As a writer, I was taught that every story follows a similar pattern of rising action, culmination, and resolution. And as it goes, the story about Tom Dearduff and the United Christian Ashram is no different. California unveiled the setting and characteristics; Texas advanced the plot towards an ultimate turning point; and Minnesota served as the apex of my sanctification over the course of this summer. I must say that this story contains no M. Night Shyamalan plot twist nor is it filled to the brim with action-packed miracle-making and revelation; it is a simple realization. It is quiet and fulfilling like sitting out on one of the thousand lakes of Minnesota in the brisk morning with a cup of coffee while listening to loons wail over the waters.
Lately, I have been reading through John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. As my flight bumpily made its way over parts of Northern Illinois, I read a section in which two characters discuss the relationship between will and sin:
That our rule over sin is of our will and freedom is quite empowering. We cannot just idle by and expect God to fix all of our vices automatically. I sat back in my cramped aisle seat, ate some peanuts, and pondered the sins over which I may rule. The first thing that came to mind was pride, and if you’ll look back towards my reflections on the Texas Christian Ashram, you’ll see that pride has rooted itself deeply in my character. But I knew that “thou mayest rule over pride.” So as my flight descended into the Twin Cities, the Trinity began to rise up within me.
The Rich Young Man
One of the most challenging teachings of Jesus is Matthew 19:16-30, The Rich Young Man (i.e. Tom Dearduff), which ends, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” It’s easy to serve when you know that being last will inevitably end in being first—nobody chooses the turtle over the hare if they don’t know the outcome of the race. But Jesus does not teach us to be last so that we may be first. He teaches us to be last in order that we may be like him, always last and totally surrendered. Herein lies my problem: I do not want to be the turtle unless the story holds true. This selfish desire is the epitome of my pride.
But the stirring of the benevolent Spirit in and through my involvement with the Christian Ashram altered my aphorism; “what is best for me” unknowingly became “what is best.” During my four days in Minnesota and with the prayers of my brothers and sisters in California and Texas, I found myself serving for the glory of God and not for the glory of Tom Dearduff. But I was never aware of the transformation, for I was pursuing thou mayest without knowing how thou mayest. I was left asking God to provide opportunities in which I could actualize being last—to laugh, love, and live as a vessel free from disgrace as is intended in Second Timothy 2. So, here is my simple realization, the quiet and soft, lakeside cuppa and loon listening apex.
A woman approached me towards the end of our four days together, pulled me aside, and thanked me for having a helping heart. She said that I, like her husband, have the love language of service. What? Me? She must have mistaken me for somebody else. The last thing I thought I possessed was humility. But I began to look back and see God’s work in reshaping the parts of my heart that were cynical and dark. This transformation was not my own doing, and I praise God for my softened heart and surrendered humility!
I find that how thou mayest is through the Spirit. When we desire to rule over sin and resign ourselves to the only true answer that is Christ, we invite the Spirit to dwell within us.
It was little acts of service that this woman noticed: things such as running the soundboard or cleaning tables after meals or bringing down Lacey’s guitar or making a fool of myself with the youth. These things I may not have done had I not attended the Christian Ashram in California and Texas, because as I said, they were what worked into this summer story. Keep in mind: not all cross carrying requires the stigmata, so I challenge everyone to do one act of service each day to more fully bring the Kingdom of God into his or her community.
The Only Choice
I may rule over pride through the power of the indwelt Holy Spirit only when I understand that my only response is a willingness to invite the Holy Spirit into my heart. To serve is to surrender oneself to the God that makes us whole. There is no greater act than to kneel at the foot of the cross with arms outstretched knowing that earthly wealth is vanity of vanities and that we are nothing without the redemptive lastness of Jesus of Nazareth. The Minnesota Christian Ashram was a safe place for me to fall upon my knees and tear the shackles of arrogance from my hands and feet, to realize that thou mayest and thou should.
Overall, the Minnesota Christian Ashram was a renaissance of hope and perspective. It was a time of surrender, application, realization, and nourishment through community and Spirit. The Minnesota Christian Ashram helped me surrender my pride and process my sanctification, exposed my desperate need for spiritual transformation and relevancy, and offered ways in which we can work towards reclaiming the Christian message, one act of service at a time.
By Tom Dearduff