October 19, 2017

Follow Me

St. Francis and Brother Bernard

St. Francis and Brother Bernard

I refuse to accept your resignation, says the Lord.

• Michel Quoist
Keeping Hope

• • •

This bit of divine response is found near the end of a poem by Fr. Quoist that speaks of how easy it would be to simply give up on being part of God’s mission.

However, God loves us too much to let us do that. Please realize this: participating in the work of the Kingdom is not simply a matter of God needing us and therefore refusing to let us step aside; it is for our own formation that we work in partnership with him.

When Jesus called Simon and Andrew, he said, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:16, NASB).

  • The call was to act.
  • The promise was that they would become something they were not before.
  • The outcome would be that, through them, other human beings would likewise come and follow Jesus.

He did not bid them follow merely to train them for doing a task (“fishers of men”). He bid them follow so that they might become new (“I will make you become”).

Acting leads to becoming which leads to influencing.

He did not call the disciples to come into a classroom.

He did not give them a book to read.

He did not hand out a course syllabus.

He did not lay out for them a course or program of study.

They were not required to memorize a catechism.

There were no papers to write, projects to complete, tests to take.

One word of instruction was spoken: Follow me.

St. Francis’s first companion was Bernard of Assisi. When he sought Francis’s advice about what to do to become a disciple, Francis quoted three simple instructions Jesus gave in the Gospels: “If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and come, follow me;” “Take nothing with you for your journey: neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money;” and, “If any one will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Then St Francis said to Bernard: “This is the advice that the Lord has given us; go and do as thou hast heard; and blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ who has pointed out to thee the way of his angelic life.”

Francis did not set before Bernard a statement of doctrine or belief to which he should assent, but said, in essence, “Follow Jesus.” Go and do as thou hast heard.

How different so many of us are in the contemporary church, as described by Dallas Willard: “We intend what is right, but we avoid the life that would make it reality.”

Many of us avoid this way, or we want to quit along the way because we’re afraid; we know it involves suffering and laying down our lives for the benefit of others. But “doing what we have heard” is and remains essential for our becoming. Richard Rohr writes some wise words about this:

I believe that, in the end, there are really only two “cauldrons of transformation”: great love and great suffering. And they are indeed cauldrons, big stew pots of warming, boiling, mixing, and flavoring! Our lives of contemplation are a gradual, chosen, and eventual free fall into both of these cauldrons. There is no softer or more honest way to say it. Love and suffering are indeed the ordinary paths of transformation, and contemplative prayer is the best way to sustain the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul and into deep time. Otherwise you invariably narrow down again into business as usual.

Either business as usual, or we submit our resignation. If we ever get started on the path at all, that is.

Still, the word keeps coming: Follow me.

Comments

  1. Blue surly says:

    About the Willard quote above: isn’t this a tightrope we walk? On one hand we are told to live in the mundane. To look for God in the everyday. Which I’m learning after being involved in every church function short of Pastor, only to be burned out and burned by the whole experience. So where is this life that makes it a reality? And how do I know I’m there? Not being critical. I can agree with this. I loved the post about life working on the farm. It is just the danger of making this another program or pursuit. It would be real easy falling into that trap for myself anyway.

    • I think the Willard quote is completely compatible with living in the mundane. “The life that makes possible” is mostly hidden, like the practice a concert pianist does.

  2. I agree with the last couple of days theme of needing to actually follow Jesus and not just sit in a classroom (be it a Sunday school class or a college course) reading and talking about following Jesus. But I would be careful not to be too critical or to dismiss the classroom learning. Jesus did actually just sit down on more than one occasion and teach his disciples. Those first followers did actually leave behind writings that they intended for the church to read together. The problem comes when we simply hear about Jesus and talk about Jesus but never actually follow Jesus.

    • From yesterday: the disciples always learned by doing or in the context of doing. The model is apprenticeship, not classroom.

