Who Is On Your Spiritual Mt. Rushmore? (Pt. 2)

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spiritual mt rushmoreEach of us have a spark of identity within our being, placed there by God at the dawn of our existence. We can either smother that spark or gently tend to that spark in such a way that it can catch fire, ultimately expressing the true nature of who we are. I firmly believe that I am who I am because of how others have helped me tend to that spark of identity, expressing well my God given nature and identity.

Part 1 was about the “Founding Fathers” of my faith. Here in Part 2, I want to look at the “Author” of my faith. Etched onto the side of Mt. Rushmore is Thomas Jefferson, who is considered to be the “Author of the country,” the one credited with writing the foundational documents and values our country ascribes to. The one who exposed the values of the gospel to me in a language that impacted my soul was Henri Nouwen.

“The author for my Faith”
I was introduced to Henri Nouwen in college by my professor Neal Windham in one of my final classes of college: Senior Seminar in the Bible. Nouwen’s tiny little book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” was one of the key texts we explored in the class…

I hated the book.

Now you may think “hate” is a strong, over exaggerated word here, but let me assure you that it’s not. I took the professor to task during class when it came to this book thinking it was absolutely ridiculous–I certainly made known my thoughts and feelings on the book. Let me just state here that at this point in my life I was coming from the John Maxwell school of leadership (e.g. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership; 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader; Failing Forward). I had read a few of his books by this point and had found him not only compelling but the “right” way of leadership — in fact Failing Forward is still remains an important leadership concept in my mind. Maxwell and Nouwen’s leadership paradigms stand at odds with one another, which led to a great deal of discomfort and struggle in my mind regarding the very nature of leadership.

While I didn’t resolve the tension that semester–life changing tensions last longer than a few days or even weeks–I did, however, find myself infatuated with the story of Nouwen, of “giving up his life” for the forgotten and the least of these.* I approached my professor about doing an independent study course on the writings of Nouwen seeking to understand him and his leadership. I think Windham was a bit surprised because of how I had responded to Nouwen in class, but he allowed me to and guided me through several of his books.

It changed me.

I see people differently now, not as projects or as objects, but as the very image of God present here and now.
I see love differently now, not as some sort of feel good, mushy gushy emotional expression, but an understanding of the fullness of love; that love is an active expression of peace and grace that works for the betterment of others.
I see grace differently now… and this is perhaps the biggest one. Grace is more than forgiveness, grace is the truest expression of love possible. Grace is costly… and I’m not speaking of the grace of Jesus alone, but the expression of grace that each of us are called to give to others. Grace hurts. And in the pain of grace a beautiful picture of Jesus emerges and reveals the nature of God in the here and now.

I am thankful for Henri’s life and his writings. They have changed me. I am thankful for Neal. I am thankful that he took the time to guide me through some crucial Nouwen texts, for the conversations we had through email and in person about Reaching Out, The Inner Voice of Love and Life of the Beloved. I am thankful for the insight he brought to and through those texts. This course and ultimately these texts changed me. They wrote a new story of the grace of Jesus into my life. They helped me to see who I truly am at the core of my being… and they continue to change me today.

Nouwen helped me to uncover my identity as a child of God, the beloved of Jesus. And that has made all of the difference.

* Nouwen didn’t give up his life… by “giving up his life” he really found his life and true identity… I think Jesus said something similar.

Who Is On Your Spiritual Mt Rushmore? (Pt. 1)

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my spiritual mt rushmore
Earlier this year the question was posed to me, “Who have been the most influential spiritual leaders in your life? Who is on your ‘Spiritual Mt. Rushmore?'”

Such a great question!

There have been many influential people in my life, helping me become who I am today. They have helped me see in different ways the person God created me to be, pushing me and challenging me, caring for me and loving me well. And so to answer that question felt like an impossible proposition! To help me identify those people, I decided to answer the question based around who is actually on Mt. Rushmore (history nerd alert!).

Etched into the stone of Mt. Rushmore is George Washington, the “Father of the country”, Thomas Jefferson, the “Author of the country,” Theodore Roosevelt, the “Explorer of the country”, and Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Emancipator.” Each of these designations translate well into the life of faith and speak volumes into how we are shaped and molded into the image of Jesus.

Each of us have a spark of identity within our being, placed there by God at the dawn of our existence. We can either smother that spark or gently tend the spark so that it can catch fire, ultimately expressing the true nature of who we are. I firmly believe that I am who I am because of how others have helped me tend to that spark of identity, expressing well my God given nature and identity.

