Monday, April 23, 2018

On The Preaching Of God's Word

This is the second time I have written this post for today.

The first time, it was a frankly a rant - on the condition of the sermon I heard yesterday, on the condition of Christianity in my larger circle, on the seeming attractiveness of other forms of belief.  It was bitter, angry - and completely un-Christian.  So I decided I would have to start over.

What I would write about, instead, is the whole counsel of God.

We  now live in an age where (at least here in North America) the Church has largely abandoned the practice of expository preaching, of preaching through the Bible or even books of the Bible in their totality, going verse by verse and bringing out the meaning of the verses as they were written.  Under this method it can take years to get through a single book of the Bible - but within this style one captures the whole of the book, the good and the bad, embarrassing and unworthy.

What we have moved to - seemingly in larger and larger part - is topical preaching.  In this method, one chooses a topic and then finds passages or verses around it.  Another version - none better, in my view - is to preach through a book of the Bible but to do it selectively:  skip some verses here, a chapter there, all in the pursuit of the underlying topic you are trying to communicate.

As you may guess, I am a fan of the first and not the second.

Why?  Because the first gives the whole counsel of God's word.  It does not choose a point to emphasize which is often one important to the speaker but a minor contextual note but instead paints the tapestry of God's Word in all its fullness.  It can also create odd gaps in the understanding of the hearers and their relationship to God:  they know they need to be saved for example, but are not sure what they need to be saved from (the answer, of course, is sin). 

Improperly wielded, topical preaching makes the Church a victim of the age it lives in.  Suddenly God's word seems to speak to the particular conditions of our times (which it can, of course - it is God's word) but in such a way that our modern sensibilities are pleased (until they have to be redefined for the next generation's "modern" sensibilities).  The word then becomes void, merely a social action pamphlet of one sort of another.  And the people of God, instead of being fed true food, are given the sort of things that make them feel full but will disappear as quickly as sugar rush on Easter when the tough times come.

Strangely enough, I am not overcome with fear at this development.  Sadness, yes - God's word is so rich and we allow ourselves to only grasp the barest minimum and I believe there are many that will be unable to stand when the social currents they ride now suddenly turn against them.  But in reality, Our Lord always said this day would come as it has countless times before over the centuries.  And it gives us a principle which any good small holder would embrace:  it is not enough to rely on someone else.  In this, as in all else, we need to be as involved as we are in any other activity.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Few Words From...Awa no Kenzo

"I must warn you of one thing.  You have become a different person in the course of these years.  For this is what the art of archery means:  a profound and far-reaching contest of the archer with himself.  Perhaps you have hardly noticed it yet, but you will feel it very strongly when you meet your family and friends again in your own country:  things will no longer harmonize as before.  You will see with other eyes and measure with other measures.  It happened to me too, and it happens to all who are touched by the spirit of this art." - Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery

Friday, April 20, 2018

Not Fitting In Part II

Today's excursis is the result of a comment PeteForester left on yesterday's blog:

"I'm going through the same thing, TB; a strange sense of disconnect from family, career, church, etc; a profound sense of burnout. I've prayed, and have gotten the same things back: "Trust in Me. "Rest in Me." It seems like a frustratingly vague answer, but when you think about it, trusting in God is the cornerstone of a fulfilling life. Everything else is secondary.

When you get an answer like this, you know two things; God is there, and you're exactly where He wants you to be at this particular moment. So go with the answer to your prayers, TB, and don't forget; Jesus felt disconnected at times as well... "The stone the builders rejected...""

The response I got today when I asked the question was no different than the one I got yesterday:  "Trust Me". Along with a second item:  "Accept where you are and what you are experiencing."

I know - at least intellectually - that Pete's answer is the correct one:  that God is in every situation, even this one, and that He has total control over the situation.  But emotionally, in my heart, things feel very different indeed.

