Monday, May 23, 2005
I am Jack's Ripped Spirituality
There's a scene in the nihilistic movie Fight Club where Jack (Edward Norton) nudges his friend Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and gestures toward a Calvin Klein advertisement featuring a buff, bare-chested underwear model. "Is that how a man looks?" asks Jack. "Self-improvement is masturbation," Tyler retorts.
I feel that way about spiritual discipline sometimes. Growing up in ATIA, where one's maturity was measured by the number of disciplines he practiced, I have a respectable resume of spiritual self-improvement. For years, I rose early in the morning to pray and read Scripture. I've memorized whole chapters and a few short books of the Bible, and read biographies of great Christians. I kept a journal full of insights and rhemas. I tithed regularly. And this was all during my teenage years.
I was not alone -- I was joined by a company of other dedicated young people, all improving our spiritual fitness, increasing our stamina, and occasionally flexing to compare our spiritual muscles.
Our chief model and example, of course, was Mr. Spiritual Universe himself: Bill Gothard. He's rumored to have memorized the entire Bible (in at least three different versions), he fasts, he gets up at 4:00 a.m. to pray...and then there's the whole 70 years of celibacy.
But somewhere in the drive to increase my spiritual discipline, I lost focus of the true goal: a relationship with Christ. My disciplines, however well-intended, became an end in themselves. Whenever I sinned (which happened regularly enough), I would try to compensate by increasing my level of discipline. Somehow it seemed to make up for my unworthiness.
Self discipline is an essential part of the Christian life, but it is not a replacement for holiness. If I gauge my spiritual value by how disciplined I am, it will inevitably lead to pride and independence. In that respect, spiritual improvement is a self-satisfying act and a destroyer of intimacy with Christ.
These days I'm not quite the spiritual superman that I once was. But it's okay. I'd rather just be a follower of Jesus.