Some days do you wake up and wonder, “How did I get here?”
I think if we are really honest with ourselves all of us have had those moments. It's not that you're not happy or content with life. But, you just don't quite remember how it is that you arrived at your current destination. Every once in a while this will happen when I drive. I will pull into my driveway and think, “I don't really remember driving home.” The drive had become so second nature that I get lost in thought and don't remember doing the driving.
When was the last time you remember breathing? For me it was a number of years ago and I was having an asthma attack. I could feel every breath. I focused on every single breath. To continue breathing demanded my full attention.
Typically life just happens. We move from moment to moment just doing what it is that we do, whatever that might be. We rise and brush our teeth, get dressed, drink coffee, go to work, and whatever else. Day in and day out. It just happens.
Yet, every once in a while we wake up and the thought hits, “How did I get here?”
How does someone end up being a pastor? How does he end up being a dad of two kids and married for twenty years? I'm 42 years old. How did I get here?
A friend of mine recently said that her favorite pastime is “remembering.” That really struck me. I don't really try hard to remember. It's not something that I routinely do. Yet, as I read the Scriptures I see God asking people to build altars and other times people just build them without being asked. Why? To remember. They name those places things like, “God provides” or “God overcame”, and the like. God wants his people to remember.
There are whole psalms dedicated to summarizing the book of Exodus. Did you know that? Check out Psalm 105. It's a song of remembrance. The people needed to remember what God had done. They were to pass on all that God had done to future generations. To tell their children the stories of God's deed and to proclaim his deeds among the nations. They had to remember to do that.
The people of God in the Scriptures used these altars to help them answer the question, “How did we get here?”
How did I get here? How in the world did I get to be 42 years old, a husband, a dad, a pastor, and a guy with more questions than answers?
I grew up in the church. There really isn't a time that I can recall when “church” was not a part of my life. Even when I was absent from the church, I was connected to a body of Christians through a college ministry. Being in the church has simply been a part of me. It's the water I swim in and the air I breathe. In the church I found comfort during the hard times. I experienced joy there in the good times. Friendships were forged and mentors embraced.
My parents marriage broke up when I was nine. It was in the church that I witnessed healthy marriages up close and firsthand. In the church I saw parenting done well and done poorly. It was in the church that I wrestled with big questions of life.
It was in the church that I learned that you can doubt and struggle and question everything.
It was in the church that I experienced pain and suffering. Sometimes at the hands of friends and other times as friends suffered. The church has provided context for me walk through and wrestle with everything.
How did I get here? I got here through the church. My life lived in the context of the church has brought me to the place where I now stand. Where is that? It feels like I'm looking over an edge of a cliff with a beautiful clear pool below. Friends are beckoning, “Jump! Jump! Jump!” Their voices are echoing and ringing in my ears.
Like Terrence Mann in The Field of Dreams as he is about step into field, I am grinning as I look back and forth between the past and what lies ahead. The sheer joy of what is before me is calling me and drawing me. Yet as I look over the precipice, the jump fills me with fear.
What do I see as I am about to jump? There is a necessity to ask the questions that have been nagging me for years. I can't stuff them any longer. Too many things about my faith seem inadequate or built on straw. Jesus said that we are to “count the costs” of following him and that we should build on strong foundations. I don't know what those foundations are any more. Many of those things that I have hung my faith on for years are beginning to crumble.
Too many leaders have shown themselves to be hypocrites, liars, and immoral. Too much of the evangelical movement that I have for many years found my home has left me. I remember a warm summer day sitting with a woman from the church that I grew up in and talking to her about joining my ministry partner team when I was a missionary. She asked me if I was going to go to seminary. I said yes, I was already taking classes at an evangelical seminary. She was shocked. Mouth agape, she exclaimed, “How can someone who grew up in a reformed church go to an evangelical seminary!?”
