Saturday, December 26, 2009

Relationship vs. Research - Part 4

We take our religion with clear-cut codes and measures. We like religion that quickly satisfies every question with easy answers and neatly reduces every issue, question and debate to a fixed position. We would have religion that requires little thought or deliberation. We don’t want the responsibility of a living, breathing, unpredictable relationship on our hands that challenges our theological equations.

Religion is managed, controlled and predictable; especially religion with lots of regulations. Is this is why we often choose regulations over relationship? We know what to expect with regulations – no surprises. Religion affords predictable patterns, uniforms and uniformity. Relationship allows for the unanticipated. A religion of regulations accommodates death. Relationship makes room for life.

Why did some early Christians seem to have difficulty letting go of the Law? We tend to have the idea they were seeking to be delivered from the oppressiveness of the Law, but in part they clung to it. Why? - Predictability with no surprise seems to make no demands on faith.

Armed with a list of regulations, I can read the Bible and pray in private. I just need to get the information in my head. It is mere cerebral engagement. But when these black and white, clear-cut, plainly written codes are joined with God’s intent to put his Law on our hearts (e.g., Heb. 8:10), there is a new dynamic - enters ambiguity and the need for discernment, which requires something more than private Bible study. Now faith is required for discerning truth. And messier still, relationship is required – relationship not only with God, but with others who too have hearts of writ.

Discerning truth requires more than rigid adherence to regulation. Now faith is necessary for truth to be known. Now relationship is required, with dialogue, fellowship, praying and reading with others for discernment. If the Law is written on hearts of flesh, then hearts of flesh must be known to know the Law. Is God saying that our relationship with him is affected by our relationship with others?

Give me a plain list of regulations and codes, be they ever so difficult, and I will not have to be in close relationship with others. It becomes my Bible and my prayer time. It will be like the words of a country song, “Me and Jesus got our own thing goin’. We don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about.”

With hearts of flesh as a medium, relationship and dialogue are required. Now, for example, as a North American male, I must begin to see through the eyes of North American females to hear the Word of the Lord. Have I heard the Word of the Lord if I don’t know how the poor see and read the Word? Now dialogue is required with Latin American saints and believers in West African, and the church in Indonesia. I must be in relationship with believers in denominations apart from my own. You and I have no monopoly on truth. God has so arranged things, that in order to be well rounded in his Word, we must do so by way of relationship.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Relashionship vs. Research - Part 3

Relationship vs. Research – Part 3

The modern mind insists on a God less than infinite. What is over and above comprehension is suspect. While his transcendence should leave us in awe and worship, we rather choose offense and rational objection. When we ought to be relieved there is something bigger than us, we choose to relieve the divine of majesty, and what is not subject to our rationality is labeled irrational.

But in this information age with instant access everything; Wi-Fi, Twitter, Facebook, etc., we get the down load if you will, without personal soulful investment. Facebook requires no face to face. We seem more connected, but we do this all without the risk of intimacy. I can edit my online profile and reveal what I will about myself while selectively withholding the rest. This is convenient but not intimate. This is the same kind of relationship we want with God, but God is having none of it. He is in your face more than into Facebook. He will read your private mail. He wants to get at what doesn’t make your profile. He wants to talk about what doesn’t make your blog.

I can check my e-mail at my convenience, but genuine relationship with God has no such guarded convenience. There are unexpected encounters. He will show up unannounced. He’ll barge in. He’ll stop by without an appointment. He will stop by when you are busy and do so with intent. He presumes upon our schedules with untimely interruptions. Real relationship interrupts your routine.

Authentic relationship is not without affected emotions, and these emotions are not always compatible with cold rational, objective distance, or disinterested detachment. Disaffected rational may serve the laboratory, but will not do much for a love story. There is a certain un-manipulated dialectical dynamic, innate to genuine organic relationship. We would impose a certain amount of anticipated order. But can genuine relationship be efficiently managed? It seems closer to corralling a bunch of monkeys. Real relationship requires some relinquishing of personal control. The relationship takes on a life of its own. But with this release of control often comes a sense freedom that can be refreshing.

God will get into your business. He will concern himself with seeming trifles, like the words you use, attitudes you possess, the hidden thoughts and feelings we choose not to publish. He will get at your thought life. “It’s nobody’s business”, you say. But he makes it his business.

