Faith is not belief system, it is not a set of beliefs that we ascribe to. In fact, faith is not simply beliefs, as we have come to distort the word. Faith is not an act of knowledge with a low degree of evidence. Faith is not a just trust either, though that is a vital part of it. It is not just trust in authority, whatever that source may be--the Bible, a religious authority (pope or prophet), tradition. Faith is not a creation of the will either. So what is it?
Faith is our ultimate concern. It is what is absolutely most important to us in life. That is what we have faith in. Faith is not just saying what we believe. It is not just acting along a set of principles. No, it is what we care most about--that is what our faith is in. It's the first commandment. It is the sum greatest command that Jesus gives in Mark 12:30.
What do you care most about? A basketball game? A significant other? A television? Music? Do your life's actions match up with what you would want your answer to be. The Greek word for faith "pistis" and the Hebrew conception of faith has no alternative between faith and faithfulness. They are the same word, they are the same thing. What is your ultimate concern?
Gives new meaning to the phrase "put your faith in Christ Jesus." Also gives a new thought to what doubt looks like in our life. And to what "the Christian faith" is. It's not all so abstract and intellectual as we might have thought. How did we ever get to thinking that???
If I keep saying it enough, will I believe it?
How is it possible that I don't already? I mean, I know that God is good. Of course God is good. There is so much in my life to remind me that God is good. There is so much that speaks to his goodness. And yet something in me questions it. Is he really? Does he really want to bless me? Does it have to be this hard? Sometimes he seems almost even sadistic. Is that weird? How can I even think that?
Texas was awful, but was it really that bad? The last night we were there, at the conference this missionary to Sri Lanka gave a talk, basically about her life story. It was a really emotional story, full of heartbreak and tragedy--coming to somewhat of a climax with the suicide of her father. As she received the news, amidst tears and sobs, she cried out over and over to her pastor on the other end of the phone, "My top button is buttoned! My top button is buttoned!" Which was a reference to a message she had received in training, that when you button your shirt, you get that top button right and all the rest line up straight. That top button is that God is good.
As I sat in the passenger seat a week ago, cruising north of Dallas, I looked out the window at cars flying past us going 90mph. "Of course they don't get a ticket. Here I come down to Texas to seek God, graciously volunteer my car, and this is the reward." As I lay in destitution a few days later, bearing the weight of the flu, feeling like death, I thought, "How much more do you need to break me?"
Then of course comes the reality check. What's a wreck and a ticket, what's a couple thousand dollars compared to losing a parent? What's the flu compared to a friend of mine from Bible College dying in a car accident a few days ago? This isn't that much tragedy. I've been through far worse and turned to God with it. So why does all this now turn me to scoffing and skepticism? to questioning the goodness of God?
The reality is that we button our top buttons long before we step outside and feel the cold wind blow. The wind just shows us how many buttons we missed.
It was not Texas that shook me. No, it was the months before then and God's leading in a personal situation, and then how that turned. That's the soft underbelly. And I can understand it all. I can rationalize it out. I can sit with God on that Friday night of the conference and weep with him, mourning the situation. He can comfort me then and I can feel his love. But the need for healing runs deeper than one night. The need for knowing goes deeper than understanding.
God needed to break me down to speak to me about next year. And speak he did. It would seem that I'm staying in Manhattan again next year, against all expectations. I'm glad. I want to be where he wants me to be. And if it took all that to get me to stay, then of course it was worth it. I mean, damn, I think I would have listened without all that but....
I never would have thought it would be so hard to believe that God is good. Why is my knowledge of his love separated from my understanding of his goodness? I've known a lot of goodness in love. But I've also known some love without a ton of goodness. Of course I don't know much about love. And if I admit it as well, I probably don't know all that much about what is really good. The absence of tragedy? The presence of happiness? of joy? That's another post entirely.
A friend of mine once told me Bart Campolo said that he doesn't always know that God is good. But he knows that he hopes that he is. And faith is trusting in our hopes, even as we lay it on the altar to be sacrificed. Following you old Abe.
