves have no responsibility for is a work of the devil, and an evil that can bind us so tightly that we forget we’ve been forgiven at all.

So if we are people prone to feeling guilty, or people who always feel guilty, I would suggest that there’s soul work that needs done in our lives, some work that in our inner being that we need to take up. It may be simply that we need repentance’s specificity, and the release that comes of it; it may mean we have a long road to walk toward healing. If we do, let’s walk it with people wiser than us who we can trust.

~Post written by Rich Hagopian

Cutting Room Floor: Expertise

Standard

IMG_0715 - Version 2There is no way to become an expert at following Christ without also being an expert at living your own life. There’s no way to expertly follow Christ without expertly living your own life.

We can be an expert at all sorts of thing while being more or less absent from huge areas of our lives. We can be a terrible father or mother or spouse, but great at our jobs. We can be excellent parents, but terrible spouses, wonderful neighbors, but ineffectual employees, good students, but bad friends. We can be really good at those areas our subculture rewards–whether it’s work, or school, or church, or whatever–and, in the end, be only good at those things, and little else. We become one-dimensional people, and all those others who are part of our lives outside that one area of expertise suffers for it, and we suffer for it.

But God doesn’t reward us for specializing the way those who flock around our specialties reward us. God doesn’t cheer us on for being excellent parents and terrible employees, excellent friends and terrible spouses. We’re meant to specialize in everything–or nothing at all.

Actually, the language of specialization doesn’t really fit, here. What we’re really talking about, I think, is integrity.

What I mean is this; you can’t specialize when it comes to following Christ. You can’t. You can’t neglect your mouth by focusing on your eyes; you can’t neglect your body by focusing on your soul, you can’t neglect your eyes by focusing on your hands. That which we’ve neglected will find a way to destroy our success. And this is because God doesn’t want our sense of touch to be holy, or taste to be holy, or sight or hearing or smell; God wants us to live caught up in his holiness, aware and thankful for it, and reflecting it in the littlest ways we’re able.

We’re faced with two options. We can throw up our hands because of the pressure, tune out and give up, because it’s just too much. Or we can give into the rewarding work of practice. I’ve been thinking of practicing…

~Post written by Rich Hagopian

A “Going Deeper” Special Series: “Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter”

Standard

IMG_0715 - Version 2Well, friends, our walk through some of Henri Nouwen’s reflection on the life we live as Christians–as God’s beloved–is finished. If you’ve followed along I’d love to know. I hope, too, that it’s been worth your while: useful, challenging, hopeful…whatever. May God be with us as we’re with each other and the world. May we be at home in the love of God wherever we find ourselves.

If you want to share in the comments section any insights you’ve had, or let us know if this series was worth your while, feel free to do so. Maybe we’ll have others like it in the future.

peace,

rich

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Spiritual Direction: “Listening to the Voice of God” (Part II of II) 

Standard

IMG_0715 - Version 2I wonder if any of us have considered absurdity as Nouwen framed it in the last post–our own absurdity, that is, our deafness to God and what it does to us?

Today, Nouwen talks of its alternative. This comes from the same source as the previous post, on the following page:

The obedient life forms the other end of the spiritual spectrum. The word obedience includes the word audire which means “listening.” Living a spiritually mature life is living a life in which we listen to the voice of God’s Spirit within and among us and in which we try to respond to that voice at every moment of our lives. The great news of God’s revelation is not simply that God exists but also that God is actively present in our lives at all times and at all places. Our God is a God who cares, heals, guides, directs, challenges, confronts, corrects. God is a God who wants to lead us closer to the full realization of our humanity. To be obedient means to be constantly attentive to this active presence of God and to allow God, who is only love, to be the source as well as the goal of all we think, say, and do. It is, however, far from easy to live a life of listening. There are strong resistances in us to listening. 

What an understatement that last line is!

I can’t read today’s passage, today, and not think of Good Friday and of Jesus shouting to God from the cross of his forsakenness. I wonder if one of the great resistances I face to not listening to God is, simply, the petulant belief that He doesn’t listen to me–at least, not the way I want Him to.

The truth is that this “great news” that Nouwen points out undoes deafness when its taken seriously. To live a listening life, an obedient life, is to believe that we’re heard, too, that our obedience is warranted, reasonable.

I believe that…sometimes. Today I do. I pray tomorrow as well.

How about you?

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter “Spiritual Direction: “Movement From Absurdity to Obedience” (Part I of II) 

Standard

A number of themed compilations of Henri Nouwen’s work have been published. One of these, In My Own Words, was compiled by Nouwen’s long-time friend, Robert Durback. (Durback wrote a forward to one edition of Beyond The Mirror, a book we looked at just a couple of weeks ago.) In the section of the book we’re quoting, below, Durback relies heavily on Nouwen’s work Spiritual Direction. Both these books are available from Amazon, and very likely on the shelves of your local used bookstore, too.

