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June 7, 2013

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union.

May 6, 2013

Deity indwelling human beings!  That, I say, is Christianity, and no one has experienced rightly the power of Christian belief until one has known this for oneself as a living reality.  Everything else is preliminary to this.  Incarnation, atonement, justification, regeneration; what are these but acts of God preparatory to the work of invading and the act of indwelling the redeemed human soul?   Human beings who moved out of the heart of God by sin now move back into the heart of God by redemption.  God who moved out of the heart of human beings because of sin now enters again their ancient dwelling to drive out their enemies and once more make the place of their feet glorious. — A.W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest

____________________________________

I have not blogged in many months.  There is too much talk.  Too much noise.  Not enough listening in my soul.  And so I’ve committed to listening.  My prayers have been very short, very simple.  Lord, indwell me.  Lord, we are one – I in You, You in me.  Lord, strip everything that is not You in me.  

So dominated by ego, I lose myself quickly.  I lose my Self – my deepest self in God, my Godself, as some say.

I liked this Tozer quote that my pastor Fred Harrell quoted in his sermon today.  These days, I want nothing more than union.  If I do have something to offer in continued blogs, pray I find a voice for it which is humble and connected to my Deepest Center.  I’m weary of words, including my own, which only move us from heart back to head, from union to discord.

 

 

Advent 4 | What If God Was One Of Us?

December 19, 2012

Joan Osbourne’s one-hit wonder What if God was one of us? continues to play in my head, nearly 20 years after its extended reign at the top of the pop music charts.  It was the Call Me Maybe of its day, that song you’d make fun of but secretly hope to hear every time you turned on the radio.

But Osbourne’s hit had an almost haunting quality to it, asking questions skeptics and Christians alike ponder, especially at Christmas:

What if God was one of us.  Just a slob like one of us.  Just a stranger on the bus.  Trying to make his way home?

Its refrain halted the pondering, instead making the declaration each of us hopes to make in our darkest moments…

 Yeah, yeah, God is great.  Yeah, yeah, God is good. 

It’s a song that, despite the popular commercialization and trivialization of the spiritual, asks profound questions, questions that led often to conversations with the skeptics who I worked with in a Chicago audio/video store back in the day.  What if God wasn’t some angry disciplinarian, perched above on his heavenly judgment seat, waiting your next blunder?  What if God is, in fact, not distant at all?  How would it change what we believe?  How we live?  How we speak to God?

Week 4 of Advent asks these questions.  Taking center stage – Mary – a young, unwed teenager girl who is chosen to carry God Incarnate to full-term.

67And Mary* said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (from Luke 1)

 

There can be no more clear commitment to relationship and union with human beings than this – God taking up residence not just on earth, but inside the womb of young woman in a patriarchal and religiously buttoned-up society.  This was scandalous.

God, in becoming one of us, turns religion and spirituality on its head, daring us to believe that this world and, indeed, human beings are God’s delight, God’s beloved, God’s deepest commitment.  It dares us to believe that God came to earth, accomplished his work of reunion through Jesus, and sent the Spirit to dwell in us forever.  Theologians over many years would do doctrinal gymnastics to explain (and sometimes explain away) this overwhelming fact.  Some even say God can’t possibly look at us because of our sin, so he covers us with Christ.  No, Advent and Christmas remind us not just that God can and does look at us in the eye, but that God makes our very being his dwelling place (1. Cor. 6:19).

In the midst of the frantic anxiety of this season, stop and ponder.  Do you need anything more than what you have already?  God dwells in you.  Or, in the words of St. Catherine of Genoa, “My deepest me is you, Oh God.”  Christmas is not merely about three wise men and a manger scene from long, long ago.  No, Christmas is about right now.  God has taken up residence in your very being, and delights to bless you as Mary was blessed many years ago.  Can you dare to believe this?

Joan Osbourne asks, What if God was one of us?  Our response, God is. This is the gift we’re asked not just to receive, but believe, at Christmas.

