Fear is a net which evil casts over us that we might become ensnared and fall. Those who are afraid have already fallen. D. Bonhoeffer
I went for a tiny little run this morning around the lake by my house, grateful for health, grateful for the remarkable hope I hold for, literally, all of humanity, because of Christ, and grateful for the beauty that attends the newness of the morning. Running this morning, of course, I’m mindful of the many thousands who’ll be churning out their miles through the streets of Boston today, proud that there are at least two members of my own church who are there. Boston is the ultimate in marathons, and this year’s is unlike any other because of the tragic events of last year. This is the year when the runners, the fans, and the city of Boston declare that fear can be vanquished, that lost limbs needn’t stop runners from pressing on, that people in wheelchairs can offer hope to family members of last years victims, that every step is raising money to stand in the gap and support PTSD veterans, and families with children fighting cancer, and more; that runners say, over and over again, that they’re being carried by the spirit of the crowd. The whole thing is a reclamation project, a way of showing fear the door, slamming it shut, and sending fear on its merry way to hell.
I love finding the image of God and snapshots of the gospel in everyday life, and today its not hard to do. Fear is both a chief enemy of humanity, and one of Satan’s favorite and most often used tools. The events of today are rooted in a public groundswell acknowledgement of this, and every runner, every fan, every dollar given in support of causes to serve those on the margins, testify to the reality that fear is an enemy that can be vanquished.
Simply acknowledging this is a huge step, but the good news of the gospel includes several declarations regarding why fear need never shrink our lives.
1. We’re freed from the fear of death, according to this declaration. I have friends who have stared death in the face for their faith. Their belief that death isn’t the end of the story enabled them to live with courage and integrity in the face of persecution. Some of these friends escaped death and others didn’t. All of them, though, lived with integrity to the very end, believing that death isn’t the end of the story. Everything many of us celebrated yesterday is rooted in this reality, and if it’s not a reality for us, the fear of death will creep into our lives and create a terrible prudence, shrinking our concerns to the very private and personal, rather than the large outwardly focused hearts of generous service for which we’re created. I need to live every day intent on doing the right thing, because that matters more than the outcome, even if the outcome is death.
2. We’re freed from ever being alone. The first time I taught a Bible study, the text was Joshua 1:1-9, and the final declaration of that section shook my world that day I studied in preparation for teaching a small group of high school students in Fresno: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” The reason we’re called to courage is because God has promised to be with us, ‘wherever we go’. I tell people I never fly alone, and they say, “So your wife goes with you on all your teaching trips?”
“No” I say, and when they look at me for more; “Jesus always goes with me – he travels coach too!” That reality has served me well these past 40 years, because I’ve learned, through the untimely deaths of many friends and family, that our companions for our journey aren’t necessarily always able to with us. Sometimes they even stop wanting to be with us, as relationships drift apart. My dad; a favorite associate pastor at the church I lead (cancer); one of my best friends (paragliding accident); another close mountaineering friend (avalanche). You never know. One thing I do know, though, is that I’ll never be alone. That’s why I take coffee with God so seriously, and nurturing the reality of companionship with Christ. Our fear of being alone sometimes leads us into unhealthy relationships, or shabby substitutes for real intimacy, both of which can suck the joy and hope out of living. How much better to begin with the reality and confidence of companionship with Christ.
There are a host of other fears from which we’re freed because of the power, beauty, and truth of the gospel, but I simply offer these two in order to prime the pump of your own thinking. Because God loves us, God hates to see us enslaved to fear – ever. As runners cross the finish line today, I’m celebrating the image of God in humanity, and realizing once again that the best lives in history were those who gave fear the boot. As my favorite pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said so well:
It is not only anxious fear that is infectious, but also the calmness and joy with which we encounter what is laid on us.
O thou Christ;
What a privilege to be reminded this day and every day, that we’re at our best when we do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Thank you for the many provisions granted us in you which enable to us to choose courage rather than fear. Grant that we might hear your voice and, having heard, move with confidence into the future you have for each of us, clinging to you every step of the way and finding the joy and confidence that are ours in you. This way we will be people of hope in a world still trembling, most days, with fear. Thank you for the adventure awaiting us as we follow you every step of the way – and thank you for the marathon.
