Honesty

Today I’ve mainly been reflecting on honesty, on what is ‘true’ and what is ‘false’.  I guess the reason for this is that I’m simply tired of the façade, the glossed over appearance of this thing called life.  I’m over tired with anything that just isn’t authentic or doesn’t ring true at that deeper level.

We are all masters at face painting…of presenting the ‘us’ that we want others to see and like.  We are all excellent at building our persona with whatever cultural attachments we want to have as attachments to ourselves.  Our life is then built around trying to defend, bolster or ‘tart up’ that self as if its the most important thing in the world.  Our world then becomes an unending quest to build our own happiness based not on the depth of who we really are, but on our accessories.

When St Francis adopted the concept of ‘poverty’ as a value for his life, it wasn’t just on the basic level of choosing to have few possessions or finances.  It was, rather, a commitment to self-emptying, kenosis, seeking the One True Thing.  A desire to strip away the things that come to distract or in fact anaesthetise us to the reality of things, the reality of who we are deep down.

Religious people are good at this, especially.  My confession here before is that I allowed myself to become institutionalised within a religious system called Salvationism.  So easy to do, seeing as this system is so outward, visible, tangible and ultimately, concealing  My name is Andrew Clark and I’m a recovering religionist.

But here, we really have to redeem the word ‘religion’.  It has its roots in the idea of re ligamenting…..putting things back together and holding it.  So when Jesus says love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, body and strength, he is talking about the process of waking up, stirring up all the faculties of our being to honour our True Source.  To be authentically ‘religious’ is not to get trapped in the trappings as professional ‘religionists’ but to be joined in union with Jesus who is the Archetypal human being, fully integrated with God.  This is our path.

To be brutally honest, to get to the place of nakedness before God does require a stripping.  A taking off of the masks.  A striping away of the accessories.  A stripping away of the persona we present to the world.  Its not that these things are necessarily wrong in themselves, its just that they are, actually, the periphery of things and not the core task.  To get the core task right means that other things find their place.  Seek first the reign of God, says Jesus, and everything else will be added accordingly.

Yet, this ‘stripping’ doesn’t come through some sort of flagellation, some sort of masochistic guilt-ridden self punishment.  We can’t whip ourselves into being.  Neither can we ‘pull Christ down from heaven’ as Paul says in Romans.  Instead, we realise, as he realised, that the Word is in your mouth and in your heart.

When we can take the honest path of coming before God, warts and all, as we do our ‘inner work’, accepting that there is nothing we can do, accepting there is nothing we can add, accepting that there is nothing to work for and that it is ALL grace then we discover that ourselves, created in the image of God, emerges.

It is, in fact, the Cruciform road.  It is death.  It is grief for the things we once thought were ‘it’.  It is a loving resurrection and new eternal life begins in earnest.  We finally start to see ourselves, others and other things as they truly are, deeply loved by God.

This gets to the root of most things.  We no longer have to focus on the differences that people present, the facades they put up, the identities they project or any other such thing.  Instead, we can see a loved son, a loved daughter waiting to be born, waiting to be released, waiting to be freed.

This is incarnation.  Flesh and soul being united at last as we become ‘new Adams’, ‘new creations’.

Let’s be honest.  Maybe we can find the courage to take the Calvary path for real.

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“I plunge neath the waters, they roll over me”

“I plunge neath the waters, they roll over me” – William Booth

This post has been 18 years in the writing.  I’ve been following Jesus (on most days) all of that time.  Many of the years in the fellowship of Salvationists and the last 3 in particular in other parts of the body of Christ.  As a ‘good Salvationist’ I adhered and taught all of The Salvation Army doctrines and principles, as my officers covenant required of me and I was very content in that until my last few years in the Army.

I’ve said before, I’m grateful for my Army years and for the ‘container’ that Salvationist discipleship gave me.  One thing I’ve found, personally, is that the container was not going to serve me well in the ‘second half’ of life.  Not saying thats not the case for others.  There are more things I wanted to explore and discover, experience and work out which would have required me to be unfaithful to the covenant and agreement I had with the Army.

For many years I was a strong advocate of the Army line on baptism and communion and was happy in that position.  I fully understand the theology and was content with my non-practice of those things.  I posses the grace/blessing/internal meaning and intention of those symbols to this day and by no way feel deprived or spiritually lacking.

However, things change.  I still don’t feel deprived or lacking, but my experience and understanding of these ancient practices have changed, having been involved in ‘administering’ both in these past 3 years.  I’ve experienced them afresh, quite simply because I hadn’t experienced them before, and so I’ve come to them with a ‘beginners mind.’  Seeking to be fully intentional about my participation in them, especially when leading others in worship in that way.  It deserves that attention.