      • I missed yesterday… but apprenticeship model of discipleship — yes!

        “I do, you watch.”

        “I do, you help.”

        “You do, I help.”

        “You do, I watch.”

        “You do, I am with you always. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

        • Yes. I like this, Sean.

          As I posted further down, I love how Eugene Peterson describes it in the Message: “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

      • Then what about the Sermon on the Mount, or the parables, or in the upper room? There are times that Jesus did just sit and talk with them

    • @Jon: my observation is 1) I agree with you totally BUT 2) it seems the western, american, church needs a massive course correction towards apprenticeship over classroom. Classroom isn’t wrong or uneeded, but what gets more response, whizbang preaching or sunday school or seminar or “follow ME to ….” and I’m NOT referring to Uganda (the ends of the earth of choice in my parish) or wherever. I mean “follow ME” to service, to discipleship, to DOING something.

      My take: the classroom, and preaching is the tail wagging the dog. I say this as an introverted reader (when I”m not obsessing on ESPN). Farmers read occaisionally too….. late at night to get the vital stats they’ll use next morning at 5am…. or so I”m told.

      • I’ll agree that we need to move more toward apprenticeship. But I doubt we know how to anymore. Apprenticeship is no longer a noticeable part of our culture. (I think the label at least is still used in some of the building trades.) And while I’ve read more of history than most, I have at most a vague grasp of how it worked in practice. It used to be common to apprentice even in knowledge professions, such as reading the law under a practicing lawyer before taking a bar exam instead of going to college.

        Ironically, my wife and I were discussing youth group last night and had the idea of trying to run it as an apprentice adult Christian model instead of a study/entertainment model. We didn’t really know how to do it, but did realize that to do so we would also need to train the adults to work in an apprenticeship model.

        • Excellent thinking! Apprenticeship opportunities are immediately available for your youth group to learn “the trade.” Contact your nearby Catholic Charity, food bank, homeless or women’s shelter, immigration assistance group, or other local organization providing support services to people in need. Lesson one is simple: fill a plate or bag with food, wash a dish, strike-up a conversation. The young people will be a blessing to vulnerable people in need and the experience will be life-changing for all.

      • church needs a massive course correction towards apprenticeship over classroom

        After spending five years under a highly authoritarian spiritual guru father figure who had us men (who were willing) sit through multiple hour “discipleship classes” consisting of his musings every week…I’m wary of this.

        Better the marketplace of ideas. Better to get advice from as broad and diverse of influences as possible. Never be discipled by just one person as gatekeeper.

        But the church most definitely needs a massive course correction.

        • StuartB: yeah, I think I’ve been in that church also: head guy had the ONE RIGHT END TIMES right idea/theology/ discipleship program…… I get that, and of course that’s BS. It’s not about ONE RIGHT anything: it’s about DOING instead of studying from a distance. It’s about jumping in instead of being a raving fanboy. But we (all) still need help, encouragement, instruction. Yes: from a WIDE variety of sources. absolutely, catholic, protestant, heck, even John Yoder and friends….. If your teacher/mentor is humble, they will know that…

    • The problem comes when we simply hear about Jesus and talk about Jesus but never actually follow Jesus.

      The moral majority call. Follow Jesus to the polls this November…

      What does it mean to follow Jesus? Because for many it seems to conform to the Law or vote a certain way.

      • Stuart you went way off in left field with that one, politics wasn’t even on my mind. There is always the danger that someone can mess up, get legalistic, or go off in the wrong direction, but we shouldn’t allow that danger to keep us from trying. To follow Jesus means to do what he said. Yes that requires some interpretation, discernment, and figuring out how to do that in your particular context. I can’t give a simple “just do these seven things and you will be following Jesus”. But the one way to guarantee that you aren’t following Jesus is to just not even try or care.

  3. There seems to be such a disconnect, at least in my mind, from Jesus’ “radical” demands of following Him and living a quiet life working with your hands. Are the two compatable? Could it be that for some following Jesus means less “volunteering” and spending more time with family / friends?

