“Transformation is the result of response to revelation” is something you might hear me say more than a little bit if you attend the church I lead, or if we’re able to share a cup of coffee together, or a glass of wine.
This notion became part of my world around 38 years ago when I was in the midst of a depression that came about as the result of my dad’s death. My health was bad, I was anxious about the future, and had severe doubts that a life of joy was possible because of the untimely intrusions of death that had happened for me over and over again in my young life.
But at a retreat, the speaker offered the liberating truth that if we keep showing up, keep getting to know God a bit better, the by-product of that showing up would be our own transformation, for the better. Some call this the principle of proximity: We become like those with whom we spend time; so spend time with the joy, wisdom, creativity, generosity, and love of God, and you become more joyful, wiser, more creative, and…well you get the picture.
My youth pastor years ago had said the same thing a different way: “Garbage in garbage out” as a sort of negative image of the same truth, as he tried to scare us all away from porn, drinking, and untimely sex. That way of saying it might be equally true, but I wasn’t into porn, drinking or sex anyway, so I sort of stopped listening at youth group, and invested my social energies in the marching band, where people seemed happier; less judgemental and fear based.
Death and depression though, coupled with the principal of proximity being articulated positively at a ski camp for college students, had a way of shaking me up. The message took, and I became committed to getting to know God. That path would, over time, lead me away from the study of architecture, into vocational ministry, which would eventuate in my becoming the leader of a very large church in Seattle, and teaching the Bible around the world with Torchbearers Missionary Fellowship.
My initial response to the principle of proximity led me to heavy doses of Bible study. I learned Greek, and enough Hebrew to convince myself I knew Hebrew (but I don’t… not really) so that I could read the Bible in the original text. I read the Bible a lot, becoming familiar with the chronology of the big story, and many of the little stories embedded in it. The study of the Bible also led to the study of ethics, of course, as I sought to understand what, if anything, God might have to say about, say, divorce, sex outside of marriage, the human responsibility for environmental stewardship, the problem of the disappearing middle class, racism, sexism, greed, the violence of our culture, and o so much more.
I’d say, to this very day, that reading the Bible with a view towards developing a relationship of intimacy with the creator is one of the best priorities I ever determined to make in my life. I’ve loved that I can leave the transformation business, in a sense, to God. It’s not that I’ve become utterly passive. Instead, it’s simply true that a relationship with Christ can, slowly over time, help me look more like Christ, but in a way that’s unique to who I am. I don’t worry much about being introverted or extroverted. I don’t worry about market share, or success. I don’t worry growing my platform or sphere of influence (or at least, I try not to). I just seek to enjoy intimacy with Jesus and align my priorities with his, and get on with life… enjoying the days I’ve been given.
BUT SOMETHING HAS CHANGED!
On this trip, I’ve discovered once again (not for the first time, but certainly as a powerful reminder) that this revelation from God comes from all kinds of sources. What do I mean?
Generosity: We’ve spent a day hiking down out of the high country in search of lodging because the huts in Italy were full. The first town: Also full. The second town? Two rooms left, but only one in the town, and by the time we call it’s gone, meaning we’ll need to hike 3 miles back up into the mountains to find the last room anywhere. That doesn’t sound far, unless you’ve been hiking all day. Then it sounds like a marathon. Donna, my wife, knocks on the window of a car where a couple our age are about to drive away. Boldly, she tells them of our plight and asks for a ride up the mountain for us. I’m grateful for her boldness, and mortified at the same time, but even more grateful when they look at each other for one second before saying in English: “Of course. We are hikers too. We understand tired.” In this, I’ve learned of generosity, and am reminded of Jesus’ simple words about being bold enough, and humble enough, to ask.
Encouragement: We’re hiking on a ridge, where we’ll encounter two summits. These ridges can be intimidating. We’re at the bottom, packs off and ready to set out for the total unknown, other than those foreboding signs that say: “Mountain experience needed. Don’t go if you have fear of heights” While fortifying ourselves with food, a man is coming down. I’d asked the previous couple for a trail report but they spoke no English. This man, however, speaks perfect English, both lexically and grammatically. He offers assurance that, though it’s exposed and there are cables, he’s “seen children do it” and this is enough to encourage us. A few minutes later I see his clerical collar and ask if he’s a priest. He nods, affirming, and this leads to a discussion of his sabbatical journey on foot to Jerusalem and back, and mine. We exchange website information about our blogs, and later pray together, as he speaks of his impending move to Vienna and how he’ll miss these mountains. We set off, encouraged by his confidence in us.
Longing: Today I’m hiking alone, and at Kesselfalls I stop to take a picture that requires a tripod. As I set it up on the bridge over the falls, I see a woman and invite her to pass. She speaks very little English, but it’s clear to me that she doesn’t want to proceed, even though it’s equally clear, as she points to her legs that are shaking, that the step drop into the ravine is fearful to her. I suggest that if she’s afraid she could perhaps, move off the bridge. This is when she says in very broken English: “But I must be here (on this bridge) to see this beauty.” There are nearly tears in her eyes, as she absorbs the power, majesty, and beauty of this falls, tucked away outside a tiny village high in the Alps, far from beheadings, and Ebola, and at least for now, threats from Putin, and far, too, from the meltdowns of leaders that have become so common in my world back home, whether in church or state. For her, this beauty is worth the risk, worth the fear, worth the going out on the bridge. “I must be here” Her pursuit of that which inspires her encourages me. “What am I willing to risk in order to be inspired?”
I could give you twenty more ways in which God has spoken to me without my ever opening the Bible, but I won’t. For now, the point that’s important to share is this:
Revelation is everywhere. Be open to it.
When revelation hits you, respond. Annie Lamont’s three simple prayers are probably enough: “Wow” or “Thanks” or “Help.” God knows we’ve shouted all three this past 30 days.
I still read the Bible. But as I’ll share soon, it’s becoming more and more of a map to me; vital to interpret the journey I’m on, the journey we’re on as humanity…. but not the actual journey. O no. The revelation that comes from the real journey comes through encounters with people, and creation, and beauty, and brokenness.
Here’s hoping that for each of us, our eyes will be open to all God is revealing through the journeys of our lives – in changing diapers and majestic mountains, health clinics and classrooms, chapels and kitchens.