Monk in the Middle

Posted: April 11, 2007 in Theology

“This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

Medieval monks used to enjoy lots of wonderful spiritual disciplines. One of them was the jovial practice I like to call “Monk in the middle.” It is considerably more emotionally taxing than monkey in the middle. The game goes like this: One monk sits in the middle while the others take turns hurling insults and accusations at him (usually false, but the true ones would really be the zingers), but the monk in the middle is expected to make no verbal defense. He’s not to protest at all.

“When you took the Eucharist, you had pride in your heart and considered yourself worthy of it, which means you partook unworthily.”

“You’re sinful to the core, arrogant, smug, lazy, and ugly.”

“At mealtime, you eat too much. At prayer, you think your prayers are better crafted. When we chant, you think your voice is better than the rest of us. You disgust me…and you have poor hygiene. And big ears. And bushy eyebrows—It’s like I’m bunking next to Andy Rooney over here!”

I’m just making up accusations here, feel free to join in.

Maybe if someone were accusing me they’d say:

“Miller, your spiritual arrogance makes me want to puke. You think because you’re smart you’re holy, but you aint nothin’ but sorry.”

“Miller, others have done more for God in one day than you’ve done in ten years.”

“Miller, you’re selfish, prideful, lazy, smug, small-minded, and an overall jerk…And a liberal (or conservative, whichever the accuser deems most deplorable).”

“When you lead worship, you’re thinking about how awesome you are, and when you preach, you just think your messages are so brilliant, but you know what—you’re just a whitewashed tomb full of dead men’s bones! You disgust me!”

“You think that because you’ve prayed, you’ve done, but boy you ain’t done nothing but talk.”

Alright, that was starting to hit a little too close to home, we’d better wrap up and get to the point before I hurt myself.

What’s the point of all this sludge-heaving? Well, quite frankly, it was a time for angry monks to get their complaints off their chest—no, I’m just kidding.

It was intended to teach the monks to depend on God alone and to despair of trusting in their own righteousness: God alone will vindicate me. God alone will be my judge, not ‘yall, or even my own conscience. It was meant to teach the monks that the compulsion to defend our own integrity can be deceptive and dangerous. It was to teach the monks the kind of God-dependence that David demonstrates in the Psalms when he cries out for God to vindicate him. And God did vindicate David by calling him a man after his own heart. The uber-example is of course Jesus’ God-dependence when he was silent as a sheep before its shearers: “Prophecy Christ, who hit you?” And God of course vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead and exalting him to his right hand, with the supreme title, “Lord.”

Now, I’m not advocating that we play monk in the middle—just the opposite, we ought to cultivate a culture of encouragement and be on the lookout for compliments we can give. But when Pastor Doug and I talked about this today, he let me know that those of us in ministry are the monk in the middle, whether we like it or not. We’re gonna take some friendly fire, and if we respond in kind we’ll be playing right into the devil’s game of division and bickering—this all stems from the downward spiral of clinging to self as a possession, rather than remembering that we belong to God and have been bought at great cost.

It is our glory to overlook an offense. God will take vengeance and repay evil; our calling is to follow the example of Jesus’ patience and humility, forgiving even those who aren’t the slightest bit sorry, and forgiving those closest to us whose wounds hurt the most precisely due to the intimacy. “Forgive as in Christ God forgave you.”

Even if my conscience says “I’m fine,” that’s no divine seal of approval. If my conscience condemns me, I throw myself on God’s mercy, and if my conscience approves I still throw myself on God’s mercy saying, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty.”

And Tim thought he was just going to get paid to preach. Sucker. You’re in the crucible.

Isn’t Christianity fun?

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