zigzag journey

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… the un-assuming odyssey of a donkey learning to see…

journey post 19: It’s complicated….

Simplicity.  Don’t we all long for it in some way or another?  Many pine for a “simpler time” in America when there wasn’t quite so much unrest or change.  Yet I cannot think of a decade in the last century when there hasn’t been unrest, disarray, fear, and social upheaval.

Life comes at us relentlessly, in all its variegated complexity, in ways that we cannot predict or control.  My younger son was once fond of saying, “Life sucks and then you die.”  We can occasionally escape through temporary periods of nostalgia or mental illness, a hobby or fun vacation or party.  The only hope we have in facing life is what goes on within, at the level of the soul.

Religion applies at this level.  You might call it spirituality.  Some call it an escape.  Karl Marx famously called it “the opiate of the people.”  I’ve not studied his early life, but I do know that he wrote a paper as a young man on spiritual union with Christ.  Perhaps he was disenchanted by the disconnect between what Christianity seemed to teach and how people were actually living; Gandhi certainly was. Gandhi’s commentary:  “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Gandhi young

Young Gandhi in Great Britain

What strikes me now, as I read again C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, is his unflinching commitment to reality and complexity and practicality, and his ability to explain same with simplicity.  His is an almost deceptive simplicity—perhaps because he was intelligent and wise enough to know that, unless one wrote as an ordinary human being, ordinary human beings would not grasp the relevance of what he wrote and apply it to the painful realities of our universe in any satisfactory way.

CS Lewis in chair with book

C. S. Lewis

In 1970, when I first read this little book, I was looking for reality, i.e., whether Jesus and Christianity were real.   Lewis helped me understand that Jesus is indeed real, no matter how many Christians might turn out to be “so unlike your Christ.”   Having now been a Christian for forty plus years, I find his approach more real and relevant than ever: I am, frankly, tired of playing church.

I am an evangelical Christian.   That means that, not only am I a follower of Jesus, but I believe others need to know him as well.  Jesus taught his apprentices (disciples) the good news of his kingdom: that, as we receive him by faith, we become children of the Father and are forgiven.  His love would bear fruit in our lives, showing itself as we learn to love the Father and his will, to love others as we love ourselves, and to be light to this world and make disciples of Jesus (no one else).  Others would know that we had actually learned from Jesus by our being servants to others, especially within the church.

Far be it from me as an evangelical Christian to state the obvious and say that we have not done a very good job of it.  We have been “so unlike” our Christ.

Michelle and I went off to Bible school only a year after we came to faith.  We were so immature and unready to handle the expectations and pressures.  The school was evangelical and fundamentalist and very legalistic.  At 24, we were so young, but the rest of the student body was made up of mostly 17- and 18-year-olds, mostly single.  As a married couple, we were expected to be more “mature” and to set an example.  These young single people weren’t allowed to hold hands, much less kiss or date.  The teaching staff keenly felt the responsibility of protecting their charges from raging teen hormones.  There were kids (we were all kids, actually) from Christian, even missionary families, and many were new Christians with no Christian background.

We young men were expected to show a growing understanding of and ability to explain spiritual truth.  (I’ll leave the competition angle to your imagination—just keep in mind that it would be considered unspiritual and prideful to consciously compete with others to show how mature we were becoming…yeah, right.)  The girls, of course, were always smarter, and it showed, but were also mindful of being “submissive” and “modest.”   I think they were held to a higher standard than the boys.

We were also expected to witness to our faith on a regular basis.  We tried our best with such subtle approaches as, “Do you know where you will go when you die?”  We, after all, didn’t want people to go to hell, so we would press them to understand how sinful they were and deserving of hell, while God graciously provided a way to heaven (some might say “ticket”) when Jesus was crucified and rose again. I had left behind most of what I’d learned from Lewis except that I used his worldwide renown to validate my own short, scary version of the good news that I pressed upon my listeners.  If anyone became a Christian from what I said back then, it was certainly God’s doing and not mine.

In light of my less-than-stellar record of explaining Christianity in those early days, I was greatly interested on this read-through to consider how Lewis set about that task.  He did not do it in such a way as to play upon emotion. No fledgling believer he; it is noteworthy that he began discussing “right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe,” as I pointed out before, with us and our very natural human wonderings.

