I have been thinking a lot lately. I have so many thoughts about so many things that my mind is a bit of a jumble. This is what happens when I am on the threshold of major change. I’ve been taking some notes on some of the ideas that are blasting through my synapses so I can explore them more fully at a later time. Some of them, however, blast right on past and are lost in the ether of my mind. They are not gone in their entirety, but rather they become part of the mental furniture of my mind. Yet, as individual thoughts and concepts, they are lost in the moment. Or at least temporarily so. At some point in the future, many of these will reappear as suddenly as they disappeared — and I will be equally amazed the second time as the first.
But in this moment, I am thinking a lot about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. Not an attender of church services, not a “Christian” as we understand that term in our society today, but what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I discussed this to a certain degree in “The Best Meal You’ll Ever Eat.”
This year has been fraught with difficulty for our family, but for the most part I have been positive about the challenges we have faced. However, I recently went through a pretty rough patch. This rough patch propelled me even deeper into the questions I was already asking and forced me to confront far deeper questions — questions charged with emotional and spiritual import. And so I did what I always do in this situation — I wandered over to one of my bookshelves.
I love books. To a small degree, I am a collector of books. Quite often I purchase books I believe to be significant, but with no intention of reading them in the moment. Rather, their purpose is to wait patiently for their appointed time. That’s because when I’m lost or unsure, I often turn to books. For one of my books, the appointed time arrived this week. Brushing aside the dust bunnies, the spiders and the cobwebs, I pulled “The Ragamuffin Gospel” off the shelf. It has been just what I needed, a proper antidote to much of what is ailing me.
Yesterday, while I was reading in chapter 7, I came across a Bonhoeffer quote that seemed eerily familiar. I flipped to the back to check the footnote –it was a quote from “Life Together.” Life Together! That’s one of my lost books! You see, because I love books, I can’t resist loaning them out to others. Often these are loans to fellow book lovers, but not always. I think this impulse to loan books is driven by a desire to bring others into contact with the power of the pages, a power that can change who we are! But only if we will meet the book and let it meet us. And so I loaned out Life Together. And it never came home. But somewhere, I am confident, it is still changing the life of the person who holds it in their possession.
Life is a journey and this Bonhoeffer quote in The Ragamuffin Gospel spoke powerfully to where I find myself today. (note: the added emphasis in the quote are inserted by me)
He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all of their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!
Over the past few weeks I have become acutely aware of this. One of my goals in blogging is to discover why “Mens Ministry” in the church is struggling to connect with the men it seeks to minister to. I believe that this is one of the main reasons. We are afraid to be transparent with each other. We are afraid to be truly vulnerable. We fear that transparency and vulnerability will lead to rejection and ridicule. And we fear that there will be consequences to our openness — a price to be paid for our honesty.
But I believe that this vulnerability and transparency is where true freedom comes from — the freedom of the fellowship of the sinful. Not as unredeemed sinful, but as the redeemed, yet sinful. The freedom that comes with understanding what true grace really is. Not a mechanism that is a part of the process of salvation, but rather a living, breathing, grace — pneuma is a word that comes to mind. Grace as breath, wind, spirit. Something that breathes new life into our very existence. Into our hurt, our pain, our failures and insignificance. And when we have truly experienced this grace, we feel compelled to extend it to others. And when we extend to others the grace that God himself extended to us, we are able to partake in the fellowship of the undevout, as sinners. Sinners saved by grace and saved for grace.
Recent events have reminded me how much I desire this kind of fellowship and how badly I want others to extend this grace to me. And recent event remind me of how often I fail at extending this grace to others. Father God, extend your grace to me, a sinner among the righteous.
On to the journey!
(or maybe the bookstore, I think I need to replace that lost book!)