FTE Day 1: The Discipline of the Genuine

So I don’t know if many of you know this, but I’m spending the week with the Fund for Theological Education at their conference on leadership in ministry. One of the key components of the conference here in New Orleans is our round-table discussion groups. The undergraduate fellows are split into groups of ten and assigned to a leader who provides a structured and free space to tell stories, explore vocation, and meet with the divine. We had our first round-table meeting tonight, and our leader, Juan Huertas, asked us to focus on the discipline of the genuine.

The assignment was simple enough. First, we engaged in a guided meditation on a piece of writing that discussed the discipline of the genuine. The piece, by Howard Thurman, reflected on the nature of that one genuineness inside ourselves and probed the depths of our souls looking for it. Thurman writes, “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” The importance of discovering who it is that we really are, what are true names are, is the practice not only of discovering the freedom to live and move and be, but is the practice of freedom itself, being set free to experience not just the life of a puppet, but the real and true life that God has to offer us, the divine life that he has expanded and invited us to join. Can you hear the genuine in your life?

The second part of the discipline centered on story-telling. With three minutes to prepare, we were to tell a partner one story of a time when someone else saw the genuine in us. I told my partner Isaac the story of a time when my mentor, Dr. Barnette, saw it in me. I was a freshman at Samford, and I was taking Dr. B’s class Formations for Christian Ministry. One afternoon, he asked me to come by his office to discuss a paper and presentation that I had given in class earlier that week. Terrified, I arrived at the appointed time ready for an F and my expulsion from Samford for being so incompetent. Quite to the contrary, Dr. B asked me to sit and began to praise my gift for story-telling, insisting that I had been able to clearly and engagingly recount a certain story in my presentation. He went on to tell me that my prose was just as good, clear and direct, and then asked me if I had ever considered pursuing a Ph.D. I answered honestly that the idea had never once crossed my mind. “You should,” he told me. “It would be easy for you, and you are one of those rare people who would really enjoy it.”

I don’t tell this story to brag on my own abilities, but to illustrate the discipline of the genuine. Dr. Barnette saw in me a little bit of that which makes me who I am, that part of me which is really real, and shone a light on it with such force that I could never shake the spots from my eyes. Sure, I had people in my life who had confirmed gifts before, but never had someone seen in me something that even I couldn’t see: the truest and fullest extent of those gifts and the call to use them. Dr. Barnette saw deeper into my reality, and handed me the keys to myself. He opened my eyes to the fullness of the call, and has prevented me from living a life dominated by the strings of a puppet.

After we had finished telling our stories to each other, Juan began to speak to us about larger narratives. He encouraged us to look for God in our own narratives so that we might better see God in the stories of others. And then he encouraged us to think about our lives as part of an even bigger story, as a connection to that biblical narrative. He reminded us that such a step requires a huge leap of faith, that believing that our little narratives can shape the story of people and eventually become the narrative of a people, but that such a leap was worth making. He encouraged us to see the points where our lives and the stories of Israel and the Church connected, and asked us to ponder how the genuine is present in those places.

I immediately began to draw connections between my little story and the story of another young man searching for the genuine: David. He didn’t seem like much to the outside world, and Jesse didn’t even think to bring him before Samuel when the prophet came to examine the house of Jesse, but when Samuel saw the ruddy shepherd boy, he caught a glimpse of that genuine within David. He saw within that fearless little sheep-herder something more, something that God would use to build a nation and make a king. And he used Samuel to open David’s eyes and ears to that genuineness within himself.

What about you? In what ways have you resonated with your own genuineness recently? Or are you aware of an artificial quality of life that masks who you really are? Has there been a Dr. Barnette or a Samuel in your life who has opened your eyes to it? Or are you a Samuel? Do you see the genuine in those around you? Have you helped them experience it?

In doing this, we open ourselves up to explore our stories more fully, to explore our freedom in Christ and with each other. In constructing our narratives we begin to see our place God’s story and in the story of His people. How does your genuine story begin to resonate? How can you develop a discipline of genuineness in your own life?

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