 

Reflection:

- How do you perceive God? As distant? Angry? Near? Kind? Talk with someone about this, and reflect on how or why your image of God was formed in this way.

- How can believing that Christ not only loves you, but dwells in you, change the way you face your anxieties, disappointments, or loneliness?

- Take some time to pray that God would allow you not just to contemplate and experience the profound reality of his union with you, but live it out with greater joy and freedom.

View Comments posted in Advent

Advent 3 | Do Not Fear, God Will Make a Way

December 19, 2012

How do I get out of the wilderness? It’s a question I get asked often. When you’re a therapist and you write a book with the subtitle Finding God in the Wilderness Places, you’re inviting hard questions.

Advent offers a clue. While the first week of Advent focused on Christ’s promised coming, and while the second focused on how we wait and long in the process, this week’s focus is on finding hope and joy in the waiting. It seems the wise men and women who crafted the Advent calendar and its weekly biblical texts anticipated we’d need a bit of hope by Week 3. And so, in their wisdom, they offer several hopeful texts, including Isaiah 35:1-10.

Now, here’s what’s fascinating. It’s a text so relevant to us but written for refugees long ago – men and women captured, taken from their homes (which were destroyed), and cast into exile. These were people who experienced intense pain, ripped from family, friends, and home, and burdened by the agony of God’s abandonment, as well. And yet, into this desperate wilderness circumstance, Isaiah speaks hopeful words:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be made glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom…they shall see the glory and majesty of God.

“Are you out of your mind, Isaiah?” they’d ask. Feeling powerless and abandoned, they’d wonder how God could do such a thing. He would respond, however:

I’ll strengthen your weak hands, and make firm your feeble knees. Be strong, and do not fear.

“Easy for you to say, Isaiah,” they must have responded. In fact, sometimes the people who frustrate me that most are the ones who say, “Don’t worry, it’ll all be alright.” Do you know people like this?  We all do. They mean well. But, I suspect God had a much bigger vision in mind.

Here’s the picture God would paint:

I’ll build a highway right through the desert, and it will be called ‘The Holy Way.’   And those who are freed will return home while singing…sorrow and sighing will  fade away.

It turns out, their wildest dreams came true, but in a way better and more fantastic than they could imagine. God did get them home, but his ‘highway project’ included bolder aspirations, a bigger rescue.

It’s a rescue that pointed to the very first Christmas.

You see, this God isn’t in the business of simply building dirt roads or single lane county roads. God isn’t into temporary solutions.

No, God is in the business of making Super-Highways.

Years later, God would speak to an old man named Zechariah, too old to have children, frightened at the appearance of an angel who announced that, indeed, he and his barren wife would have a child, and that this child would announce God’s new highway project (Luke 1:12-13). Zechariah, scared out of his wits, needed God’s comfort. Once again, God says:

Do not fear.

An angel would also appear to a virgin named Mary, who shuttered at the reality that she’d been specially called by God (Luke 1:30). Guess how God would respond:

Do not fear.

The ‘Super-Highway’ project would be commissioned by God and announced by John the Baptist, an eccentric desert dweller and the son of Zechariah, saying:

Prepare the highway of the Lord. Make the paths straight. Raise the valleys and lower the hills, straighten the crooked paths and smooth the rough ones. All will see God’s salvation. (Luke 3:4-6)

No fooling around here. God was up to something big.

And the great highway paver would be Jesus, himself, whose mother was also told not to fear.  She’d witness the very first Christmas, as her son would be born – in exile, amidst suffering – and yet would accomplish the unthinkable.  Jesus would, in fact, remove every obstacle, every barrier, bridging the chasm between us and God.  The highway would be built – a full-service highway – with a God who makes sure we stay on the road toward Home.

Sometimes, in moments when I feel most alone and wonder where God has gone, I think of God’s words. Do not fear. And anticipating Christmas, I remember again what we celebrate, that God came to us, and dwells with us – in union – even when I don’t feel it. The road doesn’t always feel straight. The path is strewn with obstacles. But, as St. Paul says, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).

