not long ago i had the opportunity to spend the weekend in chicago for a good friend's wedding. while i was there i had the opportunity to talk with a man who is a part of reba place fellowship. this is one such community we hope to learn a lot from as we enter into the experiment of intentional christian community life.
the man to the left is tom roddy. he is an extremely interesting man, as you might be able to tell simply from his picture, though i wish i had a better one to show the character in the lines of his face. he is 78. he has been through much, including a time as a monk, marriage to a widow with 6 kids, great financial success sacrificed to join reba, time in mental institutions for clinical bipolar and depressive episodes (of which he was very open about and has been better for many years now), and a member of reba place church for over 40 years. he is the subject of a local chicago documentary entitled "the renegade monk," and his story is told in the book the new monasticism. all of these things matter and they don't. to talk to the man for a few minutes is to see the peace and happiness he exudes still even after all the many years. he attributes this to his practice of daily meditation and silence, insisting that it is essential for any sort of self-knowledge and clarity. young people are drawn to him. he is an example of the wisdom of years we far too often ignore or marginalize. i consider myself privileged to have spent a couple hours with him.
one of the fun things was to discover a literary kinship with this 78 year old man. he was quite delighted by it as a matter of fact. 50+ years apart and we love the same books. so fun. there were also a few things within the conversation that really stuck with me. there's something to a man living all that time and still seeking after God, still finding the joy despite the many hardships he's faced in life. something that compels you to listen and gives gravity to his words. in a world where we seem to only be able to speak to others through the credibility of our own experiences, then i would have to say this guy takes the cake.
the thing he said that struck me probably the most was his statement that in all his years of life he's learned that the only thing really worth it is face-to-face, interpersonal relationships. which of course adds irony to this blog post. the other things he spoke to me were less in words.
i also was able to have a short conversation with an anglican bishop from uganda just the other day. he too exudes a peace and wisdom, a spirit of grace and goodness. he read an excerpt from a prayer that was very powerful. but beyond really anything he said simply his presence seemed to draw me into a space where God was near. that is powerful and indescribable, and it would be a great hope for myself someday. while i was in this place, with this man, i seemed to come to some sort of realization. maybe it is profound. maybe it is just a simple truth whose key fit the grooves within me at that moment.
i realized that true wisdom is the melding of our head to our hearts. the problem with american christianity is not its lack of understanding (indeed you could say that about many things in america), but the lack of heart. which makes you wonder why our churches continue to preach sermons week after week that are mostly teaching, titillating the mind with little bits you may not already have known. exhortation is generally unimposing and individualistic--if it's any more it has to be rare otherwise the independence of the listener will just start ignoring it completely.
our passion, if we do find it, is generally short-lived. there are numerous reasons for this. but rather than diagnose the problem--perhaps it is better to just focus on learning how to cultivate an engaged heart. it is so easy to slip away into entertainment that numbs the passion, or lets out just enough vicariously to make you feel like you are really living. so how do we learn to truly engage our hearts? if i had the answer to that then i would be a wise person. i'd ask someone older.