"it's two o'clock and i can't sleep or at least i'm still awake
something there is in consciousness that slumber cannot break."
another reason to hate texas:
the texas department of transportation called the woman i hit trying to get her to speak with a chiropractor about her neck, which wasn't even hurt and not in the report at all. she declined, as a good person would. (they called her on MLK day!)
THEN, she gets a call from a chiropractor's office saying that they heard she wanted to schedule an appointment with them about her whiplash! she was appalled, thankfully. (besides the fact that chiropractors are not doctors and often cause more damage then they fix)
then my printer broke yesterday. the damage estimates are high. and now i have the flu.
can i curl up in a ball now and not leave my house?
...my next post will not be so negative, i promise.
i think before it was just mostly joking, scoffing at their arrogance and ultra-stateism (yes i made that up that word--they're not a nation). i would joke that we should just give them up, hand over the alamo, you know, all that. but i think now it's more than that. why you ask? well then, let me tell you.
1. got in a car wreck on the way to the last session of a conference i went to this weekend in waco (the conference being the one redeeming factor, somewhat--see #5). yes, part of it was my fault. yes, the police filed a report. yes, my car and the one i hit were the only ones damaged in a 6 car pile-up. couldn't really avoid it, but at least my car was drivable to make it back.
2. after sitting for an hour while the report was filled out, we got back on the road. not an hour after that i got a speeding ticket in a construction zone--fines doubled. of course, the reason the cop radared me was because the six cars in front of me all going 85 were led by a cop and bunched together. i, being more careful, was going 75 and that created the nice separation for the radar gun to spot me (speed limit was 60).
3. my license was suspended in the state of texas, so i sat in degradation in the passenger seat for the next 4 hours, staring at the crusty earth of this barren, god-forsaken state.
4. a few hours later, the combination of the whiplash from the car behind me hitting me, and the 9 hour car drive created a nice driving migraine, which loved the dark roads being pierced by upcoming headlights for hours on end.
5. while the conference had some cool things about it, i realized i'm not really all that keen on big christian conferences. and i didn't hear much, which wasn't entirely surprising given the spiritual season that i am in.
6. i visited baylor's english grad department, something i was excited about. and i wasn't crazy about it for multiple reasons, probably not for the internet's eyes though. also, i don't think i can picture myself in texas, the now dubbed "fat ass of the u.s."©. something about the conservative buckle of the bible belt as well--just not me. good people though. (of course watch after posting this i'll end up down there...)
well let's just hold it to six--somehow it changed from a list of bad things in my day, to a list of why this weekend sucked. don't know how that happened...of course, blaming the state might not be entirely accurate (but drivers there really suck i'm not kidding, that's a fact). i just feel entirely justified in doing so right now. now don't go arguing you texas-lovers (graham), you know it's true.
"We will never experience life in loving union with God as long as the roots of our identity, meaning, value, and purpose are grounded in something other than God."
--M. Robert Mulholland Jr.
Of any verses in the Bible, these have always by far meant the most to me. Through the many family trials, the changes in life, the transitions and the losses, this promise of God is the foundation of all that I am, of all that I strive to do. It is what has kept me in the arms of God. It is His inseparable love that gives me hope in the midst of my fears, meaning in the midst of my doubt, solace in the divorces of life and relationships, joy in my despair, and peace somewhere deeper than it all.
Reading this verse again recently a phrase was highlighted: neither death nor life. And that is what I want to think about a bit now.
I feel like I have a bad tendency, especially when reading scripture, to view a list as one complete concept. It's not so important what every object is, but rather the point that they make as a whole--so I gloss over the words for the greater point. Here it would be that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. But that is not the full truth. Not only nothing, but no thing. And some of those particular things are pretty important. It might be easy to let the connection slip because these are the first two in the list--but these things do not separate us from the love of God. Death cannot. Life cannot.
Death cannot separate us from the love of God. This is maybe the one we focus on the most. "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" We are freed from the wages of sin. But so often we are still not freed from the fear of it. Death may no longer be the victor, but who of us have not felt its sting? Who of us do not fear our own death, or even worse that of who we care most about?
