Speech Therapy and Learning to Live Like Jesus: An Analogy

“Let’s go sit in front of the mirror. Look at my mouth. See how my tongue looks? You try. Good. Let’s try again.

Not quite. Let’s try again.

That’s it. Now, look at how I say ‘n’. Make sure you’re looking. Great. Now you try.”

This was a segment of a speech therapy session one of my students was receiving the other day. I sat in with him to gain some insight into how to help him speak better. Not just how to sound better, but how to actually form the sounds and words with his tongue, lips, and breath.

Speaking is an embodied act. It goes beyond theory, although there is certainly a need for it. However, it wouldn’t do much good to fill my 5 year old student with concepts of how to speak. He doesn’t need information for its own sake; he needs formation. Literally, his mouth, lungs, and a host of other muscle groups and organs must sync in order for correct English speech to come forth.

Within the kingdom of speech therapy, there is a correct manner by which progress is made. And, in this particular instance, it comes by attending to the Queen of the Speech Therapy Kingdom. She knows the why and how of staying within the parameters of the good life found within her kingdom.

The beauty of this particular session was her process of recording this progress. She took my student to a large mirror and demonstrated to him by example the proper way of obtaining an “n”. Every attempt he made, he received either a smiley face or a sad face to indicate whether it both sounded correctly and was properly formed physically. There was not a preconceived set of correct responses he had to attain. He simply had to act upon her instruction and make the attempt. What she was looking for was trust and obedience in listening to her words and watching her mouth. She didn’t leave him on his own; she didn’t set him up for pressured achievement. There wasn’t a “you must get 6 out of 10 correct” for us to continue. It was a “try your best and know I am with you” exercise. It was a “let’s get this down and then we’ll build from here” activity. Every attempt – whether it was done correctly or not – was an opportunity for learning and growth.

I couldn’t help sitting there and seeing a synonymous method by which we learn to live like Jesus. He doesn’t ask us to perform without seeing him do it first. He shows us by example and beckons us to follow. He doesn’t set us up for performance anxiety; he gently invites us to trust him and to try our best knowing he is with us. When we get things wrong, we don’t lose his guidance. No, he challenges us to pick ourselves up, stop doing it that way and try again. And again. And again. There is no giving up found in Jesus. He asks for our obedience to his loving voice as he forms us in his own image.

Akin to speech therapy, learning this Jesus-life comes from doing. Growth takes place as we actually embody what it is he is saying to us. It does us no good knowing the teachings of Jesus devoid of practicing the teachings of Jesus. Discipleship to Jesus is certainly a spiritual thing, but it only comes at the employment of the physical.

This is what Jesus means when he offers us this abundant life. He is the one who knows how to live in the kingdom of God. His relationships between himself and God, himself and his fellow human beings, and himself and his created order are exemplified by justice and rightness. That is, they are how they are supposed to be. And it is to this that he calls. Just like the “Queen of the Speech Therapy Kingdom” can teach the proper sound and formation of an “n”, so Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God and can teach the proper way of life abundant.

And he does it again. And again. And again.

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Lord, may we be like mycelium: A Missional Lesson from Creation

As I read, my mind traveled past the abbey church across the fields to a cluster of sheds, where millions of tiny threads of mycelium worked in the darkness. A stringlike network of fungal cells, mycelium is the organism that produces mushrooms. The brothers cultivate mycelium, whose ‘fruit’ supports their life of prayer…the relationship of fungi to life as we know it goes back nearly 450 million years. Indeed, without mycelium, there would be no life at all. Only recently have we come to understand the true magnitude of our dependence on these organisms. We now know, for instance, that at least 90 percent of all plants on earth form symbiotic relationships with a fungus called mycorrhizae. Greek for ‘fungus-root,’ mycorrhizae are ubiquitous, found in nearly every ecosystem in the world.

The relationship works like this: the fungus penetrates a plant’s roots and provides the plant with nutrients and water from the surrounding soil, which the fungus accesses through its mycelial network. The fungus in turn receives starches from the plant. When mycelium grows out into the surrounding soil it is said to ‘run,’ and in doing so it not only forms symbiotic relationships with single plants; it provides links between plant species. In 1964, two North Carolina scientists chopped down a red maple tree and poured radioactive liquid into the stump. Eight days later they found that, within a radius of twenty-two feet, the leaves of nearly half of all the trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs contained radioactivity; mycelium provided the pathway through which the radioactive material spread. The experiment confirmed fungi’s link to every living thing. And every dead thing. Fungi are our biological go-betweens to the world beyond animate life. And like monks at prayer, fungi do their best work in darkness. – Fred Bahnson in Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, p. 19-20.

Mycelium:

– Connect non-related living things in mutually beneficial ways

– Provide pathways for mutual nourishment, not the actual nourishment itself

– Skillfully, intentionally, and silently do their essential work

– Work communally

– Become involved in all areas of life for the sake of the ecosystem

Lord, may we be like mycelium.

Home, Homelessness, Homecoming Part 2

Here is the continuation of Brian Walsh’s video below.

As always, very thought provoking ideas and realities being brought to light. In particular, for me at least, are his thoughts on covenant, marriage, and the violence of humanity towards God. I wrote my Masters thesis on the biblical imagery of marriage, especially in the gospels with Jesus and the church portrayed as bride and bridegroom. Very, very loaded images and analogies happening there.

Check out the video.

Any thoughts?

Home, Homelessness, Homecoming

Here is Brian Walsh – theologian and author – discussing the epic narrative of Scripture in terms of “home, homelessness, and homecoming.” It is from the Parish Collective’s Vimeo site and is well worth the 3 minute watch.

