Living the Questions: Where Are You?

Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the first post in the “Living the Questions” series. These are some reflections on the first 5 questions that God asks in the book of Genesis. For the first question, we turn back to Genesis 3: “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But God called to them, and said, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9)

When I was doing my chaplaincy internship at Good Samaritan in Minneapolis, we had a particularly intense time for our group where we’d work through a lot of our emotional past and talk about things that are extremely difficult to talk about. As an introvert, the beginnings of this exercise were a certain form of Hell. Every afternoon would start out with my supervisor going around the room and checking in. She’d come around to me and ask “Where’s Eric today?”

This was a question of location, though not geographical. A lot of times we think the question of “where” is simply a question of physical placement. But, like Adam and Eve, we often hide ourselves. We don’t want to be found out, exposed, embarrassed, or discovered. So we hide. And when we hide, it can be awful hard to establish exactly where we are.

So where am I right now?

Tough to say. One of the frustrating parts of seminary, is that it prepares you to be leaders of the “church of tomorrow”. But then we are sent out into the church of today. Things that we talked about in seminary simply aren’t factors in the parish — at least in mine. Even something as foundational as biblical interpretation isn’t discussed because the assumption is that we all read the Bible the same — after all, we are Christians, aren’t we? (that last bit should be read with mild sarcasm).

Also, when you’re in school preparing to be a pastor, no one tells you how absolutely lonely it is. It has been a really lonely first year in the parish. This is speaking as a newlywed and so I can only assume that being a single person in ministry can be just as difficult, if not more so. It’s terribly lonely.

So if I’m living this question of “Where am I?”, it’s a little depressing to analyze it. Sent out to a brand new place where we know next to no one, to lead the church of today after spending 3 years (and how much money?) learning how to lead the church of tomorrow.

BUT

In all of this, I have to remember who is asking the question and who is doing the seeking. When we don’t know where we are, when we may be more lost than found, there is One who refuses to let us stay lost. We have to trust, no matter what vocation you are currently serving — whether you’re a teacher, banker, or candlestick maker — there is a spirit that quiets our unease. Our discontent won’t stop tomorrow. But like the poet, Rilke, says, the point is to live the questions, not answer them.

Cheers,
Eric

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Jars of Clay & A New Language for Church

This past Friday night, my wife and I went to a Jars of Clay concert at a church in Mesa. We got the “VIP” package which included participating in a Q&A session beforehand with the band. I was really excited for this because I think a lot of Christian music artists focus more on the Christian and less on the music. But not Jars of Clay. They have substance. They talk about suffering and brokenness with an honesty that’s pretty unparalleled in the Christian music scene.

When we got to the Q&A session most of the people were asking questions like “What’s *insert song that’s meant to be ambiguous* about?” It was pretty frustrating. But one of the things that stuck out to me was that even though the questions were awfully shallow, some of the responses and stories had some incredible depth.

One of the things that stuck out was when Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine got the microphone and talked about how the language of our church has become so toxic. The language of our church has become one of exclusion. That’s not good. The language of our church ought to be language of recovery. That really resonated with me. So often the majority of Christians take this accusatory look toward culture — holding everyone to some sort of unspoken moral standard, just waiting to tear down. That doesn’t help anybody.

But the language of recovery comes from a place humility. It acknowledges that we are all displaced from where we ought to be. It starts with acknowledging the brokenness of all, which is where so many people come up short. It takes that attitude that ‘I’m more than happy to point out your brokenness, but don’t you dare point out mine!’ It’s so unhealthy.

There’s one song that really embodies this idea of recovery and what recovery looks like. It’s the Jars of Clay song called “Oh My God”. In an interview they described this song as all of their laments to God — all the things that make them say “Oh my God”. Check it out! (It’s about 6 minutes long, but the verses and the build at the end are WELL worth the wait.)

 

What are your impressions of the song? Is there any language of recovery in your church? What do you think that would look like?

Cheers,
Eric

How Christopher Hitchens Deepened My Faith

Renown Atheist author and thinker Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. A lot of people put in their two cents. Secularists and non-Christians are, expectantly, quite reverent and morose. Some of my seminary friends have said some very poignant comments as they paid their respects. And then we go to Twitter where some supposed Christians are just jerks. If you go to Twitter and search his name, a lot of things will come back very respectful. And then it seems whenever someone is disrespectful, you can click on their profile where they adamantly quote the Bible and claim to be a “Christ-follower”.

There was this one by a guy named James MacDonald.

Famous atheist Christopher Hitchens who mocked when Jerry Falwell died had an eye opening experience yesterday- he died #notlaughingnow

He later defended his tweet calling Hitchens’ death “righteous vindication by God”.

These kinds of asinine comments are made when someone has never dared to go outside of their comfort zone and have their views challenged. It’s likely that people who think like this have never read a single thing that Hitchens ever wrote. And I don’t mean to pick on this guy in particular. But there were countless tweets like this, this was just the first one I found.

Hitchens put God under the microscope. The religion of certainty, extremism and arrogance that has seeped into mainstream society was called out. Hitchens defiantly refused to believe in such a God.

Hitchens helped me gain defiance against that view of God too. I first read God is Not Great during my sophomore year at Concordia when I was trying to figure out what the heck it meant to believe or not to believe. I knew the faith of the Falwells and Pat Robertsons of the world was hollow and empty to me.

Reading Hitchens presented to me a road toward faith that’s paved in doubt. Even though we did not come to the same conclusions, I’m thankful for Christopher Hitchens because in the sea of purpose-driven-whatever, he critiqued common assumptions about God and religion and really propelled me to wrestle with a lot of things I hold central to what I believe.

Cheers,
Eric

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