If I could go back in time…

I would rip my (younger) self out of the Bill Gothard seminars and have an insightful discussion with myself about formulaic, legalistic Christianity built around flawed Platonic ideals. I would try to get it through my thick head that if Jesus has wanted us to follow the Seven Steps to Selfless Servanthood he probably would have said something about that down the line instead of waiting for some guy to make money off it.

Not to say he wasn’t right about some things… but who isn’t right about some things? Buddha, for instance, was right about something things. As ad Hitlerum teaches, simply agreeing with something the Fuhrer said doesn’t automatically make you wrong.

Of course, I was a pretty bratty kid. I think I still am. I’m waiting for ten years down the road when I write a blog post (if we still have blogs) about how I would go back and knock the N.T. Wright out of my (younger) self.

Also, if I could go back in time, I’d not stop the piano lessons. And I’d buy a better guitar than I have now. And I’d wear more funky hats (can anyone find me a sombrero?) instead of trying to be cool.

Among other things.

Going forward; what now?

Today, take a moment and look at a globe. Spin it around. See if you can find a place full of tragedy and injustice.

It’s not that hard, is it? The names roll off my tongues one after another. If you’ve been exposed to the world outside your own borders at all, you’ll recognise them. They have existed, and they exist right now, these places.

There’s so much evil in the world. So much injustice. So much stricken poverty and horrible injustice. There’s so much evil that standing before it makes me feel powerless, unable to help. I’m just one man. What can I do?

It’s always been here: the scale of our atrocities as a species increases, but it’s the same thing that’s been happening since the first humans sinned. It is not right that some go hungry, but some have always gone hungry. It is not right that some die in genocides, but some have always died like that. It is not right that brutal dictatorships flourish while the church is poised at the brink of the abyss, but this awful balance has always just been kept.

So going forward, what now? What is my posture towards these things to be? How do I, as a Christian, effect change in this world?

I don’t have a very good answer for that, I’m afraid. I don’t have a grand revelation. I haven’t had an epiphany or seen a blinding light. All I know is that I am convinced that what I do matters, not simply in the sense that people are important and I should care about getting their souls into heaven, but in the sense that the physical world is important, that taking care of it is important, and that justice here and now is something God speaks of over and over in the scriptures.

All I can say is, keep plugging. The church has done an amazing amount of work in the world. It has done some evil, some grandly evil things it should never have done, but the unspoken kindness and grace and justice it has visited on mankind is a testament to its greatness, its transforming power. The church is a beautiful thing with a great opportunity to do work today, here, now, on this physical planet. We have the keys to the kingdom in our hands, so to speak.

We work in the hope that at the end of this earth, this earth will become something new, but yet not new. That when we rise to life again after the brief sleep of death we will rise to a world without injustice, as God judges and begins to set things aright.

I know judgement is not a particularly comfortable thing, and our culture is decidedly MPD about it, but it must be done. Evil must be identified and pronounced against and rooted out. Jesus will do that when his kingdom comes in fullness, yes, but I am his agent here and now, part of his kingdom or revolution that exists now in bits and pieces. Should I not do the same?

Should we not all do the same? Should we not identify evil, judge against it, and proceed to root it out wherever we can?

Unsafe

I’ve been ruminating on Sunday’s sermon for a few days now. It’s been bouncing here and there inside my skull, or my soul, or whatever you want to call it, gathering moss like any good stone.

It’s C.S. Lewis saying that Aslan is not safe, but he is good.

We love safety so much, don’t we? And there’s nothing wrong with that. I, for instance, feel incredibly safe with Laura’s love. I don’t feel like she’s going to blow up any minute and abandon me. I know what that’s like, and trust me, you don’t want a relationship (God forbid a marriage) that resembles more a landmine than a safe harbour.

You can find in God that incredible safety as well: no matter what you are going through in your life, if you’ve bought into his grace, if you’ve been granted that faith, you are above all safe. As Mrs Elliot used to say, Underneath are the everlasting arms. From our seemingly impossible disasters to actually impossible disasters, there is hope that will not leave you ashamed for having hoped. Or assurance. You may lose your lover, you may lose your health, you may lose your house, but you will not be ashamed of finding refuge in God. He is a strong tower. You are above all, safe.

