“What have we learnt today?”

Greg Davies, The TaskMaster – British Comedy Guide

That’s the penultimate line with which host Greg Davies ends every episode of “TaskMaster” (my favorite British panel show). As an anglophile, I find the word “learnt” very charming, and of course, what follows the line is usually quite funny. But it’s stuck in mind for the past week or so because I feel like I want to draw this series of blog posts to some sort of a conclusion…

What HAVE I learnt?

I think I’ve covered the essentials as best I can: Unprocessed loss, returning to joy, attachment, the right brain…but I find myself asking about the results of these understandings. What does it all mean when looking at life through these new lenses?

Well, certainly things I already knew have been confirmed: God is good all the time. I married an awesome woman. I am well loved and surrounded by deeply caring and Godly people…but I pretty much knew all that. What do I know now that I didn’t know before?

A human, evolved to survive a car crash. What has the church evolved into?
  1. Understanding the problem is not the solution. This has been subtle but profound. I have probably said the following a thousand times if I’ve said it once: “Knowing what the problem is 95% of the solution!” I’ve said it to people in counseling settings, in leadership contexts, probably while working on a car. And I guess, in one way, in at least some settings, it’s true. But when it comes to soul work, when it comes to the transformation and growth of a human being, when it comes to the journey of intimacy with God…I don’t think I could have been wronger. The reality is that every problem is the same problem: we don’t understand who God is and who we are are. “Understanding” this problem accomplishes precisely nothing in terms of a solution, seeing as it’s the same problem, demanding a deeply personal and nuanced solution from each of us. The enlightenment has served us well with part of the solution: Truth. Our minds have been renewed. We have at our disposal mountains of true information about God and ourselves. This has stopped our collective ship from sinking, thank God. But we have lulled ourselves into believing that a partially submerged boat, bobbing in the middle of nowhere is the end of the story. There is a LOT more than just possessing right doctrine.
  2. Our institutions favor the angry, the anxious and the aggressive. It seems to function a little like natural selection. Circumstances tend to favor a trait. The success of that trait means it’s passed on to the next generation and the process amplifies over time and generations until this new “super trait” is no longer beneficial, the circumstances change, or both. When just a few traits are favored over time, let’s say “artificially” enhanced, in no time you wind up with something unrecognizable. In the worst cases, a monster. Look at some dog breeds which, to be considered “breed standard” are actually unhealthy and severely limited in terms of being a “dog”. Beginning 500 years ago or so, the church embraced the enlightenment worldview which benefited from traits like reason, democracy, growth, merit and empire. We systematized theology and moved away from mystery. We focused on triumph and forgot about suffering. These things contributed to our success and advanced leaders who excelled in these areas, leaving behind those who did not. This system (linked as it is to the world) has progressed along with the world and accelerated, even to the point where, in the last 100 years, the the system now favors leaders who are A) Highly driven, dare I say “angry“, value growth over faithfulness, and reputation over relationship B) Have a proclivity for activity, accomplishment and metrics such that there is high anxiety and little or no time for rest and contemplation C) a willingness to win at all cost, compete where inappropriate, compare themselves to others and to secretly (sometimes not so secretly) revel in the defeat of others. In a word: aggressive. The system has evolved to favor church leaders from the ranks of football coaches, corporate CEO’s and celebrities. Perhaps the following goes without saying, but, to the extent these things are true about an institution is the degree to which they are failing to be the Body of Christ. My very strong sense is that these traits, which in their earlier iterations served the Body nobly, have grown into deformities and are actively working against the health of the church. These things have, in fact and practice made us nearly unrecognizable as the body of Christ.. (see photo above)
  3. Loving enemies is the highest form of Christ-likeness I can Imagine. I am guilty of over-spiritualizing Jesus’ command in Matthew 5. I suspect we all are. If Jesus meant it literally, (and I believe he did; like the entire Sermon on the Mount…with the obvious exceptions for hyperbole) then the path forward to Christ likeness has just snapped into focus and many of our old priorities crumble like a sand castle at high tide. I’m put in mind of his words: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even pagans do that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do that?” In other words, the most un-sophisticated and corrupt among us are capable of building simple camaraderie based on shared proclivities. But the disciple of Jesus is capable of (and called to) much more than “camaraderie”. It’s almost like belonging and hospitality are limited resources, like fresh water or gold, and we only have enough to spend on those in our tribe. It can’t be wasted on enemies! Jesus is saying that through him, there is soooo much belonging and hospitality available, that his disciples can extend it even to those who hate them. For me, this is a new standard of intimacy with Christ I wish to pursue.

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