Thursday, September 5, 2013

Discipleship for Amateurs

I recently started reading Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs, a memoir in essays of Chabon's experiences with being (attempting to be?) a good father, husband, and man without the instruction manual we all desperately want for such complicated pursuits. The essays are at times funny, heart-warming, and heart-breaking, but as the title suggests, one of the common themes in the book is Chabon's sense of being an amateur or imposter, the nagging feeling that he isn't being a man the "right" way. In his opening essay he writes:

"Though I derive a sense of strength and confidence from writing and from my life as a husband and father, those pursuits are notoriously subject to endless setbacks and the steady exposure of shortcoming, weakness, and insufficiency--in particular in the raising of children. A father is a man who fails every day."

As I read the book, one of the thoughts that strikes me (other than, "Wow, I have been there, too!") is whether this is a way that we who claim a religious affiliation live our lives. Do we live with a nagging dread that we don't do faith the "right" way? That there is a specific way to be a faith-full person and if we don't follow it perfectly, we are letting God and our community down? Do we arrive at a place of worship secretly thinking, "I'm such a lousy Christian. Everyone here makes faith look so easy. What's wrong with me?" Do we judge ourselves using ideas that sound ridiculous when spoken out loud like "real men don't cry" or "God won't love me if I wear a t-shirt to church"?

Even though the Lutheran tradition teaches that Jesus is all about setting us free from having to "earn" God's love or be "good enough" to receive eternal life (grace means gift!), I have enough conversations with Christians of all stripes to know that many of us (including me at times) don't really believe that. We obsess over our failures (or what we think they are) to follow God's laws (or what we think they are) and assume we will never get it right. 

It's because of my own secret shame of not being the perfect Christian (I'm a pastor! Shouldn't I be the expert at this!) that I found Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber's thoughts in a recent sermon very refreshing:

"A couple weeks ago I got to hear Catholic theologian James Allison talk about how we think faith is about striving – keeping parameters, calling people out for not having it right, spiritual practices, doctrinal purity… whatever – but that really faith is about relaxing. Specifically, relaxing in the way we do when we are with a friend who we know for certain is fond of us.  We don’t have to strive around them and we somehow still become our best self – funny, spontaneous, free. Allison suggests that faith is trusting so much that God is fond of us that we just fricken relax."

Relax. This passage brought to mind that maybe as Christians the most important task for us as Christians isn't TO love but to BE loved. And that can be the most difficult thing. I can handle earning love or deserving love, but just being loved, especially when I have a hard time loving myself, is really hard. To think that God can still love me and want me around when I'm not everything God expects me to be (haven't we all disappointed our parents to some degree?) is hard for me to understand, but damn it's good news. And good news is what Jesus claims to be.

“I’ve got blood on these hands that hold on to the truth that I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God.” -Andrew Peterson, “Fool With a Fancy Guitar”

No comments:

Post a Comment