Maybe you really did, Bono

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” became a sort of anthem for a generation or two of seekers after it’s release in 1987 on U-2’s second album.

There is a sense in which the human “reach” will always “exceed its grasp” (Browning).   Having achieved, we want more, and we wonder what we might have missed down that other “road.”  Frost cynically suggests that either way amounts to about the same thing; but our hearts aren’t so sure.

Often  we discover that the joy is actually in the search, the hunt, not the quarry.  Finding what we seek is usually the end of the fun.  It is hard to imagine a concert jam around the lyrics, “I have found it, I have found it.”

We are focused beings, even the most distracted of us.  And scientists tell us that we tend to find exactly what we are looking for.  And miss what we are not looking for.  Here’s this from Psychology Today:

One recent study asked a group of radiologists to examine a series of chest x-rays, just as they would if looking for lung cancer. Unknown to the radiologists, though, the researchers had inserted into the x-rays a picture of something no professional would ever expect to see: a gorilla. The picture of the gorilla wasn’t tiny; it was about 45 times the size of the average cancerous lung nodule – or about the size of a matchbook in your lung.

How many of the radiologists spotted the gorilla?

Very few. Some 83 percent of the radiologists missed the gorilla – even though eye-tracking showed that most of them had looked right at it.

I take all this first as a reminder that there is a whole lot of stuff I am missing, especially in the people in my life.  We naturally look for evidence to confirm our biases.  If I am convinced a person has a problem, I will certainly find it.  If I think they have great potential, I will find that.

There is far more “out there” (and “in there”) than we can ever take in, though we like to think otherwise.  So, having discovered something, and found a tidy place for it in my life-model, I need to ask myself, is there anything else I need to consider?  What might be right under my nose?

The second challenge for me is to recognize that I may subconsciously prolong my quest in order to delay arrival.  There are some conclusions I would prefer to avoid especially those that would require a change of plans, or friends.  Better to keep collecting more information to make sure.  When the quest ends I might have to forfeit my identity as a “seeker” and become — Heaven forbid! — a “settler.”  That is not what I am looking for!

There is something in even the most committed “home-body” that longs for a goal, a purpose, a stretch.  It may not be a grand quest for meaning or discovery.  But deep inside we have an intuition that there is “more.”

The voice of caution says, “Yes, there is more, and it is probably dangerous and worse than what you have. You’ve worked hard for this. Be grateful. Sit tight!”  The voice of adventure says, “Maybe not.  Don’t be afraid.  You might be missing something wonderful.”

All of us find ways to make peace with this tension.  Though we are probably “wired” in one direction more than the other from birth, we will fluctuate a bit through the life cycle. In any community, at any point in time, there will always be those who “hold down the fort” while others go scouting.

My father told me about a man he knew as a boy who made his first trip out of Henderson County to travel to St Louis by rail.  When he returned all he could say was, “Fellas, if the world’s as big this’a way as she is that, then she’s a whopper!”

When Job was wrapped up in his grief and dismay and anger, God did not answer his questions but gave him a peek at the bigger picture.  He showed him that reality is a “whopper.”  There’s more to it than any of us can fathom.  There’s more to each of us than any of us can understand.

In his two epistles St. Peter reminds us that as residents in the Kingdom we will all always be exiles, pilgrims, and sojourners here.  Hebrews 13:14 says: For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.  So we tread lightly, with curiosity and delight, anticipating the day when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess…. when every tear is wiped away, the coming of a new Heaven and a new Earth. 

In the meantime our job is to be a living preview of things to come.  To show the world what it is looking for and invite them on the quest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Right Kind of Holiness

Today’s reading from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest underlines one of the points I tried to make in yesterday’s sermon. God’s priority is relationship.  I have invested so much effort in cultivating virtues, and championing the good, the true, and the beautiful.  These are all great things, but if they eclipse Christ Himself, they are dangerous.  I am seeing in a deeper way what I have always “known”, that the Christian life is first and foremost personal, not conceptual or even theological.

Jesus invites us into a friendship. If we are true friends of the bridegroom we are concerned, not for ourselves, not even for our own holiness, but for His glory, for Him to shine, for people to see Him and think of Him.

This reminds me of the beautiful lines from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

The primary job of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ, not to make me Holy.  My holiness is a biproduct of the Spirit’s presence.  My own virtue should be almost a matter of indifference to me, compared to my primary concern–that Jesus would be seen through me.  The Holy Spirit wants to make like Christ so that people can more clearly see Christ, not how Christ-like I am.  It may seem like a subtle distinction, but the difference is profound.  It makes sense when you approach the whole thing personally.

 

March 25

Maintaining the Proper Relationship
By Oswald Chambers

…the friend of the bridegroom… —John 3:29

Goodness and purity should never be traits that draw attention to themselves, but should simply be magnets that draw people to Jesus Christ.

