Archive for September, 2012

The Beatitudes

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
—Matthew 5:1-12

Having walked us through his introduction to the life of discipleship, we move with Bonhoeffer—this week—to begin an exploration of the substance of the life of discipleship. To provide some focus to this exploration, Bonhoeffer uses Jesus’ famous teaching of his disciples and those others who had followed them up the mountain, a teaching by Jesus we have come to call the Beatitudes.

Now, the word “beatitudes” is interesting by itself, telling us a little about what Bonhoeffer wants this section of his reflection on discipleship to convey.

The word “beatitudes” is a vestige of Latin loitering in our theological language. The term comes from a Latin word that means “blessed” or “happy.” Early Latin theologians often used that term to summarize this scriptural section of Jesus’ teaching. Significantly, the fact that Bonhoeffer turns to this passage of text and this rather elevating term to frame his initial foray into the deeper meaning of discipleship seems instructive. The uplifting energy emerging from the text and the ebullient attitude and perception it creates suggests that, in Bonhoeffer’s estimation, the substance of discipleship is captured in the positive tenor of these passages as much as the actual teachings themselves.

To understand how discipleship is furthered through this consideration of the Beatitudes, we need to look at the context in which Jesus’ words are spoken.

Recall that in this passage, we are still near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and just after he has called these specific people, called disciples, to follow him. Having been identified from amongst the many in a crowd who were following, Jesus pauses specifically to instruct these twelve and others who find themselves within earshot. The fact that 12 individuals were called to make this initial cohort of disciples is significant as it suggests that Jesus is looking to identify a group to serve as a representative body for the entirety of Israel, a nation composed of 12 tribes. In so doing, Jesus’ selection of the 12 disciples repeats the earlier selection of Israel as a representative people, a people we learned from the book of Genesis who were representative of all peoples. In other words, Jesus calls a group of disciples to serve as a reminder that a larger community of people was called to represent all people called into existence and relationship with the Creator of all peoples. This means that what makes the disciples (and all people) “blessed” is not this specific event but the simple fact that they have been called into existence at all and that such a calling includes a connection with the God of existence. It is this call into existing-connection that produces a blessed or happy state, a state belonging to everyone.

This state of blessedness that belongs to all people by virtue of existence means that what Jesus is doing in the Beatitudes is not so much an offering of specific benefits to a specific group of people that will be available should they take him up his offer. Rather, what Jesus is doing through his issuing of these statements is reminding the disciples (and us) what is already theirs (and ours) as the condition of connection to the Creator. They (and we) simply are blessed. The Beatitudes are meant to remind us of what is and not to suggest what might be. (Note how the verb tense used throughout the Beatitudes is in the present tense, not the future.)

Using a rhetorical rhythm, each of Jesus’ eight declarations of blessing is meant to act like the hammer on the bell of our theological alarm clocks, awakening us from the drowsy slumber of our distracted lives and, one by one, systematically removing the layers of night from our eyes. This awakening removal opens our eyes to our real existence, more a calling to a new consciousness of our already real existence with God and not the formation of some new, previously nonexistent connection. Said another way, it seems that Jesus’ call in the Beatitudes is an awakening to life as it is and not into life as it will or could be.

Such an interpretation of the text seems consistent with that opening of sight that accompanies a life of discipleship. In the fifth chapter of Second Corinthians, the writer connects being with Christ and the coming of something new. The Greek text carries that lovely ambiguity of suggesting both or either that the person connected to God through Christ is a new creation or that the person sees creation anew. If this reading of this passage from Matthew’s gospel and from Paul’s letter is plausible, then we may conclude that we come to see differently because of our relationship with God, a new sight granting insight into how we are. Such an insight is (1) a claim to the truth of who we are rather than (2) a claim as to what we must become. The first interpretation demands an ownership of who we are while the second suggests an abandonment of who we are to become someone new. As is often the case, both traditions of interpretation and theology exist in scripture.

I am inclined to follow Bonhoeffer in his reading of the passage from Matthew, placing me in a theological tradition more interested in affirming the essential and insoluble image of God and the inherent “goodness” of God’s good creation in us all. The alternative interpretation represents a theology more interested in naming our brokenness and alienation, a brokenness and alienation that requires complete rejection of one life to obtain another. The first interpretation seems fundamentally optimistic while the second seems more pessimistic. (I tend to be a glass half-full kind of person, anyway. And, as I often say, our theology is rarely systematic but more autobiographic.)

