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The Weakness of Love

March 20, 2009 4 comments

There are times when the symbols, the dreams, the vision of our world comes crashing down. We look for God.

But He is silent.

Throughout much of the Bible He is silent. We can remember when He spoke the Word of Life that woke our heart to love. This Word came as a fresh spring, as pure joy, as heaven’s bounty. But then in the dire anguish of suffering: silence. Nothing. Where did He go?

We grope. We ache. We wonder. We grieve. We grow weary. We may even curse and shake our fist at the heavens. Or in the blinding grip of life’s struggles, we may simply turn away and look for lesser gods. The gods of technology. The gods of sexuality. The gods of spirituality and religion. We turn to gods of our own making for comfort and satisfaction.

Strangely, these self-made gods have real power. But the power is not freeing. It does not lead us to deeper and truer love. It stirs in us lust for power. Power to control. Power to protect.

I will never hurt again if I can control this situation, this person, the job, this group, this family, this church. We seek refuge in the slavery of other gods, other pharaohs.

Sadly, the gods of our making really do enslave us. Really do cut us off from the freedom of love. Enslaved by the passions, we can no longer love or be loved. We simply lust to consume, and so we are consumed. The gods of our making not only enslave, they eventually kill us. Our families may die. Our friendships may die. Our churches may die.

Everything we once held dear may be sacrificed to the idols of our making. Our beautiful homes are filled with beautiful furniture and broken people. Families, marriages, children that have been offered to the gods of our consumption, to the ravages of passion, to the coldness of convenience.

In the pain of great loss, we may brood and rage and then repeat our deadly rituals to new gods of death and indifference.

Into the darkness of our self made tombs, the shuddering silence pierces us. The Lord extends an invitation of freedom. He speaks to the entombed heart, “Come forth!” He does not invite us to a life void of suffering. We awake to a world where hurts still hurt and pain is still very real. And His Silence is still Present.

But instead of control. Instead of a method or a god to control the pain, we are asked to simply trust. Let go of control. Let go of trying to live pain free and sorrow free. Let go into the promise of God’s faithful love.

This complete love is revealed Word-made-Flesh. Jesus the God and King who embraces our suffering, who bears our sorrows, drinks full the cup of pain and suffering that floods our world. And yet, He continues to love. Hanging from the cross of shame, He looks upon those who are taking His life and cries out, “Father forgive them.”

Some suggest this was weakness. And that our God is weak and frail and the Creator of weaklings. They are right. It is weak but not powerless. There is power in brute force and power in absolute weakness.

Brute force requires someone else to sacrifice for my satisfaction. Brute force will master and control for a short season. But it is no match for the power of absolute weakness.

Jesus reveals the absolute weakness of love.

Love completely trusts the Lover and in so doing becomes all power and all glory and all wisdom and all strength both now and forevermore.

Following the call of Jesus, does not mean learning how to control this world and avoid all pain. It means trusting in the love of the Father. The unfailing love. In this mystery of trust, we might, by His great and wondrous grace, learn to love. We might become the true and complete images of God that have moved beyond the childlike power of creating and controlling to the uncontainable power of loving relentlessly.

Then the call of God and the cry of our soul become one: “Let me love God with all that I am and love other people with all that I am.” May love prevail in thought, words, deeds.

Have mercy Lord. We are weak. Make us weaker still.

As I wrote this meditation, I was think about a quote from a book I read several years ago called, The Heart of the World by Hans Urs Von Balthasar. I think this quote is worth reading and rereading as we traverse along the Lenten byways.

