Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I celebrated my birthday yesterday by treating myself to a massage and haircut. The combination consists of two of my favorite things, and a last minute special by my favorite day spa brought even more joy to the experience.

It has been a while since I have had a massage. The masseuse informed me that she had not worked on my back in six months, and I have had only one other massage in between while on vacation in Florida. It had been a while since anyone had really kneaded my back, and I had no idea how much I needed a massage.
A typical one-hour massage includes time for the back, the legs, the shoulders, the head, the arms and even the hands. My experience yesterday was all about my back, however. Within moments, the masseuse discovered knots all over the top of my back. There were so many knots to work out that my back is literally sore to the touch today. She spent almost an entire hour on my upper back, working diligently to break up small knots - knots that I had no idea were there.
My job is stressful at times. But I had no idea how much stress I was carrying in my back. I needed someone else to reveal the weight of the stress being carried. I could not see it alone. I needed someone else to help discover it. And the discovery is making all the difference today. I needed help to see what I could not see on my own.
We need help in a lot of places.
We need people in our lives to help us see what we cannot see.
I am reminded often of how much I need what my former boss refers to as "holy friendships." Greg Jones, the dean of Duke Divinity School, says we all need friends who can point out for us the sins we have grown to love while also naming the gifts we have been afraid to claim. We need people to hold us accountable. We need people to be truth tellers in our lives. We cannot follow Jesus alone.
As I finish my fifth year at Mount Vernon Place this week, I realize how some members of my congregation now provoke me to a greater level of discipleship. They push me to do things that I might not be ready to do on my own. They help me to see things that I might not be able to see on my own.
I also have clergy colleagues who do the same - who point out for me my gifts and ask why I am not using them or who tell me when I am doing something that I probably should not be doing. My colleagues tell me when I am being narcissistic and in need of humility. They also tell me when I should be shining more. We cannot follow Jesus alone.

Sunday worship - our time of coming together in order to celebrate God's presence in our lives, confess our sins, hear God's word read and proclaimed, and receive the sacrament - is the beginning of a life together. I believe worship is central in terms of our being able to acknowledge God's presence in our lives while also embodying practices that demonstrate our reliance on God. But I am not sure worship is enough.
For years I chose to worship in a university chapel. I went because of the amazing preaching and incredible music. But I also went because I could worship there without any sense of accountability. No one knew when I was there and no one really knew when I was missing. No one asked me to pledge a portion of what God had given to me. No one pushed me to think about how I was sharing my God-given gifts with the community. I could go to worship and receive an encounter of God but I was never led to a deeper level of discipleship.
We need accountability, and we need community. It's one of the many reasons I believe in the power of small groups sometimes called covenant discipleship groups. I need to be asked, "How is it with your soul" by people who are not going to accept "fine, thank you" as a response. I need people to ask me if I am giving at least 10% of what God has given to me away. I need people to inquire about whether I have been practicing the means of grace - reading my Bible daily, setting aside time for prayer each day, spending time with the poor, and experiencing holy conversation. I need people to help me confess and turn away from sins I have grown to love while also fully using the gifts God has given to me.
We cannot be disciples on our own.
What about you? What are you getting away with that you would not get away with if you had someone regularly seeking to hold you accountable?

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