Go deeper, in new directions, to uncomfortable places

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2017

These are unsettling times. Whether you’re on the right or the left, there’s plenty to be concerned about. As a Christian I find myself asking, “What does it mean for me to be faithful in these unsettling times? What should I say, or do?”

You may be clear about your answer to those questions, but I’m not. One thing that I am clear on though are the next steps that I will take. I can sum them up in two words: go deeper.

What do I mean by “going deeper?” Let me explain. For one thing, it means to work to really encounter the great words and stories of our faith. And for me that means not just to absorb the various casual interpretations of the Bible and Christian history that we hear bantered about in today’s news cycle, but to thoughtfully and prayerfully take a really fresh look at the words of the Bible, in their context.

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And that takes some work. And no small amount of courage, because doing that sometimes leads me to places I’d rather not go, and requires a much deeper listening than I usually do. And to my own consternation, at times that listening has led me in new directions. Sometimes those new directions might be described as more conservative, and sometimes more liberal.

For me going deeper also requires a renewed focus on truth. Truth isn’t easy. It never has been. Remember Pilate’s famous question to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). But truth matters. Remember the words of Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not give false testimony against your neighbor.” But speaking falsely is complicated. For me finding a deeper truth always leads me into the deeper complexities of human living, and also into some dark and shady corners of my own soul as well. It leads me to realize that I can’t be right all the time. In fact, according to the Apostle Paul, no human being will ever be completely right (“all have sinned,” Romans 3:23). But going deeper into the truth requires that I really work to be honest, especially with myself.

The folks in Alcoholics Anonymous have it right. Without truth, there can be no healing. And since none of us have all the truth, we are forever being healed. We are all “recovering” from falsehood. And I do want to be truer to myself, and that requires me to go deeper.

Going deeper also requires me to go to places that are uncomfortable. Like Jesus’ words about compassion. Compassion is to be moved to your core (literally have your insides churn) – for the sake of another person. And not just a loved one, but according to Jesus in Luke 6:27-36, that group also includes enemies, people who hate me, curse me, and mistreat me. Gulp. I don’t like it. But that’s what the words of Jesus say. And Jesus taught compassion, and he lived it, and died for it.

So, do I ignore those words, or try to live them? And if I’m going to try to live them, how am I going to do that? I don’t know.

But that lack of knowing doesn’t relieve me from honestly struggling with the issue. And I do. But mostly in my own heart and soul. Outside I tend to ignore or rationalize the suffering of others, or the behaviors of those I don’t like. And I have come to realize that is not enough. Again, Alcoholics Anonymous has got it right, and Weight Watchers, too. I can’t overcome the shortcomings inside me by myself. I need others. And to reach out to others I have to go deeper. And that inevitably leads to you… and others.

And so I am led, sometimes kicking and screaming to “community.” Community has to do with our relationships with each other, and I am in this world with a lot of different people. In a sense, we are all bound together as human beings like the fibers of a rope. That’s unsettling to me. Sometimes I’d rather just be by myself. Not to mention the unfortunate fact that there are some people that, try as I might, I just don’t really enjoy being with.

Yet Jesus just won’t let me off the hook with his words about loving others, and not just “others,” but lots of different others: Pharisees, sinners, Samaritans, and even enemies. So for me, a deeper sense of community requires less name-calling, and more listening, a deeper more thoughtful listening that sometimes doesn’t lead to quick or crystal clear answers.

So if I ever have any hope of being in community with people who are different from me, as Jesus seems to want me to do, I have to go deeper, much deeper than my casual thinking and everyday concerns. Clearly I have a lot of work to do on that one.

And all these things lead me to prayer. After all that is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was distraught (Matthew 26:36-46). And it’s what countless other Christians over the centuries have done as well.

But the prayer Jesus taught is not easy. It’s not the kind of prayer where I tell God what I want; rather the kind where I listen in silence for what God wants from me. And to be left in silence in my own version of the Garden of Gethsemane in such turbulent times is unsettling. But that’s where I am.

Now I know Lent is a month away, but this year I’m going to start Lent early. Because I need it. And this year my Lenten discipline will be to “go deeper.” What about you?

Dent Davis, Tryon Presbyterian Church