It’s been over week now since World Vision acted, the Evangelical world reacted, and hundreds of us wrote about it. This morning, I’m enjoying some coffee and reading John 9, which is a story about a blind guy Jesus heals with spit and mud on some random Saturday. This leads to some intense questioning and right there in the middle of it all we read this:
Then some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God because he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs and miracles?” So there was a difference among them.
People who are experts in knowing the text, when confronted with a real life situation, have differing ideas regarding the proper interpretation. Imagine that! It certainly won’t be the last time people disagree about what it means to live faithfully. Circumcision, meat sacrificed to idols, observance of “a day” devoted to worship will all become issues, just in the first decades of the New Testament.
As church history unfolds, the number of issues about which people who share the same faith in Christ disagree will multiply exponentially: working in theater, working for the military, the ownership and/or use of weapons, the deity and humanity of Christ, the nature and meaning of the priesthood, the meaning of communion, the permanence or passing nature of miraculous signs in the Bible, women in ministry, divorce and remarriage, the weighted balance of calls to justice vs calls to personal pious morality, whether translate the Bible into common tongue, and once that was decided, which translation is better – and I’m just getting started.
Our sadness and shock regarding events surrounding World Vision last week say as much about our collective amnesia as they do about the state of Christianity. There really is nothing new under the sun, including the way people have reacted, including accusations and withdrawal.
There’s surely a time for both of these things. We look back in horror at the church’s collective silence in Germany, or the failure of the Southern Baptists to apologize for racism until the 1990s. While the majority went one direction, in both these cases there were minorities that actively resisted the trend lines, and withdrew from the prevailing tide of culture. Bonhoeffer both spoke out against the Reich and began an underground seminary. There’s a time to quit fighting and simply seek to gather with like minded people, out there on the margins.
Is this such a time? Rachel Evans seems to think so. She writes: “I’m done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, done trying to force that culture to change” and this is a good thing because forcing culture change has never been our calling. We’ve always been called to offer an alternative to the prevailing winds of culture, not force culture change.
I don’t think the church gets this right very often because starting with Constantine, the threads of power have been tightly bound with threads of piety, and the results have been ugly, not just in recent history, but for about 1800 years now. Crusades, Inquisitions, and the boycotting of Disney and Starbucks are all the same iterations of bringing power to bear on people in hopes of changing their view of truth. Last week, though, it was this same tactic applied to people who share the same mission, as some Christians called for withdrawing financial support for World Vision in protest over a shift in HR policy regarding gay married couples. Two days later they reversed their decision, leading at least some people I know to withdraw their support over the reversal. I’m stunned that the same people offended by such tactics when the right invoked them against WV turned around and used them against WV when the shoe was suddenly on the other foot. It’s loud. It’s ugly. It’s embarrassing. It’s evangelical Christianity in the 21st century.
If you want to leave, there are plenty of places to go. The Catholics have the coolest Pope ever, but they still forbid same sex unions, keep women out of leadership, and frown on birth control. The Eastern Orthodox church has a marvelous creation theology, and a compelling view of the atonement, but they tend to think they’re the only ones with the truth (a kind of a “fundamentalism with incense”). House church? If it’s healthy it’ll grow and then you’ll need structure and kid care, and who makes these decisions? No church? It’s an option, but scripture’s clearer about gathering together regularly and living lives of interdependence in community as a testimony of loving each other than it is about nearly any other subject. What should we do?
I’m about to write that we need to stop marginalizing people, and I can already hear the comments about how churches do exactly that when they draw lines. But the reality is that every organization in the world stands for something, and when you stand for something, you draw a line, and when you draw a line there are outsiders. So, we need to see that churches either have standards or they don’t stand for anything. The question on the table is what do you do when an organization with which you’re affiliated, either through attendance or support, when you or someone you love is over there on the wrong side of the line on some issue?