So, strengthened for the journey and fixed on the destination, we keep our eyes ahead, anticipating that hope of Christmas once again, a reminder that we need not fear, that God has paved a way Home.

 

Reflection

  • Can you relate to the question – How do I get out of the wilderness?
  • How does it feel that God is, indeed, paving a way through the wilderness?
  • When you hear the words “Do not fear?”, is it hard to believe? Is it encouraging that God speaks to your anxieties just as he spoke to Mary and Zechariah many years ago?
  • How does the hope of Christmas and its promise of God’s rescue encourage you today?
View Comments posted in Advent

Advent 2 | How Long, Oh Lord?

December 19, 2012

In the previous blog, we looked at the season of Advent, a time on the Christian calendar that marks a new beginning, an opportunity to observe our busy and frantic life and choose, instead, to live according to a different rhythm, a sacred rhythm. Embedded in the Christian calendar is a kind of ancient psychology, as if God is saying, “Participate in this and you’ll find the refreshment and freedom you’re longing for.”

In this Advent season, we begin to see how desperate we are – how our restless striving gets us nowhere. As Thomas Merton once said, “We may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” We’re faced with the futility of finding that financial freedom that will help us feel secure, or that sexual relationship that will make the loneliness go away, or the perfect religious practice which will unleash perfect inner peace. But with the wise writer of Ecclesiastes, we cry out, “Meaningless.  Meaningless. All of these things are a chasing after the wind.” Control is unattainable.

The prophet Habakkuk, on the other hand, laments not merely personal woes, but society’s injustices crying:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted. — Habakkuk 1:2-4

“How long?” Habakkuk cries, as he looks around and sees exploitation and violence, corruption and discord. And we, too, are invited to cry “How Long?” You see, as we slow down and consider why we’re so busy, we see that we’re often just numbing ourselves – to our own pain, to life’s injustices. We’re busy because we’re lonely, and we’re not sure God will ever answer the prayer for a spouse. We’re frantic because we’re insecure and anxious, not sure if our boss is seeing the hard work we’re doing.  We’re exhausted because we’ve placed our hope in financial success, only to our family disintegrating amidst the relentless striving. We’re perplexed because we hoped that a politician or a policy would bring the hope we so desperately long for.  We’re dismayed at the continuing acts of terror abroad, and the threat that they may again invade our shores.

How long?

This is our prayer in Advent. Will you give yourself permission to pray it? Many will not. It feels too raw. Or, perhaps it hints at a lack of control, something we can’t admit or afford. Maybe this prayer feels like something you pray when you’re at your end, and it’s just not that time yet. Maybe it feels too vulnerable, and you’ve learned that vulnerability isn’t safe or good.

Just the other day, a woman was standing behind me at Walgreens, waiting in a fairly long line and vigilantly observing the cashier, a young woman who was attempting to get a customer to sign up for the Walgreens Rewards Card. Under her breath, she kept saying, “Why…why…why?” I suspect her anxiety masked a greater longing, a longing to once and for all be delivered from the constraints and frustrations of life. I peered back to see an older woman with a cane, her arm shaking as she tried to support her weight along with a basket of groceries. She looked at me as if to say, “Life is unfair.” However, as I asked her to take my place on line, it was if a thousand pounds of emotional weight was lifted. “Thank you, thank you,” she said. I was her rescuer.

But our cry goes deeper. Our “How Long?” is heard by a King who longs to set the world right. He hears the groaning not only of his people, but his entire creation (Romans 8), and validates our restless cries. This God does not patronize, or criticize, or condemn our frustration. No. What this season reminds us of is that this God listens and responds, breaking through into our reality as a child born in a manure-filled stable, born into inconvenience, injustice, frustration, and futility. And this God, this Rescuer, comes to make it all right.

When we cry “How Long?” we invite this Rescuer to invade our reality with redeeming love. We break the numbing cycle of busyness, avoidance, and denial. We open ourselves vulnerably to God’s love, God’s redemption, God’s freedom. It’s a radical prayer to pray because it is desperate, it is honest, it is risky. In fact, we may be disappointed along the way. God doesn’t promise a quick fix. God’s way of freedom comes with bold prayers and frequent sufferings, but it brings a better Hope.