And now God’s Word saw that his descent could entail nothing but his own death and ruination—that his light must sink down into the gloom—he accepted the battle and the declaration of war. And he devised the unfathomable ruse: he would plunge, like Jonas into the monster’s belly and thus penetrate death’s innermost lair; he would experience the farthest dungeon of sin’s mania and drink the cup down to the dregs; he would offer his brow to man’s incalculable craze for power and violence; in his own futile mission, he would demonstrate the futility of the wolrd; in his impotent obedience to the Father, he would visibly show the impotence of revolt; through his own weakness unto death he would bring to light the deathly weakness of such a despairing resistance to God; he would let the world do its will and thereby accomplish the will of the Father; he would grant the world its will, thereby breaking the world’s will; he would allow his own vessel to be shattered, thereby pouring himself out; by pouring out one single drop of the divine Heart’s blood he would sweeten the immense and bitter ocean. This was intended to be the most incomprehensible of exchanges: from the most extreme opposition would come the highest union, and the might of his supreme victory was to prove itself in his utter disgrace and defeat. For his weakness would already be the victory of his love for the Father, and as a deed of his supreme strength, this weakness would far surpass and sustain in itself the world’s pitiful feebleness. He alone would henceforth be the measure and thus also the meaning of all impotence. He wanted to sink to low that in the future all falling would be a falling into him, and every streamlet of bitterness and despair would henceforth run down into his lowermost abyss.
No fighter is more divine than the one who can achieve victory through defeat. In the instant when he receives the deadly wound, his opponent falls to the ground, himself struck a final blow. For he strikes love and is thus himself struck by love. And by letting itself be struck, love proves what had to be proven: that it is indeed love. Once struck, the hate-filled opponent recognizes his boundaries and understands: behave as he pleases, nevertheless he is bounded on every side by a love that is great than he. Everything he may fling at love—insults, indifference, contempt, scornful derision, murderous silence, demonic slander—all of it can ever but prove love’s superiority; and the black the night, the more radiant does love shine.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar from “The Heart of the World”

2009 Retreat Schedule

January 22, 2009 1 comment

Below are a list of retreats I am planning for 2009. If you are interested, please email me (doug (at) springoflight.org). I am making immediate plans for the first retreat on the last weekend of February (27-29). On this weekend, we’ll discuss vision, hope and the power to change the world with the message of the gospel.

In some ways, this retreat will inform every other retreat I do this year. I believe it is timely and important. Much of my writing and meditation over the last year has related to what I hope to explore during this retreat.

Also note, we have a one day seminar on business coming up on March 21. This should be a provocative conversation about the kingdom of God and the market.

Here are the list of retreats and plans. If you plan to come to the February retreat or would like more information, please email. (doug (at) springoflight.org)

2009 Retreats Schedule

Hope in the Midst of the Hopeless (weekend retreat) – February 27-28, 2009
Reforming Business (seminar) – March 21
Relationships and the Commandments – April/May
Holy Creativity – Summer 2009
St. Patrick and the Evangelism of the World – Fall 2009

Hope in the Midst of the Hopeless
February 27-28, 2009
How do you still hope when it feels like your whole world is coming to an end? Worse yet, what happens when everyone else’s world seems to be coming to an end? As I’ve reflected on the fear of personal and cultural suffering, I’ve seen a Biblical response in the beginning and ending the world.

Drawing from Scripture and Church History, we’ll look at how we respond when it feels like the world is coming to an end. Better yet, we’ll consider how the prophets, Jesus, and the New Testament writers can translate faith, hope and love into words of vision that inspire themselves and those around them walk in the joy and power of the kingdom.

Now more than ever, Christians must know how to speak a vision of hope to the world around us. If we look at the Augustine writing while Rome was burning, Luther writing while his life was being threatened, or the early American settlers writing and speaking while facing an uncertain future, we will see how Christians in every age have learned how to speak the word of faith that changed the world around them.

From proclaiming peace and joy to our own souls to speaking the word of faith to the world, this weekend will help each person draw from Biblical wisdom to face the threats around us with an unyielding hope, an undying faith and an unfaltering love.

Brad Getz and Rick Doughty will join me in this conversation. I invite you to join us as well for a weekend of fellowship, reflection and visioning for the future.

Reforming the World Seminars
March 21
This year I plan several one day seminars focused on reforming our world. The first seminar will focus on our role in “Reforming Business.” This is not a theoretical seminar but a practical seminar born from the struggle of Christians in business. While I’ve invited a few folks to share their stories and lead the way, I invite all Christians in business from entrepreneurs to managers to employees, each of us face the challenge of translating our faith into environments and situations that may not be conducive to faith. Drawing from personal stories and the wisdom of the commandments, we will look at the hard questions and challenges of living out the kingdom of God in the mist of the business world.

Relationships and the Commandments
April/May
For many years I’ve resisted a “marriage retreat.” One reason is that many churches and ministries already focus on this area of need, so I’ve concentrated my ministry efforts in other places. But I believe the Lord showed me a way of discussing relationships through the wisdom of the 10 commandments that I think will offer a fresh perspective on marriage, parenthood, friendship, employer-employee relationships and more.

