Saturday, September 5, 2009

Finding God While Losing Your Ass

There is a story in the Bible about a man who was sent searching for his father's donkeys. The King James Version called them 'asses.' (I Samuel 9)

The man's names was Saul. After days of searching, a little lost, a lot hungry, knowing that his father would be worried, Saul serendipitously ran into the prophet Samuel who said to the exhausted and confused wanderer, "...stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the Word of God."

I love this story because it
reminds us that God speaks to us when we have lost our asses, literally or figuratively speaking. The Presence of God arises not just when we are in the heights, but in the depths.

You see, most spiritual systems think in terms of above and below. There is an assumption that above is better than, and superior to what is below. It is assumed that positive trumps the negative; that we must 'accentuate the positive' and flee the negative. I strongly disagree! I do not just place negative and positive on the traditional vertical measuring stick, but most often on a horizontal ruler, as two equally normal, necessary and purposeful sides for making soul.

One of the more radical positions Jesus took questioned the traditional hierarchical view of spirituality.

1. He saw Judas' betrayal as normal and useful.
2. He saw the drunken, immoral prodigal son as eventually entering the Kingdom before his pious religious brother.
3. He declared that the first would be last.
4. He preferred the company of whores and addicts over biblical scholars.
5. He recognized the necessary role of Satan as One who would test Peter and make him into an amazing man of deep character and universal service.

The French scholar, Jacques Elull, has written a book titled The Subversion of Christianity, in which he demonstrates from the life and teachings of Jesus the radical and drastic nature of a spirituality that defies commonly held religious assumptions. Jesus explored the powerful side of the so called 'negative,' daring to declare that there is blessing in poverty, comfort in grieving and life in crucifixion. In sum, the place we most often find God is after we have lost our asses.

The Apostle Paul called it 'the foolishness of the cross in his letter to the Corinthian Church.' Paul recognized that most religious people want spiritual demonstrations - like answers to prayer, miracles of healing, signs of God's timely and tingly presence. Paul recognized too that philosophers
(we call them scientists today) want rational evidence, provable facts and empirical solutions to life's problems. But Paul continued the spiritual teaching of Jesus which found God in the most unlikely places - prison, disease, poverty, depression, grief and every kind of loss - for which 'crucifixion' was a metaphor.

Truth be told, the Bible is quite odd for a book on '
spiritual growth'. The majority of the main characters were spiritual losers. Yes, pretty much without exception, they were drunks, felons, complainers and drastically dysfunctional! They were fratricidal, homicidal, suicidal and all suffering from some sort of disorder or syndrome. They were purposefully always second-borns (remember, "The first shall be last.") For a complete list, click on Bible Losers.

I won't conclude as I began, with some miraculous anecdote about finding God while lost. I will conclude by asking you to shift your spiritual axis from vertical to horizontal. Exchange your religious ladder for a treadmill. Begin to see the negative and positive as side by side on a sometimes monotonous, confusing and irritating path - as equally necessary, normal and purposeful. Then, continue what seems to be a futile search, pointless wandering, being a little lost and hungry. You never know when a 'prophet' will show up and say, "
Stop here!"

You might reply, "Here? But I am lost you old fool! Here is nowhere!" There is a Sufi saying, "You cannot find God by seeking, but only those who seek will find God." Sometimes nowhere is actually now here. Keep going!
Jesus said, "It is by losing your life that you find it." That is just a more acceptable way of saying, "It is by losing our ass that we most often run into a prophet with a Word from God."


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael!

Thank you for the very thoughtful and, in my humble opinion, painfully accurate posting. Having served in evangelical...OK, basically fundamentalist churches for over 25 years, it is always refreshing to read and learn from your thoughts and experiences. It is not coincidence that mine have been quite similar to yours.

Here's to us "losers"! May our tribe increase.

With gratitude,
A BIG fan

Anonymous said...

appreciate the reminder that losing your ass is part of the process...