(This has been directly copied and pasted from Facebook with almost no editing on 9/6/2019. I am using Medium to increase the legibility of my two posts.)
Over the course of the last month, I’ve become convinced of a strange and simple hypothesis about what ails our country, and especially the church in our country. (I live in the USA.)
I’d like to invite anyone who wants to participate in a little ‘experiment in truth,’ whether you’re Christian or not, to try a little experiment with me.
(I’ll describe the results of this experiment, for me, below, tomorrow.)
Here’s the experiment:
(1) Pray, if you pray, for God to help your heart and mind be open. If you don’t pray, please consider meditating, stilling your mind, or engaging in some other calming and centering activity that you feel very comfortable with. If you don’t do any of that, please feel free to skip this step.
(2) Read Luke 6. (Any version will do. You can Google it quickly.)
(3) Describe what happens, whatever it is.
That’s it! I don’t want to bias the results any more than I already have.
This thread will be moderated gently, to highlight the results of people who are participating in the experiment. Bigger discussions might always unfold, and I would like to politely ask that people love and respect each other deeply, whatever happens in the thread … and please refrain from joining the discussion until you have tried the experiment.
Second post (the next morning):
Thanks so much to everyone for your descriptions! Every single one of them has encouraged me in a real way.
I went ahead and did the experiment this morning. Here’s my attempt to describe what just happened! In all of this, I might use a little bit of jargon or terminology. If you’re curious about it, I’m happy to explain more :)
(1) I wanted to jump right into writing about the passage at first (I have a lot of thoughts from marinating in it over the month), and then I wanted to jump right into reading it. But then I decided that I really ought to do the full exercise, so I wouldn’t be total hypocrite :D
For my prayer, I used a technique called “Centering Prayer” which I love, and have just really started to love a lot more in the last week. As with all of this stuff, I’m a total amateur. (Which means I love it, and am definitely no expert.) I chose as my anchoring word/phrase “Veni Sancte Spiritus” which is “Come Holy Spirit” in Latin, and is meaningful to me in both my Catholic and Vineyard contexts. (As I recently learned or re-learned yesterday, it is also a Taize thing, which is an ecumenical prayer service and movement, so it fits on at least 3 levels.) But with Centering Prayer as I understand it, even the centering phrase (along with all of the other thoughts that come up) are treated as ‘beautiful distractions’ from the real hope of the practice, which is an experience of God’s loving presence that goes beyond words. It took me about 5 minutes to stop thinking about what I’d write here. Then I did 10 minutes of centering prayer, and felt like I was just getting to where I could turn my attention past the ‘beautiful distractions’ to the experience. So then I let Maggie out (she’s my good girl, a border collie), and came back and did another 5 minutes. Toward the end, I felt something like this: like I’d come to the edge of some endless, wild and undiscovered country, and that I could press in forever. (Ah, but even that was another beautiful distraction!)
It was great, and left me feeling more focused, calm, relaxed, and peaceful … and perhaps a bit less prone to mistake my ideas and thoughts for the awesome ‘thing itself’ which is not a thing at all, but a God beyond words and who is vastly beyond our ability to perceive more than the edges.
(Side note: this practice isn’t really about being great at it. It is awesome to do and be bad at it.)
(2) I read. I ended up reading Luke 4 to 6, and I had so many wonderful details jump out at me that I haven’t seen before. Here, let me just lay out an outline, because for me it helps to read with acute attention to small details, while holding the full narrative arch in mind as I do it. This is what makes the details of a brilliant text pop! The way the details contain the whole, seedlike, packed in each little part.
So here’s my summary of 4–6, and then maybe a detail:
Jesus prays and asks for the Holy Spirit to come.
He resists the devil’s temptation to get access to domination, control, deception and abuse power, and completely rejects that way instead
He reads Isaiah’s liberating call to forgive debts and liberate people from captivity, and then insists that this is for outsiders not insiders. The insiders don’t like that at all. (They perhaps miss the implicit invitation to become outsiders.)
