Discipleship: becoming one's true self

My seminary advisor was a renowned New Testament scholar, one of his protege students turned out to be Sarge Thomas' daughter, Amy, who taught one of the New Testament classes I took. Small world. Anyway, one day my advisor was talking to me about something, I don't recall what exactly. I do remember he said to me that he thought that the reason I didn't ask a lot of questions in class was because I had grown up in the Mormon church and that church doesn't encourage thinking and questioning.  No doubt I was raised to be the good girl, quiet, well behaved, and my childhood goal was perfection. However, I'm not sure if that's exactly why I was quiet in class. I suspect it had more to do with fear. I've mentioned before that Faithwalking course a number of us have taken and are taking, invites us to look deep at our lives, to ponder the things we learned about ourselves before we were 20 years old, especially the things that hurt us, shamed us, and left us feeling bad about ourselves. One of the things I learned when my mother announced that my brother scored higher on an IQ test than I had scored is that I wasn't smart. It's not what my mother said, but it's what I heard and the memory I made from that moment and how I defined myself. I'm not smart. So of course, if I think I'm not smart, and I'm sitting in class with students who have bachelors from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton - yeah, that's my seminary class - then you bet I'm not going to ask questions out loud, in front of the class. I didn't need anyone to know just how not smart I was.

But here's the thing. I've always had a lot of questions. Questions about myself, about the way the world works, about where God is in the world, about how God is working in my life and in the world.  I came to the Episcopal Church when I was in my early 30's because I was told that this is a church where I can ask questions and ponder life and faith.

So when I live by the idea that I'm not smart and I won't ask questions because I don't want people to see just how not smart I am, and yet I live with lots of questions inside of me that I hide away, then I am living a false self. I hide my true self behind being quiet, not asking the questions I have inside of me, out of fear of being judged, of people finding out that I am not smart, out fear of being shamed, like the shame I felt when my mother said that about me all those years ago. And living from my false self means I live a small, narrow life, one that denies me the fullness of myself,  prevents me from being whole and healthy and happy.

Jesus shows us how to live that whole, healthy true sense of self life because that's the life he lives. Jesus calls this true self, this whole self, discipleship - because following Jesus, being one of Jesus disciples leads one to the fullness of life.

The Gospel of Mark teaches that discipleship means setting aside fear of authorities, power, imperial pretense, and religious hypocrisy, because disciples learn to live from a place of true self. This true self lives within the values and principles that guide one's life.  For me that means that I try to live from the principle that God loves me just as I am, that I am made just as God desires me to be, and that what I value in life, how I love God, love myself, and love my neighbors, is what matters because this is the primary value of my life.

In our reading today from Daniel we hear the story of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednago, and their response to King Nebuchadnezzar.  This king has built a giant statue of himself and has ordered everyone to kneel to it. But these three men, councils to the king from the Jewish people, refuse to kneel. Enraged the king throws them into a fire to kill them. But instead of dying these men are joined by an agent of God who walks in the fire with them and they come out unscathed. The king is so astonished that he allows the worship of the Jewish God in his nation.

In both the Gospel reading, with the rocking boat and pounding waves that nearly tip the boat over, and in the reading from Daniel with the men who survive the fire, we learn that life is full of challenges - literal and figurative - real fire, real wind, and figurative fires and wind. Holding steady to what one believes and values, living from one's true self enables one to weather the storms and challenges intact and whole.

a little reflection on the readings for Proper 7B, Daniel 3; Mark 4:35-41


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