In Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach, he writes, ” . . . everyone has an inner teacher whose authority in his or her life far exceeds my own.” (pg. 127) I read that, and it seemed significant enough that I wrote it out on the whiteboard I have on my refrigerator. When I make toast in the morning, I can look up and see that phrase, along with the words, written in Hangul, which mean I love you.
These two statements act as anchors for me, as so much seems to be cast adrift-from the future of an American democracy, to the future of a United Methodist Church; from my identity as a teacher and musician to my identity as a called and sent christian witness to the world.
The ambiguity of the future is enough to make me wonder sometimes whether I am sane. This ambiguity is actually an uncertainty of the now rather than any real sense about tomorrow. After all, none of us knows what tomorrow brings, not even Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He prayed for a different outcome than the one he feared was looming on the horizon. He was hopeful, or at least prayerful, that some sort of different ending was possible.
So his distress that night was not really about the uncertainty of tomorrow so much as a kind of deep questioning of himself. Am I on the right path, or did I somehow stray into this place of impending conflict? Could I have spoken up differently or brought my concerns to someone else? Did I try hard enough to convince the leaders of my community that something has to change?
Not actually Jesus’ questions obviously, but my own: Why can’t they see it all as clearly as I do? When did these become our values? How can I possibly trust everything will be alright when I don’t even know what principles we hold in common anymore?
In an effort to hear a hint of the Still, Small Voice, I keep saying no to opportunities to teach and to lead. I keep saying no to making music or submitting myself to worship in my church. In tuning in to an-other frequency, I criticize leaders in my denomination. I question their motives. I question their sanity. I question their right to lead. By any common interpretation of action, I am defiant and disobedient, disrespectful and dismissive.
The Apostle Paul writes, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8 NIV) Church-y folks like to talk about Jesus’ obedience like it is some sort of obvious virtue formula: Jesus obeys God; we obey Jesus; all is well. Worse, we seem to think our own churches are close enough copies of Jesus, we can simply adjust the formula: Jesus obeys God; the church obeys Jesus; we obey the church; all is well.
Yet, what if this verse from Philippians is not about Jesus’ obedience so much as it is about his faith in himself? Jesus was obedient to his inner teacher, and he trusted that guide so much he didn’t turn aside even when faith in that true self caused him to be assassinated. In that light, Jesus’ whole life appears to be a story about how obedience to this inner teacher was disobedience to the community and to religious leaders. He was told, straighten up, get in line, shut up and go home. Stop making trouble for yourself and for your friends. Stop creating so much chaos and division. An obedient person would have stopped, but Jesus didn’t stop.
These days, I wake up and feel the spin of history de-centering me. Political, religious, economic, and existential changes are pulling at every bond and glue that sticks me to the people around me. The assurance I used to have that tomorrow will probably be a lot like today only a little bit better is gone. The urge to fix something is incredible. The desire to solve the fundamental problem can be overwhelming.
So, when I make my toast in the morning and read again these two ingredients for keeping faith, Trust yourself and I Love You, it sometimes feels like betrayal. In social groups that pressure me to either conform or reform, what does it mean for me to look inward for direction? Am I separating myself from relationships to avoid drama, or am I differentiating myself from relationships that have become unhealthy? Is this a faithless abandonment, or is it an audacious new venture I happen to be undertaking alone? What will happen to those people I leave behind?
Yet, deeper inside than my worries, my inner teacher tells me that the war won’t be lost or won by me. My inner teacher tells me the war is itself the losing, and that tomorrow needs people who stayed true in themselves more than it needs another hero. My inner teacher tells me it is OK to let go of what has been, even if that means I fly apart. My inner teacher even tells me it is OK to lose faith in causes and institutions because the true work of GOD is not in fixing or in fighting. The true work of GOD is primarily the work of saying, over and over and over again, “I love you.” I love you. I love you. I love You. I LOVE you; until that liberating someday when “I love you” is not simply something I say, but the somebody I am.