Stay or go isn’t, in my estimation, the most important matter. There are people in the church I lead who’ve done both very well, in spite of disagreements on some matters of faith and practice. What matters most is that it’s high time to “kill the power play” (a hockey metaphor for my Canadian and Bostonian friends). A British friend, long since passed away, shared a story with me once about a pastor in London. He was intent on recovering a “true church” and was, by most counts, a brilliant bible teacher with a real capacity to see truth and communicate it with clarity. The trouble was that he saw things, in his own estimation, with such clarity, that he realized nobody saw the real truth except him. He died only willing to take communion with himself, a tragic irony given the fact that communion is intended to be a testimony of our shared life in Christ.
And therein lies the problem with withdrawing. Rachel writes about how great it would be to “focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion”
Yes, it would be great. But of course, there are theistic evolutionists who don’t favor gay marriage, or women in ministry. What happens when that woman speaks in your new community, or isn’t allowed to? – because the reality is that if you’re now a community, you don’t have the luxury of not deciding – either woman speak or they don’t. We don’t all agree on everything, and my British friend reminds me that when that’s the goal, we’ll end up dining, and worshiping, and bowling, alone. That’s why the most important thing isn’t being in or out, it’s killing the power play. Kill the notion that you’ll force change by exercising power!
What does that mean? It means I need to stand with Rachel and everyone else by putting an end to the notion that our calling is to “force a culture to change” through boycotts, marginalization, and labeling. It’s time we recognize that Jesus’ people have never agreed on anything, except that he rose from the dead. This doesn’t mean an end to all discussion and spirited debate. It doesn’t mean and end to communities and leaders needing to exercise spiritual authority and seek to uphold the faith with humility and courage. It does mean an end to attempts at making other faith based organizations conform to my exact view of the faith, and rallying the troops to punish them when they fail to conform.
What does this look like in practice? I think the best answer I can find is written by a former WV employee who is also gay (anonymous for obvious reasons) Here’s what he writes in response to the decision and its subsequent reversal:
I am disappointed. I feel defeated.
When it comes down to it, I understand the reasons behind the final decision – donor money makes things happen, and many donors didn’t agree with the policy change. My brain gets it, but my heart feels crushed.
It hurts to think that I could be turned away from my “dream job” at one of the best companies in my industry, not because of a lack of skill or education, but because of who I love and my self-expression.
… I feel all the emotions. Anger. Sadness. Disappointment. Shock. Confusion.
But beyond all of these, I feel love.
I think of the millions of lives impacted for good. The children who have been fed and given an education. The parents who have received micro loans and given support for their families. This reminds me of why I love WV.
I think about the countless conversations I’ve had with people about the incredible work World Vision does. The feeling of excitement I get in my stomach when I explain the brilliant approaches WV has made for economic and community development around the globe. I still believe strongly that World Vision is one of the most effective development agencies operating today. This reminds me of why I love WV.
I think of my former coworkers and the relationships I’ve formed through World Vision. Several of my dearest friendships were established there. These are the people who have strengthened my skills, taken a chance on me, and challenged me to grow professionally and as an individual. These are also the friends who have been so supportive during my coming out process. This reminds me of why I love WV.
And so as I prepare for my meeting at World Vision (as an independent contractor not subject to WV’s employment standards), after hearing that individuals in same-sex marriages will still not be employed by WV, I am full of love.
Because love comes first, and the rest will follow. Because love is louder than hate. Even if hate has a louder bullhorn.
I wake up this morning in Colorado and, as is typical, make my coffee and then go to my ipad where I catch up on the news before reading my Bible. It’s just getting light as I scan the news, the craziness that is Ukraine. Last night on the newshour, a professor of Russian studies said, “even if you’re not religious, you should be praying, because if this becomes war, all bets are off.” Toss in some stuff about Syrian refugees, and I’m mindful that our world is filled with suffering, and though the cup seems overflowing already, still there’s more pouring in, moment by moment, as lives are plunged into war, hunger, poverty, trafficking, disease.
I read my scriptures for the day, something about nations and kingdoms fighting against each other, and food shortages, and epidemics. It’s a reality, of course, as the news a few seconds earlier corresponds with Jesus’ timely words.
