Negative, critical voices from the past can be so loud! They send hurtful messages. They drown out rational thought and cause us to misunderstand what others mean. They cause us to believe things that are not true. Why do they stick so much more tenaciously than positive messages?
Today on my way to lunch, I was carrying on a conversation with my friend, Will. We opened a door to a small elevator waiting area where I saw someone who I had hadn’t seen for a few years. We had a casual work relationship with a few years ago, so I wouldn’t say I ever knew him well. Without missing a single beat, I said, “Hey, Drew. It’s been a long time. How are you doing…” [insert 5 seconds of small talk here]. How did I know his name so quickly? I marvel at the way my brain works so very efficiently sometimes.
I heard a podcast recently in which the speaker was describing how memory and creativity work. In his comparison, he said that storing information in memory was like finding items and putting them on shelves. Creativity happens when someone takes two or more items and sees something new in common between them. In other words, no one really creates anything completely from scratch. I digress.
Right after seeing Drew and remembering his name, I imagined the process my brain went through to pull off this amazing feat… A few years ago, when I met Drew, I stored his name on a shelf somewhere in one of the great empty rooms that is my brain. For a while I visited it regularly as I would see him in the hall and need to use his name. Then I didn’t see Drew for a long time. His name grew dustier as I forgot about it. After all, I wasn’t using it. When I stepped into the elevator lobby, instantly flashing lights went off inside my mind. Sirens started screaming and the memory-librarians in my brain went rushing faster than the six million dollar man to get that name to the front of my mind. Somehow they dusted it off and had it there fresh and solid right when and where I needed it. To me on the outside, it was as if I had just been talking to him or about him. Unbelievable!
A little later, while we were sitting down to lunch, Jeff walked up to me and said hello. Now I don’t know Jeff very well. He’s in a church men’s group that meets at the same time and place that my men’s group meets, but we haven’t spent a lot of time together. I’m guessing that it has been four to six weeks since I last saw Jeff. I looked up, shook his hand and said, “Hey Ken.” (Wrong name!) Ken is another guy in Jeff’s group. Ken and Jeff don’t even look much alike at all. Why didn’t it work right that time. I said something silly to mask my mild embarrasment and went on with my lunch. No big deal, right? Why did my memory work so efficiently for Drew and so close but not quite for Jeff? Who knows. I still think it is fascinating.
Reminds me of a joke…
An elderly couple had dinner at another couple’s house. After dinner, the wives went into the kitchen and the gentlemen went into the parlor to smoke a cigar and talk. One of them said to the other, “Last night we went out to a new restaurant and it was really great. The food was scrumptious and the service was impecable. I would recommend it very highly.”
The other man said, “It sounds great! I would like to take my wife there sometime. What is the name of the restaurant?”
The first man thought for a moment and thought some more… Finally he asked his friend, “What is the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know… The one that’s red and has thorns.”
Do you mean a rose?”
“Yes, that’s the one,” replied the man. He then turned towards the kitchen and yelled, “Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?”
I can relate to the poor old guy.
The comments on the previous two installments of this wrestling with doubt have helped me. There’s a natural ebb and flow to life and I’m not exempt. Thanks for asking good questions and for drawing me out without offering fixes. That is what I asked for. My friend who comments as “ded” asks…
“Do you doubt God as an entity (your story of being invited on His lap would say you don’t), His goodness (ditto) or what man has determined is the way you must be before Him?”
Ded, the answers depend on when you ask. I am thankful for a strong faith in God. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church where I received a mix of godly teaching and a lot of other stuff that “shouldn’t” be in the mix… but there they are… I have seen God at work in my life and the lives of so many others, and I just cannot walk away from that. God is faithful. At the same time, I have questions and doubts that are very real.
To my fellow Christians who are very bothered and disturbed by this whole line of discussion, I ask you to be patient and stick with me. I have not abandoned the faith. I am trying to be real. If it is too hard for you to read or to follow, don’t try. Everyone is not at the questioning place that I am at, nor should they be. This is my story. Although I have been asking these questions for a long time on the inside, I’m just beginning to feel free enough to ask them on the outside. My desire is not to cause anyone else to stumble.
My questions and my doubts are RAW because that’s how I am feeling them. Sometimes I have no doubts at all. Other times, I doubt the very existence of God. That usually doesn’t last too long because of the experience I have. God has been faithful to me. He has guided me through so many difficult times.
