On August 28th, 2008, I began a journey 20 years in the making – I started my Master’s degree. What am I studying? I’m glad you asked. I am taking a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. It is an online degree through Spring Arbor University in Michigan. Responses I’ve received have ranged from mild curiosity to deep fascination to turned up noses! So, why that and why now? Again, thanks for asking.
A favorite Rife family rock band, U2, wrote a chart topping song in the 80’s called, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Since Bono, their lead singer, was widely known to be a Christian, they received much bad press from the church for not speaking in more definitive terms about their experience of faith. However, it was something deeper that he was singing about. Like Bono of U2, ever since I can remember I’ve had a similar unfulfilled longing. You know that gnawing ache inside when you are standing in front of the refrigerator eyeing all the possible ways to deal with it? You can’t sit still. You’re bored but don’t know why. Nothing you do makes any difference. Augustine called it a restlessness. Ah, I knew you were going to ask that…yes, I do know and love Jesus Christ and his loving presence is everything to me. Then, why this “unfulfilled longing”? Let me briefly try to explain and in so doing describe why I’m studying this stuff.
I love the Church. But it makes me sad as well. I believe that we have abdicated our role as “God’s skin in the world” (see “The Holy Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser). Our mad dash toward relevance has squeezed out significance. Our insistence on just the right doctrine has left us with all the wrong lives. We’ve traded in righteousness for “rightness”. We have exchanged transformed lives for informed heads. Often, what passes for faith is a “notebook Christianity” where, with pen and paper, we learn God rather than love and live God. We study and memorize Scripture trying to control and tame God rather than being read by Scripture, thus being brought under its control. We have taken our risen, ever-living Savior and boiled him down to an idea or a worldview. We have a theology divorced from spirituality.
Says Dallas Willard, “we live from our heart.” Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century Congregationalist pastor and theologian spoke much of “religious affections” which provide us with a “spring of action.” Willard calls the lack of real spiritual formation in the Western church “the Great Omission.. THAT is what I am studying.
I love Jesus Christ. I love the church. I love the rich and varied tapestry of Christian history and I love classic Christian spirituality. I have a longing to help all of us who are victimized by a materialistic, consumer society but who hunger after deeper realities to find wholeness and the re-integration of our fragmented lives. My own life mission is “to draw others to God through my life and work which strive to meaningfully communicate God’s beauty and truth.” Through worship, spiritual disciplines, liturgy and the arts my goal is to become the very Jesus we sing about and help others do the same.
Writer and theologian M. Robert Mulholland defines spiritual formation as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.. May God lead us to discover all the riches of Christ in order that we are conformed to God’s image for the sake of others. THAT is what I long for.