Posts Tagged 'Rich Mullins'

Daily Office

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)

If you look at the words and events surrounding these two short paragraphs you will notice that these words may seem rather out of place. Jesus has talked about sheep among wolves, the betrayal among family members, the sword that he brought, delight in a cup of cold water, and judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah and worse. We learn that John the Reformed Charismatic Presbyterian had serious doubts about Jesus and Jesus’ high praise of John. And we learn of the wit and wisdom of children. We learn of judgment on towns who had rejected Jesus. All of this is on one side.

On the other side we learn about Jesus who is accused of being a Sabbath scoundrel, in league with Beelzebul, more judgment, a ‘small’ miracle and the plot to destroy Jesus that followed, demon possession, the rejection of his family, and the simple nature of those who cannot even understand parables (!). Then John loses his head. It all makes for a great story—contains all the stuff we like: action, horror, drama, comedy, suspense. All this stuff we like, but there’s that point in the middle where Jesus inexplicably prays and talks about finding rest for the soul.

There’s a lot of sermon fodder in chapters 10-13, but this prayer in the middle bugs me. So does, for that matter, this business of Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden. You and I know how hard that yoke is and how heavy that burden is: could it be worse on the other side? And his intense statement about knowing the Father bugs me—it’s far too exclusive a club. And his thoughts about little children in the prayer bug me too—what do kids know? Jesus is saying something like, “What don’t kids know?”

Ultimately, however, I think that is the point: he is talking about recognizing something, someone in our midst, isn’t he? John may have been confused, but he was on the right track. Jesus says to him, “John, look what’s going on! The blind can see. The lame can walk. The unclean are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are alive. The good news is everywhere.” Then he says even children can figure this bit of nonsense out for themselves, “We play a flute, but you sit still. We sing a song, but you do not weep.” Jesus is shouting out: “Here I am! The One you have been waiting for and you are all missing it! You are so caught up in your own world that you cannot sing or dance or laugh or mourn. What sad people you are indeed.”

He says: “I did miracles in your cities and you missed it. Twice in these verses he gives props to Sodom and Gomorrah (10:15, 11:24)—ironically, the two places most Christians nowadays point to in order to prove God’s hatred of all things gay. Yet Jesus says those who lived in those places will get along better than most others. Strange. Strange that Jesus believed those who were most worthy of judgment and condemnation would most readily grasp what those who are right and good miss.

Then Jesus breaks out in praise and prayer: “Father I am glad for children. I am glad they have open eyes and see what adults do not. I am glad, happy, thrilled that you have revealed these things to those who can grasp them.” This stuff is so simple that even children can get it. Or, in the childlike heart and mind—the not too uppity—God reveals his good will and good pleasure. And the wise and learned ignore it.

I sense in these verses a joy that cannot be contained and yet is only marginally loosed. You sense it in Jesus: Go back and tell! Go back and dance! Go back and Praise and Pray! And when you get done reading about all the sickness and judgment in the world, come to me for rest. When you get sick and tired of trying to figure things out using all your wisdom, all your smarts, all your disbelief in the outrageous, come to me and I’ll help you figure it out; I’ll show you want you are looking for but will never find. I love Jesus’ short prayer here because it confirms what many of us know and believe but refuse to accept: wisdom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“In some objectifiably verifiable and convincing way, we want God to demonstrate his own existence. Deep in our hearts, I suspect that this is what all of us want, unbelievers no less than believers. And I have wondered sometimes what would happen if God were to do just that. What would happen if God did set about demonstrating his existence in some dramatic and irrefutable way?” (Frederick Buechner, “Message in the Stars”, in Secrets in the Dark, 16-17

Life, or whatever Jesus is talking about here, cannot be figured out by ignoring miracles or pretending they do not happen. It cannot be figured out by not dancing or not singing. It cannot be figured out by not eating or by not drinking. It, that is, ‘these things’, cannot be figured out by an appropriate ABAB single subject reversal study model. It cannot be figured out by hard work or by carrying around burdens we are not meant to carry. Jesus is saying here something to the effect of: If you want to figure out ‘these things’ they will only be made known as the Father reveals them in foolishness, and even then, to be sure, through me. Jesus says: I am revelation.

Something in here says to me: you cannot think your way to God. In a way, you have to embrace foolishness, wrap yourself in absurdity, traipse along with incredulity at this God who takes delight in revealing himself not to the wise and learned, but to the most foolish of the foolish: children (Gk. naypios; infants). This is God’s ‘good pleasure.’ This is the God who does things all backward like. God reveals himself to infants; God reveals himself in Jesus; God reveals himself through things we cannot believe or understand.

Thus Jesus concludes: God reveals himself in mercy, gentleness, humbleness. Can God do that? Why does God reveal himself to us in ways the world does not understand, in ways that we can scarcely appreciate, in ways we hardly approve?

