Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
My wife’s favorite professor in seminary posted this link recently. He said something like this, “If you don’t get this, you’ll probably never understand me.” I think I could say something similar. Here’s to the freedom in living in uncertainty. Not foolishly, but free from the control of knowing everything.
I Want In (link 1)
And another good one:
The Absurdity of Christmas (link 2)
“Yet a more temperate approach to questions of faith and doubt seems somehow to accord better with the story of a helpless babe born to a teenage mother and placed in a feeding trough. This is a story not of strength but weakness, not of certainty but of courage, not of power but of utter vulnerability. So is the Christmas story unlikely, improbable, even absurd? Perhaps. But some of us think that the world needs such a story and is, indeed, a better place for its telling. And so we believe. We do not know for certain, but we believe…”
Theories of the divine (theology) have seemed of more interest than experience of the divine (spirituality) as Christian mental health professionals focused on the integration of psychology and theology. How easily we missed the fact that the most essential integration is the synthesis that occurs within the individual- something that occurs optimally when it is grounded in an ever-deepening experience of the divine.
Encore: A piece of music played at the end of a recital responding to the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to the performance, shown by continuous applause
Clang! The bench press rack rattled behind me. The eight televisions spread across the ceiling line flashed their different features. The exercise bikes, stair-steppers, and treadmills whirred about counting burned calories. Thankfully the space lacked the stench of locker room sweat that so often permeates a weight room. I’d arrived for forty-five minutes in between work and an “Exploring Your Story group” I co-facilitate. I beat my competitors to the elliptical machine and looked to my iPod for something to distract me from the burn of exercise. When it comes to working out, I dread the entrance and love the exit. As I circled through the listening choices, fear of the evening ahead unconsciously burdened me.
Scrolling through my listening choices, I debated between listening to a Larry Crabb audio book, a Dan Allender conference series, and Scripture. Both Larry and Dan are counselors I highly esteem, and I thought listening to them might fill me with some much needed tips prior to listening to someone’s story. The more I thought about it, the less it seemed logical. To really depend on that line of thinking might shift me into insanity. I could overstress to no end by attempting to provide myself with the right perspectives and responses. What if someone told their story with self-pity? How would Larry approach that? What if it’s clear someone has repressed anger into depression? Would Dan use this response or that one? And how do I know which chapter to listen to in Crabb? Perhaps the situation tonight will require a technique he illustrates in chapter 4. But what if I listen to that one, and I really needed something from chapter 9? If I can just memorize the right approach, I can avoid all sense of inadequacy.
Such big decisions in five seconds. By this point I had finished stretching and moved onto the elliptical to commence the dreaded twenty-five minutes of strain. Bypassing the audio books, I selected a soundtrack, Legends of the Fall. If you haven’t seen it, the movie follows the lives of three brothers in Montana in the early 1900s as they wrestle with fate and each other through war, love, and loss. The story weaves beauty and tragedy and betrayal and adventure in heartrending fashion. It is a memorable tale, if not also a desirable one. The story laces through the soundtrack with grandeur. The coalesced noise of the numerous workout machines compelled me to increase the volume. As I did, the symphony washed over me with such richness that my heart entered a bigger story.
There is a rhythm to life. Prior to the soundtrack, I was ready to manage the night with a clinical approach. Listening to techniques readied me like reading a book about white water rafting just before jumping in the Snake River. Tristan would have none of that. The night would not be about managing or controlling, but about entering into mystery and chaos while trusting that the Author still holds the pen. And that He’s written into my heart. There is a place for studying and theorizing, but to remain there leaves me a chess player rather than a bard.
Intellect, no matter how truthful, cannot fully prepare us to enter into God’s authoring in someone’s story. Only when we join the flow of a larger narrative can we keep up in the river of a life. Truth is the foundation of the rhythm, but not the current or the stream. Or perhaps I’ve boxed truth to take only the form of dogmatic doctrine and it really has more forms.
