Fr Stephen Freeman has written another great post today. (Quite frankly, when does he NOT write a great post.) Please take five minutes to read it.
Part of his post was an outstanding quote by Stanley Hauerwas, theologian and professor at Duke University:
“The Christian community’s openness to new life and our conviction of the sovereignty of God over that life are but two sides of the same conviction. Christians believe that we have the time in this existence to care for new life, especially as such life is dependent and vulnerable, because it is not our task to rule this world or to “make our mark on history.” We can thus take the time to live in history as God’s people who have nothing more important to do than to have and care for children. For it is the Christian claim that knowledge and love of God is fostered by service to the neighbor, especially the most helpless, as in fact that is where we find the kind of Kingdom our God would have us serve.” A Community of Character
This quote was followed by another:
“So soon as Christians agree to take responsibility for the outcome of history, we have agreed to do violence.”
This thought is worth some serious reflection on both political and personal levels: It is neither the Christian’s nor the Church’s task to rule this world nor make our mark on history. And the moment we shoulder that responsibility, we have agreed to do violence.
Now this does not mean we simply huddle in a corner and gnaw on our fingernails with dread and worry. Rather, we are to take up our proper responsibility, marked first by the conviction of God’s sovereignty over life and second by the “downward Way” of humility.
In hindsight, it seems my entire adult Christian life was aimed, although unintentionally, at obscuring the true Gospel. I had one fiery passion. I wanted to change the world. I wanted the Church to change the world. I wanted to build a local church with members who would join its leadership in changing the world. I taught and programmed our church with the intent on helping others change the world. My life had purpose and I had big hairy audacious goals.
And I was a man of violence.
Sure, if you had confronted me with that accusation, I would have denied it. Angrily denied it. I was doing God’s work of bringing his kingdom to earth. So please get the heck out of my way.
And those around me suffered violence. Sure I didn’t physically abuse anyone. But my wife and kids had a husband and father that was constantly absent. And when I was physically present with them, I was usually mentally and emotionally absent as I mulled over ways of improving my leadership and ministry or impatient with them for taking up my valuable time. My volunteer leadership suffered violence as I subtly forced my agenda upon their ministries or downright replaced them when they didn’t live up to my expectations. I mentally categorized people by what they could offer to our church by their strengths, wealth, and gifts. And I suffered violence at my own hands through stress, imbalance and a lack of any inward formation.
Now, I wasn’t a task master. I was a really nice man of violence. I tried treating people with respect. I tried to protect people from overworking in and overgiving to the church. I tried to pray for and care for everyone who came into and served our church. But my relationship with everyone was primarily shaped by my goals of building a church that would change the world. And so, my life and ministry incarnated the way of violence and took its toll on those around me.
I’m happy to say that God is rescuing me from that path. I can thoroughly appreciate Hauerwas’ quote:
“We can thus take the time to live in history as God’s people who have nothing more important to do than to have and care for children.”
I have been experiencing and continue to experience a worldview change. I no longer live each day with the passion to change the world. The well-being and care of my wife and my kids are the most important things to me. I “simply” (in quotes because it’s not a simple thing) want to be a good man to my family, friends, coworkers and any others God brings my way. I have a long way to go in this goal. And the only way to truly accomplish this is to enter into and follow Christ into his humility — the downward Way.
I used to measure my personal success by the amount of people I was influencing through conversations, preaching and writing. I’m now understanding what Fr Stephen says, that our goals should be measured by the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
I still have goals, but they are very, very different than my previous ones. One of my personal goals is for my wife and kids to look back upon their lives and know that they were genuinely, unconditionally and constantly loved by me. That may sound simple, especially in a world that is wrestling with some dire issues. But in reality, authentic love is such a rare thing today. It doesn’t happen naturally because it requires a certain kind of life that most avoid.
Fr Stephen ends his post by speaking of the Tradition of the Holy Elders who embrace, live and embody the downward Way:
“Their lives, frequently hidden from the larger view of the world, are the continuing manifestation of the Kingdom of God in our midst – fellows of the sufferings of Christ – who freely and voluntarily bear with Christ the weight of all humanity. It is this secret bearing that forms the very foundation of the world – a foundation without which the world would long ago have perished into nothing. It is the emptiness of Christ, also shared in its depths by His saints, that is the vessel of the fullness of God, the source of all life and being. We can search for nothing greater.”
During my journey here, I will most likely never experience this fullness of humility and life in Christ. But I hope and dream to enter it a bit. For my wife and children, I yearn to wet my feet on the shores of this mighty river, even if I can’t swim in it. For them, I hope to become a humble sampling of true life and love.