We - and maybe I mean "We Americans" but perhaps this applies to other cultures as well - are fundamentally taught not to settle.  We should always be reaching and striving for more:  for more things, for more social station, for more improvement, for larger muscles, for better relationships.  To not do this does not at all bear the sense of contentment or even acceptance;  instead, it reeks of defeatism and laziness.  You at worst a fool and at best an underachiever.

At the same time, one has be careful about reading too much into the fact that the circumstances are occurring now.  Part of what makes something bearable - humanly speaking anyway - is that we have a hope that someday the situation will change.  Someday things will turn around - good heavens, is that not what God promised? (Ultimately yes; temporally, not necessarily - in case you were wondering)  That hope buoys us through the weeks and months and even years of the desert and dark valleys.  

But by thinking this we create the risk of putting boundaries on God and His ability to act.  If we look constantly for the time to end, we can become frustrated and lose faith when the situation does not change in a time frame such as we had "allowed" for.  It is one thing to go through a year of a poor personal close relationship or a crushing work environment or a disease; it is another thing when it extends to 10.
Today for practice, I tried the a rather Stoic philosophy style exercise that I have tried before:  "What if X never changed?"  What if the job, the career, the church, the relationship, the income, the sense of belonging - what if that all stayed exactly the same as it is today?  How would that feel?  Would I be okay with it?  I tried it with Pete's comments in mind - and it did help somewhat.  Accepting that something is happening and that (as God is in control) it is happening on His time frame, I could almost (at least for several seconds at a time) get over my anger or frustration.  It was a simple acceptance of the fact that it was the way it was because God desired it so.  

Two other things came out of this process as I sat and pondered them:

1)  Accepting that things are in God's will and are what they are can drive us to Him and Heaven all the more.  Ultimately all of this is a blip on the line of eternity; looking at the "okay" now can make me hungry for Heaven - if I allow it.

2) Accepting the situation as it exists  means accepting the fact that, possibly, I did not cause it.  Yes, I understand that much of what occurs in our lives is the result of our own actions, but I am becoming equally convinced of the opposite, that much of what occurs in our lives are not the results of our actions.  People pulling away or activities falling aside or a church that no longer wears quite right or a job that is a grind rather than the joy it was are not just because we made it that way.  Sometimes it is the result God intervening:  pulling those people or activities away or giving us a deeper or different hunger for a more authentic worship and sermon or causing drudgery to be our daily lot  may be in fact equally the inscrutable hand of God acting in our lives for reasons and ways we will only see in eternity.

And if I look at this as God actively moving in my life - even if it is in staid situations where everything seems to be moving away while I am standing still - suddenly I have a very different perspective indeed.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Not Fitting In

If I have not clearly stated it before, I am clearly going through a phase of not fitting in at all in my current life.

I do not fit in where I go to church.  Increasingly I do not feel like that in at my career place.  I do not fit in at Throwing like I used to.  I have not (for a while) felt like I fit within my circle of friends.
(For the record, I do still fit at Iai and and the Rabbit Shelter - but rabbits are pretty pleasant companions).  In almost ever aspect of my life, I do not feel like I fit in.  The sense is that my life is slowly being compacted and pushed off a ledge over a cliff from which I can hear the waves of the raging sea.

The problem seems to be that I am not really fitting in anywhere else either.  If there are other places that I might fit in, these have not readily come to mind or readily presented themselves (not that there seems to have been time for that of late, however).  Instead, it seems the lamps of my life are slowly being extinguished one by one while I wait for a dawn which I hope is coming - think is coming - but have no real guarantee is coming.

I asked God about it tonight walking Poppy - really, let us be fair, it was someone more of an accusation.  "When, God?  When do things clear up?  When do I find the path forward?"

The answer I got was "Trust Me."

Not, as you can imagine, the clearest sort of answer I was hoping for.  A time frame gives us something to framer expectations and efforts around but simple trust is something that says an event can go for five minutes or fifteen years.  And there is no really hint of such a trust dawn except to pay careful attention to the world around you for the dim lightning which suggests that it may be finally coming.

