Soul Sandwich

Deli_sandwiches_(1)

Sunday was the kids’ at Previous Church’s “Super Bowl Subs” fundraiser. Here’s a post that I guess could be in their honour. They know about sandwiches.

At some point last autumn, it dawned on me that I was really busy. I mean really busy. It was different than having a lot of stuff going on in my head and my spirit, which is what mostly made up the “soul garden” I talked to the Spiritual Director about at the beginning of that season. I was overwhelmed, and I just wasn’t sure how to get my arms around everything I was supposed to be doing.

But it was time to see the Spiritual Director again, and so I told him about it. I’m training as a chaplain, I said. And I’m training as a spiritual director myself. And I’m newly appointed to begin The Pilgrimage. And I have to read books for all these trainings–which I like to do, but takes me forever. And I will be working with college students. And I have to start support-raising, which was really kind of easy when I did it before moving to London in 1997, but seemed like it might be more work this time around. And I have this one freelance tutoring job. And we just joined a new church that we’re trying to get involved in…

I had gone round and round in my head trying to figure out which pieces to take out of this crazy life-puzzle, but every time I did that, something like what happened with the $500 would happen again, and I would realize the two-or-however-many things I had just decided to give up were two things I was really supposed to be doing. And actually, I liked all of these things, but I just wasn’t sure how to make them all happen at once.

The Spiritual Director listened. He threw out a couple of possible images and biblical parallels to see if they might help me get a handle on everything I was trying to do, but I couldn’t quite seem to grab onto any of them. “What it sounds like you really need,” he suggested, “is some way to break everything down into manageable pieces.”

“Sandwiches,” I said, suddenly realizing.

“What?” he asked.

“Sandwiches,” I said. “I don’t like sandwiches. I was just telling my CPE group this today. I like all the ingredients of sandwiches–usually, because I eat almost anything. But I don’t like eating them all together. I don’t like biting into the whole thing and having it all get stuck in my teeth, and not being able to taste the individual things.” I’ve been told before that I’m un-American for this quirk, and maybe that’s true. I will eat sandwiches. I just don’t prefer them.

“How would you prefer to eat a sandwich if you could?” asked my Spiritual Director.

I thought for a minute. “With a fork,” I said at last. Which is weird, because I will happily eat curry with my fingers, but whatever.

“So,” said the Spiritual Director, “your life is a sandwich, and you need to figure out how to take it apart so you can get to the ingredients one at a time, instead of all at once.” He wasn’t even laughing at me. Nor did he insist I find a Bible verse to bolster this unusual spiritual analogy, although he blessed me with one, later.

Now it’s February, and a whole new year, and guess what? I’m still engaged in exactly all of those same activities which were overwhelming me in the autumn … and I’m actually engaging them. I think one reason is that I’ve taken them apart like a sandwich and am addressing them one at a time. Maybe with a fork.

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How Did That Happen?

Also, happy New Year!

cropped-73-pilgern-153I had this grand plan to resume blogging here on New Year’s Day, but here’s the thing. Although I have a lot to say (per usual), most of it these days has to do with my new ministry venture–thoughts about it, and bits of it–and I can’t actually properly begin that until I’m “funded.” This means all my time which isn’t going to my chaplaincy internships, and 100% of Writing Brain, is dedicated to raising financial support at this moment. I have a lot to say about that, actually, but at the moment, I’m mostly highly conscious of the fact that one day last autumn I was talking about living the dream and starting a nonprofit, and then another day last month I started talking about how I had joined an existing one, and most if not all of you have no idea of what happened to get from Point A to Point B.

The day after I wrote about what I (or maybe you) might do if I (or maybe you) could do anything, I had a conversation with someone from Previous Church (which, at the moment, is the only alternative nickname I can think of for Now Church which is no longer where I work or attend). I was still looking for a Regular Job a the time. You know. The kind where you go to work and the company pays you and it might not be quite what you had in mind, but it’s a paying job and it’s sort of related to what you wanted to do, so you just stick with it. So I asked this friend from PC (Previous Church), who was contemplating retirement, whether or not I could take over her job when she retired.

“Well, you could,” she said. “But you wouldn’t like it. Why don’t you talk to Campus Ambassador Guy? I’m sure he’d have something you could do.”