Instead of isolating marriage as the focal point, I would suggest the Bible offers a vision of family relationships that introduces a way of understanding all human relationships. Kelly, my wife of 20 years, and I will lead this retreat together through discussion and exercises.

Holy Creativity
Summer 2009
Come discover the delightful, wondrous creative gifts God placed in each person. Paul often exhorts his brothers and sisters to offer their gifts on behalf of one another. But if you look at his lists in Romans, Corinthians and other letters, you see a wide range of gifts and callings.

Instead of trying to classify and group human gifting into a neat Aristotelian chart, I invite you to join us for a weekend of discovering the riches and surprising and unexpected ways each of us are gifted to bless those around us. If you think you know all about your gifts, you’ll be surprised by what you discover this weekend.

Old friends and former professors, Darlene and Michael Graves will join me this weekend for an eclectic, playful and worship-filled weekend of creativity.

St. Patrick and the Evangelism of the World
Fall 2009
Every year America celebrates his birthday and a few people actually realize the amazing story behind this man. The story of St. Patrick is the story of a man who loved his enemies into the kingdom of God. He loved them so much, we think of him as Irish. But he wasn’t. Come hear more about the story of Patrick, the Biblical and Historical use of power evangelism, and the wonder of a nation that was converted without one martyr.

Psalm 46

January 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Here are a few thoughts on Psalm 46 that I wrote over ten years ago. I found it this morning in an old html file from a website I had in the 90s. As I reread, I think it is still relevant for today.

This psalm reveals the holiness of God moving in and through His people in the midst of chaos. I believe this speaks to what is coming upon the earth.

First Stanza

Verse 1 – 3. “God is both refuge an strength for us, a help always ready in trouble; so we shall not be afraid though the earth be in turmoil, though the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, and it waters roar and seethe, and the mountains totters as it heaves.”

(Vs. 1) The Lord is Holy. His holiness is perfect order. Therefore, his holiness is our only true refuge in the midst of the chaos.

(Vs.2-3) Sin brings disorder. Sin always works to chaos. It removes the core, and everything begins to fall apart. Here is a picture of chaos tearing the earth apart. There is no internal unity, thus the foundations are crumbling and the world is returning to the dark waters before creation.

This passage can be understood globally and individually. Anywhere sin has a stronghold, chaos will follow. Sin will always bring internal disorder. It moves people out from the purposes of God. And outside of God’s purposes all cohesive energy dissipates, thus everything moves into disorder and chaos. Many people live in a state of chaos. Their internal world is falling apart. Soon more will follow. Entire nations reel to and fro in the midst of this lack of cohesive energy.

The crumbling brings confusion, darkness, fear, and destruction.

Refrain. Yahweh Saboath is with us, our citadel, the God of Jacob.

(Note: The New Jerusalem Bible inserts the refrain found in verses 7 and 11 after verse 3, thus dividing the Psalm into three stanzas.)

The refrain occurs three times. Each time it reminds us that God of Peace remains present to those who humble themselves and cry aloud for mercy. It is imperative we learn to enter and dwell (by faith) in God’s holy presence. This is the only place of rest and peace. Those who fail to abide will grow weak and faint before having entered into what God has planned for them.

Rabbis have debated the meaning of Yahweh for centuries. Sometimes it is rendered, “IAM IAM,” or “I will be as I will be.” In his book Moses, Martin Buber explains that many ancient cultures believed that names had power. They believed if you spoke the true name of a person or a god you could control them. Thus their religion sometimes incorporated a form of divination. They thought they could control their gods through the name.

Moses asks God for his name. But God doesn’t give him a name, instead he says, “YAHWEH.” Buber interprets this phrase, “I Am and Remain Present.” Thus God communicates to Moses, “You cannot summon me like the Egyptians summon their gods. I Am and Remain Present. In the midst of your 400 long years of suffering, “I Am and Remain Present.” You cannot summon me, but I Am and have always been present. Even when you rebelled. Even when you killed the Egyptian. I did not turn my back. I Am and Always Remain Present- calling you to turn towards me, to face me, and yield to me. Thus life is listening and turning to the voice of God.

