I have been studying people for decades. It's part of my job as a pastor... to understand, sympathetically and compassionately, the human condition. It continues to amaze me how skilled we are at masking our fallenness, our pain, our suffering, our weakness, our sin. Our minds are adept at developing layer upon layer of protection against change because its number one concern is self-preservation. This is the primary preoccupation of the organism. It shouldn't come as a shock to me because even when I read back in my journals that go all the way back to 1986, I am overwhelmed with how much the same I am. In spite of all my efforts to change over the years, I still recognize the same sinful self that was there at the beginning. I, like all others, have learned the art of avoiding real change in exchange for accommodation.
You see, at some point I had to ask myself the most difficult yet obvious question: Who was the "I" that wanted to change "me"? For it is this "I" that needs to be transformed, not the "me" the "I" insisted was the culprit. This is the problem. Because the "I" certainly does not want to die and will do anything to avoid it. So the "I" selects phantom "I-s"... mini- "me-s"... to be disposed of. But it never allows itself to put itself to death. Like I said, the number one concern of the organism is self-protection. But this is precisely that which needs to die! The "I" that decides to take up spiritual practice, most often to strengthen itself, must itself die. The ultimate spiritual practice is the cross. Instead, we adopt spiritual practices and attitudes and beliefs, all as an avoidance of the real work... taking up the cross!
Understanding this must give me compassion for myself and all people. I will not get mesmerized by any impressive spiritual knowledge, belief or practice in myself or others. These are all games to distract us. It is like flack to draw the fire away from the "I" that is afraid of death and therefore avoids it at all costs. I keep hammering away at the core issue: the sin and suffering in this world and in our hearts and minds, the humble acknowledgment of it, and the crucifixion of ourselves, all of ourselves, not part. This is the root! The fruit? I am convinced this is where resurrection power, with all its joy, finds fullest expression.
When Jesus died, it was all of him that died. There wasn't a golden nugget, the "true Jesus", the "true Self", preserved from death on the cross. No, it wasn't just dross that died there. There wasn't a special spark of Self that escaped death. To think this way is pure and simple gnosticism. All of Jesus died. Even the best of Jesus died. And this is what we are called to do, invited to do: completely die. Is this possible? Can we walk into our death? Can we die daily? Can we take up the cross? For only then can we know what the joy of the resurrection life means.