I forgot that we both knew Campus Ambassador Guy. I guess she didn’t know that Campus Ambassadors, like many other nonprofit organizations, requires their employees to raise their own work expenses and salaries. But I guess she also didn’t know that I was about to meet with Campus Ambassador Guy’s Boss that very day, to talk about other stuff related to chaplaincy. I knew I was, though, and I knew Campus Ambassador Guy’s Boss would invite me to join Campus Ambassadors that day (because she had before) and somehow it didn’t seem entirely coincidental that I was having this conversation with PC Friend right before meeting with Campus Ambassadors Guy’s Boss.

It seemed less coincidental when Boss said, “If you could design your own ministry, what would it look like?” I mean, given the fact I had just blogged about questions like that.

It seemed even less coincidental when Campus Ambassadors Guy’s Boss talked to Campus Ambassadors Guy himself and he told her how he’d been praying for someone to develop a ministry focusing on Campus Ambassadors’ alumni, because, he was noticing, a lot of them were graduating from college after a good track record with their Christian campus group, only to drop out of church and Christian community completely when they left. (You might know that this Church drop-out demographic is kind of important to me.) Campus Ambassadors Guy didn’t have the time to create such a ministry himself, but he thought my ideas sounded like something that would work really well for the group of people  he was hoping to reconnect.

Numerous long conversations, a lot of prayer, and a full-blown application process later, I now find myself part of a team of likeminded people, on the verge of starting something new–to help expand both their ministry and mine, God willing. I am privileged to be able to apply a limited amount of time with college students on a state college campus toward my CPE chaplaincy training, so some of my ministry is already happening, which is not something to take for granted. But I don’t really get to embark on the Pilgrimage (the post-college spiritual formation coaching project I’ve been appointed to develop) until my salary (including what is needed to pay at the end of the year for taxes, worker’s compensation, benefits, etc) has been raised.

It’s a little daunting, and like I said, I have thoughts about this process, and things to say. But if I’d started my own nonprofit, I’d be doing this same thing, and I wouldn’t already have a team of people to work with and to keep me accountable and bounce ideas off of, and I would end up spending all my time trying to do my own accounting (something I have no clue about!), and not ever being able to get this Dream off the ground. Or (if the door to one had finally opened, which frankly wasn’t happening even a little bit for all of 2015) I’d be working at a Regular Job, still with this nagging feeling that there was something else I really Needed to do, that wasn’t quite happening where I was.

So, I’m thankful for how this has shaped up, even though there’s a whole lot of Unknown in it. I’m hoping to have a chance to share more about this with you. I’m hoping you might want to join me on this Pilgrimage by being a part of my monthly finance team (donations are tax-deductible!). Most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing what God does with this. (He’s already doing stuff, by the way.) There are a whole lot of things that seem presumptuous or ridiculous, but these are the doors that seem to keep bursting open, so He’s got to have something in mind. I will do my best to keep you posted. Please help as you feel “nudged.” We’re on this journey together, as always.

Oh. And did I mention happy New Year? Happy New Year!

The Pilgrimage: The Unexpected

I’ll bet you thought I was never going to blog again.

I’ll bet you thought I was back.

Or you’re just used to my blogging fickleness, so that whenever I post something, you think, “She’ll be gone again.” And whenever I stop, you think, “She’ll be back.”

Or you just haven’t noticed.

Anyway, pretty immediately after my last three posts, there was a turn of events that both fulfilled and altered the non-profit-starting trajectory I was on. There are many tales I could tell you about all this, and I feel like I intend to, but I’m not making any promises. For now, see here the newsletter I have sent to many of my friends, relations, and acquaintances. Consider yourself a recipient, too!

If you are intrigued and would like to receive more of these missives (or even join me on this new Pilgrimage), please visit my new website and sign yourself up!

Soul Garden

Last Thursday I went to see my Spiritual Director. After a few moments of silence, which I requested but during which I discovered my brain was very very noisy, he asked me, as he always does, “What do you want to talk about today?”

So, as frequently happens when I think I want to blog, I suddenly thought of so many things to “talk about today” that I couldn’t say anything. So I looked out the window instead, and noticed it was raining. I thought about how good it was that it was raining because, in spite of record-breaking snows last winter, it’s been a pretty dry summer and the garden needs the rain. Then I thought about the garden.

