All of our lives are different now than they were in the Fall of 2020 when I began a sabbatical from writing. We’ve lost loved ones, endured pain and heartache, experienced new joys, and faced unexpected challenges. Yet, we sit here reading these words while thankful for the way God has been faithful to us. Hopefully, all these experiences have done something good in us helping shape us in ways God desires.
It’s been over 14 months since I last sent out a blog post. I hope I’m not the same person now as I was then. I have my doubts. In some ways the challenges and joys of the past 14 months have changed me; in many ways, they have not. I can be a stubborn ol’ goat oblivious to God’s work in me while merrily gliding through my days convinced that I’m walking with God. I’ve had some “wake-up” calls yet I still sleepwalk through life.
However, one clear directive has been accepted….a shift in “content” for this blog. Instead of presenting particular information and “spiritual” instruction as I’ve done in the past, I desire to simply journal my journey. After over 50 years of futilely trying to influence lives by teaching, preaching, “discipling,” mentoring, correcting, writing, and lecturing, I am now ready to engage in a more “life-on-life” approach – my life open to you so you can take something from it or reject it as you please. The UnCommon Journey will be reflections on my journey.
Not only will the content be different, but I also want to write in a different style.
I want to step away from myself and observe “me” as another person might. In other words, I want to speak to myself as I write. The Psalmist does this when he writes: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Ps. 42:5). St. Paul writes about a man he knew who was caught up to the third heaven, a man most ancient and modern writers consider to be St. Paul himself.
So today, I make my first attempt at this “style.” If you think you’ll benefit from this kind of writing from me or are at least curious, I urge you to subscribe. If already a subscriber, hang in there with me as I attempt new things. If a subscriber but not interested in the journey of an unfinished, struggling Christian, then unsubscribe. I’ll try not to judge you…and then write about my struggle not to judge unsubscribers. 🙂 Against all the advice of successful bloggers, I’m not going to chase after subscribers anymore. “Life-on-life,” that’s all.
In the following paragraphs, I’m writing to myself (I am the “you” in these reflections). These are the struggles of a 66-year-old former pastor who now answers a much different calling into the life of Christ, learning to unhinge from the expectations of others, himself, and the “Christian community.”
Recently, you’ve been made aware of your desperate need to be respected for your spirituality and theological insight. This desire to be perceived as a “spiritual person” must have started when you were a teen who thought by merely reading the Bible and commentaries on it you were now qualified to help others understand scripture. This continued through college and seminary, taking other people’s ideas as true, adapting them, and passing them on to others. You were committed to living out these “truths” but really struggled, failing so often but unwilling to admit it. As a pastor, you had to be the strong one providing an example so others would know how to follow Jesus. Along the way, you developed an attitude of spiritual superiority. Due to your theological training and degrees, ministerial experience, personal spiritual disciplines, and positions of authority you were infatuated with the idea of convincing others to your way of thinking. You knew God better. You lived a better Christian life. You were better informed. You could quote scripture better. You knew the Bible better. By default, all this made you better than others.
In the recent past (with over 400 blog posts,) blogging has fed this self-admiration. You continued to pick at the speck in your readers’ eye while wielding a 12 inch 4×4 sticking out of your forehead, blinding you to your own egoism as you did damage to others in ways you and they did not even realize.
Yet, there has been a slight shift over the past year. You are now certain that your ego has been profoundly influential in much of your life and ministry – defending yourself when criticized, judging others who were not like you, cultivating vanity in your accomplishments, lording yourself over others (in your mind if nothing else), and crafting a reputation of spirituality so others would respect you. Bottom line…it has mattered too much to you what others thought of you. This reality has deeply lodged itself in you and has made you really uncomfortable. So disquieted is your soul that you are opening your heart to the grace-work of God in ways unknown.
With the help of the Triune God, St. Paul the Apostle, and “those who walk according to [his] example” (Philippians 3:17), you desire to walk a renewed journey, more in step with God’s work in you. We’ll see how this works out. You seem to make these commitments often and then don’t follow through. It’s easy to give in to desires that don’t align with this commitment.
From what I can see, when it comes to this blog, your struggles include…
- a false humility. You think that if you don’t talk about yourself, you’ll be perceived as humble, less self-absorbed. See the deceptive subtlety of your ego? Even though St. Paul often wrote about himself, you’re no St. Paul. Yet, you can best share your journey with others in this blog as the framework for your experience of God. You once thought you could know God by reading books (and even the Bible) only to come to realize, as good and helpful as these resources might be, they were limited by your intellectual ability to understand. “Knowing” goes much deeper than comprehending thoughts and ideas. Maybe if you share your journey, you will understand it more fully and perhaps know God more fully. We can only hope.
- an inability to adequately convey your true thoughts and feelings. You’re not a professional writer nor a particularly creative one. Yet, a blog demands that you write. Your “style” may not appeal to all readers. If not, they can always unsubscribe. If it does appeal to them, they can join you on the journey. You’ll do your best to be honest with yourself and write in an authentic manner – simple, straightforward, and subversive. You don’t want to present the “standard fare” for the Christian life nor uphold the “status quo” of Christian ideas. People can go elsewhere for what’s “normal.” This blog is entitled “The UnCommon Journey” on purpose. The truth is…nothing about Jesus, His true followers, and His Church is common or ordinary (as we usually understand it).
- a real fear of being rejected for your beliefs and actions. In the Fall of 2020, you sat with a friend who made it clear that he disagreed with your beliefs and much of your writing, renouncing most of what you stood for. Being disparaged like that was hard to take. To be honest, your sabbatical was a bit of a reaction to this encounter. It also revealed (again!?!) your pride and egotistical need to be well-thought-of. Actually, you need more people to reject you and your writings that you might learn real humility and love. So I guess, keep writing and give some people an opportunity to help humble you, strange as that may sound.
You need to be brutally honest whether people understand you or not. Your writings might seem foolish and even wrong to others. You need to ignore the naysayers, uphold the faithful readers, and most of all, sincerely do what you believe God is directing you to do. I know this is difficult for you since some of the naysayers are your friends and many readers simply don’t know you. Stop trying to please people and begin writing authentically.
Of course, you’re overthinking all this. But, overthinking is what you do best…and also despise greatly.
Nonetheless, keep writing dear friend.
“Have this mind in you which is yours in Christ Jesus…who though being in the form of God…became insignificant, taking the form of a servant….” = The UnCommon Journey