Yet my commitment to seeing our existence in inherently positive terms and our call to discipleship more an abandonment of old expectations and vision of the world and ourselves has practical and fundamental consequences for how we see the world, others, and ourselves. For instance, if my understanding of discipleship means an abandoning of the world in favor of a new one, then I am less inclined to work on making this one better because such work would be futile and possibly unfaithful. Such a mindset of material abandonment would lead me to see the world as a place to be avoided, carrying in it potential contagions that might infect my new life with the same disease endemic to the old. On the other hand, if my understanding of discipleship means an abandoning of how I see the world in favor of seeing the world anew, then I am less inclined to detach from the world because it is the only world for me, making me more inclined to engage the world in transformative and awakening love. Such a mindset of imaginative transformation of me and my vision to see the world as God sees it leads me to see the world as a place filled with hope and supplies a passion to discover, highlight, and strengthen the latent image of God permeating this good creation.

To me (and it seem to Bonhoeffer, too) if the call of discipleship carries any sort of consequential choice, that call is a call to choose between how we see the world and ourselves and, resultantly, how we choose to embrace that world and accept ourselves.

In a world where the prevailing rhetoric seems to teach our children to hate their gender or another’s because it belongs to an inferior or essentially different state rather than an equal one . . . where we see others as fundamentally alien and foreign rather than children of the same Father . . . where we see resources as scarce and to be horded more than abundant and to be shared . . . where the past seems more golden than the promise of the future . . . and where we tell some that they have been created just as God wants them to be while we tell others that they are created by God as an abomination . . . in such a world it seems that we—or many of us—have chosen abandonment rather than embrace, the negative over the positive, pessimism over optimism.

Such a choice might be a legitimate theological way forward, faithful to one strain of our tradition.

Yet, for me, such a choice moves against the grain of “good news” lying at the heart of the gospel. For, how can news be classified as “good” that assumes that the default state of God is rejection and abandonment rather than love and embrace? Given the choice between that trajectory of our tradition that leads away from the world and who we are or one that leads toward the world and who we are, I choose to follow the one that walks in paths leading to material, real, and incarnational embrace and connection with the world, God’s properly created people, and the lingering image of God waiting to be found and celebrated.

That sounds like not just good news but great news to me. And, that sounds like a world worth loving, not one worth leaving.

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Discipleship and the Individual

Posted in Uncategorized on September 17, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

Continuing along the road of discipleship, this week we move from considering the effects of following—i.e., sacrificial suffering—to considering the personal consequences of discipleship—i.e., considering how our very notion of what it means to be a person changes through discipleship.

In this final section of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s introduction to his Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer examines what it means to transition from one stage of human existence to another, moving from either a solitary person or an undifferentiated person to an individual person. (Importantly, when Bonhoeffer uses the term “individual” he is not using it in the same way that we typically do, but I am getting ahead of myself.) Moreover, his entire notion of the individual that emerges from discipleship does so out of his understanding of the incarnation.

The incarnation is that Christian theological commitment that asserts that divinity (through the second person of the Trinity, i.e., the Son) becomes human. And, within Christian theology, this “becoming human of God” is not simply God loosely wearing humanity. Rather, the incarnation assumes a much more integral mixing and uniting of the divine with the human. By fully assuming and integrating with humanity, divinity comes to know/experience what it means to be us, and, in turn, we come to know/experience what it means to be divine—even if only in part. This alteration of understanding through the incarnation opens to us the potential to see that God is the ground of all being, the source of all life. Or, as writer of the gospel of John puts it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:1- 4).

As the source of life and being, in Bonhoeffer’s estimation, the call to discipleship places us in direct proximity and relationship with the very essence of life, creating a new life for the follower and opening our eyes to realize that our previous claims to life were claims determined on our own terms . . . and, therefore, deficient, as those claims were calculated through our own expectations, expectations that generate an artificial barrier between us and life/being, i.e., God.