So, join the ancient voices. Participate in the ancient rhythm. Find your life redeemed and restored in a Story bigger than your own, through a God would become subject to the same futility you experience.

 

Reflection

  • What personal struggles cause you to want to cry out “How long?”
  • What societal and/or cultural “brokenness” (e.g. poverty, sex slavery, rampant consumerism) stirs you to cry out “How long?”
  • Can you relate to the woman on line at Walgreens?  Are there ordinary, everyday frustrations which tap into a deeper longing?
  • What hope do you draw from this post?  Is there a sense in which you can see through the brokenness of your life and the world and glimpse the Hope of God coming in the person of Jesus to rescue you?
View Comments posted in Advent

Advent 1 | Finding Time for God

November 30, 2012

When I begin seeing the leaves turn, when I smell the turkey roasting in the oven, when the familiar Christmas jingles start playing on every commercial – I know it’s time.   My calendar still reads November, which makes it hard to believe that invitations to Christmas parties are already showing up in my Inbox.  But Christmas intrudes into our present like an old friend, who reliably shows up time and again with the promise of something new.

How do you experience time?  I know someone who feels time is an enemy.  She’s constantly running out of time.  Often, life feels frantic and out-of-control for her.  She’s always saying, “So much to do; so little time!”

On the other hand, another friend strives to be on time in every aspect of life, so much so that he’s mastered every gimmick and gadget to control time.

And yet, time is beyond our control, isn’t it?  I hear Pete Seeger’s old tune rattling in my head –

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose under heaven.

Seeger taps in to the wisdom of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, a book we can all identify with, as a control freak who attempts to manage life through perfectly ordered time, relationships, work, sex, and even religion is invited to relinquish control, and relax into God’s rhythms.  If only it could be that easy.

Knowing the inevitably of time’s endless rhythm, a few wise old souls many, many years ago decided to order time in a certain discernable pattern, a pattern that echoed the even more ancient Jewish cycles of worship and prayer, but markedly different.  The Christian calendar would become a way of ordering time centering on the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And its rhythm would hold the very real potential of ordering our lives around His Story, so much so that we might be able to relinquish our need to somehow control time, or relax our fear of running out of time.

What if your story was somehow ordered by a larger Story?  What if you could relinquish the frantic need to master time, and relax into a more sacred rhythm?  What if this season of Advent could mark a renewal in your life, a renewal of your time?

This week, the Christian calendar begins with the Season of Advent, the beginning of our Christian calendar year.  We begin our year by laying down the many futile ways in which we mark and master time.  Interestingly, the wise men and women who arranged this Christian calendar begin Advent with biblical texts about the Second Coming of Jesus like:

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  – Luke 21:27-28

It’s fitting, if you think of it.  Exhausted by our need to master time (particularly at this busy time of year), we’re reminded that we need a Rescuer, a Savior who will set all things right, restoring and re-ordering a disordered world and our disordered souls.  In Advent, we anticipate and long for God to renew our lives.  That’s good news - the good news.

And during Advent, we’re invited to relax into His arms, His timing, His plans for us.  Indeed, Advent is an invitation to re-union with God.  You see, when we relinquish our need to master time, we can relax, enjoying intimacy and real presence with God.  It’s hard to be present when you’re imprisoned by the past or riddled with anxiety about the future.  In the midst of our daily trials, we can say, “Come Lord Jesus.  I need you now…”

And so, begin your year anew today.  Enter the sacred Story.  Participate in its ancient rhythms.  Experience how it can re-shape your own Story and re-purpose your life.  You may need to sacrifice a few things along the way, including some of the time-sucking activities that steal your joy, or that time-conquering mindset that only ends up frustrating you.