IMG_0715 - Version 2Today’s devotional is the first part of a two part series. While Nouwen talks of “an absurd life” today, on Friday–Good Friday–we’ll read about its alternative, an “obedient life.” Good Friday reminds us of many things; Jesus’ own obedience to his calling and mission in the world is just one of these. Ironically, of course, Jesus’ death as a necessary and obedient thing has always struck people as itself “absurd.” But more about that in a few days…

Here, for now:

The spiritual life is a life in which we struggle to move from absurd living to obedient living. The word absurd includes the word surdus which means “deaf.” Absurd living is a way of life in which we remain deaf to the voice which speaks to us in our silence. The many activities in which we are involved, the many concerns which keep us preoccupied and the many sounds which surround us, make it very hard for us to hear the small voice through which God makes God’s presence known (see 1 Kgs 19;12). It seems that the world in which we live conspires against our hearing that voice and tries to make us absolutely deaf. It is therefore is not surprising that we often wonder, in the midst of our very occupied and preoccupied lives, if anything is truly happening. Our lives might be filled with many events–so many events even that we often wonder how we can get it all done–but at the same time we might feel very unfulfilled, and wonder if anything is happening which is worth living for. Being filled yet unfulfilled, being busy yet bored, being involved yet lonely, these are symptoms of the absurd life, the life in which we are no longer hearing the voice of the One who created us and who keeps calling us to a new life in God. This absurd life is extremely painful, because it makes us feel as if we are living in exile, cut off from the vital source of our existence. (In My Own Words, p.89)

There’s little I could add to Nouwen’s “own words,” here. What is your response to this? I find myself led to prayer, asking, as I mull this over, “Lord…how deaf am I to you? And why?” And do I want to know the answers to these questions…?

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World” 

Standard

IMG_0715 - Version 2Nouwen’s work Life of The Beloved is a long reflection on the Emmaus Road scene at the end of Luke’s Gospel. Nouwen sees, in Jesus’ breaking of the bread at the end of Luke and his self-understanding as God’s Beloved,  a pattern for our own way of life in the world. It was meant as a sort of Apology (a defense) of the Christian faith for a good friend; the friend found it unconvincing, but many, many others have been touched by this book of Henri Nouwen’s. He wrote this, near the end of his work:

As those whoa re chosen, blessed, broken and given, we are called to live our lives with a deep inner joy and peace. it is the life of the Beloved, lived in a world constantly trying to convince us that the burden is on us to prove that we are worthy of being loved. 

But what of the other side of it all? What of our desire to build a career, our hope for success and fame and our dream of making a name for ourselves? is that to be despised? Are these aspirations in opposition to the spiritual life? 

Some people might answer “Yes” to that question and counsel you to leave the fast pace of the big city and look for a milieu where you can pursue the spiritual life without restraints. But I don’t think that that’s your way. I don’t believe that your place is in a monastery or…the solitude of the countryside. I would say, even, that the city with its challenges is not such  bad place for you and your friends. There is stimulation, excitement, movement and a lot to see, hear, taste, and enjoy. The world is only evil when you become its slave. The world has a lot to offer–just as Egypt did for the children of Jacob–as long as you don’t feel bound to obey it. The great struggle facing you is not to leave the world, to reject your ambitions and aspirations or to despise money, prestige or success, but to claim your spiritual truth and to live in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it…

I believe deeply that all the good things our world has to offer are yours to enjoy. But you can enjoy them truly only when you can acknowledge them as affirmations of the truth that you re the Beloved of God…. That truth will allow you to receive the gifts you receive from your society and celebrate life. But that truth will also allow you to let go of what distracts you, confuses you and puts in jeopardy the life of the Spirit within you. 

We look forward to Holy Week now. Palm Sunday is soon, and with it the reminder of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the last week of his life before resurrection. So much of Lent is about denial, about remembering our mortality and our dependance on God. This passage emphasizes the latter, while denying the former; it felt appropriate, somehow. A counter-note to that which we’ve been singing.

What do you think of what Nouwen says here? How do we accomplish “living in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it?”

(Buy this book–for you or a friend–at http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0824519868/186-3099699-8535739)

“Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Finding Hope In Hard Times”

Standard

I’m home today, tomorrow too. Our daughter had a routine surgery, but it’s one that comes with a week (or more) of rest. It’s a quiet morning, and unusually, my mind is quiet too.

IMG_0715 - Version 2Today’s passage comes from a book compiled after Nouwen’s death. He was a prolific writer, and produced many things that were left unpublished before his unexpected passing; quite a few books were posthumously published, edited by those who had worked and lived with him for years. This is one of them. It’s an honest, raw, and hopeful sort of book, and the subtitle explains it well: How can we find hope in hard times?

As Nouwen builds his encouraging argument, we read this, below. It’s part of a discussion on how to move “from fatalism to hope.” A small passage, but:

Hope does not mean that we will avoid or be able to ignore suffering, of course. Indeed, hope born of faith becomes matured and purified through difficulty. The surprise we experience in hope, then, is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected. For eve when they do not, we can still live with a keen hope. The basis of our hope has to do with the One who is stronger than life and suffering. Faith opens us up to God’s sustaining, healing presence. A person in difficult can trust because of a belief that something else is possible. To trust is to allow for hope. 

So often I hope in things and people, in promises that they make or services they offer. The trouble, though, is that this is a weak base for hope; it can cave in quickly, and whatever is built upon it can fall apart. This small passage from Nouwen reminds of hope’s basis, of trust and faith and how intertwined all these are. I’m returned to God. (If you want to buy this small book, do it from the Henri Nouwen society! http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0849945097)

What do you think of Nouwen’s words here?