Then I turn around, and there’s a sunrise happening that can’t be described, because it’s not just the colors: it’s the cold, it’s the clarity of the air, it’s the silence, it’s the raw beauty, and significantly, it’s the fact that I am here – in this place, and not there, and any of those places I’ve read about this morning. I’m awestruck, but conflicted at the same time.
“Why am I here” is the question that haunts me, and at many levels there’s no answer. There are responses though, and some of them aren’t helpful.
Guilt isn’t helpful. We’re here, in wealth and, relative to most of the world, peace and safety. There are hard working, honest people throughout the world who are victims of oppression and injustice, so the causal sense that we’re here instead of there because we’re better must be evicted from our thoughts. Equally wrong, though, is a sense of paralyzing guilt, a sense that we, for some reason ought to be there and not here.
Fear isn’t helpful. Our collective narcissism is evident when the questions and comments of journalists extend no further than how the events over there affect our “self interest here” It can be strangely dis empowering to watch various parts of the world collapse around us, filling us with anxiety about whether we’ll be next, and how we should arm ourselves for protection. But no, over and over again, Jesus tells us that he’s warned us about these things precisely so that we ‘will not fear’, which is the message that heralded Christ’s birth, and rings throughout his ministry for our benefit and well being. We need to give fear a swift quick.
Isolation isn’t helpful. “Not my problem” we see, as we change the channel to some rerun, or go out for a run, or pour another glass of Merlot. It’s far too easy to believe that the stuff that over there is outside the sphere of our influence and should therefore be outside the sphere of our concern. This, as we’ll see, misses that mark. I’m surprised at how many people no longer digest the news because it’s simply “too depressing”.
To the extent that we allow these mindsets to carry the day, our worlds will shrink down into petty preoccupations with our own personal survival, or crippling depression and anxiety. One need only read the Bonhoeffer story or this favorite diary read from WWII to realize how tempting these options are. Gratefully, there’s a better way:
Instead of guilt, gratitude. Every sip of cold water, every good night kiss, every moment of this very precious life. It’s vital to recognize that our culture is well beyond the boundaries of comfort, having become guilty of lavish excess, and surely guilty of increasing injustice too. Gratitude though, is for the fact that there no bombs on the roadside, that people gather in public places to express their views, mostly without fear of reprisal, that there’s food on the table and the possibility of friendship, love, education. It’s far from perfect, but there’s much for which we can be grateful. This is a starting point to living here well.
Instead of fear, hope. It might sound shallow and cheap to offer hope from the scriptures for those living and dying in the midst of suffering, but what other hope is there? Nations will rise and fall. Justice will ebb and flow. People will die in the crossfire, and the friendly fire, and the forest fire. And those of us who escape these ravages? We’ll die too, and it will always be inconvenient, and seem wrong.
This tired script, though, is coming to and end. History is headed towards a new script, where every molecule is shot through with the glory of King Jesus. You know, the one who loved lepers, and women of the night, who told stories that hinted his kingdom would be utterly other – a place where the lame, blind, oppressed, broken, would not only find healing, but a place at the table with the king – a place where all war, and cancer, and rape, and genocide, and AIDS, and tribal divisions will vanish in the flames of a just judgement, leaving nothing but healing and joy in its wake. MARANATHA… it can’t come soon enough.
But until it does, it’s our calling to live as people of hope. If the sun’s not yet fully up, we are, nonetheless, called to be the Colors of Hope – the sunrise foretelling a better world. This isn’t about a short term mission trip; this is about a total overhaul of our values so that our daily lives embody, in increasing measure, the very hope of which Jesus spoke. That way, Jesus is no longer a theory – he’s a living king, and our lives reflect his reign. That’s the best response I can think of to the nightly news.
Instead of Isolation, Prayer. We feel helpless, watching the news like that. We’re not. We can pray, believing that God intervenes in history in response to the prayers of God’s people. Years ago, a dear friend whose husband was a British Major in WWII showed me the program from a prayer service held in London after the war. In it, there were quotes from Churchill, Roosevelt, and other spiritual and national leaders, calling the nations to prayer. There were even specific prayers offered, having to do with weather. History tells us (I believe) that God intervened. Prayer matters.
