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These two stories from Jonah and Mark,
are, well, stories.
For all we know
they may have actually happened
but we also know that if they did,
that there was a whole lot more going on
than what got transmitted.
I remember one night over a Christmas break
when our four kids
had a bunch of friends over
and we were sitting around our dinning room table
laughing, playing games, and telling stories.
I launched into some story about
when I was in high school,
when all of a sudden –
in the privacy of my own thoughts –
I realized what I would have to tell them
in order to complete the story.
It stopped me dead in my tracks
and said, “Never mind.”
Our stories, even the longest ones,
leave out a great deal of details.
We all know people who are lousy story-tellers
because they can’t seem to edit out those details.
But the content of a story
is also shaped by what is happening
WHEN we tell the story,
and WHO we tell the story to.
That is worth thinking about
when it comes to religious stories.
For the first hundred years of the modern era,
churches did theology from biblical stories,
and did it as if those stories
reflected enough of actual life
to build an adequate theology around.
But we know that is not true.
Look no further than the present example. Zebedee.
Old man Zebedee would have been irate
if actual life unfolded the way this story suggests.
Not to mention their mother,
who elsewhere Jesus refers to as “Thunder.”
Zebedee had a business to run –
a family business.
According to the story,
in the space of two stutters
his best go-to employees, his sons,
run off with a stranger.
They leave just because the stranger says,
I don’t think so.
Zebedee would have gone bonkers
and all kinds of hell would have broken loose.
And besides all those family dynamics
ricocheting in between the sentences
yet missing from this story,
nobody but an idiot walks off
to follow someone
just because they say, “Follow me.”
If we don’t want to assume
Jesus was a cult leader
seducing the easily manipulated,
then we must abandon the theological tradition
built around this fragment of a conversation
depicted in Jesus’ “follow me.”
Let’s stop doing theology
from abbreviated and
Let’s not make this story of Simon and Andrew
our spiritual standard,
as if we are all given crystal clear
and unambiguous commands
to which we can respond at the drop of a hat.
Few, if any of us
ever get such direct action from God.
If that is our model of faithfulness
we’re just setting ourselves up
for a sense of failure
Jonah is a more interesting example
because he runs the other way from God.
In fact, he goes to great lengths
and takes dangerous risks
to avoid God.
But again, most of us
cannot easily or directly
relate our own experience of God
with the Jonah story either.
It is wonderfully cinematographic
but not a common experience.
So let’s take these two stories –
one about the call of a prophet
and the other about the call of two lay leaders
(as we might say today) –
and recognize them for what they are:
Waking up stories.
Now I realize that being “woke”
is a politically hot and fraught phrase
at the moment, but this idea of awakening
has long been a spiritual concept
and one that I am not letting go of – (so hands-off).
It is nearly a universal experience:
sometimes we wake up,
or are woken up,
and either immediately
or in a slow and evolving kind of way,
we see ourselves
and the world around us with new eyes.
Often, if we are spiritual people to begin with,
waking up starts with seeing retrospectively
that God may have had something to do
with our waking up.
By this I mean unexplained serendipity,
coincidences that strain credulity,
and all such other things
that begin to make us suspect
divine mischief entered our lives.
As we awaken to see things differently,
we start to understand
that our previous vision
may have been too dim,
even too ignorant, maybe.
When that happens
we get our taste back
and can smell again,
we can once again
feel the freshness of the day
upon our skin.
Low and behold,
the very miraculousness of life itself
seeps into our every pore and we can breathe again.
Which begs the question,
where were we before we “woke up”?
We were in our same old body,
and with the same old mind,
and we were walking through the same old day,
but where were we before we woke up?
It is not that we were zombies – the walking dead;
but maybe we were sleepwalking.
You know, even though we are conscious
and can feel hurts and
pain and pleasure,
fall into a culvert, a rut.
We fall into
Before we awaken,
we slumber into our work
or whatever demands, angst,
nab our attention.
We get one thing done
and go on to the next.
Even the things we supposedly do for ourselves
become rote and routinized.
We end the day
with our eyes
and our brain at half-mast
what we have to do tomorrow.
