Friday, May 30, 2008

It's Not You, It's Me

You chased me to myself and left
me here alone
with me
and Him
The Jealous One

You chased me near to Him then left
me to face Him
by myself
without your help
Just Him
and me

I wanted you to be my guide to Him
and me
but not to leave
me here alone
with me
and Him
The Jealous One

I wanted you to be my ally against them
and not to leave
me here alone
to love them
by myself
alone
with Him

I wanted you to be my hope
for better days

But you won’t

So it’s just me
alone
with Him
foolishly waiting for you
while I’m with Him
The Jealous One
my Hope
my Guide
my Ally

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book Review: Searching for God Knows What

I wrote this at the end of last summer. I wasn’t blogging at the time, but God was speaking so much to me through this book that I wanted to write it all down. I’ve enjoyed looking back on what God started then and how he is continuing to move me into an intimate relationship with him that I honestly didn’t even think was possible…

I just finished Searching for God Knows What and just started Shattered Dreams. Both books clearly make sense of what is going on in my life right now—God pursuing a love affair with me. Again, these books have revolutionized my thinking about myself, about God, and about hope. They help make sense of life in general, and I want to send copies to everyone. Doesn’t everyone struggle to make sense of life?

I’ve been referencing Searching for God Knows What in discussions about life all summer. I owned it for a while before I ever opened it. I bought it because I heard it was even better than Blue Like Jazz (also by Don Miller) and because I love books. I own more books than I can read—it’s like putting too much on your plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It sat on my shelf for a while. I picked it up after finishing the last book in the Harry Potter saga. I felt really empty after reading the 7th Potter book, knowing my journey with Harry and his friends was over. Since I was pretty recently divorced, in a new city, not working, and utterly alone, I was escaping all this by reading—diving into the lives of the characters, and when they were gone I was even more aware of my dissatisfaction and hopelessness. I laughed at myself for being depressed over missing fictional characters, but then I realized that it was more than their loss that was affecting me. At the time I didn’t have a TV or computer to turn to. So I saw Searching for God Knows What on my shelf and started searching.

In the book, Miller draws on wisdom from an alien, a lifeboat theory, and Romeo and Juliet to explain God and life and how we got it all wrong. I was thinking it’s kind of like apologetics for the post-modern thinker, and then, he said as much in the afterword. So, he writes about this human need to feel important and valuable—that the deepest needs of man are relational. But we’ve been living out our spirituality like it’s a formula, jumping through hoops for God instead of entering a relationship, a romance even.

He writes about how God fulfilled completely the deepest needs of man before the fall—so there was no insecurity, jealousy, shame, fear of intimacy, broken-heartedness, and all the other ailments of humanity. I can’t imagine a world without those things. In fact, I heard recently that the most serious threat to intimate relationships is low self-esteem or insecurity, which makes people defensive, cautious, needy, emotionally-protective and leads to real rejection. That’s why there are so many broken relationships—because after our relationship with God was severed in the Garden of Eden, we no longer had our deepest needs met by our Creator, and we began searching for someone or something else to meet those needs, and that can’t be done.

So, in the book he shows me that I was reading my Bible as a text book or self-help guide to find the formulas to live by, but not as a story. I love stories. I find meaning in stories—that’s why I love to teach literature. I even feel like I have a relationship with Harry Potter because I’ve entered so deeply into his story for so many years now. I find beautiful truths about loyalty, the duality of man, forgiveness, and sacrifice in his story. I love Harry. What if I found the beauty in God’s story? What if I entered so deeply into His story that I fell in love with Him? Only, He’s real, and He loves me and wants a love relationship. When I realized I didn’t have that real love relationship with God, I felt even emptier because I’ve been a Christian since I can remember, and if I didn’t have that by now, maybe I never would. I didn’t feel satisfied by God. I felt stronger toward Harry Potter than I did toward Jesus. I didn’t feel significant, important, fulfilled, or secure even though I was a Christian, and God was supposed to fill those needs, right? I felt a big gaping hole in my life. The formula wasn’t working for me.

He writes about what an alien might think of humans if he came to visit. The alien might think it strange how much we compare ourselves to others. He might recognize our obsession with having the right clothes, listening to the right music, driving a certain kind of car—all in order to be higher on some invisible hierarchy. We’re looking for other people to tell us we’re smart, or beautiful, or successful, or funny, or good. We’re looking to a jury of our peers. He says, “It is as though the voice God used to have has been taken up by less credible voices.” Other people’s opinions have become very important since the fall. The problem is we’re all looking for validation from other humans, which inhibits our ability to give validation to others.

That’s where the lifeboat theory comes in. He poses a question that his teacher asked during a values-clarification lesson, “If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbage man, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would you choose?” After reading this part of the book earlier, I asked the students in my classes this very same question, and just as predicted, they did not hesitate in deciding who was most and least valuable. There were debates on each person’s merit and what they had to offer. No one brought up the idea that all people are equal—just like in his class. He says we live our lives as if we’re in this lifeboat, like we have to fight to prove our own value so we don’t get thrown overboard by everyone else. We look for allies—others to defend our importance. We constantly compare ourselves and get very upset when we’re disrespected or when someone says they’re better than us, as if it is a threat to our existence, like there’s some sort of penalty. Isn’t that the context of many of our reality shows? They mirror life.