Then I said, “So, we have this garden. Paul’s been working on it for months–really hard–and it is going crazy. I mean, it is super-fruitful. There were a couple things that didn’t come out so well–the corn and the pole beans–but everything grew–and there is a ton of it all. The heirloom tomatoes are huge, and the zucchinis are still growing, we had a bunch of cucumbers, and there are a million spaghetti squashes coming in. But,” I went on, “it’s a mess. Everything has been growing so well and so madly that all the plants are all tangled up together. You can’t tell where one plant ends or another begins. Sometimes it looks like the tomatoes are bearing peppers, and the morning glories are growing tomatoes, and  … You can’t even walk around in there without hacking down some vines to get through and pick stuff.

My Spiritual Director sat there waiting for me to come to the point, but he probably already knew what it was, because he’s pretty good at being a spiritual director.

“I guess,” I said, “I feel like the garden is a picture of my life right now. This has been a really rough year, but the whole time Jesus has felt very present, and like He’s doing a lot of work on me–and I think stuff is happening. Like, maybe there’s some ultimately useless stuff going on, like the beans and the corn, but also lots and lots of produce. I’m just not totally sure how to get in there and figure out what’s all in there, because it’s so productive and so crazy, everything’s all tangled up.”

The more we talked about it, the more apt we felt this analogy was–and the more I still do. But since I can’t take pictures of my soul, you can look at the garden (and the produce) of a few weeks ago, instead.

If You Could Do Anything …

I guess it’s probably not surprising, when someone is in vocational transition, for people to ask them, “If you could do anything for work, what would you do?”

Anyway, within the last five days or so, it seems like a lot of people have been asking me some version of that:

“What would your ideal ministry look like?”

“What do you really love to do?”

“In the next five years, what do you wish you could be doing?”

Yesterday I was driving to visit my nonagenarian grandmother and, as I often do on long car-rides if I don’t nearly fall asleep instead, I had an epiphany. The epiphany was,

“I want to teach a class on Roman Catholic literature!”

That's a Jenn Story

Cue angelic epiphany music here.
(Also, don’t judge my drawing. You’ll note that my epiphany was NOT about wanting to teach art. Or science.)

Maybe just 20th century Roman Catholic literature, although the original trigger for the idea was pondering The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, which I just read as part of my spiritual direction training. The Roman Catholic literature idea is a blogpost in its own right (but may I just say with breathless excitement #FlanneryOConnorWalkerPercyGrahamGreeneJRRTolkein? I mean, awesome, right??).

That’s not normally how I answer people when they ask those questions, though. Normally I say something like, “Well, I really love listening to people’s stories, and coaching them on their spiritual journeys, and teaching–especially teaching stuff that I’m excited about learning.” Today I told someone, “CS Lewis said to write the kind of book you want to read, and I’ve tried but I can’t do that” [mostly because the kind of book I want to read is Roman Catholic literature, and I’m not Roman Catholic; or CS Lewis books, which have already been written by CS Lewis–and when I try to write in the genre of Narnia or the Cosmic Trilogy I fail miserably] “but I think I could probably teach the kind of class I would want to take.” That was a little bit of an epiphany, too.

One time, in answer to those questions, I spent a couple of days writing a proposal for the Gradually-Less-Nebulous-Nonprofit. Maybe at some point (tomorrow?) I will post some of it here. It involves listening to people’s stories, and coaching, and teaching, and some public speaking/seminar-type deals, and retreats. This is what I want to do, but it’s sort of scary, because then I think,

“There are other people who do this already, who are really good at it, and who do I think I am, and do I even begin to think I’ve got something else or more to offer than they’re already offering?”

And, “If it’s a nonprofit, why on earth would anyone donate to it, when there are other, already established, reputable nonprofits?” (Not to mention, the idea of responsibly setting a salary for myself is scary.)

And, “If I decide that really, it should be for-profit, no one could donate even if they wanted to, and then how would I keep costs down for potential clients/students, and either way, what if no one wants to take the courses I hope to teach?”

And, “How does one go about choosing a board of directors? And what are they supposed to do, anyway?”

And, “What the heck–I don’t know how to do this stuff. Maybe I’ll go back to professional nannying.” I mean, it’s an honourable profession–and I am still training to be a chaplain … even though I won’t have certification for at least two more years …

Guys. This is terrifying.