Of course we’re not necessarily called to spend all of every day in prayer, interceding for each nation and activity. That would take us out of the game. Instead, we’re invited to live lives that are permeable enough to let God in, to let God break out heart over some specific thing, whether its Sudan, Congo, Crimea/Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, homelessness, sexual slavery, or something else in the seemingly endless list of brokenness. Maybe all you can do is pray over the thing that breaks your heart. But prayer’s a big deal, or so we say we believe. And of course, we could all pray this a little bit more, since Jesus taught us to do so:
May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen? Amen!
I welcome your thoughts.
(in light of some conversations I’ve been having lately, here are some formative, not definitive, thoughts, about the words we use and how they affect our testimony)
When you talk to people and the subject of spirituality or faith comes up, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to use the word Christian in any meaningful way. Here’s why:
Words, in order to have meaning, need to have boundaries. The noun Hat can mean a lot of things – ranging from a baseball hat, to a helmet for football or motorcycle riding, to a lovely hat for some sort of formal event, to an Amish head covering. But we all know that it isn’t referring to a bottle, or a piece of cake, or a car. The limits of words make conversation and understanding possible, and though words can have varieties of meanings, the boundaries need to “reasonable” or else the possibility of some real misunderstandings arise exponentially.
This brings me to the word I’m putting on trial: Christian. Here’s why:
“I’m not a Christian – I’m a democrat”, implying that Christian and a view of the world that favors higher taxes and bigger government are inherently, de-facto, incompatible.
“Yes. I’m a Christian. I was baptized when I was 8 months old.”
“Yes. I’m a Christian. I grew up in the church.”
“Yes. I’m a Christian. I prayed the sinners prayer and went forward in church when I was nine”
“No I don’t want to be a Christian. Have you heard of the crusades? Slavery? The Christians were at the root of all that suffering.”
“I’ll never be a Christian. Just look at what Christian Europe did to our (African) continent.”
You could go back through these comments and try to build a definition of the word Christian based on the answers, and what you’d end up with are six different definitions, but that’s only because I’ve shared six stories with you. I could share thirty, and then you’d have thirty definitions, each one diminishing the meaning of the word rather than clarifying. The result? The word has come to mean so many different things that it essential means nothing.
What’s a Christian to do?
Continuing to use the word in the same way we talk about baseball and perfume, (assuming that everyone who’s listening knows what we mean by it) isn’t wise because we’re identifying ourselves with a word that, in the end, likely misrepresents us to the people who are listening.
If we’re not going to keep using it, there are only two options left: First, we can try to recover the word, offering a fresh definition. I’ve been a fan of this strategy for a long time, believing that to surrender the meaning of the word to all its false detractors is sort of like raising a white flag and quitting the fight. Isn’t it better to let everyone in the world know what the word really means by living out its true meaning for everyone to see?
Well, actually, no. It’s not better at all. That’s what I’ve come to believe at least. I’m tired of fighting this battle and saying, “don’t confuse MY Christianity with that yucky stuff over there. I’m not like that. I’m not like them” because these conversations have led to perhaps the worst definition of “Christian”- “Christians fight with each other all the time!” It’s a true statement, and ironic, since the one thing for which Jesus explicitly prayed is that Christ followers would be known by their unity. Instead, we’re known by our capacity to point out, more than any other religion in my opinion, how so many groups wearing the same word Christian really aren’t – and are worse than us.
“Over here. We have the real stuff! We’re the real definition of Christian” we shout, loud enough so that people already not interested in Jesus are now less interested than ever.
Nope. I’m finished with that game, because the person not talked about very much in all this shouting is Jesus himself, which is ironic, because in the end, what we’re supposed to be doing is inviting people to follow Jesus. The name calling, doctrinal fighting, and presumptive claiming of moral high is a game that’s worn me down. But when all the shouting, and divisions, and pleas for institutional loyalty have died down, what I love is that Jesus is still here in the room with me.
“I’ve been waiting for you man. Where have you been?”