Using Buber’s interpretation, consider the refrain. In the midst of chaos, God says to His people, “I Am and Remain Present.” The Holy One of Israel, the source of creation and all order, remains in the midst of His people. He calls us to turn and listen. To find refuge in His holiness. Like Jacob, we cry aloud for mercy, and His holy presence surrounds us, engulfs us. The holiness drives out chaos from within. Holiness brings fire, not to destroy, but to root chaos. Holiness restores creation to perfect order.

Second Stanza

Verses 4 – 6. There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city, it sanctifies the dwelling of the Most High. God is in the city, it cannot fall; at break of day, God comes to its rescue. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms are tumbling, when he raise his voice the earth crumbles away.

Jesus said that streams of living water flow out from his people. Each of those who cry out for mercy, are immersed in holiness. This holiness springs out through them. When the believers come together, these streams form a river of holiness which brings joy to the church and prepares the way for the coming of the Lord. As the Lord descends in the midst of the church, this river of life flows out from her. She is unconquerable. Moving in His purpose, the people of God, as one body, one river, stands strong.

The church has been weak and frail. While many churches have externally stood against the world, the internal forces of the world of selfishness worked chaos within the church. In the midst of the battle, she was weak. But as the holiness arises in and through God’s people, the church is rescued.

The true order is Christ in the center of the church in the center of creation. When the church is restored, then the Word of the Lord goes out from the church which brings an end to systems and structures and governments which operate in chaos keeping the curse upon the earth. The Word of the Lord flowing out from the church, breaks this power, kingdoms of darkness fall giving way to the light, to restoration.

At this point there is another refrain. Reminding us that God is and remains present. He is and remains our refuge. We can never move beyond the simple truth of practicing the presence of God.

Third Stanza

Verses 8 – 10. Come consider the wonders of Yahweh, the astounding deeds he has done on the earth; he puts an end to wars over the whole wide world, he breaks the bow, he snaps the spear, shield he burns in the fire. “Be still and acknowledge that I am God supreme over nations, supreme over the world.”

All the effects of the chaos come to a halt through the power of holiness. Works of destruction are brought to an end. And all mankind will see the glory of the Lord. This seems to point to the ultimate restoration of all things into Christ. Holiness does not simply change our inward character, it also transform everything outward. It brings true justice into the world. This is possibly the beginning of a second Eden.

The psalm ends with the refrain. Regardless of what has been or is coming, God is and remains present. We must not look for him in the past (i.e. – focusing too heavily on what he did in the past, including the Early Church). We also must avoid looking for him in the future (simply waiting for the great revival or renewal or restoration to come). As servants of the Lord, we learn to watch for His coming and meet Him in the now.

Life’s Journey in Psalm 23

December 17, 2008 2 comments

Living our lives involves peace, nourishment, growth, struggle, suffering, surprise, joy and love. In the midst of this shifting world, we must learn to rest confidently in the absolute faithfulness of God…to the very end.

Born into a family we grow and learn and change over time and in space. We move from infant to child to youth to teen to adult. Then our adult life is a separate journey that may repeat aspects of our childhood in differing order. Recently, I was thinking about this passage through time in light of Psalm 23.

I think this Psalm might provide a helpful lens to consider the path upon which we walk and the places we pass through along the way. At the same time, the Psalm may reveal some sense of the journey of Israel, God’s people chosen to bless the world. These thoughts are still forming, but I thought I’d jot them down.

Psalm 23 begins in the place of infancy:

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

The baby is completely dependent upon the gentle care of the parent. The babe has no wants and trust the parent to provide food, comfort, shelter and care. In the story of Ancient Israel, we see God rescuing the people from Egypt. They are completely helpless and can only survive by trusting in His complete provision. From crossing the Red Sea to drinking water from the rock, Israel must rest in God’s direct provision for their sustenance.

Like Israel, we begin in a place of complete dependence. We cannot safe ourselves. We are helpless, sinful, blind, and enslaved. In His grace, He draws us to Himself and feeds our soul. His love covers a multitude of sins. He showers us with grace. He heals us. Feeds us. And guides us.

But then the babe must begin to grow. They learn obedience, they learn discipline, they prepare to become adults who will carry on the name of their family. The giving of the Law at Mt Sinai is the gift of God to transform the children of Israel into a kingdom of priests who will bring blessing to the world. The parent trains their child in righteousness, and in the same way, the Father prepares us to bear His name. We must grow up into Him, into the life He has called us.