This realization that our old terms for what it means to experience/know life leads Bonhoeffer to draw two conclusions. First, the old terms are our terms because we must be the ones who have set the standard to determine how to account and judge our existence. And, by placing ourselves in the position of judge, we repeat the very definition of original sin, i.e., we put ourselves at the center of existence rather than God.

Second, our old terms for what it means to experience/know life is not objectively worse than our new terms. If such an objective determination could be made, then, again, we would serve as the arbiters or judge of the objective superiority or inferiority of one set of terms over another. And, in doing so, we would, again, repeat the error of original sin, making a determination based on our standards rather than on a relational commitment to follow God. In other words, Bonhoeffer is reminding us that faith is primarily a relational category not a rational one. (Certainly, discipleship has rational consequences, but that is a secondary concern. What is primary is our coming into proximity with the Creator of all life.) This assertion by Bonhoeffer, also, removes the temptation to arrogance that might accompany a claim that the Christian way is objectively better than some other way, because such a claim would suggest that we follow because we want the better way. Such a commitment based on an assumption that we have chosen the better, more profitable way is not sacrificial and selfless but quintessentially self-interested and egocentric. Our way of life is not better, just different, particular, and committed to a person called Christ. If it were objectively better, would not every rational person choose it? Yet, they clearly do not!

It is in this way that Bonhoeffer understands that we are called into individuality, a call taking us from our isolation from God as we exist in our presumed appropriate calculations about the world and taking us away from an undifferentiated existence in the muddled mass of humanity defined by our societal obligations and duties. By calling each of us, God opens our eyes to who we are as unique creations in God’s own image and as creations distinct not only from God but from others, too. Through this direct calling, Bonhoeffer asserts, we become individuals. Yet, here is where his notion of individuality diverges from our own.

For Bonhoeffer, the moment we recognize that God uniquely creates us we, also, realize that God—as the ground and center of being—unites us to each other. This realization means that our humanity is bound to our communality. We can only be unique when we understand that there are others different from us. When we leave community, we, ironically, loose this unique perspective that makes us individuals.

Having wandered through how Bonhoeffer understands our lives of faith produce a new kind of understanding about ourselves and our connection to God and each other, we are better able to tackle Bonhoeffer’s use of the passage from Luke’s gospel cited at the outset of this reflection. In that passage from the gospel writer, we read those rather challenging words issuing from Jesus’ lips. In that exchange with his own disciples, Jesus assumes that discipleship will require abandoning our earthly relations and even our own lives. Such words seem not only harsh but, also, contrary to the character of a God who appears to relish relationships and connection.

Yet, when placed in the context of discipleship, what Bonhoeffer seems to understand Jesus to be saying is that our relationships and obligations and expectations about life and ourselves must be subject to abandonment if those categories were created on our own terms and not God’s terms. It is not that such relational categories are bad; it is simply that we cannot condition such categories. And, if we condition them, they must be subject to the scrutiny and redefinition spoken by the Word of Life.

For Bonhoeffer, the sense that a life of faith potentially will lead to the loss of relationships and to a loss of our claims that we understand how the world works and must be is all too relevant for him. As his personal relationships severed and as his assumptions about propriety and goodness dissolved in Nazi Germany, an impulse to redefine his existence in the life and ministry of Christ seems reasonable and necessary. However, for those of us miles and decades removed, such a need to redefine our existence seems less relevant, less obvious, less attractive.

In that respect, we might ask if Bonhoeffer was making a theological diagnosis for all disciples in all times and all circumstances or was he just articulating a necessary response in a culture that had already cost him his family, his freedom, and his certainty and that would finally cost him his life? Such a question seems reasonable. And, we might justifiably conclude that Bonhoeffer’s notion of discipleship is more a product of his grotesquely perverse environment, i.e., an extreme theology for an extreme time. And, to some extent, that conclusion is correct. The context that produced Bonhoeffer’s thought and construction of discipleship is the very definition of “extra-ordinary.”

Yet, despite the extraordinary nature of Bonhoeffer’s life and work, his reflections carry some insights pertinent to our times and lives of faith. In such exaggerated circumstances, our eyes may simultaneously become both clouded and cleared by the crucible of circumstance. Endeavoring to pierce through the fog of circumstance, I think Bonhoeffer hits on significances in an understanding of discipleship and our lives of faith that are timeless and relevant.