    • Excellent question. The disciples were obviously called to leave “normal life” and follow Jesus. IMO most of us are called to follow Jesus within “normal life.” Both are equally “radical” callings.

      On Friday I will talk more about this.

      • a time for everything under the sun . . .

        for some people, learning to ‘be still’ is a radical change in our current world . . .

        for others brought up in stern distrust of ‘works’ as ‘filthy rags’, learning to give of their own substance to others, as an act of faith, must be a very freeing experience . . .

        for those raised in the strident angry contempt of fundamentalism, to leave the storm behind for the Peace of Christ must be like waking up out of a nightmare . . .

        our Christian experiences ranges across a great spectrum,
        but I like to think that if the Holy Spirit has His way, we will move on that spectrum in a positive direction toward Our Lord Himself, although the journey itself changes us in ways unforeseen

      • How do you compare this to Jesus’ radical instructions about hating and leaving friends and family?

        • Stuart, Jesus was engaging in hyperbole. In his day, family connections, particularly being able to trace one’s line adequately to one of the founders of 12 Jewish tribes, were part of the things that marked Israel out from all the other nations, and made a person one of God’s People as Jew. Jesus is saying something radical here, but not about any particular person’s family members per se.

          I know it’s tough adjusting to a reading of scripture that allows for Jesus (or Paul or whoever) to use hyperbole or other rhetorical tools. The Literal Meaning and Nothing Else has been pounded into us for so long.

          Dana

      • “The disciples were obviously called to leave “normal life” and follow Jesus.”

        This might be a good place to distinguish between disciples and those who came to be called apostles, especially in light of the concept of apprenticeship. The so called Great Commission was obviously intended primarily for the apostles, pretty much by definition and not limited to the twelve. But not including necessarily Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, Nicodemus, or Zacchaeus the Tax Collector amongst others, including hundreds at the Ascension and thousands at Pentecost and beyond.

        Picking up your cross and following Jesus isn’t limited to missionaries in training. Could include plumbers and moms and hospice chaplains, maybe even panhandlers. Doesn’t necessarily mean you have to die in your body on the job.

    • In today’s celebrity and program driven culture, everydayness IS radical. I grew up, geographically at least, in charismatic big eventville. You are so on the money that usually what is asked is love your neighbor (the one who is close to you, and probably someone you don’t naturally care much about). Back to the farming metaphor: most of farming, or getting competent at anything, does not look like much. Looks insignificant.

      Maybe an incarnation of what you are talking about would be more ‘grass roots” initiantives, using the gifts of average people for the benefit of the community (believing and unbelieving alike). My former church used to have what they called HUP classes , where you could teach your neighbors a skill or interest. Great idea, and wonderful use of the wide use of gifts in the body, including and especially the “ordinary” ones. Sadly , this ‘program’ did not last….. it fell victim to more classroom , more conventional stuff.

      • I don’t want to be a comment-a-holic or “boast” about what I do, but here’s an “incarnation” of what I’m talking about. Long story short, 2 years ago I was given the opportunity to coordinate a dinner ministry at 3 low income apartments in town. I love it but at times I can get a little burnt out. Its gotten to the point where, as my wife reminded me the other night, I seem to think more about it than her. I’ve come to realize that I seem to be neglecting one part of my life for the other. So I think I may need to “pull back” a little from volunteering. But then I wonder if I’m neglecting Jesus for my family. Hmmmmm…..

        • I won’t try to answer an individual case with advice. There is no right answer anyway. It is for you to decide and then to proceed the best you can, trying to show love and care for all concerned.

          And realize, you may not feel good about any decision you make. That doesn’t mean it’s not wise or loving.

