Tag Archives: knowing

Identity Theft – It’s not what you think. It’s worse.

Have you ever had this experience?   You look back at yourself after some moments on the far side of an argument, or the far side of dipping your toe into the waters of an addiction from which you thought you were free.  Not only do you not like what you see, but you think to yourself, “I don’t know who that person is, but it’s not me.  I don’t throw things at my spouse, or swear and hit the wall, or gaze at porn, or get drink just because I’m sad…” or whatever it is that you did just 24 hours earlier.

But now here you are, seated and in your right mind,  wondering how it happened that you were a different person yesterday.

The answer’s simple:  identity theft.   You became, for a period, someone other than who you are, or at the very least, who you’re meant to be.  When we do this (and all of us do it from time to time, though our failures vary in degrees of both privacy and social acceptability), we step right into Romans 7 in the Bible.   Paul the Apostle shares this struggle when he writes, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  He articulates the universal struggle that there’s a gap between our actions and our ideals.  We want purity, but struggle with lust; want humility, but are prone to arrogance; want contentment, and yet are driven by insatiable appetites.  Paul ends his diatribe about this struggle with the timeless question:  “who will deliver me from this body of death?”  It’s a great question, and unless there’s an answer, we’ll continue to feel ourselves hijacked by ourselves the rest of our lives.

But there is, thank God, an answer.  “The Victory” Paul says, “comes through Christ.”  Yes friends, life in Christ is that practical.  It’s God’s intention that each of us move inexorably toward the life for which we were created, which is a life of joy, peace, wisdom, hope, generosity, justice, and strength.   Here’s why identity theft is so damning and thus why identity in Christ is so important.

I.  In Christ, you’ve become a new person.  – This is what we’re told, and what it means is that Jesus, mysteriously but nonetheless actually, is joined with our human spirits to give us a new essence, a new identity.  This changes everything, because it means that Christ now resides in me, so that all of his joy, hope, and power, are available to find expression through me in unique ways.  But more than just available – the reality is that I’m called to be the presence of Christ in my daily living.  This is my identity:  a light bearer, bringing hope, healing, and joy to the world.

II.  Though new, the “old files”  are still embedded.  I still hear ghosts, sitting in the shadows, telling me, not that I’m a light bearer, but a loser  – telling me I’m unloved because my parents abused me, or that I’m unworthy, because a past failure caused a life implosion, or that life’s unbearable without a hit from sex, or drugs, or alcohol.  All of this is what Paul calls, “the old man” which is a euphemism meaning “this is who you once were”  – Once you self comforted via compulsive drinking, or one night stands.  Once you dealt with conflict through rage, or seething bitterness.  Those “old files” are still there on the computer that is your soul, just waiting to be opened.

III. The Liar’s Specialty – Diverting You from Your Identity.   Satan delights in opening the old files.  You take a look at them, and if you believe them, you’re stuffed.  That’s because your belief empowers them and they rise up and change your behavior.  “I’m unloved, or unlovable, or unappreciated” becomes, “so life’s not worth living”, or “so I’ll prove I’m worthy” or “so why not have another drink?”  Soon you’re living in ways that contradict your own identity, if only temporarily.  Then you wake up and say, “what happened?” and you realize that your identity has been hijacked.

IV. The Way Forward – Looking at Jesus’ temptations at the hands of “the liar” in the wilderness, we can see that Satan’s key strategy has always been to divert us from our truest identity.  He says to “the Son of God”….  “IF you are the son of God, make these stones become bread” as a means of getting Jesus to move into a distorted identity.  Jesus’ answer?  “I’m more than just a material person, so though I’m hungry just now, I’ll not let my life be defined by the pursuit of bread.  That’s not my identity.”

Wow!  When I’m hungry, it’s overwhelmingly easy to think that my life is about getting bread.  When I’m lonely, it’s about companionship.  When I’m feeling neglected or overlooked, it’s often about proving myself.  When I’m in pain, it’s about self comforting.

It’s easy, in other words, to allow our identity to be hijacked by the whims of various trials that are blowing through.  Allow ourselves to be hijacked though, and we’ll “act out”, only to look back, on the far side of our failure, and ask, “Who was that?”

The answer:  That was in imposter.  Send him/her back to the tombs because though the files are still on the hard drive of your emotions, they’re corrupt, and corrupting.  You have a new identity:  in Christ.  And that changes everything.

