January 17, 2016
I read a lot. This is not me bragging, this is along the lines of a confessional. I’m part of a remarkable Spiritual Formation course called Transforming Community (link, you’re welcome… hopefully) and there’s a lot of required reading for it. (If that categorically de-selected you, you’re missing out.) I also read a lot for work. I have friends who are constantly recommending books to me… and occasionally, I’ll get to one of them. And finally, I have a reading list of my own that I try to make a dent in from time to time. I.Read.A.Lot.
From time to time two authors may not always align. This is always intriguing to me, as it was the other night while I had Eugene Peterson’s “Eat This Book” and M. Robert Mulholland’s “Shaped By the Word” open at the same time. There’s no way I can adequately explain even a portion of those books in this form, but suffice it to say that in one section of a very fine work, Peterson writes that there’s a movement toward spiritual formation without a proper engagement of Scripture and in the introduction of another great book, Mulholland says something along the lines of Christian spiritual formation without Scripture is neither formation nor spiritual.
And I picked up both books and introduced them to each other.
After a good chuckle and a prayer for the family of Mr. Mulholland (he recently passed away,) I went back and forth between the two passages, seemingly in disagreement, and found that they had the same heart. This is a fairly easy example, but it draws my attention to a deeper concern.
There’s a great inability in our world today, especially among fellow Christians (it seems to me) to live between two ideas. We seem to become paralyzed at the mere thought that an idea once held could be held more deeply if only it could be held slightly differently. And if that once-held idea comes into question at all… heads are sure to roll.
Yet this, again to me, doesn’t seem to be the model for how we are supposed to 1) engage Scripture, 2) engage one another or 3) engage the world around us.
Paul is constantly guiding between convictions, whether he is explaining to the Athenians that they already in fact worship God (can you IMAGINE that back-and-forth on Facebook?!) or trying to get out of a shipwreck alive. Whether he’s encouraging a young and idealistic congregation to go deeper, or re-directing (again) a Church that (he thought) had it all together. Jesus managed to break religiously legal customs (easily as deeply held as any we have today, mind you) and show us a clearer image of the Father through it. Healing on the Sabbath, speaking alone with the woman at the well, dining with (gasp!) tax collectors.
It was such a roller coaster ride for people like Peter and Jonah who always managed to pick the wrong conviction. Other people like Esther and Daniel always found themselves on the right side.
Moses, perhaps more than anyone in the entire story, lived in that tension-ridden middle ground for his entire life. A Hebrew turned Egyptian prince. An Egyptian prince turned Midianite shepherd. A Midianite shephed turned rock star deliverer. Rock star deliverer turned worst.leader.ever. (this one went back and forth a few dozen times) before he was turned into revered historical icon.
Abraham, David, Saul, Solomon, Jeremiah (a lot) and Nehemiah (a bit less) and Isaiah (poor guy) all lived and served and obeyed from places between convictions.
I think we need to look deeper sometimes. Scratch that, all the time. I think we need to be less insecure, less territorial, less superior, less exclusive, less personal ownership of all that ever was and more communally aware of all that ever can be.
God is certainly big enough to hold it all together. While the Church was convinced the Earth was the center of the universe (which it wasn’t) He was still God. His ways are higher than our ways, right? Who, indeed, can know the mind of God? He’s able to love all of us, wherever we are and still be Holy. He gave us free will and the same imperative to be holy. He sent Jesus to live and love among all the convictions all the while knowing where it would end. He sent un-mess into mess to make mess better. That’s the model for us… not necessarily the death part, but the life part.
Maybe life abundant comes because it’s actually bigger than what we can hold in our hands. Or even in our minds.
Or maybe, as I’ve been told on occasion… I just read too much.