Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Need For Shallow Spirituality

Note: I am deeply indebted to Dr. Shane DeHaven, a fellow sojourner in the disciplines of the everyday. This article is a direct result of our ongoing discussions concerning the Christian life.

The limits of our imagination:

There is a great irony in seeking to foster and become a deeply spiritual people. We all know that such seeking is difficult, but many will never realize what is arguably the most difficult part of becoming deeply spiritual, because they will never imagine they are called to such spirituality.  

How often does sin limit our imaginations, what we dream can be possible? The dream of which I speak, the one a lot will miss, is the dream that is right in front of us everyday. However, as the old saying suggests: It would hardly be a fish that would discover it is in water.

So, what is it? What is the obvious? Where is it that we find spiritual breakthrough?

Before I reveal what I am coming to believe is one of the most essential keys to going deep, I must provide a warning, especially to anyone who wishes to advocate for such “deep” spirituality. Many people lack imagination. They are like the people in The Matrix, blissfully unaware that the world in front of them is a fa├žade, and to suggest such would be grounds for being ostracized.

When such mass delusion exists, the prophet speaking truth is the one who is seen as the crazy one.

Often we do not give God our all, our whole life, because we cannot imagine He cares for some parts of it, and when someone is as bold as to suggest He does, they are written off as overly spiritual. The inability to dream of all that God wishes to make possible through our spiritual growth will leave many people feeling threatened. And, they will be threatened where we would least expect it.

I know I was.

So, what is this dangerous, subversive, threatening spiritual calling? What is it that we overlook because we do not even consider it something God wants to touch with His sanctifying grace? Let me give a little background thought before I reveal the problem, what can only be called a deep irony.

Missing the point and the opportunity:

Most churches and their leaders want to be that shining holy presence that is so other, so glaringly holy, that the outside world cannot help but take notice, but many of these same churches and their leaders are still waiting to discover the deeply hidden secret, as if there is one. They are asking, “How drastic do we need to be?” And such language thrusts the imagination to the esoteric, the foreign, the strange, and the unobtainable.

Perhaps we need to question why we only think of drastic measures.

Here is the problem. Deep spirituality is something so mysterious to many people that they find it curiously alluring and, ironically, safe. Many associate deep spirituality to something like monasticism, and, assuming such a reality is just enough out of reach for the “average” person, one can be curious without feeling threatened by any immanent threat that God will call us to such a depth. I can flirt with contemplative thought without fear that I will awake the next minute as a cloistered monk.

We have this thought that deeply spiritual people had this sudden break through. They somehow discovered the gnostic secret to plumbing the depths of faith, and through mighty feats of spiritual might, they did the impossible. Such spirituality, people assume, is not for the average Christian; however, I would argue that there is no such thing as this assumed breakthrough.

So, what is it?

No one ever goes to bed one night a nominally religious person only to awaken the next day as the most mature follower of Christ in the land, unless the person is the first convert in the area. Spiritual growth takes time. It is a maturing process. Here is what most people who think this way miss:

To truly become deeply spiritual, one must first become shallowly spiritual, and I mean this in the best sense possible. If I want to dig deep, I have to start digging at the surface.

Breakthrough, starts with breaking through the surface, and breaking ground can be the scariest part.

The irony is that, while we do not feel threatened by deep spirituality, we are often deeply threatened by shallow spirituality. When we begin to imagine that God wants to touch the surface and not just plumb the depths of our hearts, we meet something that is truly foreign, God in the everyday. But, before we go there, let’s ask, “Why don’t we go there?”

Frustrated ministry:

It is our assumptions that keep us nominal, and our everyday experience feeds these assumptions.

Pastors, disillusioned with the idea that they can “change the world,” assume that such radical change is simply not possible, because they tried. They got out of seminary with a fire under their posterior and the first congregation, stubborn and unimaginative, did a thorough job dousing the flames.

These pastors were ready to change the whole culture around them, to give their lives for Christ, but they found soon that the exciting call to “radically” follow Jesus did not capture others as it did the freshly graduated seminarian. They were willing to lead an army to the gates of Hell, but no one else saw the point, no one followed. They just smiled at the idealism and went on with reality.

But, it is not simply the congregation’s fault, by any means. To expect your flock to meet you in your deepest possible dreams without intentionally leading them slowly and surely in the everyday is to miss the point of shepherding. How can we go deep together, if we have never even traveled one everyday step together?

Even the pastor’s attempts to get back on the horse only serve to continue limiting the imaginations of the people they lead.

At times, these pastors gain the courage to speak of the ideal Christian, and they give a half-hearted plea for others to aspire to greatness. Often times in the church setting, when the challenge to deep spiritual holiness is ever ventured, the illustrations are so spiritualized, the figures so heroic, the places so foreign, that no one feels the immanent threat of the challenge to “be holy.”

Such disillusionment and such far reaching attempts to give example never challenge the status quo and, as a result, keep the imaginations of the people captive to the idea of what they assume is possible for them. We need new heroes. We need to see how the quiet servant life of the neighbor down the street, who has, without notice, led hundreds to see Christ, began with a simply question: “What can I do today, right here, right now?”

