On faith and the academic pursuit of correct answers (Yoda)

I was in a silly mood this morning while corresponding with a friend about young students wanting direct answers from their profs. It got me thinking about my own academic and spiritual journey.  My five-year-old son has become a Star Wars fanatic, and many conversations in our home are now conducted now with a Yoda voice. So in my best Yoda imitation, here is my response to a younger me.

Right answers seek you?

Truth. Very difficult.
Much confusion in the world there is.
Through a glass darkly many facts we cannot know.
Answers maybe not helpful.

Dogmatic world: someways easy.
But too much they deny.
In fear many live.
Stuck in past they are, but no more sense all makes today. Some yes.
But too much Good News dogma misses.

Even here, only guesses we can offer.
Try we do.
But reality are they?
A much bigger world there is.

Like Peter, where else go we? The Dark Side?
Much worse it is.
In faithful community refuge seek.

The deeper Wisdom, very hard for you now, my Padawan.
I know. I know. Hmmmm…
But your feelings you must probe.
Why? OK to ask.

Trust God you must.
Faithful to Jesus you can be.
Through fresh eyes, the Bible read we.

To others listen.
Different cultures understand.
Marginalized reach out to.
Touch them.
Loving, you must become.

For Peace, Jesus ask.
Answers? Not so much.
More knowledge? Maybe.
First, much suffering you will have.
Much pride from you he must remove.
Till you become as a child.
In openness and humility, solutions lie.

Your fear, he must conquer.
Your questions, he must change.
Deeper Wisdom, he will give.

But much time it takes.

Love outlasts fear and ignorance

I’ve come to believe Love doesn’t outright defeat fear and ignorance as much as it simply outlasts them. No matter how much you give, our little neighborhood fellowship will never overcome the culture of poverty surrounding us. We are just the Resistance, wreaking compassionate havoc where and when we can, waiting for a much stronger force to come finish the job…In the meantime, we try not to push too hard, for fear of burning ourselves out. – Bart Campolo.

For some reason, this comment comforted me. Maybe it has something to do with coming back from a three and a half month tour of North America (the longest I’ve been in the US in nine years) to a place where I’m surrounded by friends feeling the effects of poverty.

The wonderful mystery of creation

My friend Simon writes:

Throughout their existence, humans declared that things they did not understand were the work of the divine. The blazing sun, without fail, appeared and disappeared by an unseen eternal locomotion…Then, as our race began to understand complexity, we began to declare we had found the reasons for these things. The sun, who previously could humble and blind us by its own power, was reduced to a dumb mechanical looping ball of hot stone. Our methods invented good vaccinations and movable type, yet bleached the world of its color. A thing’s value suddenly was established by its utility. Wordsworth saw this, lowered his eyes and muttered, “We murder to dissect.”

We have not ended the place of wonder but pushed it. The boundary where we are delighted by what we do not understand has been relegated by our scientific arrogance away from life’s center. Yet it can appear if we take enough time to stare with an open heart. This is because, thankfully, there is no end to anything. Small things are made of smaller things, tiny weaved of the tinier. Down and down the composition goes….

I want to pull the place of wonder back to where it was, back to the exhilaration of dipping my finger in the lake, back to stories of aflame angels appearing over flocks at night, back until it collapses over everything. We were right all along. The world is steeped in unknowns, and by extension is thick with miracles. This roiling race of hominids may seek to find stability by exhuming the world’s mechanism, but when will they learn that peace is found in wonder? When will we see that love of creation and Creator, the path to the planet’s health, is less a math equation than a romance?…

Read Simon’s full reflection (20 May 2010).

Transforming our crap (Spiritual Formation)

[Hopefully, this is the first of many more guest posts from my wife Christi.]

I was so angry, hot tears burned behind my eyes. My chest was tight and my breathing shallow. How can someone use such a condescending tone, even when he’s trying to be kind? That sickly sweetness is just a ruse to try to control me. Doesn’t he know who I am? How DARE he?

I decided to listen to a spiritual formation tape, hoping that doing something—engaging my mind—would cover over my anger. Or at least help me control it for now. Maybe a few deep breaths would bring me back to my normal, cheerful, self-confident, competent self.

Many people I have respected a great deal have told me that I would know love and freedom in Christ as I go deeper in the understanding of my sin and weakness. But, I figured they really didn’t get it that God wants to strengthen us, not weaken us. That we need to focus on him, not wallow in our own junk. That God’s grace gives us courage. No sense looking back when we have been freed. Eyes on the prize.

First, when I was 28, there was Dennis Edwards, an amazing pastor in Washington DC, whose example in his family life, loving-kindness and preaching I credit in large part for my initial breakthrough understanding of grace in 1999. He was fed up with preaching about the “Daniels and Esthers” and wanted to see people on their knees each day, relying on God. I wanted to become the world’s next Esther.

Then there was Bill Clark, a counselor who taught me that all my striving would lead to greater stress. Only resting in God’s love would bring me to the place I was longing for. He taught me that it’s good to be messy—not to try so hard to keep everything together. I was able to open up with a few people, but I didn’t feel ready to face the mountain before me. I was longing to hear, “Well done, good and faithful one.” But it was going to be hard to get there.

My brother Michael and his wife Karen, with the Reformed-based World Harvest Mission, told me about what they had learned through the Sonship program. That we can’t do anything without God. That we are the branches, not the vine. My sister Kathryn enthused about being able to face sin and use confession to grow in her marriage and family life.

I brushed all of these aside in my quest for greater power and control. This was not the time to focus on rejection, defectiveness, not being good enough. Grace was an exciting force to propel me to greater heights of fortitude. To bring me from one exhilarating strength to the next.

But today, as I struggled to regain composure, the MP3 began playing at minute 55 of John Coe’s first lecture on “The Temptation of Morality” (www.biblicaltraining.org). In mid-sentence, he was saying,

“…feeling so frustrated. Feelings of failure and self-rejection. So that you don’t want to feel these things. Have any of you not wanted to feel those things? [Me: Exactly. That would be yes.] Then you struggle with being a moralist. We were born in original sin this way—wanting to hide. Not wanting to be exposed. Of course you don’t want to meditate on these things. …I’m really going to believe that no one down there in my bad is really going to be able to love me. That is going to be the deepest belief of the sinner. That no one is going to journey with me into the truth of who I am and really love me. So I’m not going in there and no one else is going in there. The moralist cannot bear the awareness of being a failure. They cannot bear the awareness of the motivation of what really drives them in life. How much ego. How much pride. How much of us is in this. …Awareness of your bad is the door into love. It’s the door into grace. When you open that door, that’s where love is. Right in the place of our bad. That’s what the cross is all about.”

Coe goes on to say that, “the movement from moral formation to spiritual formation is from ‘I’ll try to do better,’ to ‘I can’t do it without you!’ If you can’t cover it by being good, then let’s open deeply to Him.”

Can I do it? Can I bear it? Let’s pray that God’s grace will do it for me.

[Coe’s whole series on Spiritual Formation (10 lectures) is available for download here [Note: link broken – July 2010]. You have to register, but it’s free.]

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