When you talk about Genesis you have to first talk about Phil Collins. Bald, beautiful, and a voice like an angel. Each note drips with emotion. His flawless pop instincts carry the band.
Ahh … Just kidding … (not really about Phil Collins – he’s pretty awesome)! I meant the other much maligned first-book-of-the-Bible Genesis of course! It’s a bit sad that it’s been relegated to being a combat text because it is easily one of my favorite books of the Bible. So, instead of using this post to engage in origin debates, I’d like to simply tell you some reasons why I love this book. I hope that it will lead to some love from you too.
1. It is exceedingly hopeful about human nature.
I spend a lot of time focusing on what a mess I am. It’s easy to think that I’ve always been broken and I was never meant to be fixed. The first chapters of Genesis speak against that. It tells us that God looked at the creation of humans and ruled that they were “good”! You can’t get more humanist than that. In fact, God may be the ultimate humanist! Really people – God likes us. A whole heck of a lot.
2. Genesis shows us that the methodology of God’s action in our global life as humans is based on love for humanity.
Don’t mistake the flood story as a counterpoint to God loving humans. The flood shows us that God’s issue with mankind’s evil behavior isn’t the effect on God; it is the effect evil has on other humans. In this case the evil was so bad it was creating a state of perpetual repression. The flood was about making goodness to humans possible in the future. Even then, though Genesis states that the entire earth was “corrupt and full of violence” and the their thoughts were “only evil all of the time”, God still gave these human beings around one hundred years to repent and change.
This illustrates two amazing things about the nature of God. Even though humankind created a massive problem, God believed in humans so much that despite only a handful of people who cared about being good to each other were left, God did not destroy the whole of humanity. The goodness of a very few was highly valued by God. That is a tremendous hope for us that Genesis gives us. Second, it shows us that when God action seems quiet to suffering it means care not indifference – care for even the worst of the worst. In Noah’s time, for a hundred years or so during that violent era, God was acting. God prepared the holy people to be saved. God allowed them to suffer because of the desire to see more saved. But did God forget the pain that those people brought? No, God still destroyed repression in the end.
3. Genesis tells us that God is in this thing with us.
In the very beginning God made us by breathing into our bodies. God is tied to us in that way. Genesis tells us that God risks a bit of himself with every human soul produced. It tells us that God joins us in every breath we take throughout this life.
Time after time in Genesis, when there are problems for the people, God is there, often in person! (Noah, Adam & Eve, and Abraham spring immediately to mind among others.). There is not abandonment. This is often not contingent on the holiness of the people involved or the importance of the person/problem in the grand scheme of time. God shows up in times of need and in times of plenty throughout Genesis.
4. Genesis shows us that God is the God of the disenfranchised and powerless.
Over and over again, God shows concern for the small, weak, and helpless. God forbids the killing of Cain despite murdering Abel. God topples the Tower of Babel because it was designed as a tool for oppression. God is concerned with the fertility problems of two inconsequential shepherds in the desert with Abraham and Sarah. God cares that Jacob is swindled by Laban into marrying twice. God blessed many of Jacob’s dumb plans despite how silly they were. These stories are only the beginning and they continue with many others including Joseph and Moses. The people the God continually interacts with are mostly unimportant people in their day with seemingly unimportant problems to the grand scheme of the world.
If you are being crushed by the weight of those in power above you, if you are faced with how poorly equipped you are to deal with a problem in your life, if your problem is small to the rest of the world but big to you – read Genesis and take heart.
5. Genesis gives great insight to the core of most of our problems.
It’s amazing how well it’s illustrated. Genesis tells us that one of our biggest problems is that we don’t trust God with our lack of knowledge. We want to know what things feel like – even bad things – so that we can determine that we don’t want them. It’s what I call The Price is Right syndrome. No matter how good showcase 1 is the first contestant nearly always chooses to pass on it for showcase 2. It is ingrained in us, since God is in us, to want everything.
In the garden God creates in Genesis, Adam and Eve are given everything but one tree. Yet, it’s that one tree that draws Eve. The issue here isn’t simply disobedience to God – it is one of trust. Can we trust that the things God excludes from us happens for our betterment? That is a question that still rages today. God doesn’t want me to do *insert activity, sin, etc … * because God is cruel, unjust, unrighteous, egotistical, or unloving.
Here’s the problem with coming to self knowledge that sin really is bad: even after changing from a sin or repenting we can see the harm we have done to another and what we have taken away from them and that haunts us. It especially haunts us as we understand goodness better. We see this principle in every drunkard who drinks to try to forget the mistakes made. We see this sometimes in achievers – working, working, working to try to make up for the thing that they did in a self punishing way. How many protagonists of films or books or songs are the suffering hero showing their true repentance by being unable to let go of the pain they inflicted on the world?
We actually measure the depth of change by how much these people allow themselves to suffer for what they did. The problem with it all is that we are stuck not being what Genesis tells us we were intended for and are – that we are “good”, that God is with us all of the time, that God cares about us, and that we are greatly loved. Instead we live out our existence still controlled by the places we fell short. This obliterates the notion that we need to understand evil to understand good. Understanding evil keeps us from fully understanding goodness. To experience pure goodness we cannot know evil. This is why God was trying to keep Adam and Eve away from it.
This is also why what is established in Genesis is so genius. God, in infinite wisdom knowing that true goodness is not tainted by evil first tried to keep us away from sin (although we were allowed to choose it if we wanted). The majesty in the fixing of the problem of guilt/knowledge of evil, however, was to include a salvation plan predicated on the domino consequences of the mistakes themselves. Through the wickedness of man God’s son Jesus was killed but because of that event and his sinless life a loophole for salvation was created. This plan also allows God to forget the sin (or, in other words, forget the pain caused to the beloved human souls) because it has justly been atoned for. As Genesis says, the Serpent struck man’s heel* but in doing so had its head crushed.
I’ve just scratched the surface of the goodness of Genesis. It is an excellent book. I love it! I hope you won’t relegate it to a thing you put on a shelf to get dusty because all it seems to do is cause people to fight. There is a tremendous amount of love and goodness in it.
*Antivenom is a strange thing. Humans have no natural immunity to snake venoms (although individual physiology may limit its effects). Manufactured antivenom is thus necessary. Antivenoms are made by injecting small amounts of venom into large animals (horses, usually). The blood in the animal creates antibodies fighting the venom. Once those antibodies are created the blood is made into a serum that is injected into human beings. Those trying to acquire immunity to venom do so by injecting small amounts over time to build up antibodies. However, those positive effects don’t work without continued injections because latency can never be fully developed.
The correlation of how antivenom works compared to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, sin, and the New Testament account of how salvation from sin is worked in us through Christ is fascinating to me. In the case of the removal of sin, our blood is transfused with the blood of Jesus who injected the venom into himself. His blood purifies ours. His continued presence in our blood continually purifies us in a similar way to those who are trying to build up venom immunity. Thus, while on earth at least, we may be bitten by sin but the venom has no power in our bodies.
