After wandering around without a (Bible reading) plan for several months, I finally decided I had to do something and began to read in Matthew, intending to read through all the gospels by Easter. With lots of travel, that idea has been blown out of the water but I am back in Matthew and trying to journal daily. I could not exactly remember how far I had read up to in Matthew but the sermon on the mount seemed about the right place. A most challenging place to begin and the following passage out of the ESV is one of the most difficult for me to understand.
Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
Matt. 5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matt. 5:40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matt. 5:41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Matt. 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Where to go for some help on understanding this incredible sermon by Jesus. I turned back to Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, published in 1993. Here is what Dallas says what we are to do when we are trying to decide what kind of action to take when faced with those who may be tormenting us,
We will decide, as best we know how, on the basis of love for all involved and with a readiness to sacrifice what we simply want. And in every situation we have the larger view. We are not passive, but we act always with clear-eyed and resolute love.
We know what is really happening, seeing it from the point of view of eternity. And we know that we will be taken are of, no matter what. We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable. And once we have broken the power of anger and desire over our lives, we know that the way of Christ in response to personal injury and imposition is always the easier way. It is the only way that allows us to move serenely in the midst of harm and beyond it.
Lest anyone think that Dallas or Jesus is suggesting that we tolerate abuse (sexual, emotional, verbal), that is not what they are saying here. As Willard says, “We must always be alert for acceptable ways of removing ourselves from the situation. In the case of abuse of any kind, one should begin by involving others, and especially appointed authorities.” As people who live in the love and under the rule of the King of heaven, we are able to respond in unexpected ways to personal injury and to requests for help. We have embraced and continue to experience the self-giving love of our Savior. These are not words of law that we blindly obey or burden others with. Again to quote Willard, “Of course, in each case I must determine if the gift of my vulnerability, goods, time and strength is, precisely appropriate. That is my responsibility before God. As a child of the King, I always live in his presence.”
As I read these words from Dallas Willard and from Jesus, I realize how much self yet dominates me–selfishness, holding onto my things, my time, my rights. Yet I am grateful that the solution is not law but an abiding relationship in his love. Here is perhaps the most profound and liberating statement from Willard in this section of his book, “He calls us to him to impart himself to us. He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.” I am reminded of Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
O Love, divine Love why do you lay siege to me?
In a frenzy of love for me, You find no rest.
From five sides you move against me,
Hearing, sight, taste, touch, and scent.
To come out is to be caught; I cannot hide from You.
If I come out through sight I see Love
Painted in every form and color,
Inviting me to come to You, to dwell in You.
If I leave through the door of hearing,
What I hear points only to You, Lord;
I cannot escape Love through this gate.
If I come out through taste, every flavor proclaims;
“Love, divine Love, hungering Love!
You have caught me on Your hook, for you want to reign in me.”
If I leave through the door of scent
I sense You in all creation, You have caught me
And wounded me through that fragrance.
If I come out through the sense of touch
I find Your lineaments in every creature;
To try to flee from You is madness.
Love, I flee from You, afraid to give You my heart;
I see that You make me one with You,
I cease to be me and can no longer find myself.
If I see evil in a man or defect or temptation,
You fuse me with him, and make me suffer;
O Love without limits, who is it You love?
It is You, O Crucified Christ,
Who takes possession of me,
Drawing me out of the sea to the shore;
There I suffer to see Your wounded heart.
Why did You endure the pain?
So that I might be healed.
Jacapone Da Todi
Thanks Jonathan for a lovely Epiphany service tonight and for sharing with us this poem.
Made a post a few weeks ago on reflections on a ministry of presence but since then, I have had a few more thoughts on the matter.
First, David Benner makes me wonder if it is possible to have a genuine ministry of presence without mutuality. Not that there needs to be “mutuality of roles” to use a Benner expression. The question before me: does a ministry of presence require that dialogue take place. Benner says spiritual growth requires that dialogue take place with others. Here are some of his thoughts about dialogue in his new book, Soulful Spirituality.
- Dialogue is one of the deepest forms of soul engagement we can experience with another person.
- The goal of dialogue is exploration, discovery, and insight.
- Dialogue “is rare because it can be threatening and will often be difficult.”
