Mystery: Why Finding the Truth isn’t Like Fighting a Rumble

Pastor Marty wasn’t playing by the rules.  That’s the first thing I want you to understand.   I was something of an expert in those rules.  If there was a professional league for debating the existence of God, I would have been it, I’m pretty sure.  I know what I speak of.  Pastor Marty just wasn’t playing by the rules.

Here’s how the rules go.  You start with one side believing in God.  And the other side not believing in God.  (A slight variation: one side believes a certain thing about God.  The other side believes that this is not true.)  You put the pair of them in a steel cage of some sort.  One of them opens up with an attack.  Sometimes, the defender just launches his own attack, ignoring the opening move.  Other times, the defender finds it necessary to apply some sort-of counter-move to slip out of the philosophical wrestling hold.

One of the reasons that there is no professional league for this particular sport is that the judging leaves a bit to be desired.  You see, both participants carry a little referee with them inside their brain.  Nobody else can see or hear these guys.  They certainly operate according to quite different sets of rules.

Most often, these matches end with both referees declaring their respective participant the grand champion.  Each person imagines that the other has been decisively knocked out and pinned down.

A person less narcisstic than myself might be bothered by the fact that nobody else recognizes that they are grand champion.  Not me.  I was quite happy to keep my own little score in my own little head and wasn’t much bothered by the fact that nobody else would recognize my champion status.

If you’d known me at the time, you might not have known this about me.  Like most human motivations, my secret pride in this sport was mixed up with nobler emotions.  Deep inside, I was interested in the truth.

And this is probably what saved me.

Because, I may have mentioned, Pastor Marty didn’t play by the rules.

From the very beginning there were weird things going on.  He had the opportunity for the home field advantage.  The home field advantage in this sport carried with it many of the same benefits it would in any other sport.  The potential for a friendly audience.  Familiarity with the surroundings.  Availabality of needed resources.

He could have suggested that we meet in his office at the church and kept all these benefits.  But when he found out that I was a fan of Starbucks, he suggested we go there instead.  What?  Why?  This doesn’t make any sense at all.

If a chess player opened by exposing his queen, the opponent would be thrown off guard.  If a baseball team failed to take their positions in the field, but all clumped together near the pitchers mound, the batters would be curious.  If a wrestler came out, not strutting and flexing and roaring, but doing the hokey-pokey, the opponent would question just what is going on.

And I did wonder just what is going on.

When we found our seats and began sipping our drinks, Marty said, “So I read through that email, and there were some really good points and really interesting questions.”

Here, at least, I thought I was in familiar territory.  I didn’t particularly believe that he’d read my email very closely.  At that point, I was quite skeptical that he truly believed my questions were interesting.  But it was a pretty standard tactic: Lull the opponent into a false sense of security with kind words.  The equivalent, I suppose, of a boxer who intentionally drops his guard just a little bit to lull the other guy into committing all his energy and weight into a punch that will end up leaving him wide open.

So I began.

The whole point of this is that my specific objection didn’t really matter.  I don’t need to rehash it here.  Pastor Marty’s reaction though, it mattered a lot.

Because he let me finish.  And he asked points for clarifications.  I remembered when I was in high school, I practiced some martial arts.  I remembered how in grappling, once a hold is secured, it’s very difficult to get out of.   The whole key is evading something before it’s firmly in place.

I knew it wasn’t any different with these sort-of debates.

It was inexplicable that he would be patiently be sitting there, waiting for me to perfect the hold before he tried to wriggle out of it.  Of course it’d be bad form to blatently interrupt.  You had to be a little more subtle than that.  Wait for the person to take a breath, maybe.

Yet here we were.  He was patiently waiting for me to construct the best argument I could.  I began to realize something.

There was only two possible explanations for what was going on.

Option A) Pastor Marty thought he was such a great “wrestler” that he had the luxury of letting me finish the hold before he countered it.

Option B) Pastor Marty was playing a completely different game than me.

I would come to find that the truth was a little of both of these options.  Marty and I would meet on a mostly weekly basis for the next several months.  We developed a friendship.

Marty showed me a different way.  He didn’t just talk about Jesus.  He acted like this intruiging and frustrating figure.  He didn’t much care that by the world’s way of counting things, I was winning.