“O you know. Out and about, promoting your faith.” I know I look tired, and it’s a little embarrassing because he seems so calm, so centered, almost unconcerned that I’ve been running myself ragged for him.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that” he says, sipping his coffee. “You’re confusing people. Don’t promote ‘my faith’. Why don’t you try just telling people about me? People are tired. They’re dealing with shame and failure. They’re living in the midst of kingdoms that are enslaving them. I want to bless them, help them, heal them, invite them to rest. They don’t need religion. They need me.”
“I thought I was telling them about you.” I say, defensive. Jesus reminds me that telling people to “go to church” or “become Christians” are phrases so loaded with toxic junk that they do more harm than good.
“I think that’s why Paul said that he was determined to know nothing more than Christ crucified. It might even be what Bonhoeffer meant when we referred to religionless Christianity. But even those words are too loaded. Just love people like I do. And tell people about me. Good things will happen.”
It’s advent. “Messiah” is playing on my computer, reminding me that the whole arc of history is, in the end, not about Christianity at all. It’s about one person who changes everything, ultimately saturating the universe with glory and beauty, bringing hope and healing to all. I pray that my eyes, this advent, will be looking for him all the time, talking about him freely, and giving him the freedom to do what he does best through the likes of me; love, serve, bless, and impart hope.
Yes. I’m burying the word Christian… if it rises from the dead, so be it. But may it never rise unless it represents the pure unadulterated glory of the risen Christ. Amen?
These are my thoughts… still forming. I welcome yours!
Reza Aslan has written “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”. I’ve read much of it and will have finished it by Monday night so that I can chat intelligently about it at The Kindlings Muse (Seattle folk: Hale’s Brewery, 7-8:30, register here). I don’t want to spoil the upcoming event, so the focus of this post isn’t the book. Instead, the author’s foundational statements are a launching pad for a single consideration: what if there’s a gap between the Jesus we think we know, and the actual historical Jesus.
At the outset, Aslan shares his testimony of becoming a Christian, and then his predictable college deconstruction of his faith, as he writes, “the more I probed the Bible to arm myself against the doubts of unblievers, the more distance I discovered between the Jesus of the gospels and the Jesus of history – between Jesus the Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.” He goes on to write, “No longer chained to the assumption that the stories I read were literally true, I became aware of a more meaningful truth in the text, a truth intentionally detached from the exigencies of history.”
Aslan’s attempt to unearth the real Jesus and deconstruct the evangelical Jesus is fraught with huge faith leaps, contradictions, and assumptions in my opinion – but I’ll save that critique for Monday night. In spite of my disagreements with him though, the author has provoked a valuable conversation about the limits of knowing, the role of faith, and way we choose how to live.
The Limits of Knowing –
Aslan makes the claim that we can’t know history accurately, but that it doesn’t matter, because “The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age” It’s not rocket science to counter with the observation that history is, by nature, not observable. Nobody alive today observed Lincoln’s assassination. History is the testimony of eyewitnesses and, like criminal cases today, its ours to consider the weight of evidence, the credibility of the authors, and decide whether to believe or not.
The certainty of our conclusions, though, gets thinner as history gets older. It’s become trendy to get all postmodern with respect to ancient history and say, “we simply don’t know”, to which I would reply, no, you don’t KNOW, with all caps and a big bold font. But you can still know enough to take a step. In fact, you must take step, because even your failure to take a step is, itself, a step, a declaration that you know enough to know that you can’t know enough to take a step.
We are hemmed in, all of us, to the necessity of taking steps, even when we don’t know with certainty, and that’s OK. “We walk by faith, not by sight”
The Role of Faith
The strength of post-modernity, though, is the acknowledgement that everyone walks by faith – believer, agnostic, atheist alike. We walk by faith, because we’re making choices about things that are eternal and invisible. These things require a different means of choosing than the choice we make when we drive from Seattle to Portland. The map tells us that we head south on I-5. We do it. We get there. It’s verifiable immediately. History isn’t. Neither is the afterlife.
So, we need more faith when deciding what we’ll believe about Christ, than we do when considering whether i-5 south will get a person from Seattle to Portland.
