Ministry & Metanoia, part 4
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance [metanoia] for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)

“Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance [metanoia].’” (Luke 5:31-32)

“Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance [metanoia]; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance [metanoia] that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death." (2 Corinthians 9-10)

“metanoia: a profound, usually spiritual, transformation; conversion.” (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

“In Classical Greek metanoia meant changing one's mind about someone or something. When personified, Metanoia was depicted as a shadowy goddess, cloaked and sorrowful, who accompanied Kairos, the god of Opportunity, sowing regret and inspiring repentance for the ‘missed moment’.” (Wikipedia: "Metanoia")

“Metanoia is the sine qua non of the Christian life. You cannot be a Christian without it. What is involved in metanoia is what might be called a spiritual paradigm shift, a spiritual revolution. We encounter the Lord Jesus, and He personally invites us to change as persons: metanoei! He calls us each and everyone by name. ‘I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine’ (Is. 43:1). Live that way!” (Andrew M. Greenwell, Catholic Online)
In my reflections about ministry past, and ministry future, metanoia is what, ultimately, I have been talking about. Translating it simply as “repentance” is inadequate. Connotations of repentance are in there, but fundamentally it is profound change. Ministry – mine or yours, ordained or lay – means, most simply, serving. And what do we serve? When we minister, we serve the power of change, the capacity for transformation.

There’s a paradox here – as there often is with spiritual matters. Indeed, paradox is one of the signs of the spiritual. The paradox is that the most radical change of all would be if we could truly, truly believe that there is nothing wrong with us exactly the way we are. The change we most need is to see that no change is needed. See? Paradox.

We have lived our lives in the grip of “shoulds” – I should do this, I should be that. Some of us might sometimes even feel that we should experience a metanoia and stop wanting to be different from how we are – but that merely makes metanoia into one more "should." But you can’t make it happen. The Christian Testament speaks of metanoia, if it happens, as a grace of God. I can’t make this kind of transformation happen. I can’t "should" myself into it. The Christian tradition recognized this, but talks a lot about it anyway.

There’s a kind of commitment – not to make something happen but to be open to it, to prepare for it, to orient toward it – understanding that whether the transformation actually happens is out of our hands.

James Luther Adams, the preeminent Unitarian theologian of the 20th century, was committed to Unitarianism and to liberal religion. Yet he was also often critical of certain tendencies within Unitarianism -- particularly our tendency to complacency. Indeed, we are often complacent -- but we don’t have to be. So Adams urged us to continually expose the evils of society. He spoke of being “involved with other people so that it costs.” It’s not enough to have the right sort of attitude. “It requires a sense that there's something wrong and I must be different from the way I have been.”

I put it this way: the something that is wrong is that we think something is wrong. Yes, we fail to be fully involved in stopping injustice, combating anti-semitism, combating white supremacy, patriarchy, any form of dominance. We fail to be “involved with other people so that it costs.” Why do we fail? We fail because we think there’s something wrong with us, and we’re at work trying to fix it, or cover it up.

Because we perceive an inner flaw, we develop defense mechanisms and self-protective strategies. If we really could fully grasp just how perfect we are just the way we are, those defensive, protective strategies could fall away.

One very basic example of how this works is captured in the word “productive.” Economists have specific ways to measure productivity, and our sense of our worth as human beings gets tied up in being productive workers. In pursuit of greater levels of productivity, we get stressed, and rushed, and so we cut someone off in traffic.

We measure our worth comparatively, so being worthy means being worthier than at least some other people. Ideally, we’d like to be worthier than all other people. We think it’s a good thing to be THE BEST. This is not rational. Being the best simply means that everyone else is worse. Why are we so concerned with everyone else being worse? Necessarily, there will always be exactly one person who is best at something. Is the world any better off if that person is you?

All the great evils – abuse and harassment, war and genocide, battering, violence, and cruelty in all its forms -- flow from the same basic dynamic that gives us competitive self-promotion and mild rudeness in traffic. None of us is entirely free of that dynamic.

Can we be “involved with other people so that it costs”? What is cost but a way of thinking about how to protect ourselves from paying too much? Our capacity to be “involved with other people so that it costs” is proportional to – or is the same thing as – our capacity to stop protecting ourselves from what seems like a “cost.”

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This is part 4 of 5 of "Ministry and Metanoia"
See also
Part 1: Marking Ministry Milesones
Part 2: Shannon
Part 3: Cindy
Part 5: Transformed Into Ourselves, Not by Ourselves

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