I especially enjoy the “earthiness” of his metaphor. As one who is thinking through Scripture, church, theology, and all of their public practices I find this very helpful.

Any thoughts?

Caesar’s Image versus God’s Image: An Ancient Reflection on Matthew 22

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“So let us always reflect the image of God in these ways:

I do not swell up with the arrogance of pride;

nor do I droop with the blush of anger;

nor do I succumb to the passion of avarice;

nor do I surrender myself to the ravishes of gluttony;

nor do I infect myself with the duplicity of hypocrisy;

nor do I contaminate myself with the filth of rioting;

nor do I grow flippant with the pretension of conceit;

nor do I grow enamored of the burden of heavy drinking;

nor do I alienate by the dissension of mutual admiration;

nor do I infect others with the biting of detraction;

nor do I grow conceited with the vanity of gossip.

Rather, instead, I will reflect the image of God in that I feed on love;

grow certain on faith and hope;

strengthen myself on the virtue of patience;

grow tranquil by humility;

grow beautiful by chastity;

am sober by abstention;

am made happy by tranquility;

and am ready for death by practicing hospitality.

It is with such inscriptions that God imprints his coins with an impression made neither by hammer nor by chisel but has formed them with his primary divine intention. For Caesar required his image on every coin, but God has chosen man, whom he has created, to reflect his glory.”

– Homily 42 from the Incomplete Work on Matthew

“The renewal of the earth begins at Golgotha…”

But Jesus says: ‘They [the meek] shall inherit the earth.’ To these, the powerless and the disenfranchised, they very earth belongs. Those who now possess it by violence and injustice shall lose it, and those who here have utterly renounced it, who were meek to the point of the cross, shall rule the new earth. We must not interpret this as a reference to God’s exercise of juridicial punishment within the world, as Calvin did: what it means is that when the kingdom of heaven descends, the face of the earth will be renewed, and it will belong to the flock of Jesus. God does not forsake the earth: he made it, he sent his Son to it, and on it he built his Church. Thus a beginning has already been made in this present age. A sign has been given. The powerless have here and now received a plot of earth, for they have the Church and its fellowship, its goods, its brothers and sisters, in the midst of persecutions even to the length of the cross. The renewal of the earth begins at Golgotha, where the meek One died, and from thence it will spread. When the kingdom finally comes, the meek shall possess the earth.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship

Is the Church on a Broken Escalator?

I saw this video, which is for some health company and I can’t edit it to not show that part, at work the other day. It was being shown to demonstrate the new technology being added to our classrooms and the help that would come with it. Teachers need not fear the new technology for the tech specialists were always around ready to guide, lead, and aid them into the future.

Of course, as I watched it all I could think about was how might this be interpreted in relation to God and the Church. These types of things happen regularly with me, especially since I finished seminary a few years back.

It seems to me that many, many people are riding along the escalator their church has determined is the correct one. It is the proper path heading to the proper destination. Now, without going into the horrendous theology that makes the purpose of Christianity a destination, i.e. heaven, we’ll push ahead to another reality present in a large portion of churches.

Just as in the video, many people in the church are merely riding the escalator as passive spectators. Rather than being active participators many church-goers are simply that: church-goers. They religiously show up every Sunday morning for their hour and a half of churchly duty. They interact with each other and wonder who made the coffee this week because it is unusually weak. They sit as if at an entertainment venue (ever notice how even our architectural design perpetuates a passive stance?) where everything is done up front and on a stage. Emotional music, pseudo-therapeutic/self-help sermons, and tv screens all push us, whether we’re aware of it or not, into a passive posture. We come, we consume, we go home. We’ve been conditioned by our culture to be passive and, unfortunately, many of our churches are doing the same.

So instead of being able to simply walk up the escalator-turned-stairs, we become stuck and wonder where the help is. We idly stand by awaiting the professional with the answers. Unfortunately, again, when the paid professional shows up, he too cannot help. From a church perspective, why is this? Why do we get stuck in our Christian lives and await the paid professional (pastor) to get us out of our stagnancy, just to find out that he/she can’t get us anywhere?

I think the problem lies in the lack of discipleship within the Church. As passive spectators we expect the professional, gifted, ultra-spiritual ones to put on “church” for us. We expect them to “do” church for us. We show up, easily enough, for the worship service and head home. Discipleship is tacked on as a by-product or as a secondary result of the worship service rather than the other way around. As has been said elsewhere: You make disciples, you’ll always get a church. You make a church, you won’t always get disciples.

A reality that is becoming more and more prevalent, however, is the lack of discipleship within the ranks of those attempting to lead a church. I have spoken with many pastors, and I include myself in this group, who get to a point where they have graduated from seminary, have gathered people, have taught them, but then hit the wall. There is somewhere or something they have envisioned, but can’t seem to take others there. The problem? Most pastors, especially younger ones, haven’t been made into disciples who make disciples. We have become passive spectators. Just like the mechanic who came to fix the escalator, we get leaders who can lead, but who can’t make others simply walk off of the escalator because they can’t walk off it themselves. People end up hurt, confused, and, in many cases, walk away from their faith because it, like the escalator, seemed broken.

As I said, I consider myself in this group of undiscipled leaders. Discipleship was always a secondary thing compared to Sunday-morning-only “church”. Sure, there were moments here and there, but never any intentional discipleship. Therefore, I have made intentional steps to remedy this. I don’t want to be another Christian who “does church” instead of being the church. I don’t want to be able to put on the worship service and tack on discipleship somewhere. I want to make disciples and then go from there. Simply put, I want to be a disciple who makes other disciples. But I’ll get back to these steps at a later date.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Does this resonate with you? What am I missing? Thoughts?