It reminded me of Walk the Line, the story about Johnny Cash. I’ve never read his biography, but it seemed to me from the movie that he wanted so badly to prove his worth and value ever since his dad had said that the wrong son died after Johnny’s brother’s death. So he found his identity as a musician and looked for his significance in that, but after he became famous and so many people “valued” him, it still wasn’t enough. His father still didn’t treat him like he was worth anything. I guess the feelings of worthlessness draw people to do all sorts of things—addictions, affairs, climbing the ladder of success, jumping off, or throwing others off the lifeboat. But ultimately, all of it still leaves us unfulfilled.

Miller writes, “God wired us so that He told us who we were, and outside that relationship, the relationship that said we were loved and valuable and beautiful, we didn’t have any worth at all.” We need this love from God so that we can love others. How can we love other people purely without selfish motives, stop hating ourselves, and quit comparing ourselves to others unless we are already fulfilled? How can we see them as equals until we know the value God places on them and us? How can we be authentic and sincere unless we recognize we aren’t in a lifeboat? We need someone who loves us so much that we don’t have to worry about being disrespected, how to dress, getting older, feeling lonely, and all those other things that could get us thrown overboard by others. We need to be told who we are by the One who knows, our Creator.

He explains how God did the most selfless thing a perfect and loving Being could do by coming to get us, trying to save us, so that we can know and enjoy Him, as Adam and Eve did. He offers redemption though a relationship with himself. This may be more appealing to those who are marginalized—those whose place on the lifeboat is most threatened. That’s who Christ spent his time with, but He said the rich will have trouble coming to Him.

Miller spends some time in the book revealing how Christians don’t always represent Christ accurately. We tend to want to kick out of the lifeboat those who don’t share our political leanings or our morality instead of showing them their value, as Christ did. Instead of imitating Christ, we’ve tended to just want to defend the church and justify ourselves to the culture. My perspective on this particular topic was changed through two other books: one by Rick McKinley appropriately called Jesus in the Margins and the other also by Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz. They reveal the Christ of the Bible, and disassociate him from our modern-day, political, right-wing, yuppie, patriotic Jesus who wants us to display anti-gay bumper stickers for His name’s sake. I, for one, am glad to leave that Jesus behind.

I have often questioned and struggled with what our motivations should be for following moral law. There are the obvious reasons that even those who don’t know Christ have for following moral law. I have posed this question to my students many times, usually with unsatisfying results. To earn God’s favor? To get to heaven? To avoid bad consequences? To feel superior to others? I believe Miller gives the answer I’ve not been able to articulate. He states, “…moral law is not our path to heaven; our duty involves knowing and being known by Christ. Positive morality, then, the stuff of natural law, is but an offering, a sweet-tasting fruit in the mouth of God. It is obedience and imitation of our pure and holy Maker; and immorality—the act of ignoring the conscience and the precepts of goodness—is a dagger in God’s heart.”

Morality flows naturally out of a relationship with Christ. I think for me morality has often been about meeting a person or group’s expectations, or it’s been about exercising my freedom or “right” to do something. But now it’s about bringing a pure offering to the Lover of my soul, and not hurting Him. I want to know Him and know the sweetness of His love. Just like the image in Ephesians 5, a woman who submits to her husband, not out of obligation but out of love because she knows that he loves her even as he loves his own life, and he will only do the best for her.
This marriage imagery is used throughout the Bible to compare Christ as the bridegroom waiting for his union with the bride, His church. It is so beautiful in spite of, or because of, the flawed state of human marriage. The purity and perfection of a union with Christ, His faithfulness, His love, inspires me to honor Him, to be pure. We miss out on this by breaking the Gospel down to bullet points, acronyms, and formulas.

Miller claims Shakespeare revealed this image of a selfless, spiritual marriage with Christ as the bridegroom in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet. The baptism imagery is stated explicitly, yet I never picked up on it. Juliet tells Romeo to deny his name and be baptized new. The idea of giving up who you are to be united with another—with Christ—is the kind of passionate love affair I seek, yet I don’t know if I’ll ever get there because of my family name, my broken humanity. At least, I’m not there yet. It’s a tragic love story. But it is unfinished.

By the time I read the end of Miller’s book, my heart was ready for it. I’d been asking God to satisfy me, to make my desire be for Him if it was possible. I told Him I felt lost, without purpose, and empty. He’d been doing the work in me without my awareness. I started to notice that I cared about people more; much of my fear and insecurity was gone; I wanted to worship; I was no longer worried about finding someone to love me; I was more aware of my motivations; and my critical spirit was melting away. It all happened so imperceptibly, I didn’t see the transformation happening. It’s still happening. A deep, satisfying relationship with God is possible, and I’m going to have a taste of it now, and will experience it’s fullness in eternity, where my hope now lies.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Voices

Carried along
By voices that tell me who to be,
What to think, how to feel,
But is that me?

Content to float
On this torrent of expectation,
Never slowing to consider
My identity

Instead I heed
This test, this degree, this book
This city, this status, this group
This image, this store, this look
This music, this cause, this pursuit
This scholar, this church, this career
This love, this sage, this leader
This duty, this formula, this fear

These voices
This noise
This noise

All the lies about me
And the flattery too
Have become the cushion where I lay my head
Amid the din of carnival clamor
But I’m waking
And searching for a mirror
Away from the funhouse distortion
Away from this sound pollution
These voices
This noise

Let me hear One Clear Voice
Above the whispers, murmurs, and yells
Merge Your voice with mine
Until I don’t hear anything else
Let my mirror reflect what You see
Your image in me

Your image
Your voice

Your voice


Your quiet
Quiet voice
Your gentle
Gentle breath
Whispers
Whispers to me
“You’re mine
Now rest”