Wednesday, March 09, 2005

modern plumb lines

Eugene Peterson’s interview, "Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons" has received more than a little attention since it appeared in the March 2005 issue of Christianity Today (interviewed by Mark Galli). My husband emailed it to me on Saturday night, and after reading a few lines I knew it was a keeper. I printed a copy and immediately defaced it thoroughly with yellow highlights.

Here are some parts which particularly resonated with me:

[...] CT: Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God.

Peterson: That's a naïve view of spirituality. What we're talking about is the Christian life. It's following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what we've been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It's just ordinary stuff.

This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it's like any other intimacy; it's part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don't feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn't primarily a mystical emotion. It's a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency.

[...] CT: You make spirituality sound so mundane.

Peterson: I don't want to suggest that those of us who are following Jesus don't have any fun, that there's no joy, no exuberance, no ecstasy. They're just not what the consumer thinks they are. When we advertise the gospel in terms of the world's values, we lie to people. We lie to them, because this is a new life. It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives.

The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He's healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: "Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.

It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don't do that very well. We're trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.

Repentance, dying to self, submission—these are not very attractive hooks to draw people into the faith.I think the minute you put the issue that way you're in trouble. Because then we join the consumer world, and everything then becomes product designed to give you something. We don't need something more. We don't need something better. We're after life. We're learning how to live.

"Learning how to die...losing all your illusions....learned passivity, receiving, submitting....repentance, dying to self, submission..." These remind me of Oswald Chambers, A. W. Tozer -- and a blog I read.

As I See It Now gives me daily food for thought, often along these lines. (It’s also a visual treat.)

"Then the Lord said, ‘Look I am setting a plumb line among my people...’" (Amos 7:8)

Thank God for modern plumb lines like A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers, Eugene Peterson, many others--and Debra.


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