One of my closest friends used to be a Minister of Religion, these days Ken is a talented and successful artist. You could say he always was talented, but the religious straight jacket he opted for as a career when he really didn’t understand what he was doing squeezed almost every drop of creativity out of him. Rigid and legalistic institutions tend to do that.
By his own admission Ken wasn’t much of a preacher, in fact he would now say that there were few if any aspects of his work as a minister that he found productive or enjoyable. However, he did do a series of sermons on one occasion - short talks of about ten minutes each, which was the best he could manage - responding to a plea from the church committee that he should try to rejuvenate his dying flock - literally dying, the average age was about 82.
There was one of those talks that I’ll never forget. In it he focused on an individual’s identity, making the point that if your identity is rooted in your wealth and you lose it all, who are you? If your identity is based on your good looks or your physique, who are you when your body begins to sag, as inevitably it will.
It reminded me of something I remember Tony Campolo saying once about one of his students who wanted to take time out to travel, ‘to find himself’. Tony told him that a person is like an onion, each consisting of a series of layers, peel away the layers to find the underlying onion, or person, and what’s left? Nothing!
He went on to explain to the student that the layers that make up a person are relationships, a man might be a father, a brother, a son, a friend, a husband or an employee. Put them all together and the totality is the individual, and as Aristotle said, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.’ The trick is to realise that you are who you are and have nothing to prove, and when and if you arrive at that place you are possessed by a deep inner security.
There’s a nugget of profound truth in what theologians refer to as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus that has the capacity to change our lives, made even more potent when you make the reasonable assumption that the prayer was answered. It was a prayer throbbing with passion and longing and emotion, for Jesus knew he was about to die a horrible death, then h would descend into hell to face down the powers of darkness; that’s the context. And he cried, ‘May they (his followers) be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me.’
Think of the astounding impact it would have on your opinion of you, and your opinion of me if you could truly grasp the fact that Christ has chosen to make his home in us, bringing the Father with him!
In a few weeks time we will once again stand on the cusp of a new year. Most of us will hope for better times, we will make promises to ourselves and to others, and statistics tell us that 97 per cent of them will be history before winter surrenders to spring. Why? Because we are dealing with the symptoms of our malady and not the cause. Allow the realisation of who we are to seep down into the depth of our beings, then allow that realisation to inform every thought and every action, and then this time next year let’s marvel at the difference.
Adam can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org