Monday, July 21, 2008

Truth, discipleship and signage

Every day on my drive to work I pass an auto repair shop. This shop has a sign out front that, I'm sure, was built ostensibly for advertisement. However, the owner of this shop has grander aspirations. Instead of the normal (and thoroughly mundane but completely expected) "Buy 2 tires, get the second pair 30% off" or "Car running rough? 15% off summer tune-up through the 31st", this owner shows modern day proverbs; some witty, some sentimental, some inspirational, but some actually thought provoking. It's to the last category that the current message falls under:

"The Truth that sets us free is the Truth that we prefer not to hear"

Is it pithy? Yes. But as pithy sayings go, that one isn't all that bad; certainly not bad compared to the others I've read. I did find it a bit odd for something so obviously religious, so obviously Christian, to be on the signage of this auto repair shop. Most of the proverbs shown are of the non-denominational, inspirational variety. I guess when you own your own shop you can choose whatever saying you want (thank-you-very-much).

The first question is: what "Truth" is the sign referring to? Let say, for the sake of argument, it is the the only truth that sets us free: Jesus Christ. The next question is: why do we prefer not to hear it?

As I mentioned in my previous post that I'm reading two books (see side bar on right, half way down the page) about discipleship; Bonhoeffer's "Discipleship" and Augsburger's "Dissident Discipleship". The former is from a Lutheran perspective, the latter from a reformed/Anabaptist perspective. Both books are challenging for different reasons. Not surprisingly, Bonhoeffer's book is the more theological book even though Augsburger is, I believe, a theologian. Bonhoeffer is very clear on what "discipleship" means. He says:

Discipleship is commitment to Christ. Because Christ exists, he must be followed. An idea about Christ, a doctrinal system, a general religious recognition of grace or forgiveness of sins does not require discipleship. In truth, it even excludes discipleship; it is inimical to it. One enters into a relationship with an idea by way of knowledge, enthusiasm, perhaps even by carrying it out, but never by personal obedient discipleship. Christianity without the living Jesus Christ remains necessarily a Christianity without discipleship; and Christianity without discipleship is always a Christianity without Jesus Christ. It is an idea, a myth. A Christianity in which there is only God the Father, but not Christ as a living Son actually cancels discipleship. In that case there will be trust in God, but not discipleship. God's Son became human, he is the mediator --that is why discipleship is the right relation to him. Discipleship is bound to the mediator, and wherever discipleship is rightly spoken of, there the mediator, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is intended. Only the mediator, the God-human, can call to discipleship.
Discipleship without Jesus Christ is choosing one's own path. It could be an ideal path or a martyr's path, but it is without the promise. Jesus will reject it.

There it is. Bonhoeffer cuts through all the noise and focuses squarely on what being Christian is all about. The last sentence is a doosie and is the truth that we don't want to hear. Discipleship requires letting go of our attachments to everything but Jesus Christ. This was difficult for the rich man and is no different for us today. It's difficult for me. It requires a radical attachment to Jesus that is at odds with the world and what the world thinks is proper or rational or just or correct. And if we follow the world it will be without the promise and Jesus will reject it.

Augsburger defines this discipleship as "tripolar" spirituality. Which is love of self, love of God and love of neighbor. He goes on to say:
In tripolar spirituality, we come to know Christ through participation in the practices of discipleship that express love of others...

And one of these practices is "Radical Attachement". This is radical attachement to Jesus of the gospels. Augsburger quotes Jurgen Moltman from his book "The Crucified God" to discribe what this radical attachement means:

To be radical, of course, means to seize a matter at its roots. Radical Christian faith can only mean committing oneself without reserve to the "crucified God." This is dangerous. It does not promise the confirmation of one's own conceptions, hopes and good intentions. It promises first of all the pain of repentance and of fundamental change. It offers no recipe for success. But brings a confrontation with the truth. It is not positive and constructive, but is in the first instance crititcal and destructive. It does not bring man into better harmony with himself and his environment, but into contradiction with himself and his environment. It makes him "homeless" and "rootless," and liberates him in following Christ who was homeless and rootless. "The religion of the cross," if faith on this basis can ever be so called, does not elevate and edify in the usual sense, but scandalizes; and most of all it scandalizes one's "co-religionists" in one's own circle.... It alienates alienated men, who have come to terms with alienation."

That's a hard pill to swallow isn't it. No wonder this Truth is something we prefer not to hear. But reading that quote from Moltman, one couldn't be faulted for saying "Well, how the hell am I suppose to follow that advice?!" Augsburger has an answer that I find quite helpful:

We can embrace Jesus as an experiential model with existential impact, as a historical mentor-story with textual authority, or as a theological Christ figure with rational conceptual coherence. Or we can encounter him as a contemporary presence in a believing community --that is, an imitating, participating community. Participation is a communal awareness of Christ in our midst; it is a liturgical recognition and celebration of his presence; it is a mystical moment of awe that an Other is undeniably here; it is an ethical experience of discerning together God's intentions for us; it is an encounter with a Third who walks with any two disciples as living presence; it is a deep, settled conviction that we are invited to continue his work in faithful extension of his way of being; it is discovering that we can be fully human as we follow him yet that we can imitate and participate in the Divine; it is revisualizing every encounter with human need as an opportunity to serve Christ....

So, in the end, the Truth that we prefer not to hear is not heard by the world because it requires of the world discipleship and as Bonhoeffer, Moltmann have said that requires giving up our desires for Christ, in obedience to Christ for his sake alone. However, as Augsburger said, we are to do this, not alone, but in community with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, our believing community where the presence of Christ can be heard, tasted, and felt.

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