A study of doctrine will tell you that God created the world and proclaimed it “good”. The text mentions the word so many times that I lose its connotation, not to mention that we’ve diluted the word ever since. Things go south pretty quickly, if not literally, rhythmically. The fall ushers in the epitome of tragedy. And then God writes deliverance through what seems like plan B, but trusting His sovereignty, was always A. And now we wait for the final re-creation, when, to quote Lewis, “The door on which we’ve been knocking all our lives will open at last”.
Beauty. Tragedy. Fight. Restoration.
As I walked into group that night, I fought off the urge to diagnose and analyze. I stayed in the unwieldy river, though the banks looked safer and far more convenient. Rather, I yearned to foretaste the redemption and restoration God is writing now. Legends of the Fall played in the back of my mind as we began. But the more I sat and listened as a woman tearfully shared, the more her story crescendoed. A new thought arose.
Our lives are stories, severely severed from the interaction with God we once enjoyed in Eden, but stories apart of the meta-narrative nonetheless. If we have the courage to listen, really know one another and listen, perhaps each life plays a similar soundtrack. And the more we embrace our stories of dignity and shame, the louder that music will play. It will assemble as we tell our stories honestly, and the sound will elicit a groaning for the final Encore far better than Legends of the Fall.
Theology becomes rich only when it survives the onslaught of pain. –Larry Crabb
I read that line the other morning and my jaw dropped. That’s it. The connector I’ve been looking for. Awhile back I wrote a piece concerning a question I have. How do we develop a discerning heart that lives fully before and with a God that is more important than our spiritual journey, wounds, and dreams? It is the struggle for a rhythm between theology and the heart. Many good people are lost in the process of swaying too far to one or the other.
Pain exposes our theology, to quote Jennifer VanOrman. Our view of God (theology) can be studied, examined, taught, and preached all day long. However, if the heart motivating it all is not fiercely aware of the human condition’s need for Christ, that theology is useless and empty.
Our theology should lead us to a face to face encounter with a holy God. If it does not, we not only waste our time and abandon our own hearts, but we endanger others with whom we are in relationship. The connection between two beings centers from the heart. If we don’t have our heart fully or we hide our heart, we harm others. To live fully we need our hearts. It’s where God came looking for Adam in Genesis 3. He asks. “Where are you?” (see Here I Am) Knowing God requires our heart. And theology.
More thoughts later…
I’ve recently struggled over a question, talked it over with some people, and then wrestled with it more. In the two areas my desires seem to be leading me into, there seems to be an unspoken struggle. It’s not so much a tug-a-war as it is two groups, usually with good intentions, who easily fall into extremes in their own realm.
There are the theologians, often pastors or ministry leaders, who love to study and research the Bible, commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, and such in order to teach. I have sat under many of them and benefited greatly from their studies and sermons. I am indebted to them for some of my own theology (how I view God). The problem comes when much of their work and knowledge remains above their shoulders. It never fully reaches their heart. They become intellectual giants, admired and appreciated for their mind. Yet they live without heart. It is sad for them and sad for those they interact with. For if you are not in touch with your own heart, it is impossible for you to see and care for another’s heart, glorifying God in the process. In the grand scheme of their lives, knowledge and teaching is valued over full living, which misses the point, according to Saint Irenaeus. He said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
The other camp is filled with counselors, or those with a counselor’s heart. My favorite non-fiction books tend to be written by therapists, whose job is to know and care for the hearts of people. These men and women know their own stories and spiritual journeys well. They’ve been trained to recognize the dignity and depravity in their own life as well as in others. They’ve experienced how God sets a heart free from the bondage and captivity created by lies. Days are spent working through the tragedies of life with people and celebrating when a broken heart finds hope. The problem in this camp is that too often there is a never ending focus on the person without bringing the main spotlight on God. When this happens, God exists for the person rather than the person existing to glorify God.
I want to explore this deeper. How do we develop a discerning heart that lives fully before a God that is more important than our spiritual journey, wounds, and dreams? It is the struggle for a rhythm between theology and the heart.