Not only is our own death unable to separate us from the love of God, but it also cannot separate us in others' deaths. The pain of grief and loss will never be able to make us fully empty. Let everything pass away, still we would not be alone or unloved.
There is another death that cannot separate us from God: the death of ourselves, our earthly nature, the part of us still opposed to God. Acts of sin no longer separate us from God--the rest of Romans 8 is quite clear about that. It is a heart held on to sin and independence that shuts God out (his presence, not his love). But the war with our flesh and the sins that remain, the sins that are not who we truly are anymore--those cannot separate us from God either. That's what the end of Romans 7 is all about. Do not worry over the part of you that is still being put to death and the failures there--they do not separate you from God. Keep your heart seeking him, your inner being delighting in the Lord, and there is no separation.
But in this it is not the death that separates us, but the remnants of the old life. And this does not have any power either.
Life cannot separate us from the love of God. Life. Oh we know that death can't keep us from God anymore, but really? neither can life?
Your life cannot keep you from the love of God.
What is your life? Your life is all you are, all you have been, all you will be. Everything you've ever done. Every terrible moment, every sacred offering. Even the most beautiful service cannot make God love you anymore. His love for you is no less nor more than for Mother Teresa, than for a murdering terrorist.
Life cannot keep us from the love of God. Whatever it has to throw at you. Life can certainly seem pretty cruel at times. And it's in many ways all we know. But it is not all we have. We have something far greater. We have the love of God.
One book that changed your life:
A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly
One book that you read more than once:
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
One book that you would want on a desert island:
Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard
One book that made you laugh:
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
One book that made you cry:
Sex God by Rob Bell
One book you wish you had written:
Telling the Truth: Seeing the Gospel as a Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner
One book you are currently reading:
The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright
One book you have been meaning to read:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
And now, to pass on the love:What about you?
A. Another year in Manhattan with Ichthus--year 2, exponential?
B. Move to Kansas City--job? but there are my best of friends, and the new chicago...
C. Live in a monastery (L'Abri? Taize? Other...)
D. Missions in Alaska--amazing, raise support again? for something entirely different, hmm
E. Live in a cabin and write books--oh shoot, what about food...
F. Teach English in St. Petersburg Russia--a bit chilly...and maybe a bit lonely...
G. Fill in the blank________--other ideas? and no, professional wedding goer is not an option.
There's part of me that dreads this process coming up once again. It's the anxiety of graduation all over again. But then would it be better to be locked into something and secure? Actually, maybe. But security does not become me these days.
I watched Hook tonight, got a little teared up like always. That movie, let me tell you. To live will be an awfully big adventure. There's something in there that strikes me. It's the tension of living that adventurous exploration and the adventure of life. Peter Pan, the never grow up kid, did. Why? Cause he wanted to be a dad. He wanted a family. Happiness is only real when shared.
I'm sure I'll make friends wherever I go, but part of me is weary of starting over again and again with people. A man can only have so many true friends. But I don't want to stay just because of that. And really, isn't so much of it about the one? wherever might she be? But maybe I just need the One. That's what a monastery would be all about. Maybe half that? Some time there but not a full year?
I do know that I have to fight not to be dissatisfied with my life. Probably because of the dissatisfaction with myself, which will probably go to any of those places I go--even Alaska, couldn't hide from me there. If you haven't yet, see Into the Wild. The question I have is, if I live radically enough for God, will that be the answer?
Don't worry, it's just the courage of despair. "They attack as a morbid longing for negativity what in reality is courageous acceptance of the negative. They call decay what is actually the creative expression of decay. They reject as meaninglessness the meaningful attempt to reveal the meaninglessness of our situation." Don't do it. "[You] should decide for truth against safety, even if the safety is consecrated and supported by the churches." (Tillich, The Courage to Be)
What do you want? In some ways, I have no idea. And at the same time, I know so much of what I want. And I pray to God the truth is in that.
Jesus I'm a sucker, I wish I believed less of the lies
that everything I thought I knew, would turn out to be true.