Is Love Winning?

Robe Bell says he isn’t interested in controversies over traditional and long held conceptions, but in the possibility of regaining the meaning, mystery, love, and hope that go with God.

But isn’t that like saying as a radical interventionist, “I’m not concerned with your family history, with the language, patterns and symbols that have landed the family here. I’m concerned with moving the family forward today!”

The thing that bonds liberals and evangelicals tighter than Jacob and Esau in the womb is a loathing of the tradition.

You’ve Got To Love Your Life

Jack Kerouac once put down these 30 rules for writing spontaneous prose:

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You’re a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Rules number 4 and 20 strike me as in some fashion anchoring the rest, or at least animating them. The prerequisite for writing spontaneous prose seems to be self-love, but not a self-love rooted in the basest kind of fearful self-preservation. Kerouac is talking about a self-love rooted in gratitude for the mystery you are and get to be. You don’t have to love every single thing about your life. That would be impossible. Every cloud doesn’t have a silver lining. You do, however, have to love the whole thing. This is because of its “holy contour”.  The whole thing that is your life, the good, the bad, and the ugly is worthy of a deep reverence. This is why hating birthdays is probably the eighth deadly sin. It involves a fundamental posture of ingratitude to the universe. Suffering certainly legitimates all manner of anger and frustration at reality, but does it legitimate ingratitude?

Frank Lake, the great British psychiatrist, wrote of the paradoxical gift of anguish:

The natural man in us tends to reject the paradox that mental pain and spiritual joy can exist together in us, without diminishing either the agony of the one or the glory of the other. The whole personality may be afflicted by a sense of weakness, emptiness, and pointlessness, without diminishing in the least our spiritual power and effectiveness. This is possible because Christ is alive to re-enact the mystery of his suffering and glory in us. So far as our own subjective feelings are concerned, any inner-directed questioning of our basic human state may produce the same dismal answer as before; the cupboard is bare. While we regard our humanity as a container which ought to have something good in it when we look inside, we miss the whole point of the paradox. We are not meant to be self-contained, but channels of the life and energies of God Himself. From this point of view our wisdom is to let the bottom be knocked out of our humanity, which will ruin it as a container at the same time as it turns it into a satisfactory channel.

The fragility that allows one to become a channel is certainly worth a heartfelt gratitude, even if that sentiment stands ambivalently alongside other more ambiguous feelings in our hearts.

Do You Like Surprises?

Most of us hate surprises, at least where relationships are concerned. We think we like them, but we don’t. We walk into situations with co-workers, family members, friends, spouses and we think we know how it will go. Actually if we’re honest we “know” how it will go. They will be deceptive, obsessive, narcissistic, compulsive, detached, you name it. Of course we know they have their moments. We’ve seen them be truthful, dispassionate, unassuming, restrained, engaged. Those are the options: the devil we know and the angel we hope appears. How often to we make space for someone to surprise us?

Now realistically the way of the world that we all find ourselves in day after day doesn’t often leave room for surprise. Many, perhaps most days if we’re honest, make us feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. It’s realistic to assume things will be as they have been, that nothing much changes in this world. And yet we pack in to see a film like Les Miserables, which is all about spontaneous change that cannot be programmed, orchestrated or anticipated. Somehow something comes in, seeming from the outside in, and changes everything. True the moments seem fleeting, but are they so rare as to seem mythical. No. Les Miserables seems fantastic, but we don’t consider it a fantasy. It’s the precipice we all want nuzzle up to, hoping not only that we’ll fall into it, but that its mystical gravitational pull will draw us into its being, changing ours.

The problem is that you get an experience like this and you do one of two things: fight or flight. You either fight to remake the world into this surprising reality or you flee from the world in an escapist fashion, seeking life-giving surprises in a fantasy world removed from the gritty recidivist patterns of the reality in which we feel trapped.

The freedom comes in a Latin phrase (what doesn’t?): simul justus et peccator. We are both right, or justified (justus) and bent, broken and problematic (or in the word of the old time religion: sinful). We need something that allows us to see ourselves as human, which equates to flawed, finite,  in short fallen from the oasis of our highest aspirations, and also unconditionally loved. We need a reality to break in that helps us re-imagine what can possibly be and who possibly can be what, but one that is realistic. It comes with the realization that the mysterious reality that surprises us despite ourselves is in our midst, and yet ahead of us. It comes, yet can’t be caught or contained, only received. It’s already here, yet it’s not yet here. And it always leaves us satisfied and wanting, scared and assured.

 

Some Thoughts About Preaching…

“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise.”- Thomas Cranmer

The reason why most preaching misses us is it misses the “unruly wills and affections” that drives us all. This should not surprise us because a lot of our psychological and emotional energy is spent repressing and suppressing these forces. They are scary, painful, and have an incredible capacity to shame us. Often times we think if we can present a self that defies them to others then we we will convince ourselves that these monsters in the closet have been conquered. The problem is the monsters are us. They are not outside us, they are us. They don’t need to be conquered or split off or destroyed because that would be to conquer, split off and actually kill ourselves. They need what we need: to be loved. Most preaching fails to aim at getting to the place where we can be reintegrated by the one who made us with an integrative dream of who we would become in the first place. Preaching must aim to get to the deep place of the cross, where the Creator was unmade so that we can be remade, renewed, and love again for the first time. When it doesn’t, either through a kind of exposition that degenerates into a religious lecture, or morphing into inspirational talk about the church’s vision, or tips for a better family, it will actually exacerbate the problem. The real power is when the Law does its crushing work, and in our brokeness we fall before the cross, seeing our suffering substitute with arms outstretched. There is the place of the embrace of grace. As Bonhoeffer said: only the suffering God can help.