Jul 01 2013
Chicken Soup for the Unresolved Soul

There's a story about Bach -- or maybe it was Mozart -- and how, even as a little kid, he had to hear resolution.  He was in bed, upstairs, and someone was playing the piano, and that someone got distracted and stopped, just before the last chord.

J.S. - or W.A.? - couldn't stand it.  He tromped downstairs, pounded out the resolving chord, and then went back up to bed again, without a word.  He just had to hear it.

We're all like that.  I think about all the stories I've heard, and then all the ones I've lived, and there's the big difference:  We get resolution in the former, but the other just...lay...out there, somewhere, and, much as we pretend, there are no finish lines, no final chords, no official victories, no ends-of-story.  Not yet, anyway. 

I took the yellow bus home from our country school in St. Berniece, Indiana.  One day, I sat with my best friend's brother, Eric.  He was in second grade, I was in third.  We talked and joked about my lunchbox and a puppet I played with.  Then we got off at the bus stop in front of his house.

I stepped to the right.  But Eric ran alongside the bus, slipped, and fell under the wheel. 

Two weeks later, my mom suggested I go over to my friend's house, to visit him and his little sister.  She told me they probably hadn't had any visitors since Eric was killed, and may be lonely.  So I got on my bike.

Mark, my friend, and his little sister met me at the door, excited to see me - or anyone, for that matter, I gathered.  We laughed and played with a top on their hardwood floor.  It was one of those that spins and makes noise and lights.  I could see their mom in the back room, smoking a cigarette.  Staring at me.

We played for an hour, until she came in the room, and started screaming at me.  She said something about how all I was doing was reminding them of what happened to Eric, and I should get out, like, now.  Her kids were stunned, and started crying, and so did I, and I ran out the door and got on my bike bawling with guilt. 

I never went back.  And we moved away.  I don't know what happened to them.  When I think about that day - this is more than thirty years ago - I still get a knot in my stomach.  There's no ending to the story.  So it's a story I've almost never told.

Most examples aren't this painful, but almost all the "great stories" of my life are this way.  When I speak to people, try to motivate them, try to teach them, I pull a bit of a sleight-of-hand, presenting stories that are edited just-so.  They're not "untrue", they're just dishonest, in a pedestrian way, I suppose, presenting real-life stories like Aesop's Fables, with certain resolution, as though the story were over. 

(Maybe  -- I don't know, I'm musing here -- this is a reason why Jesus's stories aren't specific "victory" testimonies, they're metaphors of the Kingdom.  Maybe he didn't want a specific "Look-at-what-happened" story to ultimately get mis-used, or give the wrong impression.)

I tell about a smashing, eye-opening missions trip for some high schoolers, but I don't include the boring stories, or the stories where some kids just really weren't impacted, how that one inspiring kid wound up getting some girl pregnant two months later. 

I tell -- and hear --  "and then he became a believer!"-type stories, but don't include, " -- and yeah, okay, he's still battling addictions."

I read "look what our church is doing" accounts in newsletters, but don't hear the invariably messy follow-ups.  We get the "victory" stories over sin and depravity, but no one publishes books called, Wups, I'm Totally Messed Again.  Yet, that's where the stories of my actual life are.  We don't like our stories open-ended.  So we clean up our stories, and act like they're finished.

They're not.

I used to be a youth minister, and the conventions would feature one impressive guy after another, with remarkable stories about what happened in their youth groups.  It was really amazing!  Why was my youth group kind of a mess?  Why wasn't I inspiring anyone like that?  It was impressive!...until I realized I could pick and choose stories, make believe they were final, and, presto -- I'm awesome. 

And that inspiring day when Big Joe the Football Lineman cried and prayed?  Well, that was the end of the story!  But in reality, it wasn't.

We like resolution.  But we don't live in resolution-time.  Forgive me for ever giving the impression otherwise, that I believe myself fully resolved, fully arrived, somehow finished.  The story isn't over.

Not everything makes sense, not everything gets explained, not every story is inspiring and ready for Tony Campolo to tell it.  Talk about "inconvenient truth":  We're living in the in-between. 

I think about Eric, his mom, or a thousand other people I've known, and I feel like I'm lying upstairs, and someone just left the piano bench, right before the C chord.  

I'd walk down and play it, if I could.

Aug 31 2011
On Yearning for the Undeniable God

A text to the show:

I'm trying to hear God's voice.  I'm trying to listen.  I've read that God is always speaking.  I want something that isn't a whimper. Something personal. Something I cannot deny or doubt.

Everything I believe says God wants the same thing. So what is the problem?



I wish I knew your name.

And I wish I knew your name because... my response would sound so much better. Bad news usually does. "I'm afraid you're asking for something you can't have" seems somehow harsher than, say, "Tara, I'm afraid you're asking for something you can't have."

But it's true. You can't have it. Not yet.


Here, and now, I'm convinced there's not a thing God could communicate to you that you can't deny.  Nothing He could say would be incontrovertible.  And no matter what He did, what miracle He showed you...?  You could rebel against it.  This is the reality of where we are, now.  

Check out the stories in the Bible.  People got pillars of fire, and it took about a half-hour before they were bowing down to a golden calf.  More "denial"?  Peter, one of Jesus' best friends, got to see miracle after miracle, and his name is now synonymous with the word, "deny", itself. Doubt?  John the Baptist, himself, doubted who Jesus was, after personally baptizing Him.  

God fixed the stars in the sky, and holds every atom together.  He's so masterful, our doubt itself is a miracle:  Our very consciousness remains unexplained.  But doubt, and deny, we do.

You want something that makes it impossible for you to doubt. Problem is, you're human, and humans can doubt anything.  The clear voice of God, itself, can be doubted.  ("Was that really Him, really?"  "Couldn't that have been a neural misfire?"  "You know, maybe that 'miracle' years ago was a coincidence...")  

You want something you can't have... yet.


But now... the good news:  

It seems like you really want more of God.  And, from what I read, that's a really good thing.  You're going to get what you're looking for.

If you're frustrated now, you're in great company.  Just look at the Psalms, for instance.  David, who wrote many of them, was a man "after God's own heart" and yet he was left wondering, often, "God, where did you go?  Why did you hide your face?"  He was left with yearning.

Or look at Paul, whom Jesus recruited with all the subtlety of a two-by-four to the head.  Paul had the miracle, the light from Heaven, the conversation with Jesus... and still said we can only see dimly, now, what we will one day see in full.  He was left with yearning.

If you want more of God, you're going to yearn. And yearning isn't bad. Yearning happens when you are in love.   Lovers yearn, when they want, but they cannot fully have.  Not yet.  

Lovers yearn, but religious people don't.  

Religious people have their rules, and they have them in full.  There's nothing to yearn for.  (In fact, when they're honest, the only thing they might yearn for is a way out.)

But God calls us to relationship, and that means yearning.


Want to experience yearning in another context?  Try being engaged to be married, but living a chaste life.  I've done it.  It's hard.  You yearn, and you know what you want, and you know you're going to get what you want... but not yet.  You want more... but not yet.

It's really, really tough.  And, tough as it is, it's really, really good.  Yearning like that - that powerful - only happens because the object of the yearning is that powerful.

And let's face it. I said "yearning in another context", but you know what?  It's really not another context: We are promised, in the end, a wedding. Jesus will have His bride, and it's His people.  And He will know us, and we will know Him, fully. Paul wrote as much:  "Then I shall know just as I also am known."

So you're yearning, and so are we all, but it's building up to something. Something really, really good.  

You're engaged, and the wedding is going to one amazing party, and knowing God, finally, and truly, is going to be worth it.  

There's nothing wrong with yearning for it.