3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

There are seasons when He brings us back to the lessons of childhood. For the Father disciplines His true children. If we are to bear His name, if we are to reveal His blessing and glory, we must be trained in His righteousness by His Holy Spirit.

Adolescence can be painful. The shifting from child to man is wrought with emotional and physical development that turns the youth’s world upside down. For some this season may shift from extreme joy to extreme anger to extreme sadness. I would suggest it might be like passing through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

As the Father calls us to grow up into love, we also must pass through the “valley of the shadow of death.” In this place, we face our own desperate need for God’s grace. It is here that we will learn the love of Christ. It is here that we will discover the great depth of God’s grace.

And it is here that we will face our greatest trials. For in the “valley of the shadow of death,” we face the wounds that sin has inflicted on our lives and through our lives. There are caves of bitterness and rejection and loneliness and anger. It is here that the seducer of our souls calls out to us. He seeks to lead into the tailspin of self-reliance, into the path of the dead.

In the “valley of the shadow of death” many people forget the green pastures they once knew. In fact, they begin doubt there ever was a shepherd caring for their souls. If you live in a cave too longer, you may quit believing in the sun. And eventually, you’ll become blind in the darkness. The valley of the shadow of death is dangerous and may cost us our life.

This is where advent begins. We join Israel in the valley of the shadow of death. We discover that their exile, their story of being cast into outer darkness is actually our story. For in this dark valley, we realize that we were not as shiny and pretty and wonderful as we had imagined. The wounds of sin have penetrated our memories, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

Why would the Father so cruelly lead us into to such a place of death? It is here that we realize our deep need for healing and grace. It is hear that we discover a love that touches our deepest pains. Without passing through this valley, we will never know the depths of love, we will never be healed by the depths of love. In the place of death, of darkness, of exile, we must learn to cry out, “Lord have mercy!”

There’s only one way out of this valley of the shadow of death. It is by entering into the shadow. Death is the only way out. So we must enter the one who consumed and the grave. In the cross of Christ, we discover life.

Here we discover Jesus has already gone on ahead of us. He’s passed through this valley and His cross has made a way to another land. There is a feast awaiting us.

Psalm 23:5-6
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning. The night of sin and death may seem to last and last and last. But it is but a blink of the eye compared to the joy that is to come in the full light of day. By His grace, we awake in the morning of His love (with the promise of day to come).

We return to the place of rest and trust in the Shepherd of our souls. But now we are adults. Jesus offers His body and blood as a feast of life in the midst of our enemies. The battles are not over. In fact, we may still face great suffering and struggle. But His Spirit has taught and is teaching of the wonder and secret of deep joy.

The joy of children is the joy of innocence. It is beautiful. Playful. Lyrical. The joy of adulthood is the joy that has the power to face the darkness, to drink the cup of suffering, and to continue singing and rejoicing. This is the joy of Paul and Silas imprisoned and beaten unjustly.

No they are not treated fair or right, but they can still rejoice in the Good King, the Savior of the World. In the midst of their enemies, they feast. They eat at the table of the Lord. They enjoy the anointing of God’s Spirit and are filling to overflowing with life that pours out upon the wicked prisoners and jailer around them.

By the great grace of God, we are called to grow up into priests, kings and prophets in the midst of world scarred by sin and corruption and death. We don’t escape this world of pain but we bring goodness and mercy into the midst of it.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.

As we grow, we learn to draw from the hope that is held securely for us behind the veil. This hope of complete redemption, of eternal glory, of faithful love sustains us. This hope is not in the shaking sand of emotional or mental assurance but in the absolute fidelity of Jesus Christ who cannot be moved but has already been faithful to the end of all things. His complete faithfulness to the Father in and through death continues shining as He raises from the dead, a light of hope bursting back from the end of all things to this moment in time.

So I rest in His faithfulness and know that the Shepherd of my soul will bring me to dwell in His house forevermore.