Is this (and, say, lack of funds) why so few of us actually do what we would do if we could do anything?

What would you do if you could do anything? And are you doing it?

What Might Make Jesus Want to Punch Someone in the Face

This one time my Paul said, “I hate when people pick on you. It makes me want to punch them in the face.” This was, of course, an expression, and if you tell me you’ve never heard it–or even used it–before, without actually intending to punch anybody in the face, it will make me want to punch you in the face.

Just kidding. But see? I say it, too. I am happy to report, however, that even though this expression has passed both our lips at least once, I have never known either my husband or me to punch anybody in the face. However, I would be lying if I said I weren’t also happy that he has this sort of sentiment. I guess I’m not enough of a feminist to mind when husbands stand up for their wives. I guess I might as well go all out and admit that sometimes I think I can get a little crazy, and other women can also get a little crazy. I think men have their own version of crazy, but right now I’m talking about woman-crazy, and please. Let’s not pretend both of these things don’t exist.

What I want to say about woman-crazy is … actually not about woman-crazy. What I want to say is that I really appreciate it when the husbands of women who might be acting a little crazy at some point, stand up for them anyway. I mean, I appreciate it when Paul demonstrates that he is devoted to me even if I am acting irrational. I also mean that even if I am in a scenario where I am on the wrong end of some other woman’s crazy, when that woman’s husband stands up for her, I have a ton of respect–for him, and almost, by association, for her. I may still secretly never want to interact with that woman again, but I literally rejoice inside when I see her husband standing up for her. This is because he’s her husband, and frankly, that’s his job.

There’s this verse in the Bible that says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5.25). I have constructed something of a theology of marriage around the idea that marriage is meant to be a human mirror of the relationship of Jesus to His Bride, the Church, but right now I just want to talk about Jesus and His Bride, the Church. I guess the verse doesn’t say, “as Christ loved the church and punched her detractors in the face,” but I still think the concepts are related. There’s a little bit of self-sacrifice that must have to go on every time I act ridiculous and Paul stands up for me anyway. And so I have to think there’s a little bit of anger and personal affront that Jesus must feel when people pick on His Bride.

“One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempers uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.” (Screwtape) ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempers uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.” (Screwtape)
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Over a month ago, I wrote a blogpost about people who still hold to their tenets of faith but are Done with church. I indicated that I fit the average demographic for that group, and that I even understand where they are coming from. Because I did this (and because I originally said, “I’m not planning to leave the traditional church (yet)”–which I thought made obvious that I don’t plan to leave the actual CHURCH because I specified traditional, until it occurred to me that there could be all kinds of interpretations of traditional) there were some people who got a little nervous, supposing that I was obliquely saying I was planning to become a “Done,” too. Well, it turns out that if I hope to become a fully certified hospital chaplain at some point, I have to be an active and endorsed member of a church, but even if that weren’t the case, I wasn’t saying I was planning on becoming a Done. I’m not planning on becoming a Done. I’m interested in the dynamics of change the Church Universal is in right now, and I have opinions about it, and I’m even presumptuous enough to wish to have a say in some restructuring, I guess, but I still am committed to the concept of Church, and to the process of belonging to a local iteration of Church, and the reason–I mean The Reason–is that I believe that even though human beings in general, and maybe American culture in particular–have skewed what the Church was meant to be and what it currently is, the Church is still Jesus Christ’s Bride. And I, whether I like it or not, am still a part of her.

I love Jesus. His Bride is probably the craziest woman I’ve ever met and sometimes I have trouble loving her for His sake. But His sake is why I love her. He loved her enough, not to punch her detractors in the face, but to give Himself up for her–I meandie for her. My individualistic American Christianity says Jesus Christ died for me, and I guess I think that’s true, but I don’t think it’s true exclusive of the fact that He died for Her. I think that, though it is Jesus’ sacrifice and love that saves me apart from anything I can do myself, all the same, my belonging to and participation in His Bride is my contribution to that salvation process. I couldn’t belong to the Church if Jesus hadn’t saved me from myself, but I am not sure to what extent I can be sure I’ve been saved from myself if I’m not willing to be part of the Church, no matter how psychotic she may sometimes be.