People assume that to ever come into contact with the sacred life changing holy presence that consumes, that they must dare to go on a mission trip. Perhaps such commitment will convince God to allow the Christian to go to the next level. But, do not fear little one, the trips come to an end. The exposure to the fire will not be long. Yet, all along, the little old servant down the road who has hardly ever left the state is consumed by the presence of a Holy God.

We do not imagine God cares to speak to our everyday habits, because we are the fish in the water, we are surrounded by our cultural norms, and we never stop to examine, “Are the ways that it has always been done the ways that God really wants them to be done? Can I experience the holy in the everyday, and how different would that make my life?”

Do you really want to go there?

To be fair, there are some Christians in our churches that are hungry for more. They appreciate missions, but they know that deep spiritual growth takes more. It takes commitment.

So, the church announces that a new discipleship program or method will be undertaken. Serious Christians in the church are adamant to get signed up. Small groups are formed, and the leaders sit down with their new teams to explain the details, and what is it that most are waiting to hear? The plan for going deep. The serious, life altering challenge that will thrust the group into the deep spirituality that they have always longed for but has proved so allusive.

However, as I remind my small group: “How can you ever expect to go deep if you have not dealt with the surface?” When I was approached with this question for the first time, I had no idea what the challenge even meant. But, now, it has consumed my thoughts. My imagination had to be unlocked, slowly and painfully at times (and I am not fully awake even now, for sure), and I came to see God wanted my all. But, my all could not mean everything could it?

How would you feel?

Imagine this scenario. A new group has formed to try out the newest discipleship method. The group is sitting on the edge of their respective seats, waiting to finally hear the secret. They have been here before, and they have been deeply disappointed, but they hope against hope that perhaps today will be the day of answers.

And the leader says:

“Tell me about how you grocery shop for the glory of the Lord? Do you think about what you are buying? Do you think it matters to God?

“Tell me how you drive your car for the glory of the Lord? Are you always asserting yourself, or do you practice putting others first, even when they take advantage of you? Do you think it matters?

“Tell me how you eat to the glory of the Lord? How you exercise for His Kingdom? Is God concerned with your body? Really concerned or just a little?

“Tell me how you prepare yourself for your job so that you go into the office everyday, ready to bring glory to the Lord?

“How does your spirituality affect your hobbies?

“What movies do you watch? Why do you watch them?

“Does it matter to God what various media you subscribe to?

“How do you teach your children to glorify God? Are you more concerned with their faith or their other activities, including their grades?

“How about how you vote? Are you Kingdom minded, realizing you belong first to His Kingdom and only secondarily to the nation you find yourself in?

“How does your faith affect your view of your neighbor, other ethnic groups, persons of other political views and worldviews?

“Is your everyday life and habits deeply informed by your faith? Do you find yourself looking at every day tasks through a biblical lens or is the bible something you apply only to that which you consider deeply spiritual?

“Do you make it a habit to make sure you are seeing to the needs of others in an everyday sense, or is helping others something for the mission field?”

The threatening irony

I can promise you this: You tell someone to think about their faith the next time they open a bag of potato chips and they will look at you like you have lost your mind.

“God surely doesn’t care about each and every second of my mundane life, does He?”

When I tell people that I go hunting because of deeply spiritual reasons, their first reaction is amusement and their second is often to think I am hyper-spiritual. Isn’t that ironic? Is it not ironic that people do not bat an eye at the fact that I leave my family for over a collective month each year to visit the Navajo people, but when I say I have a garden because God wants me to learn something deeply spiritual about food, their eyes glaze over?

People are intrigued by deep spirituality, but they are threatened by spirituality for the everyday, the mundane, the ordinary. We are not so threatened by calls to go deep, but as soon as we are faced with the idea that Jesus cares about our daily habits, as soon as the preacher challenges the way we eat, the way we raise our children, the way we shop, he has crossed the line. “Don’t get in my business, pastor! And while I am at it, God, you stay out too! I am too comfortable for you to meddle around.”

It is not too spiritual to admire the monk who takes vows of various lifelong sacrifice, but tell me that the Holy Spirit wants to inform me on my facebooking, and now you’ve crossed a line. You have lost your mind!

Allow God to free your imagination:

If you want to go deep, you have to start at the surface. If a holy God does not order your everyday life, how can you ever expect that your deep, inner, spirituality can be so ordered?

Ask God to unlock your imagination. Ask Him what is possible. As I said earlier, we want people to take note that our life is different, that it is holy. What better place to show others the difference God can make than in the everyday, the mundane, the ordinary!

If you want to get the attention of people around you, then allow God control over the everyday. I promise you this: If you do things in a different way than the herd, when you live unlike the average person in our cultural norms, then people will turn their heads.

They will smile.
They will chuckle.
They will squirm.
They will mock.
They will glaze over.
They will walk away.

But, they will also be challenged.

When you can simply speak intentionally about not just how you shop, but why you shop as you do, not just how you eat, but why you eat as you do, not just how you participate in certain hobbies, but why you hobby as you do, people will lose their minds, and that is a good thing. People need their imaginations challenged. They need to rethink what God can make possible.

He can make the everyday holy!