Embracing Ignorance

Following Jesus requires a willingness to acknowledge and embrace one’s ignorance. Far from a problem, this is an invitation to joy and wonder and adventure – just when you think you have God figured out, when you have fathomed some mystery of the Spirit or secret of creation, you discover that you have only broken the surface. The only response is to echo the words of Job:

"Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know" (Job 42:3).

This is the essence of being a disciple – a learner – to sit at the feet of the Teacher in openness and humility. To allow yourself to be challenged and changed and willing to leave the safety of your old world behind as a new one unfolds before you. And then, when you begin to see that even this new world does not contain all that is, to do it again. This is the essence of conversion, the lifelong adventure to which Jesus invites us with two simple words: “Follow me.” Yet responding to this invitation is anything but simple.

When Jesus gives his first public sermon in Luke 4, he chooses this text from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When he rolls up the scroll and declares, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” the people soak it up – who doesn’t want good news, freedom, healing, and a new world filled with God’s favor? But when he starts to talk about what this means, the mood changes. They want Jesus to perform miracles, but he is a prophet calling for change, not a showman putting on a spectacle. They like the destination he describes but not the journey; they are not prepared to leave the old world behind, to abandon their core beliefs, established practices, and privileged status. That would be risky! Before the day is out they try to kill him.

They are right about the risks; those who set out with Jesus find themselves on a tumultuous journey. Just when they think they understand who he is and where he is taking them, he upends everything. As they follow him around Israel, he deconstructs their perceptions and expectations again and again. He pushes on their foundations through parables and paradoxes, and their world begins to crumble. Every teaching reveals more of the radical revolution Jesus is bringing, and they vacillate between receptiveness and resistance. By the time Jesus reaches the pinnacle of his revelation – the Cross – no one is with him. Those who hold on long enough to experience the resurrection begin to understand, and they slowly become citizens and servants of God’s new world.

Disciples of every age – ours included – must go through this journey. We must hold our convictions passionately yet loosely, recognizing that if our beliefs, practices, and privilege are not regularly challenged and changed, we may have wandered off the Way. When that happens, we must allow the world we have constructed to crumble so that we can hear again those two simple words: “Follow me.”

To hear these words today requires recognizing that we have built a world that needs to come down.

Following Jesus in an Ecological Age

For the past 500 years, Western culture has constructed a world that exerts human power over the earth in previously unimaginable ways. We have justified this cultural construction through several bedrock beliefs: that humans are, by right and by might, at the top of the planetary hierarchy; that it is good to reshape the world to meet human needs and desires; and that we can wield such tremendous power without significant consequences. For the most part, the Church has blessed, adopted, and contributed to this cultural construction, providing theological justification for its beliefs and practical support for its advance as it has enjoyed its own tremendous growth and expansion alongside that of the wider Western world.

This worldview and way of life is starting to crumble as a more accurate picture of the world comes into focus, one that reveals how thoroughly interconnected and interdependent we are. This understanding of the world is all over the pages of Scripture, and has been part of indigenous cultures for millennia, but only recently has it found a voice in the wider culture through the scientific field of ecology. As this understanding becomes more prevalent, however, the implications are staggering. My doctoral thesis advisor, Dr. Norm Wirzba, puts it this way:

"The teachings of ecology promise a revolution in self- and cultural understanding that matches, if not exceeds, in importance the sixteenth-century Copernican astronomical revolution. Just as Copernicus forced a fundamental reorientation in how the universe and thus also we ourselves are to be perceived and understood, so too ecological insight compels a transformation in basic presuppositions about nature and human nature."[1]

Followers of Jesus must allow this ecological understanding of the world to challenge and transform our core beliefs, practices, and sense of privilege. This transformation is underway, and there are many helping lead the way. One of the foremost examples is the current Pope, who took his name from the patron saint of ecology, Francis of Assisi. His first official encyclical, Laudado Si’ (“Praise Be to You”), is a must read for ecological disciples. It is a powerful call for transformation in discipleship that shatters the illusions of the old world and shows how we can help build the new:

"Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal."[2]

It is this “long path of renewal” that ecological disciples undertake. If it feels risky to you, then you understand what is at stake. If you vacillate between receptiveness and resistance, you are not alone! If it highlights how much you do not know about the world, and perhaps even your own faith, I welcome you to the club!

As my last post stated, the starting point for this journey is love, which roots us in God's overflowing affection for creation. The first step is ignorance, which opens us up to truth, wonder and transformation. A long path, for sure, but one well worth travelling.

With you on the Way,


[1] Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 93-94.

[2] Francis, Laudato Si’ , accessed March 23, 2021, Vatican.va, 202.

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