Another whole class of struggles that I feel are due to the polarization caused by the conservative political front in the US. These people seem to equate conservatism with Christianity and that angers me. God is not a Republican. I think that one reason that I feel such strong emotion about the politicization of Christianity is that I used to do it. I used to be so “in your face” about my beliefs. After all, I had all the answers. Now I find that the older I get and the more I learn, the less I know. The Jesus that I read about in the Bible got upset with the religious leaders for politicizing their faith and weighing down the people with burdens they could not bear. However, He was compassionate, full of grace and forgiveness to the “sinners”. What I see in the conservative Christian movement is just the opposite. I see power struggles and condemnation of “sinners”. I have a question to throw back at them. What would Jesus do? Really?
Being this raw, real and honest is not fun… but I believe it is good. I heard N. T. Wright tell an interesting story about this particular species of ant. These ants follow one another unquestioningly and if they are not careful, they have been known to eventually form a huge circle. Now imagine all of these ants following the one in front of them because that one knows where it is going. Eventually they starve to death because of their behavior. I don’t want to follow unquestioningly. I think that God is big enough for my puny little questions. If not, he’s pretty small.
Yesterday, I wrote about my feelings of doubt in the moment. My friend, Anthony, reminds me in his reflection that it is in the dark where we find the light… well, he didn’t remind me personally, but his message was timely. I don’t want to doubt, but I want to be ok with my doubt. Does that make sense? Over and over this God whom I worship makes Himself real to me. I doubt and he comes through. I question and He takes me to deeper depths to reveal Himself to me.
I know I am taking it somewhat out of context, but in John 8, Jesus said that that truth would make us free. I value truth and I believe that it very much does set us free. When we live behind masks, we create illusions that we have it all together. Then others see us as having it all together, so they put on their masks so that we won’t know that they are a mess. So, one by one, the masks go up and we hide behind them. All the while we are dying inside. We want friends we can confide in. We really want to have true confession. We want to live lives of truth, but it is uncomfortable. Scary even. Jesus said that the truth would make us free, but he didn’t say it would be easy or comfortable.
I am not the one to argue what truth is or to come up with scenarios to test the boundaries of truth. When is it ok to tell a white lie sorts of exercises. But I know what I mean by truth. I know when I am hiding behind the mask. The truth is, I am a mess. If you don’t see that, you haven’t really been reading my blog. Do a search for the word, “mess” and see what you see.
Do you have doubts? Are you ok with that? Do you see others as having it all together? I haven’t read this book, but I love its title, The Only Normal People Are the Ones You Don’t Know That Well. I say, “Let’ s take off our masks and be real.”
In what I am about to write, I do not want to be fixed. I want to be heard. I welcome responses with questions that will help draw me out. I welcome affirmation of me and my heart’s cry. But save your fixes and your answers for another time. I just don’t desire that right now.
Yesterday, I heard a story about a young artist whose father is a pastor and his sister is a missionary, but he does not follow Christ. He says that he can see how God is real to his father and his sister, but he cannot see that for himself. I had to raise my hand and say out loud, “Me too.” I told the two men I was with that it is easy for me to see Christ in them. It is easy for me to see what great men of faith they are. It is easy to believe for them. In me it is hard. I doubt. I question. And when I doubt and question… I do it hard. I am so full of questions. I won’t list any of them here because I asked to be heard, not fixed.
I used to know all of the answers. I used to be able to quote chapter and verse quite literally to answer all of the questions I find myself asking. Those answers ring hollow to me. I am living a depth of real life that I never imagined 30 years ago. The easy answers don’t work at this depth. There’s a part of me that wants to answer all the questions and move on. But there’s another part of me that recognizes that the questions are essential. I ask them because something inside of me compels me to ask them. I ask because I want to know (but not right now:) )
Right in the middle of my doubting thoughts tonight, I saw the Lord move in a mysterious “coincidence”. I took Jeanie down to see Area 15 in Charlotte. (I’ll explain Area 15 later… hopefully tomorrow). It is in a pretty bad part of town, but Jeanie and I rode down so I could show it to her. We drove past and were heading out through the neighborhood. A few blocks away, there were two cars blocking the road and I was uncomfortable with the way things looked. I didn’t know if this was a drug deal or what, but I backed up into the intersection I had just ridden through. As I backed, I saw another car wanting to enter from my right. Thankfully, they stopped and waited for me to back up and turn. As we passed them, Jeanie said, “That is Greg and June.” I could hardly believe it. I turned around and followed them. They stopped at Area 15 and we pulled in behind them. Here we are in one of the worst sections of Charlotte, visiting with old friends and they also have two of my good friends whom I went to France with in 2004, Frankie and Alex.