He was open, and vulnerable even.  Marty tells me he learned a lot from our conversations, too.  He grew up in a very traditional environment.  Much like myself, he’d been presented with lots of silly cartoon versions of what “the other side” thinks.  He occasionally saw that he had something wrong.  And he had the grace to admit these things.

But it didn’t feel like he’s was condeeding everything.  He had the air of somebody who was on a journey.  And seriously?  How long can you keep trying wrestling moves on somebody who’s acting like the tin woodsman, on a journey down the yellow brick road?

And my education began.

It’s a funny thing for me to say that my education began.  I graduated with honors with a degree in philosophy.  I completed most of a master’s degree in philosophy.  I was ridiculously over-educated in some ways.

I’d always thought that learning was something that happened by simulated combat.  I’d always thought that the last idea standing was the one that deserved to be held onto.  I’d always thought that everything important could be expressed with words.

What I began to learn was things that were much more important than anything  I began to learn about mystery.  I began to realize that the most important things are not ones that can be expressed at all.  I began to realize that there were other ways to find truth.

Marty told me how Jesus was beaten bloody beyond recognition.  He was nailed to a cross and he died there.  Everybody thought he’d been defeated.  But one of the most important parts of the story is that he rose up from this.

I began to see that the truth could be left beaten bloody, that it could appear to be dead.  But that maybe that truth is the most important one of all.

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I’ve spent the last bunch of years doing my best to follow Jesus.  When a bunch of people are attempting to follow the same guy, at some point they are going to bump into each other.   I call the meeting place of the followers of Jesus church.

I know that there’s lots of others ways that the church gets defined.  We think of a church as building.  Or we think of it as a set of programs.  Or a place where people have submitted themselves to this man-made idea or that man-made idea.

I don’t think that Jesus meant those things, when he talked about the church.  The church was incredibly important to him.  But that doesn’t mean it’s a particularly complicated idea.  I think that the church is the place where Jesus’ followers bump into each other.

We bump into each other because we have so much to learn from each other about how to be most true to what Jesus said.  We bump into each other and have these opportunities to work together and encourage each other.  We bump into each other because Jesus had specific places he sent us to.  It’s only common sense that we’d all end up in these places together.

The church is made up of people many of the same failings and challenges as people anywhere else.    The following things are true for people both inside and outside the church:

Sometimes we’re too close to something to see it.  Or we’ve experienced something so long we’ve forgotten to see it.  Or something has been so consistently a part of our background that we’re no longer fully to appreciate it, because we don’t have a true understanding of what life would be like with out it.

I believe that mystery is one of those truths that the people who make up the church are awfully close to.  Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have experienced it so long that they’ve forgotten to see it.  Mystery has been such a part of the background that we no longer appreciate it.  We’ve forgotten what life is like without mystery.

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The truth is that I’m ducking responsibility here.  I wrote those above paragraphs in mostly the second person.

It’s all you, you, you, and the church, the church, the church.

It’s not that the stuff above is untrue.  If it was I’d rewrite it.

But it’s equally true that those things are true of me.

I lose track of the importance of mystery.  I get bogged down.  I got ritualistic.  My spiritual life feels all dried up.  It seems like I’m doing nothing but going through the motions.

There are times when trudging onward in my faith, that continuing to try and follow and Jesus—there are times when I’m just kind-of taking my own word for it.

I remember how I felt, I remember how it was.  And I just hold onto the idea that this person who I used to be was trustworthy enough that I ought to keep on going, and doing what he did.

I have a lot less excuse than most people.  I saw the importance of mystery up close and personal.  And yet still I need to remind myself, sometimes.

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There are many people who are not part of the church.  They aren’t interested in trying to follow Jesus.  Or they don’t know how to begin.

We’ve been told to help these people out.  To invite them.  To show them what we are doing.

I think our failure to open our arms to mystery is keeping people away.  Before my discussions with Pastor Marty in that Starbucks, nobody ever challenged the game I was playing.  Nobody ever told me that it wasn’t about what we could say, that it’s about what we can’t say.

If you’re reading this, I know that there is things you’ve heard before.

I know that you’ve heard platitudes.

I know that you’ve been asked to accept some ideas.

I can understand why these aren’t very convincing.

Instead, I’d like to invite you into a mystery.

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We need mystery.  All of us.  I need it.  You need it.  The world inside the church needs it.  And so does the world outside the church.

Mystery.

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World, shut your mouth.

Pastor Marty challenged Fellowship Church’s lead team to get re-focused on the things that come out of our mouths.

