The Third Way

    I was lost in the church system. I was swallowed up in the agendas, drivenness, and secularism of the group. I identified more closely with the group than with God. And in the process, I lost my true self and any individuality in my relationship with God. That is one reason I had to leave.

    Like the teenager leaving home, I had to find a personal sense of myself before God before I could risk that crowd again. I had to find some distance and detachment. The church easily becomes an unhealthy system that encourages codependency, and the love grown there becomes impure and self-seeking.

    This was also true of me. I had to leave was because I had internalized some of the less healthy dynamics around power and privilege. I wanted power and privilege; I told myself that I wanted more freedom to serve, but I wanted to "serve" from a position of power and privilege. It's true that I had something to give, by my motives were mixed. I wanted approval and the rewards of power. I believed that I would find my true identity in a leadership position, and discover myself in that way.

    I wanted the system to provide my identity. But when we require people to tell us who we are, we give them power over us. While it's true that identity is in part socially acquired, we must constantly seek to find our true selves in Jesus. Only He knows our true name. When we give such power to those around us, we are building on very shaky ground and exchanging our true heritage for a mess of pottage.

    For these and other reasons the Lord took me away from the corporate experience to a private place. I went from Jerusalem to the desert to find myself and to find God.

    The contemplatives talk about detachment and attachment, activity and passivity, and the Third Way. The Third Way is contemplative prayer. It is the way between all these other ways.

    I went out from the church. I was far too attached. But detachment in itself isn't the answer. Pure detachment is just the opposite of attachment. Neither place is freedom. True freedom would be as free to be in the system as outside it.

    It seems to me that Jesus moved freely between attachment and detachment. Detachment is not for the purpose of detachment, but to purify attachment. Richard Rohr comments,

"Jesus moves back and forth between the desert and the city. In the city, he feels himself losing perspective or love or center and has to go out to the desert to see the real again. And when he is alone in the desert, his passionate union with the Father drives him back to the pain of the city."

    Rohr goes on to say that the work of the soul is attachment, and the work of the spirit is detachment. Without the art of detachment we become addictive, and codependency is the result. When we become so enmeshed with one another, we lose our "I" and so have nothing to give. Then we are only driven by the dictates of the system. But without attachment, there is no risk, no compassion, no justice and no tension of the opposites.

    Frankly, the idea of returning to the system in any way is frightening to me. Is it possible to stand in the middle and not be co-opted by the system? It's power is frightening. It is often very dark, and there is great pain and confusion there. The rewards and punishments of the system are compelling.

    Rohr says that our call is to stand in the middle, neither taking it on from the position of power nor denying it for fear of the pain it can bring. We must hold the realization, seeing the dark side of reality and the pain of the world, but holding it until it transforms us, knowing that we are complicit in the evil, but also complicit in the holiness. When our ego stops getting hooked, when it's no longer our agenda, then we can hope for the agenda of God and His kingdom.

    The typical path is to fight or to flee. I've been the fighter: "Let's fix it!" But too often we fighters become mirrors of what we hate. Meanwhile, the conservatives live in denial, they have fled from reality. "There's nothing to change; it's just fine the way it is."

    But when we look at Jesus, we see that He worked within the system. He didn't step outside Judaism and throw stones at the temple. He saw clearly the oppression of the system, but he also saw clearly the real purpose of the law and the temple. He stood with a given people in a given history as one of them, and yet spoke the truth. He was able to take the pain and evil within Himself and transform it.

    I am somewhere on this journey, learning the dance of attachment and detachment. Maybe like TS Eliot said, "There is only the dance."


Richard Rohr, "Everything Belongs," Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, NY. 1999.


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