Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Where I was, Where I am, and Where I hope to be

Threshing Wheat, Thomas Hart Benton

I'm not a person who especially enjoys living in the 21st Century. I don't own a microwave. I don't own an ice maker. I don't have cable television. My house is 97 years old. But there's one concession I make to the modern world: I love blogging. It gives me the opportunity to recast and clarify my thoughts. And that makes me a more sane person. Consider this post a reclamation of sanity.

Here goes.

People have been talking a lot to me lately. When I lie down to sleep, I hear their voices in my mind saying the same things over and over again. In a sea of words, I've collected a few I think are especially worth saving, the rest I'm going to put out with the garbage. Here are some of the keepers:

When it all finishes, in the long term, we're all going to do what we want to do.

You didn't want to be that person anymore.
That's what you were.

You know what the boxers say? They say if you've got a mean right hook, lead with your left.

You wouldn't stay in an abusive relationship sitting around thinking it was your fault, you'd just walk away. Now, just walk away.

I'm trying to figure out what makes all of these statements fit together for me right now. They seem to be what's left after the wind blew the rest off the threshing floor. The first two statements have to do with a changing heart. Human beings live according to the pleasure principle. We can't tame that drive toward pleasure and away from pain. It can't be helped, modified, ignored or dressed up and made appropriate for modern society. What pushes us away from sin and toward virtue isn't willpower, it's the singular power of Christ to change the core of our being. I believe that the Gospel does change everything. I used to be a great many things. I don't want to be those things anymore. That's who I was.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

The second two statements have to do with action. I lead with my left and was sorry that I hadn't done what I was capable of doing. I regretted that I was tongue-tied and twisted. Now, I remember that I have a right hook. My best is yet to be if I can manage to walk away from my better. The truth sets me free. There is some evidence of regeneration in my heart if I do say so myself.

Monday, January 29, 2007

There is no health in me . I am penitent and thankful that I still can be.

A general Confession to be said of the whole Congregation after the Minister, all kneeling.

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Still Chewing...Perseverance Redux and Expansion

The emergents go marching along?

Well, I hope you'll bear with me as I use this blog to sort out some of the issues that keep cropping up within the confines of my own little mind. The question of the day (of the year?) for me sits tangentially to the tension we maintain between freedom and holiness, antinomianism and grace, question and faith, and to a lesser extent, redemption and damnation. These questions are leading me to take some of my old convictions out of the closet and examine them with a new mind. This practice is always useful, and as I employ it, I am astonished to find that the old ideas are more beautiful, applicable and rich than I remembered.

Let me just be blunt. Here's the crux: some of the dialogue I've been privy to in private and some of the blogs I've seen written publicly have celebrated the Christian's freedom to question the tenets of our faith and has unraveled the assumption that "I don't know" is an unacceptable answer to theological questions. This is good. As we open ourselves to the understanding and the appropriation of truth, the Holy Spirit makes it available. We need to shed that arrogance that always searches for understandable concrete answers in order to understand the truth we do have. (How's that for a Zen-Christian mantra?) It isn't so much that concrete answers don't exist as that we so often wish to use the concrete and finite to buttress faith in the abstract and Infinite. Sometimes, believing precedes seeing.

The other side of the coin is that some of the same dialogue has shifted from celebrating the freedom to doubt to celebrating the doubts themselves and even to a unashamed rejection of the means to having those doubts resolved. (i.e., Prayer, Scripture, Meditation, etcetera. They are all elements found in a Christians "survival kit" for planet earth.) It's a subtle shift. In my opinion, it's beyond insipid. But I'm afraid it has some pernicious implications.

It is easy for the Christian to fall away from truth, but a Christian can't fall away from their human nature. What was a gentle encouragement toward honestly has morphed into a surprisingly structured philosophy that disparages the Church, disavows prayer and scripture and undermines the individual's responsibility for others. I may be poised on the brink of a complete and undeniable over-reaction, but I have dark visions of a Jackbooted Monolith that will not be questioned rolling heedlessly over any Christian who lays claim to any truth at all.

I'm afraid this is going to be the legacy of the Emerging Church. Wouldn't it be odd if we all found ourselves experiencing religious persecution not in the secular universities of the world, but in the pews of our own churches? I forsee a time when we will all long for the days when a white man in a suit had the courage to tell us the truth.

This whole entry kind of left me after the first sentence. It's amazing what I find in my head sometimes.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Chewing, Chewing All Day Long

For the past several months, I've been chewing on a question:

How much doubt can a Christian have about the fundamental issues of the faith and still call himself (or herself) a Christian?

It's a lot to think about.

I look at the writings of my contemporaries for answers, but I'm not impressed with the depth and wonder they hold in the mysterious caverns of their own navels. They've reinvented the wheel and they have made it square. Frankly, no one I know has the mental acumen or the knowledge of scripture they need to write answers that compare to those offered in the confessions and creeds Christians have been clinging to since the second century.

