After a Year on Sabbatical, I’m Blogging Again…but not the same Blog

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey32 Comments

All of our lives are different now than they were in the Fall of 2020 when I began a sabbatical from writing. We’ve lost loved ones, endured pain and heartache, experienced new joys, and faced unexpected challenges. Yet, we sit here reading these words while thankful for the way God has been faithful to us. Hopefully, all these experiences have done something good in us helping shape us in ways God desires.

It’s been over 14 months since I last sent out a blog post. I hope I’m not the same person now as I was then. I have my doubts. In some ways the challenges and joys of the past 14 months have changed me; in many ways, they have not. I can be a stubborn ol’ goat oblivious to God’s work in me while merrily gliding through my days convinced that I’m walking with God. I’ve had some “wake-up” calls yet I still sleepwalk through life.

However, one clear directive has been accepted….a shift in “content” for this blog. Instead of presenting particular information and “spiritual” instruction as I’ve done in the past, I desire to simply journal my journey. After over 50 years of futilely trying to influence lives by teaching, preaching, “discipling,” mentoring, correcting, writing, and lecturing, I am now ready to engage in a more “life-on-life” approach – my life open to you so you can take something from it or reject it as you please. The UnCommon Journey will be reflections on my journey.

Not only will the content be different, but I also want to write in a different style.

I want to step away from myself and observe “me” as another person might. In other words, I want to speak to myself as I write. The Psalmist does this when he writes: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Ps. 42:5). St. Paul writes about a man he knew who was caught up to the third heaven, a man most ancient and modern writers consider to be St. Paul himself.

So today, I make my first attempt at this “style.” If you think you’ll benefit from this kind of writing from me or are at least curious, I urge you to subscribe. If already a subscriber, hang in there with me as I attempt new things. If a subscriber but not interested in the journey of an unfinished, struggling Christian, then unsubscribe. I’ll try not to judge you…and then write about my struggle not to judge unsubscribers. 🙂 Against all the advice of successful bloggers, I’m not going to chase after subscribers anymore. “Life-on-life,” that’s all.

In the following paragraphs, I’m writing to myself (I am the “you” in these reflections). These are the struggles of a 66-year-old former pastor who now answers a much different calling into the life of Christ, learning to unhinge from the expectations of others, himself, and the “Christian community.”

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Recently, you’ve been made aware of your desperate need to be respected for your spirituality and theological insight. This desire to be perceived as a “spiritual person” must have started when you were a teen who thought by merely reading the Bible and commentaries on it you were now qualified to help others understand scripture. This continued through college and seminary, taking other people’s ideas as true, adapting them, and passing them on to others. You were committed to living out these “truths” but really struggled, failing so often but unwilling to admit it. As a pastor, you had to be the strong one providing an example so others would know how to follow Jesus. Along the way, you developed an attitude of spiritual superiority. Due to your theological training and degrees, ministerial experience, personal spiritual disciplines, and positions of authority you were infatuated with the idea of convincing others to your way of thinking. You knew God better. You lived a better Christian life. You were better informed. You could quote scripture better. You knew the Bible better. By default, all this made you better than others.

In the recent past (with over 400 blog posts,) blogging has fed this self-admiration. You continued to pick at the speck in your readers’ eye while wielding a 12 inch 4×4 sticking out of your forehead, blinding you to your own egoism as you did damage to others in ways you and they did not even realize.

Yet, there has been a slight shift over the past year. You are now certain that your ego has been profoundly influential in much of your life and ministry – defending yourself when criticized, judging others who were not like you, cultivating vanity in your accomplishments, lording yourself over others (in your mind if nothing else), and crafting a reputation of spirituality so others would respect you. Bottom line…it has mattered too much to you what others thought of you. This reality has deeply lodged itself in you and has made you really uncomfortable. So disquieted is your soul that you are opening your heart to the grace-work of God in ways unknown.

With the help of the Triune God, St. Paul the Apostle, and “those who walk according to [his] example” (Philippians 3:17), you desire to walk a renewed journey, more in step with God’s work in you. We’ll see how this works out. You seem to make these commitments often and then don’t follow through. It’s easy to give in to desires that don’t align with this commitment.