But as we’ll learn throughout Advent – just wait.   Wait, even amidst the disappointments that steal your joy.  Wait and see the newness, the life, and the freedom that emerges when life is lived in God’s sacred rhythm.  Wait and long for the coming Messiah at Christmas, when we’re all re-awakened to that wondrous reality of God’s profound condescension.  Wait – and don’t rush – through this season so full of busyness, but so pregnant with purpose and joy.

This Advent, wait on God.  Or, as the great J.R.R. Tolkein says:

Do not spoil the wonder with haste!

View Comments posted in Advent

Why Telling Our Stories Matters | Leaving Egypt Bonus Track

October 3, 2012

“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . . . ”  Frederick Buechner

Let me offer 7 reasons why it’s important for us to be both story-tellers and story-listeners, 7 “identity-markers” for a Storied people beginning with “We Are…”:

1.  We are Hardwired for Story - Curt Thompson writes, “the process of reflecting on and telling others your story, and the way you experience others hearing it, actually shapes the story and the very neural correlates, or networks, it represents.”  In other words, we thrive when we listen and tell.  Without it, we settle for a life of reactivity, not reflection – stuck in our reptillian brain, disconnected from both of neo-cortical brain and from other human beings.  Simply put, Story is healthy.  

2.  We are Meaning-Makers – For millennia, telling and listening to stories was the fundamental building block of civilization, the way of passing along tradition and family tales and myths.  It was a kind of social glue.  Today, our meaning-making happens in radically different, and often compartmentalized ways – seeing a therapist, connecting with an old friend on Facebook, attending church (often infrequently, and in churches where the Christian story isn’t necessarily told and practiced each week), gathering data piecemeal from Google searches, a quick coffee with a friend.  Busyness has robbed us of time.  Individualism has robbed us of community rituals.  Consumerism has redefined our purpose.  Story can set it straight.

3.  We are Honest – Story-telling requires honesty.  I have told my own story in highly edited ways, often trying to cast myself in the best possible light.  Eventually, the truth will get you.  In the recent political conventions, I heard both sides speak frequently of American exceptionalism, and I could not help but wonder if we’ve taken our own American community-story seriously, with all its good and bad – Selfless heroism and slavery, gracious giving and genocide, beauty and brokenness.  Even America has a story…and the point is that there is no shame in telling the truth.  The shame is in the radical editing for the sake of glossing over the hard times, the failures, the suffering, and the errors.

4.  We are wounded – Telling our stories heals us.  We’ve seen that it heals the brain.  But consider this.  After the Rwandan genocide, there were many therapists who visited Rwanda with new techniques for healing – quick fixes for the damaged and abused human soul.  What did psychologists and theologians eventually find?  No new techniques seemed to help.  But old-fashioned, group story-telling seemed to heal wounds.  As Rwandan men and women sat together and told of their sons and daughters, of rapes and ravaging, healing and forgiveness took place.

5.  We are storied/historical beings, not Gnostics - I give credit to Eugene Peterson for this one, as his writings on Lament reminded me that what is grieved in that ancient biblical book is actual suffering.  You see, we don’t live in a vacuum.  Modern enlightened guru’s speak of living in the eternal now, and I understand the value of living in the present moment.  But Judeo-Christian religion is storied.  We are not Gnostics.  We believe in actual events, real and felt.  This is why I feel the most orthodox Christians ought to be the most Storied of them all – rooted in narrative, God’s and ours – mindful of the need to remember…

6.  We are liturgical - In historic Christian worship, we come together to rehearse the Story.  In Confession and Assurance, in the Sermon and the Eucharist, in the Lord’s Prayer and the Benediction, the whole Story is told – the story of original goodness invaded by sin, the story of dignity and depravity, of hunger and thirst, of blessing and mission.  Worship, at its best, is NOT an Oxytocin high, a praise-song-feel-good-love-fest, but an intentional engagement with God as his loving, desiring, obeying, hoping creatures, longing to be re-Storyed and re-branded in the Great Story told each week…

7.  We are commanded - I can’t help but return to the frequent admonitions to Remember…

It seems that over and again in Scripture, God’s rescued people are told to remember.  The Israelites are commanded to remember the great rescue from Egypt.  The exiles are told to remember God’s faithfulness.  Christians are given the Eucharistic meal as a meal of remembrance.  It seems telling and listening is a kind of corporate remembering for Christians in worship.