We’re trying to refrain from all of the following, between now and midnight, Friday:

Sarcasm
Negativity (that is not needed to express a valid point)
Bitterness about another person or a negative circumstance (like someone who does something “stupid” or an electronic device that wont do what you want it to)
Joking around and busting
Talking to someone with malicious intent about someone else

rolling of the eyes when someone’s name is mentioned

Will you join us?  If it’s nearly Friday, (June 18, 2009) maybe you want to set a deadline of 48 or 72 hours from the time you read this.

Personally, I’m discovering a couple interesting things…

First off, I’m learning that I don’t monitor my speech nearly as much as I should.  It’s amazing how many nonproductive things would come out of my mouth if I wasn’t filtering every thing I say.

Secondly, I’m learning that a demanding goal is achievable if I build in a short-term expiration date.  I don’t think this would really change my behavior if I was planning on doing it for a year.

(I realize that this doesn’t speak well of me: I ought to be motivated for all sorts of reasons.  I have this hope that once I find I can do it over a couple days,  I’ll try for a few more, and then a few more than that…)

Thirdly, I’m finding myself wondering, “What next?”

Because controlling the things that come out of my mouth, they are an important first step.  But we’re called more to do more than just bite our tongues and prevent ourselves from saying nasty things.   Jesus says that the content of the heart is important, too.  We’re told that we ought to do more than clean the outside of our metaphorical cups.  We’re taught that the pharisees are doing the wrong thing when they put on a holier-than-thou show.

I don’t know what’s next.  But I wonder if you’ll join us on those first steps.  Drop me a comment, and let me know that you’re trying it.   Or follow up and tell me how it went.

Don’t bother with my drivel. Read this stuff instead.

I don’t have anything to say that compares with any of the following.  Don’t read anything on my blog until you’ve checked out the following:

Trade As One This organization makes available a wide variety of goods made by people living from corners of the world that are threatened by HIV, human slavery, and starvation.  If you live in central massachusetts and want something (and order it before November 20th) email me at jeffcampbell7@hotmail.com I’ll tell you how to get free shipping.

invisible children– Use film, fund raisers, high school students, and an army of idealistic college aged kids to spread the word about the situation in Northern Ugandi: the rebel army abducts children and forces them to fight in the civil war.  This group spoke at the school I teach at.  They showed the film “Go” which was outstanding film making.

Jenn with 2 n’s.  Jenn is somebody I kind-of sort of new before I started blogging.  Her blog has been one of my favorite reads over the last year.  Recently, she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer.   Her reflections on this experience are heart breaking, hilarious, and so inspiring.

Fellowship Holden Recently refurbished web site for the coolest church in the world.  (Jesus loves it when we brag about our church.  Honestly.)  Among other things, you can hear messages from Marty and watch the services live on Sundays.

Jeff Goin’s blog.  He’s the editor (in chief?) of Wrecked for the Ordinary.  This story in particular was just mind-boggling to me.

What the Bible has in common with my wife

My relationship with scripture is a little bit like my relationship with my wife.

Sometimes– most times– I love being with her.  She makes me laugh and smile.  She fufills and completes me.  She challenges me and supports me.  She is my best friend… you get the picture.  During these times, there are many things which come easy.  It is easy to communicate fairly and easily.  It is easily to want to go out of my way to be kind and respectful.  It is easy to go the extra mile… Again, you get the picture.

Other times?  Well other times we can drive each other crazy.  Perhaps I’m just in a selfish or antisocial mood.  Maybe I’ve done something knuckleheadish.  Maybe she has. 

At these times, it’s much harder to do all those things: to say “I love you”; to ask her how her day was, to go out of my way to submit to her needs, wants, or desires.

And these are the times it’s most important, these are the times that I really need to be doing these things.

When I do, things usually resume to how I like them, how they should be.  When I force myself to do the right thing, to say the right thing, to be a good person, even when it’s hard, it usually pays off.  We get back to that mode where it becomes easy again, where it becomes rewarding again.

When I don’t?  When I don’t things get increasingly bad.  Often times she’s busy doing the right thing even when she doesn’t want to, and this brings me back to a better place. 

(A side note: I am convinced that the secret to a healthy marriage isn’t any deep and profound principle.  It’s simply that only one person gets to act like an idiot at a time.  A couple who can manage to work out some sort of alternation, some way of working out who gets to act like an idiot at a given time, this couple is well on their way to maritial bliss.)