So I guess that’s why, even though my Paul and I are currently searching for a church home for the first time in a long time, I’m committed to the process, and also interested in working with people who think they are Done with the Church. Because I think she’s important. And sometimes I imagine that Jesus, who I guess is still waiting for His Bride to be readied for their wedding, thinks, or even says to her, “I hate it when people pick on you. Sometimes it makes me want to punch them in the face.”

It’s an expression.

That's a Jenn Story

Gallarus Oratory, Dingle, Ireland

The Safe House

When I was visiting the BroFam the other week, TheBro and I went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Avengers.

We were, as were so many, disappointed. Still, one detail in the movie, to tell you about which will not constitute a spoiler, kind of stuck with me as a “thinking point” as soon as it appeared: At one point, the Avengers retreat to what they call a “safe house.” They need to regroup. They are battle-weary and conflict-ridden and they need a place to be, well, safe, and work these things out.

While they were retreating, I thought, “I want to host a safe house.”

Then I thought, “Except that in the shows, the safe houses are always compromised, so maybe that’s asking for trouble.” My Paul and I watch a lot of movies and television shows with people fighting for causes (whether worthy or believable or not) where their lives are at risk. At least once in the storyline of probably the majority of these shows, some character or group of characters flees to a safe house … and then their cover is blown and bad things happen but still, ever since I heard of it, I’ve been drawn to the concept.

I realise this is pretty similar to the way-station idea I blogged about before, but I think there’s a subtle difference. A way-station is maybe a broader term that could encompass safe houses, but it seems to me to imply a place to take a load off your feet as you go along life’s journey. A safe house–well, that’s for people who are going through the wars. And there are a lot of people I know who are, on some metaphorical level, going through the wars. And surely even more people I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to turn anyone away who thought I could be genuinely spiritually helpful to them, but, as safe houses in the movies generally serve one branch of a mission or one side of a battle, there is one segment of the population I’m particularly keen to serve.

The group of people about which I am increasingly fascinated–and learning–is what one notable blogger calls “The Dones.” These are (at least some of) the people the recent Pew Research Study was about. Contrary to popular belief, the Dones aren’t relinquishing their Christian faith. They also aren’t “nominal” Christians (Christians in name only) or people who never got involved in their church ministries, or even, really, people who got mad at the church and walked out. They have been burned by the church before, but that’s not why they’re leaving. They just feel, apparently, that the church as traditionally envisioned is not allowing them to follow the callings God has put on their lives, and so they’re moving out so they can follow God better.

I am not Done with the traditional church model, but if recent research I heard about on a podcast is to be believed, I fit pretty squarely–descriptively at least–into the demographic that makes up this movement. What’s more, I suddenly have  a significant number of friends who, like me, are starting to ask the questions and are teetering right on the edge. So, The Readership, I think I know what I want my Nebulous Nonprofit to be about now. I want it to be a “safe house” (in an ideal world, it will one day become a physical place for people to come and retreat, but I think it can be a virtual one, too, at least for a while) for people who have–or had–a Christian faith that is under fire. I want it to be a refuge for people whose faith isn’t working the way they thought it was supposed to and they need a place to be safely honest about that, and to figure out what needs to happen to their faith for them to go on. I want to host a haven for those having a difficult time with their church or who might be discovering that maybe church isn’t what they thought, and they want to figure out what it is instead.

I don’t really think we need more churches, and I wouldn’t make this a condition of The Safe House, but I hope the upshot of all this maybe virtual but also communal soul-care would be to equip each other to go back into the fray, not for the purpose of “fraying,” but because life is a battle sometimes, whether we like it or not, and maybe, strengthened together, we can each move back into a local manifestation of church, better able to sustain each other regardless of what we find there, and better able to support and defend that crazy institution which has been called both Christ’s Bride and His own Body.

Learning the Part

About a week before Confirmation I met with the kids individually to talk about their statements of faith. Most of them genuinely wanted to get confirmed, but almost all of them also had some concerns about making the commitment for the long haul–what if they believed differently when they grew up? One of the teens in particular was more than a little bit hung up on this, so I tried helping her envision Confirmation as the first step on the journey with God. The journey metaphor is, as we have already implied, kind of standard for talking about spiritual growth and development. I thought maybe it would make sense to her because, you know, on a journey, you don’t stay in the same place. But something did not compute, and although she reiterated that she wanted to get confirmed, something still felt a little uncertain.