And this is why I’m both a therapist and a pastor.  Because, I’m in the business of the telling, the listening, the remembering.  I’m called to invite people out of their hurried lives into an intentionally reflective space, where God can show.

And this is why I think it’s so important that you remember.  Listen, quick-fixes are available all over today, in religious forms, in medicine, in self-help books, in internet and TV gurus.  But the unhurried process of telling and listening invites us into a kind of sacred cadence, a rhythm that can reform our hearts, and even rewire our brains.  Science and faith agree – Story is central.  We tell stories in order to live, as Joan Didion says.

Tell and listen as if your life depended on it.

 

What the Church Needs is Men Without Fear

September 6, 2012

Here’s a question I got recently:  Why has the Church become so feminized?

The young guy who asked me was earnest and sincere, and quite tuned in to conversations in the blogosphere on all things masculine in the church – men’s “roles,” authority issues, and more.  He’d come to embrace a certain narrative that goes something like this:  Until recent decades the church was run by men.  Liberalism and feminism contributed to the rise of women, the softening of biblical authority, and the feminization of the church.  Today, the church is more highly populated by women, but men of integrity must show renewed commitment to biblical authority and biblical roles, which will bring men back to church and bring Gospel renewal.  He said to me, “Chuck, what I think the church needs is men without fear, men willing to stand for truth.”

I respectfully disagree with the entire narrative.  In fact, though I respect the sincerity of this opinion, I think it’s been embraced by young men who don’t know much theology or church history, and who are often led by older men who, for whatever reason, actually live in tremendous fear.  Let me explain with an alternative narrative.

What I believe the Bible teaches is that Yahweh, unlike the hyper-masculine gods of the ancient near east, dares to break the rules and enters in – vulnerably – to the pain and sin of humanity.  From Genesis 3, God acts in grace, knitting clothing for his ashamed children.  Time and again, he breaks through the barrier, vulnerably pledging faithfulness against all odds, amidst a people who continually break trust.  In covenant, Yahweh pledges to take the ultimate hit instead of landing the final blow.  Over and again, Yahweh says, “Yet, I will return to my people and forgive their sins and restore them,” a knockout blow to a theology of violence, of sacrifice, of entitled position and role.

In Jesus, the character of God becomes crystal clear.  Jesus sacrificed glory to become human.  He became a man…

…but a man who’d be the laughingstock to most ‘manly men’ of his day.  Sure, some point to Jesus over-turning the temple tables as the example of the masculine God.  But this is silly, really.  If you want to psychologize the text, see it as an example of his extraordinary range of emotion.  If you want to make Jesus into a UFC fighter and a tough guy, you’d have to read the Gospels with an agenda, an agenda that Jesus would overturn with equal passion.

One story, however, tells the Grand Story of the Incarnation – Luke 15 – the prodigal son (and as some say, the prodigal ‘father’) passage.  It’s a story about a man who so loves his son that he is willing to look like a woman to save him.  Read that line again.  This isn’t me saying this.  Read the many great books of Kenneth Bailey, a writer I was first exposed to when his text was assigned in seminary at RTS Orlando.  A middle eastern scholar, Bailey lifts the veil, showing that what the father did only a mother in that day would do.  In running to his son, he brought shame to himself.  In exposing his legs, he looked like a woman.  In his display of raw emotion, he’d be cast better as the over-emotional female than the stoic male.  This, I suggest, is God’s character revealed in the Incarnation.

This is a man without fear, a man who revealed the heart of masculinity (and even more, humanity).  The heart of it is this – intimacy.

