Category Archives: The Good News

Beauty In The Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have edited it to eliminate the connection to Lent so I could repost it today as I have recently been connecting to many people who are presently wandering in the wilderness and I wanted to remind them that God is not causing their wilderness but he is with them in the wilderness.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that way anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

 

Deconstructing The Great Commission – Part Two

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‘To be a witness means to offer your own faith experience and to make your doubts and hopes, failures and successes, loneliness and woundedness, available to others as a context in which they can struggle with their own humanness and quest for meaning.’   –-Henry Nouwen (Spiritual Direction)

I didn’t get a lot of response to my previous post Deconstructing The Great Commission  but here’s some rambling in response to one of the comments:

Ken Bussell pointed out that the verses associated with The Great Commission don’t say anything about “sharing the gospel” – instead the verses speak of making disciples and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commandments.  Thinking about that and taking into account what Jesus said and taught I start to get the sense that The Great Commission is not so much about converting people to a particular belief system but much more about teaching a way of life.  Of course it is easier to tell people what to believe than to show them how to live.  Living life is a lot messier – it often seems to pull the legs out from under absolute statements that belief systems are typically built on.  I notice that people were always trying to pin Jesus down about what they should believe about all sorts of things, but Jesus didn’t seem that concerned with absolute statements that could be spouted off.  In fact, it seemed that he went out of his way to show that life would more often than not turn those statements on their head.  Just when someone thought they were being obedient Jesus would demonstrate that their form of obedience violated the very essence of what he was all about.

I guess at this point I would say that I am getting a picture that living out The Great Commission is much more alive and fluid than traditional teaching conveys. 

Deconstructing The Great Commission

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As many of you know I’ve been doing a lot of deconstructing of Christianity over the last few years – examining what I’ve been taught, what I believed about God, Jesus, and scripture, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. 

Let me tell you…it is a very, very, very long process – especially for someone with no formal theological training.  Not only is it a long process but at times it is a very uncomfortable process – living with the questions, the doubts, the “not knowing” – dealing with people who proclaim you are going to hell, saying you shouldn’t call yourself a Christian and assigning all sorts of negative labels to you.  At times I want to give up, but I don’t – not because I am this great person who is pushing themselves through this process, determined not to give up, committed to persevering (blah blah blah) but more because it is what is happening to me.  I am trying to follow Jesus and as I live my life these “things” keep coming up – it’s sort of like “shit happens”.  So, here I am today with another “thing” that I am trying to understand – and it has to do with “The Great Commission.”

I was taught that every Christian is commanded by Jesus to be a witness for him and that means telling others about the gospel (i.e. how he died on the cross to pay for our sins and how believing in him can save you from going to hell) and that our ultimate goal is to convert as many as possible and win the world for Christ – this was called “The Great Commission.”

When I first began to deconstruct this teaching I focused on “the gospel” – I deconstructed what I had been taught and began to try to understand what scripture had to say about “the gospel” (what was the good news?) – I eventually came to a different understanding from what I had been taught all my life but that is not what I want to talk about today.  Today I want to ask some different questions.  I want to ask:

“Is the Great Commission a promise or a commandment?”  “Was Jesus really speaking to all Christians or just to the apostles?” “What was the goal of the instruction that Jesus gave to the apostles?”  “What about all those things that Jesus said would happen – casting out demons, picking up snakes with their hands, speaking in new tongues, healing the sick?” “Are these passages relevant for me today?”

You see, when I read the first chapter of Acts it sounds to me that the only commandment Jesus gave was the one to wait in Jerusalem until something special happened (the Day of Pentecost).  When I read Acts 1:8 it doesn’t sound like a command as much as a promise.  It sounds like Jesus is explaining what will happen after the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

And when I read Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:15-20 in context it sounds like this is a contextually limited instruction given only to the apostles and that there is a political aspect to the instruction that has to do with the Roman Empire.  I also sense that the purpose was much narrower than what I’ve been taught and that there may have been some  immediate urgency to make something happen before something else happened.

Could Jesus’ instructions to the apostles serve the purpose of creating communities that would “be” the “new creation” among all the nations and these communities would be the witness of Jesus because of the way they functioned?  Was there an urgency to do this before the destruction of Jerusalem – was that the reason for all those special signs?

I sense that there is a past, present and future wrapped up in these passages.  I believe that there is something in these passages that is relevant for me today but that it is different than what I have known up to this point. 

I have more questions and thoughts but I want to stop here for now.

I could use some help thinking these things through and so I am inviting you to come here and have a conversation that I can listen in on.  I am interested in all feedback but please be courteous.  (And not to be rude, but I already know the traditional teaching very well and feel that it is incomplete in some ways and embellished in others – I am looking for some new perspectives and insights that might help me to explore my questions.  Oh – and I am better with “not knowing” than trying to simplistically explain away my questions.) 

Can you handle The Good News?

Illustration by Nidhi Balwada from India

Illustration by Nidhi Balwada from India

J.R. Woodward has a blog series going on over at his blog Dream Awakener called “The Good News”.  The series runs from April 13 to May 31 with a post from a different author each day.  I’m in the process of reading them right now and they are definitely worth the time.  One of my favorites is by Raffi Shahinian from Parable of a Prodigal World.  Raffi’s post is along the lines of “you can’t handle the good news” ( A Few Good Men).  Let me know about your favorites … and also anything you’d like to say about “The Good News”.