I didn’t realize it but Charlotte 24-7 (part of Area 15) was open for prayer, so we went inside. The atmosphere was welcoming and peaceful. It was as if the God that I doubt so much was inviting me to sit on his lap and tell him what was on my mind. That moved me. Charlotte 24-7 moved me. The circumstances moved me. Being with my friends moved me. Being in an atmosphere of prayer and worship moved me.
What an enigma I am. I worship the very God that I doubt.
The word, “Christian” is a noun. You remember nouns from high school English class, right? A person, place or thing. The proper use of the word is something like, “I am a Christian.” The problem is that we have created an adjective from it. Rob Bell points out in his book, Velvet Elvis, that when we use Christian to describe, books and music, at best we blur the meaning and at worst, we say things that are untrue.
For example, what is “Christian” music? Is it music that is performed by Christians? Is it music with words about God from a Christian world view? (Whoops, I’m already in trouble. What is a Christian world view?) I am a Christian and I am a musician. When I play music, is it Christian music? What if it has words that don’t talk about God? What if it has no words at all? Is it still Christian music?
Is Christian music, music with a Christian theme? Is it worship music? Is Christian music the same thing as gospel music? What if it is performed by musicians who do not consider themselves to be Christians? I once knew a guitar player who was not a follower of Jesus and yet he loved to listen to (and perform) country-gospel music. Was it Christian music when he played it?
Do you see how quickly things get ugly when Christian is used as an adjective? Many of us Christians like to join together to find a consensus towards a goal or against something or someone else. For instance, the religious right want to make a Christian world view equivalent to republican world view. I think we do that sort of thing because it feels good to have our beliefs validated by others who believe the same thing we do. While validation and consensus sounds like a great thing, it is counterproductive to our becoming more like Jesus. “Christian” does not work as an adjective.
According to the Bible, God has given each of us unique spiritual gifts. I like to think of these gifts as talents and strengths given to us by God and blessed by Him to help us be the Body of Christ. Just like a body with many members, we all have unique functions. (Functions is not really the right word. It implies something I don’t mean. I am talking about “being” the Body, not “doing something”). I am at my best in the Body of Christ when I am being who I am in a Godly way. When I begin to change because I am concerned with what someone will think, I am moving the body towards conformity and away from being Christlike. A body was never intended to be an eye or a hand or a toe or a spleen or a liver. We need all the parts functioning the way they were created to function.
The best thing we can do as Christians is agree on the basics that make us Christians. After that, we should be able to hold our different beliefs and views. We should discuss them, learn from one another and most of all respect one another when we disagree. Agreeing to disagree is not a bad thing, but we cannot truly agree to disagree until we know that we disagree. We can only know that we disagree by listening to one another. Can we listen without agreeing? Of course we can.
By retaining our own views, beliefs, talents and strengths, the body becomes much more healthy. In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki says that groups are smarter when the individuals can think and act independently of one another. I believe that the Body of Christ is smarter and more effective when everyone is able to bring their own perspective to the table… not to convince everyone that they are right and the others are wrong… but to share their perspective.
If everyone has a different perspective, how can there be a single “Christian” world view? There cannot be. “Christian” does not work as an adjective.
When we discuss a particular topic in my small group and we start moving towards a consensus, I frequently find myself asking if our consensus view is true of the universal Church. If it is not, I push back. The reason is that when we reach consensus in our little community, we shut off our brains and our hearts. That is counterproductive to our being the Body of Christ. Consensus implies that we are all the same. It feels good, but in my experience it is usually unhealthy. It feels good in the same way that having an advantage over my opponent feels good. This is not a game that we win or lose. The Body of Christ is not about being against non-Christians, it is about being Christ to them.
Being a Christian is about following Jesus. There’s so much more to following Jesus than having a cute Christian bumper sticker or Christian key chain fob.
