Purity Comes Out of Testing {Book Club}

Even though the invitation to admit we might be wrong won’t come for a few chapters . . . last week I was wrong not to include the reading schedule for Invitations From God by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Not a big deal, but I am sorry. We will read two chapters each week except for when Kimberlee Conway Ireton is with us the first week of each month. I’ll also put a schedule at the bottom.

This week we will discuss Chapter 2 (Invitation to Follow) and Chapter 3 (Invitation to Practice the Presence of People).

I found the quote at the start of Chapter 2 to be powerful: “What Jesus wants from us is not admiration, but imitation.” (Ronald Rolheiser). How much easier at times to admire than to imitate.

Re-reading this chapter on following, it hit me differently than it did before. When I first read about our culture’s obsession with “leading” (and by “our,” I’m willing to bet most people reading this are from a culture more taken with leading than following), I was actively building into leaders in the organization I served with. Because personnel was spread out over a large geographic region and we didn’t want to leave anyone without leadership, we had a lot of leaders.

Having been out of that context for a while, I didn’t realize how much we used the word “leader” (Doesn’t everyone talk this way?) until I was outside of it. I do not hear the word by others around me as much as I used to. Actually, I am now the one seeking out books and podcasts on leadership. All of this to say, a question I’m curious about is how is your organization influencing you in this area? Do you talk more about following or leading?

I don’t intend this to be a criticism or elevating of any organization. We need to be able to explore the ways we are influenced not only by our home and host culture, but also by our organizations. Now, these explorations do not have to be done in public forums like this! But they do need to occur.

“I suspect Jesus’ emphasis on service is what gave rise to the term servant leadership. Still, it is an irony that servant modifies leader rather than the other way around. Do we avoid the term lead servant because none of us really aspires to servanthood?” Now that, my friends, is one to chew on. What do you think?

If you are journaling as you read this book, the questions on page 46 in the print version would be good to work through.

This quote about purity stood out to me: “[Jesus] was pure. And purity is quite different than prudery or even innocence. Prudery minimizes bodily joys and misses the fact that God is in the hormones and plumbing. Innocence is something that hasn’t been tested, and when it is lost, it cannot be recovered. But purity comes out of testing, and it can be found anew, even after moral failures, if we will repent, make a U-turn and follow Jesus.” Purity comes out of testing. I like how that brings a certain weight and maturity to the subject; while she is talking about sex in this section of the book, it could apply to any area where we experience testing.

With our kids. With our finances. With our words. With our time. With our relationship with food or exercise or stretching the truth. That phrasing is another keeper for me.

I also appreciated how she stressed that the invitation to follow Jesus isn’t about rules or principles or willpower; instead it is about “falling in love with Jesus.”

Not to give us a bit of whiplash, let’s move on to Chapter 3: the Invitation to Practice the Presence of People. Early in the morning, before I interact with people, the idealized version I have of myself loves people. Loves showing how the Holy Spirit is at work in me and love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and goodness flow out of me. Flow, like a gentle breath from God through me.

And then like Adele, I see “how much easier it is to turn love into rules and doctrines than it is to follow God into the thick of relationships. I ran smack into how hard it was to stop, lay down my agenda and really see people enough to enjoy living with them.”

I don’t know about you, but the gap between the idealize version (actually, it is my true self, the one before sin entered) and my current state.

“Make no mistake: loving ice cream, sunsets, fireworks and your ever-faithful golden retriever is a whole lot easier and less time-consuming than practicing the presence of another human being.”

On the same page, Adele asks a question that cuts deep: “How easy is it for you to see goodness in people you dislike?”

I’m wondering how moving to the field or returning to a home country influenced your invitation to practice the presence of people. Are you finding it easier or more challenging these days to practice this invitation?

I look forward to the conversation in the comments,

Amy

PS: The Reading Plan

  • March 12th: Intro and Chapter 1
  • March 21st: Chapters 2 and 3
  • March 28th: Chapters 4 and 5
  • April 4th: Kimberlee Conway Ireton
  • April 11th Chapters 6 and 7
  • April 18th Chapters 8 and 9
  • April 25th Chapters 10 and 11   

What do you think?

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