Who is this God who thinks he owns it all? Who is this God who insists on being so personal? Rather than contenting himself with MySpace, he gets into my space. He gets a little too close for comfort and seems presumptuous about it all. Who is this God who created all that is and why does he care to have such intimacy with you and me?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Relationship vs. Research - Part 2

We can pursue God by way of his written Word but should we approach the scriptures like we might a textbook? Rather than being a static archival manuscript, scripture is living. It is Spirit-given and to be received it must be done so via the Spirit. As we open our hearts and souls while looking into scripture, we find someone looking back at us. We should not presume to examine scripture if we do not offer ourselves to scripture for examination. The Word is more than data. It is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. We do not interpret the text so much as the text interprets us.
Initial vulnerability will require more vulnerability. Deep will call to deep. This approach to scripture is dangerous because such an encounter demands a response and we cannot remain unchanged without doing so in disobedience. But it is a wonderfully indescribable moment when first we discover the written Word to be more than a static historical document.
When we find it to be alive we are startled with shock and amazement. There is a resonance made apparent between the now and the eternal, between our spirit and his. The vulnerability invested pays off big and there comes a knowing that this intimacy is worth the risk. That is to say, we trust the one who is seeing us unveiled. In this moment of seeing and being seen, we are enlivened. In that moment we are powerfully alive and the God of scripture animates its pages, comes off the page, loosed from the cage of critical reasoning. He is alive. We are alive. Suddenly so many possibilities now seem evident.
Where has this God been? How has this Word been so neglected? How has this relationship been shelved for rhetoric? The emanating life force is astounding. It is alive. I feel it in me as the words of Jesus become an experiential reality, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (Jn 15:4) NKJ
Oh, to be completely given to this moment, never to retreat into myself again, but ever make my retreat in him.
Don’t domesticate this. Don’t try to refine this. Don’t take a weed-eater, an edger or a hedge trimmer to this relationship. This encounter can abide the want of a sharp-edged doctrinal definition. Don’t sterilize this wild moment. Let the reader read and be read. Let the Creator create. Let the Giver give without our presuming restraints. If we offer our lives uninhibited, we will know him to be truly alive and alive in us. Let him come off the page, out of the outline, off the timeline. Give yourself to this moment of proleptic advantage. Let God out of the laboratory and he will not only prove himself alive but will take you with him in a marvelous experiential knowing of life.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Relationship vs. Research

God offers himself in terms of relationship. We rather like to believe he offers an academic discipline. Relationship requires personal risk and investment of soul. God lends himself in relationship but we approach him in terms of research. We would read up on God and get the facts. We would know about God. In fact, there is no lack of motivation here. We are genuinely curious and interested in learning about him.
Systematic theology is a pleasant and agreeable thing to us because it suggests God can be approached and understood systematically. This is comforting. We can master God if he is systematic. We will break him down into parts and subparts then systematically digest him. And if he can be systematically digested, he is relieved of divine mystery while we are released from obligation to a faith-based approach to God.
Faith seems less concrete. It’s like holding on to a wet bar of soap. One must hold on, but with less than absolute containment. Faith seems more fluid than fact-based investigation. Faith allows for unanswered questions, logical contradictions, dichotomy. Reason insists on resolution while relationship can abide enduring dialectical tension. Cool-headed observation at arm’s length offers a supposed and venerated objectivity, but personal engagement and vulnerability are required for relationship.
Factual analysis seems less risky than faith. Rational inquiry is not as sticky as the vulnerability required for relationship. If I observe God with emotional distance I can protect my heart. I can suppress the engagement of subjective feelings. I cannot be hurt (and I cannot be helped). I look, but I will not be looked upon. I investigate, but will not be investigated. I judge, but will not be judged. I am looking for answers, but I am not honest about my questions. I am dishonest in my pursuit of the Holy because honest pursuit requires an openness of self which offends my sense of privacy and self-preservation. Open my heart in pursuit of a lover? Open my heart with obvious desire clouding objective thinking? And if I am open, can’t I be hurt?

If I really want to know God, I must brave the risk of vulnerable transparency and be prepared for the unexpected.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

One for the Tabernacle of the Sun

There is little distance between God and his earth. He is on hand, on sight, if seemingly out of sight.Though some would confine him there, his presence is not exclusive to the church house. Like a young child with lungs filled with air and eyes filled with wonder, he can’t stay there. He’s one for the tabernacle of the sun and walks the “big lonesome”. If he wore shoes they would be hiking shoes. He’s the outdoor type, sports a healthy grin, has a hearty laugh – likes to touch you when he talks. He looks into your eyes, your soul, lets you finish your sentences and speak from your un-gathered thoughts.

Maintaining little obligation to be a particular way for you, he is who he is and he is likable. He’s got an appetite and uses his hands. He’s got good stories. He is right there on the surface but too deep to sound. He’s got an office, but it’s hard to catch him there. He prefers the outside of the cage. Of course He doesn’t sleep, but if he did I bet he would sleep with the windows open. And if he slept, I’m thinking he would like camping out.