It’s inevitable. An argument starts up about God. At some point, somebody on the other side brings up an unflattering Old Testament passage about babies getting dashed from the heights or mold or a death penalty required by the law and then we Christians kinda, well, shut up.
That’s not always because we don’t have an answer for some of those things. Sometimes we don’t think we have an appropriate venue to share about it. Sometimes we handle it by focusing on the justness of God or something to that effect. I think there’s something else to it, though. I think that it’s often because a lot of us silently agree about something that may surprise some of you on the other side of the fence who believe the hype that we all blindly accept without questioning:
Forget loveable – we are not too sure that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is even all that likeable.
To be honest, I know I have considered that many times.
This scenario played out recently. The homosexuality/marriage debate sprang up again and, of course, there it was. A commenter brought up Leviticus 20:13. “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” As if anticipating the usual flurried rush to get to the more palatable Jesus, he cleverly headed those people off at the pass by quoting Jesus in Matthew 5:18 saying “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass away from the law till all is fulfilled.” Well, he actually quoted the YLT which says “one iota” but, yes, I chose the NKJV translation for its use of “jot” and “tittle”.
His point? Hey, Jesus agrees with this harsh law with this harsh penalty – God’s a bit of a jerk. Based on that he asked a question which I thought was a good one: Why would you follow this God?
For those of you who have wondered, please allow me to answer with at least what I’ve come to realize about this God of the Old Testament through many years of searching.
The God of the Old Testament is Chill
That’s right – chill. When people think of the Old Testament God, what they usually think of is the Law & the Ten Commandments. Funny thing is, God didn’t drop the Ten Commandments until many hundreds of years after Adam & Eve were created. We imagine Old Testament God as a guy with one hand on the rule book and the other scrutinizing us looking for a misstep. Instead, the God of the Old Testament let HUNDREDS of years go by without giving people a rule book to pour over and argue about. God, as described early on in the Pentateuch, is anything but a being who loves pedantic rules.
The Old Testament has a phrase it likes to use often concerning the relationship of people with God in the early times: “in those days, each did as they saw fit.” Forget the mold restrictions in Leviticus for a moment. This isn’t a God who is micromanaging us. For those hundreds of years before the Law was given on the mount the people were given tremendous latitude in their relationship with God. In essence, God did not chase them with a rule book. God chilled with them. God, like The Dude, abided. This was his preferred mode of relationship as opposed to cop vs. robber. It’s not until His people were captured by the Egyptians and forced to work as slaves for long periods of time that the Ten Commandments & the Law came along which brought the restriction we instantly associate with the God of the Old Testament. The Law was given only after a time when the people were forced to forget Him. In other words, it was a necessity to have deeper restrictions because their relationship with God wasn’t as intimate. Sometimes you have to go back to basics when you lose your way on something and, certainly, a non-intimate relationship with God leads you into dangers of all sorts.
The God of the Old Testament is Not That Interested in Punishment
I love the God of the Old Testament because He wasn’t all that interested in judging. He didn’t even prescribe judges in the ample time he had when he gave the Law to Moses in those 40 day, 40 night sessions. It’s Moses (or Jethro to be exact in Exodus 18 – Moses was settling disputes for people individually because they willingly came to him to sort them out – Jethro advises the system of judges), not God, who comes up with a system of judges for the Israelites. God simply allowed freedom for Moses to execute that plan. (This is also the case with divorce, which Jesus says Moses allowed even though God was not a fan at all.)
In the time after Moses and Joshua – the book ironically called Judges – this period is filled with a people not under a system of judges like Moses had established but in a system with each doing as “they saw fit”. There is an interesting interaction in Deuteronomy 12 that bridges this gap. After God gives the Law, he tells them that they will no longer “do as they see fit” until they reach the promised land. After that, the relationship is to go from being static with the Law into one that is dynamic with the Lord relating to them directly(mostly with edicts saving them from disease and war). It becomes pretty noticeable then that in Judges, the time after the people have entered the promised land, the phrase “each did as they saw fit” is used again and again. So, God put some restraints through the Law on his people but only for a time until they could get to a better place. (It is completely worth noticing that this Law was not given in a civilized place, it was given to a people wandering in a wilderness.) In Judges, God only raises a judge up every once in a while and mostly when his people are in dire trouble (usually do to them doing as “they saw fit”.). This judge is usually a judge of the cultures around it, not the Israelites. In other words – the judge is a liberator not an incarcerator despite that the trouble the Israelites were in was usually because they did not listen to God. The God of the Old Testament doesn’t seem to like to take away the freedom of a people. The God of the Old Testament is no control freak God.
Another thing I love about the God of the Old Testament is that he doesn’t like the man. For example, it was also not God’s idea for the people to have a king. The Israelites begged him for one through Samuel. God actually tried to talk them out of it telling them the man was going to take their money in taxes and their children for war. God isn’t all that interested in putting one man in power over another. God doesn’t like his people being held down by the man.
And what about all of that harsh talk in the prophets about judgment? Well, if God was into punishing people, wouldn’t he have just punished them instead of warning them? And by warning them I mean warning them over and over again through a multitude of ways for dozens and sometimes hundreds of years before he acted decisively. It’s not lost on me that his warnings were not just for His people who followed Him but for the people who hated him. He loved them enough to warn them still, very patiently, until he acted. By putting off punishment, he allowed non attractive conditions for the people who did want to follow him both in those cultures and in others. That was an incredibly risky thing to do all in an effort to try to give leniency to a people who hated him.
The more I read about the God of the Old Testament, the more I see a God who is reluctant to judge or punish. On the other hand, I see a God who likes to walk with people, protect them from harm, embrace their creativity, come to them in cool dreams, chat with them, dwell with them, advise them, show them cool tricks, embrace love (even sensually and pretty openly randy in Song of Songs), save them, and even have a good old fashioned wrasslin’ match with them (in which he lets them win – Israel).
In other words, The God of the Old Testament prefers to chill – not judge or punish. And that God I see is one that I find more than likeable – He’s loveable.
The God of the Old Testament Demands Complexity
The Law is a big sticking point for people. Who can blame them? Reread that Leviticus verse above. It seems pretty harsh and, what’s more, it seems that He demands that we execute these harsh judgments of His. The commenter in the story I referenced was right as well. If we accept Jesus we must accept that Jesus says every little “jot and tittle” – every iota – of the Law must be followed (or, as He describes it elsewhere, is wrapped up in His life). I’m so glad he said (both the commenter and Jesus). That’s what makes the Law so compassionate and beautiful. It’s fullness.
We like step by step processes in this modern age. We like to make each step independent of the other to make it manageable. Therefore, we have a tendency to try to break down Godly things that He intended as irreducibly complex. God’s structuring of the Law is intended to inhibit this.
Think about it – Moses was up on the mount for 40 days and nights at a time. During this time, the whole Law was given to him. If God had intended for it to be independent steps, he could have easily had Moses go up, get some information, and come back down. As it was, he revealed it all at one time because each part relies on the others for full understanding. What else can we expect, I guess, from a God who is 3 that insists to be understood as 1 entity?
