Friday, May 08, 2015

The Risk of Honest Exploration

Nouwen writes, in Intimacy:

"The man who never has any religious doubts… probably walks around blindfolded; he who has never experimented with his traditional values and ideas has probably been more afraid than free; he who has never put to a test any of dad's and mom's advice probably has never developed a critical mind and he who has never become irritated by the many ambiguities, ambivalences, and hypocrisies in his religious milieu probably has never been satisfied with anything either.  But he who does, takes a risk.  The risk of embarrassing not only his parents but also his friends, the risk of feeling alienated from his past and of becoming irritated by everything religious, even the word 'God.'  The risk even of the searing loneliness which Jesus Christ suffered when he cried, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'…
We can often discover, with pain and frustration, that a mature religious man is very close to the agnostic, and often we have difficulty in deciding which name expresses better our state of mind: agnostic or searching believer.  Perhaps they are closer than we tend to think."

I love this.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

From Children to Maturity

I'm reading Intimacy by Henri Nouwen currently.  He said something I read this morning that really jumped out at me:

"When Sigmund Freud wrote his Future of an Illusion, he irritated and deeply disturbed the faithful, by saying that religion is the continuation of infantile life and that God is the projection of the ever-present desire for shelter.
Freud's task was to cure people, that is, to make them become more mature.  And looking at the many people in his office in Vienna who suffered from their religion more than they were saved by it, he tried to unmask their projections.  The psychiatrist Rumke summarizes Freud's position when he writes: 'When man matures completely he realizes that his God image, often a father-God image, is a reincarnation of the infantile worldly father, loved and feared.  God is apparently no more than a projection.  If that which blocks his growth is taken away, the image fades.  Man distinguishes good from evil according to his own standards.  He has conquered the remainder of his neurosis, which was all that his religion was.'  What is important in this context is that Freud was not altogether wrong.  We often stay in this magical and infantile world in which God is as nice to have around as the comforting blanket of Linus in 'Peanuts.'  For many, religion is really not very much more than Freud found it to be, and for all of us, so many of our religious experiences are clothed in images of childhood that it is often very difficult to say where our infantilism ends and our religion begins."

He then follows with a challenge:

"In one way we have to agree with Freud: in so far as our God is a pure surrogate for our conscience and a  preventative to the development of a rational mind, a mature self and an autonomous individual, it is only a sign of good health and insight to throw God out as a disease called neurosis.  It is even sad to notice how few have the courage to do this."

Would you allow me to attempt to say what Nouwen has said in that last paragraph in my own words?

Dear Self-Proclaimed Christian, if God is merely a figure that makes you feel better about yourself -- if God is merely your comforting binky, if God is merely a loving figure that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, if God is merely a crutch, if your prayers are tools to manipulate God in your direction, if God is an excuse for you to deny the hardships of life -- than perhaps you should have the courage to consider getting rid of this God.

It is so easy for those of us in self-identified Christian circles to fail to obtain true faith and maturity, and instead we settle into a childish, stunted one.  So many of us have settled for a life based on "Biblical principles" and "Truth" (with a capital T!) and completely forgotten that the God we proclaim to worship is living and mysterious and present and free.

We self-identifying Christians become completely flustered at new scientific or historical discoveries and theories and lack any autonomy and/or ability to revise our positions or integrate new insights into our life of faith.

We religious people tend to identify ourselves with cleanliness and purity and the perfect life, and then find that within we find desires so base that they would make other people's mothers blush -- strange sexual urges, cruel fantasies, and aggressive desires, hatred and envy in spades.  We tell ourselves, "No!"  And then we walk through life like we have a colloquial stick up our rear-end, rigid and straight.  Yet we're always afraid that these desires will get out of hand.
Maturity would require us, I think, to say: "Sure, I have some base, crooked, horrible desires.  I'm filled with hate and envy and rage and jealousy.  But that does not make me a crooked horrible person!  It makes me human.  My ugly thoughts do not make me ugly."

I find myself drawn to Freud's desire to cure people, I just think he went about it the wrong way.  He said, in essence, "Your religion is making you miserable.  Your need for shelter and safety is causing you to create a God."

I think it's the other way around.  We are created, by our creator, as beings needing comfort and safety and shelter and relationship.  We were created to need and want and desire Him, rather than He being created because of our needs and desires.

And this creator is alive and free.  He is loving and life-giving.  It is in intimate relationship with Him that we find our true home.

Maturity is living with open eyes to this reality.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Runaway Radical review

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World Paperback – February 24, 2015

This book is coming out soon.  I'd thought I'd review it here for you.  I'm not very experienced with book reviews, and no two book-reviews are the same, but I'll just jot down some of the many things I was thinking as I was processing this gem.

Quick synopsis: When Jonathan began to get serious about his faith, it encompassed all of his life.  He was the radical -- giving to the poor, helping the poor, serving kids in the area, helping at church, going on missions, loving deeply etc.  His life gave all the signs of someone living passionately for Christ.  Ultimately he decides to spend a year in Africa serving the underprivileged and hurting.  His faith and passion for people is honorable.

But the year wrecks him.  He is spiritually abused by power-wielding leaders, both by those present with him in Africa and by those in America.  It's heartbreaking.  Numerous times I just wanted to leap into the story and rescue this soft-hearted young man from the grips of idiot pastors and missionaries.  To them, Jonathan was a chess piece to move as they willed.  He was completely under their control.