I suggest that we stop using Christian as an adjective. It is too confusing and when it is not confusing, it is comforting for all the wrong reasons. Will you join me in reinstating “Christian” the noun?
I was just thinking about going to lunch with my sweetie. We have been going out for Sunday lunch for so many years that it just feels like it would be sacreligeous to do otherwise. I was thinking of going to K&W cafeteria and imagining the crowd we would run into on a Sunday at lunchtime. I imagine a long line of folks “dressed for church” in their pretty dresses, maybe a hat or three, men in suits or at least ties. I confess that I generalize and prejudge these folks. I don’t want to, but I do. Who are they really? What have they given up in order to feel comfortable in their nice clothes? Do they still have dreams and passions, or have they given them up in order to just get along? I remember my grandparents telling my brother and me that God expects our best, so that’s why we dress up. I wonder… doesn’t he care more about our hearts than our clothes? Do we dress up to keep from upsetting Grandma? I am sure this says much more about me than it says about this crowd of people who I don’t even know… especially since I am imagining the whole thing.
Did you ever see the far side cartooon where the two ostriches are running along together. The one is looking at the other and thinking to itself, “Man I am sure glad I don’t look like that!” Of course what makes it so funny is that they are identical. I am the one ostrich looking at the other. I may not have a tie on, but I am no different.
I think what bothers me is that I see things about myself in them that scare me. How much have I given up my soul in order to conform to a way of life in order to get a form of community? I don’t dress up for church, but I “go” to church. Why? Am I looking for a place where I fit in? Am I going to “learn” more about God? Am I going to be part of the Body of Christ?
When I look at the dressed up folks in line, I answer the question for them (which is unfair, but easier than answering it for myself). I do want community. I want to be part of the Body of Christ. I want to continually discover and use my own unique spiritual gifts to minister to the body. That sounded more churchy than I meant it to. Here’s what I mean… I believe that God made me unique. He put a unique set of likes and dislikes in me. My values, my interests, my dreams, my fears, my passions are all rolled into me in a unique way. I don’t think that was an accident. It is who I am. The things that bother me, bother me because they bump against the things I value. Those are clues… everything is a clue to find out who I am… not some existential bellybutton contemplation kind of thing, but genuinely asking who I am and why I am here. I dont’ know if any theologians would agree with me, but I believe that these are all clues to the spiritual gifts in me that the Bible talks about.
Finding my gifts, my strengths, my talents, my passion is a process of elimination. For me it is not trying something and deciding I’m not good at that. For me, it is a process of learning what lights me up inside. What fires up my spirit? What makes my heart do a flip? What pulls me out of a depression? I think it is a lifetime journey… like a jigsaw puzzle… sometimes I sort through a pile of pieces that don’t seem to be connected, other times one piece after another just falls into place.
Friday mornings, I meet with a group of guys who I am on a journey with. When we meet, we “check in” with one another to see how we are doing, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I told them this past Friday that I was feeling depressed about my job. Without going into those details, I just don’t enjoy what I am doing at work right now. That afternoon, I met with my counsellor and told him about my checkin that morning, but then it occured to me that I wasn’t depressed anymore. After thinking about it, I realized that I had actually enjoyed my work that morning. I was working on understanding a technical problem and finding a solution to it. A puzzle piece snapped into place. Solving problems is something that I do well and something that lights me up.
Does this sound narcissistic? I know that the world does not revolve around me. I want to be an active part in making the world a better place. I believe that the best I can be is to be who I am. That sounds dumb, but life consists of a series of decisions… one after another. Some will be more effective than others. Some will just get me in trouble. I want to be more and more effective, but at the same time, I want to live on the edge experiencing life to the full.
Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you’ll live… at least for a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!
–William Wallace in Braveheart
I was looking at a photo of my paternal grandparents this morning and wondering who they really were. Oh, I knew them (My grandmother just died last hear), but I didn’t really know them. I don’t think they even knew themselves.
I am full of feelings; joys, fears, doubts, questions. Sometimes I feel like I’m right where God wants me to be and doing just what he has for me… other times, I am paralyzed with fear for no apparent reason.