This complexity of things that are multiple becoming one is a theme throughout the Old Testament. And it is beautiful because what that means is that in order to understand and follow the Law that God gives, we must take ALL of it at the same time. So, yes, there is a part of the Law that stipulated that the Israelites were to put men found in homosexual acts to death but there is also a part of the Law that says “Love your neighbor as yourself” and another that says “Thou shalt not kill”. The fullness of the Law meant that no action could be taken without careful consideration. If I am to follow the Law, then I must follow all of it. This is probably why there are very, very, very few references of the death penalty being handed out by the Israelites either in Scripture or in other contemporary writing. There is brilliant reason for this and it is one of the beauties of the Law.
The Israelites, as well as a lot of the world, lived in a patriarchal society. Basically, an extended family claimed a bit of land and what happened on that land was dictated by the father or family. This was a time with very little national rule or consequence, very unlike our lives today. The death penalty with its instruction to be carried out by the tribe or people in the community protected people who were accused of these crimes by forcing the family to bring its case to the ENTIRE community rather than base it on their own personal ideas of justice.
First, anyone who loved their child would not be likely to expose them to the community if it meant their death so I’m sure many of these crimes never came to light. But, even if a crime worthy of the death penalty did come out, now the community must be convinced – I mean really convinced – not only that this person committed a crime but also that executing this person did not violate the other parts of the Law in its fullness. If you are part of the convicting then YOU have to be the person who throws a stone which really puts you in a pressure cooker because if you’re wrong you are violating the Law through this execution. By wrongfully killing another through conviction you put yourself under judgment by the same Law condemning you to the same death and, now, the sin of one person has forced an entire community to reflect on their own ability to follow the Law. All of the sudden, the people pushing for justice must now be subjected to scrutiny on whether they are just themselves! What a crazy, beautiful way to insure mercy! No wonder so few recordings exist of the death penalty in early Israel!
All of this is illustrated perfectly in Jesus interaction with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus gives us the punch line that God expected the fullness of the Law to force the Israelites of old into self reflection by saying “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” In this story, the community reflects exactly as laid out above and even though they were teachers of the Law, they all left. Suddenly, no one wants to condemn. Don’t miss that Jesus, being without sin, could have been the first to throw a stone. In fact, if people believe that God’s desire in the original Law was lots of executions and blood that’s exactly what He would have done because He followed the Law perfectly (He embodies the Law). Knowing what everyone, everywhere did, Jesus would have been throwing a heck of a lot of stones. Yet, to the woman caught in sexual sin he simply said “Go and sin no more.” Then, he took her and all of our punishments on himself on a cross on a hill called Golgotha. If Jesus is the ultimate example of the Law then that must be how the God of the Old Testament intended interpretation of the Law it in the first place.
I like that God.
Falling in Love
I admit it. I wasn’t really in love with the God of the Old Testament for most of my Christian life. He seems distant. He seems angry. He seems disapproving.
The more I look into it the more I see He’s not that way at all. Do I see everything or understand everything? No, that’s the thing about fullness – it sometimes takes a large period of time to get it all. There are moments when i read scripture where my emotional response is “yeesh”. Yet, time and searching has shown me the virtues of being patient. It’s a bit ironic in this case that what has taught me to be non-judgmental or quick to wrath is God himself.
God doesn’t want to just be liked. He says in the Law that he wants our love with everything we are – heart, mind, soul, and strength. The concept of “everything” requires this love to be something that requires continual effort since we grow and do more with every new day. It doesn’t necessarily just lightning bolt into you. The more I seek, the more I see a God in the God of the Old Testament who loves fiercely, who is loyal, who is generous, who desires mercy, who is chill, who is worth following, and, most noteworthy, is worth loving.
Secluded in a corner office of a small business building in a tidy but inconsequential part of Kalamazoo, MI is a picture of Daren Wendell. There he is in a wooded “you’re gonna need a helicopter to come get you if you hurt yourself” mountain scene: wild man beard, steely determined eyes glaring ahead, and orange backpack the size of an electric car shouldered on. Written around the picture is an article about him that appeared in Men’s Health during his walk across the United States. Sitting in front him now – well groomed goatee, neutral toned fitted business casual clothes, staplers, computer screens, pie charts, and the rest neatly stowed around – you could think the man who had burned his life to the ground and set out to walk the world has finally been tamed.
A room next to him stuffed neatly with files, photos of children and horses – lots of horses – is his partner’s in ActiveWater: Amie Hadaway. It is a picture of the ideal modern woman with conquering foot planted firmly in two worlds: family and work. It gives the office an even more domesticated feel.
Underneath the scene of office orderliness, however, something wild pulses. Something threatening. If you are quiet when you are in there, you can palpably feel it trying to scratch its way out of the frames of pictures of Africans and Cambodians smiling on the wall and escape out of the door and into the world. And you can tell, if you are quiet, that the inhabitants of the office feel it too despite their steady voices and professional sheen. You can tell that there is an air of desperation to it.
All of it.
Sometimes great journeys end in a place you wouldn’t fathom. When Daren Wendell started his quest to walk the world he assumed that he was leaving a corporate world behind. In his walk journal he wrote that he would rather be walking than “slowly dying behind a computer screen day after day”. I pondered this as I waited for Daren to finish one of the phone calls he received on his iphone during the interview. Of course, he said that before the nervous breakdowns from loneliness, lack of control, and physical exhaustion. If it weren’t for those, I would have been interviewing Daren in some remote part of the world with yaks or something wandering around in the background. After the phone call I mentioned that he could still be walking today and he simply said “Yep”.
“What’s harder, Daren, walking or this?”
Looking around, the office all of the sudden seemed like an ill fitting shoe on him. Yes, there were mouse pads, printers, business cards, and the like strewn around. But the office was a little too spacious on second look. Massive windows surrounded his desk with foliage pressed up against them. It gave the illusion in certain spots that you were actually in the woods and not an office. A bookshelf in the corner contained a neat collection of books on businesses and how-to’s for non-profits. Wedged nonchalantly in between were much more worn books on biking and hiking.
On his computer monitor was the most interesting clue of all. Taped to its wide screen was a clumsily large Polaroid style picture. All of the others in the room were neatly framed, but this one, a little beat up around the edges, was taped cockeyed and protruding, almost imposing itself like an uninvited guest into the neat business style of the room.
On that photograph was a smiling picture of his new wife, Danielle.
“I had a lot of advice for Daren about how to operate ActiveWater and be married.”
Amie Hadaway looked back at me from her desk. Pictures of her children hovered on the wall above her left shoulder.
Hadaway ‘s office too has the same feel of business orderliness that blurs upon closer inspection. Family mementos and ActiveWater paraphernalia are mixed together throughout in a way that gives the feeling that they weren’t delicately arranged as much as two things collided violently and the current arrangement is simply where they ended up after the collision.
In 2007, a spiritual calling did violently collide with Amie, who was then a housewife. After hearing a sermon on Africa at her church and coincidentally seeing the movie Blood Diamond she came across these verses from Isaiah 58:6., 10-12
Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
If you extend your soul to the hungry,
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundation of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
“After I read that, I had to do something.”