Here’s a helpful list of verses about your identity in Christ.  When you read something here and it doesn’t seem true, or feel true, you’ve met your battleground.

I’ll be speaking on the Temptation of Christ at Bethany Community Church on Sunday, August 2nd.  Tune in for a live stream of our worship here. 

All I want for Christmas is: A Vision for Unity

It’s Advent, and that means there are daily reports on the success of our national goal to “shop ’til we drop”.  Black Friday’s off a bit from previous years, and the experts declared over the weekend that it was because more people would be shopping online, on “Cyber Monday”.  That also came and went, with less than expected results, and so now new theories are being spun, about people waiting for “super deals” closer to Christmas.  Whatever.  I no longer carebecause as a pastor, I have bigger concerns.

That’s because I live in a different world.  I live in a world where I know more and more people who are coming out of closet; they’re gay, Christian, and wanting to find the grace and acceptance of Christ in their churches.  I live in a world where black people love Jesus but also feel on the outside of things, not because of Ferguson, but because 400 years is a long time to be sub-humanized, bought and sold, denied the chance to vote, and o so much more, and they’re a bit tired of white people just telling them to “get over it” while the distrust continues.  I live in a world where women who have gifts of teaching and leadership can use them in lots of places, but still not in some churches.  I live in a world where people I know are deeply divided on how the church should respond to all kinds of things, including mental illness, poverty, and gun violence.

In all these matters, the church is divided, but not just divided, deeply fractured, as evidenced by blogs and discussions this past week about Ferguson, World Vision’s challenges earlier this year, and the inflamed language associated with any attempt at a good conversation around the issues of gun violence.

It’s this deeply divided faith world, with its attendant hateful, sarcastic, and derogatory language aimed at the other side, that’s the biggest issue on my plate these days.  This is because I serve in a church that has sought to live faithfully for many generations on the basis of this declaration:  In Essentials Unity.  In Non-Essentials Liberty.  In all Things Charity.

Finding unity seems harder and harder these days, because the list of essentials seems to be growing for most people.  Real people of faith need to be for gun control or against it; for same-sex marriage, or against it; for the police, or for Michael Brown.  And its vital these days that you not just be FOR or AGAINST but that do so with enough dogma that the true faith of those on the other side is called into question.

This is not only rubbish, but really very alarming to me for several reasons:

1.  Paul’s declaration in Ephesians 4:13 says we’ll keep growing “until we all attain to the unity of the faith” which implies (as reinforced here) that we’re not in a state of unity yet.  What’s more, that’s apparently OK, because Paul indicated that in this moment, we see through a glass darkly.  That means we don’t have perfect knowledge yet, so we’ll need to keep at this; keep dialoguing, growing, learning, praying.

2. Our division into self-referential communities kills our testimony because Jesus says that it’s our unity that is the best evidence that our faith and life in Christ is real.  There’s a unity that comes from uniformity of agreement on ALL things, but this is, at best, an ideal to which we aspire, rather than an experience we’ll be able to attain in this fallen world.  But there can be a unity that’s willing to say, “Look.  We don’t know all the answers about every doctrinal or ethical issue that comes from following Christ.  But we do know this much:  Jesus is Lord.  He’s the hope for this shattered world.  He’s the One we’re committed to proclaiming, loving, obeying, and serving.”   Living through this lens, World Vision phone workers wouldn’t have been sworn at and been the objects of cruel hate in the wake of their initial decision last spring.

3. Our self-referential communities allow us to prematurely think we have the moral high ground because, in our smaller worlds of Fox News, or MSNBC, or whatever is the denominational equivalent, we’re in an echo chamber where all our reasoning, assumptions, and conclusions are airtight.  As long as we stay inside the echo chamber, we’ll be happy, resting in the delusion that our way is, and always will be, the right way.

How can we approach unity?

1. Get out more – meet people different than you.  (By the way, one of the very best reasons to travel.)

Our view of things is all good until we actually meet a person with a different view who, just like us, loves Jesus, prays regularly, and desires nothing more than to be a vessel filled with the life of Christ.

Suddenly, we’ve meet the ones we vilified, and have come to see that we have more in common than we’d ever have guessed.  We see that we’d made a caricature of those whose view is different than ours, and that “the other,” looking at the world through a different lens, differs with us for reasons that (gasp) make sense.  We’re not persuaded, necessarily, to change our view, but having met the other, we find it harder to label them and shoot them.