Intimacy.  The word in the Latin – without fear, an invitation into the innermost space.  Jesus does what God had been doing over and again – relentlessly pursuing, and breaking even his own rules in the process.  The vulnerable God who, in Luke 15, is portrayed with feminine qualities, angers those obsessed with roles and authority – the Pharisees.  How this is missed today puzzles me, but even more – grieves me.  While some Christian men seem obsessed with several debatable Pauline texts, they miss the core – Christ himself – the intimate God, the vulnerable God, the God who moves toward rather than pulling away.  This makes our silly debates about feminization and roles quite small.  With perspective, we’d keep the main thing the main thing – vulnerably living in and participating in the life of Christ in this world.

Here is the kind of church I fear – the church that moves away, that church that puts up walls, the church that doesn’t demonstrate vulnerable intimacy.  This is the hyper-masculine church, a church that is made in the image of the ancient near eastern gods that mocked Yahweh, and the Pharisees that crucified Jesus, and even today hyper-masculine men who erect walls, proclaim authority and role, and miss the point.

Now, to get back to the opening story – the young man has the narrative all wrong.  Two significant features, I believe, show the church’s commitment to what I’d call incarnational vulnerability – mission and contemplation.

Mission.  The first centuries of the church show the commitment to be a church engaged in mission.  Prior to Constantine and the advent of Christendom, the church fought only the crucial theological battles – Trinity, hypostatic union – and gave its effort to living in mission, saving young baby girls aborted by Roman families, moving into plague-infested territory, bridging ethnic divides, treating slaves and servants with dignity.  The church-in-mission got the attention of emperors and historians of the day, in oft-quoted writings which lauded Christians for their generosity and care.  Even the Cappadocian Fathers imagined the Trinity to be in perichoretic relationship – Father, Son, and Spirit in vulnerable, intimate relationship, giving and receiving eternally.  No better picture of mission can be imagined.  God’s icons (image-bearers) were bearers of divine intimacy – vulnerably giving and receiving.

Contemplation – a juridical understanding of salvation is just part of the picture.  Justification, though seemingly central for some many, was only one metaphor for human salvation.  For centuries, union with God was central, even so for Calvin.  Union implies a vulnerable, intimate connection between God and man, a mystical connection, that Augustine, Calvin, St. John of the Cross, Athanasius, Samuel Rutherford, and many more didn’t shy away from. (Read Robert Webber’s The Divine Embrace).  Yes, Rutherford was a Westminster Divine, whose erotic language of union with Christ in his Letters brought criticism.  In fact, as a professor at RTS Orlando, I received criticism for quoting him, as some said I was promoting a feminized faith!  But men…Rutherford wrote Lex Rex, and was a Westminster hero!  For him, union meant intimate love, being kissed by Christ, being held by Christ, being pressed on by Christ!  His words cause the manly man to shiver – “Oh, the many pounds of His love under which I am sweetly pressed!” (see full text below)

Mission and contemplation thus became the heartbeat of orthodoxy, a movement of vulnerable intimacy, becoming like Christ and living without fear.

Men, I have a challenge for you.  Don’t settle for the silly, cheap, and fearful polarizations created by Christian leaders who use words like authority, feminization, and role in a way that disconnects from the narrative – the Christ narrative.  Don’t buy the accusations of liberal.  Don’t see it as moving away from truth.  Don’t trust the contention that the biblical text isn’t central, for some.  The cruciform narrative, in fact, is far more central, far more important, and far more revealing – particularly of a God who defies all cultural manifestations of god, whether in the form of the ancient near east (ANE) or the ultimate fighting championship (UFC).

Men…pray this…If this is the man I am to become, may I be given the grace to lift my robe and run, like the prodigal father, with vulnerability and without fear, into the brokenness of the world – even as the onlookers jeer.

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from Samuel Rutherford’s letters – “O that I should ever kiss such a fair, fair, fair face as Christ’s!  But I dare not refuse to be loved. There is nothing within me, that is the cause for Him to look upon me and love me. God never gained anything from me. His love cost me nothing. Oh, the many pounds of His love under which I am sweetly pressed!”

 

Leaving Egypt Bonus Tracks: Spiritual Warfare

September 5, 2012

“I trust everyone.  It’s the devil inside them I don’t trust.”

