'In the English language, Black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within one's family. The term has typically been given negative implications, implying waywardness.' ~ from Wikipedia
I've spent a lot of this week mulling over some of John 10 and I need to write to try and give my thoughts some shape.
"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."
When I read this passage in the past, I had always fixed on the Shepherd (Jesus) and the Sheep (us). I had totally missed The Watchman who opens the gate for Jesus to come in. I started to fixate on who is the Watchman? Is it the Holy Spirit? Perhaps a reference to Ministers? I mulled it over for quite a while and then my mind wandered to the comic book series Watchmen and I sort of drifted on to other things.
When I revisited my scrawled thoughts again two new questions formed for me a) Who have been 'Watchmen' for me? and b) Who are 'Watchmen' for me now?
(I should say right now that the following list is nowhere near exhaustive!)
Reflecting on the questions brought up a lot of gratitude and a little sadness.
I think of my friend Sean (go buy his book!) who I have done life deeply with for years. I remember one special summer when we would get together every few days and share. He was wrestling with his demons and I with mine, and somehow together we made it through a stressful time by being two wounded people leaning on each other. Sean showed me the compassion of God.
I think of my friend Joy back in the U.K. Another person I leaned on heavily when I was wrestling with some of those deep questions of 'Who Am I?'. I lived in her house for 9 months and felt a great part of the many ragamuffins she had gathered around the table. Joy showed me the abundant grace of God.
I remember Duncan, my university Chaplain. Another person who went beyond the the demands of his job by welcoming me into his home. His gentle presence shaped me and gently showed me another way from out between my rigid thinking and theology, and he did it with kindness and humor. He was also responsible for starting me down my journey of Ignatian Spirituality. Duncan showed me the mystery of God.
I remember (with a little sadness) my friend O.B. He became someone who's wise counsel I valued for many years. It's amazing how a chance assignment as roommates lead to a friendship that traveled around the world. I'm a little sad because he seems to have distanced himself from me now. I recognize that friendships ebb and flow, things die when they need too, and so I grieve a little for the loss of what was. O.B. showed me the majesty of God.
Michael was a 'God send'. I was in a new country and I prayed for a friend. We only ever lived in the same city for under a year, but somehow we've stayed connected at a deep level. He shows me the laughter of God in so many ways. We are brothers from different mothers.
Scott was a Speaker at a ski retreat I was leading worship on. A bad patch of ice meant that I spent my days sitting in the ski lodge chatting with him. Somehow the Speaker became the Friend, became the Therapist, became the Brother. There are not many people who will respond with calm compassion and a hot cup of tea when you tearfully call them at 3:30am. Scott's compassion and insight blesses me. He has supported me and been a cheerleader for me even when my journey has taken turns he might question. It is humbling to have someone who always believes the best of you.
Jerry is a work colleague. His knowledge, creativity and humbleness astound me. Like Scott and Duncan he has been another person revealing another way to God in my life. He has a refreshing 'earthy holiness' - he can be quoting inappropriate lines from The Office one minute, and profound thoughts from Ignatius of Loyola the next. We are very different and yet so similar.
Steve has shown me the love of God in a way I never thought possible. He has opened up my understanding of where God is and what it means to live with integrity in this world. He calls forth the best in me and embraces the worst in me. I am more fully 'me' because of his presence and his love in my life.
There are more people I could list, but the thing I noticed is that only 2 of the people listed above live in Houston. I've had many 'Watchmen' in my life, but I do find myself longing for some more present close by. I have many wonderful friends here in Houston, and all of them, whether they know it or not, reveal something of God to me, but I find myself longing for something more tangible again. Maybe the Ignatian Group I am facilitating will somehow become that for me.
"I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
In the past when I've read this I've focused on verse 10 '...life, and have it to the full.', but this time verse 9 has caught my eye. It's the phrase 'he will come in and go out'. I found myself wondering what side of the gate is 'inside' and which is 'outside'. I found myself imaging sheep facing each other through a gate and both sides encouraging the other to step through the gate so that they can be 'inside'.
In my spiritual life I think I've become so turned around that I no longer am sure whether I am in or outside. I wonder if the litmus test is verse 10? You know you are inside when you are experiencing life in all it's fullness? I know that as my spiritual journey caused me to embrace the fact that I was a 'black sheep' within the flock of God, I found life getting infinitely richer. But I also worry that if the only test for 'inside' is 'life to the full' then have I made the spiritual journey ultimately self serving? My needs, my fulfillment? Maybe asking questions about 'inside or outside' are the wrong questions.
I find myself returning to my thoughts from over a year ago about how I think the church has become good at the wrong thing. We weren't created to issue pronouncements about 'Good' and 'Evil'. In fact God did not even create us to know the difference between the two. The tree was there but we were clearly told "Don't Touch". It seems that now we have eaten of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil we want to make sure that everyone knows it. We issue our statements, declare opinion as fact, and leave the garden untended. We're too busy talking to go walking with God.