In that kind of state,
we wouldn’t hear God calling us
even if it was Jiminy Cricket and Tinkerbell
dancing and singing on each shoulders.
Maybe I am over-reaching here
and only describing the fog where I live,
but maybe you live there too,
at least some of the time.
Isn’t there a kind of cattle-chute-of-days
that we get herded into –
especially in the midst of this pandemic?
It is nearly impossible to hear our own voice
in the midst of such a wakeful slumber,
so another quiet voice,
and especially God’s thin whisper,
don’t stand a chance.
Our wakeful slumber
is exacerbated by the prayer-talk we were taught.
As children, we learned
to “talk” to God
as if we were sending up notes in a balloon
that the invisible genie-in-the-sky
might open in the clouds.
And then we were told
that God actually
“calls” some people back.
nuns and monks;
they get a special “call.”
Think about that word, “call.”
To talk about getting a call
is like that old joke about the pope answering
his special “God-phone” one day.
As the story goes, God tells the pope
that there is good news and bad news,
and asks which he wants first.
“The good news, please” the pope responds.
“That would be that Jesus is returning,”
God tells him.
“And the bad news?” the pope asks timidly.
“He’ll be returning to Salt Lake City.”
The idea that God “calls” us
is kind of silly.
To “call” someone in our world
is an act of extreme digital clarity.
Without a phone
it refers to shouting into the wind
or a voice in the crowd
or yelling in order to be heard from a distance,
as if above the sound of waves.
is either as intimate as a phone to the ear
or as loud and robust as lassoing someones attention
against noisy competition.
So to say God “calls” us
is a misnomer.
It is not that clear,
it is not that direct,
it is not that personal.
At least, not most of the time.
And besides, God does not call us
to be prophets
or priests or ministers
or anything else.
God calls us to WAKE UP.
And once awakened,
what we are to do
becomes more obvious.
is not narrow
and to a particular profession
God calls us to wake up
and to live awakened:
of every moment,
and of every life
and of every day.
When we live awakened,
we will do the things
God invites us to do
because they seem so obvious;
even when unpleasant or difficult;
even when dangerous
and against our own self-interest.
I hope that is what being a part
of a spiritual community,
this spiritual community in particular, is about:
a place and a people
TO WAKE UP with
or be awakened by,
and enabled to live awakened?
Having said that,
I don’t know how to live an awakened life,
at least not all the time.
Every time I awaken,
I end up back in wakeful slumber again.
But I do know how
we can make interventions
that help wake us up when we are asleep
and don’t even know it;
or when we have no idea
how to wake up
but are willing to try anything
just to shake things up a bit
and see what happens.
We need to practice a kind of spiritual
guerrilla warfare on ourselves –
and sometimes one another.
I am thinking about a few small, practical weapons
of spiritual guerrilla warfare.
Just some little things to cause friction,
and rattle us awake
now and again.
- Drive home a different route than usual.
- The next time you can, walk instead of drive.
- Go a week without music or the radio in the car.
- Practice listening to the silence.
- Give yourself two days
without the email or messaging activated
on your phone.
(There is a Do-not-disturb function, you know).
- Switch sides of the bed.
- Keep a pad by the bed and record your dreams.
- Write a long letter to a friend…by hand.
- Have an extended conversation over coffee or tea, in the middle of the day with someone you trust.
- Do not do what you feel you should, and see what happens. Learn from it.
- Listen to this worship video again and allow a word to jump out at you, then write about it – without plan or intention. Just write. Then put it away and take it out again next Saturday.
Little things that agitate us,
rub where we’re not used to being touched,
that put a stone in our shoe.
Little things that wake us up
or alert us to our slumber
can really make a difference if – when we do them –
we listen and observe
what is happening in and around us.
Observe and listen
to our thoughts and feelings,
to our reflexes and reactions.
Notice, wonder, be surprised.
It does not take that much
to live awake
instead of in wakeful slumber.
It only takes practice,
the practice of small acts of listening
and allowing ourselves
what is inside
and what is outside
and what is all around.
I know it’s not a new car
this idea of listening
and of spiritual guerrilla warfare
against wakeful slumber,
will get us
where you need to go.
So, instead of talking about God “calling” us,
let’s think instead,
Time to wake up.