    • Joel (and Chaplain Mike),

      This disconnect also troubles me. When Jesus called His followers, they actually gave up everything to follow Him. They left family and possessions behind. But they had to eat, so they were supported by donations from well-off women in the area (Luke 8:3). So obviously money and possessions have to come into the picture *somehow.*

      I am not sure what Jesus requires of us. Most of us on this message board, I’d venture to say, do indeed lead a quiet life working with our hands (even if those hands are on a computer keyboard.) We lead “normal” lives, not lives of itinerant preachers and teachers like the apostles. We have families and jobs, pay bills and taxes, keep the yard mowed, and so forth. We do what good we can within the sphere of our influence.

      Our lives, though, or perhaps I should just say my life, is very far from meeting the radical demands of Jesus. Sometimes I look at those verses and think — I’m certainly falling far short of His requirements.

      Yet if I were to actually sell everything, donate the proceeds to charity, and hit the road preaching — I just can’t picture it. It doesn’t sound courageous or exalted or God-inspired for me to do this; it seems ridiculous. But of course, that’s what they said of Jesus and the apostles.

      I guess Mary and Martha lived a quiet, good life at home, and Jesus seems to have accepted them, so I’ll keep that in mind for comfort. Unless I receive some divine visitation ordering me to do otherwise.

      And I’ll look forward to your essay on Friday, Chaplain Mike.

      • As an example, read the epistles again. Christ-chosen apostles instructing ordinary people in congregations how to follow Jesus together. I don’t see much “radical” instruction. I see repeated calls for living a life of love among our brethren and in our communities.

        • Amen!

        • I love how Eugene Peterson describes it in the Message: “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

          I’ve also been mulling on the fruits of the Spirit lately. I think “doing” for Jesus involves nothing more than trying to bring His fruit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – wherever you find yourself.

          • Christiane says:

            “I think “doing” for Jesus involves nothing more than trying to bring His fruit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – wherever you find yourself.”

            + 1

      • “Our lives, though, or perhaps I should just say my life, is very far from meeting the radical demands of Jesus. Sometimes I look at those verses and think — I’m certainly falling far short of His requirements.” Me, too.

        But flipping through the pages of the Gospels, Jesus encountered many, many people, most not even named and healed many, many people but rarely do we hear of them leaving everything to follow him. Were they changed, even “radically” in instances? Without doubt but it seems most continued to live their normal existence forever changed by Jesus.

        • I’m with ya, Scott. As far as I’m concerned, the most “radical demand” Jesus ever made of me was to fall down on my knees and recognize him as Lord and Savior. Dang radical, that was!

          Ever since then, the only “radical demands” that have been made of me have come from religion and church.

      • H. Lee, yes I’ve struggled with the same confusion for a long time. Sometimes to the point of wanting to give up because the anxiety is too much. It’s hard not knowing exactly what Jesus requires of us. I’ve heard both points of view. Have “crazy love” and go do something “radical”. Or live a “mundane” life of normal, common, natural, “organic” daily things. I, too, look forward to CM’s Friday essay.

  4. Either business as usual, or we submit our resignation.

    Here’s my resignation, then. I did not sign up for this, I was born into it and had to live with it for many years, constantly tossed to and fro by many. I’m done and I want out, you can have it back, leave me alone.

    Now, shall we get back to business?

    (i know this is not precisely what the post is about, but it’s what i feel many days, and especially after reading the comment yesterday about growing up in christianity and not really having a conversion experience. although i’ve had several, the first to escape hell, the following dozens because i was terrified of hell and the pastor and the evangelist and being left behind. so here’s my resignation. get me off the rolls. scratch my name out of the book. and now let’s get to work.)

    • “I refuse to accept your resignation,” says the Lord.

      He loves you too much, StuartB, to let you go to a different company.

      • I second this Rick, StuartB. I’ve given up so many times and His love for you won’t let you go. Christianity can be as confusing as hell. Break away from the noise and listen for HIm.