From what I can see, when it comes to this blog, your struggles include…

  • a false humility. You think that if you don’t talk about yourself, you’ll be perceived as humble, less self-absorbed. See the deceptive subtlety of your ego? Even though St. Paul often wrote about himself, you’re no St. Paul. Yet, you can best share your journey with others in this blog as the framework for your experience of God. You once thought you could know God by reading books (and even the Bible) only to come to realize, as good and helpful as these resources might be, they were limited by your intellectual ability to understand. “Knowing” goes much deeper than comprehending thoughts and ideas. Maybe if you share your journey, you will understand it more fully and perhaps know God more fully. We can only hope.
  • an inability to adequately convey your true thoughts and feelings. You’re not a professional writer nor a particularly creative one. Yet, a blog demands that you write. Your “style” may not appeal to all readers. If not, they can always unsubscribe. If it does appeal to them, they can join you on the journey. You’ll do your best to be honest with yourself and write in an authentic manner – simple, straightforward, and subversive. You don’t want to present the “standard fare” for the Christian life nor uphold the “status quo” of Christian ideas. People can go elsewhere for what’s “normal.” This blog is entitled “The UnCommon Journey” on purpose. The truth is…nothing about Jesus, His true followers, and His Church is common or ordinary (as we usually understand it).
  • a real fear of being rejected for your beliefs and actions. In the Fall of 2020, you sat with a friend who made it clear that he disagreed with your beliefs and much of your writing, renouncing most of what you stood for. Being disparaged like that was hard to take. To be honest, your sabbatical was a bit of a reaction to this encounter. It also revealed (again!?!) your pride and egotistical need to be well-thought-of. Actually, you need more people to reject you and your writings that you might learn real humility and love. So I guess, keep writing and give some people an opportunity to help humble you, strange as that may sound.

You need to be brutally honest whether people understand you or not. Your writings might seem foolish and even wrong to others. You need to ignore the naysayers, uphold the faithful readers, and most of all, sincerely do what you believe God is directing you to do. I know this is difficult for you since some of the naysayers are your friends and many readers simply don’t know you. Stop trying to please people and begin writing authentically.

Of course, you’re overthinking all this. But, overthinking is what you do best…and also despise greatly.

Nonetheless, keep writing dear friend.

“Have this mind in you which is yours in Christ Jesus…who though being in the form of God…became insignificant, taking the form of a servant….”  = The UnCommon Journey

 

32 Comments on “After a Year on Sabbatical, I’m Blogging Again…but not the same Blog”

  1. I love this, Keith! But, I am not sure I am supposed to encourage your ego by telling you so. 🙂 Thank you for writing this post. The “shift” looks good on you! (And many of us can totally relate to every word expressed here) Please do keep writing authentically.

    1. Hi MickiAnn. Thanks for your response and encouragement. I’ll keep at it if you’ll pray for me. God bless! Keith

  2. Good stuff Keith. Glad you are back. I think maybe you are a bit too hard on yourself. Ego is tricky, but like Scotch whisky, is a gift from the creative genius of God. Gifts that need to be managed well in order to receive the fuller benefits. You’ve spurred me to consider the positive aspects of ego.

    1. Hey Roger. Thanks for responding. It helps bring back memories of you and our good conversations at the SMOT reunion. At this point on my journey, I’m not seeing much positive in my ego. It has definitely been too dominant in my life messing me up in so many ways. Anyway, the process continues. See my comments to Josh if you’re interested. I’ll probably be wrestling with this in future posts, as well. I’m a mess…pray for me. Hope you’re doing well. Keith

  3. I like this new direction, and my prayer is that it serves your own inner needs as much as it does your readers. This has a more Henri Nouwen feel to it; I’m especially thinking of his work The Inner Voice of Love (link below).

    My own ego is a terrible master, but it can be a good shield. Sometimes, my inner child is hurt and needs defending. Without a deep connection to the Triune God, the only defender left is my Ego. Perhaps in leaning more toward the Trinity, I can let go of Ego–but I probably should first thank and honor it for the role it played in keeping me safe.

    https://www.amazon.com/Inner-Voice-Love-Journey-Through/dp/0385483481/ref=asc_df_0385483481/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=312734685832&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=14004778918777475038&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9013299&hvtargid=pla-431438786153&psc=1

    Looking forward to more!
    JD

    1. Hey Josh. Nouwenian indeed! You are to be thanked for making me aware of this approach. To be honest, I’m not sure what to do with my ego except to put it in its rightful place. For me – as my journey goes – I think I have an “ego addiction” which does not allow me to give it much of an intentional role in my life. It seems I can’t have a little “taste” every now and then or it will take over. It might be best for me to accept that it is there and simply not to give it room to dominate me. All I know at this point is the process – more Jesus, less me OR maybe more Jesus in me. Thanks for your significant role in my journey. Keith

  4. Please keep me on the mailing list. You give me food for thought! And, happy new year to you and your family!

    1. Hi Dale. Thanks for responding. It’s great to hear from you. We’ll do our best to cook up healthy meals for you. Blessings! Keith

  5. From one brain-on-a-stick to another, thanks, Keith. Glad you’re back… (are those flagellation marks on it?). I’d like to pull up a chair, sit with you and Carl Jung sometime, and talk shadow selves with a bourbon in hand and pipe in mouth.