Categories: Advent, meditation Tags: , , ,

Thoughts on Interpreting the Text – (Dougernism)

October 14, 2008 2 comments

Tired of hearing the angry voices competing for attention by increasing volume, I have often felt like the post-modern who says, “You’re both all right.” Silence seems golden when the only sound you hear is the sparring of two syllables in flight. But what is even more golden than silence is the articulate voice that creates the future in the midst of a world that seems to be crumbling.

Now more than ever I believe we need people to pay attention, to listen, and to respond with an articulation of wisdom from the Word. So how do we approach the Bible, the Word of God? What tools, what lenses, what frameworks can assist us in our endeavor?

This is not an exhaustive list but a few thoughts collected from writers and thinkers far wiser than myself. Karl Barth (via the great synthesizer Donald Bloesch) taught me that I don’t stand over the Word but it stands in judgment over me. So the first tool in my bag of interpretive tricks, is the grace, the gift, the challenge of humility. I come to the text realizing my own flaws, my own limited vision, my own sinful heart and deceptions. I humble myself under the mighty hand of God that He may lift me up in due time.

One of the dangers of critiquing modernism is the sense that I am finally here to save the day. Actually many a man far greater than myself lived and died in the school of the moderns, and I am grateful for the gifts of that generation. So in addition to humility, gratitude might also be helpful. We might learn to be grateful for our critics, our forebears, and especially for the heretics. I can learn from the successes and failures of others if I might learn to appreciate them and listen.

Listening is yet another key tool. Listening to the text. Listening to the writer influenced by the Greek philosophical world, the Roman legal system, the early medieval tribal world, and the late medieval scholasticism. Listening to the heart of the Reformers, the precision of the Enlightenment thinkers and the passion of the emergents. If we can develop the skill of listening to others across space and time, we might be forced to reflect upon and consider and grow from a different perspective.

All these initial tools might be captured in the words, “faith, hope and love.” The Word is not my word but God’s Word. So when I open the text, I must believe that God is speaking to me through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of critical distrust, I bring critical trust. As a good Protestant, I believe the Word stands over and above all human words. Yet, like the Reformers before me, I believe that this God Word echoes through the communities of faith across space and time. So listening intently to these communities is valuable.

Different times sound forth particular articulations that sometimes seem unrecognizable from our current milieu. This requires the discipline of sustained listening through the ears of love. In addition to speaking from vastly different cultural contexts, different Christians across time and space have read the Word through particular parts of the Word. Gerald Bray suggests that the early centuries of the church read through the lens and questions of John’s gospel. It should be obvious that we read the text today through the lens of the book of Romans.

This is why question of justification, faith vs works, law vs grace and so on are so readily in our discourse and our faith walk. Another book that has exerted a powerful gateway into the rest of the Bible is the book of Psalms. This collection of songs offers an interpretive lens for everything from the creation story to the end of time, and we would all do well to sing (listen twice) to the treasures of this hermeneutic aesthetic.

Growing up with an attitude of derision toward the law, I found parts of the Old Testament virtually unreadable. More recently, I’ve begun to discover the treasure that the law brings in opening up the stories, the songs, the provers, the gospels and even the epistles.

By moving back and forth between varying perspectives, am I not simply reflecting the post-modern conditioning of my culture? Unquestionably. On the bad side, this can lead to a position of having no tools to correct readings that damage the text, and having no ability to draw distinctions between Biblical revelation and the latest new age prophecies.

But seeing the Bible through varying perspectives does not mean that I give into a sea of subjective waves. Rather, I can draw from the tools of the ancient church realize that multiple perspectives can operate at the same time without canceling each other out. I can appreciate the narrative tools and rhetorical devices without denying the historical veracity of the stories. Both perspectives can teach me. This can begin helping me develop the Biblical skills I need to distinguish between subjective fluff and subjectively inspired revelation via an objective God who stands outside of my thoughts.

While I don’t like to really even use the terms objective and subjective, but for now let me suffice with the idea that the church has and still does offer the tools to distinguish between helpful and hurtful approaches to the text.

I might also suggest that objectively I can obey and embodying the words of the 10 commandments. Without faith in the historical Jesus and literal obedience to His commandments, I am still on the outside and all discussion of interpretation is simply theory. Stepping on the inside, I discover that I can listen and obey in simple childlike faith. And that many of the most simple will interpret the Word through their lives far more effective than me by listening, trusting and obeying the gentle (and not so gentle) promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Dreaming

August 28, 2008 Leave a comment

My mind wanders.

