A shortage of disciples……


John’s Christian Viewpoint piece from last week’s Highland News:

There was a shortage of disciples, so I volunteered.

My friend Iain Todd is producing a play which will be performed at Hilton Church in Inverness at 7.30pm next Thursday evening, Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. Called The Disciples at the Supper, and written back in 1997 by Pat Jones, widow of Dr Willis Jones who was well-known in Inverness, it depicts the final meal Jesus had with his followers before he was crucified the following day.

It’s a reflective piece, seeking to recreate the disciples’ experience that calm evening before the storm which would change everything, and it will conclude with the disciples serving communion to everyone present, for it is a supper we can all share in.

My daughter Bethany told me about an essay she was writing for her uni course on different approaches to psychology. One is known as the ‘dramaturgical theory.’

‘The what?’ I exclaimed.

Turns out it’s the idea that we are constantly playing different roles in all our relationships. ‘We’re only truly ourselves when we are on our own,’ Beth assured me.

I thought about this. There’s a lot of truth in it. We act out different roles for a whole cluster or reasons. Because we want to appear to be ‘nice’ and not ‘rock the boat’. Because we’re desperate to be loved, yet afraid to allow others to draw too close. Because we want to appear to be what we think those around us expect us to be. Because we think being seen in a certain light will get us what we want. Because we don’t know who we are, and so take refuge in playing a part.

But even when I’m on my own, do I know myself well enough to be truly who I am?

Someone said about Jesus that ‘he knew where he came from and where he was going.’ Christian faith, I believe is about learning who we are, accepting ourselves as we are, coming to God as we are to find ourselves beloved. We are forgiven and empowered to be our true selves, living with honesty and integrity.

So how come so many of us as Christians find ourselves, both in and out of church, playing roles for all the old reasons, pretending to be other than what we truly are?

‘When are the rehearsals? Can I see the script? How much is there to learn?’ I bombarded Iain with questions.

When I heard as a young man that Jesus was seeking followers, I said ‘Yes!’ enthusiastically. I remember working through a book called Discipleship with a group in my flat, a book about following Jesus with chapters on prayer, Bible reflection, sharing your faith, commitment, communion.

I was discouraged, because for all my wanting to be a disciple, none of it seemed to ‘work’ for me, and I despised what I regarded as my ill-disciplined laziness. In retrospect, I know what was wrong. I approached the book on discipleship as though it was a script I had to learn, a series of hoops I must jump through in order to find myself as God’s child.

I wish I’d been ready to listen to those who said ‘John, you are already God’s precious child. Live in character! The Bible and other books will help deepen your sense of identity. But there is no script. Improvise!’

‘But how?’ I might have responded. ‘Watch Jesus!’ the reply would have come. Be your unique self, but let the wisdom, love, devotion, commitment you see in him be evident in your life. Live as someone who knows where they come from and where they are going.’

‘It would be much easier to have a script!’ I might have complained.  But the truth is more exciting than that. For Jesus travels with us as we go back and forth on the stage of life, his spirit interacting with our spirits, far closer to us than a prompter in the wings.

There won’t be any applause at the end of the play next Thursday, for the audience’s thoughts will be on the great Playwright and his Son.  In seeking to be disciples, we are learning not to look for applause. The joy is more than enough, the joy of knowing ourselves loved and accepted, with a unique role, hand-crafted for us; of knowing that despite the frequent mediocrities of our performance the Playwright is our greatest fan.

For some of us, often those who have the clarity which comes from great age, it’s as though the stage is a beach. And in the sand, where once there were two sets of footprints, now there is only one. And watching, it’s hard to make out whether the figure, striding ahead, is Jesus, or his faithful disciple.

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