At any rate, I began all this with the statement: sometimes my relationship to scripture is like my relationship with my wife.

Just like there are times that it is easy to be a good husband, there are times that is easy to continually be in God’s word.  Sometimes, the reason that it is easy to be a good husband, and a good scripture reader is because I’m in a good space.  Other times, the reason that it is easy to be a good husband and a good scripture reader is because my wife is in a good space/the bible is so interesting, informative, and useful.

I feel almost cheesy saying it.  But sometimes scripture is like honey.  It is such an awesome joy to read God’s word… sometimes.  Don Miller helped me with this a little bit.  In Blue Like Jazz he quotes a friend who talks about smoking cigerrettes and eating chocolate while reading scripture.  It’s so freeing to realize that we can just get a glass of wine or an iced coffee and sit in a comfee chair and just read what God has to say to us.  It can be tempting to think we have to get all dressed up and seek out the most uncomfortable chair in the house.  But the reality is that scripture can be funny, or revolutionary, and relevant, and fun.  As long as we give ourselves permission to have fun, to see the relevance, to join the revolution.  (I suppose it’s not just about giving ourselves permission.  It’s also about the Holy Spirit at work in us.)

When I see scripture this way, it’s this self-mantaining thing, this delightfully vicious circle.  My interest mantains itself.  Just like the  stuff in mantaining a relationship with my wife: it isn’t work, sometimes, even though it’s necessary and important.

But there are these other times.  When it’s hard, that’s the time it’s the most important that I keep going.  This is the time that it’s easist to get further and further away from my wife, or from scripture.  Sometimes it’s because of the space I’m in.  Other times it’s because of what I’m reading in scripture or where my wife is emotionally at.

(Another side note: The next series of sermons at the church I attend will be entitled “The Worst Story Ever Told”: It’ll be a grappling with one of the most confounding and despicable stories in all of scripture.  It’ll be interesting to consider how that relates to my thoughts here.  Click this link for Pastor Marty’s blog.  Or click here for the church’s web site if you’re interested in more on this topic.)

I had originally set out to blog about how I’ve been having this really great time with scripture lately.  But what I’d intended as a sort-of introduction has blossomed into a full-blown post.  So I guess I’ll leave that thought here.  Maybe I’ll check back in and write a bit about what I’ve been finding in scripture these last couple weeks tomorrow or the next day.

The Outing of Pastor Holman

No, I’m not outing him about that: to the best of my knowledge, he’s a heterosexual.

I’m pulling out of the closet a fact that wasn’t particularly secret actually, so I guess this is all hyperbole and exageration.

At any rate, his birthday was yesterday.

Check out his website here.  He participates in all sorts of them-thahr new fangled internet-thingees that make it easy to contact him.  So choose one of them.   (But don’t use twitter… Ask Marty what I think of twitter.  He may just know.  😉  )  And wish him a happy birthday.

Happy Birthday, Marty.  I’m so thankful for your friendship and your leadership.

Fellowship Church rocks

Maybe you’ve noticed: the church doesn’t have a very good reputation.

One of the reasons that the church doesn’t have a very good reputation is because in many cases it hasn’t earned a good one.  Christians do stupid, heartless, self-centered, Christ-ignoring things.  A lot.

But there’s another reason the church has a lousy reputation.  That reason is this catch-22.

When you’re being all Christ-focused you’re not doing it for the attention.  A church that is doing the right things, for the right reasons, won’t advertise that it’s doing the right thing.  On the other hand, when bad stuff is going down, if we are being principled in our reactions, we are public with our admissions of guilt.

The result is that the church ends up looking worse than it is. 

I want to err on the side of bragging.  I like to think a bragging in Christ, for Christ, which is what we’re told to do.  (Can somebody help me with that verse?  It’s an epistle, I think a Paulian one, where he says “don’t brag about yourself… brag about Christ.) 

The church which I attend and serve in rocks.  I’d like to proclaim that again.  The church I attend rocks.

I’m going to spend a few posts trying to convey the depths and extremes to which my church rocks.  We certainly have our struggles.  To whatever extent we humans are in the drivers seat of the church we’re certainly screwing it up…  but I want to focus on the fact that there are some things being done right in the church, that sometimes Jesus is in the driver’s seat.

Story #1: At Sunday’s outside service, Pastor Marty preached about trying to see problems and issues from a God’s eye view.  And he gave us an experiment to do.