In the midst of this abuse (which lasts the time he is in Africa, which ends up being shorter than intended), Jonathan's understanding of his faith crumbles.  Depression sets.  The abuse is made complete.  The end reads as really a series of journal entries, blog posts, and thoughts of both Jonathan and his mother throughout their grieving process.  It is really great stuff.  He eventually finds his faith again, albeit a bit changed.

If that were the entire book, I would heartily recommend it to anyone.  But it is the motive-level wrestling that the reader is invited into that really makes the book shine in my opinion.  What was it that drove Jonathan to Africa to care for orphans?  Why did he care for the poor?  What made him want to take these radical steps?

I work for a missions organization.  I ask or send lots of students on these missions trips every year.  The one thoughts I kept having was, "I'd really like to pass this book out to those considering one-year missions trips."  It would serve as both a caution and a sort of litmus test of the heart.

You can accomplish great things for God for many reasons.  Yet the faithful way, the Christian way, is a drive to serve and love passionately and radically because you've just been enraptured in the love and life of your King Jesus.  No other motive will work.  No other motive will last.  And every other motive will end up in disappointment, disillusionment, and/or despair.

Not "I need to tell people about Jesus so they don't go to Hell!"  Not "The poor have nothing, let's help them!"  Not "What it means to be a seriously real Christian is to be a missionary!"  Not "I need to do God pleasing things!"  Not "I'm going to be radical for Jesus!"

But instead say, "Jesus you are the best thing that has ever happened to me."  Like watching a movie, and just being so in love with what you've seen you can't help but share it with others.  Not out of duty, but out of sheer delight in what you've seen.

Every missionary should check their motives regularly.  Jonathan leads us here, and for that I'm grateful.  He invites us deep into his reasons for being the way he was, and doing the things he did.  What he found deep in his heart was perhaps not as great as he would've liked, yet he had the courage to go there nonetheless.

I think if we all had the courage to dig as deeply, we'd be pretty disillusioned and despairing of what we've found as well.  I hope Jonathan's story will encourage others to check their "Radical" Christianity in favor of a more faithful, loving one.

Monday, January 26, 2015

When Oceans Rise

My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours
And You are mine

Such a good song.  It was incredibly hard to sing this song when we came back from Venezuela.  In fact, it's probably only been within the last month that I've been able to sing it at all without getting choked up and/or frustrated.

You see, some of the other parts of the song are what gets me:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Do I really want to go where my trust is without borders?  That may require a pretty big step of faith.  One I'm maybe not willing to take right now.  Is that ok?  Maybe I don't want to go wherever he would call me.  Because that can be really scary.  I'd have to put my money where my mouth is.  And that's terrifying at times.

Here in the next month we'll come up on one year since we've left Venezuela.  A decision that impacted our future, our hearts, our faith, our family.  What do I do with that?  How do I sing this song with honesty?  Well, it depends on the day.  And I put stipulations on where my feet could wander.  See, I'll only go as far as I'm comfortable with.  I need an adjustment period.  That's ok, right?  The average person would say so.  The problem is, I'm not married to the average person.

So tonight I sit and listen to this song, tears rolling.  I want to sing this song honestly, but I'm terrified too.  What does it mean for our family, our marriage, our walks with the Lord to truly follow God WHEREVER he would call me?  It might just be incredibly painful.  Do I trust that I'm in the presence of my Savior?  Whether I take big steps of faith or itsy bitsy teeny tiny ones?

One thing is for sure.  Romans 8 states:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 
No, in all these things we are more than yconquerors through zhim who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

In a lot of ways, I prefer the kids' Storybook Bible version from Paul.  
"God loves us!" he wrote from prison.  "Nothing can ever - no, not ever! - separate us from the Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of God he showed us in Jesus!"

There's just something reassuring and calming about those words.  It's so simple.  I can wrap my heart around this.  And maybe, just maybe follow that God.  Because he sure does seem like a really great guy.  Perhaps sometimes it's just a matter of having a childlike faith and knowing that no matter what, God has it all under control.  And he loves me.  And the best is yet to come.  And a lot like the Storybook Bible's ending, our story is to be continued...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Am I too Grumpy?

I've been wrestling quite a bit lately with what seems like my general state of grumpiness.

It hasn't been an overt, or even excessively visible, grumpiness, but anyone that's been close with me over the last year or so would tell you that I've been a bit of a grump.

Here's something that I've read recently, and it put quite a bit into perspective for me:

"A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.  As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith.  A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace." - Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant

Peterson nailed me here.  I am, and have been, "fed up with the ways of the world."  I am "thoroughly disgusted with the way things are" and have no hope in elections, scientific breakthroughs, or pay raises.

So what, then?

Well, I've realized I'm just sad -- and that is ok.  To be sad is a doorway, not a destination.  To be sad is to be in a place where hope can bloom.

I've been sad that life hasn't worked out the way I've wanted.  I've been sad that my relationship with God, and even the Christian Life hasn't worked out the way I've wanted.  I've wanted and yearned for what we were all created for -- a life of peace and joy and beauty and deep intimacy.  I've wanted a life void of stress and pain and hurt and disappointment.

But the hard things have come in spades and the good things have come far too sporadically.

So I'm coming to embrace my grumpiness.  My grumpiness is sadness disguised.  And my disguised sadness is actually a pathway to hope.

All this is to admonish you to embrace your grumpiness.  Be the Grump.  And recognize that it stems from a deep sadness and from broken hopes and dreams.

Then take the sadness before a merciful and loving Father, one who proved his care by taking on flesh to bear the weight of all the world's sadness.  And let's praise together when 3 days later that sadness is broken and hope restored.