Thursday, March 10, 2011

Taking Up a Cross

Tonight, I was at a meeting with an opening devotion that included the question of taking up our own cross and following Jesus. (Some variation of the saying is in all three of the synoptic gospels and I admit I don't recall which one was used for the devotion.)

As is often the case with this text, the conversation circled around what "taking up the cross" isn't more than what it is. A bad day on the job is not "taking up the cross." Having to care for a sick relative is not "taking up the cross." Living next door to bad neighbors is not "taking up the cross."

But we're not ever really sure what "taking up the cross" is. I sat silent in the conversation, listening, hoping for once I'd get some insight to what it is. The closest we ever come is that it has something to do with dying to ourselves and discipleship.

Whatever those are.

I recently found a place in my journal from 1985 where I boldly wrote that I had "heard the call of Jesus." I was a terribly pious 22 year old and I cringed at the language I used to write about this calling. At the same time, I read it and realized, "dang, that's what's still nudging at me."

The whys of having heretofore not fulfilled that call are many. After a while it looked frivolous. It was even a little embarrassing to say out loud (and I'm not typing it tonight!). And then I realized I was gay and I couldn't see how a gay man could fulfill this sort of calling in a world (and I'll say it---a church) that doesn't very much want gay men. And, really, I don't know that I ever really got much more than a pat on my head if I dared talk about it. No one is really asking for this vocation to be filled and people are often really quick to offer alternative routes.

And I'm a pleaser. Well, there are people who might argue that point, but I am more often than not willing to say yes to things that I know I won't like doing, won't do well, and will resent doing later simply because in the moment I want someone to like me.

So I've started a little lenten exercise (which is sort of a discipline, I guess) wherein I'm spending just a few minutes brainstorming in a notebook about how this calling might take shape.

I need to get over my embarrassment about it, get over pleasing all the people who would have me do any number of other things, and get on with this thing that has popped up over the last 25+ years and I keep avoiding.

Is this dying to myself? Is this taking up a cross and following Jesus? How will I know if it is? Or isn't? (I'm dubious about "success" or "failure" as being a measurement of vocational fulfillment.)

Really, needing those answers are also a part of "self" that needs to die. Maybe.

Maybe the point of carrying your own cross to your own execution isn't about success, failure, pleasing, or fulfilling a need.

The point is to follow.

It's a little scary. But baby steps are being made toward Golgotha. Jesus has gotten a little ahead of me. I'm hoping he'll slow down a bit and let me catch up.

1 comment:

  1. "By Jove, I think he's got it!"
    Excellent insight, especially at the end. I was stuck for years at a point where if I couldn't understand it, couldn't see a plan, couldn't know it would "succeed", I wasn't moving. Heck, it couldn't be God.
    But it really is about faith. Jesus only did what he saw the father do and heard the father say. But we're never told that he got all the details any more than we do. At some point he realized he was going to the cross. We don't know when, but I have to suspect that since he "grew in stature and wisdom" that he it wasn't one of his very first thoughts as a toddler. "Food. Mama. Faw down. Go cwoss." Yet he had faith, and he says that by virtue of his spirit being in us, we can do everything he did, we have all that he had.
    It wasn't until I put all my expectations, my demands, my insistence on understanding and knowing the ending, my judging by whether something was likely succeed or fail, and just let him dance me through life-- sometimes across chasms, through fires and storms, etc-- that I really feel I have come alive, that I feel I am doing what he made me for, being who I both am supposed to be, and who I am.
    And most of it, so far, doesn't look anything like a "proper" church ministry. More and more, the people I see closest to God, the people who seem to be making a difference, are those people, brother, whose vision doesn't fit into any of the standard church slots.
    God's word for me this year (God's calendar, not ours) is, "there is no box". Day by day, I realize just how much of a box there isn't, and how freeing that is. (The only box in the newborn world was around one little tree. I firmly believe that had Adam and Eve kept their eyes and hearts on God, that box would have been removed, as in _Perelandra_, and we would all live in a world without boxes today. Instead, boxes went up all around, and even when God removes them, far too many of us insist we are still in them (not unlike the dwarves in _The Last Battle.))