Me Free 6: The Chicken of the Egg?

We were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character. – Step 6

What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. – Apostle Paul (Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2, Verses 12-13, The Message Translation)

Let’s review.  In Step 1 we admitted that we were powerless over alcohol (or that which has held sway over us from practically day on).  Step 2 was all about believing in a God that could restore us to sanity. Step 3 focused on surrendering to that God.  The fourth step involved embracing a searching and fearless moral inventory, with the next, fifth step taking us to confess the specific nature of our wrongs with ourselves, God, and another human being.  The sixth step calls us to ready ourselves for God to remove all of our character defects.  If you see a pattern, you’re not alone.  We are back to a decision to invite God to do God’s redemptive, restoring, remodeling, reconstructing, resurrecting work.  God removes character defects (a form of healing, of saving).  And yet something is required of us that allows God to do what God alone can do: we acquiesce. Richard Rohr sees this as a which came first, the chicken or the egg, dilemma.  His answer?  Yes.

This issue of what leads to our salvation (healing, redemption, etc.) has been debated ad nauseum for, well, forever.  The most historically recognizable milestone happened, as the legend goes, on Halloween Night, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses (protests) on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.  Protestantism was born (or at least finally recognized).  At the heart of the debate: do we gain favor with God by “clean living” or by God’s grace alone?  Luther distilled it down to “grace alone” while the Catholic Church that formed him said our works tip the balance one way or the other.  Which is it?  God’s grace alone or our effort?  Yes.  In Breathing Under Water, Rohr paints the contrast:

     The work: So the waiting, the preparing of the mind for “chance,” the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the “readiness” to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, the actual willingness to change is the work of weeks, months, and years of “fear and trembling…”

     The only problem is that [Luther’s grace alone] devolved into our modern private and personal “decision for Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” vocabulary, without any real transformation of consciousness or social critique on the part of too many Christians. Faith itself became a “good work” that I could perform, and the ego was back in charge. Such a mechanical notion of salvation frequently led to all the right religious words, without much indication of self-critical or culturally critical behavior. Usually, there was little removal of most “defects of character,” and many Christians have remained thoroughly materialistic, warlike, selfish, racist, sexist, and greedy for power and money—while relying on “amazing grace” to snatch them into heaven at the end. And it probably will! But they surely did not bring much heaven onto this earth to help the rest of us, nor did they speed up their own salvation into the present. Many “born agains” have made Christianity laughable to much of the world (I can’t just pick on Catholics!). – (52)

A story from Jesus’ life came to mind as I reflected on this tension between what God does and what we do to bring about the full salvation for which we long.  It’s a rich, deep, and weird event remembered in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 14, Verses 22-33, New Living Translation):

     Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
     Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”
     But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”
     Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
     “Yes, come,” Jesus said.
     So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
     Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”
When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

Such an interesting remembrance of Jesus, isn’t it? Work hard to appreciate the story in all of its fullness. Don’t get hung up on the historicity of the account – nobody captured the moment on their smartphone, so there is no “proof” that this actually happened, and no proof that it did not happen.  Get over your “Western Civilization Self” and enjoy what we have here, okay?  Now, some commentary…

Note that Jesus, after a full day of ministry, took time to be alone.  Do you consider yourself a Jesus follower or aspire to be?  How about making sure this rhythm of rest makes it into your schedule.  I wonder if what happened in him in the still, silent solitude played a role in his capacity to water ski without a boat (or skiis).

The disciples, meanwhile, were wiped out.  After their long day, they entered a long, perilous night at sea, a red flag night for sure.  I wonder how their weariness impacted their capacity to respond to what was about to happen?

Enter Jesus walking on water followed by disciples freaking all the way out.  “A ghost!” they thought.  Why didn’t they naturally assume that it must be Jesus? Because they didn’t attend Sunday School where they learned the story ahead of time, that’s why!  What would you think? Why on earth would you think it was a living human being?  If you’re not freaking out here, you’re not paying attention! Like so many other messengers of God, Jesus encourages them: “Fear not!” Sure…

Peter actually took Jesus seriously and asked, “if it was really Jesus, could he command him to get in on the water-walking moment?”  Eugene Peterson, in his Message translation of this account, notes that Peter was suddenly emboldened, almost as if God was in the urge to ask for such an opportunity.  Maybe so?  It’s an odd thing to ask, to try on water-walking in the middle of the night in the middle of Lake Tahoe.  What could possibly go wrong?  If any of the disciples were susceptible to speaking before thinking, it was Peter.  Perhaps God was moving in all of them to ask, but Peter’s natural tendency to speak before thinking made it a bit easier?  Rohr believes that God is involved in both sides of the dance: “God is humble and never comes if not first invited, but God will find some clever way to get invited” (53).