But this was the only answer offered.

And so I wait in the gathering gloom of nightfall.  I can feel that there is a next step but, like a man in a cave, I can make no progress without injuring myself - until the dawn arrives.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Slow Moving Cultural Wreck

There are days and weeks - like this week, it seems - where I go through a sort of general sense of hopelessness about the future.  It just feels as if things are not getting better and have no chance at all of getting better, at least in my lifetime.

It has been said before by others more eloquent than I, but I cannot remember a time where the vitriol of one to another has ever been so high.  It is if we have abandoned even the pretense of trying to get along and have become embroiled in a one act monologue where the only subject covered are the idiocies and the meanness of the other side.

It has reached the point where it seems we are not just trying to fray the bounds that bind us together as a society but we are actively tearing them apart as fast as we are able in hopes of....

In hopes of what?  That is perhaps the most troubling part of the equation.  To anyone who has built a culture, be it business or religious or non-profit or even a club or role-playing group, it is understood how difficult it is to do such a thing.  Culture is something that has to be carefully nourished and protected to grow and flourish and then (once existing) has to be weeded and pruned and watered as carefully as any garden. Forget any of these and the cultures begins to die and once dying, is usually very hard to bring back to life.

So I suppose their hopes are to destroy things to the point that something new, something "better" can be built?  Utopianism at its finest I suppose - but a simple study of history will demonstrate the perils and usual outcomes of such a thing (check out Nazi Germany Soviet Russia or The Killing Fields of Cambodia or Communist China in its Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolutions Phases [or even now, really])  for a sense of what "new cultures built on the ruins of the old" actually looks like.  It is a bloody, destructive affair that leaves a wake of death and destruction behind it.

The saddest part to me is that I am watching this happening, observer of a slow motion train wreck that is coming down the tracks at me - and all I can do is watch in horrified anticipation as it seems to gain sped.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Plugging The Hole Of Self Acceptance With Others

I am shocked at the extent to which I have tried to plug the holes of my own feelings of lack of self-acceptance with the lives of others.

It is something that has only become a matter of realization in the last week or so, precipitated by the realization that I really am not quite the central figure in the lives of others that I imagined I was.  As I slogged through the degrees of grief that occur with any relationship of worth, I realized that in point of fact I was not so much grieving their moving on as I was grieving a very real sense that a hole had been exposed once again.

It is easy to understand now that I can see it.  I have always struggled with acceptance:  my own acceptance of myself, and certainly God's acceptance of me.  My solution has been to find a way to make that feeling go away by finding others who I can draw close to help fill in the gaps that I feel I cannot close myself.

It is not a great solution of course, as it both manages to eventually alienate the other person (trust me - I have the wasteland of former friendships to prove it) as well as driving me away from the probable sources of the solution that would actually fix the problem:  my own acceptance of self, and my acceptance of God's view of me.

Living feeling as if you are continually performing below what you should be doing is a terrible burden to bear.  It is doubly hard when the person that administered that burden is yourself:  you can never really let yourself be pleased with your performance because, after all, you are the harshest critic of yourself.  Outside people theoretically remove this issue from you:  by being outside of you and "not you", they somehow have legitimacy the make you feel that sense of acceptance - after all, if they are receiving you, are you not okay?

The reality is that in fact in any relationship - any healthy one anyway - both sides are deriving a benefit.  When that benefit becomes one sided it either simply becomes a charitable event (and if you have never been a relationship charity, you do not know the pain of realizing it after the fact) or something that is on its way out the door.

Is there a solution?  The one I should tell you is "learn to accept yourself".  But that is the very thing that is the hardest, is it not?  I am no more likely to accept myself simply because I tell myself so than I am to fly by jumping off a roof flapping my arms.  There is a thing there, a thing I am missing - and my fear is that the road to recovery lies directly back through that gaping hole I am trying to fill.