The message of Christ had suddenly transformed from words on a page into a force that took a hold of her. Suddenly, she could not be the same. When I asked her, “Why then? Why Africa?”, she couldn’t answer me other than to say that perhaps a lot of time spent seeking God culminated at one place and time.
So she called charities and non-profits. She asked if she could do things. Not being given any significant direction, she made her own and went to local churches raising money for the water crisis. She and her husband raised $18,000. That got some attention. In conversation with Blood Water Mission she found out that they had a new athletic campaigner, Daren Wendell, trying to do a silly thing: walk the world. He needed a campaigner and media coordinator. Amie said yes and the seeds of ActiveWater were planted.
Over the next months Amie worked tirelessly for Daren’s campaign. Being a mother and part of a family business, she struck a deal in her mind that she could work at this as long as it didn’t affect her duties. So, after she put the kids to bed, she would scour the internet writing letters to supporters or media releases until the wee hours of the morning. She organized interviews, magazine articles, and news. She put together a MySpace campaign that won the non-profit site award twice in a row, bringing a significant chunk of money into the campaign. She even talked on the phone with Daren when he was lonely to spur him on, or, as the both say with laughs, to occasionally write out a prescription from Dr. Suckitup to medicate his attitude when it flagged.
It was naive, however, for her to think that it would not affect her family, she admitted at the end. At first her passion was novel to them. But then it started to cause strain. With a bad economy in Michigan, her “tireless” efforts could have certainly helped her family business which was not sheltered from a recessed country’s ups and downs. Her passion for alleviating the water crisis drew comparisons to the passion she had for other elements of her life. Family time became a somewhat scheduled activity. Balancing these passions did not come without a learning process. This illustrates the unsung heroes of ActiveWater: family members who sacrificed money, comfort, time, and intimacy in order for the directors to have the necessary fierceness in their care about the water crisis. Without that fierceness, without the near inability to “put it down” when inconvenient, ActiveWater would just be another job.
Understandably, Amie had concerns for Daren who was, in a sense, enviably single when he decided to marry. Her words, when summed up, came out to this:
There is a cost.
Your family members share in its payment whether you want that or not.
I asked Daren what ActiveWater had cost him.
This was funny to me. This is a guy who sold everything – even his socks – to go for a walk where he was constantly poor, hairy, and stinky. He had no home. He used to eat leftovers from other peoples tables when they left eating establishments. When I met him, he lived in a small room with friends on virtually nothing so that he could work at ActiveWater full time. He plans stops at casinos in the area when he drives long distances because they give out free coffee. Never, never have I heard him mention anything that caused me to suspect that he cared one wit about pride.
Yet, the look on his face was serious. “I want to take care of her but I can’t,” he said while looking over at the photo of Danielle. There was a time in Daren’s life, working as a pastor, in which he would forget to deposit paychecks because he was making so much. The life of a non-profit director has not been so financially stable. Daren described the difficulties ActiveWater has been facing now that it is past its birth and entering into its childhood. ActiveWater grew very quickly through the combination of hard work and good fortune (or blessing, if you will). It garnered an award for best new non-profit on the scene that year. However, the water crisis is a problem that takes dedicated resources over a period of time to solve. It needs volumes of people to have lightning bolt moments like what happened to Amie that causes them to not only give once, but to make solving it a part of their lives for an extended period of time. It’s the difference between giving someone a cup of water and teaching them to build a well.
That kind of sacrifice is hard to come by, especially with the number of worthy causes available. In the hopes of finding an answer to that problem, ActiveWater has become an organization that walks a tight rope between staying grass roots and embracing the very Frankenstein’s monster of American business principles the church has co-opted into its faith that Daren’ walked away from in the first place. Incorporating those principles may give them the most bang (and a bigger bang at that) for their buck but embracing it risks an image that becomes faceless, plastic, not relatable, and, ultimately, easy to discard. Ignoring those principles may mean living month to month for as long as ActiveWater can hold on.
Daren doesn’t see a danger in losing the grass roots soul of ActiveWater. He has many memorable experiences of attempting to contact non-profits to offer his services only to be rebuffed, ignored, or forgotten. This strikes a nerve with me as well because I have had the same experience. ActiveWater has always promised that anyone, anywhere can use their talents and abilities to help others. Its special characteristic is its willingness to partner with people on their own level and its dedication to swift communication.
“If someone contacts ActiveWater, they either talk to me, Amie, or will receive immediate contact back.”
As if to prove that point, Daren took a call on his iphone. I wondered, however, as his words over the phone seemed distant and far off, if that could continue with the same purity now that ActiveWater has entered the realm of boards of directors and organizational forecasts.
There IS something desperate that palpates in the offices of ActiveWater. There is a wildness that lurks within the neat arrangement of banners, pictures, and desks. Daren and Amie’s interviews were undergirded with an unspoken knowledge that they are aware of that desperate, wild thing. This unseen force was inside a man who woke up, sold everything he owned, and walked into the wild. It was there in woman that caused her to forgo sleep in order to write out just one more publicity release. And it still exists in them. It is the impetus for them uneasily taking on the challenge of rules, organization, and corporate think as a tool.
That thing lurking is a reality that someone, somewhere, is in need and that they, in order to be what they desperately want to be, need to help them. It is a truth so base that it exposes the falseness of the things we describe as our reality. It is knowing that if they fail, if ActiveWater ceases to exist, real people are affected.
Daren just unveiled the next in his growing list of extreme endurance challenges to raise money and awareness of the water crisis. He’s walked the U.S. He’s starte and expedition to walk the world (which is halfway through Australia). He’s done countless marathons, ironmans, and the like. He has contiguously swam Lake Michigan. Now he plans to run across the United States in 45 days starting on January 1st, 2014. That is back to back marathons every day.
I asked him, “Daren, are you afraid that you are going to have to attempt to do more and more physically impossible challenges until, one day, you die during and attempt?”
He simply nodded yes.
But that won’t stop him because that’s what it takes right now to beat back that wild thing. That is what it costs.
Daren and Amie’s office share something in common that I noticed while interviewing them. Of all of the awards, medals, pictures, and banners they could choose, sitting directly across at eye level from their desks are similar pictures. Daren has a picture of Zambian men surrounding a newly made well splashing each other with the water. Amie has a picture of a solitary young Cambodian girl using a well pump. In the photo she is looking out directly at Amie’s chair with large brown eyes.
I asked them both this question. “What’s the first thing you think when you see that picture?”
They both responded nearly identically without hesitation and with passion.
“They have clean water.”
Man is a combination of 4 components that make him “him”: heart, soul, mind, and strength. Anything that explains truth meaningfully reaches all 4 of those things in us. Confusion about truth usually occurs when those individual components believe strongly in things that appear to be in opposition.