Jesus welcomes Peter to join him.  Peter stepped out of the boat (!), but soon after saw the strong wind and the waves and began sinking.  I find it interesting that Matthew makes note of Peter seeing the wind.  I don’t think it’s moot. Knowing the “wind” is used for “Spirit”, we have to wonder if what Peter was experiencing was a sense of the glory of God that was sustaining Jesus? (Again, just go with the story here).  In other parts of the Bible people were terrified of the presence of God.  Was it that Peter got distracted by the waves, or overwhelmed by the Presence?  I have experienced the Presence of God for sure – brushes against the Divine.  Holy Awe that leaves you breathless and more than a little shocked should be an obvious outcome.  Before we shake our finger at Peter, maybe we need to step in his water socks. He was, after all, the only one who dared to ask to join Jesus where he was, and was the only one who dared to get out of the boat.  Would you do it? Would you want to do it?  Here is an obvious but easily overlooked truth noted by author and pastor John Ortberg, who titled his book the same: If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. So obvious, so simple, and yet so difficult at times. The terror of stepping out of the security of the boat into the dark unknown is easy for any moderately reflective human being to appreciate because we’ve all faced such moments when we have been faced with the decision to do what’s comfortable or do what is counter-intuitive yet right and best.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit off of one of Japan’s islands which set off a tsunami that flooded over 200 square miles and took more than 25,000 lives. I remember watching the footage, seeing people pictured watching too close to shore only to be wiped out like bugs.  I recently heard three “get out of the boat” stories, however, that this step reminds me of.

The first story is about a school principal who, upon hearing the tsunami warning, instructed his students to do four things before he released them.  1. Run as fast as you can. 2. Run as far as you can. 3. Get as high as you can. 4. Don’t look for your family.  The first three are easy to get our brains around, and they are important.  But the fourth, counterintuitive instruction is what limited the fatalities from that school to on student.  At another school, the principal instructed everyone to go to the roof of the school – three stories high. They all perished as the water destroyed the building and all who occupied it.  The kids who “got out of the boat” were the ones who listened to and obeyed the voice that told them to go against every fiber in their being to reunite with their families before fleeing.  Because they risked on that wisdom, they were still alive to rejoin their family members who survived as well.

The second story is about another village that was in the sites of the tsunami.  Young men who owned fishing boats, upon hearing the news, were reminded of ancient wisdom that had been passed from generation to generation: “When the Wave comes, get the boat into the water with a depth of 150 meters.”  Those who followed the ancient advice even though their common sense would have them be satisfied much closer to shore survived.  Those who settle for less depth perished at sea.  The surviving fisherman on their boats looked from a distance as the wave destroyed their village.  At night, no lights glowed.  To give hope to any survivors who might be on shore, the boats turned on all of their lights, beacons declaring that they were not alone. Those who “got out of the boat” by going deep were the only ones with boats left to shine brightly and also feed the survivors.

The third story happened long after the water subsided.  A village was getting ready to rebuild.  A new mayor was appointed of the town.  He was handed the plans that were approved by the city elders and the mayor he replaced.  He was only 39 years old.  Something in him told him not to move forward with the plans to rebuild the city just as it was laid out before.  But he was so young in a culture that deeply values its elders – to speak out against the plan may be considered deeply offensive.  He couldn’t help it.  He got out of the boat and raised his concerns.  It was met with agreement, and a new plan was developed that was much wiser and forward-thinking than what they had created in the past.

God saves and Jesus walked on water.  If you want to experience the salvation of God here and now you are responsible for your part of the dance.  If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.

As Peter began sinking, he had presence of mind to call for help!  Good thing Jesus was kind – he grabbed him, enjoyed a giggle regarding Peter’s first attempt at water walking, and they both got back in the boat, at which point the wind stopped.  Hmmm.  They are back in the boat and the Spirit-wind that was sustaining them ceased.  Of course.  They are back in the boat. This wasn’t going to turn into Peter Pan – the boat wasn’t going to fly – so the need for such Presence was no longer necessary. Nonetheless, the disciples were impressed, and duly noted that they had never seen anything like this, and it sure seemed like God was surely in the mix.  Such divine attention surely moved them to declare Jesus “Son of God.”

I think we see here an example of what Step 6 is all about.  Readiness is a decision that leads to thoughtful action.  Jesus said that the way that leads away from life at its best is a highway with many people on it. He also said that the way to the life we dream of and God dreams for us and with us is more like a narrow cow-path with relatively few people on it.  I have enormous confidence in God’s immeasurable grace for us once this life is over.  God, however, gave us life to live fully right now.  The narrow path has few people on it because the Way of Christ is a “Yes! Come on out! The water’s fine!” invitation into the unknown darkness with gale force winds without a life vest.  And yet we’re beckoned to come. 

Our desire for control keeps us holding the reins of our lives even as we clearly recognize that we’re not exactly nailing it.  When we truly trust God with the reins of our lives, however, we discover more control than we had before.  We walk on water.  Of course, like Peter, we often lose focus and find ourselves sinking.  Peter relived this experience many times in various contexts.  Over time, however, he got better and better at keeping his eyes on the Wind and trusted it instead of rejecting it out of fear.  He, among others, dared greatly, which reminds me of the powerful statement of Theodore Roosevelt so often quoted:

     It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So that his place will never be with those cold timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

Your life is on the line here.  I don’t want to pressure or shame you with such talk. I do, however, want to point out the urgency of the moment.  Your life matters.  You have a choice. An abundant life of meaning, purpose, deep joy, unfading hope, unshakable strength and immeasurable impact on the world for good is before you. It is life modeled after the water-walking Jesus who is out of the box and not in the boat. It is found in positively answering the never-ending invitation to “Come and join me, the water’s fine!” Because if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.

*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram.  Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”.  There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test).  In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps.  You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats.  CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand.  In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with, as well as the story behind the creation of the songs at the Sleeping At Last podcast (search for “Sleeping at Last” on your podcast app).  Also, search for the “EnneApp” for your phone – a great on-the-go option for your mobile devices.