My Post on the Ignatian Disciplines/Discernment

Here is a link to a post I wrote that's on the Emergent Outlier site: Living as an Ignatian Christian

Let me know if you happen upon this a few months from now and the link doesn't work, and I'll republish the article in full on this blog.


Socially Determined: A Follow-Up to My Last Post on "Who Will I Be"

My friend Brian Borcher's disagreement with my last post (that the primary question is not "Who will I be?" but rather "What will I do today?") has been carrying my thoughts since yesterday, and I wanted to respond again to it and to clarify something else from that last post.

First, the clarification: I was "waxing poetic" on Gideon's place in my life, and although he was in the center group of friends over the last year on-line (and I believe I was one of those in his center group of friends on-line) there were many other people for both of us that we interacted with just as frequently as each other in all our on-line channels. In saying that he was at the center of who I was and who I had become, I was referring to the power of each of those chosen central friendships, and not elevating my place with him or his place with me above those other friendships that we each had that was similarly focused and that had similar time spent. In addition, I was specifically talking about the social dimension of life that I will address next here, and not about my primary faith commitment or about my primary family commitments and their centrality. The place of the Triune God at the center of each believer's life is unquestioned, or they are not truly believers; and the centrality of our spouse and children to each of us is just as unquestionable socially.

Second, my musing on Brian's problem with my question and his correction of it: As I see it, this is one of my primary paradigm shifts in the last 5 years. I would have been in agreement with Brian before that shift, but now really don't believe any of us CAN align ourselves with the purposes of the universe and choose to act in ways that fit without also choosing our friends and communities . . . and choosing our friends and communities ALWAYS includes choosing the roles we will play there. As I taught Bethel for these past 4 years, it was clear that the Bible teaches a communal faith, not an individual one; and as I have read and observed life over the same period, it has been clear that sociological forces are the most powerful forces on every element of our identity and experience, and that that is as God intended and intends.

So the illusion that I can detach from all others and attach to God directly is just that: an illusion. Even if I become a hermit like the early desert fathers or like other examples since then, I am attaching to my memories of others and their views of life. Detaching from others to solitude is necessary for spiritual growth and for learning to hear and feel the Triune God apart from others; but even in that exercise I am simply detaching from those who fill my little world of busy-ness to attach to the great cloud of witnesses that is the CHURCH from beginning to end and from East to West. I am never truly alone with God, for I was created a social creature.

We are born into a social world where our roles are imposed by others, as are our beliefs and values. To choose my roles, beliefs, and values, I must also change my community. This is born out in many spheres of human experience and study.

So when I got up this morning to print and use today's lectionary from the PCUSA, I joined myself with a multitude also practicing that discipline of reading for today. And when I engaged in my Ignatian meditations upon "seeking the grace", I joined myself not only to the women in my own Christian Life Community, but to a whole community over years and miles that have gone through the same exercises. And when I engaged in my other forms of prayer - old and "new" - I joined myself in community with all those others who are and have practiced the same forms and thoughts.

And then when I turn around and interact with my family and those at work and those I call friends -- both face-to-face friends and on-line friends -- I make choices about who and what is indoctrinating me into their values and view of life. I need to be deliberate about my choices, both in who I engage and in who I neglect, because they will be the ones -- both today and over time -- who choose the answer to my question "What will I do today?"

We are primarily social creatures, and all religions acknowledge this. It is a distortion to believe otherwise.

Both Jewish and Christian faiths of every flavor over every century have been faiths of communities and families, not faiths that could be practiced in isolation. There is no greater choice we make each day than our choices about whom we will engage and whom we will avoid. The social choices are our greatest moral choices, from which all matters of identity, cognitive belief, and action will flow.

If you are "stuck", consider changing your communities and friends.

If you are depressed or angry, find friends who will mediate those emotions for you and help you feel life in a positive way.

If you are joyful and productive, give thanks to God for the people in your life, and give thanks to them for the way they have enabled you to experience life.

My question "Who will I be today?" should be expanded to "What social environment and what roles in that environment do I choose today, and out of that, what will my actions be?" We do not get to choose our own identities, but our identities are a function of our social choices. I am not me. I am who I have been made to be by the interplay of the actions of the Triune God through community and my responses to that world. (And even Jesus' primary definition of "obedience" and "disciple" was a social definition, as He exorted us to love each other.)

Who will you be today?


Choosing Our Communities & Friends (in memorium of Gideon Addington)

There have been many great blog posts written in the past 9 days, since the social media and blogging worlds realized that our friend Gideon Addington (@gideony) had passed away as a result of his own deliberate action to make it so. I don't need to rehash any of it. I will only reference one post here, but if you google you will find a plethora of posts and articles.

I considered blogging on my memories of Gideon and on the impact he made on me: how he changed me permanently before his untimely death, and how he is at the core of who I have become. I decided that I will instead return to blogging-as-a-spiritual-discipline to express more of what I am now, but that I don't choose to share publicly things that were shared by a friend privately with the expectation of confidentiality. Friends don't do that to friends, even after death - or perhaps ESPECIALLY after death.

But the key topic that has been swirling in my mind since last Wednesday is this: I AM my choices about my friends and my communities. I choose who I am as I choose my friends, and as I choose my friends, I choose who I will become.