If my holiness is not drawing others to Him, it is not the right kind of holiness; it is only an influence which awakens undue emotions and evil desires in people and diverts them from heading in the right direction. A person who is a beautiful saint can be a hindrance in leading people to the Lord by presenting only what Christ has done for him, instead of presenting Jesus Christ Himself. Others will be left with this thought— “What a fine person that man is!”

That is not being a true “friend of the bridegroom”— I am increasing all the time; He is not.

To maintain this friendship and faithfulness to the Bridegroom, we have to be more careful to have the moral and vital relationship to Him above everything else, including obedience. Sometimes there is nothing to obey and our only task is to maintain a vital connection with Jesus Christ, seeing that nothing interferes with it. Only occasionally is it a matter of obedience. At those times when a crisis arises, we have to find out what God’s will is.

Yet most of our life is not spent in trying to be consciously obedient, but in maintaining this relationship— being the “friend of the bridegroom.” Christian work can actually be a means of diverting a person’s focus away from Jesus Christ. Instead of being friends “of the bridegroom,” we may become amateur providences of God to someone else, working against Him while we use His weapons.

“If a Body meets a Body…”

You may recognize this phrase from Robert Burns’ bawdy poem put to music many times since.

To identify a person as a “body” is not unfamiliar, at least in some regional dialects.  For example, look at how Mark Twain describes the wisdom Tom Sawyer gained through selling whitewash “privileges” to his mates:

If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.

In Sierra Leone the standard greeting is: “Aw di bodi?”  Response: “Di bodi fayn”.  Do you need translation?  “How’s the body?” “The body is fine.”

What would happen if we tried saying something like that here in Kentucky?  “How’s your body today?”  You might get slapped, or written up for sexual harassment.  We aren’t that comfortable with our bodies anymore.  Now the body is mostly associated with sex or abuse.  We are nervous about our bodies and everyone else’s.

Of course there is more to us than our bodies.  Sometimes we refer to human beings as “souls,” often when counting casualties. When we say, “The ship went down with a loss of 500 souls” we affirm the eternal value of the lost.  But we build life boats for bodies. Our souls, whatever they may be, and all of those other capacities that make us human, reside in our bodies.  Only in and through our bodies can we access them and make them known.

One of the things I found so refreshing about life in Kenya was its “physicality.”  Life is lived much more happily and easily in the body.  People touch each other.  Hands are shaken and held, cheeks are kissed. Buses are overloaded. There is a unique consolation of  shared humanity when twenty-five bodies get to town pressed together in a twelve-passenger mini-van.

I’ve told you before of my cognitive dissonance looking out the window of my seminary classroom, full of attentive note-takers. I wondered if what we were doing in there would make any difference in the life of the laborer, working–with his body–on the new classroom building next door, for two dollars a day. How would the words coming out of my body ever become a blessing to his body? I’m sure they never did.

That question is not geographically restricted. It haunts me still.  I’m in the idea and word business.  I preach, I teach, I write.  But what difference does it all make to anybody’s body?

In the West generally, and particularly the Protestant, post-Enlightenment West, we place the highest value on ideas. We believe our eternal destiny hangs on a few basic beliefs. We call this faith. Under no circumstances can it be contaminated with “works.” Could this abstraction account for the diminishing impact of Christianity?

Ponder with me the proposition that things only really matter to us when they affect our bodies.  Think for example of the words, “I love you.”  If those words do not get translated into something physical they remain only words.  Do those words and the sentiment behind them make any difference in how your body treats my body?  What your body does for, or to, my body?  Or refrains from doing to my body?

We live in an increasingly disembodied world.  We communicate by phone, text, email.  We don’t touch each other very much.  We dare not! We don’t visit each other’s houses, eat each other’s food.  Communication ecologists have observed that for every advance in technology we have paid a price in community.  Church is disembodied.  Rock-star preachers are projected on screens to satellite campuses full of strangers.

Our bodies are not doing too well these days, in spite of a gym in every strip mall.  Our marriages aren’t doing too well either.  Our sexuality is not getting any saner.  There is a concerted effort to separate our identity from our bodies.  Anatomy is irrelevant.  You are what you think you are.  This delusion will take care of itself sooner or later.

Isn’t it fascinating how enthralled we are with visions of AI and becoming immortal by downloading “ourselves” to a computer?  Really?  Now isn’t that a comfort?!  All my thoughts and ideas living on forever in the cloud!  If that’s all there is to me, it ain’t worth preserving.

I am only just beginning to think about this, but I believe it is a trail worth exploring.  And it has Scriptural warrant.  God the Father sent God the Son in the flesh.  Then God the Son told His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.”  I take that to mean that we have essentially the same job-description as Jesus–to make the Word flesh, to embody it and to communicate it in such a way that it makes a difference to other bodies.

As a preacher this ups the ante for me considerably.  It is not enough to come up with a couple of application points at the end of the sermon.  I have to ask myself what difference will this teaching make in my body, and how I treat the bodies of others? And how can we as a church embody it in a way that will touch other people’s bodies for the better?