We were at a coffee shop, and so eventually the conversation turned more casual and she started talking about a play that she had been in earlier that year. She talked about what it was like being in her drama group at school and about all the practices and about how sometimes even when you practice for most of a semester, one show might go fantastically and in another, you might forget your lines or something. I had already been mulling over NT Wright’s article for a few weeks, and so I guess I was already thinking of plays as another spiritual metaphor, and suddenly, even though it wasn’t exactly the same metaphor Wright had drawn, the spotlight clicked on or something.

“Hey!” I said, “What if you thought about Confirmation as a commitment to be in the play?”

“What?” asked my teen-aged friend.

“Like, when you commit to being in a play, you probably have an idea about the basic plotline, but you don’t necessarily know which character you’re going to be, or how the play develops, or any of your lines. But you try out for it and get chosen and then you commit to learning it. And you do it over and over and over, and sometimes you still don’t get it right, but you stick with it because you’ve committed to the play. What if you thought about Confirmation and the beginning of the Christian life like that?”

“Oh!” she said. “Yeah, that makes a lot more sense.”

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me, too. Maybe the Holy Spirit is the Director of the play, but it seems that the life of faith is a lot about practice, a lot about discipline, and that through that discipline and practice, we become more and more a part of the Story, and the Story becomes more and more a part of us. The more we allow the Holy Spirit to direct us, the more we move into our individual parts in the play–in concert with each other–and in that way, the freer we are to become ourselves.

Cruikshank_Pierce_Egans_Real_Life_-_Drury_Lane_Theatre_1821

The Play’s the Thing

A few months ago now, before I turned in my resignation at Now Church, a friend of mine shared the link to a 1989 Laing lecture by N.T. Wright. It’s about whether and how the Bible can be authoritative, and I thought it was fascinating because I like to think about things like that. I regret that I haven’t read enough of his stuff to be able to tell you with any certainty whether his views on the topic have shifted since 1989, although I can say that my views on nearly everything have changed since then, so it’s probably somewhat likely. Regardless, I really liked his play analogy.

In the lecture, Wright suggests that the Bible is authoritative, but not in the way a rule book might be considered by some to be authoritative. That is, not in such a way that rules need to be extrapolated out of every word of it and then slavishly followed. He posits that it is authoritative in the way that a work of art by a master is authoritative. Wright imagines a scenario where a Shakespeare play is written through three or four (I forget which and I’m too lazy to look it back up) acts, and contains some notes for the final act but that last act hasn’t been written. Shakespeare is no longer with us (at least not in this plane of reality), and so if some actors felt compelled to perform and finish this play, they would have to know the already-written bits intimately in order to finish it up in such a way for it to reflect the true playwright. They would have to know the already written part so intimately that its ethos, worldview, language, essentially became a part of them.

It would be glaringly tasteless for them to dismiss everything that had gone before and make something up off the tops of their heads. In fact, what would be the point of performing the play in the first place, if they didn’t respect the existent work well enough to take any account of it at the end? It would be equally useless, however, for these actors to simply re-perform one of the existing acts at the end of the play because they were terrified of “doing it wrong.”

I’m still pondering this analogy, but I think it’s kind of a good one for the way I approach and understand the Bible–way better than to say that I “take the Bible literally,” for example. I do take a lot if not all of even the more fantastical stories pretty literally. That is to say, I believe they actually happened. I really do. But I don’t feel like I “apply” them to life or understand them or read them, the way that “people who take the Bible literally” are supposed to. The unfinished (or still-being-written) play keeps God the Writer of the Bible and even history, particularly if the “actors” in it who are trying to keep to the “authority” of what’s gone before are actually imbued with the Spirit of the Author, which I believe we are. This final act isn’t in the canonical Bible, and I don’t believe it will be or should be. But thinking of life as a play that is, at least from one perspective, still being written, allows for the Bible to remain authoritative, for God still to be the ultimate Author, and also takes into account human agency and the need to immerse in the word and story and connection to God. Like any analogy, it isn’t perfect, but it’s kind of my favourite way to think about this stuff right now.

This is another piece of my nebulous non-profit puzzle–another one of the images and concepts I’m playing with. And this is why I can’t settle only on journey or hospitality imagery to describe what it is I want to do. I’d love to provide space for … what? People to learn their lines? People to get to know the foregoing script in ways that helps them live out their part of the rest of it?

