But often we turn it into a mental story of something out there. We think of it mechanically in a sense, it’s something that happened and if I respond thus and so it means I don’t have to die or go to hell when I die or however we conceive of that. It’s as if a fact we either accept or reject, and that determines our afterlife.
So in one of the odder passages in the New Testament, Jesus said, if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. There are two striking elements here, beyond the obvious self-mutilation seemingly being advocated.
Think of modern day Middle Eastern law, in which hands can still be cut off for stealing and women stoned to death for accusations of infidelity. For the listeners in the 1st century, this form of justice would be a common occurrence: violent justice enacted externally, by the political or local authority. Jewish law allowed for four forms of capital punishment in cases of adultery, murder, incest, and so on: stoning, beheading, strangulation and burning. Lesser crimes brought about lesser punishment, but still severe by modern standards.
Years ago a friend of mine invited me to a Not-Burning-Man gathering in the desert north of LA. This was a surrogate gathering of people who usually attended Burning Man, the annual gathering in Black Rock City of performance art, community, and gift economy. For one reason or another, this group couldn’t make the trip and had a smaller, impromptu gathering closer to home.
In the email of directions and minimal instructions from my friend and his wife, the final line was a reminder to practice “radical self-reliance.” In a teacher’s work week full of classes, lesson planning, grading, and meetings, I hadn’t had time to think through what that might mean.
A few months into my marriage I wrote my wife a letter of complaint. This wasn’t what I had signed up for. Nothing I had been able to express in person seemed to be getting through, and I thought it a letter at least worth a shot. This way I could shape the message before the conversation became emotionally charged.
Welcome to Season 1, Episode 6 of the Spiritual Directions podcast. In this episode, I sit down with wanderer, father, and now seminary student to discuss his spiritual journey, finding God in unexpected places, the importance of focusing on men’s spirituality, and the simple but powerful motto that helps him stay oriented.
How do we deal with the questions in our lives when our responsibilities don’t take a time out? For John Brand, the spiritual journey that began so many years ago has led him to pursue these deeper questions by going to seminary. John shares his journey from growing up in a Naval officer’s home, to the inspiration that led to a life changing journey, what helps him stay focused on what matters, and the gifts he brings to men’s spirituality.
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Toward the end of Seminary, I experienced a deep anxiety. One reason for entering seminary in the first place had been for discernment. What vocation to pursue. Academia? Ministry? Missions? Music? Here it was three years later and I was no closer to the goal, and still directionless.
Home sick from my job working for the Special Education department in the local school system, I borrowed a set of DVDs from a friend and looked forward to the day of rest and binge watching. It was Season 2 of Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under. In the show, each episode begins with a death. Some tragic, some comical, some accidental, some natural. Its power, though, lay in its treatment of the complexity and nuance of our psychological responses to the deaths we experience.
Many years ago I was asked to speak at a retreat for college students on worship. I wasn’t ready. I had recently finished my Masters in Theology and the Arts, had a couple of years of teaching under my belt and had some thoughts on the topic of the retreat.
But deep down, I was terrified. I was afraid I’d be exposed as a fraud. I was far from a good place internally. I was angry. I was bitter and resentful about my life situation at the time. The poor kids on the retreat were treated to an extremely self-conscious speaker who didn’t exactly deliver.
Early on in college I had the good fortune to take a literature class taught by a contemplative practitioner. The college itself was a conservative one, but here was clearly someone with a different state of awareness. He didn’t seem particularly concerned about defending Christianity, or getting people to convert, or about revival on campus, or winning the city for Jesus.
With a gentle depth, he seemed more interested in whether people were moving toward wholeness than the brand of faith they were practicing, or even the fervor with which they practiced. With disarming graciousness, he was clearly present and interested in what his students had to say, though his education and intellect vastly surpassed ours. He was humble. Students experiencing a crisis of faith or elsewhere in their lives sensed in him a safe presence in which to confide.