2. Embrace the humble belief that you’re not yet perfect.

It’s not that we don’t believe in absolute truth.  It’s just that we don’t believe that we’ve yet understood it perfectly, communicated it perfectly, received it perfectly, because our understanding of the world is filtered through the lens of not only the Holy Spirit, but our fallen humanity.

A quick view of history reveals that there have been about a thousand blind spots among Christ followers.  We’ve wrongly predicted the date of Christ’s return at least 500 times, taught that blacks aren’t human, justified land theft and colonization, barred women from having a voice in the church, taught anti-semitism, persecuted Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Anabaptists, all in Jesus’ name.

I wonder what our blind spots our today?  If you say you don’t have any, then I already know your blind spot, before even meeting you:  it’s pride and self-righteousness.  So let’s relax and enjoy the dialogue, giving each other space to let Christ continue to teach us without doubting the authentic faith of the other who claims Christ as her own.

“Really?  How long should we do that….?”

“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith..”   which will take “a little while.”

 

 

“Boots on the Ground – Or Heads in the Clouds” – The biggest challenge Christ followers face

In two weeks I’ll be home, preparing to meet people in the church I lead who I haven’t seen in nearly three months.  Their priceless gift of a sabbatical has blessed me with a rare opportunity for extended time away from church life, American culture, and the day-to-day responsibilities of my job.  As a result, I’ll return restored spiritually and emotionally, refreshed and stronger physically (up to around 500k in hiking, running mileage now), and challenged.

I’m challenged because these three months have been a concentrated time away from teaching, studying, and writing, three activities I enjoy and look forward to doing again when I return.  As much as I enjoy them though, I’ve come to see them as dangerous because America’s about education, and among American cities,  Seattle’s all the more about education, and among Seattle churches,  the church I lead, filled with university students and professors is even all the more about education.   We’re educated.  Highly.

All this education has upsides of course, but this trip has made me aware of the downside.  That’s because I’ve met lots people with  bikerlittle formal education who in spite of their “lack” have poured generosity, service, hospitality, and joy, from their cups to ours, over and over again.  Whether it’s been food, hospitality, the gift of sunglasses at a hut when mine had been stolen, directions offered when uncertain of the way to go, a much needed ride from strangers,  or bus drivers signalling ahead to another bus so that it wait would for us, so that we’d make our train connection, we’ve seen people with large hearts, who allowed themselves to be inconvenienced in order to care for us.

Remember that story in the Bible about the guy who gets robbed and beaten up?  Jesus uses it to draw a distinction between the educated religious leaders who,  in spite of their eloquent sermons and theological precision, frankly didn’t give a damn about the wounded victim, even though they knew Hebrew.  Then there was the Samaritan.  He’s the one who, for the purposes of this story, is, (are you ready for this?):  Blue Collar.  He never went to college, earns below the median wage, and is having a hard time affording the new mandated health care.  He doesn’t enjoy reading C.S. Lewis much and doesn’t even know who N.T. Wright is.  He can’t tell the difference between a Neo-Calvinist, and a Rob Bell devotee because frankly, he’s too tired at the end of the day to read all the blogs and add his own comments.  Besides, he doesn’t really care.

He works.  He comes home and cares for all the things that need to be cared for in lifeshopping, cooking, maintenance, friendships.  You’re not even sure where he stands on most issues because in small group he doesn’t say much.  He prays.  He’s not perfect, God knows.  He’s got issues, but he’s working on them.  In the meantime though, until he’s perfect, his greatest joy isn’t found in talking about faith.  It’s found in living it“boots on the ground” as the saying goes.

When there’s a need in the shelter though, he volunteers.

When there’s a homeless person outside TJ’s he often makes the time to engage in conversation.

When there’s a neighbor in the hosptial, he’s there with meals, and laughter, and maybe even an awkward prayer.

He’s as generous with his limited money as he is with his time.  He doesn’t know where he stands on the issues of homosexuality and gun control, but he’s had dinner with the newly married gay couple on his block, and the NRA guy whose Jeep has a bumper sticker with something about his “cold dead hand.”

Who is this guy? Never went to seminary.  Falls asleep in most Bible studies.  Wakes up immediately when someone needs a helping hand.

