Aug 21 2002
Yesterday, during one of our many introductory speeches/lectures we’ve heard the last 4 days, one speaker said something that bothered me. I’m going to be paraphrasing a little, but I think the idea will come across just fine. He said that we “have to be convinced that we are the best doctor in our field of specialty.”
On the surface, that doesn’t seem like much, but it just sounds a little egotistical and like something only someone who cared about power would say. Why is something like that important? Is there no place for humility in modern medicine? Do all doctors have to have this aura of “I’ve-got-it-together”-ness to reassure patients?
Today, we had an interesting talk about the “emotional reponse” we’d have to the start of anatomy lab. Reese and I were both thinking about the eschatological implications of donating your body to science, and what that means when we get our resurrected, glorified bodies. Jesus’ resurrected body still had the scars, and He was able to walk through walls. Hmmmmm. Depending on your eschatology, that could be pretty wild and weird.
Here’s a little something a missionary friend I met this past year wrote one night at 2 AM. Thoughts and comments welcome. Please note, it’s a work in progress.
So how about breaking it all down again…taking it down a notch and starting from the top.
So it seems that one can only truly meet God in a concrete time and space. That God can only be encountered and truly grasped at certain intersections and that these intersections are really nothing less than the concrete reality of the self. I in no way mean that God is somehow equivelent to self, is in his own person dependent on self in some sort of existential way, or that the human self is comparably great or represents the center of the universe. I simply mean that though God is alone awesome, independent, and central that we as humans can only encounter him in actual moments in time and in the local of the self.
To be more specific, it is impossible to really encounter God in any true way when one is not willing to be honest with his own person and life. The hours have added up to millenniums that are the time spent using words, emotions, and actions that are fabricated by the individual and the community but that have been used to avoid the reality of individual and communal brokenness and not to engage it. The question is, is religion that reduces interaction with God to abstract words, fabricated emotion, and shallow actions actually interacting with the real God or with some hologram dimly reflecting a forgotten idea of the Almighty living God.
God lives independently of man. Regardless of our experience of us God is alive and very well. We are not existentialists in this way. However it is the right function of the Christian religion to have real experience with the living God. The living God must be, and only can be, interacted with by the living. “How can I praise you from Sheol?” And yet the fact that our evangelical mouths keep yakking, pages keep turning, and minds keep spinning does not mean that our evangelical selves are really alive in any dimension that can truly expect to encounter the real and living God.
God, as living person, can only be encountered when humans have what I will call “life moments”. That is when we enter for even brief moments into a dimension of life where we are both aware and threatened. These are moments when we give up playing our labrynth of games for a few seconds and its only in these moments that God, the true God will show up to play with our lives, for in any moment of simple fabricated life we simply reduce God, his name, and His truth to another card in the deck that we shuffle and that we deal with all the sly and skill of Vegas dealer. We in fact control God, that is our cheap plastic God coin, and He does not control us. God does not play this game.
Life Moments take place when we hear the voice of God. Life takes place when we obey the voice of God. Both of these take faith. Both of these take courage. We do not miss God’s voice because He is silent. We do not miss God’s voice because He is quite. We miss God’s voice because we desperately want to miss God’s voice. We do not hear the voice of God because we do not want to hear it. In fact it is the very last thing in our experience that we want to hear. More than any bad news that we can imagine getting on the other end of the phone, the voice of God will threaten to expose, change, and even kill us. This is why we refuse to be still, this is why we run for our lives.
There have been precious few, and yet very precious none the less, moments when grace yanked me from my Matrix to say to the Lord “speak Lord I listen.” Faith always proceeded or at least accompanied this moment because when spoken sincerely we know that his word will always be simply “die.” And it is faith that says with enough confidence that “death is life” and that “God is real” and even “good” that its no longer a game of hide and seek, its now a real life drama of seeking and finding.
Somewhere before or in these moments must be self-awareness. We must as cause or effect deal with who we are in some real measure. It is impossible for us to believe the lies that we tell others about who we are and for us to survive or even have a Life Moment. Just as we turn God into a cheap plastic coin, we turn ourselves, and though the coin may be shinier and prettier than the real us it is still cheap and it is still plastic. God does not do business with plastic, only gold.
It is my belief that self-awareness comes in two basic contexts; solitude and community. I do not mean by solitude simply being alone, and I do not mean by community simply being together. What I mean at least at one level that these two contexts are the settings where the coin is put between the back teeth and with a firm bite is tested and exposed. We have mastered in modern Westernism, taking “alone” and adding information and stimula and escaping the trials of solitude, and so too, through our expanded transportation and communication and busy lives we have taken community and known so many people that we have know no one at all and no one has known us. We hop churches and marriages because these two institutions were made by God to put us in the vice of the real so that we could do business with him, die, and finally live. Where we have not hopped we have simply sat on the back row, where the pastor can’t quite look us in the eye and where we can nap if we need to. Then we find we have napped through the entire sermon and the sermon is life itself.