But there’s safety and then there’s safety. God isn’t bound by your desire to be financially secure. When Joel mentioned how so much preaching is geared towards a better life now, I wanted to stand up and cheer. (Not to mention that Mr Osteen reminds me of a smarmy used car salesman and I would very much like to punch him in the face, with all Christian love.) Or maybe God does care that you have a better life now, but we’ve simply got the frame right and the picture all wrong. Maybe your better life now isn’t about being financially triumphant or well-loved. Maybe your better life now is about crossing a wilderness and getting to a promised land. The trip isn’t necessarily going to be cushioned. Maybe it will be. You don’t really get to know that.

Laura and I have been very tight for money since we’ve been married. We have one income and some debt from her schooling and from my life as a bachelor. One of the things we’ve been really convicted about, ever since Joel talked about giving, is separating a portion of my income and giving it to God. We do this in several ways, but primarily it’s giving to the church. We don’t have a lot to give, and common sense says that what we do give should be instead squirrelled away for a rainy economy. Yet it seems better to me to live outside of that small comfort and safety zone by obeying God with our giving than using it for ourselves. I’m not going to spin a sob story here: we live very well on what we’ve got, but there are a lot of things we have to forgo whilst living this way.

This is a small thing. There’s a couple from Imago Dei who essentially walked away from a comfortable life to work in the Himalayas with an unreached people group. Joel moved to Mississauga and started a great church. Paul was whipped and beaten and shipwrecked ultimately killed. These are not small things, and they are not safe things.

But they are good things, and things that will ultimately be blessed. Because in following God, sometime you end up dying on a cross. Look at what Jesus did: was his life at all safe? Yet here we are, millennia later, still looking at his legacy and seeing it change the world.

Why does this feel so strange?

God’s economy is so strange, isn’t it? What should be failure is success. What should be death is life. What should be stupidity is wisdom. His currency is so very different from mine.

Maybe this is why when I expect messiah to be a military leader, he comes and conquers things I didn’t expect, using methods I hadn’t foreseen. Or when I assume Jesus will validate my holiness, he exposes me as an illusionist, as a fraud. Or when I show him my methodology, he tells me that true religion is taking care of widows, feeding orphans, that sort of thing.

Jesus is almost maddeningly different from the world I live in. Sometimes he makes me crazy, because even at the best of times, I’m a Pharisee whitewashing my own grave. He asks my why I call him master, even though I don’t do what he says. He tells me that I am blessed if I hear his words and obey them.

He wants me to become like a child. Or a servant. Or a sacrifice. Naturally, I don’t really want to be any of those things.

There’s so much of the old me to toss in the trash. I am supposed to don humility and slough off pride. I have the Holy Ghost working in me, powering me.

I’ve been a Christian for ten or so years now. Why, then, does this all still feel so strange?

Ideas

Have you ever noticed that some people have ideas lodged in their heads that they seem to come back to all the time?

You’ll convince them that another way is indeed better, and they’ll agree, but later be back to the original idea. After a while you sort of pick your battles, but even then it’s not really worth it.

Freedom

When you stare upwards at the cathedrals of our age, you must remember that it’s all a lie. The falsehood that will be rewritten as truth in the age to come is a falsehood all the same. Though your eyes will most likely glide off their smooth surfaces to the grit and reality below, though you will most likely be unable to remember, you must try.

Every age has its deep-seated conceits. Are ours better because they are newer? There. That’s one.

Draw a picture of a 5-year-old boy and state in the title that he is a 76-year-old man. Which will the viewer believe? If I can see that the boy is five, why should I not believe it? There. That’s one. The artist may lie. The creator may deceive. The emperor may not be wearing any clothes.

Will you know?

My generation looks back on events only fifty years distant and marvel. Our parents’ parents were simpletons, we say, because they had a cold war, and because that cold war landed men on the moon, and because at the end of it all there was a void waiting to be filled. Someone had to create a new monster.

They did. It was easy. Here, this is a cathedral. There, those are the Turks. We are good. They are evil.

It’s all a lie. The scarlet spires of today are the hubris and manipulation of the past. We are them, in blue jeans, with iPods. The brief flourishings where men understood freedom have died out. You are slowly being starved to death while the architects of your hunger whisper that your belly is full.

I had a thought this morning.

Maybe you should stop asking questions and instead seek some answers. There’s no point in constantly walking around pointing at things and asking what’s up with them if you never want to know what deal actually is.

I have become convinced that incessantly asking questions is a defence mechanism. At least a certain kind of questioning. After all, what better way to ward off the truth than by constantly prolonging your journey toward it?

Look at the universe and see what you see.

There’s a school of thought that says free will doesn’t exist. It’s a large school, and one populated with more than garden-variety Calvinists. It includes a significant chunk of adult learning theorists, for instance. And Isaac Asimov with his psychohistory to some degree.