After going through the Great Depression, I am sure that having shelter and enough food was a driving fear. Frugal would be a great understatement. What else was there? Did they talk about their feelings to one another? They showed me that they had it all together. Being a child, I believed that. I believed that one day, I too would have it all together. I would know who I am, what I believe and where I am going.
It was a lie.
I don’t have it together and don’t believe they did either. They reduced life to a few simple rules. Follow those rules and you get a get-out-of-hell-free card at the end of your life. I think there is more to life than that. More to following God than that.
Do I sound disrespectful? I don’t mean to. They were who they were.
Now that sounds like a copout. I don’t mean it to. I guess I am resigned to the fact that I will never know what happened to them. What were their joys, their sorrows, their hurts and fears? What made them feel on top of the world? It would help me to know who I am. There’s something comforting in the thought that I’m not the first one to feel the things I feel, to struggle with the tendencies I struggle with, to fear the things I fear and to wrestle with the questions I do.
Dear Family and Friends,
I am a mess. I do not have all the answers and it seems like every time I wrestle with a big question and get an answer, it comes bundled with more questions I hadn’t even considered before. I am afraid. I fear failure. I fear success (does that sound weird?). I want more than anything to follow God… not some impersonal god idea… I want to follow the God of the Bible.
First and foremost I want to be identified as a follower of Christ, but I don’t like the baggage that comes with that label.
I am a mess. But Jesus loves me anyway. That is the good news. Although I cannot earn his love, I want to serve him because I do love him. I want to love in a revolutionary, radical way.
I want you to come along. Let’s explore this life together and help one another. I love you.
Great post on a biblical view of homosexuality http://www.preachermike.com/2006/04/12/homosexuality. I don’t know “Preacher Mike”, but I have read a few of his blogs and I like the way he thinks and the way he expresses himself. It seems to me that we, the church, have earned a reputation for dogma over love. It is important that we understand that they heart of God is not about condemnation. It is about love. It is about saving us… many times from ourselves.
My friend, Chris, was telling me about a revelation he had about the passage of scripture that talks about our being “lifted out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire” (Psalm 40:2). Hold that thought for a moment and look at Genesis 19:19, where the Bible says that we came from the dirt. So, in a sense, the passage from Psalm 40, by lifting us out of the slimy dirty pit, it is talking about rescuing us from ourselves. That’s what I’m talking about.
May the Grace of God meet us all where we are at and help us move closer to himself.
I keep coming back to the idea that the Church is not about an event on Sunday. It is about brothers and sisters coming together in love. It is about our using our gifts to serve one another as if we were the very body of Christ Himself. That’s radical! Stop and re-read that passage again. Take your beliefs and put them on the shelf for a moment. Ignore your life experiences and read it for what it says. Forget about church being something-you-go-to. Some of you are thinking that you don’ t have any gifts or talents. Just imagine the possibility that you are wrong and read it again. Did you get it? Read it again.
If you are a follower of Christ, you are a part of His Body. Just like my fingers are parts of my body. I have trained them to touch the keys on my computer keyboard so you can read these words. But the words come from my mind. My fingers could complain that they do not know how computers work and therefore, they have no talent. Only my mind knows about computers and blogs. But my mind needs my fingers to type it out, or it will never be published for you to read. The fingers do have talent. They will never find it by looking at what the mind does for direction though. They have to do finger stuff.
In this way, we brothers and sisters in Christ need all of us to be the body. None of us has what it takes. We cannot do it alone and that is by design. God doesn’t want us to be alone. We can appreciate and even admire the gifts, strengths and talents that God has put in others by observing them. But we cannot learn what our gifts, strengths and talents are by looking at others.
What will it look like when we figure it out? I don’t know, but my belief is that the possibilities are boundless. As I re-read what I just wrote, I am frustrated. I have been thinking about this for weeks and months and it runs deep. I feel like this is just a stone skittering across the surface of the water. I hope to come back to it. But it is late and I need my rest.
Is it legal to pray in a blog? Would that be a prog (prayer+log)? I’ll risk it…
Father, I ask you to bless those who read this blog. I ask you to speak to their hearts. You have given me some measure of talent for putting words together. You have given me enough talent to understand how to publish a blog. You have the ability to lead people to this blog and to even use me. On the one hand, I couldn’t ask for more than to be used by You. On the other hand, I am wasting my time if these are not Your words. I ask you to guide my thoughts and words and to speak through this blog.