- Dialogue “does not require symmetry of roles.”
- Mutuality can be present if I am able to answer the following three questions affirmatively: Am I willing to bring myself, not just my care, to the encounter? Can I accept the other as a whole and separate person, as he or she is? Am I willing to be open enough to their experience and ideas that my own may change as a result of our interaction?
- If I cannot answer yes to the above questions, the relationship “may involve expertise and empathy, but it will never be an encounter worthy of being called dialogue.“
So, without dialogue, I may be able to offer “expertise and empathy” but can I offer a ministry of presence? Comments welcome here!
Second stimulation to my thinking–listening to a NPR (national public radio in America) story about how a hospice program offers hope to dying patients in St. Louis. The St. Louis Lumina program trains their hospice workers to be storytellers who “learn how to interview dying people so that they can leave tangible statements of values and legacy.”
The words of one volunteer riveted my attention, “Volunteer Susan Kissinger says it’s difficult and emotional work. She helped a middle-aged ALS patient write a series of letters to his wife and kids before he died. But Kissinger says it’s a gift to be let into hospice patients’ lives.
“There will be times when the emotion will rise up,” Kissinger says. “And I guess that’s just a gift I have to offer: I can just be present here and accept the gift without being overwhelmed.”
Is Kissinger not saying that she offers a ministry of presence to the dying patients by providing space and time for the emotions of people’s stories to rise up. As she says, she accepts the gift of the emotions being shared “without being overwhelmed.” Because she is in some ways outside of the situation, she can offer a ministry of presence to people and allow them to process emotions that may have been suppressed for a lifetime.
One of the dying patients in the hospice program interviewed for the NPR program, Courtney Strain, “provided a simple guide for the family and friends of people who are dying. Here are some of the things she wanted people to know:
- Hallmark doesn’t fix it all. … Write a letter or send an email. … [Talk to me when] I’m strong enough to sit and laugh or cry with you …
- Don’t pretend that everything is going to be OK.
- Don’t abandon me at my most vulnerable time. … Sit and pray with me. Don’t just pray for me.
- Don’t treat me like a child — even a well-loved child. … Include me in decisions that affect our family or social group …
- Instead of asking, “What can I do for you?” offer some concrete suggestions — like bringing a meal or treat, or running errands …
- Respect my decisions about my health care — my doctors, my medications and my treatments — and about my end-of-life plans …
- Just because I’m dying doesn’t mean I’m any less capable of being your friend. Dying isn’t my whole identity.
Apparently, the thoughts above came from “What You Can Do When A Friend (Like Me) Faces The End Of Life.” NPR provided a link to this document but I have been unable to get anywhere with it.
David Benner’s Soulful Spirituality may be his best book yet–merging together a lifetime of insights into the psycho-spiritual-physical self with his personal and historical insights regarding soul care from Jesus and the spiritual masters. He brings well thought-out intellectual discussions along side of practical soulish applications for the journey.
He presents a strong (and unique?) argument for the type of community needed among Jesus followers.
“Soulful spirituality invites us to do a better job of recognizing and prizing the otherness of others rather than simply seeing them as extensions of ourselves or using them as containers for our own projections.”
“Honoring otherness is a deep and essential part of any authentic spirituality.”
Benner warns against exagerating the otherness of others and turning them into monsters or gods.
We make people monsters when we treat the “stranger as simply a container for all the parts of our self that we seek to disown. We then dump the despised and feared parts of our self into this container and view the resulting monster as wicked and dangerous.”
But neither should we make others gods, “We kneel in vulnerability before this strangely fearsome god, hoping that by acts of contrition and offerings of one sort or another we might avert the danger that the stranger represents.”
Be means of these defense mechanisms, Benner says we make others “all bad or all good” and justify keeping ourselves at a distance from others.
Benner presents a strong case for being honest and living in reality about our reluctance to relate to others. We do no one (including our own souls) when we are dishonest. “An embrace of reality always supports the life of both spirit and soul. Both thrive in the soil of acceptance of that which truly is and shrivel when we wander from a commitment to such truthful living.”
- Rationalization–we “invent good excuses to cover the real reasons.”
- Denial—we “tell ourselves (and anyone else who might inquire) that we do not, in fact, feel whatever it is that is unacceptable to us.”