In that light, it makes sense that Christians, and people in general, struggle with the why’s of sexuality and marriage. It seems arbitrary and maybe petty that God would care that the bodies that house souls (which are essentially genderless) participate only in sex within a certain committed context defined by him (which we call marriage) with the opposite gender. Isn’t commitment and love generated and showed through it the important part anyway? What does gender have to do with it? When it comes to sex, why wouldn’t God want people to participate in something that is as good as it with everyone possible? Why limit it to one person? Furthermore, why limit it to opposite genders? These questions create and the sexuality involved create conflict in our 4 components. Admitting that God’s reasoning seems mysterious isn’t unfaithful – it’s actually biblical. That is what Paul is saying in Ephesians. Paul tells us that people – smart, spiritual people – had only clues but no concrete idea why God created gender, marriage, and restricted sex within the confines of marriage. They found the reasoning of God mysterious. Paul tells us there that that mystery only made sense with the revelation of Jesus as Christ.
Through Jesus we learn that the reason God created gender, sex, and marriage was to give us a beacon that spoke to all of the 4 components of ourselves about the purpose to why the universe and man was created in the first place. Marriage, the combination of man and woman (woman coming out of man so she is the same but also different) represents the eternal purpose that God has to forever expand his son and give him a bride (a bride which came out of his side so she is the same but is also different). Creating two genders illustrate different things (that are the same in a certain way) becoming one. Jesus and us – different things that are the same, are to become one. Sex was created to give us 4 component insight to the wonderful communion we will have with Jesus for eternity. That love reproduces. We are not created to forever be servants or forever be giving God the rock star treatment – we were created to become his son and be one with him which elevates us to family. He is including us in his oneness which requires equality. That is an incredible statement. It shows God’s amazing humility and grace.
So, gender isn’t arbitrary. Sex confined to marriage and gender isn’t arbitrary. God creating a thing which we call marriage in making a special commitment between a man and a woman forever is different than when people of the same gender do it. The very reason these things were created in the first place was to tell that story. Scripture teaches that. If they are altered it nullifies their purpose and at worst actively obscures God’s actual purposes. It doesn’t matter if those altered things have merits, participating in them at best only gets us to settle on the momentary good and not on the eternal best.
If we accept what Scripture is teaching above, then this story reaches far more than homosexuality or whether gay commitment is marriage. Participating in that wonderful story that tells the purposes of God must have us confront the reasons why God hates divorce and yet we let ourselves off the hook about being too concerned for it or promiscuity in the church or how we treat our spouses or why we far too often let women be dominated. I pray that seeing the why’s of sexuality and marriage will help us confront things in opposition to God’s grand purpose that we have previous allowed ourselves by just saying “Well, those are just the rules.”
Love to all,
In my many years as a Christian I’ve realized that we Christians do a great job at giving people rules but an incredibly poor job at explaining why. It’s as if the rules are an end to themselves.* However, the rules, as explained in the New Testament, were only introduced as guide rails to help us discover the magnificent story we are all a part of that spans the entire scope of eternity. We must understand the deeper story. If we do not do so, as Paul says, the Law which was introduced to show us life instead becomes an instrument of death.
Herein lies the problem with the current raging debate on legalization of gay marriage. Christians often say that gay marriage is “wrong” but they have absolutely no idea why. Their answer is that the Bible says it’s wrong so it is. There is some validity to that stance but continuing in that path inadvertently teaches the world that the Bible is just a set of rules written by a purposefully ambiguous God who dropped them on earth and said, “Follow these rules or else I’ll burn you!” That God doesn’t seem very good to me. He seems like a sadistic egomaniac by his own definitions.
I’ve written this blog in hopes of presenting the beautiful story of sex and marriage as presented through Scripture and the life of Jesus. I’ve written this simply to explain at least some of the “why”. I pray it is loving, regardless of your worldview. It is not exhaustive. I’ve made no attempt to answer questions about legislating Christian ethics. That’s a different story for a different time. I have also made virtually no attempt to be succinct – I believe an expensive answer is necessary for an expensive question. In the age of Facebook sniping with people competing to get the best “gotcha” retorts I have tried to create something that approaches a kind conversation that is respectful to those around.
Love to all!
There was a time before the beginning. We call it eternity. It’s hard to wrap your brain around. I think the closest I ever felt to it was the first few weeks after my wedding.
I was 29 and, before Kara, I had a mountain of angst and frustration surrounding finding “the one” that had battered me for over a decade. My past relationships left me feeling like I was unfixably broken. And, then there was Kara.
I often explain finding Kara like this. It was like God was leading me up a jungle filled mountain at a tremendous incline. We hacked away at the foliage. My legs ached from the ascent. I kept asking God questions. Why was it so hard? Are we really going anywhere in the first place? Many times I just left him and walked my own path. And then, after following him for what seemed like forever, we took one step and were suddenly out of the foliage. There in front of me was the most beautiful vista I had ever seen. I thought to myself “OH-H-H-H! Now I see! This is why I had such a difficult path. He was leading me to this beautiful spot!” That spot was Kara.
Almost immediately after starting to date Kara I knew she was the girl I was going to marry. I don’t think it works that way for everyone, but, based on my circumstances, it did for me. Before I loved her I knew we should marry. I had some idea because I was very in tune with God at that point in my life and I kept getting glimpses of things that I was to do in my horizon that seemed impossible for me to do alone. Then I would say to God, “How am I supposed to do that alone?” After starting to date Kara I thought “Now I understand! Good plan God!”
So, Kara and I were married on February 5th, 2005. I had waited a long time for that day. After the ceremony, we flew down to Florida. In Florida I had something I didn’t expect.
It was incredible, palpable peace.
Here was a peace in the rightness of the situation. There was a peace in me that I wasn’t this broken thing that no one could love. The addition of her added a wholeness to me. We could sit in each other’s presence, say nothing, and I felt it was the best thing I had ever done. Each moment was so full of love and peace that time seemed to slow down and stop. It didn’t seem to matter what was coming next.
It’s the closest thing I’ve ever felt to eternity.
Having experienced that, I believe it’s in some small way like what was going on in eternity before the beginning. Scripture tells us that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were living in perfect love and community with each other before time. I suspect that the roundness I felt during that time for each second from peace and love was/is amplified infinitely for them.
Here’s the thing about love, though. Love, especially in community, expands. It grows. It creates. People often wonder why we are here in the first place. If God was living in a perfect infinity with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, why would he need anything else? The answer, according to experience and wrapped up in the story told through scripture is that he didn’t. Love just expands. It creates. If you are participating in it, it does that.
It’s interesting. Before I got married I had my mind set on only two children. I have no idea why I set that number other than that I was one of two kids. After marrying Kara I threw that number out the window. I realized I wanted as many kids as I could get because I found that I love Kara so much I wanted more of her in the world. Having children expands the amount of Kara on this earth because there is always a part of her in them. This is good for the earth, let me tell you! That isn’t to say that I’m not satisfied with the amount of Kara I have, it’s just that more Kara is wonderful!
I can imagine that God felt this way with Jesus. Having loved Him for so long, he wanted more Jesus. And Jesus, in return, wanted to expand God’s goodness. He says as much over and over again in his ministry. He says, in paraphrase, “Hey, when you see me, you see God. When you accept what I say you accept God.” That means more God.
