Last Weekend I, along with a few hundred others, attended the Denver Faith & Justice Conference. For those of you who have never heard of this awesome gathering, it is all about doing Justice and Faith together. Too often those two words get separated by politically driven biases. It can sometimes be difficult to remember that we are called to both.
For the first time in my life I felt so overwhelmed by the richness of the content I was receiving that I had to skip the final session. Instead I spent some time running the Mile High Ministries booth which was conveniently located only 20 yards or so from the free coffee. It was fun getting to talk to other local folks about what we do. It’s beautiful to see organizations and people learn more about each other and figure out ways to combine our efforts.
My track at the conference took me through a great Biblical exploration of God’s call for the pursuit of justice. Our one hour window was only enough to scratch the surface, but it reminded me of how much I “nerd out” when learning about contextual insight into the Scriptures. I then sat in on a Dignified Dialogue between a co-pastor pair who are trying to navigate through a very difficult season in the life of their church. A difference in belief around Same Sex Marriage caused the need for dignified dialogue as the temptation to split was almost certainly very attractive. Instead these two amazing people decided that their love for the community and their own friendship made it worth having this difficult conversation together. It was truly inspiring. My final session was led by a good friend who talked about sustaining our faith when working in difficult contexts. It was rooted in contemplative thinking and personal reflection and was deeply challenging and life giving simultaneously.
The convention felt perfect for this season in my own life. I have been reading a book by Father Richard Rohr, called “Falling Upward”. I am certain that I am only understanding about half of what this book is offering, but that half is nothing short of life changing. The interplay between Rohr’s insights and the conversations had at the conference was tangible. There is a lot, but I wanted to focus on one piece that has really rocked my world.
My False Self. My Persona. My Shadow. My Ego. Whatever you call it, I am trying to expose it. By that I mean that I know it only has power in my life when it operates behind my line of sight. By seeing it and calling it what it is, I disconnect its power source. But, what exactly is “it”? At the conference we discussed the 3 lies of satan that Henri Nouwen talked about in reference to Jesus’ temptations in the desert.
1. I am What I do
2. I am what I have.
3. I am what others say about me.
I believe that these 3 lies are the foundation of the False Self. The amazing thing is that most of us, myself included, have lived most of our entire lives from within this False Self. The craziest thing about this is that the False Self is not always formed of obviously bad things. What I do, for example, can easily be seen as very noble and good. But, when I begin to find my identity in it, it has become a piece of that False Self. Even the “good” False Self needs to be seen, called out and let go of or it can lead us to the very unhealthy act of protecting it as if we are protecting the very fiber of our being. This often leads us to fear and even to hate those who threaten our perceived identity. Think about political or religious arguments.
The Denver Faith & Justice Conference offered the space to really see my False Self. Rohr says that you can easily see this “Shadow” in moments when you feel the need to defend yourself. I want to be seen as wise. I want to be seen as rational. I want to be seen as authentic. These can all be good things, but they are not who I Am! I am simply Ben. Made perfectly in God’s Image. I have yet to explore deeply what that really means. Wise, Rational and authentic are seemingly good qualities to have. The problem isn’t in behaving that way. The problem comes when I try to ingrain those Qualities into my Identity. Rohr points out the irony that when we work tirelessly to defend our False Self (made of some good qualities) we often cease to act with those qualities. It is precisely when I let go of the need to defend this perceived identity that I act with the most wisdom, rationality and authenticity.
Like I said, this makes little sense to me. But, the little that I grasp from it has sent me on a journey to see more of my False Self. I will do all I can to see it so I can let go of it and stop needlessly defending it. Those who threaten to expose it will cease to be seen as my enemy. When someone criticizes my work at Joshua Station, I will resist the urge to warp “What you do is wrong” into “Who you are is wrong”. This subtle shift feels like a giant leap toward the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I am grateful for the Denver Faith & Justice Conference. I will definitely be purchasing my ticket for next year. If you are interested in the pursuit of Justice as a person of faith, I strongly encourage you to consider doing the same.