The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth. So Help Me God.

I’m reading several books right now – a regular practice of mine.  I used to lament the fact that I do this so much, but recently I’ve come to embrace it because I am able to make connections in ways I might otherwise not have.  The most recent example of this has come from three sources: Rachel Held Evans’s Searching for Sunday, Jay Bilas’s Toughness, and Luke chapter four.  All three are teaching me about the importance of telling the truth.

In her book Searching for Sunday, Evans writes, “we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable.  Truth-telling is a theme I was reintroduced to while I was a seminary at Duke Divinity School.  Renowned theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, beats this drum loudly, reminding the church that this is Her vocation.  I think it was Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, however, that really first introduced me to the importance of truth-telling.  As much as Christians talk about The Way, the Truth, and the Life, not so regularly have Christians told the truth about our sordid history.  Donald Miller saw that and, as memory serves, set up a confession booth in some public square.  But rather than having people confess their sins, Miller confessed the Church’s.  It was a powerful moment for many people – both those who were present to experience this truth-telling for themselves, as well as for those who were vicariously present through its retelling.  In the years since, it seems to me like my United Methodist denomination has gotten pretty good at confessing – nay, lamenting – our sins…or at least our shortcomings.  Even beyond my denomination, my Facebook Timeline reminds me of all the blogs and status updates that have been written telling the world all the areas where the Church is falling short.  I think this is truth-telling, but it’s not telling the whole truth.

Jay Bilas reflects on something similar to this in his book, Toughness.  Jay Bilas was an All-American basketball player who played for Coach K at Duke University.  He has since gone on to become a successful coach, attorney, and, most recently, ESPN analyst.  When reflecting on his time as a player at Duke, Bilas writes this about his teammate, Mark Alarie:  “He was always open to addressing any failure, analyzing why it occurred, and taking the necessary steps to avoid repeating it in the future.  But he steadfastly refused to dwell on failure.”  When I read this, I couldn’t help but hearing the aforementioned quote by Evans.  Just as confessing our sins can be uncomfortable, so too can celebrating our successes.  Just as confessing our sins is truth-telling, so too is celebrating our successes.  My question to my colleagues and Facebook friends is this: What successes are you celebrating, particularly in the life of your local congregation?  What Good is your local church doing for your community?  How is the Gospel still Good News for you and your people?  Where is God at work in your world and how are you inviting others to participate in God’s activity?  Steadfastly dwelling on our failures and shortcomings is only telling half-truths…which isn’t really truth-telling at all, is it?

The third overlapping text comes from the bible, Luke chapter four.  Jesus stands in the temple of his hometown and reads the following scripture: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim Good News…freedom for the prisoners…recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Later, in the Gospel of John, we learn that Jesus was sent not to condemn the world, but to save the world. In fact, some of the first words God even speaks in Scripture are that the world is good, and that humanity is very good.  Not condemnation, but goodness. The Bible is clear: God is, foremost, for the world, not against it. God is for redeeming what is broken and flawed.  God is for healing our sin-sick souls.  God is for making all things new.  That’s the Good News: that the God who is with us in Jesus Christ is the same God who is for us, wanting us to be that which God intended for us.  And God is actively at work making that dream a reality, in making God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  Just as vital as it is for Christians to tell the truth about the reality of sin, about how we continually fall short of the glory of God, it is equally vital that we tell the truth: God is at work in this world.  Lives are being made whole.  The dead are being raised to new life.

May we, through our baptisms, join Jesus in proclaiming the Good News: this the Year of the Lord’s Favor!

May it be so, Lord.  May it be so!

All Who Are Thirsty: My Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality

A friend whom I’ve always admired and looked up to has been seeing an Ignatian Spiritual Director for several years.  Occasionally he posts Facebook status updates about his experiences that have caught my eye – like how he regularly dines with Jesuits in Washington DC (where he used to live) and now New York City (where he recently moved to).  He made Ignatian Spirituality seem really “cool” – or, at the very least, quite interesting.  After several years of Facebook-stalking him 🙂 I decided to look into meeting with a Spiritual Director.

Spiritual Directors can be found in almost any religious faith and with wide varieties in their training, but I knew I wanted someone within 30 or so minutes from my house and someone from the Ignatian tradition.  Not because I knew what that meant, but because that’s what my friend is doing.  I found one who is trained as such at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis.  I go there a couple times a year for Ordination RIM (Residence in Ministry) Retreats, and have always enjoyed myself so it seemed like a natural place for me to go to meet with a spiritual director.

I had my first meeting last week.  And I am SO glad I’m doing this!

Mary is my new spiritual director, and she gave me the book An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer – Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises.  It is a daily prayer guide that follows Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.  I’m still learning what that means and you can look here for more information, but here are a few unique aspects to his approach:

  • Ignatian Spirituality is rooted in the conviction that God is active, personal, and – above all else – present to us.  God wants to be our friend.
  • God calls, and we respond.  This is the fundamental dynamic of the spiritual life.
  • Praying with scripture
  • Finding God in all things
  • Faith that does justice
  • Flexibility and Adaptability

There are other qualities particular to Ignatian Spirituality, but it’s the first and last ones I listed that resonate with me most – in addition to praying with scripture (I just love praying with the biblical stories, finding myself in them, and listening to what God has to say to me through their stories).  I liked the flexibility and adaptability aspects because my life is so seemingly chaotic right now.  With a toddler, newborn, wife, church, chaplaincy at my local YMCA beginning, and a host of other responsibilities, I feel frazzled, poured out, and drained.  This introductory prayer book is short enough that it doesn’t take a huge commitment, is meaty enough that I get a lot from it, and provides me with some much needed structure.  And I like its emphasis on God’s closeness, activity, and desire to be my friend.  I need to hear that right now.

I’ll close with today’s readings from Isaiah 55.

“‘Come, buy…without money and without price.’ I hear these words of pure invitation; there is no need to have ‘achieved’ something spiritually before I can dare to approach.  All that is necessary is to come to receive God’s gift.”

Amen.  May it be so, Lord.