For the past several weeks I've been in another online book discussion, 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer. Besides being a writer, Fischer is a singer and songwriter. Unlike other books we've read, this one's more specifically about the dynamics involving God, the discussion participants and all the folks we daily interact with than some of our others have been: it heavily emphasizes both vertical and horizontal relationships.
Here are some of my notes about Step 10, "We embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality."
Right away John Fischer grabbed me with the words of this step! "Astonishing" is exactly what God's self-revelation in Christ Jesus is; "astonishment" is the only imaginable response to our God of glory, majesty and sovereignty choosing to live and die as one of us. And that's the God Who has the incredible power of raising the dead! I like Kierkegaard's idea that opens this chapter: try to perfect just one of Jesus' commandments. Though I haven't ever tried it, the idea attracts me. Even though I’ll never *win,* I will make progress, which will better our life and the lives of those we touch, as in the concentric circles made by the stone thrown into the pond.
John Fischer suggests everything I've been trying to do to better myself "is completely and utterly ineffectual?" I don't think so! It may not exactly be salvific, but it sure does help in my spiritual growth and in the lives of others around me. Part of me likes the Sermon on the Mount's image of revisiting the Mosaic covenant, but another part of me prefers the solidarity with the "little people" of the Sermon on the Plain and its extravagant promise of complete justice and total equality. The author asks if the local church reflects Jesus' opening statement in the Sermon on the Mount. My answer is, "Too many people in too many local churches have too much tendency to spiritualize (or to "over"-spiritualize) the whole entire Christian Jesus trip. I've also not been thrilled with all the smiling liberals who imagine they're saying and doing all the right things but in real life, are saying and doing one obscenity after another."
"Failure is the doorway to freedom." I need to ponder that. Page 131: "Law has no grace?" Possibly not in and of itself, but law leads to the realization of inadequacy and the subsequent grasp (embrace) of grace! All of you know Paul of Tarsus and his theology of depravity and grace. I don't like the way JF spiritualizes the Sermon on the Mount, (preferring Luke's version, which is about the reality of material and economic poverty), but OK, each of us is spiritually impoverished at times, and if we're not right now, we have been and will be later and/or must become so! We're supposed to lose? As Robert Farrar Capon insists, only the last, the least, the little and the lost will be saved or can be saved! Because we gotta become like God (You shall be like God, as the tempter promised back in the primal Garden of Earthly Delights), we need to empty ourselves and take the attitude and the actual position of a slave . . . remember Maundy Thursday's foot-washing? Oh wow, I was reading and typing through this chapter and then JF quotes Fr. Capon! Absolutely true we never would've thought of the gospel of being forgiven, freed and sent forth to serve because it is outrageously against our human ideas of greatness.
Page 135: "Just as law has no grace, grace has no law." Imagining we deserve the status of being saved, of being whole? but in a sense we do, since we're God’s creation. Page 137: earthen vessels, clay jars drawing attention to their contents rather than to their appearances. Yes! That’s essential information for those of us (ahem) who tend to be into appearances.
One of John Fischer’s study questions about this chapter asks, "If our salvation, or our being chosen by God, doesn't amaze us, what are we missing? To whom is salvation truly the greatest gift?"” To that I'd reply, I'd hope and expect all creation would be elect! It's not only God's gift to each of one us and to the entire redeemed, restored and recreated creation; it's also God’s gift to Godself, as in the Christ event God buys back, "redeems" creation for His glory: "The people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise!"
A couple of other questions the author asked were: "Are confession and repentance a natural part of your church experience?" On this one I replied I really like it when worship includes confession of sin and absolution offered and conveyed by the Word and in the Name of God. However, when I participate in a liturgy that doesn't include confession and absolution, I'm fine with that, since so many of them do. This past Good Friday evening I was at a worship and concert event where we had the opportunity physically to nail sins, attitudes, concerns or whatevers to a big wooden cross using a big hammer. Powerful!
And finally, one for almost everyone: "Have you ever seen a Pharisee dance? Can you picture it?" Well, no, not quite but claiming my own sometimes pharisaical and legalistic attitudes (both about myself and about all those "others" out there and even in here, in the visible church), I often come close to it when I end up laughing at myself. BTW, I love to dance anywhere and at anytime, but I think this is more about Dancing Before the Lord than it's about going to some secular dance club venue!