Stillness is disengaging so that we might truly engage. It is stilling the spinning mind so that it might see the truth of who we are and who God is and surface the implications of the difference. Stillness is certainly not merely physical or even necessarily physical (though never completely disconnected from the physical either). It is not emptying the mind of truth like some Eastern religion or even stopping the mind from spinning truth around. The mind can not spin truth around because truth does not spin. Truth stays the same. It is in fact the mind itself that is doing the spinning, and it is spinning around the truth. Our evangelical minds play with truth like moths play with fire. We love the color and concept of the truth but we are afraid of really touching it or letting it touch us because we know that it will burn us up in only a moment. We are only safe as long as we flutter the wings or our mouths and minds around its harmless glow. It is when our minds and hearts our still that we see that our hearts are empty, broken, and scared and that truth is not a fun thing that we tell others but something that wants you and it wants you dead. It is in stillness that the games are over and the we hear the real threats of truth. God is no longer “good”, that is simply like being nice. Now He is actually “better”, that is better than me and the cost of this realization is the death of my prized pride. Any magazine on any rack will tell you that the loss of your pride is the loss of your life. We have to keep that at all costs. We can’t be truly still. And if we are still we have to be still before something smaller than us, not bigger, not better, and surely not the Almighty. The Almighty is no candle that we are fluttering around, it is the raging consuming bonfire that wants you and your everything. He is not “nice” He is “better.”
These Life Moments of self and God exposure will not bear their fruit in the safety of the abstract. They will live where life always takes place, in the real world, the world that God made where now men sweat and smile and stink. Life Moments take place in moments of honest, still, exposure in solitude and community. Life itself however only follows these Life Moments in true Obedience.
We have misunderstood our brother Paul when he said that we are not saved by works. We have thought that he meant either that actions have no relationship whatsoever with Life (“salvation”) or that at most these actions are Life only in the sense of some sequentially subsequent result. They are not the cause of Life they are the result of Life, we have thought. I will follow in hesitating to use any person, thing, or word as the ultimate cause of any good thing besides God Himself. (We have skipped one idea that we should think of and that is that the actions are the Life itself in part.) What I want to think of is that we have made a false choice and that is that the concrete actions of obedience are not of course the ultimate cause (God) but the immediate cause of life. I mean by this, if nothing else, the context of receiving life.
We have, as evangelicals, made the context of receiving life an abstract mental transaction. We ask “Jesus in our heart” or whisper some other canned words and then tally an extra person in our copy of the Lambs Book of Life. We insist that this has nothing to do with “doing anything”. It can’t because doing something is a work and a work doesn’t save. We have one slight inconvenience and that is that we must snip (without using scissors) most of the book of James and flush it down our theological toilets, but this is no problem really. We are good at that. The problem is that we, in fact have to flush much more than James, we have to flush most of the rest of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the teachings and examples of Christ. Our theological toilets are now clogged and we have a mess on our hands. We have forgotten, with the Gnostics the very first verse of the Bible, that God made the world. God made not only dirt and trees but skin, muscle, bone, and even brain chemicals. God put his breath inside a real human body and we have tried desperately to remove it again. James pics two of countless expameles, and tells us that Abraham found Life only when with his son in his shadow and a knife in his hand he lifted his real arm into the real sky. Rahab found Life only when she hit real men in her real home and risked her families very real lives. And “by works faith was perfected.” What perfected what? Concrete, real works perfected faith, not visa versa.
I believe that James’ “works” have the same referent as Paul’s “obedience.” Obedience (James’ “works”) is the raising of Christ and lowering of self through the concrete performance of faith in action. What Paul means by “works” is the externally similar, internal opposite of raising of self, forgetting about the Living God entirely through some concrete action and then passing it off as “obedience” in the game world. You obey because you don’t believe in yourself anymore and you believe in the real God. You work because you believe in yourself (or am trying to) and you think God is a plastic coin or a glossy card in a deck of 52. Jesus’ gospel was always in the concrete of the life and heart of the individual. Because no two individuals are the same he never preached the same message. Tracks and canned messages work, though not well in the abstract world, but in the concrete world of the individual, where the individual is really just that, the gospel always looks as different as the face it is being preached to. Not to say that it is totally relative. Faces are not totally relative. They may not always have the same size nose or always have freckles but they always have a nose and they never have legs. So the evangelical is entirely threatened by Jesus’ message to the Rich Kid that his “prayer” should be an estate sale before his death. And yet, that’s just it, it wouldn’t have been before his death at all, it would have been his death itself. Even the ten commandments to that man were just a rubber knife that had never really threatened him. Jesus’ simple, short command was a razor sharp blade and only faith could take it as the saving blade of the surgeon and not the sword of an enemy.
It is my contention that our abstract gospel is only valuable on the evangelical monopoly board and not in the concrete world where souls are simultaneously trying desperately to grasp God and run from his aweful living presence. We have made up prayers and forgotten Baptism. In some cultures this thing called Baptism is still as scary as suicide and as important as birth but in the West it has become a harmless bulletin insertion between the offering and the special music.
But I never meant to talk about Life Moments and Life as simply a one time transaction, anymore than Life itself is one moments deal. Life is a process, a series of lives that are a second long each. We must choose whether to anesthetize our souls with words running from solitude and community so that we might escape both ourselves and ultimately God. We are in the end, nothing less than chickens. We don’t have the guts to still our minds enough to become real for just a second, and let God be real to us, take a deep breath, and tell him that we will do whatever he wants, and then in that magic grace actually do it.