“The Father(s) of my Faith”
I want to start off by breaking my self-imposed rules just a bit and etch two faces into the stone: my dad and my grandpa. My grandpa has always modeled for me a silent faithfulness, modeling a posture that is quick to listen and slow to speak. I’ll never forget the moment he pulled me aside one day to tell me, “Aaron, I just want you to know that I pray for you every single day.” That was all he said. No explanation, no indication of what he prays for me about, just consistent, faithful prayer.

This was a foundational moment in my life, leaving an indelible imprint on me that expanded my understanding of the spiritual life: We are not in this alone, we should not be in this alone. The spiritual life was never meant to be a solo act, a private event reserved only for the self. Rather, the spiritual life must be done in community because we cannot do this alone. That simple sentence, marked by a life of consistent and faithful prayer, opened my eyes to this new reality and revolutionized my worldview. It revealed to this hyper-independent person that even when I don’t think I need anyone else, there are people surrounding me and doing work for me and my soul that I don’t recognize. It revealed to me that I have never done anything independently, I have never been alone. As the patriarch of our family, my grandpa has faithfully modeled a beautiful faith in Jesus to us all.

The second etching belongs to my dad. I remember thumbing through my dad’s Bible which was always full of fresh new highlights and perfectly underlined passages and verses (he had to have used a ruler, no one can make lines that straight!–Which goes to show the deliberate nature of his study and reading.) My dad is the one who talked with me about Jesus and about baptism. The one who encouraged me to go to Bible college–“Just try it for a year,” he said–and ultimately my decision to join the ministry. Even to this day he encourages me to simply, “follow God wherever he leads.” (Which is a big part of why we moved to Seattle. There is a great freedom in that, a freedom to pursue God no matter the cost. This has led to great joy in my life, and even some great pain–none of which I would trade for anything because through it all I have seen the faithfulness of God played out in great ways throughout my life.

These two men are the Founding Fathers of my faith without them I would not be the person I am today, nor would I be where I am today. It is because of them that I am who I am.

There have been a lot of people who have influenced my faith journey in ways both great and small, and so I will be starting a new series called “Thank You Notes” to express my gratitude to the many who have played a part in shaping me and my faith.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Be Yourself.

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Be Yourself

This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.
——

Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said,
“In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’
They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”
– Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim

Who do you think you are?
I mean that as a serious question: Who do you think you are?
At the very core of your being who is it that God has uniquely created you to be?

Each and every one of us has an identity, a unique being that rests deep within our core waiting to emerge. Too often however, instead of listening to the gift of our true identity we spend our lives trying on the identities of others. Like a pile of clothes in the fitting room we see the characteristics or mannerisms of others and we put them on. We become mere imitations rather than living into our true selves. Your True Self, according to Richard Rohr, is who you objectively are from the very beginning of your life. It is your substantial self, your absolute identity.

I spent a good portion of time as a church planter engaged in a hard battle with my identity. I listened intently to people who tried to mold me into who it was they wanted me to be, who they needed me to be, who they thought I was supposed to be. I imbibed the criticisms of others when it struck against my True Self. I recoiled from my True Self turning towards the encouragment I received when I fitted myself with a new False Identity. I rejected my passions and exchanged them for the passions of others. I rejected my interests and exchanged them for the interests of others. I rejected my voice and exchanged it for the muddled voice of others. I had become an enigma.

You see, you cannot be an authentic person when you continually try on the identities of others. Trying to live into someone else’s identity will inevitably fail. It will do great damage to your church and it will do great damage to your soul. As church planters, it is easy to see other pastors and church planters we admire and begin incorporating the best of them into our selves. We drink deeply from their identity and slip into theirs trying it on for size. But it doesn’t work. It never provides us the fulfillment or the acceptance we’re so desperately looking for. Why?

Because,
You are not Rob Bell.
You are not Jon Tyson.
You are not Erwin McManus.
You are not ______________.

You must be yourself. You must be the person that God has created you to be. You must be “Zusya”. Which means you have to drink deeply from the well of God, for our True Self comes from God.

You must be yourself because here’s the thing: We need you. We need the real you, the true, authentic you. We don’t need more imitations in the church. We need your unique giftings and personality, the combination of your passions and your interests, your true voice.

It is a process. It takes time to listen to your voice as it calls out from within your being.
But it is worth it.

Parker Palmer writes in his book Let Your Life Speak:
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought [or think we ought] to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service to the world.”

Let us live more and more into the person God has created us to be.