Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thoughts on an Integrated Life

I'm trying to make sense of some things for the sermon I'm to preach this weekend. I've moved -- gladly, I'll say – away from preaching three times a week, and more during certain periods of the calendar, to preaching maybe once a year. I don’t mind that at all.

I don’t need to do it any more, but I don’t mind doing it, either.

[At one point of life I think I would have said, “I need to preach” but would not have admitted what a big piece of my ego was tied to that act and the accompanying affirmation. Today I probably need not to preach more than I need to preach!]

So it’s not the preaching that I’m trying to make sense of today. I’ve been wrestling for weeks, though, with this idea of “missional living,” which is the topic that five of us will be dealing with in a month of sermons. The terminology is fairly new, as best I can tell. When I ask those who use the phrase what it means, I either get blank stares, textbook-quoted answers, or statements that don’t seem very new and original.

In fact, “missional living” seems very much like what we called “discipleship” when I was a teen-aged Christian. We talked about following Jesus and did some things that in hindsight seem just about as radical as what some of the “emergent” and “missional” folks are talking about today. That was 35 years ago.

In more recent days I would have talked about living an “integrated life” or a “congruent life,” that is, a life that is seamless, non-compartmentalized and unified. One of the terms used today would be "non-dual" (as opposed to dualistic, either/or, compartmentalized).

The core issue that the five of us will wrestle with this month in sermon form is this: “How do I live into a life-giving rhythm that includes both an intimate coming-to-Jesus and an ongoing offering of myself in the world for God, for good and for the sake of others?”

The first part of the rhythm is an inner movement. The movement toward God means stepping toward the Center.

The, the movement into the world flows outward. Most earnest Christians live well in one or the other, but have difficulty finding a rhythm that includes both the inward and the outward.

I don’t have bunches of answers, only lots of hits and misses.

In re-reading Henri Nouwen’s The Selfless Way of Christ a couple of months ago, I did see again how crucial the question is. Nouwen, a Dutch Roman Catholic priest, wrote honestly about his own struggle to live an integrated life. He, too, had questions about this rhythm of encounter/experience with Jesus (inward movement) which became the basis for mission/witness (outward movement).

Here are some of Nouwen’s thoughts:

“Yet this witness, which takes the form of preaching and teaching, of celebrating and counseling, of organizing and struggling to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings, is a true witness only when it emerges from a genuine personal encounter, a true experience of love. We can only call ourselves witnesses of Jesus when we have heard him with our own ears, seen him with our own eyes, and touched him with our own hands.

“The basis of the mission of the twelve apostles was not their knowledge, training, or character, but their having lived with Jesus. Paul, who was not with Jesus while he was traveling with his disciples, encountered him on the road to Damascus. This experience was the foundation on which all his apostolic work was built.

“There has never been a Christian witness whose influence has not been directly related to a personal and intimate experience of the Lord. This deep and personal encounter can take as many forms and shapes as there are people, cultures, and ages. Ignatius of Antioch, Anthony of the Desert, Gregory the Great, Benedict, Bernard, and Francis, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Fox, and John Bunyan, Charles de Foucauld, Dag Hammarskjold, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day – all these witnesses have seen the Lord, and their actions and words emerge from that vision.

“Thus, ministry and the spiritual life belong together. Living a spiritual life is living in an intimate communion with the Lord. It is seeing, hearing, and touching. Living a life of ministry is witnessing to him in the midst of this world. It is opening the eyes of our brothers and sisters in the human family to his presence among us, so that they too may enter into this relationship of love.

“When our ministry does not emerge from a personal encounter, it quickly becomes a tiring routine and a boring job. On the other hand, when our spiritual life no longer leads to an active ministry, it quickly degenerates into introspection and self-scrutiny, and thus loses its dynamism.”

[Henri Nouwen, The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2007), 14 - 16]

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