      • Think my point may have been lost a little. Resignation in the sense of 21st century American fundygelicalism, et al, the church of my childhoods and God of America. I want nothing to do with them. Only be rejecting those things completely (and continually) and thoroughly, am I able to find peace, hope, joy, love, and the rest of the fruit. Within “atheism”, there is freedom. Their Christianity has been tested thoroughly and found wanting. From their perspective, I am an atheist.

        Jesus says otherwise. Hence, let’s get busy with the work.

        Don’t let others dictate your labels and define their terms.

        • I got it, Stuart. Thing is, what you’re rejecting isn’t the heart of Christianity. What you (and I, and my children, though they have gone in a different direction) have rejected is Christianity as abstraction, as “choice,” as an outlook that has become essentially philosophical – all in the mind – and devoid of specifically Christian practices. It’s not about dictating labels; it’s about getting on with life as though some portion of the eschatological, resurrectional Kingdom of God has broken through – which isn’t about “doing great things for God” at all. It’s not about being moral – it’s about being and becoming a human being that is fully alive.

          If you’re willing, find some kind of shortish prayer you can say honestly and in good conscience in the morning and evening; sit quietly for a few minutes then, or otherwise during the day, without thinking about anything. I think that would help you clean out the bilge. Hugs.

          Dana

  5. This is an excellent, challenging post, especially for someone like me, who has an analytical mind, loves introspection and reflection, who loves teaching and learning, and who generally dislikes “doing”.

    Lately, I’ve been “doing” through nothing more than trying to bring the fruits of the Spirit into every interaction I have. Not easy, and I fail often, but to me that’s what my Good Shepherd has asked me “to do.”

    • I was a ravenous learner when God restored my faith and I still enjoy studying though my tastes have evolved more from theology per se to living. It’s interesting you’ve mentioned Eugene Peterson a couple of times today; I’m reading “A Long Obedience in The Same Direction” and read this today: “Christian worship gathers the energy and focuses the motivation that transform us from consumers who use work to get things into people who are intimate and in whom work is a way of being in creative relationship with another.”

      I’ve come to the realization that I really have a hard time liking people; I really have a hard time caring for people and loving them. As I said in a comment yesterday, loving people is messy. It’s easier for me to study and reflect and form the “right” opinions on different subjects. But the Christ in me says he cares for people, he loves people and, strange as I find it, he is slowly, ever so slowly, changing me into a person who cares and loves people. Like you, I’m trying to bring the fruits of the Spirit into every interaction–I’m terrible at it but part, if not all, of following Him is learning to love others. Another Peterson quote from the same book: “Failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.”

  6. One day Abba Longinus (later abbot of Enaton) questioned Abba Lucius about three thoughts, saying first, “I want to go into exile.” The old man said to him, “If you cannot control your tongue, you will not be an exile anywhere. Therefore control your tongue here, and you will be an exile.” Next he said to him, “I wish to fast.” The old man replied, “Isaiah said, ‘If you bend the neck like a rope or a bulrush that is not the fast I will accept; but rather, control your evil thoughts.’” (cf. Isaiah 58) He said to him the third time, “I wish to flee from men.” The old man replied, “If you have not first of all lived rightly with men, you will not be able to live rightly in solitude.”

  7. StuartB somewhere above sez, “Better the marketplace of ideas. Better to get advice from as broad and diverse of influences as possible. Never be discipled by just one person as gatekeeper.”

    Good advice if you take into account the leading of the Holy Spirit as accepted by you along with the ring of truth. I don’t know any other place better than here for getting a wide range of positive influence. Not so much including the Evangelical perspective and even more so not the Fundamentalist perspective, but you can find that in abundance elsewhere.