You can easily be a deist and deny free will. You have to, of course, believe that the seeds sown at the beginning of time inevitably lead to the same conclusion, but you can do it if you set your mind to it. (Now you have that song in your head. Ta-da!)

I say this all merely to point out that nothing is entirely certain about anything I see. I appear to have free will, but do I really have it? The fact that I can ask that question is interesting. In a way, asking this question is merely a function of following a bunch of hyperlinks. The hyperlinks were a function of my predisposition to read this or that type of article or blog post. My predispositions are a function of the way I was brought up, the people I knew in my youth, the sort of music I was exposed to, the men and women I admired, my social inclusion or seclusion, or whatever innumerable factors you can think of.

In some way, I can look at the universe both ways, and believe both things at the same time. That I do have free will (I have to believe that if I am to function at all), and that I do not (I have to believe that if I am at all intellectually honest). That is to say, I am a study in cognitive dissonance, except that I don’t believe in cognitive dissonance.

You can view this post as my predisposition to ramble. I like tangents. Who doesn’t really?

On Sunday, I had opportunity to think of the universe as a place that invites belief and disbelief at the same time. An interesting concept. The near-void of space, the loneliness of it all, begs at once faith in a beyond and a rational scientific measurement of what can be felt.

The whole ball of wax seems to designed like that. As if God is saying, Believe or don’t believe, the evidence looks both ways depending on what you look at, and how.

The sum of God’s will is laid out in a book. How silly is that?

I believe that book, the scriptures, at face value, when possible. How stupid must I be?

I am convinced God controls things all the way down to the quantum level. I can’t see him. I can’t feel him. I can’t reach out and lay a finger on God. I can’t even begin to understand how God can relate to a person and yet be the brains behind redshift, gravity, strong nuclear forces, dark matter, black holes, spacetime, quantum entanglement, probability, neutrinos, and a billion other completely and ridiculously amazing things I can barely appreciate, much less understand.

But I can write long sentences about them anyway. But in a way, God’s sentences are much longer than mine. The universe is, by any reckoning, many billions of years old. My life, in that expanse of zeroes, is barely a flicker, barely an eye batting, barely an electrical storm somewhere in my brain.

I cannot tell you how pleased I am that God notices me. That he slows himself down far enough to give me the Book, to let me know what precious little I can grasp, to work like a Ghost in my being and bring me to faith.

But there are countless millions who look at that expanse of space and its intricacies and see nothing at all except what is there. This seems to me unspeakably sad, but also quite normal. Gut-wrenching but mundane.

It’s the way God set it up. The most awkward of manoeuvres, creating men and women, seeding the world with us, sending us a Christ to save us from ourselves. The strangest of procedures, to work through the screwed up psychology of humanity. The oddest modus operandi, to pick the weak, the gullible, the broken, the few.

Isn’t that a weird way to go about things?

I remember once saying that I found belief stupendously hard. I always have. Belief; obedience moreso. I cannot have stumbled into this on my own. No way. My head’s too thick. My tendencies too backwards.

You can look at the universe and see a set of laws that just are, or you can see a Glue holding it together. You can see anarchy or design. You can see free will or guide rails or constraint.

The book says this is the Holy Ghost at work. I believe this. I can’t help it. How odd is that?

Not just labour.

I’m not particularly wise. I haven’t got a lot of sage words that will twist you around and give your solar plexus a good smack. But I do know what I know, having thought about it quite a lot.

Look, dude. If it’s that difficult, something is wrong.

Can you go on like that for ever? I doubt it. No-one can face the same problems day in and day out, never resolving them or accepting them, without going crazy. No-one should ask themselves — or especially someone else — to do that.

I’m not saying you should drop it at the first sign of trouble. I’m not saying that God can’t stick a finger in an swirl things about. What I am saying is this: don’t actively seek to martyr yourself on a cross of love.

It isn’t worth it.

Your friends can provide you some perspective on this. I’m on the periphery of your acquaintance: I don’t expect you to listen to me. But ask yourself, ask them to be brave, ask them to say what they’re surely thinking.

They’ll probably say that it’s not supposed to be totally easy, but it’s not supposed to be that difficult. It should be a labour of love… not just labour.

You need to decide that for yourself: I could be dead wrong.

Am I?

One last thought before I go home…

In viewing popular culture’s recent drift toward considering all religions isotropic, I can’t help an involuntary shudder. If Nietzsche was right, if God is dead and we killed him, then this must be his hell.