Jesus starts healing people and casting out oppressive spiritual entities that use domination, control, deception and abuse power, making people well and bringing shalom-peace in a holistic sense
Jesus calls disciples, who fish for a living, and uses their prior life experience to explain what they get to do now: catch people who have been caught in systems of domination, control, deception and abuse and set them free
More healing and more healing
Jesus eats with people a lot, and gets in trouble with the religious elite for eating so much and with the wrong sorts of people
(That’s the set up for Luke 6)
Now Jesus is also getting in trouble with the religious elite for eating with the wrong people at the wrong time (on the Sabbath)
He knows what is going on, and he decides to really do something that will provoke the religious elite: he heals a man with a withered hand ON THE SABBATH, and RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM, and not just that but IN THE FREAKING TEMPLE. He has carefully chosen a provocation that is, fundamentally, just about doing what he understands to be right … fully aware of the reaction it will provoke.
Now huge crowds of people are following Jesus and being healed.
In this context, Jesus gets a group of his disciples together, although it looks like he teaches them with a mixed crowd present around him. Not entirely sure about the scene, but in my mind it is kind of like the idea of studying this teaching in a public FB group where anyone who would like is free to overhear, but it is also clear that Jesus is NOT preaching AT those people and telling them how THEY need to live. He is letting everyone see Jesus teach his own people what to do. (In context, the teaching is also a strategy based on the theory that this is what works, but it is also more than a strategy: it is a sacred commitment and bond between teacher and students, through which those students are invited to become like their teacher and do the stuff that he does.)
The teaching really has three main points, in this version:
With the outsiders and the marginalized, as one of them, is where you want to be. Those other guys are screwed.
Love your enemies. This is a replacement behavior for violent responses, which come so naturally to people in situations like the one Jesus is in where powerful people are planning to kill him because he has openly defied them.
Pull the planks out of your own eye. This is a replacement behavior for telling other people what to do. (And reflects the setting itself beautifully: he isn’t telling anyone except the people who want to follow him how to act. He does warn others, to be sure, but that’s not the same as trying to tell them how to live. THIS BUILDING IS COLLAPSING ON YOU, YOU MIGHT WANT TO GET OUT, is good advice if someone is in a collapsing building. But if you’re going to have a chance at helping them, you have to really vigorously focus on your own hypocrisy.
Then he uses some language that confused me for a long time about thorns not growing from fig trees, to morally exhort his disciples to really do what he says. And to also notice that where they aren’t doing it, they shouldn’t focus on correcting surface behaviors but on getting to the heart of the matter. (Recently, I was reading James and the use of similar language there, to exhort, is really clear. This language is decidedly NOT about telling his disciples to see themselves as flawless figs in a world of thorn trees. JUST THE OPPOSITE: it presumes that they will find themselves acting like “figs with thorns growing out of them” and realize that this is nonsense. Then, they’ll be inspired to quickly get rid of the thorns, which in this context mean “lack of enemy love” and “hypocritical planks” because their identity is not compatible with their behavior.)
Then, just in case anyone then (or perhaps in the pursuing millenia) wanted to try to build on some foundation other than identity with the marginalized, enemy love, and plank removal (anti-hypocrisy in ourselves), he explained the consequences of claiming to follow Jesus, but building on some other foundation than these practices (like, I don’t know, arguments about how figurative Genesis 1–2 is, or violent defense of ‘liberty’ or state power or sexual/anti-sexual energy or shame and pressured manipulation or your huge pile of accumulated wealth or some theological argument that you got right so you can salute some new conclusion that the rest of us have missed or we can keep going … there are lots of shaky foundations out there masquerading as sure foundations!)
Anyway, that’s what happened for me!
And it was in that framework that so many little details SPRANG TO LIFE for me. Like this one:
“He went down with them and stood on a level place.”
Ah yes. This is a level place.