The point Jesus is making in Luke 10:36 is that this (along with loving God) is the point of the Christian life.   And in that story, the protagonist is a Samaritan for God’s sake; a compromising half-breed who “anyone with a Bible degree would know is an outsider because his belief system takes him to the wrong mountain, and my pastor, who has a PHD (or is “super funny and edgy”) says that such people are…”    blah blah blah.

Talk on if you must, o educated one.  I’m tired.

Tired of doctrine being more important than living.

Tired of words being more important than actions.

Tired of writing about life as a substitute for living it.

Tired of Sunday being viewed as the peak experience of faith rather than Monday, or especially, Tuesdays.

Tired of hype and zeal on the surface, and pride and greed at the core.

Tired of ministry professionals like me thinking they have all the answers for “the little people.”

I don’t know all the ways that I’ve changed as a result of being on sabbatical.  But I know this much: in the days to come, my criteria for personal health and spiritual maturity will have more to do with how I know and treat my neighbors, friends, co-workers, and those in need around me, than the size of my church, the “impact” of my sermons, or the hits on my website.

I know this because I’ve been pierced by the degree to which I’ve often lived alone, inside my head these past years, as slowly, I confused right thinking, and speaking/writing about right thinking, with spiritual maturity.

I suspect I’m not alone, because look at what Phil Yancey has to say in his upcoming book:

yanceyquoteWe’re good, it seems, at talking about Jesuswho he was, what he taught and stood for, how he died, how he rose, why it matters, and what people should do about it.  I’m just suspicious (and so are lots of other people apparently) that I, maybe even we, have elevated our words as the real proving ground of maturity.  When we do that, huge blind spots will remain and we’ll think we’re fine, when we’re really far from the life Jesus has for us.

It’s a dilemma for me.  This is because words still matter.  We grow in response to revelation and my calling and gifts have to do with teaching God’s revelation so others can respond.  So we all need words in our lives, and I need to study words, teach words, write words.

And yet, I need and want to make room in my life for actually putting those words into practice with real neighbors, and co-workers, and friends, and family.   How does it all fit together?

That’s the question I bring home with me, but this much I knowif something’s gotta give, it won’t be the living of it any morethat’s become a higher priority.  Pray that I’ll live it.  New adventures await, as I learn to be a Samaritan… who’s in?

 

In praise of healthy lament

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace” -Jeremiah 6:14

Dissociative disorder is defined as a “disruption or breakdown of memory, awareness, identity or perception.”  It’s a common occurrence among war veterans, physical and sexual abuse victims, those growing up in family systems broken by deep addictions, and among victims of religious/spiritual abuse.  The pain and trauma of the past or even the present is simply too much, so the person dissociates, meaning he or she moves into a different space, a safer space, by denying the painful realities of the present moment.  By denying reality, pretending there is no pain, and getting lost in some form of alternate reality, we find a fantasy land which is in the short run less painful.  But when the Disneyland we’ve created closes, we’re forced to face our pain again.  Eventually, if we hope to live the sort of full life Jesus promised, we’ll need to face to truth of our pain, both personal and collective.  Whether we do that, and how we do that, are perhaps two of the most important issues many of us will every face in our lives.

All of this, though, sounds very personal, a sort of clarion call to get therapy.  Maybe, but recently I’m struck by the reality that there’s a broader collective application of this dissociative tendency and our collective need to face reality.  Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia company (standard issue clothing at the church I lead) recently wrote, “I’m not optimistic at all. I’m a total pessimist. I’ve been around long enough, traveled around enough, and been around a lot of smart people to know that we’re losing. In every single category, we’re losing.” 

Wow Yvon.  Way to ruin my day.  I want to get up in the morning, hop in my car and drive my 1.2 miles to work, put in my time contributing to the industrial machine that’s drawing down the earth’s resources, drive home, eat my food that was raised in the industrial agriculture machinery that’s stripping the precious topsoil from land and laced with growth hormones and pesticides.  I’ll watch a little something on TV, endure a few ads reminding me either of my inadequacy if I’m prone to insecurity, or that the reality of my economic well being is predicated on other people buying crap they don’t need.  Then I’ll fall asleep and wake up the next morning with an injection of caffeine and do it all again.  I don’t want to be reminded of species extinction, or the fact that human trafficking and the oppression of women are at an all time high in the history of the world, or of the harsh realities in South Sudan and Syria, Ukraine and the oceans of pain on the streets less than two miles from my house – so I focus on my upcoming world cup brackets and Stanley Cup if I swing towards sport, or a new band if I don’t.  After all, I’m not part of the problem.  I pay my taxes.  Vote.  Stay sober.  Read my Bible and go to church.  Eventually the world will see the wisdom of the free market (or the socialist “single payer” solution if I think that way) and things will turn around.  They always do.

