Saturday, December 3, 2011

Messy Christianity; messy, unboxable life

There is something especially precious about things learned from your own children, and I am grateful for so much learned from my sons. Among their many lessons has been that caution is required in embracing anybody and anything that purports to have it ALL figured out and neatly boxed up. Upon careful analysis, the “absurd” is ultimately discovered and mystery and more questions always bubble up. As a result, I have long had to honestly confess what I suppose is my “Christian existentialism.” You should neither recoil nor be impressed by the term. The most brilliant existentialists, Christian and otherwise, cannot seem to agree on a working, tidy definition of the term, and thus I dare not even try. But I can offer a passage from one of the most solid living Christian thinkers and writers, and ask if it resonates with you. I do not know if Eugene Peterson would place himself within light years of the term “Christian existentialism” (and it probably does not matter), but as Dale Dawson teaches the Bridge2Rwanda team, he certainly seems to encourage us to accept and celebrate “the edginess of uncertainty”:

“Far too many people choose to live in Egypt instead of by faith.  They go to religion the way I go to a baseball game—to escape the muddle, to have everything clear, to find a good seat from which they can see the whole scene at a glance, evaluate everyone’s performance easily and see people get what they deserve.  Moral box scores are carefully penciled in.  Statistics are obsessively kept.  Many religious meetings are designed to meet just such desires.  The world is reduced to what can be organized and regulated; every person is clearly labeled as being on your side or on the other side; there is never any doubt about what is good and what is bad.

The only problem with such “Egyptian” religion is that the clarity lasts only as long as the meeting.  It is not a deepening of reality but a vacation from it.  During that protected time and space, heroic performances are applauded and villains booed.  There is a clear-cut opposition to hate.  But back at work, at play, at home, the labels don’t stick.  Life outside the meeting is then resented as being hopelessly contaminated.  It is understandable that people who embrace this kind of religious life go to as many meetings as possible in order to have the experience of clear and controlled order as frequently as possible.

Neither shot nor married . . .

Flannery O’Connor once remarked that she had an aunt who thought that nothing happened in a story unless somebody got married or shot at the end of it.  But life seldom provides such definitive endings.  As a consequence, the best stories, the stories that show us our true condition by immersing us in reality, don’t provide them either.  Life is ambiguous.  There are loose ends.  It takes maturity to live with the ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and the untidiness.  If we refuse to live with it, we exclude something, and what we exclude may very well be the essential and the dear—the hazards of faith, the mysteries of God. [Emphasis mine.]

Jeremiah ends inconclusively.  We want to know the end, but there is no end.  The last scene of Jeremiah’s life shows him, as he had spent so much of his life, preaching God’s word to a contemptuous people (Jeremiah 44).  We want to know that he was finally successful.  Or we want to know that he was finally unsuccessful so that, since a life of faith and integrity doesn’t pay off, we can get on with finding another means by which to live.  We get neither in Jeremiah.  He doesn’t get married and he doesn’t get shot. In Egypt, the place he doesn’t want to be, with people who treat him badly, he continues determinedly faithful, magnificently courageous, heartlessly rejected—a towering life terrifically lived.
Run With The Horses

By Eugene Peterson

Could it be that this woman has peeled off a few more layers covering God's reality than have we?

I am grateful for Tommy, and Nathan, and Wesley,... and Eugene Peterson,... and Flannery O'Connor, and Peb Jackson, and other honest folks who keep it real.