- Projection “involves a more substantial distortion of the truth of our experience—attributing to others things that we cannot accept in ourselves.”
- Reaction Formation displays “a feeling that is the opposite of what we actually experience, and by so doing, further convince our self that what we wish to avoid is not part of us.”
Burnout arises when we fail to live within our limits. Psalm 127 grounds us in the need to be aware that God is in control and God is watching over the work of our hands. And so we pray Psalm 127 to stay grounded.
“If the LORD does not build a house, then those who build it work in vain. If the LORD does not guard a city, then the watchman stands guard in vain. It is vain for you to rise early, come home late, and work so hard for your food. Yes, he can provide for those whom he loves even when they sleep. Yes, sons are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Sons born during one’s youth are like arrows in a warrior’s hand. How blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! They will not be put to shame when they confront enemies at the city gate” Psalms 127:1–5 NET
Psalm 127 teaches us
But UNLESS YAHWEH is involved
OUR BUILDING and WATCHING is INEFFECTIVE (vanity, empty)
CHILDREN (as an example)
Are a GIFT (BUILD)
Provide PROTECTION for us (WATCH)
BUT UNLESS YAHWEH IS involved
OUR PLANS FOR CHILDREN ARE INEFFECTIVE (Implied vanity, empty)
What does it mean that Yahweh builds and protects?
* We do the best we can.
* We acknowledge our abilities and resources come from God.
* We submit our plans and activities to God.
* We practice his moment by moment presence.
* We live healthy lives of balance, accepting our limitations.
* We trust God is in control, is committed to help us and his plans for us are only for our good.
Insights into burnout
From Mad Church Disease by Anne Jackson
- Burnout is a disease nobody talks about until it’s too late. Statistics and stories prove that the health of those serving in ministry is declining—spiritually, physically, emotionally, and relationally. At some point along the road, your heart, your mind, your spirit—maybe even your body—have been damaged while fighting the battles of good and evil. Loc 166
- The fear of letting people down, especially in spiritual matters, can often cause us to feel obligated or pressured into meeting unrealistic expectations, or worse, spending more time doing things for God instead of being what God wants us to be. That can lead to serious stress. What’s worse, it’s easy for the resulting attitudes to contaminate a team or even an entire church. Loc 544
From Rework by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
- Our culture celebrates the idea of the workaholic.loc 261
- Not only is this workaholism unnecessary, it’s stupid. Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more. loc 263
- Workaholics wind up creating more problems than they solve. loc 265
From The Truth About Burnout by Maslach and Leiter
- Burnout is the index of the dislocation between what people are and what they have to do. It represents an erosion in values, dignity, spirit, and will-an erosion of the human soul. It is a malady that spreads gradually and continuously over time, putting people into a downward spiral from which it’s hard to recover.
Previous posts on burnout
Trying to figure out what Chesterton meant by the following:
“In the last resort the exaggeration of sex becomes sexlessness . . . Sex is the bait and not the hook; but in that last extreme of evil the man likes the hook and not the bait . . .”
A friend suggests the following:
- The bark is louder than the bite–we talk more and act less;
- When we do act, we are not sure what to do with it–like a dog running after a bus;
- Sex is really a false sense of intimacy, we want intimacy more than sex; we think it is the end but really it is a means to the end (intimacy)
- We are screwed and screwed up, that why Jesus came to save and sanctify us.
Reminds me of Rob Bell’s Sex God in which he links sex with spirituality saying we think sex is about this but it is really about that–that being God. Here is my post on that book.
I like the following quote from Gary Thomas’ Pure Pleasure which I just finished,
If I find my pleasure in Starbucks alone, I am at the mercy of a company that may go out of business. If I seek my pleasure in sex alone, I make myself vulnerable to a fading, aging body—as well as to the cooperation of a partner. If my pleasure is in a business, I remain subject to the whims of my consumers. But if my life has been a single journey always pointing me to find my fulfillment in God—urging me to see each earthly pleasure as a reflection of his kindness, goodness, and love—then my ultimate pleasure has become more certain than anything this world can offer.
So what do you think?
One thing I might add, “I don’t want to do it again.”