Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

Gaurding Against Spirtual Stagnation

Friday, September 2, 2011

As Christians, spiritual stagnation can be one of our greatest and most dangerous enemies. Unfortunately, it can creep up on us before we know it. The familiar is comfortable and often appears to be more manageable. On the other hand, change, thinking our way through issues, learning to reform the questions that guide our spiritual lives, are all very important things that we can neglect to our own peril. 

I am reminded of the cliché: "no pain, no gain." Through exercise, we break down a muscle, the consequence of which is often soreness and discomfort. Over time, however, these muscles rebuild themselves and usually return bigger and stronger. Such is the process of growth.  This mixture of pain/gain is also applicable to our spiritual exercise and spiritual growth process as well.

Remaining with the metaphor, not all exercise is created equally. Some is better, safer, and more capable of doing what we need it to do than others. Over time, it is also important for one to change up the routine. Along our spiritual journey, we have to be careful not to always accept one set of answers as being the end all to all questions. If we are truly growing spiritually, our questions will naturally grow and change with us. Accepting one set of answers, regardless of where those answers fall on a particular spectrum (progressive, conservative, etc) can be dangerous. For instance (and to change the metaphor a bit), if medical science operated upon such misguided logic, we would still be blood-letting or some other primitive form of medical treatment instead of the more effective and modern techniques of today's medicine that prolong lives and has made the current state of our medical care better than it was, even 50 years ago. 

So, change is definitely good for us. Once again, however, as in the exercise metaphor above, not all change is created equal. I remember, years ago, when I began to question some of the sacred cows in my life, examining my theology; it was difficult, and at times, violent. In fact, it propelled me into a crisis of faith, the likes of which I have never experienced since (and am still recovering from), nor would I wish upon my worst enemy. I mean, I went to bed one night believing in God, woke up the next morning and wasn't so sure (not literally, but you get the point). And this called into question everything that I had hung my faith upon over the years. Sorting through all of this and finally returning, through it all, as a person faith (a miracle in its own rite!) was a 15 year journey; 15 years! Some of the most difficult times of my life were during those days!

I have recently been reading Becky Garrison's book entitled, Jesus Died for This? A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ. In it, her spiritual mentor asks her some very interesting questions; questions that I think we'd all do well to think over and address. They make wonderful exercises in our effort to ward off spiritual stagnation. Here they are, slightly modified: 

  • What are we looking for in church?
  • How would we respond if our questions changed?
  • Are we ready to be surprised by the answers? [p. 49]

I won't take the time to address each question individually. But, I think the second question, for me at least, is the most important. You see, it is very easy for me to adopt an elitist mentality, as if I have finally arrived at some enlightened frame of mind, no additional thinking necessary. While obviously misguided, it is just as easy for me to think that I now have all the questions down pat as it has always been. Obviously, this is just as false as it was the day I began this journey. To coddle this thinking is spiritual stagnation at its worse. 

Regardless of how enlightened I may feel, I can easily become stagnant. Learning in the faith should be an ongoing process. The more we learn, the more capable we are to learn. And, I can assure you that we will never exhaust the completeness of God. The author of Philippians, speaking of Jesus, said that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge abide in Him (Col 2:1-3). We will never come to a place where we've arrived and have no need to ask more questions or seek better answers. 

Think about the above questions. Let them settle into your spirit. What are we looking for in church? How has this changed over time? How do you expect it to change? How different are your questions today compared to what they were just a year ago? Do you still struggle with the same answers? What would you do if you got an answer that didn't mesh well with your overall thinking right now? 

Let's never stop growing and searching for better answers and understanding!