Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I Have Been Away Too Long

Since I last posted I have had a) a brush with death, b) administrative overload, c)deadlines, d) mental fatigue along with abiding grief and e) really bad back pain.

No excuses; just letting you know I have not been lazy.

That said, I find that when I am really, really overloaded I go catatonic. Muscle relaxers aid my retreat.

Still, I have been thinking that every Christian virtue has a kind of "evil twin," if not a vice, exactly, then an anti-matter version: an anti-virtue. Of particular concern to me right now is the virtue of detachment and its dark side.

Detachment is the humble acknowledgment that nothing depends, finally, on me. I can decrease while God increases. I am not indispensable, irreplaceable or that important. Things go on without me and part of what I need to do is get out of the way. Detachment is a corollary to the doctrine of divine sovereignty, I think, the basis of patience and serenity.

At the same time there is a kind of detachment that is not virtuous at all, but is rather a kind of bloodless passivity. Maybe even a kind of cowardice. I am referring to indifference in the sense of apathy. Not caring.

Detachment cares, but realizes the limitations of self regarding the unfolding of the divine plan. Indifference cares not.

The geography of both detachment and indifference is nearly the same: somewhere off-center, at the edges or nearly so. For the former the place is chosen; for the latter no choice is necessary.

I am thinking too that detachment is an active stance and requires real courage and trust. Indifference may be a kind of cowardice, a safe place to huddle and removed from any action, but born of a deep fear that one is not equal to the kind of engagement that a more engaged posture might summon from us.

Similarly, I have been thinking that early in my ministry I had an overabundant sense of my own adequacy, leading to impatience with others who did not honor or share my perspectives and strategies. These days I am burdened with an terrible sense of my own inadequacy--I am not hip enough, savvy enough, technologically proficient enough, smart or wise enough, winsome enough, handsome enough, funny and fetching enough, to minister to this generation. But that self-assessment may be more akin to self-loathing and itself both dishonest, cowardly and lazy.

Then again, it may be a humble confession that my inadequacy is reason to glory in those who are all those things--Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, the new monastics--to detach myself from the panic of translating the gospel to a new generation, content that quite apart from me the Kingdom will do quite well, thank you very much.

How to be detached without being apathetic--now THAT is the question.


Anne Lang Bundy said...

I've often thought that most sin is simply a matter of a good thing taken to extreme. I like the thought of virtue having an evil twin.

Take care of yourself, Tom.

Amy said...

I wonder how that last sentence ended. I've missed your posts and am thankful you're back. While I appreciate McLaren and Bell's ministry, they too aren't the answer to everything or everyone. No one is.

Chris Tessnear said...

I too am glad to see a blog entry again. Your blog is ministry and you are more than ENOUGH with many positive virtues. I believe doubts make us stronger and harder working.
Blessings to you and your family this holiday season!

Tom Steagald said...

Thanks, Chris. I hope this finds you and your family well. You, more than most, may know when and from whence some these doubts spring. That said, I feel I am definitely in the right place and that God is blessing my work here. For that I am very thankful. Best to Matt and Terry, and also your folks.

Amy said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm a UT alum too! Advent blessings-