He passed out envelopes.  Inside the envelopes were bills.  One and five and ten dollar bills, and somewhere, a fifty.

(If you’re reading this you might be thinking “O.K., so he put a fifty, a ten dollar bill, and a whole lot of ones.” 

All I can say to this is I know only what three people got.  None of them were one dollar bills.  Not exactly scientific evidence… but it’s highly unlikely that three random people got the only amounts which weren’t one dollar bills.)

He challenged us.  To use the money, however much it was, for somebody other than ourselves.  We weren’t allowed to put it back in the collection plate.  We had to ponder the position from a God’s eye view and use it in the way we feel He would.  Then we have to log what we did at this website.

This would be an awesome exercise even if that’s all it was.  But it’s more than an exercise for us.  It was a profound show of faith and leadership from Marty.  Investing a ton of money in a project such as this is such a beautiful modeling of what Christ was all about: subverting the norm, investing in people, challenging people, taking risks, reversing the status quo.

I haven’t figured out what to do yet with my little envelope.  But it’s really awesome to pray over this decision and be mindful of the question of what to do with it… If it’s appropriate, I’ll share what I do with the money from the envelope in this blog.  And be sure I’ll be revisiting this topic in the next couple days: Fellowship Church rocks.

In Laws, out laws, enemies, family, having your cake, and eating it too

Yesterday, I blogged about how we like to pretend that situations are win-win, like they are easy compromises when in fact they are difficult and actually do create winners and losers.  Today’s sermon at Fellowship church, given, of course, by Marty, helped to clarify my thinking in this direction and also to spur it off in a few other direction.

The most direct repurcussion to what I posted yesterday: Marty was preaching on some really tough words of Jesus.  He said that people try to soft pedal these words, chalk it up to cultural differences, translation errors, etc.  I don’t think I’m putting words in Marty’s mouth to say that I think he’s right in some healthy skepticism at these attempts at explaining the hard stuff away.

It occurs to me, in fact, that this is another way of trying to have our cake and eat it too.  We have our cake by saying I accept the whole of The Bible.  We eat it to by saying that when it’s hard to swallow parts we can just rationalize and explain the hardness away.

There’s actually something really reassuring about the fact that this stuff is not easy.  The reassuring part is this: we could reasonably, rationalized be accused of making up a faith that was easy, that confirmed the perceptions that we had before we allowed ourselves to be changed by the scripture. 

The hard truth might not be fun.  But the very fact that it is hard actually helps to confirm the truth of it.  The very fact that we are trying to conform ourselves to the words, rather than the other way around, this implies that we are behaving obediently.  In Brian McLaren’s words, we are allowing the scripture to read us.

If I struggle with Jesus words, I am inevitably lead to question of where MY problems are.  If I begin with the assumption that the bible is true, and I really wrestle with the fact that Jesus is supposed to be more important than my biological family, I can turn my view on myself.  I can begin to see that there is idolatry in my attitude.  I was attempting to hold my family above the creator of the universe.  On the other hand, if I begin with the assumption that my world view is correct, then I will work hard at finding ways to make scripture not mean what it seems to mean.

This is not to say that we should instantly simply assume that Jesus’ words should always be taken in the “hardest” sense possible.  He did, after all, promise that his yolk was light and easy.   What I’m getting at here is that reasonable understanding is huge, but we have to be careful not to delude ourselves into taking the very easiest way out.

The fact that Jesus came with a sword to set us against those in our biological family is hard.  I think we should really hold onto this difficulty.   We should not try to escape the reality that people we love very much might end up our enemies. 

But we should hold this reality next to the reality of what Jesus told us to do with our enemies.  He told us to love them.

Holding these truths next to each other is harder than just taking one and running with it.  This isn’t a win-win, really.  This isn’t letting one of Jesus statements counter act another statement so that they cancel each other out like matter and anti-matter in a cheesy science fiction novel.

This is letting his words meaning penetrate in a real way.  As we wrestle with Jesus meaning it determines the “wrestling moves” we use.  In this case, it leads to me the following questions:

#1) Does it look the same to love an “enemy” and love an “ally”?

#2) How do we go about living our every day lives with people who are “enemies”; how do we strike the balance between loving them and recognizing there is something in them which is opposed to what we are supposed to be doing and thinking and feeling?

Looking foreward to answers,

Jeff