On that day, I didn't understand. I have come to understand. Within the evangelical movement, even back then there was a political move going on to embrace the power of this world. They were losing their sense of identity in Christ and were embracing something very different. In my youthful exuberance, I couldn't see it, or maybe I didn't want to see it. But, now I do. I can't be that any longer.
But, I cannot be “evangelical.” So, now I have to jump. I have to take a leap into the past to learn afresh what it is that it means to embrace those things that I can say “yes” to. I have to leap into the future to figure out what that means for today in my context and in my fresh expression of being a Christian.
Even as I'm about to jump I know it will be OK because the church will be there.
So where am I? As I write today I am at a place where many things that I once held true, truer than true, are no longer true. Over the last ten years or so, I have seen behind the curtain, and it breaks my heart. As I said, the “evangelical” movement that I knew and loved is gone. It left me and I don't think it will have me back. I can't sit idly by and watch in the quiet any longer. Over the last year, I have been asking lots of questions. I have been wrestling with my identity as a follower of Jesus. I have wondered about the very fabric of who I am. In one of Rob Bell's early books he talked about how theology, dogma, and doctrine are less like a wall and more like a trampoline. You can take the springs out and examine them and figure out which ones you really need to be able to bounce. The wall on the other hand falls apart when you pull the bricks out. It no longer works as it ought.
Some people could say that the last number of months have been a time of deconstruction for me. I think in many ways that is true. However, I am more confident in using the term, “dark night of the soul.” Whatever name you want to call it, there have been many questions, few answers, and a deepening of my utter dependence on the church, the Scripture, and a pursuit of Jesus like never before.
Many of the people that I have listened to over the last year have lost faith for a time. I am confident that faith was never be out of reach for me. What has been lost is much of what I once held as absolute, confirmed, and necessary. There has been a refining, a cutting away, and an ever increasing commitment to love.
To love, and to do so well, is to not run away from the hard things. It is, ultimately, to enter in. To wrestle with the questions like Jacob did the angel. I can't let them go. I have to keep turning them over and over and over until they give up their secrets. To love is not a denial a truth but the constant seeking and application of truth. To love is to pursue forgiveness. It is to admit wrong. It is a passionate pursuit of “the other.” It is not as some believe, in our time, to simply “let everyone do as they please.” It is to challenge people with truth.
However, I'm finding that there is simply “less” truth than I had at one time thought.
It's been a lifetime to come to where I am. It's a beautiful mess. All of it and all of me.
I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is exactly who the Scriptures say he was.
The Messiah King.
I am convinced that God, the triune God, works in and through covenant. I am convinced that the Scriptures are beautiful and honest and real and are in some way the very words of God. The confessions give me hope. They open doors to my imagination and give me boundaries. They give me questions.
Through it all, there's the church. Men and women who live in the neighborhood. Men and women who are real. They wrestle with real questions and they really try to work out their salvation in fear and trembling. The church, this touchstone of where I can sit and laugh with friends. Where I can pray real prayers. It's the people who share the table with me. We live this life, this gloriously messy life together. I can struggle and wrestle with faith and doubt knowing that the church is there.
I mentioned Terrence Mann earlier, near the end of the film he says, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.” While baseball certainly is that.
I would change it to say this,
“The one constant through all the years has been the church. America has rolled by like and army of steam rollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But the church has marked the time. This people, this community: it's a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
You may be thinking, “Why does he keep saying, 'the church' and not Jesus?” It's simple really. If we are serious about what Jesus said then the church is carrying on what Jesus began all those years ago. The Scriptures tell us that he sent his Spirit to all those who claim to follow him. In a very real sense we are a continuance of the incarnation. The church is supposed to be the “body of Christ,” if that's the case, then the church is the flesh and blood of Jesus in the here and now.
If I can't rely on the church and turn to it, then what do I have? Nothing more than an idea.
No, the church is practicing the embodied loyalty to Jesus and I can know it will be there for me. As I seek to find rest in Christ, I ultimately find it in his church.
Regardless of where my dark night of the soul ends up I am confident that the church will be there.