    Stuart, you may have been given a most special education to help you minister to those brought up from birth and childhood in fundamental level spirituality. I’m not real good at it. Even if I don’t voice it, I tend to think in terms of don’t you have a brain, don’t you have a spirit, what’s wrong with you? That is neither helpful nor empathetic. As I’m sure you can attest, children are vulnerable and trusting and pretty much at the mercy of those in authority. Hard to shake early programming if it needs doing. I’m hoping you can come to believe that your parents and teachers were doing the absolute best they knew how to do with limited resources, and meant it for good.

    I’m curious as to whether you might have had inklings along the way that something was wrong with the picture.

    • Oh I definitely believe my parents did the best they could. They weren’t perfect, but wherever I turned out good, I owe it to them, and not the churches and circles we ran in. They taught me valuable lessons that cut through everything.

      My teachers did their best according to the teachings and dogma they believed. It was all (mostly) benevolent. Doesn’t make it any less wrong. Sitting at the feet of the disciples and wannabes of Jack Hyles, Kent Hovind, Jack Hayford, Mike Warnke, Bill Gothard, and so many others…people mean well, but they can teach some very, very damaging things. And a whole generation is awakening to them.

      I don’t know if I can minister to others. No one really listens…tried, many times. Sometimes, something will get through, and I can gently nudge, but it’s never full. And honestly, after shouldering that responsibility for many years, I just don’t know if I care anymore. I’ve been hearing for years about my ability or perspective or responsibility, a “watchtower”, “lighthouse”, etc…and for many years I cared too much about too many people. And not for myself at all.

      IDK. I’ve still got people I care about. But a much smaller number. And the ones who haven’t listened or changed…I don’t care about anymore. Still friends with them, but it’s on them.

      An ability to minister based on experience, sure, but also a militantism that seeks to destroy the influences themselves, and sadly an addiction to anger and rage that is fueled by frustration and disappointed optimism. It’s just not healthy at times.

      A friend I’ve learned a lot from, who also grew up in similar circumstances, pointed out two important things to me: one, we were lied to, and it’s somethign we have to accept and learn and grow from, whether accepting some things or “putting on the shelf” mentally until they can be looked at a later time and accepted. And two, there will always be people around who understand, however few, because God promised companions and those who’d understand and appreciate and still love you despite the issues.

      Those are things I hold on to.

      As for inklings…I imagine I had them. I know I was heading in a good direction 10 years ago, and then loneliness and isolation, fear, drove me back into fundamentalism because it was safe. And then it was oh so eager to indoctrinate and nudge it down. But the Holy Spirit and people got to me over time, through sites like Internet Monk and meeting new people like atheists and homosexuals and liberals, and I saw the hypocrisy and flaws and cracks for what they were.

      • Gently nudging seems to work better than a baseball bat most of the time. Not always. As to “an addiction to anger and rage”, just the recognition of that is a big step forward out of the pit. I am finding contemplative prayer to be far more helpful with this and other “inner demons” than anything else I have ever tried. Most religious “therapy” has dealt with such by fierce resistance and force of will, which mostly tends to reinforce and strengthen the thought pattern you are trying to escape.

        Contemplative prayer, on the other hand, deals with such bad thinking, and indeed thought in general, by recognizing, accepting in love, and letting go, which is completely opposite in nature and practice to repression and denial. Doesn’t mean the bad thought pattern won’t show up again, but with contemplative release you are lightening the load each time rather than increasing it by stuffing things down. I am convinced that this is the only successful way out of post traumatic stress disorder, which may be part of what you are dealing with. PTSD doesn’t just come with the intense stress of military combat.

        • Contemplative prayer hasn’t done much for me, or maybe I’m just doing it wrong or got the wrong idea of it. I’ve started meditating recently, and that hasn’t done much yet either, other than making me aware I’ve really got to improve my breathing habits.

          Driving for long hours helps break up the thoughts sometimes. Weight lifting has also become the savior I was looking for, cleaning up my body is fixing my mind and soul. I’ve considered going to a real therapist, but money is tight. And yes, it’s religious PTSD. A friend of mine who grew up in the same church is also a vet dealing with that type of PTSD, but the church stuff comes up regularly, and what he learns there he shares with me, and we’re almost 1:1 matching in it. I could probably walk into his therapist’s office and they’d think we were the same person.