It’s my favorite quote from the movie The Italian Job.  Somehow, it wonderfully weaves together the psychological and the supernatural.  It rings of C.S. Lewis in his classic Screwtape Letters.

When people ask me about my view of “spiritual warfare” – whether the devil did it or whether psychology is responsible for it, my quick answer is “yes.”  It’s far more complicated an issue than I have time to address in a post…but nevertheless, important.

I do believe C.S. Lewis made the most important contribution in Screwtape, both normalizing spiritual warfare and de-mythologizing it.  His marriage of psychology and the supernatural was masterful.  The devil was always in the details, in the flaky and often selfish maneuverings of ordinary Christians, who don’t need territorial demons flying around their heads to show the devil inside.

I said to someone recently that I think Leaving Egypt shows our battle with evil on every page, though it doesn’t read like a Frank Peretti novel or a Neil Anderson book.  I’m neither one who rejects the supernatural nor over-states it.  I’m content to see fuzzy lines between the three big classic evils – sin, the world, and the devil.

There is a sad divide between faith and science which is, I believe, slowly and surely disintegrating.  In our Quantum world – a world God sees perfectly – all of these sad dualisms are melting away.  But, I’m not scientist.  I can speak as a psychologist, however.  And with Jung and others, I do believe that we need not parade around in fear, but merely kiss the demon on the lips.  He isn’t that powerful, after all.  He just grows as our fear grows.

Instead of choosing sides or feeding the polarization, I’d rather encourage both an embrace of the mysterious supernatural and the mysterious psychological.  In time, we’ll find all things cohere.  God made this world.  And yes, while I’m convinced clients that I’ve seen with multiple personalities are, indeed, psychically split and multiple, I’m also aware that division isn’t in God’s natural order of things.  And I’m aware that God is busy healing broken, divided souls – even suddenly, even miraculously, though not ordinarily that way.  It’s because I believe in a God that not only redeems but restores that I believe the divide can be overcome, on every level.

So, is it a demon or a disorder?  For the Christian, I’m not an advocate of slicing and dicing, but engaging it – “kissing the demon on the lips” – as we bring all things needed, including relational support, therapy, medicine, healing prayer, the ordinary means of grace, and more.  My counsel – resist living in Plato’s split world…and embrace a world where good therapy and good theology meet, where you can both medicate depression and pray for the evil of it to end, where multiplicity requires both therapeutic savvy and bold prayer.  Rejoice when someone is healed on the spot, and rejoice if it takes three decades of hard work in therapy.  Scripture embraces it all…and our wilderness journey bears witness to the mystery…

Leaving Egypt Bonus Tracks: One Foot in Freedom, Another in Slavery

August 21, 2012

Every so often, you’re given gifts you don’t ask for or expect.  For me, it’s the lavish gift of sharing my book – Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places – with our City Church San Francisco congregation this Fall.  An early gift came this past weekend, as I presented on the material to our group leaders.  One of the great gifts is feedback, even critical feedback, particularly when people are confused and perplexed by the material.

One reflection that excited me was from a man who noted that the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is not a linear but circuitous route.  He noted that we might even find ourselves in multiples places at the same time – in the slavery and entrapments of our ‘Egypts’, in the futility of our wildernesses, and even in the beautiful foretastes of promised land life.  YES!

I wish it were an linear journey, and I particularly wish I was almost finished.  I’d love to be unpacking my bags in the promised land, while eating and drinking of its abundance.  But, alas, life is a whole lot more complicated than that.  It is far-too-often three steps forward and two-steps-back.  While I get foretastes of the great freedom of life in God, I’m also mindful of the many backtracks to the old enslavements of Egypt.  Like you, I’m a mixed bag, torn in two directions, wanting freedom but sabotaging it, too.

The great Russian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev writes:

Humanity is in a state of servitude. We frequently do not notice that we are slaves, and sometimes we love it. But humanity also aspires to be set free. It would be a mistake to think that the average person loves freedom. A still greater mistake would be to suppose that freedom is an easy thing. Freedom is a difficult thing.

I cannot agree more.  What about you?