I feel unkind writing that. I shouldn't want to belittle the questions or the Questioners, but I suppose that's what I'm doing. I don't respect the kind of indefinite doubt that resists resolution like my Golden Retriever's fur resists water. I believe that there is a difference between the resolution of doubt and the pursuit of answers. Some questions will never be answered here on earth, yet we labor to resolve our doubts. We can be confident apart from answers, and we should be. That's faith.

That being said, I'm comforted by the notion that a Christian won't have his faith so shaken, his will so broken, or his mind so doubt-addled that his assurance won't be revived in time.

And isn't that an essential element of victory? And even more, isn't that hopeful for the doubter? Thomas doubted and was restored. It's the restoration, not the doubt, that tests the mettle of faith.

I believe a Christian can question, wrestle and resist the fundamental elements of faith for a time. It might actually be the mark of an earnest heart. But if perpetual doubt becomes a fundamental part of a person's basic nature, that person might be one of those vainly deceived with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God.

I find this conclusion troubling - more than that, it brings me grief as I consider all the people I love who have built a home on doubt. But despite that trouble, despite that grief, I find it to be true.

I doubt. I struggle. I question. And Christ overcomes my feeble faith. His presence - past, present, and future - brings me comfort and assurance and peace. That's how I know He's there. That's how I feel His presence. It isn't that I have all the answers, I don't even have all the questions, but I do have a peace that passes my understanding. I've found that it does guard my heart and mind from the doubts that would surely overwhelm me as I sail the ocean of this world from the bow of my very tiny boat.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'm It

RULES: People who get tagged need to write a blog post of 6 weird things about them as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave a comment that says "you are tagged" in their comments and tell them to read your blog.

1. I make myself laugh harder than anyone else.
2. I wrote a song based on the Neville Brother's "Everybody Plays the Fool," but mine is called "Everybody Pees the Pool."
And it makes me laugh til I'm in pain.
3. I smell people. If you're my friend, chances are, I could identify you in the dark based on what you smell like. People I like smell good and people I don't smell funny. I can pretty much tell if I'm going to like you or not based on that. People I really don't like smell just a little bit like pee. I don't think this is something I can help.
4. I hate Rosie O'Donnell, but I can't help but like her. Just a little bit.
5. I secretly really like my mother in law, but I'm so glad she isn't my mother.
6. My mom and my sister have always said "Isn't it a shame that you/we got your father's legs?" But these days, I kind of think my legs are sexy and I wouldn't trade them for anyone's.

Y'all are ALL tagged. Reply to this post with your 6 things.

I can't decide if this is really funny or really wrong. I really laughed, but that doesn't mean anything.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Brunette Me...and what that means

My long-dreaded 30th birthday found me high above America's heartland on a small commuter flight between Birmingham and Chicago. It was a good start to the 30th year of my life.

I spent one day alone wandering up and down Michigan Avenue. I watched the people come and go, made a few superficial observations about the people I saw, and somewhere during that day had a realization about myself. Namely, that I'm never going to be a twenty-something again. Ever. It's over. My life is serious now. I have grown-up problems. I make serious decisions with grave implications. I'm not solely responsible to myself or for myself. This is life. This is it. And I'd better get busy. I can't be 20, I thought, but I'll make this the best 30 that I can. And that's a good thing.

I think I grew up somewhere between Walton and Chestnut in Chicago, IL.

When we got home, I didn't feel blonde anymore. My blonde has always been a sign of silliness. I've always been flippant and effusive. Ready to crack a joke. I'm not anymore. I don't feel comfortable making the effusive and happy part of my personality public anymore. I've found myself being less friendly and more demanding of people. More willing to say "you're wrong about that." I think I've been a person that others can dominate and intimidate. I think I've been a person to whom others could express their opinions without first examining them for barbs. I think I've allowed other people to treat me in absolutely innapropriate ways. I've allowed too many people to tell me about myself. To tell me "what my problem is." I've learned that there are more arrogant and petulant people in my world that I would ever have imagined. I've also learned that "arrogant" and "petulant" do not ever equate to "smart" or "insightful." Ever. (Isn't it an odd thing that some people just say whatever they feel like saying? As if they really have something useful to say? How do you acheive that perceived wisdom that allows you to spew garbage and feel righteous? Is there some gene for that or something?)

The first thing that I've really noticed is that I don't really get mad when people overstep their boundaries with me anymore. I don't pretend that it's okay anymore, either. I just say, "that's enough." And people shut up. It's a new brunette power, I guess. Along with this, I've noticed that I don't worry so much about hurting people's feelings. I used to let people treat me badly and then assure them that I wasn't offended so as to avoid hurting their feelings. Now, I'll just tell them that they're wrong and walk away. Oddly, I find that I'm not as offended or angry as I used to be.

So, I'm not blonde anymore. I'm not blonde on the outside. I'm not blond on the inside. And it feels good.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007