He craves life for us, inviting us not only live, but live vigorously. “Engage life”, he seems to say, though life spots few guarantees other than this: engagement is better than disengagement. So, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. This is not to suggest foolish carelessness, but if you would get on with life, you are likely to get a little of life on you, so don't wear white pants. Be less tentative. Jump in. It will not begin sooner. Remember the adage, “Fate usually dances with someone already on the dance floor”.

Unfortunately, we are over domesticated as kids. It is especially unfortunate for church kids who are domesticated with an oppressive spirituality that says, “Connect with the Giver of life, but stay disconnected with life itself”, as if life and the Giver of life were antithetical. But the child has a God-given desire to play outside, climb, run, throw something, act, explore. The child (and the adult) hear the call of life summon, “Come experience”. But having been taught to ignore this incitement to life we disassociate it with God, believing that to be fully engaged in life, we must do so apart from God. We sense that God must be a churchy someone, a starchy Sunday personality, parenthetical to life.

But he is not parenthetical to life. He is life. Life was his idea. It was his dream that you would live life heartily without a dualistic sense or tentative reluctance and second guessing. Respond positively and purposefully to his invitation or be careful that supposed starchy someone doesn’t loosen his collar, pull off his tie and pop you with it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Elusive God

Elusive God, so near to me, so distant. I sense your immediate presence and yet strain to find you. Ever in the room but where? Is that you next to me? Is that you confronting me, comforting me? I want to embrace you but where are you? Familiar voice in my spirit, constant companion since my youth. Everywhere and nowhere. All things and nothing. Unconfined, unresolved, undefined, open-ended. The familiar friend I've yet to see. I feel you. I want to see you. I want to look into your eyes. I want to feel your hand upon my shoulder. Hints of you always.

I've never seen your eyes but I've looked into the clear innocent eyes of a child - God must be near by. I hear the delightful giggle of a toddler - God must be good. The misty morning, birdsong, the smell of bread baking - there is a God.

And if I want to know him, is this not in correspondence to his determinant will? Is my desire evidence of his existence? If so my desire is evidence of his eminence. Surely God exists, but what is more, he desires to be known. He wants to be sought after. He wants to be wanted. He is quarry that we might pursue. His elusiveness is indicative of his desire to be sought.

"Do you want me? Do you love me? Do you desire me? - Pursue me", he seems to say. "I am found by those who seek, possessed by those who pursue. Pursue me, but get beyond the narrow parameters you have fixed for me. Let the pursuit be not confined to the prayer closet or the church building. These cannot contain me. I am life. I am all of life. I am no indoor deity. My cheeks are sun-parched, I have calloused hands. My feet know the rocky places. The dew is in my hair. My eyes are squinted. I am out and about, not some soft king on a cushioned throne confined to the shelter of a pastel palace. No pillowed pontiff, no pale potentate. I am not too delicate for dust and dirt. I am robust and game. I breathe anticipation. I am eager, desirous. I scheme, I plan, I am powerful. I am wisdom and youthful. Life is in me. I am eager with life. I am vibrancy itself. My desire and passion burn. I take in the day. I bend the bow. My aim is on. I laugh heartily. I am swift. I rush upon the battle."

God is mystery. God is elusive. God is worth the pursuit.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Frontiersman

I see him walking the frothy waves. In the swell he stands. I want to follow – he calls me there. It is frightening. He abides on the fringes, forever pressing into some undeveloped wilderness somewhere.
He is a frontiersman – not following a path so much as making one. He is a trailblazer, comfortable with few guarantees and the uncertain. If you follow, you also must abide some unresolved tensions, dichotomies, paradox, the unsure.
He travels light, can turn on a dime, pull-up camp in a wink. I follow, but he tries me. Is he trying to discourage me? But I can’t turn back. Having lived with him in the uncontrolled environment and having experienced undomesticated open places, how do I go back?
There is something in a spartan lifestyle, living off the land with few guarantees. I am leaner now, more alert, quicker, closer to creation. I feel a deeper connection with life and the created world. What did God mean when he created the vastness?
Part of me remembers the comforts of domesticated life, the convenience of the predictable. I miss the well worn and the familiar, but would I trade the new liveness for the old deadness? It was so easy – boring, but easy.
He calls me to press yet farther into the frontier, to breach uncharted, undiscovered, unreported places. I am so alive now, but atrophy and the former soft life draw with promise of safety and certainty.
He is a frontiersman. And to follow him, at least to follow closely and immediately, I must be a frontiersman as well. To be so, by necessity requires the relinquishing of certain comforts and luxuries. The reward is to see what few will ever see, to experience unprocessed possibilities, to be awed by unprepared, un-distilled beauty – to have eyes that vision what might be. But someone has to blaze a trail and someone has to follow the trailblazer.
He is calling me again.