What we see when looking at discipleship through Bonhoeffer’s eyes is the dual commitment of, first, a faithful follower walking in humility, certain of his faith yet cautious not to make claims about others’ faiths and the inevitability of having chosen the right path. Bonhoeffer reminds us that faith is principally a humble act of trust before it is anything. And, in such humility, our faith can never become a convicting club used to bludgeon those around us who carry different theological and ideological convictions. Second, in Bonhoeffer’s words we hear the longing and desperate call of a man convinced that a life of faith is not meant to be traveled alone. And, that when our worlds dissolve around us that at least one bond must remain, a bond held by the very ground and source of all life that ties me to you and you to me.

So for me, Bonhoeffer’s witness to discipleship reminds me, first, that while my world might not bear the extraordinary and broad marks of his, in smaller ways our worlds are regularly dissolving and being torn and redefined. Old certainties are gone and previous relationships are no more. It is my task, our task, as people committed to following with others, to seek out those whose worlds have dissolved and to offer to share their journey and confirm that they are not alone. Second, in a culture where my way of faith often predominates and holds a culturally presumptive authority and comfort, his witness challenges me that while I remain committed to the truth of my faith that such a commitment is not the same thing as presumptive and indisputable accuracy. And, my faith, while different than others, must be built upon a humility that leads me to listen to those with whom I disagree and to care for those traveling other paths.

The life of faith is not an easy one. Yet, when walked with companions and on behalf of others it seems, in Bonhoeffer’s estimation, to begins to bear the marks of God’s kingdom. A life that looks like the kingdom of God . . . I cannot imagine better news to offer the world.

Have a great week. See you along the way!

Discipleship and the Cross

Posted in Uncategorized on September 10, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ (Mark 8:31-38)

Over the last few weeks in our exploration of discipleship through the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we have considered the need to follow, the nature of following, and the means necessary to follow. This week, our attention turns toward the effects of following, i.e., sacrificial suffering.

Framing Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on discipleship’s sacrificial suffering is the above passage from Mark’s gospel. In that passage, the gospel writer considers the consequences to Jesus’ own life of faithful following, a life that resulted in rejection and suffering. Importantly, Bonhoeffer notes that this suffering is not necessary. That is to say, God did not require Jesus nor does God require disciples to suffer. Rather, suffering seems to be an inevitable effect of faithfulness that puts a disciple on a course, more often than not, running counter to the prevailing attitudes and actions of the larger world. Underscoring this point, Bonhoeffer notes how the text from Mark offers the disciple the free opportunity to cease following, meaning that discipleship is not a journey of obligation but a chosen path that has both costly consequences and transformative benefits. Narrated through the liberating phrase issuing from Jesus’ lips that “‘If any want to become my followers”—an open and voluntary offer, we learn from the interaction between Jesus and Peter. The exchange between them serves as a template for this freely chosen life of discipleship and the potential, consequential suffering that discipleship might require.

Just before this conversation, here, in Mark’s gospel, Peter is the only disciple to recognize and declare the Jesus is the long-awaited messiah. It is in this immediate context of faithful confession that Jesus and Peter have a second interaction that results in Peter’s going from hailed witness to denounced tempter. Peter serves the role of tempter, offering Jesus an alternative and less costly path just as the figure of Satan had done in the wilderness several chapters earlier. In other words, through this interaction between Jesus and Peter, Bonhoeffer reminds us that discipleship is not a necessary road but a chosen one and that such a choice is filled with alternatives and opportunities. Those alternatives and opportunities lead to the consequential road that discipleship might bring. These alternative opportunities never leave but serve a tempering function, potentially strengthening the faith of the one who regularly and intentionally chooses to follow.

And, this free decision to follow generates, in Bonhoeffer’s estimation, two possible types of suffering: (1) abandonment and (2) communal sharing.