If we can reach
Beyond the wisdom of this age
Into the foolishness of God
That foolishness will save
Those who believe

–Rich Mullins, Let Mercy Lead

  • Share/Bookmark

Tags: , , , , , ,

balcony 02If you have paid any attention at all, you know full well how tumultuous has been the upheaval of the past year of my life. I’ve tried to keep my rants to a minimum, but sometimes I have failed. I have tried to learn through this experience of career change and learn I have–not always willingly, not always happily, and not always without an adult beverage to take the edge off of the process.

I’m not the only person in the world who has had to endure a career change. Some welcome it, others fear it. I’m somewhere in the middle, taking a more philosophical approach that goes something like this: “Why?”

Or maybe that’s the coward’s way out, who knows?

It’s always easy to avoid reality by asking ‘why’? Asking ‘why?’ enables us to sit and wonder all day long. Asking ‘why?’ is enabling–yes, it serves as a sort of co-dependent to all our Right-ness. Asking ‘why?’ is a way of avoiding the changes by hanging around in a fog-like stupor and questioning over and over again all the circumstances and issues that lead up to the moment when the change actually, and perhaps inevitably, took place. I guess maybe we think things will magically change if we sit around and question long enough what went wrong. So we lash out, question, regret, blame, and do all sorts of other unsavory philosophical things in the name of ‘Why?’ and never actually arrive anywhere but right back where we started: Why?

Rich Mullins sang about it in a song called ‘Hard to Get’:

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow All I really need to know
Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret I can’t see how
You’re leading me unless
You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

‘Why?’ becomes a sort of soothing god; a justifier of our self-righteousness; a companion in our misery. ‘Why?’ people are quite lonely people. It’s a wonder God allowed such a wicked word to be invented or to evolve alongside the aardvarks and amoebas. It’s a wonder that God allows, or catalyzes, such events to foster the perpetuation of the ‘Why’. Mysterious ways indeed!

In the course of this journey I have been taking I have gone from the guy who stands in front of the congregation, leading, praying, preaching to the person going most out of his way to hide: the balcony person. I have gone from being Bud Selig to Bob Eucker. I’m not writing this to disparage those of you who, reading this, also identify with the balcony. On the contrary I am saying I completely understand. I have become, in a little less than a year, a full-fledged, member of this esteemed congregational clique that goes out of its way to be unnoticed, uninvolved, and unannounced. It’s easy to migrate and hibernate and remain invisible in the balcony. I’m becoming a pro.

Following are some observations I made one Sunday morning while sitting in the balcony during worship. They define my experience and perhaps yours. Everything I write in this post is, obviously, patently, personal and generalized. I make no claims here to omniscience. I only offer what I am or what I have become or, probably, what I have resorted to in order to figure out what church means at this juncture in my life and as an insulation against hatred for the Body Jesus loves.

First, as noted above, balcony people can hide. We neither want to be seen nor need to be. In fact, we prefer being unnoticed. This may be a good thing. As I reflect back on my days as ‘the guy up front’, I think to myself it may have gone better if I had been a balcony person then too. Maybe, I say this regretfully, but maybe I wanted to be seen back then and maybe that was a problem, a large problem, The Problem. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to be seen, but being seen by the right one, the One who sees all and from whom none can hide, is a far, far better reason to be in worship. Perhaps the balcony is sort of like the prayer closet; perhaps it should be.

Second, balcony people are, at best, spectators not participants. (Participation necessarily implies more than one.) I know this is not entirely true, but it has become true for me. Being a balcony person has given me the opportunity to observe the worship and avoid participation. I noticed that some Balcony People do not even sing when the words appear on the screen. What I have noticed is that Balcony People are keen to let things happen. They are fine with allowing the worship to be directed or lead or controlled by some other person. Being in the balcony gives me the opportunity to do what I want: sit when I want, stand when I want, spread out my notebook and legs when I want. I can be no one and everyone in the balcony. In the balcony I can watch what other people do, and people do not do much in worship. The reason I can get away with this is because in the worship our eyes move only in two directions: down (for example, in prayer) and forward (waiting to see the next move of the worship leader). No one looks up and no one looks back. The balcony is safe from prying eyes, but perfect for spying eyes.

Third, balcony people are, by and large, anonymous. Seriously: how many people who are downstairs are going to make a beeline to the balcony during the Passing of the Peace? In my experience none. I do not have to talk to anyone while I’m in the balcony. I do not have to shake hands with the preacher. I do not have to say hello to the annoying old lady who wants to slobber all over everyone with her hugs and ‘Jesus Never Failed Me Yet’ sort of naiveté. I do not have to have a name as long as I am in the balcony. For that matter, no one even has to know I am there. I can slip in and slip out as quietly as the proverbial church mouse and no one is the wiser.

