Monday, December 22, 2008

Hooking up with Jesus

Coming off a comment by Les on the last post, I began thinking about intimacy as it pertains to faith.

Intimacy is a polarized experience. It can be both terrifying and indescribably settling. The fear of being known so vulnerably is balanced by the peacefulness of knowing the vulnerability is safe with another person.

Intimacy with God was a concept that was tossed about in The Church As We Know It as some type of holy grail that was easily accessible and achievable by certain practices of bible reading, prayer and singing an inordinate amount of songs that were composed of language that bordered on sensual.

Toward the end of my days as a professional minister, I began reconsidering the use of this kind of language in public expressions of worship. Now that I am a few miles outside of town, those thoughts are reinforced.

When you are intimate with someone, you keep certain things between just you and that person. Personal secrets and nicknames are kept closely guarded. We save our most intimate expressions of affection for our most intimate moments, that is, when you and that person are alone and no one else is around.

This kind of intimacy is expressed in the imagery of Revelation, which says that God would give a token of affection to those who endure suffering for His sake. The token would be a small white stone upon which a name was written. This name would be secret and only known to the person to whom the stone was given. Thus the name is a way of honoring the relationship and serves as a reminder of that shared intimacy.

Sex was supposed to provide two people with this kind of intimacy, but our culture seems to think this is an old fashioned notion. When we take a personal, private matter and turn it into a public one, to use the common vernacular, someone gets fucked. Pleasure is had, but intimacy is tossed out the window. And this is the real tragedy.

I run the risk of making a gross comparison, but it appears to me that a similar experience developed along the way in our public expressions of worship. Good worship was often rated by how good it felt and not so much about a deep abiding faith in God. It felt really good at that point in time to sing those songs, but am I able to experience even greater pleasures of God when I am outside the public setting?

One thing Revelation did not say, but I imply, is that I doubt no one is going to be turning their name on that white stone into a top 10 worship song.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A parallel universe

Dear Future Pastor,

One of the most enlightening decisions I have made in the last three years is to distance my faith from the culture that has been created by it.

While I would hesitate from turning my experience into a step-by-step handbook, I will offer to you how I think it has helped me, and if you find some kind of inspiration in it, all the better.

For years I was immersed in a parallel culture, one that glided alongside a similarly functioning secular one, only smaller in scope. Like any tribe or people group, my religious culture had a language, values, mores and traditions that made perfect sense while I lived among it, but now that I have moved to another place, I look back and scratch my head at certain former ways of carrying on with life.

I pulled out some old “worship” CD’s today and listened to what I was captured by a mere few years ago. The songs I considered cutting edge seem so different now that I am outside the culture that created them. Please don’t hear me saying that they are bad, inferior or that I have somehow become enlightened and superior in judgment over them. It’s just that I have a different point of view.

As the music played, I recalled with fondness some of lyrics that I sang and even wrote, but asked myself why they don’t hold the same meaning now. I believe it’s because I have learned to speak a different language now, and vernacular of the religious culture doesn’t translate very easily into my new life.

The Church as We Know It holds its own language in reverence. But does your average outsider have a category for terms like King of Kings and Lord of Lords or Lamb of God or I want to touch You, I want You to hold me, I need to feel your arms around me, draw near and caress me with Your embrace?

Now that I am an outsider, these don’t seem to make as much sense to me, either.

Future Pastor, I’m not trying to throw you into confusion, but you will have to take into serious consideration these kinds of changes you will inevitably face if you decide to take seriously becoming a pastor of The Church of the Future.

Guilt is one of those paths you will likely have to walk. Prepare to ask yourself, Am I doing the right thing? Am I walking away from the core of my faith? Am I abandoning orthodoxy? Am I ashamed of the gospel or even my profession? I went through a season having to answer these questions. But I eventually have come to accept the wrestling match with guilt as a part of the process of becoming who I was made to be.