Monthly Archives: July 2018

When the Heart Waits

51HjQo+wjwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This is a book for those in transition, those who are not sure of the path forward and are perhaps even less sure of the path from which they have come. It’s for those spiritually suffocated ones who must endure what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul. This condition, explained the 16th-century priest, is characterized by a feeling of abandonment by God, as well as dryness, emptiness, and a distressing awareness of one’s own unfulfilled spiritual hunger. Its a time of doubt, and stumbling around in gloomy clouds of unknowing. 

All of a sudden this book became personal. I realized that St John was describing me! Here is what I learned.  

The evolution of faith is scary but good.

  • We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning — for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie. — C.G. Yung. 
  • We must break down our old spiritual structures, cast out false selves. The dark night forces us to stand in the chaos…without such upheaval we would likely go on as always, never deepening, never growing, never being stretched. 
  • Conversion is a continuous and lifelong process.
  • God’s truth often turns up in ways we don’t expect… We’ve built up a callus over (our faith) with our cynicism and the religious certainties that render us incapable of being surprised.
  • I have to enter the darkness of my own doubts and come through to a faith that is true to where I am now…previous ways of thinking about and relating to God no longer suffice. Old religious acts no longer bring the consolation they once did. Former patterns and selves feel like outgrown sweaters.
  • (The Dark Night) is a time to unravel the story’s and illusion’s that we’ve created about ourselves and God. 
  • We are being drawn beyond where we are into an entirely new way of relating to God. One that’s beyond anything we’ve ever imagined. 
  • We are both appalled by the darkness and outraged that old answers no longer work.
  • Most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty. — Virginia Satir

 The one great unalterable, the unshakable pillar of one’s life is his faith convictions, right? You start tinkering with those, and everything falls apart. Indeed, it’s a scary place to be, most notably if you happen to be a spiritual leader by profession. Sadly as doubt’s and uncertainties have crept into my life, I’ve let fear and despair lead the way. Kidd uses the illustration of caterpillar to butterfly to create a hope-filled picture of what is actually happening when it comes to spiritual evolution. Unfortunately, there is such a natural tendency to settle into belief; to sign off on a doctrinal statement and then stop thinking, stop searching, stop being surprised by God. When we do this, we go into a spiritual regression characterized by sharp defences of party lines and legalism. The end of which is death.  

 Wait, be still, and listen. 

  • Waiting patiently in expectations is the foundation of the Spiritual life — Simone Weil 
  • The fullness of one’s soul evolves slowly…waiting is the missing link of spiritual evolution. 
  • How did we ever get the idea that God would supply us on demand with quick fixes, that God is merely a rescuer and not a midwife?
  • We achieve our deepest progress standing still 
  • We must be emptied of the need to achieve — Meister Eckhart 
  • Not all who loiter are lost. — Anthony de Mello
  • Hope lies in braving the chaos and waiting calmly. 
  • But we need to allow this disorientation. It’s okay to doubt and to feel the remoteness of God sometimes. We all do it if we’re honest. And if we do nothing else in our waiting, we should be honest with ourselves. The white-outs pass more quickly and stay gone for longer periods in the face of honesty, and we come to a truer faith. 

In my dark night, I’ve done the opposite, and it hasn’t helped. I’ve worked harder, prayed harder, read more, and sought to find better answers. These efforts just added fatigue to my discouragement. I’ve stopped trying so hard, my prayer times are more about listening than talking. Sitting quietly on a park bench stilled from all distraction, waiting patiently for God has come to characterize my devotion times more than the consumption of vast amounts of Scripture and the verbalizing of names on endless prayer lists. 

In the struggle don’t lose wonder and humour. 

  • The strenuous process of soul-making does not require the abandonment of Joy. Enjoy “God’s little Jokes”…hold on to the celebration of becoming. 
  • Our eyes become so faceted on goals that we forget to wonder in the presence of a rose — Sam Keen.

 Living well in the tension of paradox and unanswerable’s is spiritual maturity.  