    1. Hey Tim. Your wit is a joyful balm to my heart. Maybe we can arrange that meeting sometime in the great beyond – bourbon and pipes included. I don’t think I’m punishing myself but my self-perceptions are often challenged. Being honest with myself is a new venture for me. Anyway, I pray the best for you and Mary. May God’s mercy sustain you in all things. Keith

    1. Thanks for hanging in there with us, Margi. We just saw your buddies a few weeks ago on their way to Florida. Blessings to you! Keith

  6. I look forward to sharing this adventure with you. Over the last year, the Jesus of the Gospels has become a far different person to me than our shared educational background would insist that I know. If the Gospels and gospel doesn’t change us each time we encounter them, why have them. The Scriptures become the Word of God through the Spirit, not the mind of a person.

    Enjoy the mess ahead!

    1. Hi Greg! It’s great to hear from you. So much water under the bridge since our Temple days. Your thoughts on Jesus and the Gospels echo a great portion of my journey as well. And…we’re probably barely scratching the surface of who Jesus is and who He is in us. How can we fathom the unfathomable One??? Yes…let’s enjoy the mysterious mess together. Keith

    1. Hi Vonna. Thank you for your reply and for reading the blog post. Glad to have you with us on the journey. Keith

    1. Hi Terry! So good to hear from you. I appreciate your good spirit and kindness. I remember you and our times together with great fondness. Blessings to you, as well. Keith

    1. Thanks, Tim! I appreciate the response. Thanks for being a good friend to me on the journey. Keith

  7. Thanks Keith. I will continue to read and see how God is dealing with both your voices along with my own heart as well.

    1. Good to hear from you, Frank. I appreciate you hanging in there with me, friend. Thanks for your prayers and friendship. Keith

  8. Blessed to be on this journey with you as a daughter, student, friend and mother of one very precious uncommon little boy :). Although painstakingly difficult at times, there is such beauty in that which is not “normal”, isn’t there?

    1. Hi Jenna. I am blessed to have you (& Brian and of course the best little guy in the world) with me on the journey. Y’all teach me so much. You are so right – it’s the unusual and the abnormal that shakes us from our comfortable little world and makes us grow. Thanks be to God! Dad

  9. Hi Keith, I’m glad you’re back! I must confess, I didn’t always take time to read the entirety of your previous posts. I had a hard time relating and even understanding. But I read this one all the way through and am intrigued. Please continue!

    1. Hi Becky. Not a problem! Thanks for hangin’ in there with me. I hope you’ll continue to find the posts “intriguing.” Perhaps retirement will give you more time to read? I appreciate you and your sweet spirit. Blessings! Keith

  10. Hey old buddy! I appreciate the third person approach of the writer…whoever that is. 😉 Less of me, more of Him. My journey over the past six years or so some fella introduced me to has been wonderful and mysterious. I’m glad “that guy” is back…with a different tack. See ya in the funny papers.

    1. Hey Greg! It’s great to hear from you. Yes. You’ve been a significant part of my journey…way back and now more recently. I am thankful for your receptivity and friendship. We’re in this together. Thanks be to God! Keith

  11. Hi Keith, first of all I feel no futility in the teaching, mentorship and spiritual lessons I received through you! I am on this journey with you and look forward to what is to be learned from now on! With love… Sharron

    1. Hi Sharron. You’re so sweet! Please forgive me for stating the “futility” of my ministry in such a broad way. I know for certain that many people benefited from my life and ministry. My perspective is often skewed by my shortcomings and seeming failures. You have been, in particular, a rich blessing and encouragement to me. Thank you for “setting the record straight.” And, thank you for reading these reflections. I hope you’ll be able to see my heart even more clearly in the days to come. Thank you for being such a significant part of my journey. Blessings to you. Keith

  12. Like your friend offering you a Bourbon and a pipe, I would love a quiet hike to be with you in silence and conversation

    1. Hello. Perhaps this can be arranged. It’s often difficult for me to “get away” for this kind of activity but it’s usually profitable. Thanks be to God for all things!

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