It’s ironic to me, then, that at a time when the world is finally beginning to acknowledge that there are limits to knowing, and that much in our lives requires faith, there are Christians declaring that they can “prove” the resurrection, or the worldwide flood. They come out with mounds of evidence, all but saying that believing in the historicity of the whole bible doesn’t require any faith at all. This is rubbish. We’re better off acknowledging that faith leaps aren’t blind, but are based on some evidence. We take into account the trustworthiness of the testimony, the strength of the evidence and then, KNOWING WE DON’T KNOW, take a step. That step is called faith. To imply that such a step isn’t needed because we can “prove” history is not only foolish, its unbiblical.
How we choose to live.
It’s one thing to hop on the interstate, map in hand, and head to some city. It’s another thing entirely to hike, leave the trail, and negotiate the backcountry with nothing more than the narrative from a book of Cascade Scrambles, and a sketchy map copied from the same. In such a setting, especially when negotiating scree fields that have no hint of a trail or boot path, you’ll tune your senses to look for signs. On scree fields, those signs will be cairns, little stacks of rocks that are intended to point the way. They’re placed by others who’ve gone before you and are trying to help by pointing the way. You pass a cairn and then you stop and look carefully for the next one. Each movement towards a cairn is an act of faith, a belief that there weren’t hikers there before you who had something to gain by misleading you. Could there be such hikers, with misleading cairns? Of course. That’s why its called faith. But you trust, you go, you continue one, looking carefully, walking carefully, and over time you become more and more certain, because of your sense of direction, that the placers of the cairns were telling the truth.
The gospels and early church history are cairns for me. Do I know that Jesus rose from the dead in the same way I know that I’m typing this on a mac computer? Nope. But I believer, and my belief isn’t a shot in the dark. I’m following the cairns, markers placed on the trail of history by those who clearly had nothing to gain, humanly speaking, by their testimony. Peter? Crucified upside down. James? Beheaded. Thomas? Possibly boiled in hot oil. The martyrdom of the disciples and the early church is well attested history by credible sources, and they died believing Jesus to be who he said he was – Messiah, Savior, King. I’ll put my faith dollar there, gladly.
Another set of cairns for me happen to be the saints of history. Even if none of its true, I’d rather live like Bonhoeffer, or Sophie Scholl, or Dorothy Day, or MLK, or Paul Brand, then settle into a smaller story of either fearfully ‘safe’ living, or a Hemingway like pursuit of ‘adventure for adventure’s sake’. The narcissism of adventurers and suburbanite conformists are, in the end, still narcissists. I’d rather live for something larger than myself, so that when Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life – lived to the full – to point of overflowing” I say, by faith in the thousands of cairns dotting the historical landscape, “I’m in! Sign me up” –
Look people in the eye and you will discover their intentions. Not how people laugh. Listen to how they talk about their parents. Listen to how they speak about God. It is not the distant person who is the greatest mystery, but rather precisely our neighbor. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
When silence profound now spreads itself around us, may we yet heart that full voice of the world unseen around us, the hymn sung by all your children. By benevolent powers wondrously sheltered, we, confident, await what may come. With us God abides, evening and morn, more surely still with each dawning day. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Keep going, no matter what. No sensation is too far out. Let nothing separate you from me….the land which they call ‘life’ is near. You will recognize it by it’s serious demands. Give me your hand!” Rilke
Sometimes I can no longer think in the house or in the garden or in the cleared fields. They bear too much resemblance to our failed human history – failed because it has led to this human present that is such a bitterness and a trial. And so I go to the woods. As I go in under the trees, dependably, almost at once, and by nothing I do, things fall into place. I enter an order that does not exist outside, in the human spaces. I feel my life take its place among the lives – the trees, the annual plants, the animals and birds, the living of all these and the dead – that go and have gone to make the life of the earth. I am less importantly than I thought. My mind loses its urgings, senses its nature, and is free. Wendell Berry
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain
Aware of danger but not controlled by fear, knowing that ultimately our safety lies in the love of Jesus, who keeps writing our story every day we follow Him, this story that doesn’t end in death, but goes on into eternity. Kristi Dahlstrom