This week we started our 11 week series on the journey narrative in Luke’s Gospel called The Ridiculous Journey. We read a passage called Life is complicated by Rich Nelson…
“Life is complicated and cannot easily be reduced to a set of formulaic, simple answers. Anyone who says otherwise is either naive or a huckster. Life is also entirely too short to screw around and waste it. So we should be wary of anyone who walks up to us one day and says, “Hey, why don’t you just walk away from your entire life, leave behind all your family, friends and your stable job, and come follow me.”
How much more suspicious we should be if that person is a complete stranger who looks like he doesn’t have a dime to his name. Frankly, the only sane thing to do would be to politely excuse yourself and get away as fast as you can. Even if he turns out to be completely harmless, we’ve all got too much to do to waste our time following after a starry-eyed dreamer on a ridiculous journey. At best it will be a fun distraction. At worst it will get us killed.
So why is it that so many people did just that? Dropped their nets and left their old man standing in the boat with a ton of fish. He told a man to sell everything they had and give it to the poor. He told another man to skip out on his father’s funeral. One left the empire’s money on the table and just got up and chased after him, a nobody from nowhere. In the end, this wayward leader was executed as a heretic; and, many of the people who chose to follow him eventually were killed too. They should have seen it coming from the start.
So who in their right mind today would listen to a story like that from centuries ago and say, “Okay, sign me up! I will die too.”
Crazy people, that’s who! If you choose to take a pass on the whole following Jesus thing, know I completely understand! Life’s too short to waste it on such a ridiculous journey.
But, I have to admit that there’s something about his story that continues to draw me in.
And this story still has the same attraction for some of the wisest, most beautiful souls I have ever met. So either we are all crazy together (entirely possible), or maybe what’s crazy is not following him. Maybe going along with the predominant cultural narrative that says it’s all about:
• “getting ahead” of others (as if life is a zero-sum game),
• amassing enough wealth so we can “live comfortably” (as if all the money in the world could shield us from pain and tragedy),
• and “making a name for ourselves” (as if it won’t be forgotten eventually wheneven the letters of our tombstones wear away)…
Maybe buying into that story is actually even more ridiculous. And if there’s a chance that this Jesus guy knows a better Way than that, then maybe it’s worth considering it as a viable alternative.
It’s crazy, I know. But for some reason it’s the only thing that makes sense.”
We watched a video of Father Greg Boyle, known for his work with inner city youth, talking about an Ignatian spiritual practice called The Two Standards which envisions “see[ing] Jesus standing in the lowly place … not saying anything …” He made a distinction between a Jesus who points us to the lowly place and one who stands there silently saying nothing. He suggests the Jesus Strategy includes standing outside the circle precisely so the circle will widen. By doing so, we force the choice that “Either you include them with me or you won’t include me either.”
Marcus then led a reflection on Ignation practice of The Two Standards. You can find the original medieval text of the meditation here. The purpose of the exercise is to get an interior map for discernment. The metaphor used in the exercise itself is a medieval battle scene between the forces of Jesus and the forces of Satan. The ‘standards’ are the banners of each. The one making the exercise is invited to consider the different tactics used by each camp as we discern the journey’s of our own lives.
Reflecting on a contemporary imagination exercise of the two standards led by Byrne, Mags Blackie suggests the purpose of The Two Standards – it is to find the symbols which represent the Two Standards in our own lives.
The image I have held since that weekend, is reminiscent of Byrne’s but it has a personal twist. For me the image of Satan is a well dressed business man. He is serious, organised, and controlled. The image of Jesus is a surfer dude in board shorts.
The image is a powerful one for me – because my temptation is to take myself a little too seriously. To take a little more responsibility than I should. And taking this road paralyses me. It is the path to unfreedom, to constriction, ultimately to destruction.
Being able to evoke this image as a tool for discernment has been tremendously useful. It has given me a handle to cut through the subtle deception.
We are not tempted by things we know to be inherently destructive. There is always some lure, some attractive disguise. This image speaks to my own pet temptations, the things I will fall for.
What are the images you use as your touchstones for discernment? What are The Two Standards you use?
Psalm 77: We riffed on Psalm 77 with a Wade in the Water refrain with an intro that referenced the Elijah /Elisha mantle passing, the Exodus and the African American slave experience . Harriet Tubman used the song “Wade in the Water” to tell escaping slaves to get off the trail and into the water to make sure the dogs slavecatchers used couldn’t sniff out their trail. People walking through water did not leave a scent trail that dogs could follow.