There is a deeper voice of God, which you must learn to hear and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of “common sense,” of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of our deepest self … the true faith journey only begins at this point. Up to now everything is mere preparation.
Have you ever played Jenga? The block-stacking game that really gets exciting when you start pulling out blocks while trying not to topple the tower? The idea, of course, is not to be the one that pulls out the block that causes the whole structure to fall.
Jenga is a perfect example of life. Our life narrative and experience, our family, people in positions of authority in our lives, friends, books, etc, all build up our belief structure and reality. They help frame our life, behaviour, and thoughts of who we are and the world around us. We all live with certain equations of understanding. Yet for each of us there will come a time when some of our jenga towers topple, when these equations no longer add up. Some of our tightly held beliefs are contradicted by life and reality. What helped build who we were in the first half of life, no longer carries us in the second half of life.
Richard Rohr calls these jenga block structures our ‘loyal soldiers’ – and there comes a time when we have to learn to dismiss them. When we come to necessary endings. When the tower topples and it’s ok. When we move from ‘ego centric’ to ‘soul centric’:
“In post World War II Japan some Japanese communities had the savvy to understand that many of their returning soldiers were not fit or prepared to re-enter civil or humane society. Their only identity for their formative years had been to be a ‘loyal soldier’ to their country; they needed a broader identity to once again rejoin their communities as useful citizens.”
“So these Japanese communities created a communal ritual whereby a soldier was publicly thanked and praised effusively for his service to the people. After this was done at great length, an elder would stand and announce with authority something to this effect: ‘The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and served us well up to now. The community needs you to return as a man, a citizen, and something beyond a soldier.’ We call this process ‘discharging your loyal soldier.'”
In 2009, I wrote a piece that helped me put words to my Jenga experience of the previous several years. Some of my tightly held ideologies, especially concerning my faith, had fallen on their face. What followed were seasons of unease, discomfort and pain – yet now I would not change any of it. It was time to let go of some of my ‘loyal soldiers’. So here is that piece, dedicated to all whose carefully crafted Jenga Tower has toppled. To let you know that you are not alone, that there is a whole army of toppled Jenga tower survivors who are now thriving, and to assure you that the Grace that has carried you through your first half of life is still sufficient in this new place:
The Way We Were
When I look back over my life I realise how much I have changed in thought and theology. The journey of life is certainly never boring! And the journey, in and of itself, is probably one of the main things God uses to reveal himself to us.
There was a time when I actually thought God was in sensationalism – in the goose bumps, and the atmosphere of certain songs; nowadays I see him far more clearly in the slums and the ordinary.
There was a time when I thought that the mountaintop is the right and nirvana of every Christian; nowadays I see His footprints in the muddy paths of very dark valleys.
There was a time when I thought that I had clearly mastered and understood most major doctrinal truths; nowadays I walk with a lot more contradiction as I face the fact of how little I really know.
There was a time when my god could comfortably fit into a safe box, or on a flannel board, and he would make everyone smile; nowadays I am content to simply recognise that what I worshipped was a god the way I wanted him, not the God who said his ways and thoughts are beyond mine.
There was a time when I thought triumphant victory was the reward of the strong and courageous; nowadays I feel more at home with failure, and a recognition that God is not freaked out by it either (the freaked out god belonged on my flannel board).
There was a time when I thought that suffering was a strange phenomena; now I stand at the foot of a bloody cross and wonder “what the hell was I thinking?”
There was a time when I thought God depended on my prayers; nowadays I continually pray in the face of my own helplessness.
There was a time when I looked for miracles in the supernatural and gobstopping; nowadays I realise every breath of life is a miracle and gobstopping.
There was a time when I thought that friends should be found in the community of the triumphant and all-together ones; nowadays I feel very at home with sinners, mainly because my own sinfulness stares me in the face.
There was a time when I thought God had cursed the lepers in our community; nowadays I realise He is the leper that our Christian communities often curse.
Change is painful. Pain causes us to wake up to the matrix, once woken we really don’t want to go back …