Again, the suffering of discipleship is not a necessary part but seemingly the inevitable consequence of moving against the grain of the world around us. These two types of suffering that Bonhoeffer identifies outline this resultant fact. First, we suffer the pain of abandonment, abandoning one way of life for another and potentially severing personal relationships, suffering social rejection or marginalization, and—as in Bonhoeffer’s extreme case—even political persecution. Most of us will never experience the extreme case that Bonhoeffer and others like him endured because of their decisions to continue to follow despite the finality of their decisions. But, many of us will experience the more personal and social consequences, finding ourselves leaving one life and that life’s relationships and plans to endure the pain cause by such severing and abandoning. With one opportunity accepted, others opportunities will inevitably be denied. And, such choices can result in pain and discomfort. Bonhoeffer is simply reminding us that the life of discipleship is not without consequence, is not without some degree of suffering.

Second, similar to the first kind of suffering characteristic of discipleship, the next form of suffering is also relational in nature. Discipleship, as mentioned in previous weeks, is always a relational category, a category defined by one who calls and those who respond. Discipleship is never experienced in isolation but is enjoyed and must be experienced in community. That means that in giving up one set of relationships belonging to an old life we discover the new life brings with it new relationships. Such relationships, like all relationships require personal sacrifice and adjustment in order to be created, maintained, and strengthened. Making room in ourselves for others can be painful and may certainly be self-sacrificial. Equally, once we find ourselves in relationships with others, those relational ties will enable and expect us to bear the pain and suffering of others, dividing the burdens of our fellow travelers around the community.

For Bonhoeffer, the horizon of his communities’ shared suffering and personal sacrifices and relational severing was much closer than many of us will ever experience. He saw, daily, the material and social and personal costs that discipleship caused. Yet, he was encouraged to continue to follow because of his conviction that the shared suffering was a liberating—that is, “freely” chosen—suffering, a suffering that produced a liberated community dedicated to such deep mutual care and support that the very Kingdom of God may be experienced and witnessed in the present and to the world. For Bonhoeffer and the gospel writers, the Kingdom of God is always a relational expression of how our lives are meant to be lived and shared. Again, such suffering is not necessary but potentially inevitable when we consider the nature of the world in which we live, a world that seems more interested in personal achievement than share sacrifice, more interested in “what’s in it for me” than what’s in it for us, more interested in identifying what we are obligated to give and do rather than what we are able to give and do. Or, to put it as the writer of Luke did for once “Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you’ (Luke 17:20-21).

How about that . . . the Kingdom of God is found among us.

As I think of all that has been given me and all that others have offered to make me who I am and to provide this life that I enjoy and others do, too, this share life, despite its consequences and seemingly because of them, turns out to sound like pretty good news to me. And, after all, isn’t that the very essence of the gospel of the incarnation, a declaration that we are not alone nor meant to be alone, no matter the consequences, no matter the suffering required.

Now that is a journey worth the sacrifice and one I am willing to share in taking.

Have a great week and see you along the journey.

Single-Minded Obedience

Posted in Uncategorized on September 4, 2012 by yhcreligiouslife

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’ (Matthew 19:23-26, NRSV)

As we continue this journey through the meaning of discipleship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we move from considering the need to follow and the nature of following to considering the means necessary to follow, i.e., single-minded obedience.

For Bonhoeffer, to be successful in following requires a two-part method: (1) single-minded intellectual focus and (2) willful obedience to follow the one who leads. Single-minded obedience is necessary for discipleship, he surmises, because, otherwise, we will not have the focus required to persevere in our commitment when the inevitable challenges to our chosen calling arise.

Let me explain.

Without fail, obstacles will present themselves, endeavoring to distract us from our focus or derail us from our journey. And, like those obstacles experienced by the disciples and other characters in the gospel narrative, many of our obstacles are legitimate and reasonable. Recall Levi’s call to leave his work and family obligations or the disciples who left their nets and responsibilities or the three men who wanted to follow but could list several tasks that needed completing—holy and worthwhile tasks—before they would be able to follow. Each had something that could legitimately hold them back. Yet, some experienced a severing that liberated them while others found themselves moored and unable to move.

In each case, obstacles stood in their way. Yet in each case, the difference in response was not the degree of obligation that differentiated those who followed from those who did not. Rather, the difference was that those who followed were willing to risk the consequences for their decisions to follow while those who did not were petrified into remaining where they were. Those who did not leave did not have responsibilities that were greater but had imaginations that were governed by expectations associated with their old life rather than expectations emergent from a new one.