Fourth, and finally, Balcony People can and do come and go as they please. There is no real starting time for those who sit in the balcony. They can afford this lack of punctuality because no one but other Balcony People see them arrive–and they understand all too well the reason for being unpunctual (to avoid others). On the other hand, Balcony People can also leave whenever they want. I’ve seen this phenomenon on more than one occasion and, to be sure, participated in it as well. It is a sacrament of Balcony People to leave early. We can leave during the sermon, before the offering, after the communion, but especially before the very end when we might be forced to make eye contact with other folks, those folks, the ones who sit on the lower level closer to god. I think this is the key: the freedom to avoid others, the freedom to avoid their strangling handshakes and hugs of super Christians, the freedom to avoid their questions about ‘what church we belong to’, and the freedom to avoid the other twenty questions that have nothing to do with anything but the sinister attempt to get me to belong.

Maybe the goal of conversation should not always be to get me to belong. Maybe I’m fine un-belonging for now.

What I have learned most about being a Balcony Person is that I get to be alone. Maybe that’s why balconies were invented in the first place, you know, so that people like me could hide; so that us undesirables wouldn’t have to be looked at or interacted with on Sunday mornings (we tend to bring down those on whom Jesus has painted a perpetual smile). Maybe it was created precisely to be a hiding place. Maybe the balcony has become the new ash heap, a modern pile of garbage for the Jobs among us, a Patmos for the defeated and broken, a Kedar for the struggling. (God’s people spend a lot of time in exile.) Job sat with friends in his heap while he suffered and tried to figure out the whats and wheres and whys of his trials and so do we–except it’s in a nice clean, carpeted, air conditioned building. And maybe we get to hide there for a while, kind of like David among the Philistines or Noah in his ark, until it is time to move back downstairs with all the people who have it all together, for whom Jesus contains no mystery and the Why no longer exists.

Balcony people can afford to hold hands with ‘Why?’ longer than those who sit amidst the congregation because we are in no hurry to arrive and in no hurry to leave. As a balcony person, I can take as much or little time as I need. I do not have to have it all-together in order to be a Jesus follower. I can be the run down, undone, miserable, joyful, loser that I am in the balcony because the only one who sees me there is only One whose sight matters during the worship. This doesn’t make us superheros or special or more real than anyone else. And this is not to say that all bottom-dwellers are exactly the opposite. It just means that this is my experience in becoming a wallflower in the congregation.

I think Balcony People are those who are lost enough to be led. Not all, but many. Those in the balcony are those who, to some extent, realize that sometimes God wants to know just how much we want Him. This is not to rundown the superheros among us who sit downstairs on Sundays. It’s just to say that some of us feel like we need to sit on a small hill of rubbish or in the upstairs or in the balcony so that we can get just a little closer to God. We need those extra twenty or so vertical feet. Maybe we think being higher up means he will hear our voices a little clearer or, better, that we will hear His.

Maybe we just like being invisible for a while.

  • Share/Bookmark

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Friends,

I have no particular agenda in posting this–in fact, I’m afraid someone may have already posted it in the past. Anyhow, I’ve been listening closely to the lyrics of The Jesus Record the last couple of days and the more I listen, the more I am amazed at their depth, their honesty, their orthodoxy. Again, I have no agenda here, I just really love this song and I am looking forward to worship tomorrow morning. Have a happy Sunday.

Well, who’s that man who thinks He’s a prophet?
Well, I wonder if He’s got something up His sleeve
Where’s He from?
Who is His daddy?
There’s rumors He even thinks Himself a king
Of a kingdom of paupers
Simpletons and rogues
The whores all seem to love Him

And the drunks propose a toast
And they say, “Surely God is with us.
Well, surely God is with us.”

They say, “Surely God is with us today!”
Who’s that man who says He’s a preacher?
Well, He must be, He’s disturbing all our peace
Where’s He get off, and what is He hiding
And every word He says those fools believe
Who could move a mountain
Who would love their enemy
Who could rejoice in pain

And turn the other cheek
And still say, “Surely God is with us, Well, surely God is with us,”
Who’ll say, “Surely God is with us today, today!”
They say, “Surely God is with us Well, surely God is with us”

They say, “Surely God is with us”
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Heaven belongs to them

Blessed are those who make peace
They are God’s children

I Am the Bread of Life, and the Way”

You hear that Man, believe what He says!
Tell me, who’s that Man, they made Him a prisoner
They tortured Him and nailed Him to a tree
Well if He’s so bad, who did He threaten?
Did He deserve to die between two thieves?
See the scars and touch His wounds
He’s risen flesh and bone
Now the sinners have become the saints

And the lost have all come home
And they say, “Surely God is with us (Surely God is with us)
Well, surely God is with us,”
They say, “Surely God is with us today!” (Today!)
They say, “Surely God is with us Well, surely God is with us”
They say, “Surely God is with us today”

Isn’t the Kingdom of God an amazing, wonderful blessed place to belong? I’m so glad to be a loser.

Always for God’s Glory!

  • Share/Bookmark

Tags: ,