Just, Humane, a spiritual examen of self
When Dan and I were first married he worked in the computer industry designing and selling systems, from servers to computers to software, from installation to training, to law schools, universities, and graphic artists, primarily using Apple products. Beginning in the 1980’s including the twenty-two years that Dan worked in that industry, I’ve been inundated with technology. We had one of the very first Apple desktop computers. I was in seminary in the mid 1990’s when I first started using the internet, on a dial-up access, to do research for papers. I’ve built websites and Facebook pages and blogs for myself and churches I've worked for, including this church, and as well as for the many social justice groups I work with. Soon my son will graduate from Eastern with a degree in internet security, which is primarily about preventing hacking but also considers internet law and ethics. Dan, Peter, and I have lively conversations about all of this, although my input is primarily on the moral and ethical end, not the technical. So, I was intrigued by a recent interview (January 12, 2017) with Krista Tippet and Anil Dash for “On Being.” Anil Dash is a technologist, exploring the unprecedented power, the dangerous learning curves, and the humane potential of technology today. His Twitter profile says he is “Trying to make tech a little bit more humane and ethical.”
Dash spoke about the moral quandary of the industry of technology and its influence on civic behavior though social media.Tippet’s interview with Dash, who is from India, covered the landscape from “fake news to Facebook to Uber to cell phones.” He spoke about social media not wanting to judge what people write and say on the one hand and on the other creating apps that influence how people understand their own behavior with the idea of creating more responsible, kinder, healthier people. The interview focused on the need for there to be an intentional component to technology and social media that considers what is ethical and humane. Tippet said, this technology is in its infancy, and we are the adults in the room. How we develop it and use it requires us to be intelligent, mature, just, ethical, and humane.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy invited us to observe a Holy Lent by taking on five practices that will deepen one’s faith: prayer, self-examination, fasting, reading scripture, and repentance. One might consider these spiritual practices to develop the capacity to be just and humane. Last week we explored the spiritual practice of prayer grounded in our reading from Matthew that portrayed the impact of prayer on Jesus’ life and his ability to stay focused on his beliefs and values and not succumb to temptation.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of John uses birth as a metaphor to convey the messy and painful challenges of life and faith. Jesus and Nicodemus are talking about discipleship and the moral quandary of being both just and human. This is the invitation to and the point of self-examination. By self-examination I mean taking time every day to review what one has said and done. This practice is best developed in the Ignatian Exercises. St. Ignatius lived in the 16th century in Spain and is credited with developing the practice of spiritual direction, wherein a person journeys with a spiritual guide to help one develop one’s awareness of God’s presence. Every person going through the ordination process is required to have a spiritual director, and I am a trained spiritual director and have practiced the Ignatian exercises, of which the daily examen is one part. Practicing self-examination one:
1. Becomes aware of God’s presence.
2. Reviews the day with gratitude.
3. Pays attention to one’s emotions.
4. Chooses one feature of the day and prays from it.
5. Looks toward tomorrow.
The purpose of developing a practice of self-examination is to deepen one’s awareness of one’s self, one’s relationship with God, and one’s relationship with other people by becoming more aware of the broken and hurting places in one’s life and working to make amends and heal them.
When Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus he is talking about discipleship and rebirth - which is exactly what we are looking at too - how are we growing our relationship with God and with our neighbors, which is discipleship, and how are we going to take risks in these relationships with the hope of revitalizing, rebirthing this church. For example, every time I update or post something on our Facebook page or website, I am thinking about what it says about who we are. Because most people find a church from social media sites, how we portray who we are is crucial, and the burden always falls along the lines of conveying our values and beliefs, and in particular today, what it means to be humane and just, and how through the mission of this church one might find purpose in one’s life.
Nicodemus follows Jesus from afar, approaches Jesus in the darkness of night. It’s not that Nicodemus’ faith is faulty, even though it is secreted away in darkness, it’s that its too small, incomplete, immature, like a fetus in its mother’s womb. Darkness is the beginning of life, it is how life and light are born. But one is required to labor through darkness to be birthed into light. This means taking risks to move out of an insular space and into the world outside.
What kinds of risks will we take to move this church into its next 150 years? What kinds of risks will grow discipleship and bring about new birth? To understand how we are to do this will require, at the very least, self-examination and prayer. But self-examination and prayer must lead to action, the labor of rebirth.
Which is where Nicodemus gets stuck. He can’t manage the anxiety of taking action so he moves back into the safety of darkness. The diocesan workshop, “Requiem or Renaissance” will challenge us along these lines. Likewise, as we learned in the diocesan Diversity and Inclusivity training, there is work to be done to reconcile and heal relationships that have been affected by racism, sexism, genderism, homophobia, and xenophobia - because all of these “isms” are embedded in our institutions, including the church. Therefore they are deeply rooted in us too, often unconscious in our thoughts and actions, requiring us to do self-examination and become aware of how words and actions affect our relationships, how they may or may not be just and humane. As we do our self-examination, as we explore discipleship and our relationship with God, our neighbors, and one another, our challenge is to not get stuck in the process but to become creative risk takers. Although we don’t hear about it, Nicodemus must struggle with this, with his faith, with justice and his place in humanity, because at the end of the Gospel he comes out into the light and lives his faith in a new way. Likewise, we are to consider who we are and how we are telling our story of faith. Darkness is forming us and if we embrace the process and work with it, then it will birth us into new life, as a more humane and just community that truly and deeply feeds people in mind, body, and spirit.
a reflection John 3:1-17 for Lent 2A