I love the Bible. I have a lot of favourite books but it tops the list, not because I’m religious and I “have” to say that, but because it’s magnificent and unique (and, as it says itself, “living and active“) and it allows people to be a part of its story–a real, integrated part of it. But I’m increasingly aware of the difficulty Christians (at least American ones) across the full spectrum of the Church Universal have with getting into the life of the Bible, and getting the life of the Bible into us. I’m not foolish enough to think I can “make” people encounter God and themselves through the Bible the way they’re “supposed to.” The Holy Spirit is the real Director, not me. But I know I have experienced God through His Book (and I do still wholeheartedly believe it is His Book), and that I am learning more and more by practice and prayer, not how to “apply” its “principles,” but to be transformed to live its story in this part of the history of the world that I inhabit. And so I guess sometimes I wonder if there’s a part I can play that involves bringing some of the actors together in a way that fosters this kind of transforming encounter with God and each other through the Bible.

metz-france-opera-theatre-interior-stage-seats

We could call the NNP “The Fifth Act,” except that’s a phrase Wright coins himself, and I feel like it might be plagiarism. Or “The Troupe.” What are your ideas?

Confirming the Vision

I started reading a book for the spiritual direction training course I’m hoping to start this autumn, after I finish the chaplaincy training (CPE for those of you in the biz) I’m starting in May. The book is called Holy Listening, by Margaret Guenther, and I already love it. It doesn’t hurt that it’s short and she doesn’t use complicated words. But she also does a great job of describing how hard it is to describe what spiritual direction even is. Then she describes it (at least in chapter one) as hospitality.

I kept thinking, Hey! That’s like what I was talking about in my last blogpost! Then I felt sheepish about the fact that that last blogpost was kind of a while ago, and in it I claimed I had other imagery besides a Spiritually Hospitable Place for my still Nebulous NonProfit. Thing is, after I said that, I started having trouble describing, even to myself, what that “other imagery” actually was, and then life got complicated, and then, as I frequently do with blogs when life gets complicated, I gave up.

But today when I was reading, I was so excited to discover that I am on the right track, both about how hard spiritual direction is to describe, and also about its being a form of hospitality, that I just had to share it with you. And I guess I’ll share you a few quotes from the book, too, just to show you what I mean.

First she describes the human condition:

Since the expulsion from Eden, we have been a people on the move, despite attempts at self-delusion that we have somehow arrived. We follow in the footsteps of our peripatetic Lord, always on the way, our faces turned resolutely or reluctantly toward Jerusalem (p. 9).

Then she begins to describe what we need spiritual directors for:

… travelers cannot survive in comfort without hospitality … Even the most self-sufficient cannot escape this need … (p. 9).

The spiritual director is a host who gives to her guests … in the truest and deepest sense, reflecting the abundant hospitality shown by the host at the heavenly banquet (p. 10).

I’m not sure that’s me, but I would really like it to be someday. In preparation for I-Want-To-Be-THAT-When-I-Grow-Up, I can certainly recognise the need for some serious housecleaning–and housekeeping.

The first task is one of housecleaning, of creating our own inner order … Literal housecleaning is tiresome but straightforward work … [with] results that we can see and admire. Spiritual housecleaning is more subtle and cannot be done alone (p 11).

That’s for sure. I seem to be going through a phase of inner housecleaning at the moment. I keep thinking I’ll be done soon, but you know how when you pick up the pile of papers you left on the table you might find a half-eaten sandwich under there, and then when you pick that up there are ants? Maybe we never are done soul-cleaning, when we get serious about being a hospitable person–for other people, and especially for Jesus. In light of this, I went to see my spiritual director this week. I spent probably half of the session sobbing, but somehow, with very few words, he helped me open up, not so much to him, but to Jesus there in the room with us. When that happened, Jesus and I together were able to uncover some metaphorical laundry I had shoved down into some hampers in the corner of my soul, and begin some cleaning up. The discovery and the results were almost startling, although it seems like laundry, either literal or metaphorical, had best not be startling.

Hospitality is an occasion for storytelling with both laughter and tears, and then the guest moves on, perhaps with some extra provisions or a roadmap for the next stage of the journey (p 14).

Or some clean laundry. Which, let’s face it, is a pretty big deal when you’re on the road.

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