          Recognizing the anger and rage is good. It’s why I gave up talk radio 10 years ago, I realized I just wanted to fight liberals all the time. I’ve had to give many things up because of it triggering my extreme frustration that leads to rage. I’m getting good at cutting out triggers. It takes time. Process.

        • Overall, the more I learn to love myself and love my life, the better I am. What that means though is cutting out Christianity. The more I cut out Christianity, the more I love myself and love my life, the healthier I become, the more weight I lose, the better my finances are, the more joy I have, the less anger I experience. The dark days aren’t as dark, and the good days are that much better.

          And the single greatest trigger I’ve cut out of my life is….Christianity. It is the greatest evil and harm in my life. My life without it is a blessing.

          • Sounds to me like you’re heading in the right direction, which I believe in the end is all that matters. Probably like me with a ways to go. Bless your process and your journey.

  8. Stuart:

    Whatever you do, don’t give up entirely on God. I get your cynicism, although I can’t presume to know the full depths of what you went through.

    I grew up an atheist, to an agnostic Anglo father and an atheist Jewish mother. As a teenager, I was pretty dogmatic in my atheism. But God was calling me to Himself in those years and as an adult. It took me many years of struggling against Him and trying different paths (agnosticism; dabbling in Buddhism; Judaism; the Jesus Seminar; off-and-on mainline Christianity). The one thing I could never countenance embracing was conservative evangelicalism–all those Sunday-morning TV preachers!–and yet, against all odds, that is precisely the thing I ended up becoming! It’s been 7 years+ since I gave my life to Christ.

    All of that is to say that although I have never wavered since then–I’ve been reading Internet Monk for almost all that time, but I’m theologically still probably more of a “fundygelical” than most of the folks here–but I’ve never lost my cynicism about the excesses of the modern Church; and I’ve been fortunate to know churches and Christians who are decent, loving human beings who love Jesus and take the Bible at its word (I know that’s a loaded concept around here), but shattered all my stereotypes of what such Christians are like.

    You might also want to explore some of the Christian modes of expression that others here have alluded to in the past. For example, long before I was born again and long before the Internet came along, I was reading the Desert Fathers (whom people here sometimes quote from, like turnsalso higher up on this thread). Yes, they were ascetics, which is definitely extreme living…but there is something often quite humble and earthy about their wisdom in trying to live out their call to follow Jesus.

    Dana mentioned finding short prayers to pray throughout the day…I find that really helps to ground me. Not prayers to zone out…no, prayers to focus ourselves mentally on God, but prayers that get to the essence of our relationship to Him. Many people use the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”), which comes from Eastern Orthodoxy, and which you find a lot about on the Internet. I would be extremely wary of using it as a “breath prayer,” but as a model for a short, simple prayer that you can use in any situation–walking, driving, working, doing chores, going to sleep–there is much to be said for it. Short Bible verses like the Tax Collector’s prayer in Luke 18:13 or Psalm 79:9; or David’s prayer in Psalm 86:11 have been a great help to me in focusing my relationship with God the Father and God the Son, through the Holy Spirit.

    You also may want to look at hermeneutics–i.e., how to read the Bible!–from a fresh perspective. To step back and look at the sweep of redemptive history, and how all the books of the Bible relate together in that way; and without the eschatological baggage of certain systems. For me, Edith Schaeffer’s “Christianity is Jewish” was an excellent introduction to the scope of biblical history, seen from a point of view that saw the Jewish roots of Christianity as an organic, integrated part of the whole.

    God bless you in your path and don’t give up hope in our holy and loving Redeemer!

    • P.S.: Like you, Job and Ecclesiastes are two of my favourite books in the Bible! (But I believe Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, so I guess that’s a strike against me… 🙁 )