It turns out that discipleship is characterized by a new kind of rationality, a rationality that is not better than an old one but just different. This new rationality emerges from the image of a new kingdom while our present rationality emerges from a legitimate source, just a different source. The old source holds us to thinking and living as we were while the new one requires old practices and commitments to be jettisoned in favor of new ones. Yet, inevitably, Bonhoeffer warns, we will begin to intellectualize the call we have undertaken, trying to harmonize the old way with the new as we recognize the legitimacy and rationality of both ways of living. And by intellectualize, Bonhoeffer means that we will seek ways to rationalize what we have and do with what we need and must do, creating an image that is not wholly new but more a hybrid.

For instance, consider the case of the rich young ruler. We will assume—and assume correctly because it is reasonable enough—that someone may be both rich and a faithful disciple at the same time. And, that does seem to be the case. In both scripture and in our own experiences, we know faithful people who manage to balance wealth with holiness. Yet, having wealth is not at issue. What is at issue is the apparent reality that holding onto wealth is the thing the young man cannot release in order to follow. He cannot let go because he has already come to the same conclusion that you and I do without ever undertaking the journey of discipleship in the first place.

In other words, the rich young ruler wants to start at the end and not learn, grow, and be transformed by the process, a journey that would, ultimately, allow him to retain his wealth but hold it differently. The reason the process of letting go is necessary is because the actual practice of letting go produces a different kind of knowledge—a relational, practical knowledge—that is only found through doing rather than considering. However, the ability to achieve this different kind of holding of wealth—and, in this case, wealth is simply emblematic of a number of possessions and attitudes we might have that can prevent us from fully following—is not done so without considerable transformation, sacrifice, or change. The rich young ruler—and to be honest, we, too—wants to rationalize himself to the end of the journey, making faith solely an intellectual exercise rather than a new way of life with real and material ways of living and consequences and knowledge. This is the paradox of the gospel and the way of discipleship—the paradox being that it is not what is known that needs changing as much as the one doing the knowing that requires alteration. In other words, the life of faith is about wisdom gained from a life well and faithfully lived, not knowledge obtained through bruit accrual of facts.

This need to let go in order to hold differently is precisely why obedience is the necessary companion to our newly acquired single-minded focus and rationality. When the inevitable bifurcation of our thinking enters our imaginations, having a default commitment to following a person and a prescription will keep us from distraction, spiritualizing intellectualization, and, ultimately, inactivity or rehearsal or simply a re-presentation of our how we were. In the face of such temptation, obedience and commitment will allow for perseverance.

Bonhoeffer’s claim that a life of faith requires commitment and a retraining in how we hold and consider the things of the world is neither new nor innovative. Yet, what it is is a reminder that our lives of faith are not to be conditioned or continued on our own terms. Something, someone greater than ourselves must take hold; otherwise, we are just repeating the same with the same to achieve the same. And, a life of faith, if anything, is meant to be more than the same, doing other than the same, and achieving more than the same.

This reminder that we often wish to be at the end of our journey without doing the work required to get there is nothing new. Consider what was behind our recent economic crisis, a crisis precipitated by a desire to make money at a pace more rapid than a matured economy can achieve. We extended credit to allow people to afford ways of life well beyond their current ability to repay, living in the present as if they had achieved their end. Or, consider the willingness of athletes to cheat at sports, cheating prompted by a desire to shortcut the hard work necessary to reach the goal of victorious success. Or, consider the willingness of students to cheat on their assignments, bypassing study to reach the good end of a completed assignment. Or, consider politicians who wish to undermine their opponents rather than offer their own substantive proposals because such proposals are more difficult to manage than the alluring, distracting simplicity of a smear-campaign.

Like the rich young ruler who knows that he should be able to hold his wealth and his faith simultaneously, it is not that we do not already know all that is necessary to reach our ends. It is simply that we are not yet the people ready to reach them. We need to be changed first. And, such changing requires a letting go and a moving on.

The purpose of the gospel, in this case, is a gracious jarring awake from our delusional assumptions, unmooring us and preparing us to move on to a new life and new ways of living. So awakened, let the journey begin.

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make melody. Awake, my soul. (Psalm 108:1, NRSV)