I remember it quietly wandering off during the sing-song rhythm of the speaker’s voice. And that was last Sunday. As a child, my imagination moved so easily between dreaming that my teacher’s and parent’s might say, “Come on Dougie, keep up with us.”

One day while walking with my family at a shopping center, I soon began to drift and dream. My body kept moving as my eyes followed the legs in front of me moving back and forth, back and forth. A few steps into Gimbels and I realized that I was following the wrong set of legs.

After a short panic, my parents arrived in the store and found me. They had walked into another store, but I was drifting off elsewhere and just kept following whoever was walking in front of me.

As I drifted, I was dreaming in “what ifs.” What if I could walk through that glass? What if I could climb up in the church’s rafters and fly from beam to beam? My imagination would ask a question and soon my reason was working alongside my imagination to construct whatever dreamy world I created.

The human imagination can ask all sorts of fantastic questions, and the human reason can build a logical though self-contained world from that question. Lewis Carroll asked, “What if you could walk through a mirror, and enter into another world?” Then he wrote “Through the Looking Glass” to answer that question.

Both “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are imaginative worlds that Lewis Carroll created with the richness of his imaginations and the precision of his logic. You see, these fantasy worlds were not illogical. They were perfectly logical. In fact, Lewis Carroll was not primarily a children’s author, but a logician.

He applied his logical mind to building these imaginative worlds. Each chapter in “Through the Looking Glass” is a move on a chess board. And yet, the story is not physically real.

This is both the gift and the danger of the mind. Reason working alongside imagination can answer all sorts of questions, but the answer may or may not be true. In addition to my dreamy magical worlds of walking through walls and flying in the rafters, I asked other questions like “What if I am kidnapped?” “What if there’s a ghost in the basement?” Or “What if my parents are raptured and I am left behind?”

The same imagination that brought such delight also filled me with terror. Because once my imagination set the question in motion, I began looking for clues as to why that might be true. A sound in the basement and a flash of light suddenly grows into a terrifying goblin living beneath us.

The gift of reasonable minds and active imaginations have helped us discover news worlds, land on the moon, write amazing literature, and find cures to diseases. But the same gift can also lead to terror and fear and evil worlds like terrorism and fascism and racism. Left unchecked, the mind will draw from its rich resources to churn out perfectly reasonable answers. But these reasonable answers may be wrong and even be disastrous upon my power to think

Our minds may ask questions like “What if there is no God?” “Or what if God is evil?” If I start with the idea that God is absent, a mere phantom, then my mind and imagination will work outward from the supposition to find reasonable assurance that I am right. While we all may face doubts at times, if we continually apply our skills of reason and imagination to doubt, then we will end up where we start–in doubt. The starting point of reason makes all the difference.

C.S. Lewis once suggested that a man who doesn’t believe in miracles will not be convinced of miracles because he sees one. His mind will build a case as to why he didn’t see a miracle at all. So while the mind is an amazing gift for processing, imagining and rationalizing, it fails in the initial act of discovery.

The human relationship with God is built on trusting God’s faithfulness in both the seen and the unseen. In one sense, this relationship is similar to human relationships that require trust as a fundamental starting point. Think of a husband and wife.Trust allows them freedom to rest in their shared love without the need for constant reaffirmation.

In this trusting relationship, the presence of the beloved brings a sense of peace and joy. While dramatic gestures of love may reaffirm presence, there are many steady, quiet affirmations through little actions. A shared conversation. A quiet walk.

Presence for me is often found in the gentle touching of one foot brushing up against the other’s foot during a night of sleep. This quiet assurance brings peace and a reminder that my love is there. A trust in the covenant faithfulness of my spouse allows me to rest in her presence and away from her presence. But that trust can be damaged. If the imagination begins to ask, “What if my spouse is unfaithful?” The mind can easily begin to question every action, every word.

This leads to fear of the unseen. For as soon as the spouse is not present the imagination begins reeling. Where are they headed? What are they doing? The mind requires constant reassurance of the spouse’s faithfulness. This is why we guard the trust our spouse puts in us. Once lost it so difficult to regain.

