Friday, May 17, 2013

Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

I read tons of books. Literally. Through the years, I've found that I naturally I put books into one of five categories.
  • Books to ignore. These are just not worth the time.
  • Books to argue with. These help you see that with which you disagree and therefore help clarify convictions.
  • Books to enjoy. I tend to put novels here, but I also find good non-fiction works fall into this group.
  • Books that inform convictions. I have about 20 books to which I return consistently to help guide my thinking.
  • Books to ingest, absorb and allow to shape me. 
There are very few that fall in this last group. These are the kind of books one reads, re-reads, and reads again every couple of years. These are books to live with and live out. These tend to speak to the "heart" first and the head second, whereas the "inform convictions" books tend to speak to my "head" first. On my list include books like Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Works of Love by Kierkegaard, and a few others.

To this list I'm adding Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. This small volume names so much that is true about life, how we follow Jesus, and how we mature. I found myself marking up so many pages that little was left untouched. I've returned to statements, paragraphs and sections over the last 8 months to understand better how God shapes us, to see how the Spirit leads us. Here are a few quotes:

 “The supposed achievements of the first half of life have to fall apart and show themselves to be wanting in some way, or we will not move further” (xix).

“We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right” (xxii).

"Those who are not true leaders or elders will just affirm people at their own immature level, and of course immature people will love them and elect them for being equally immature” (9).

“The first-half-of-life container, nevertheless, is constructed through impulse controls; traditions; group symbols; family loyalties; basic respect for authority; civil and church laws; and a sense of goodness, value, and special importance of your country, ethnicity and religion (27).

“So failure and humiliation force you to look where you never would otherwise. What an enigma!” (66).

“In the second half of life, it is good just to be a part of the general dance. We do not have to stand out, make defining moves, or be better than anyone else on the dance floor. Life is more participatory than assertive, and there is no need for strong or further self-definition” (120).

“Failure and suffering are the great equalizers and levelers among humans. Success is just the opposite. Communities and commitment can form around suffering much more than around how wonderful and superior we are” (158).

A quick glance at these quotes reveals that this is a book about the journey we take in life. In the first half, we develop a sense of boundaries and rules while we develop a container for how life works best for us. It is marked by a degree of success and affirmation, at least in healthy situations. Rohr argues that most people try and hold on to the first half of life experience. We do this in part because we want to continue to live out what we know especially if the first half of life has been one of success and security. We also do this because the transition to the second half involves what he calls “necessary suffering”, thus the title Falling Upward. The way we enter into the second half is through some kind of experience of failure.

The shift to the second half of life is not about age. In fact, Rohr points out the our culture celebrates first-half-of-life success and therefore many who are elders in age never into the wisdom that should come from their age because they never make the transition from the first to the second. Age is not the point. This journey is about embracing the transition that comes with the reality of life and discovering the mystery, wisdom and the ability to be oneself that arises on the journey.

While he does not make this correlation, the first half could be akin to following Jesus before the Passion and Cross. This is where the disciples learned about the benefits of Jesus. The cross is that time of transition. The resurrection introduces the second half. The problem is that like the disciples, we don't want to follow Jesus all the way to the cross. So most people tend to remain stuck in the first half of life.

While there are aspects of Rohr’s theology with which many will disagree—I don’t agree with it all—I wish more people would take the time to see the wisdom in Rohr’s words and the gift of life that can blossom from his insights. In so many ways, this book goes against the grain of the American way of life. In fact, it goes against the grain of the success-driven philosophy that has shaped the American church life. He is describing how we follow Jesus to the cross so that we can see how God is transforming us through the ups and downs of life.

Don’t worry, he is not bashing success as some have a tendency to do. He is calling us beyond our fixation on success and into a life that is worth living.

Thank you Richard Rohr for this gift.

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