  • What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and co-exist with the tensions of uncertainty?
  • Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions…questions of faith act as agents inviting us to a deeper spiritual experience. 
  • We must learn to dwell creatively with the unresolved inside of us. 
  • I beg you…to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves…live the questions now. — Rainer Maria Rilke. 
  • Living with questions can be a miserable experience we like things fixed, figured out, and nailed down. People who want life nailed down into tight legalistic certainties seem to me to be the people most insecure inside…the most frightening people of all are the ones that are dead certain about everything
  • Souls are activated whenever they experience the pain of contradiction or the sustained state of questioning. The actual groping and searching is the way our deeper self evolves and is released.

 I don’t have to know. I don’t have to understand fully. Truthfully, on the big questions of life certainty is impossible anyway. Sometimes I wonder if good people like Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell and other apologists have unintentionally turned the journey of faith into a factoid search. I hope not, because that is precisely what kills it.  

  The trouble is people want answers. If I just pose questions and live comfortably in the tension of mystery how will the church I started ever grow? The question is my problem. Who cares about church growth! I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t. It’s the soul that must grow. Soul growth doesn’t happen through pat answers and attendance records. What is a healthy, soul growing church?  It’s a few people on a long journey together asking lots of hard questions! As I reflected on this, it occurred to me to let the tension of unanswerable questions and paradox serve me like my morning stretch routine. Tension is necessary for both physical and spiritual health.

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The Benedict Option

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It’s Time for Christian’s to Disappear! 

What? Yes, to hide, to go underground, to withdraw to the margins of society, in some cases literally “head for the hills.” We have entered a dark age for Christianity, and the only way to preserve the seeds of faith is to form small Christian subcultures that intentionally orient their lives fully around the worship of God. These cell groups will practice out of their faith through the rigorous keeping of church traditions, liturgy, and the church calendar. They will practice asceticism, (fasting, prayer, and limitations on distractions & entertainment)  live close to one another and share life together. The absolute priority of these small groups will be to pass on the faith to the next generation. Just like Benedict did in the 5th century. 

Why must Christians go into hiding? 

Secular humanism is the dominant narrative of our time, it runs in complete opposition to Christianity. It’s like a riptide at the beach, the current is just too strong now to resist. All Christians who remain immersed in the surf of our culture will eventually be swept out to sea and lost. The linchpin of cultural Christianity according to Rod Dreher is its views of sex, sexuality, marriage and gender. The Christian worldview doesn’t work with today’s view of whatever, whenever, however, and whoever. If a Christian tries to draw a moral line in the sand that is different from the cultural norm of “be whatever you are” and “love is love” he is shot down with increasing brutality. Also, Christianity needs contemplation and prayer to work but today’s society is constantly abuzz with one distraction after another, followed by one temptation after another. The section that details the staggering amount of pornography consumption in the West and the latest scientific studies about its adverse effects on the brain is unnerving, to say the least. Dreher is unashamedly alarmist. The Western world is not a safe place to hang out anymore if you are a Christian. All Christian efforts to be relevant, missional, or “cutting edge” need to be stopped in the interest of survival. 

What exactly are we talking about here?

  • No more public school education — Putting your kids in public school is “spiritual suicide” says Dreher. And most Christian schools are not much better either. The only solution is what he calls “Classic Christian” education, or homeschooling of a similar vein. 
  • If you are a compromised professional, quit — It’s going to be increasingly difficult for Christian lawyers, doctors, educators, politicians, nurses and the like to avoid having their convictions compromised in their workplaces. The solution says Dreher is to quit. Christians must become comfortable with less money and less notoriety.  He suggests working in the trades, becoming an entrepreneur, or taking up farming.  
  • Move in close to each other. Geographical proximity will be necessary for the dark night ahead.
  • Create a self-contained sub-culture. Dreher has no time for Christianized imitations of the world, whether that be pop-Christian music, radio, technology, consumerism. Etc. Etc. The sub-culture he envisions is unashamedly counter-cultural. Entirely other from the world in which we now live.  