As I write, I am aware that I sound like I am making a case as if there is a prosecution about to cross question me…I guess thats how entrenched my Salvationist views on this were.  I still don’t see any harm in Salvationist doctrine on this matter, but as for myself, I’m in a new place.

But alas, I don’t really need to defend the heartfelt decision I made on my Rites of Passage retreat in the summer.  Having spend such a valuable and precious time exploring the Paschal Mystery, the death, suffering and resurrection of Jesus; having spent time in the wilderness considering some hard truths; having encountered God in a new way, the immediate call that came to me is that I should be baptised.  Its important to me that I make this statement publically.

Its not that I feel that I am incomplete.  Its not that I feel I’m missing a blessing.  However, I do feel that I want to take the journey of identifying with Jesus, the rest of the church and with the whole Paschal Mystery in taking my own journey.  Having marked a clear line in the sand in the summer, this for me is the consolidation of that experience and to take that ancient rite thoughtfully, meaningfull and with full intention.

I’ve invited one of my brothers from the Rites of Passage, an elder in the true sense of the word and a Church of Scotland minister, if he would do me the honour of baptising me and he has agreed with great joy!

Sma GlenSo, in Sept/Oct sometime, we will travel back to Scotland as a family.  Back to the hillside where I spend my Day of Initiation by the River Almond in Perthshire and I’ll be baptised there.  I will let you know the date and location should anyone wish to join with us there, but until there, I’d appreciate your continue prayers.

peace and good,

Andrew

5 Days of Transformation

fireIn the course of the last 18 years, 12 as a minister in ‘paid Christian ministry’ I’ve been on a fair few retreats and spiritual days/weekends/weeks.  For the first time ever, I’ve been away on a retreat this summer where, when you come back and people ask you what you did, I’ve had to say ‘Er….um…uh….em….well…..er.’

I almost didn’t attend Men’s Rites of Passage in Perth this year due to some work commitments that I didn’t think I could shuffle round alongside the challenge of how to sell 5 days away from my family to my family!  But, having come to a point in life where I felt a definite need to ‘draw a line in the sand’ in some way, I knew I had to carve the time out of an impossible looking diary.

I am so glad I did.

It was in beginning to read some of the work of Fr Richard Rohr OFM that I came across ‘the Rites’.  His premise is that Western Culture has stopped doing something crucial that ancient and non-Western societies haven’t lost….initiating men.  Taking men from their youth/adolescence and teaching them the things they need to learn to enter manhood in the most helpful way.

I certainly entered ‘manhood’ without much of a clue.  I’ve never had any particularly positive experiences of men in my life and the positive ones I did have were minimal to say the least.  Needless to say, I came into adulthood with a poor image of masculinity and with no real clue how to be a good father.  The fact that I’ve managed not to mess my kids up too much is a small miracle.  Alongside that, I discovered that I knew little about being a good husband either.  All this alongside a very long battle with depression in my life has made things messier than I sometimes like to admit.

I have to confess I am a man who enjoys his comforts.  I’m not a particularly ‘outdoorsy’ type and have a bit of OCD about being dirty!  So, the thought of 5 days in a field with 31 other men plus the Rites Team didn’t fill me with joy.  And yet, I was drawn to it.  I had a profound sense that God was going to do something in my life.  A whole five days without email, phone, money, possessions, responsibilities was a rare treat and a real blessing!

I’ve been very disciplined over these last weeks since the Rites in not rushing to speak about it.  Such is the impact it has had on me.  Something has changed deep inside me.  But, rather than analyse it, I am ‘riding the wave’ so to speak.  It may sound like a bit of a cliche, but I found something of myself on the Rites in a way that I never have before.  I found an awareness of God like I’ve never done before.  I encountered the natural world in a profound way that means I now don’t like being indoors.  I encountered men in such a positive way that I’ve never done before. I encountered honesty in a liberating way.  I encountered silence in a transformational way.  I connected with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in a profound way.  It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I feel like I’ve been ‘born again, again.’  And yet, in a way that causes me to question if I was ever fully alive in the first place.

I will, no doubt, be unpacking the precious lessons and experiences of the Men’s Rites of Passage 2013 for a long, long time.  It is a once in a life time experience.  It is something that every man serious about his inner and outer journey should embark upon.  It is something that will give you the life-giving jolt you need to help you be fully alive to yourself, God and the world around you.

For more information, please visit mrop.org.uk for more testimonies from men and some information for the 2014 event.