Have you ever thought about why there is gender in the first place? Seriously, if you are God and create in any way you would like to, why two genders? Why not just one? Or why not 27? I’m in the camp (and so is Scripture) that God made everything purposefully to testify to the great story mankind was created to participate in so I think it was purposeful. Seriously, wouldn’t one gender have been a LOT easier? Imagine if we could just reproduce based on thought or by eating a watermelon. Seems easier in a sense. But, God did not do it that way.
First, he created all things that were made through Jesus and for him (John 1, 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 11, and Colossians 1). Then he made man. What made man different is that he gave him his own breath as life (Genesis 2). This is important! God is expanding himself (or Christ) by breathing into something that didn’t have life. When man expands with children, it is essentially expanding God (and Jesus) because he is tied to them.
By the way, he started by making only one gender! It was just man at the beginning. There was even some time where man and God interacted before woman came along.
Then, something fascinating happens. Adam is naming all of the animals but then realizes “Huh, none of these are like me!” He seems to be actually a bit bummed by the whole deal which is crazy to think about because he is living in sinless relationship with God at this point.
So, this is where it gets really good, because God makes a pronouncement that reveals the great story of eternity. He says “It is not good for man to be alone.” He then makes Eve. Now, he doesn’t start with fresh dirt to form Eve. He pulls her from Adam which illustrates something incredible. Eve is from Adam so she is Adam but she is not the same as Adam. As the Bible would speak, she was already inside Adam (because God pulled the raw materials from him) otherwise she would not be able to exist. Adam exclaims poetically “This is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!” meaning “She’s like me but isn’t me!” They become one and the term we use to describe that in modern vernacular is marriage. It is quite an epic tale.
This gives us incredible insight to the eternity before time. Why did God go through all the drama of leading the animals past Adam? Why did Adam have the longing for something that was “the flesh of his flesh”? Was it just for kicks or was God letting Adam discover aspects of the story that goes through all things? Fortunately, we are not kept in the dark. This marriage stuff could be mysterious! I mean, Paul says that the thing we call marriage was a mystery through the ages and no one really knew fully what God was trying to do through it until His purposes were revealed in Christ (Ephesians 5).
Through Christ we learn that the creation of woman and the decision to become one between a man and a woman illustrated what was the intent of creation in the first place: to create a bride for Christ that was out of himself that made a mutual decision to be one for all of eternity. ** (A short list of parallels are illustrated below). Think about it: the bible starts with a wedding and ends in Revelations with a wedding. He endlessly talks about marriage. And that’s the crazy big deal. We are not just created to be servants or peons – God is making us into him and, in a sense, equal to him in a very real way by combining us with his son. That’s just crazy.
Understanding this helps us understand other things! It gives us new insight into why a God who could heap up a pile of dirt and breathe in it any time he wanted to create another human would instead choose to say to man “be fruitful and multiply”. God chose to let us in on reproduction through sex between a man and a woman (and he tells us his way is that two people make a commitment forever to each other before they participate in that sex). The love and oneness of that person creates, with God’s help, another person. God is showing us that love expands. He is showing us his desire to expand his son through his son. The child is a result of a very exciting act amongst its parents of both taking charge and surrendering that feels amazing. These things were created to give us a real world shadow of the eternal truth to come. They give us a way to participate in the story and feel its goodness (and also see how it can go wrong). But, again, they are a shadow of what’s to come.
So, we’ve now finally gotten to sex and marriage. First of all, loving someone is always always ok! Can two men or two women love each other deeply and still participate in the purposes of time and space with God? Certainly! Scripture is filled with people of the same sex who have tremendous love for each other! Ruth and Naomi. Jonathon and David. Not only did these people love each other, they had specific and special commitment to each other. The issue is not love or commitment. The issue is sex and what the specific commitment of marriage is. As both of them were created to illustrate a story, participating in sex and marriage outside of furthering that story misses the fuller, richer meanings that they are meant to display to us.
So, the commitment that we describe as marriage is meant to display that joining together in forever commitment of two things that are not each other but are each other. Differing genders illustrate Christ and man becoming one through commitment. The differing genders is essential because the same gender could never illustrate the thing it was created to illustrate in fullness. Marriage was created to tell this story. What if Christ just did the things described but with another Christ created out of thin air rather than man? What if man simply decided to not be Godly and just committed to itself and called it the same things? Certainly they could do these things, but they are not the same thing. Marriage is not an arbitrary definition meant to keep people out of it as punishment. It is simply a description of a thing that illustrates what God is doing with humanity and Jesus. If it didn’t illustrate those things than it there wouldn’t be a point for it.
For example, I could create a painting and call it “Fred”. You could create a painting in the style of Fred, following Fred’s instructions, meant to show how good Fred is to the world and call it “Fredding”. Someone else could come and paint in a different style ignoring the instructions of Fred (who has said that method is as important to understand the original Fred as the finished product itself) and want to call it Fredding. It could be called Fredding, but it wouldn’t be about Fred. Furthermore, it would make it curious why someone would want to call the new style painting Fredding in the first place to those who were already Fredding. The people who do the original Fredding may keep quiet when it happens but it would surely fuzzify the rich, deep meaning of the original Fred that they are hoping their Fredding illustrates.
God has things to say about sex. This is not just about same gender sex. He desires sex to tell the story he wants told by us using it in a controlled way. Sex was created to illustrate a metaphysical story. If sex isn’t used to understand that metaphysical story then it misses the point of why sex was created in the first place.
There are many feelings that feel “natural” to humans. I myself have many sexual desires that I have to sift through. My goal in this is not to go ahead with them because they feel natural or earthly, I want to use sex in an eternal way so as to participate in this amazing story we’re in and understand him better! Scripture teaches all over the place that sin has corrupted our impulses and if we are not careful we will discard our heavenly freedom and become a slave to whatever we feel at the moment. So, through the use of sex, we can either expand the eternal in our life or shrink to the temporal. In fact, the purposes of marriage and sex and a whole lot of other things are to give us clues to the eternal that is hidden by the proliferation of sin. God was wise and made his invisible qualities visible through creation (Romans 1).
There are a couple things to be found in contemplating this. By targeting one person alone for sex through commitment, we are honoring that person specially. We are giving up current pleasure now for better pleasure later. We are not polluting our mind with other lovers. Seeing this gives us beautiful insight to how Jesus feels, waiting at the end of it all in his bridegrooms clothes, for his bride to arrive. He gave out of himself to create his bride, he pursued her, he showered her with gifts, and he even died for her. He is intensely in love with her! Imagine if you were watching your future bride (or groom) meander their way to you in no particular hurry giving themselves up to anyone who provides a cheap thrill along the way. It would tear you apart. How would you feel, still loving them despite that, if they simply chose death instead of you?
The other thing found in this is that new life is created through consummation. This is a massively important illustration! It shows us that love grows! It expands! It creates new wonderful things! Although it can have some meaning (and positive meaning at that) sex through the same gender cannot participate in this deeper eternal story of sex in the same capacity. Souls do not have gender although we are placed in bodies that do. Just as we are all placed in different bodies that have different strengths and weaknesses, God has done this purposefully so that we use that form in whatever way to participate and enlighten ourselves with that eternal story. I am close to multiple people that only exist because one of their parents chose to marry despite attraction to the same sex. I know they are glad that their parent made that decision and I know many other who have been influenced through those people and are very glad they exist. Now those people are in themselves a beautiful story of the eternal Christ being expanded because of the depthless love of God.