Should we be worried? 

In 8 years living as a missionary embedded in the secular culture, I can certainly see his point. I’ve seen more Christians leave the faith then come into it. I’ve experienced first hand the increasing hostility of influential people who don’t share my Christians worldview. I at times have felt the enticing currents of secular humanisms pull. I’m concerned for sure about the decidedly non-Christian fashions that entice my family and me. My neighbour from Iran lamented to me that his daughter is losing the Persian language and culture, “I can’t keep up” he said. “We practice in our home, but all day at school it is English, English, English.” His daughter is being assimilated into the English Canadian world, not the Farsi Persian one. Is the same happening to us with our Christian heritage? We are teaching Christianity in our home, and at our worship gatherings, but all day, it’s secular humanism, secular humanism, secular humanism. Can I expect anything less than assimilation for my family and me if something more drastic is not done? Dreher’s point is to resist assimilation at all costs. He fears that most Christians are already functionally assimilated, believing in what he calls Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism, rather than Christianity. “Be nice, be happy, God is not really involved.” Indeed there is a dearth of Biblical and Theological understanding among so many who purport to be Christian. 

Is it time to buy 40 acres in northern B.C.? 

Should I take my family and friends and go “off the grid” to preserve our way of life? That strategy is not without historical precedent. Monks, Mennonites, and Puritans have all made that move in times gone by. Is Dreher a prophet of doom whose dire warning I must head? Undoubtedly much of what he says is not without merit and Christians would do well to consider what strategies might work best towards a more comprehensive form of Christian indoctrination. However, I would like to offer some gentle push back as I conclude this review. 

  1. Don’t let fear dominate. The whole message of the book is driven by fear. All is lost if we don’t radically separate ourselves from the cesspool that is our world. Love not fear should dominate our worldview. Are there not things in our culture today that by our very presence we can redeem? Can we not appreciate truth and beauty wherever we find it, even if it is not necessarily Christian? The answer is yes to both these questions. Fear forces us into the false dichotomy that “Christian” is good and “Non-Christian” is bad. 
  2. Serve do not Run. We have lost our voice to be sure, but we have not lost our hands or our feet. We can serve; indeed, we must! My input is not welcome at our local public school that has been made abundantly clear; however, I can still stack chairs, and run the BBQ on Sports Day. Is that not Jesus’ message to us when he washed the feet of his disciples? 
  3. Follow Jesus’ example. Jesus our Saviour and our model for worldly interaction was a friend of publicans and sinners. He regularly scandalized the religious separatists of his day through his intimacy with those who did not think or act in line with him. 
  4. Education is not the Saviour. I’m not convinced classical Christian education is the panacea Dreher claims it to be. Never have I witnessed praises heaped so high upon an educational system before. Perhaps Dreher was overstating his case to make his point. 
  5. Let us not confuse tradition with the gospel. It’s an easy thing to let non-essentials become essentials, especially if they are cherished and have had a long cultural shelf life. This is not a new problem. Every generation of Jesus followers since the first century have attempted to innovate, to grow, to change, to morph, to evolve their faith in a variety of ways and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The big bag of “cultural Christianity” that Dreher wants to carry with him into the back 40 may actually need to be emptied of some of its contents. Christians are at their best with less cultural baggage, not more.
  6. Sex is not the centre of cultural Christianity. Unquestionably Christian views on sexual morality are at odds with the culture of our day, but they have always been at odds with the natural inclinations of the human heart. In this sense, there is nothing new here, except a stern reminder for Christians to take the beam out of our own eye first! The linchpin of cultural Christianity is love, not sexual restraint. Self-sacrificing love that manifests itself in forgiveness, perseverance, patience, and kindness is the mark of true Christianity. Love that extends a worshipping hand to God and a helping had to others, whatever their belief system or sexual point of view might be. 

The book certainly scared me, but I’m not moving up north just yet, check back with me in a years time, and I’ll let you know if I’ve changed my mind!