This is also why the Psalmist writes again and again and again about trusting the Lord instead trusting the arm of the flesh. As our trust grows more and more in my reason and the reasonableness of the world around me, the power of “what ifs” can begin to plague me. Like a jealous spouse, I begin discovering clues everywhere that reinforce the absence of God.

This dark hole of doubting chokes and smothers the joy of the soul. We need signs and constant reassurance that God is there. “Why can’t He just appear and take away my doubts?” But he is inviting me to trust in His covenant faithfulness—both seen and unseen.

And like a foot poking across the bed, His Word pokes across the space between heaven and earth. Again and again and again, He quietly calms my souls in the gentle intimacy of His Word. The Psalmist reminds me of how prone I am to trust in the unfaithfulness of my own mind—which can easily create fictions upon fictions.

Thus I am reminded to trust in something, someone outside myself. Ultimately, this trust is a gift. When I trust in the Word and trust in the Lord of the Word, I come to realize that I have been given a precious gift. I can use that gift to dream like a newlywed uses the gift of their new love to dream. They imagine a life together. They dream of children and home and a life of new possibilities. I can approach the Word as a dream. And wrap my open mind around the words and stories contained within.

I can learn to dream fantastic dreams like the prophet Ezekiel. This strange man ended up in exile in Babylon. Everything he saw around him suggested that the God of Israel was defeated by the gods of Babylon. In the midst of a crushing empire that dominated other nations by power and oppression, Ezekiel trusts the Lord. Thus his “what ifs” wrap around the faithfulness of God.

With an imagination immersed the commandments of the Lord, the covenant of the Lord, and the promises of the Lord, He begins to dream. And in the land of exile, he dreams of returning home and rebuilding the temple. He dreams of a stream flowing from that temple that will bring healing to all nations. His dream rooted in relational trust gave energy and hope to the exiled Jews. They joined in his dreams. And eventually, his dreams led them home.

That was over 2,000 years ago. The great and mighty Babylonian gods have long faded from sight. But the dreams of Ezekiel still inspire. In his dreams, we hear the God of Israel still speaking, encouraging, and challenging us.

So I’m kinda glad my mind wanders. By God’s grace, I want to let it wander in the garden of His Word. I want to dream even more dreams and not simply dreams of flying through the rafters and walking through glass. But dreams of justice and peace and kindness and love.

By God’s grace may the stories and songs of Scripture come alive in our imagination. And may we dream the dreams of God.

Categories: faith, meditation Tags: , , , ,

Why Do I Like Welsh Poetry?

June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

I can’t even read Welsh, so I end up reading poetry written in Welsh and translated into English. (Hopefully, I will eventually read it in Welsh.) So why does it strike me and move me so deeply? As I meander back through Bobi Jones Selected Poems (translated by Joseph P. Clancy), I ask myself, “Why?”

My family has Welsh roots and a second cousin has actually met with distant relatives who still live in Wales. But in al truth, I am an American. I don’t know any other reality. Despite my Celtic dreams, I am an American through and through. This is the only world I’ve ever known.

As an American, I read poems originally written in Welsh about Welsh places and Welsh people and Welsh struggles. I these poems through the eyes of a translator (a great Welsh translator and poet in his own right). In spite of the disconnect, these poems move me. They vibrate through the inner recesses of my soul.

As I think about their struggle to preserve a language, a memory, a particular history and a particular people, I connect with their rugged persistence in the face of (seemingly) unstoppable winds of change. They won’t let go. When the fight to keep speaking and writing in Welsh borders on futility, they keep holding on.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear losing a language. I don’t know what it’s like to fight to preserve a nation. But I do know the dark seas of hopeless chaos that sometimes tower when God seems to hide the grace of His presence. In smothering black nights of hopelessness, something deeper than my intellect continued to hold out for hope.

Something deeper than sheer willpower seemed to persistently grip the glimmers of fading rays when all effort seemed futile. Something deeper than me kept holding on. The very one who seems to elude me, who seems to hide from me, who seems to have abandoned me, continues to hold me, to draw me, to sustain me.

Even though dark waters have pounded my soul and the undercurrent of chaos has pulled me down to an airless pit, the Spirit never stopped hovering, blowing, creating and recreating me.

And I think this is why I love the Welsh poets.

Somehow in their relentless struggle to hold onto hope, I’ve come to find a home among fellow travelers who’ve tasted the sweet light of grace in the midst of the night.

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