Wednesday, January 28, 2009

She Must and Shall Go Free!

"i can always tell a liar
and i always know a thief
i know them like my family
because brother i’m the chief
i’m a dangerous crusader
because i need to tell the truth
so i’m turning over tables
i’m my own living room

and i might nail indictments up
on every door in town
because it’s not right or safe to let my conscience down..."
I have shared with a couple people recently that my spiritual doubts in the last year have for the most part not revolved around various hot topics like the validity of scripture or the existence of God or the problem of evil. Instead, most of my doubting has focused on the Church: the body of Christ in this world, the Bride, the earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Tonight, I sat down to listen to Derek Webb's album, She Must and Shall Go Free, a beautiful call for the redemption and freedom of the Church and a return to the purity fit for the Bride. I have interspersed some lyrics from the album into this post to help shape a few of my thoughts.
"but i found thieves and salesmen living in my father’s house
i know how they got in here and i know how to get ‘em out
i’m turning this place over from floor to balcony
and then just like these doves and sheep you will be set free"

As I read the scriptures, I see a beautiful message of Good News! God has sent his son as a sacrifice to cover over our sins. I see the Spirit of God guiding his people to create a beautiful new community (The Church) defined by a radical retooling of our lives together to reflect the example of Jesus Christ. No longer are we separated or classified by racial, socioeconomic or gender distinctions or barriers (although these realities have not disappeared). We are called to somehow love our enemies and share our possessions and seek greatness through humility. However, when I look around, I see the fear, isolation, division and condemnation that seems to drive the modern Church (at least in America), and I wonder where we went wrong?

"beloved these are dangerous times
because you are weightless like a leaf from the vine
and the wind has blown you all over town
because there is nothing holding you to the ground

so now you would rather be
a slave again than free from the law"

I feel that it is as appropriate a time as any to question what this whole Church thing should look like: whether that is on campus or in the community or around the world. I question seriously why the Church has forgotten or maybe just overly-spiritualized large parts of the New Testament. The Pit Preachers love to talk about masturbation and pre-marital hugging and the evils of sodomy, but when was the last time you heard Gary tell the students the importance of loving their enemies or selling their possessions and giving to the poor so that they can have purses that won't wear out (Luke 12:33).
"so could you love this bastard child
though i don’t trust you to provide
with one hand in a pot of gold
and with the other in your side
i am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers less wild
that i would take a little cash
over your very flesh and blood

i am a whore i do confess
but i put you on just like a wedding dress
and i run down the aisle
i’m a prodigal with no way home
but i put you on just like a ring of gold
and i run down the aisle to you"
And in churches or fellowships, when a teacher or preacher is bold enough to suggest that perhaps the Bible actually speaks clearly to my messy relationship with money, or to how I treat people who do not look like me, or they suggest that bombing our enemies is not exactly what Jesus meant by loving them, people get up and leave. So I wonder whether we should focus on keeping seats filled or on actually getting into the difficult parts of the message of the Gospel. I heard once that the message of Christ "comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable." Right now I feel that I live in a comfortable society that doesn't want to be afflicted by the truth and depth of the Gospel.

"i’ve got the law on my heart
i’ve got your love tearing me apart
i’ve got a vow that i can’t keep
but i’ve got your promise getting me to sleep
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

i’ve got your works, i’ve got my faith
i’ve got all the wine that you can make
i am the kiss of your betrayer
but i’ve got your grace on every layer
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you"

So here's the deal. I need to talk about this. I need to hear what people think. Some of you may think that I am crazy for bringing these questions up (maintain that status quo, don't ask questions). Some of you hopefully read this but are not Christians, and I would love to continue this conversation with you as well, because I think an outside perspective is incredibly important. Some of you may be struggling with the same questions and would like to flesh them out a bit more, I would love to continue the dialogue with you. What I'm saying is that I don't have answer, I just have some questions that I would love to discuss with anyone who is interested in talking to me. Let me know.
cause i haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her
if you love me you will love the church
My conclusion for the moment is this: I must continue to love the Church even as I question, and understand the depth of my own inadequacies. My deep questioning does not come from a need to condemn others, but to question my own relationship with God and with this world. My dad likes to share a story from an old church member who said, "I was searching for the perfect church until I realized that if I found the perfect church, I would join it, and it would no longer be perfect."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lessons Learned From Moving

I don't like moving. Not because of the sentimental value that you attach to the place where you live (especially for 14 years), but because it takes a heck of a lot of work to box everything up and move all of the wonderfully heavy furniture that you have accumulated over the years. Fortunately Advil is there to ease the pain.

However, in the midst of the stacks of boxes, frequent trips to the thrift shop to donate assorted junk, dozens of games of Settlers of Catan, and being kicked out of my room for the last week of break, I have been learning a lot through this process. A few thoughts:

- I have had many conversations in the last year about what it looks like to live out a life of discipleship obedient to the teachings and example of Jesus. The conclusion that I have begun drawing recently is that while the lofty goals of loving my enemy, intentional communal living or world peace are beautiful concepts, they are nothing if I cannot take the smaller, simpler, harder steps of loving the people around me daily. This break, I have learned a lot about loving my family. And it is difficult, but I realize that it is impossible to even begin to obey God if I cannot obey my own parents, and how can I love my enemies if I can't even love my brother and sister? I am currently reading The Politics of Jesus by Howard Yoder (amazing book!) and I do think that Jesus' message should radically transform the way that Christians live in their society and how we interact with the powers of this world, but still the greatest of these is love.

- Tonight I learned a little lesson in grace. This last semester, I came to realize that I frequently hold people to unrealistic standards and am not very gracious when they don't live up to them. Around the end of the semester I remember an episode which involved an unfortunate injury. A friend had been warned explicitly to be careful to avoid stepping on a certain sharp object, yet within minutes had succeeded in splitting open their foot. My reaction was not of compassion, but of disbelief that they wouldn't take head of such clear advice. And today, after being pretty explicitly warned, I managed to mangle my own foot on a set of floor tacks while taking up carpet. I guess it's good to have a lesson to take away from 4 tack holes in your left foot.

I'm sure that there is more to be learned, and I may put those lessons up as I think of them. Still a week to go before I head back to school. And despite the pain that will accompany the rapidly approaching midterms and late night Arabic work sessions, I'm really excited to head back!