Thursday, October 31, 2013

Listening to Silence

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” (C.S. Lewis, From The Weight of Glory, taken from A Year with C.S. Lewis)

For God alone my soul waits in silence;

from him comes my salvation.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Ps 62:1-2 ESV)

What if silence had a language? What does it say? How do we acquire ears that can hear it?

What if silence is the only place fit for us to bring everything that is “formless and empty” (Gen 1:2) within us? What are the consequences of avoiding silence? We live in what Henri Nouwen a “wordy world,” and if we are to hear God we must cultivate habits of being alone and quiet (disciplines of silence and solitude as discussed in Nouwen’s Way of the Heart).

Creation itself seems to speak this language, the words of silence.

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world. (Ps 19:1-4 NIV)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom 1:20 NIV)

When we spend time in creation (with nature and persons) we can detect a secret language woven into the fabric of each breeze, permeating wildflowers and birdsong. What does it say? Are we listening?

Significantly, silence seems to be one of the few “right” responses to suffering. How often words have intruded on the bloody scene of a broken heart! Silence is like police tape wrapped around the broken heart saying “Caution - Crime Scene.”

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:11-13 NIV)

Silence also robs us of what is false, because our false selves are maintained by noise and busyness. Let us not be afraid to enter into silence, for if we press on past the awkward terror of losing our false selves, we just might encounter a God of raging holiness and furious love who shall embrace us in ways more tightly and firmly than a baby is held in a mother’s dark womb.

To this end, I’m off to the Abbey of Gethsemani this weekend to drink in some silence and solitude. Prayers appreciated.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Disappointed, but Not Surprised

Permit me to “let my hair down” for a moment. Actually, I don’t have much hair anymore, so let’s change that to “take my shoes off and throw them across the room,” shall we?

I don’t usually pay attention anymore to what John MacArthur is doing these days. Early on in my Christian life he greatly helped me fall in love with Scripture in a time when many around me were forsaking the Bible, and for that I am forever grateful. But I haven’t been able to draw much encouragement from his teachings for a long while, mainly because his tone and style of communicating a fairly narrow view of God and Scripture (which I largely agree with) are seemingly done in such a visibly angry and superior way that I find it distasteful. That is my response, however, and I don’t push it on anyone else. Bless you if you can still find life from his teachings. Please allow me the space not to.

Recent events online have provoked me to say something. It seems in his old age he is taking on more and more of a polemical, even hateful, spirituality toward all who disagree with his narrow interpretation of reality (again, much of which is correct, I would argue). A right view held in the wrong spirit though, could be said to be the “way of the Pharisee.” Someone who is “right” with their theology and what is spoken, but with hearts far from God and his ways. At the very least, I think MacArthur’s tactics undermine and erode whatever is correct in his theology. It probably doesn’t win anyone on his side who already isn’t on his side.

The recent event I’m referring to the conference being held at his church from October 16-18, 2013 (happening as I write) called “Strange Fire,” which continues and deepens his attack on charismatic forms of Christianity (see his book called Charismatic Chaos for reference). Simply put, Charismatics believe that all of the gifts of the Spirit described in the New Testament are for today’s church.

It’s OK to be Cessationist (those who don’t believe the sign gifts of the early church are for today), many of the teachers I respect are. But what is not OK is the direction this is taking. I would even argue, but don’t have time or space to document it here, that the directions and flavor that are becoming characteristic of my “theological camp,” which are largely young and reformed, are becoming more and more hateful and polarizing toward those who don’t hold their views, casuing conferences like this to be commonplace. My guess is that it’s because their commitment to the “truth” and to the “gospel” has trumped all other considerations, especially those of love, hospitality and mercy. Sadly, this is the picture many in our culture and churches will get of Reformed Christianity, a tradition I dearly love and find great strength in as I walk through this darkly scarred world.

A few blogs, written by other teachers I respect are speaking out against this conference, and I commend them to you for reading. If nothing else, folks, don’t assume that John MacArthur speaks for the rest of us Reformed folks. Reformed theology does NOT require being an ass.

May love and unity, based in truth and reality, be what carries Christ’s church forward.

Adrian Warnock’s (Reformed Charismatic) response is here.

C. Michael Patton’s (Reformed Cessationist) response is here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pain As A Way of Knowing

I’ve been locked in a “cell” of sorts for a while, unable to write anything more than a few ideas down (actually this is laughable, I’ve started about 20-30 different posts, but am unable to finish them).
I suspect I’ve needed to stay hidden awhile, for the work of God in me to deepen. I feel like there may be some creative “water” starting to leak from under the surface, so hopefully I’ll write more regularly soon, Lord willing. In the meantime, I found this selection from Richard Rohr’s daily devotional, Radical Grace, particularly beautiful and haunting:
Suffering is the necessary deep feeling of the human situation. If we don’t feel pain, suffering, human failure and weakness, we stand antiseptically apart from it, and remain numb and small. We can’t fully understand such things by thinking about them. The superficiality of much of our world is that it tries to buy its way out of such necessary knowing.
Jesus did not numb himself or withhold himself from human pain, as we see even in his refusal of the numbing wine on the cross (Matthew 27:34). Some forms of suffering are necessary so that we can more fully know the human dilemma, so that we can even name our shadow self and confront it. Maybe evil itself has to be felt to understand its monstrosity, and to empathize with its victims.
Brothers and sisters, the irony is not that God should feel so fiercely; it’s that his creatures feel so feebly. If there is nothing in your life to cry about, if there is nothing in your life to yell about, you must be out of touch. We must all feel and know the immense pain of this global humanity. Then we are no longer isolated, but a true member of the universal Body of Christ. Then we know God not from the outside but from the inside! (p.209, day 218)
We’ve all known people (and been people) who stood “antiseptically” apart from suffering. People inevitably avoid what they don’t understand, and suffering is all about mystery and confusion and the loss of control. Antiseptic spirituality by definition doesn’t get its hands dirty, and prefers staying “numb and small.” For many people (most? all?) the feeling of loss of control can be maddening to the extreme.
What strikes me is not that we keep this “antiseptic distance” toward others (though we do), but to ourselves. I have been struck recently how much I still “despise” aspects of my life - painful, shameful aspects – when it is in those very places that Jesus calls me to himself. He puts on my sores and my stink and calls me to come fellowship with him. When I refuse, I consign myself to a parched wasteland of life lived without-God (Jer 17:5ff). I also lose touch with myself, preferring the paltry selves of my own making, the “scholar,” the “good Dad,” the “faithful employee,” etc. But these selves are not real, so God will have nothing to do with them. He waits for me to acknowledge my “actual self” which is broken and messed up, sinful, manipulative and dearly loved, forgiven and accepted. If I can embrace this self that is me, then I shall be on the road to receiving grace, for it is only to actual selves that God gives grace.
Gently, and patiently, God calls to us in all our pain and trials to know him and know ourselves in relationship with him. This is the only true life, eternal life (John 17:3). Thus, pain becomes a “way of knowing” the most important things in life: God, grace, what it means to be human, etc.
Hear what Job has to say about this at the end of his trials with God:
2 No one can oppose you,
because you have the power
to do what you want.
3 You asked why I talk so much
when I know so little.
I have talked about things
that are far beyond
my understanding.
4 You told me to listen
and answer your questions.
5 I heard about you from others;
now I have seen you
with my own eyes.
6 That’s why I hate myself
and sit here in dust and ashes
to show my sorrow.
(Job 42:2-6 CEV)