“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Spiritual Development

Picking up on the last posting about the story of the 3 Russian monks, I was thinking about what "spiritual development" might mean and how it is achieved. I have known people with graduate degrees in divinity, who were spiritually lost. Their lifestyles were devoid of anything that would represent a Christian faith, or even a Christian world view. People who could quote passage and verse, or could share the thinking of Bonhoeffer, or explain Niebuhr's Christ and Culture, but lacked a basic faith.

I have also known people who could barely write their own names, perhaps have memorized a couple of Bible passages, but were an example of a profound faith in God that impacted every area of their lives. Their conversation revolved around God and church and faith. Their questions were largely about how they could grow in faith, or as one friend often asks, "Do you think I am doing better than I used to do?"

As I think about the kind of Christians I want to help develop, I would have to choose the latter. But I wonder sometimes about the kind of Christians our church structures are currently developing. I have said this before, but I am even more convinced that if we want to learn about love, we should learn by doing more than talking about love, or memorizing passages about love. We will produce a certain type of Christian when our knowledge is not developed in a more hands on type of a situation. Everything is one step removed from reality with the assumption being that if I read 1 Corinthians 13, I will be able to make the connection on my own. That I will generalize my learning, to use a special education term. But we have learned in special education that in order for some learning to take place, it must occur in the actual situation. That is, if you want to teach me to exchange money in a store, you need to take me to the store, or I won't learn. I cannot learn some things under simulated conditions...I need to be in the actual situation.

So I guess what I am advocating is a kind of a spiritual curriculum. A curriculum that is not knowledge based as in a public school classroom (what much of religious education looks like) but a different kind of approach. One that is more practical, more applied that teaches me in the actual situation so I don't need to generalize my learning. I am learning directly and will therefore be able to make the direct application.

Take love for example. What does a situation look like where people have to really make an effort to love others? What occurs in such a situation that changes people? What if I was taught about how to love people with challenging people in the room, in my midst? I will then either learn to love those people, or I will exit the difficult to love person or exit myself. Largely, in the past it has been the difficult to love person who has been asked to leave, and I have not learned the lesson about love. It is also useful to consider situations where we are not confronted with people who have been characterized as "difficult to love" and think about what people are learning in situations where "difficult to love" people are excluded from places where people are being taught about love?

People who act atypically, for whatever the reason (disability, sin, whatever) teach me about love. I think about the students I taught who were emotionally disturbed. In their rantings and swearings at me, I came to understand that their rantings and swearings were their disability talking. I wasn't always perfect, but I was softened by them, and learned to love them. Their rantings and swearings were less threatening to me because I came to understand them and love them in spite of their emotional disturbance. I was changed, I learned to love. I am now drawn to such people. I am still rejected at times, and I still am impatient, but I was forced to learn to love them, and I was the beneficiary of the lesson (I hope they were to some extent as well). The end result is that I was softened. I learned another aspect of the love of Christ. I could have studied love all day long, but the real learning came to me when I was confronted with people who caused me to put my head knowledge, and the faith I claimed to have into practice.

People with various disabilities will do that. I don't say that because I find them particularly difficult to love, but they will act atypically, they will take me out of my comfort zone, and as a result, I will grow. I want that growth for everyone in the church. For such growth to occur, there needs to be a change in the way that we do church, the way that we do Sunday School, the way that we do Bible study, the way that we do missions, the way that we do most things in the church. Instead of learning about how to love people, love people who others have not loved. In order to help the poor, don't have speakers come to tell you about the poor, have poor people come to your church and be in your Bible study. They may know a great deal more about faith and how it is acted out in daily life than you do with your 60K per year income. We may know the head knowledge, but they just might know the faith knowledge.

McNair (fcbu)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You confront me with a provocative way of looking at my need to love the difficult to love; and you convict me about how I have approached these issues in the past. When faced with issues I do not fully understand I often retreat to the safety and comfort of knowing my failure to understand is the result of my viewing the situation "as through a glass darkly," comforted by the knowledge that I will understand with clairity "when perfection comes."

I do not believe waiting for perfection is an adequate excuse for failing to make tremendous efforts to understand and do what the Lord expects me to do.

It is entirely appropriate to compare our attempts to "generalize" the love passages in 1 Cor. 13 in the special ed. sense. From God's perspective we are in special ed! We can teach about the meanings of love, agape, philo, eros; but when they are not applied and used in a real, authentic setting then very little real learning occurs.

Through the love I feel for my wife, children, close friends and the children I work with I believe I have the faintest glimmering of an understanding of agape. I feel no agape for Osamma Bin Ladden, Charles Mansen and many other difficult to love categories of people. Until I expose myself and try to love the hard to love in an authentic enviornment I will know less about love than a special education student who places a plastic quarter in an ash tray, in front of a cut out picture of a bus, tacked to a classroom wall, knows about getting across town.

Mark said...

You confront me with a provocative way of looking at my need to love the difficult to love; and you convict me about how I have approached these issues in the past. When faced with issues I do not fully understand I often retreat to the safety and comfort of knowing my failure to understand is the result of my viewing the situation "as through a glass darkly," comforted by the knowledge that I will understand with clairity "when perfection comes."

I do not believe waiting for perfection is an adequate excuse for failing to make tremendous efforts to understand and do what the Lord expects me to do.

It is entirely appropriate to compare our attempts to "generalize" the love passages in 1 Cor. 13 in the special ed. sense. From God's perspective we are in special ed! We can teach about the meanings of love, agape, philo, eros; but when they are not applied and used in a real, authentic setting.

Through the love I feel for my wife, children, close friends and the children I work with I believe I have the faintest glimmering of an understanding of agape. I feel no agape for Osamma Bin Ladden, Charles Mansen and many other difficult to love categories of people. Until I expose myself and try to love the hard to love in an authentic enviornment I will know less about love than a special education student who places a plastic quarter in an ash tray, in front of a cut out picture of a bus, knows about getting across town.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right on in regards to people and church today. Many church members including myself can learn a great deal about love and life in general, from someone that has a disability. Society and unfortunaly churches view someone with a disability as a burden. "Oh that poor man. Lets make sure to pray for him", is often a comment you will here from a church member. I have to question why is that man poor? What is so wrong with him that he needs prayer? Personally, I feel that the typical non-disabled Christian can learn a lot from someone with a disability. "Normal" people are so rushed with work and families that they rarely have any time to devote to God. On the flip side I met a man that has a disability and God Bless him, he knew only one verse. It took everything that he had to remember that verse, but he did it whole heartedly. He gave every piece of energy he had into memorizing this verse, because it was pleasing to God. I think we "normal" people can learn a thing or two from this.