In the end, God has not placed us here to marry. He has not placed us here for sex or for any temporal pleasure. These are just shadows of the real thing. I often hear things like “Why wouldn’t God want me to be with the person if I like or am attracted to them so much?” It’s not about God not wanting you to feel some good things. In fact, it’s the opposite. He wants the absolute best! Good is sometimes the enemy of the best. And, he has unbelievable love and peace in fullness through eternity in purpose for you! Some things you do only capture a small part of the good. He wants you to have the fullness. He doesn’t want you messing yourself up settling for a few moments of positive when you could have an eternity of it.
God created marriage and sex to tell a story that is metaphysical. It is to help us feel and understand things that transcend time in a way that doesn’t destroy free will. Losing any part of that story or expanding it into something that it isn’t obscures God, which is bad for everyone.
I hope and pray this is a positive thing for all reading it. I hope it gives you some things to chew on. Much of it is very lofty and it takes mediation to grasp even a part of it! I pray that you do so. Love to all,
*I know people think that outside of Christ. As one of our friends said when we started a bible study “Oh! This is a bunch of stories. I thought it was just thousands of pages of rules!”
** There are a ton of parallels. I’ve included just a few here if you want to poke through it. A great resource for a fuller explanation is From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola. That book changed my life!
Just a few parallels …
- The Bible starts with the creation of a woman and a marriage in the first two chapters and ends with the wedding of Christ and his church, who was created from Him..
- God pulls Eve out of Adam’s side. The church is pulled out of Christ. A spear was stuck in Jesus’ side after he was dead showing the blood and water which now cleanses us and makes faith possible.
- She is Adam but she is not him. We as Christians are Christ (we are his body and are covered by Him essentially making us look like him to God) but are not him.
- Eve essentially existed inside of Adam before she was pulled out. Ephesians 1 says we were chosen in Him before the creation of the world. This means the church existed in Jesus before it was pulled out
- Jesus first miracle was producing wine for a wedding in Cana. He tells his mother that is not yet “his time” to do that. Choosing to do a first miracle at a wedding and his wording reveal his eternal purpose
- Jesus often used weddings in parables and refers quite often to bridegrooms and their expectations
- Jesus is the embodiment of essentially the reverse of our existence. We were flesh first and God breathed life into us. He was life first that placed himself into flesh.
* I was talking with a friend today and we were discussing how certain things come around that are so good they ruin the average things in life. All you can think about while doing those average things is being in what was more excellent. Zoo Ministries at it’s peak and the Commune was one on of those things. Below is some thoughts I wrote several weeks ago trying to articulate my love for the Commune.
The Commune Closes
As I packed up at the Commune I came across a tin box. The dented little thing, octagon shaped and old, was painted white with subdued red flowers covering its surface. It was as a whole rather unspectacular.
I’m not sure how that tin ended up in the Commune in the first place but I do know that it filled me with pleasant memories as I picked it up. This same tin sat at the end of our table during Saturday Night Dinners filled up with coins by us, the edges of tattered dollars bills occasionally spilling over the side, as a planned surprise for Daren to give him a little extra cash to do fun things while he lived on virtually nothing to get Active:Water going. As the light in the house dully reflected off of the tin, my reverie continued and I was reminded me that Daren had one time given me all his tips for a week after I had shared at a Dinner that I didn’t think Kara and I could financially sustain ourselves in Kalamazoo.
Nearly everything I picked up as I packed– coffee mugs or books or other odds and ends both great and small – had memories imprinted on them. Adrienne had provided funky word magnets for the fridge for us to leave funny messages. Merches had built a table leg to buttress the middle of the dinner table because we had so many people and so much food on the table at one time that it was sagging in the extensions. Even some of my socks had been given to me by Comfort for Christmas. As I packed, these verses came to mind from 2nd Timothy:
In a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
I learned many things living at our self proclaimed “Hippie Commune” – too many to list here – but the strongest lesson spotlighted by living in close proximity to faithful friends is in revelation that I didn’t really believe that the houses I had lived in before were actually God’s. “I” was the center of my home life and I let it be its own wooden vessel that I filled with other less noble vessels. It was a pocket in my life where I made it ok for me to not be noble. I believed my house was mine to do what I chose in it then counter-actively rationalized that God was ok with what I did as long as it wasn’t sinful. Home became a place where I didn’t have to be at my best. I could be lazy. I could be selfish. I didn’t have to reach spiritually because I was “resting”. It was easy to justify because no one saw what I was doing alone.
By claiming that I was living in this house for Christ I became very uncomfortably exposed. It is not wrong to rest. It is not wrong to pause. It is not wrong to have hobbies. It is not wrong to have those things in a home. However, simply claiming that I was doing something for Jesus, as I was doing by living in the Hippie Commune, forced me to face that I didn’t use that quiet time to seek God but to instead binge on my desires. Those “vessels of dishonor” started to become glaringly obvious because I knew my roommates could see them. They were exposed. I could not withdraw into my own little worlds without a nagging voice accompanying that world. I could not fill my life with lust and pornography easily. This is not just because other people were constantly around but because I could feel my roommates presence around me and I could feel the weight of my vow to use this space for Jesus. A crazy thing happened: I started to lose my taste for my wooden articles.
This is the surprising thing to me about living with a bunch of people who want to do so for Christ’s sake. Simply being with each other pushes the dishonorable things in you to the surface and at the same time presents vistas of the noble parts of others. These things create a pressure in your life. You will react one of two ways. You will seek to rid yourself of the pressure either by leaving, withdrawing, constantly blaming other people to make yourself a victim, hiding under falsely righteous anger, or relentlessly rationalizing it. (None of these work for long ) Or it will change you. Love – the mere presence of it – changes things all on its own. It is not all about willful effort. As scripture says, “Overcome evil with good” and “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John) Paul doesn’t mention in Romans that evil has to always willfully decide to change itself. John doesn’t say that fear one day just decides to leave. Just placing yourself in the presence of consistent love will push evil out of your life or you will flee love’s presence with your wooden articles bundled up hastily in your arms. They cannot coexist for long.
Looking back, I found too much of myself loving “darkness” (as John says in 1 John). I was often willing to chase after it at the expense of love. This self discovery has been painful. I don’t think it’s been painful for me alone either. However, as painful as it has been, I realize that this was one of the best aspects of the Hippie Commune. It offered varying degrees of family, support, spiritual guidance, and other Christian blessings but it always, always exposed who we truly were. It cut through phony spirituality, fake personas, and rationalizations to not be noble.
In many ways, the Commune cut me to pieces. It relentlessly shone a spotlight on my wooden articles and the sheer proportion of them was staggering. However, scattered in there were also noble articles of our time that are beautiful and worth holding on to. The dented octagon tin is a small representation. In fact, there are an overwhelming number of noble things – far, far more than in any place I lived alone. So many, in fact, that I’m having a hard time getting rid of anything because so many of the represent truth manifested through love!