I feel myself being driven to a radical conclusion: If an idea doesn’t change the body it is irrelevant.  What do you think?

“But the life of the mind is essential to our humanity.”   “Ideas have consequences.” Yes. But where are those consequences ultimately experienced and felt?  If not in our physical existence, then where, and how consequential will they be?

Of course there is mental, emotional and spiritual torment, but we experience these things in our bodies too.  And the best, perhaps the only way to find lasting relief is through embodied encounter with love and belonging. Much of our intellectual anguish is relational and physical in its origin. And the cure must be experienced in our bodies in communion with other bodies.  There may be exceptions, I know, but when God looked at the wreckage of humanity, He sent a Body, not an idea.

What about music, poetry or great art?  What about characters in a novel or play or parable?  While these have no bodily existence they still “touch” us.  From abstractions in word, color, tone, harmony and rhythm our imaginations create experiences often more powerful than flesh and blood encounters, in the same way a dream can leave you trembling in sweat or tears.  True artists touch that unique human capacity through which, without physical contact, they make real bodily impact, transcending space and time.  Most of us ordinary mortals will simply be characters in our own little plays, in our own little bodies. That’s plenty to keep us busy, and more than enough to be accountable for.

One of the core Christian beliefs is “the resurrection of the body.”  We don’t know the exact sequence or timing of events after death, but scripture is clear, we will spend eternity, not as spirits or souls, but as bodies, glorious bodies, much better than the ones we have now, but definitely bodies.

Can you begin to think of your body as the primary expression of your faith?  What about other peoples’ bodies?  What are they to you?

I believe this invites us to rethink our understanding of the senses.  Touch is just one of them — what we do with our hands, how we experience physical proximity, “personal space.”  How do we look at each other, what messages do we send with our eyes and our faces, what is our tone of voice, how well do we listen?

What about smell?  Does it bother you to think about that?  It’s part of who we are. When online education found its way to our seminary in Kenya I told them I did not want to participate.  I said that my students and I needed to be able to smell each other if we were really to communicate.  They thought I was goofy.  Maybe I am.  But no biologist (or perfumier) would say that olfactory information is irrelevant to human communication.  We are mammals.

As Anglican mammals we have some advantage over other traditions.  We are pretty physical.  We worship with our bodies.  We may have some remnant of regard for our bodies from our Celtic ancestry that our more “enlightened” European cousins are missing.  But we have a long way to go to recover a fully embodied faith and worship.

There is a line from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s wedding vows that would make a school boy smirk today.  The man takes his bride’s hand in his and looks into her eyes.  His breath vibrates his vocal chords, his tongue and lips shape the sounds, and her eardrums resonate:

With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I’ll leave it to you to ponder all that this might mean.  I suspect most women would have no objection to being on the receiving end of that experience.  How would our lives be different if such vows were still made and kept?

We are all worshiping with our bodies already.  Do we know what/who? When Bob Dylan wrote, “you gotta serve somebody,” I believe he was asking the same thing.

I’ve been thinking about what I do with my body. What has my body been doing today?  If there had been a camera on me I assure you watching the film would be right up there with watching paint dry.  My body is nine hours older than it was when I came into the office.  What difference will the time I spent at my desk and my computer make to anyone else’s body?

I was going to say this is a haunting question.  And it is.  But it is also exciting.  This could be the beginning of a wonderful new adventure.

 

 

 

Reading This Week

I am working through two fascinating books this week. The authors were long time friends. One is writing from a more psychological/personal perspective.  The other from a sociological/historical/literary perspective.  I highly recommend both.  The Sibling Society was written in 1996. Amazing prophetic foresight.  He saw it all coming.

Click on the titles below for Amazon links if interested it a closer look:

The Sibling Society

Growing Yourself Back Up

Image result for sibling society       Image result for growing yourself up

 

Is Bach Better Than Lady Gaga?

I’m a great fan of Sir Roger Scruton who has devoted a large part of his attention as a philosopher to the study of beauty, or, more technically, aesthetics.  He himself is a composer with several operas to his name, as well as being an accomplished pianist/organist.  Here is a link to one of his latest books on music.  His interest also extends to architecture and environmental sanity.

And if you want to read something of his that is quite accessible and helpful, here is a good place to start.

See what you think of this little clip on Lady Gaga.

 

And, here is his BBC Documentary on Beauty

And this…

And this on desecration

Welcome Clarification

Have you ever been accused of “legalism?” Rollin Grams, who led us in our Christ and Culture Conference 2017, has written a very important article that will help you understand the meaning of the term, biblically.  Click here.

Rollin clears up some common misunderstandings about Jesus’ real “beef” with the Pharisees, and sheds important light on what is going on in the mainline denominations regarding human sexuality.  This is really worth your time to read and understand.