Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Center Point

I am becoming increasingly convinced that, while my faith as a Christian has many different facets to it, there is a central "crux" of things--a place from which all else hinges. And so things like the beliefs I hold and the stances I take on everything from politics to ethical principles are important...but only because they come from and are informed by the center belief. In my mind, this looks a bit like a wagon wheel. All of the different spokes spring from that center point.

And so what is this central point, you ask?

It is this: that God speaks, and that I (we) can hear Him.

Is that what you thought I was going to say?

This is something I've been thinking a lot about over the last couple of months. It really began when I read the Bonhoeffer biography (Metaxas) in December. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my all-time heroes. Perhaps my biggest hero. If you don't know who he is, here's a little background: Bonhoeffer was a theologian and pastor in Germany before and during World War II. When Hitler came to power and the German church (along with other churches around the world) failed to stand up to evil, Bonhoeffer and some others began the Confessing Church--which tried to remain true to the right and good in the midst of Nazi pressure to give in--which it was somewhat, but not completely, successful at doing. He was also involved in underground activities to both help victims of the Nazis and to plot an assassination of Hitler. Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and was killed in a concentration camp just before the end of the war in 1945.

Obviously, all of these things about Bonhoeffer are admirable. But what I really appreciate about him is the way he reasoned through the ethical dilemmas in his life--and that he did it on paper so that we can still look at his thoughts today and learn so much. Clearly, living in the time and place that he did, Bonhoeffer confronted moral dilemmas almost daily. Questions like: As someone who believes the word of God when it says to love my enemy, am I justified in killing others to prevent evil from harming innocent victims? Questions like: If I am admired and closely watched by younger men and women, can I decide to take a dangerous stand against an evil enemy even though I know it will compel those watching me to put themselves in danger as well?

These are not easy questions!! You could have a long and unresolved argument about these and many more dilemmas like them for days and days without truly reaching the bottom of the arguments. But I think this is why I like Bonhoeffer so much. He didn't reduce Christianity into this nice, neat little box of "shoulds" and "shouldnt's". He didn't take the Bible, hold it out, and say, "Here you go. Everything you ever need to know is right here." That's just not the case. I mean, let's be honest, sometimes the Bible seems to contradict itself and we're left wondering, "What in the world am I supposed to do?"

Bonhoeffer, an ethicist/philosopher/theologian, would tell you that there are no easy or absolute answers about how to react to life. But that doesn't mean he was wishy washy or unconvinced that there is a sovereign God who divides good from evil. Rather, Bonhoeffer would say that we can know what to do in these ethically unclear situations. The way we know? We listen to God's voice.

Bonhoeffer, a liberal, scholarly, highly educated man who grew up in the middle of a strikingly secular family, believed that we can hear God's voice. Not only that. He actually believed that hearing God's voice and responding in obedience and submission to God was the point. It was the only way that we could make it through all of those confusing moments in our lives where our faith in God seems to pit itself against us. But I think the importance of hearing God's voice goes even further than that. Sure, it is super helpful to be able to hear from and consult with God himself in difficult situations in our lives. But I think that God also longs for us to listen to him about things that are much less weighty, that are small, daily, seemingly unimportant. I think he wants us to know him. God, the creator, the one in charge, wants us to know him.

And I don't mean know in some metaphorical sense. I don't mean any of this in a metaphorical sense. When I say that we can hear God, that we can know him, that he breaks into our lives in all of these little moments, I mean exactly that.

So I guess my question is this: Do we believe that that's true? I know a lot of you reading this blog are Christians and have walked a long way down this path. So I ask you: Do you really think we can hear from God--all the time? Do you actually think that God is speaking into every situation in your life? That he is breaking in? And do we believe that this happens in everyone's lives (believer or not?) and that it is our fundamental task as human beings to seek out this voice and respond to it?

Because that's where I am. That's what I think. I think that this concept of hearing God's voice and responding to it is--it. And I think that if we learn to do it, it changes everything about us.

My next post will dive into what it actually means to "hear God's voice". I'd love to hear your thoughts on that if you have any!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


Did David know
When just a shepherd-child
Of his greatness?

Is one born
In the image of God aware
Of his bloodline?

Did he polish stones,
Herd sheep,
Play the harp, knowingly?

Was it easy?
Sitting alone in arid fields,
Waiting for his destiny

Because he knew,
Somewhere in his innards,
That destiny can’t be escaped?

That it can only be waited for.

And when he volunteered
To meet the Giant,
A child versus a mountain,

Did he know?
Or did the possibility hang in his mind
(even just a small one)

That it wasn’t necessarily settled--
That God may not come through,
And it wouldn’t change anything about God?

If David
Had a little doubt
When he picked up that first stone,

It gives me confidence because
It means that,
Knowing that I am not destined for greatness,

There is still the chance
That I can fight the Giant and win
And it wouldn’t change anything about God.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Importance of Ritual

These last weeks as I've reflected on 2011 and looked forward to 2012, I've been thinking about the importance of rituals in my life. Truth is, I'm terrible at making and keeping resolutions (aren't we all?), but I have found some success in viewing goals not as a singular change that gets added to my life, but as incorporated into a new life ritual of sorts.

As an example, earlier in the year we realized that we were watching too much television in our house. Thing is, we weren't really watching it much of the time, but we'd gotten used to just waking up and having it on as background noise, and as a result, Molly was racking up television hours like it was her job. The thought of just all of a sudden turning off the tv was terrifying, even though I knew I wouldn't miss it. So instead of deciding to simply enact a rule that we would turn the television off, we created a new morning ritual that just didn't include the television. Formerly, Molly woke up and turned the tv on while she woke up and had breakfast. Now, we wake up, read a story, and listen to music in the mornings. Taking away the television was painless because it didn't really feel like we took it away. We merely changed the routine.

When I was teaching, routines and rituals were something I put a lot of thought into before the school year started. I then continued to reflect on them throughout the year and tweaked things as needed. I believe that having routines (especially in a classroom) creates a sense of calm and safety because everyone knows what to expect. Students can arrive at school and start the day off in relative peace and calm, rather than in a state of anxiety over whether they'll be thrown into an uncomfortable situation. Even (or especially) children need to feel like they have some sort of power over their surroundings. I think that is so important for all of us.

In our spiritual lives, too, there needs to be some degree of ritual in order to grow in maturity. This is what I've really been thinking about as I've set my New Year's goals for 2012. Obviously, God is in charge of whether and how much I grow and mature in my relationship with Him. But there are things that I can do, routines that I can set, patterns that I can follow, in order to put myself on the right path. Rather than just saying, "I want to deepen my relationship with God this year" I have decided to say, "I want to set my life in a trajectory that points more closely to God." I want to establish routines in my life, like waking before my children and having a plan for reading and praying, that won't feel like an additional thing to do, but will replace my current routine. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy New Year!