The biggest temptation facing the leadership of a church or spiritual community is to cling to the familiar and the safe and the tried and tested. While it is the wish of most of us who are members of spiritual or faith communities, churches, to do precisely that, to be cocooned in a safe place, a zone which is defined and described by the absence of danger and the consequent or congruent peace, this is the antithesis of how things ought to be and how we are supposed to be.
The safe and secure position in church communities offers as its strength the fact that it has been tried and tested. In spiritual terms it has been tried and tested and found to be precisely the opposite of where we should be, what we should be and what the church or any faith community should be.
It is the job of spiritual leadership to lead people out of the safe zone and into the place which is perceived and experienced and interpreted as dangerous but is in fact the place of epiphany and revelation.
Churches are associated with conservative values, believes and practice. This is not a good thing. Conservative does not necessarily refer to politics. It implies a clinging to what we know, what we have, what we like. Not only does the church which is created by this kind of fearful and possessive conservatism simply become an extension of the congregation which espouses such an ideal and aim but so does the theology which this type of community incarnates and preaches.
People who do not wish to change any part of their day to day behaviour cannot expect to see their thinking or ideas transform. People who will not entertain risk cannot enter into the kind of thinking which produced almost all of the material in both the Old and New Testament. People who will not risk going over the edge into the unknown cannot begin to understand the immense risk implied and described in communion, baptism, enlightenment, resurrection nor can they get close to the states of mind which produced the scripture they mistakenly take to be even remotely conservative.
Jesus’ call to his disciples never began with any theological affirmation or demand. It was simply an invitation to follow. This has been covered more than once in recent workshops. Following in this context means imitating down to the last detail. It was Hunter S Thompson who said, ‘The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.’ He is by definition correct. Only those who have gone over the edge know where safety ends. It is therefore impossible to preach a safe Christianity because Jesus of Nazareth went over the edge and so did a reasonable proportion of his early disciples. If the Old Testament historical narrative is to be believed then the whole community went over the edge into the wilderness. Jesus’ death and resurrection is all about going into the place of no safety, no light, no hope and that is into danger up to and over the edge.
Proclamation of Jesus’ message has to be about encouraging us to go into the place of discomfort, lack of safety, into what we have never tried and never tested, into the wilderness. If we have not experienced the divine in what we have done and practised up until now then we cannot expect things to be any different, to know anything different, to experience anything different until we risk doing, thinking, acting differently.
To do and to achieve any of this we have to move out of our comfort zones. We have to be prepared to do different things. We have to be prepared basically to do the work, to do some thinking, to do some reading, to practise spiritual teaching, to meditate, to risk losing everything. If we don’t do the work then nothing will happen. If we are not prepared to put some effort into this then we will find ourselves sitting on the same couch as we were were on every evening until now. Jesus who went into the wilderness and eventually over the edge used the image of losing what one most wishes to have in order to gain it. That is the point. This is the whole point.