I can live that way, but this is dissociative; a massive form of self-denial.  With respect to things always turning around, the reality is that they “always don’t”, at least of the history of empires is any indication.  Jeremiah’s mourning in the 6th century BC was not only over society’s condition; it was over the massive, intentional, and collective denial of society’s condition.  If we take our cue from Alcoholics Annonymous we’ll recall the first condition of transformation is the admission that things aren’t just bad – they’re beyond fixing in the resources of our own strength.  If it’s Bible you want (and I hope you do) the same thing is declared all over the place.  The starting point of healing and transformation is staring the harshness of naked reality in the face.

At some point, it happens; it hits us hard.  We can see that though the system might be working for us, it isn’t working.  It isn’t sustainable.  It’s isn’t life giving.  It isn’t whole.  We see it, it hits us, and we’re filled with both grief and a longing for things to be other than they are for our world.  When we really see with clarity, and are willing to sit in the reality of what we see, we mourn.  When we mourn and lament, we open the door to even clearer ways of seeing and then, of living.  We re prioritize.  We confess.  We take a step towards wholeness; and then another; and then the steps become a journey; and the journey has a real joy in it, because it’s rooted in the truth and the truth, as painful and dark as it might be, will set you free.

There’s more.  Those who are willing, like the prophets of old, to look beyond the superficial categories of personal well being and forgo the temporary anesthetics of culture long enough to feel the pain will become part of God’s grand and joy filled solution, and this will happen for three reasons:

I.  Because we’ll think collectively

Our hyper individualized society makes it easy to dissociate ourselves from the sins of our parents, but we do this to our shame.  When Israel returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls of the city, the dedication included a lengthy confession of the sins of the parents. This isn’t a blame game.  It’s an acknowledgement that we’re shaped by our culture, by our family, or nation, or geography, and that there are scars because of it.  Our insistence that all’s well, that Adam Smith is wiser than Chief Seattle, that our internment camps were necessary, and that racism is behind us are all just a massive forms of denial.

We’re terrified of becoming negative, depressing people, but the reality is that my willingness to own every piece of the story that has shaped me lays a foundation for redemption and my own transformation that would be impossible as long as I cling to denial.

II.  Because we’ll make wiser choices

Seeing, owning, and naming the disastrous consequences of consumerism, nuclear proliferation, industrial agriculture, unrestricted free markets, commitment free sex, unrestricted access to abortion, will, if we allow ourselves to really see, change the way we live.  It’s in the wake of this kind of mourning that take bold steps towards simplification, or hospitality, or eating less fast food, or maybe even making a bold vocational change.  I’ve no illusions that these simple choices will change the overwhelming systemic problems.   But I do believe that creatively imagining a better world, as we’re wired to do, and equipped to do by the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the prophets (see Micah 6:8 here) will move us into a more joy filled, life giving, and peaceful existence, making us part of God’s solution.

III.  Because we’ll say Maranatha and mean it.

We who follow Christ have a grand hope and that has to do with the promise of his coming reign.  Just as the prophets are saturated with the bad news in an attempt to shake us awake, they’re equally overflowing with hope, as they envision all tools of war melted down, and an end to suffering, injustice, environmental degradation, and disease.  This kind of cosmic transformation won’t happen because I bring my own shopping bag to Trader Joe’s, even if I go there on my bike.  Still, every chance I might have to live as a sign that there’s a different kingdom than the prevailing kingdom of consumerism and trivialities will testify to the hope I carry in Christ.

All of it begins, though, with an acknowledgement that all’s not right.  So maybe join me in praying this Anishinabe prayer:

Grandfather; look at our brokenness.  We know that in all creation only the human family has strayed from the Sacred Way.  We know that we are the one who are divided and we are the ones who must come together to walk in the Sacred Way.  Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor, that we may heal the earth, and heal each other.  Amen

to which I’d only add:  Marantha!  Come quickly Jesus!

Faith, Sight, and Cairnes on trails: Examining the “historical” Jesus in the bestseller: “Zealot”

ImageReza 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.

ImageIt’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”  –