The Thinker

Lewis began with the most important questions that human beings ask in life.  He did it in a way that showed respect for the intelligence and ordinary humanity of his readers.  And he did so in simple conversational style, albeit he was thorough and profound.  These are not simple questions, but he knew it was essential to answer them in an intellectually satisfying way if ordinary human beings were ever to know true peace. Questioning right and wrong would naturally lead people to wonder about a god and guilt and eternal accountability.  That in turn would lead one to ponder what God may be like, if he exists; and if he is good, why is there so much pain, and suffering, and evil in the world?  You may be surprised to learn that our free will plays an important part in his answer—an answer I believe correct.  Some theologies acknowledge “free will” while defining it in a way that makes it synonymous with fate—which only compounds the question about God’s goodness and leaves many sunk in despair.

Stay tuned….

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4 thoughts on “journey post 19: It’s complicated….

  1. Greg Perkins on said:

    Upon reading Journey Post 19, I do not feel presumptuous in classifying you as an contemporary Christian theologian. Looking forward to reading future posts, and thanks for sharing, Walt!

    • Thank you, Greg. It would be presumptuous of me to say I was, but I appreciate the compliment. As smart and wise and knowledgeable as C.S. Lewis was about theology, he would only own up to being a “layman.” I suppose, however, that any of us who think serious about God and who he is and what he does would really be theologians….

  2. Walt…let me start by saying that “you’re my life long brother that I love and would give my life for.” But sometimes when I read your comments about Bible school and that it was legalistic I wonder if we went to the same institute?

    I see the standards and expectations that were placed on us and vital training that were a large part that molded me and shaped me into the person and pastor that I am today.

    I ask myself and would also ask you, “where would we be in our faith and discipline of our knowledge of God and a walk with Him, if it had not been for those days and the expectations that the school put on us?” Sure maybe some of it was not always administered with full on grace…but I see it a lot of how we raised our kids. Without those strong rules and requirements we may have not grown into maturity and gone our own way which at that time was full of confusion.

    You and I had some unanswered questions and issues, but that time in our lives caused us to find some answers and at the very least showed us how to find those answers…even if they came to us decades later.

    • You’re right, my buddy….we did go to the same school, but we sure weren’t the same people. I remember some counsel that you passed on to me from Dennis Hunting before we went there. You said that he told you, when you were wondering how it would go, “Andy, just be yourself.”

      I didn’t have any idea how to be myself…I had very little clue who I was at that time. I was still very much locked into my performance mindset, and I did not understand something that would not become clear til about 25 years down the road…how I was very much engaged in earning my dad’s approval, even after he had been dead for a decade. In Bible school, much of my life was about seeking to prove how mature I was becoming…most of all to myself. You, my friend, were very much being set free from your past life, which you knew was headed downhill fast. Jesus turned you and your marriage around, and it was marvelous to behold 🙂

      One time when you came to see us after we returned from Senegal, you and I were walking around Glorietta Park, and you told me how much of a hero I was to you, both because of my military service and because of my missionary service. You probably never suspected at that point how much I envied your evident freedom and enjoyment in loving Jesus. You were then, and you are still, my hero! I really only got a clue to who I am as a son to the Father because of Jesus and to experience that joy about 7-8 years ago…and it has been building ever since.

      Our perceptions were quite different, but, looking back, I think you can see how there was a legalistic mindset and lack of grace that was woven throughout much of our experience and in the surrounding culture. I couldn’t understand the reason for most of the rules, but I couldn’t afford to not keep them (my perception). I took it one way, you went another way with all that. I am still sorting some of these experiences out, but you know how much trouble we had with a field leadership that was one of most legalistic and authoritarian in the entire mission.

      We learned so much of value from our days in Waukesha, but if I were counseling Michelle and me now, I would advise us to wait a couple years, get into a decent church, and grow a bit in grace and the knowledge of Jesus. I don’t begrudge our time there. God truly worked it together for our good so we might become more like Jesus and I wouldn’t trade that time at all.

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