We all have many circles that we only partially choose: the people with whom we work, the people with whom we are in family, the people with whom we attend school, etc. Of course we choose some of this -- our spouse, our college, where we send our resumes -- but a lot of it is just "luck of the draw". Those people often form our primary communities, and work unconsciously and consciously to indoctrinate us into their beliefs and values. When those beliefs and values settle easily into our consciousnesses, we are blessed . . . but often something inside us rebels!

And this is where our truly CHOSEN friendships come in! We can seek out those who enjoy what we enjoy, who are passionate about the things that compel our passion, and who think and feel in ways that we intuitively "get". Here, we choose our own selves!

C.S. Lewis spoke about "The Four Loves" on the BBC back in the mid-20th Century, and those talks are still available on iTunes and from other sources. The material is similar but not identical to what he later published in his book by the same title. He spoke of the 4 Greek words for love, and of how they play out in our lives. Storge is comfortable, familial love -- where those we don't particularly even like become so familiar that we call it love. Eros is the passion which is romantic love --- not just lust, but that yearning that can even seem detached from the physical. Agape is the love that our faith exhorts us to show toward all others -- to seek to be the tool of God in their lives for God's best purposes for them and for us. And Phileo is the love of which I write here -- a friendship-love that is joined by mutual interest and that welcomes into it many others who share the same interest.

I was friends with Gideon Addington in a way that was very special. We chose each other as friends because we had mutual interests and loved to discuss them. This love did not revolve around the life of either of us, but rather around theology and the church and books and music and culture. There is much that I did not know about him, and that he did not know about me . . . not because we chose actively not to discuss it, but because there were so many other things we DID choose to discuss. It didn't matter that he was a young man of 30 while I was a middle-aged lady of 45. The stuff that people discuss if they're infatuated with each other (Eros) didn't matter and never came up. Nor did we have to be "kindred spirits" in being in agreement on everything or with a strong intuitive connection. We were just chosen friends. By choosing him I chose toward who I would become, and by choosing me he did the same.

I have many others that I know through Second Life, Twitter and their blogs that are also in that same sphere for me: friends I choose, and by choosing them, I am choosing myself. That doesn't take away from what I reveal about myself (and choose to be) in my relationships with my husband and boys, or at work, or in academic or church pursuits. It doesn't take away from what I reveal about myself and choose to be in my relationships with my very dear sisters-in-friendship that are face-to-face or shoulder-to-shoulder friends in my chosen recreational and discipleship activities. But it does shape me in a way that those relationships cannot shape me, just as they shape me in ways that my virtual relationships cannot shape me. We push to our limits in each sphere of relationship, and then can escape into another sphere -- and the picture of those interlocking spheres and the way they reflect our time, attention, and love becomes the picture of ME, the picture of identity that is imposed and identity that is chosen.

One of the key identity issues for me has always been an issue of gender. I remember being 5 and seeing my dad take my just-turned-4-year-old brother out to hunt ducks, and being hit for the first time with the fact that I was supposed to fit a certain mold as a girl, and that I might not find that easy or nice. I won't bore you all with my musings and events through 45 years that lead me to today . . . but today I am comfortable in my own skin, and I know myself to be a woman that loves to have sex with men but that hates to fill the old cultural norms for women other than that. I love my butch lesbian sisters because I identify so much with parts of their identities, although I love to look "fem" and love to feel sexual tension with men who are attracted to women who like to share power and like to fill male cultural roles, even as they do the same.

Another key identity issue for me is FAITH. I love God, even though God cannot be defined. I do love the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and traditions . . . but I love God and the people of God even more, and one of my "callings" (defined here as a key part of my innate identity in my own experience) is to pursue an integrated knowledge of "revelation" and personal experience, as well as an integrated praxis of communion and service. I started out in a family that gave me the gift of deep faith and lots of knowledge of faith as a foundation for that deep faith . . . and I have been going on to build a network of chosen friends who ARE in their faith (creed and praxis) what I choose to be. I am so blessed by them, and these days every single one of them is pushing past their old limits toward something unknown, and they have the courage to do that. I love them.

I do not know what happened with Gideon. Those who were in his other circles of friendship and community are much better positioned to explain that than any of us, and it would be an affront to them for me to engage in my own speculation. I do know this, though: Gideon loved all his circles of community, as I do mine. He told me so and I still believe him. I also know this: Gideon allowed himself to be changed by his communities, and was fearless in pressing on toward truth. As much as I know the dynamics of depression and suicide, I also know the dynamics of hope . . . and I feel certain that Gideon hoped in the spiritual realities that we spent so many hours discussing in so many ways, and that that hope brightened even the darkness.

Each of you who are attached enough to me to have read this far in this post are people who are shaping my life and identity and experience of living. We are real people in all our communities -- chosen and not-so-much -- and truly are NOT alone. We form a great web of life -- the web for this generation. I am grateful to Gideon for his impact on me and on you, and I am grateful to each of you for your impact on me and on each other. I considered lacing this post with hyperlinks to the many excellent posts on virtual space and real community and faith and gender and sexuality . . . but each of you either already gets all that or wouldn't get it just by virtue of my hyperlinks, and it's not the point, anyway. My point is just this: we make choices in life, and there is no choice more important than "who will I be today" -- and that choice is made in not only my declared faith and my vocation and in all my public-identity choices, but even more in my daily choices about who I love and befriend.

I chose to love and befriend Gideon, and I choose to love and befriend you.

Who are your friends, and what are your communities?