Wandering in the Dark

Welcome to the new blog!  I've had "The Cantankerous Christian" blog for almost 10 years and I finally came to the conclusion that I just wasn't crazy about the name anymore.  It had always been a bit tongue in cheek; we as Christians are supposed to be joyful and not ill tempered.  I think the blog and the posts reflected that.  When I started it, I just wanted a place to share my musings, a vanity project if ever there was one.  However in that, there were frustrations with the broader Church and with "Christians" in general.  And truth be told, perhaps there was also some frustration with myself.

I was really into "apologetics" and "polemics"; things were very black and white for me...and things changed...as they are supposed to do.  I by no means have things figured out.  Actually, the farther I go on this journey, the more I realize just how little I really do have figured out.  Life, ministry, and the pursuit of Jesus has a tendency to do that.  Or maybe it's just me.

When I started "The Cantankerous Christian", seminary wasn't even something I was aware of, much less considering.  I was still fighting for my life with an "incurable" disease.  Writing for me was an outlet for "working things out".  Frankly, unbeknownst to me, it was also a way of keeping my mind somewhat engaged outside of the world of pain I existed in.  I had no idea then that I would be delivered from that existence, that I'd end up in seminary, or that I'd become a pastor.

It's fun and humbling to look back.  If you had told me those things in February of 2008 when I published my first post, I'd have thought you nuts.  Imagine how crazy I'd have thought you if you had told me that I'd end up being an urban pastor or that I'd be a church planter?  Or that I'd be a pastor and friend of addicts, alcoholics, the homeless, gang bangers, prostitutes, drug dealers, and thieves?  That I'd start a church just for those people?  Or that I'd start a church just for children and youth?  I mean goodness, I wrote in that blog about my failings with the least, the lost, and the last.  I wrote a post one time called, "Please Do Not Call Me to Children's Ministry".

I railed against pastors in general, against the "Church", "The Shack" (not backing off this one lol), and the general state of Christians in our North American context.  I think for about half of "The Cantankerous Christian" I felt pretty confident that I had things figured out, but then something happened.  I went to seminary, I became a pastor, and I started to become all of those things that I really didn't want to become; things that frankly scared the hell out of me.  And yet, in many of those things, they were the things that I thought others ought to be and ought to be doing.

I often state the most important thing I learned in seminary was that I really don't know anything.  This coming from a guy who did well at seminary; really well.  I mention that simply just in case you think I'm trying to make myself feel better about a bad performance.  I loved seminary and I loved learning the "deep" things about our faith and our Church.  All of that knowledge and all that learning, when translated to wisdom and practice?  I know nothing.  I've become comfortable (seriously relative term there) in the mystery of our faith and a God too big for me to fully articulate.  He's too big, His grace too overwhelming, His love too abundant, and His desire for us too desperate.  When you represent Christ to a man holding the body of his dead infant son, for whom he was charged with murdering because you heard Jesus say, "I died for that too"?  All understanding goes out the window, including the one I had envisioned throwing him out of only moments before.

It's a lesson I've been taught over and over and over again serving for four years in one of Louisville's most dangerous neighborhoods.  You can plan all you want, you can have your theoretical faith and theologies comfortably and safely packed away in your heart and mind, until you step into the darkness.  Things change when you stand before profound, unspeakable brokenness as a representative of the risen Christ.  Things aren't safe or easy outside of our polished sanctuaries, and nothing is black and white.  The best laid plans disintegrate when you cannot see your own hand before your face and you hear that voice, "I died for that too."

*****

I've always had a lot of energy and I detest sitting still.  Even when I'm sitting still, there's this giant ball of kinetic energy bouncing around inside.  I think the ten plus years of battling the aforementioned illness has only served to supercharge my energy and my disdain for the sedentary life.  I currently have two herniated discs in my lower back, a torn rotator cuff, and a disintegrated shoulder reconstruction in the same shoulder.  I still go a hundred miles an hour.  My wife and my assistant get on me about getting these things fixed and my response is always the same, "As long as I can still pick up the kids at church when they want a hug, I'm not going to worry about it."  I have to make up for lost time and let's face it, there's no time for that kind of down time in this work.  There is always something that needs done.

However, I have learned the value and need for taking time to be still with God.  This is not an easy thing for me, but I have come to learn that the terrain is too treacherous and the absence of light too great to not take that time.  One of tools I used to force myself to take this time is a set of Anglican prayer beads.  As you pray "around" the beads, it's a lot of repetition and rhythmic breathing...which I suck at lol.  However, I'm getting better.

The "noon" prayer is a repetition of Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lantern to my feet, a light upon my path."  For a while, this drove me nuts with boredom.  However, day after day, of sitting with this, praying it over and over as I made my way around the beads, God began to reveal something beautiful and powerful to me in my stillness.

"I really don't know anything."

The terrain is dangerous, the sky is dark.  I cannot run lest I lose my footing.  If the word is a lantern for my feet and a light upon my path, I am assured nothing other than the next step.  It's not a spotlight shining down the path and illuminating the destination.  It is a lantern shining on my feet and the ground beneath them.  To be comfortable in the darkness is to trust only that the next step is stable ground, no matter what storms rage around you.  Spend enough time fumbling around the darkness, trying to lead someone else out?  You quickly realize the gift of a single, safe step.

I look back over my postings in "The Cantankerous Christian", I had no idea where God was leading. Not a clue; I've got skinned knees as affirmation of those times when I attempted to take matters into my own hands...with the very best of intentions.  There was no doubt that I trying to obedient, running out in front of God at times, other times unintentionally away from Him, but rarely ever walking slowly with Him.  He used my "aimless" sprinting no doubt, but He's also shown me the folly.

I've become comfortable wandering in the dark.  I embrace the mystery of our faith and the enormity of God.  I really don't know anything and I'm totally cool with that.  It's broadened and strengthened my faith, it's drawn me closer to God, and it has illuminated my call.  

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