The house is now empty. The lights are out. The rooms are cool and footsteps echo through its foreclosed hallways. Someone will come in to rip down walls, fill it with shiny new appliances, and try to resuscitate the corpse of the American dream we desperately fought to kill in faith of a better heavenly home talked about by Jesus. A house with many rooms that Jesus has prepared for us all to live in together again with him. A perfect and forever community with the Trinity. Endless nobility. But, the Commune is not over. We, indeed, continue to be a “spiritual house” as Peter says, and that house knows no earthly boundaries. The Commune’s foreclosure has simply been the impetus to move to other places and build others into the house we are. The walls of our physical homes may change but our spiritual home remains unchanged because it is each other. And I am certainly nobler because my nobility is not my actions or perfection – it is them.
So, to my roommates both from the house and those who supported it so many ways – to my Commune – I love you. Thank you. We go on. Let’s us fill our world with good news and share the shelter of our walls with this world. Love in Christ – Todd.
This last weekend I was blessed to be asked to speak at a youth rally held in my hometown of Davenport, IA called Engage. A few dozen people showed up from all over Iowa and parts of Illinois to take part. Coming back to my home congregation I had a fascinating realization: it was 20 years after the time I myself had planned and taken part of youth rallies in exactly the same spot. It’s not often you come to the exact same place you once were. Doing so gives you clarity in seeing how your life is going because you can measure yourself against your former self. By taking part in Engage I had a moment to assess my path in faith over the last 20 years and the path of the church as a whole in Iowa over that same time.
So I, somewhat reluctantly, took a trip down memory lane to the brain of 17 year old Todd Tipton. I say reluctantly because I wasn’t so sure I’d be proud of what I’ve become! I pulled out old, faded photographs of memories I had of the Davenport church and the church as a body in Iowa as well. A random flood of thoughts and feelings came over me.
17 year old Todd wasn’t too sure where he was going or what he was doing. I had faith, yes, but no vision of what I was trying to accomplish. Well, maybe there was a vision, but it was simplistic. I believed I was meant to go to college, get a good paying job I liked, get married, pop out a few kids, and come to church while doing so. Maybe invite a few people along. That’s what seemed fulfilling to me. I was pretty sure that that was the case because the adults around me were so confident and had an air of purpose and accomplishment. As a church body in Iowa, I felt I had friends who I was close to. They helped me in my individualistic pursuit of being faithful to God. The kept me strong so I said no to drugs, drinking, sex, and other sinful mischief so I would not be disqualified from the prize of heaven.
I’ve learned something in 20 years that I would’ve been shocked to find out then: adults mostly have no idea of what will make them happy or content either! Even in the church. One consistent theme that has emerged from other adults I’ve talked to now that I am one is that, for the most part, that I have no idea what they are doing in life. This is not just unsuccessful (in the world’s eyes) people. I see eyes laden with discontent in the wealthiest people. In marriages where the people are good to each other. Even in people who’ve dedicated their life to charitable work. A sneaky discontent – hidden behind the surface – lurking there even in the trophy room of attained goals.
I realized after 20 years that I’ve learned that Christianity isn’t just a moral compass – it’s a new way to do life. Entirely. Its end goal is not about our purity or limiting sin. It is by essence a new divine life lived in harmony with the Trinity through Christ. When I think about the church 20 years ago – many positives came from it. However, the focus was not necessarily to bring us into a new divine life participated in by community in Jesus – it was focused to define sin and try to mentally and physically prepare you to stop it as an individual. God’s desire is not simply to make us sin free. He could have created us in heaven that way. His desire is to make us who choose it by free will, as a group, a building where he lives (1 Cor. 3) and a bride of his son (Revelations 21).
That purpose can be participated in now by letting him break through into earth by participating in assembly where his Spirit reigns (the church). So, after 20 years, I’ve realized the focus needs to be shifted from preaching people to come to church so they won’t fall away and be sinful, but, instead, to be a part of a church who willingly gives up things for each other so that they can participate in Jesus and make him manifest in this world. Life isn’t the compilation of a spiritual resume of what you’ve achieved – it is measured in Christ being manifested through what is sacrificed. This body that is being knit together (Ephs. 4) is the entire focus of life. It is richer than any individual can give from his wealth. It’s deeper than any marriage. It is the embodiment of charity.
At Engage I ran into a demographic that was a mishmash ranging from junior high students to adults. That was very positive. However, there was a glaring hole: older high school students and college students were barely present. These are the ages, in particular, where people expand to see if they believe what they are taught. It’s not entirely surprising or bad. However, it shows me that a) those people do not see themselves as an essential cog of the body they should have been being built into, b) that they see their faith as individualistic, and c) that they are not entirely grasping the deeper purposes of life as defined by Christ. If these things were so, we would have a group of people hungry not just to serve, but to be around each other- their peers – in the realization that being knit together with people of their same age in Christ might be the most important thing they can do. Even considering that some people may be furthering Christ in a different way at home, I’m sure there are a lot who did not participate because a lack of connection to a greater purpose. For some, viewing their life in sin and realizing they are not accomplishing personal purity, they may feel too guilty to come or like they don’t have anything to offer. This is a negative consequence of substituting the deeper purpose of life for individualistic purity before God as a purpose.
In light of this, I issue a challenge to myself and to the church across Iowa (and really not I, but the message of Christ). One, let’s stop lifting up personal, individualist purity as the goal of life. Two, let us place a community who sacrifices for each other and lives to manifest Jesus and commune with him in its place. Let that purpose seep into both in our home congregation and, in oneness, in the community of Christ across Iowa and ultimately across the face of the earth. Three, let us take the consequences for those actions as they cut out or limit good things to make room for best things. Four, if you are a young adult or teenager late in their high school years – invest in the events around you that create space for you to be in the same place as each other. Doing so will repurpose you in an eternal rather than temporal way.
To do these things we need to seek Christ powerfully in community with each other. MWBC is one such thing. Some of it happens in your congregations. Other than that, I see remarkably few things exist to tap into that purpose. We need to create space for those. We need to do that in our homes, in the homes of other people around us, and in created space for such things as a body across the US. We need to stop being ashamed of our greater purpose and talk about it – in real ways in the real world – to each other. Maybe we need to stop asking “How’s your spiritual life?” so much and instead ask “How’s our spiritual life?” We need to not be ashamed to live a counter cultural life that sometimes puts us in poverty in the eyes of the world or sacrifices things that the world thinks is awesome because Christ, really, truly, is better. We need to stop putting the emphasis on worship leaders and such to make us feel spiritual and, instead, create space to love each other daily which leads to spiritual outpouring from an overflow. Above all, let’s stop faking it. Let’s stop acting like we’ve got everything together when we don’t. Let us, instead, daily seek to manifest Christ with each other, authentically being led as a group by the holy spirit as a church that is bringing Christ by its mere existence into the world around it.
I sincerely hope I’m back in another 20 years and I see the results of these things have come to pass.
Much love in Christ,