soul care, pt. 1 - why do we need soul care?

"Man, I'm burned out...I'm worn out..."  I have been hearing a lot of this lately.

I am a pastor in a church movement that deeply believes in and practices the very idea that "faith without works is dead" and that according to Jesus the most important matters of the law are justice, mercy, & faithfulness.   

However it seems to me that our belief in this has swung the pendulum too far away from a life that sits at the feet of Jesus and simply enjoys him. In my life time, I have been part of the other side of the pendulum, when the church promoted a self-righteousness that turned people into modern day pharisees and emptied them of their souls and humanity.  I fear we are on the way to swinging so far to the other side, that we will be willing to burn out the souls of our people for the sake of getting things done, motived by a fear of returning to the other side.

It seems that we as a whole have become so enamored by the "works of our hands" or have become so "Martha Oriented", that we forget, the "good portion," which is to daily sit down at the feet of Jesus and soak him in, know him, and simply enjoy him and his people.   

This reality brings me to a question, "as guides, are we more concerned with getting a job done than we are of soul care?"  Let me be clear - I'm not talking about the either/or conundrum, which pitches the good portion to be in conflict with the "pure religion" of the early church.  Actually, would say, true intentional soul care actually keeps our religion pure, and allow us to know and enjoy Jesus deeply, while living lives focused on the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. 

I believe the idea of soul-care began to be ignored around the time of the enlightenment, we started to become a bottom line, get it done society.  We began to take our focus off of the health of our souls and place it on what the cognitive and physical can accomplish.  We bought into the enlightenment ideology of, I think therefore I am”.  Man is no more than a thinking being with a body who does things.  This has also been deduced to carrying with it three other, seemingly logical thoughts - “I see therefore I believe”, “that which I believe must be seen (proven)”, and "what I do determines my value" - this has seeped into the church, think of our lust for quantifying everything we do.  This is the reduction of humanity, the reduction of values which has lead us into a world where we willingly starve our souls in the name of "accomplishing more".  It goes like this: what I/we believe about the ontology of man, produces a set of values about that belief, and plays out in practices and functions in our daily lives.  Those functions and practices sustain our enlightenment values, and thus sustains (even creates) our vision of humanity.  The problem with this sort of ideology, is not so much its lack of truth, rather its lack of completeness - it reduces man to the cognitive and material only, to what can be seen and accomplished with a quantifiable and tangible result, and leads to the neglect of the intangible (soul, heart, and spirit).  In fact, we have become so submitted to the cognitive and material, that we seem to readily neglect and write off that which is beyond us as unimportant, silly, or devaluing.  A dangerous cycle begins, when we neglect that which is beyond us, that which thrives in the realm of imagination and soul - we are reduced to becoming surface creatures, whose thinking becomes limited and shallower with time.  When we start with the cognitive and material, we are forced into shallowness, because we neglect that which moves and motivates and informs the mind and will - the affections.  The affections are the offspring of the imagination and the soul dancing together.  When I speak of the imagination, I don’t mean fairy tails, I mean the deeper realms, the things that we know to be true that we can neither see, prove, nor touch, the affections of the heart that are not willed, but move the will and mind. We have forgotten that we are not primarily creates limited to the cognitive and material, but, to use the words of James Smith, we are liturgical animals in need of practices which will help shape and direct our soul, which will, in the end shape our whole being

How did this happen?  As we moved from the 15th-16th century into the 18th-19th centuries we had two competing ideologies going head to head: renaissance ideology, which was resurrecting the human creativity and beauty lost during medieval times.  The renaissance sought to journey back to the creativity of the Romans and Greeks, capture the ideas and bring them into the 18/19th centuries.  The focus was on man as ultimate, man as hero, man as good, man as beautiful, man as responsible, and a focus on a two realm (separate and distinct) universe of life - or a very platonic philosophy, except with a focus on the cognitive and material as better than.  Then there was reformation ideology, founded on the good idea of God reclaiming the world, much of this became so distorted due to its reaction to and against renaissance ideology that it lost its way.  This reaction jumped to the other end of the spectrum so that the participation of man was voided out. In other words we were merely puppets and pawns to God's schemes.  Due to the voiding out of human participation by reactionary reformers, many leading thinkers of the enlightenment were driven to take renaissance ideology and put even more focus on man, after all, this is much more attractive than reducing man to puppets and pawns.  As a result humanist idealism evolved into a man-centric show - it was man's job to build the stairway to heaven, and when we arrive at the gates of heaven, if God is there, then great, if not, oh well, we didn’t need him anyway.  Man was to become his own answer to the longing of his heart.  What am I saying?  I am suggesting that when we begin to focus more on “earthly things” or “things that are seen”, the cognitive and material, that which can be controlled and quantified by man, to the neglect of the soul and the non-cognitive, we began to journey away from the completeness of our humanity.  Due to this incomplete view of man, our energies are only used to develop the cognitive and material realm of ourselves, while the soul of who we are starves.

What we need to understand is that the wholeness of the human being is made up of the affective (non-cognitive - cares, concerns, motivations, and desires); cognitive (ideas and beliefs); and physical (practices, bodily, and material).  When we believe our identity to be located and shaped primarily by the realm of the cognitive and material, we reduce our lives to what can be proven, known through empirical evidence, or deduced, quantified, and rationalized from knowledge that is, at the end of the day, extremely limited.  However, when one’s identity is to be located in and shaped by the soul, we do not lose the cognitive, rather we displace our fixation on it, because one knows that even knowledge (at a macro level) and belief is situated and informed by the affections of the soul.

The ideology that posits “I think therefore I am” is not only sabotaging the church, it is is sabotaging our humanity.  The truth is, “I am what I love” and may I add to that two sub-ideologies:  “soul-care practices shape and direct the affections” and “the shape of my affections shape the belief and function of my personhood”.  The question that we are left with is, “if my practices and functions prove what I believe to be vital and necessary to the creating and deepening of my whole person, then what do my daily intentional practices prove my values and beliefs to be about my humanity?”

If this self-audit proves contrary to my verbal confession (that Christ is Lord of my life), that my lowest priority is that of being fully Christian (a peculiar, holy, Godward, ‘humanward’ person), focused on justice, mercy and faithfulness - in other words, proves that my affections are pointed toward that which is other than God and his will, then what daily intentional soul-care practices should I have in place to help re-direct and shape my affections human and Godward?  There is another question we must answer first - if my goal is to be the type of whole person that has in place practices that are human and Godward and are thus deepening and strengthening God's ideas of my humanity, I have to ask, "what is God's idea of my humanity?"  I'll attempt to get into these in the next couple of blogs...