Love It Because It's Honest, Hate It Because It's Crude
"And 'being wrong' is something we have not yet learned to face with equanimity and understanding. We either condemn it with god-like disdain or forgive it with god-like condescension. We do not manage to accept it with human compassion, humility and identification."
– Thomas Merton
Last year – or perhaps two years ago, now – my friend Heidi Goodman summarized her/our faith experience well. To paraphrase, she said:
"When you are young, you are handed a package called 'Gospel.'
It includes the gospel, to be sure, but it also includes secondaries. It includes pragmatics and expectations about how that gospel is supposed to work itself out according the theological understanding and framework it is wrapped up in.
And then you grow up.
You experience life.
You second-guess things that you were once certain about.
And it is scary.
Perhaps you're not questioning the gospel – the crux of the package – but when it's all been one thing for so long, and pieces of that bundle start to fall off or reveal themselves as inconsistent with who you were made to be, it feels like the bottom is being pulled out from underneath you.
It feels like you're losing everything."
I wonder if you've felt that before?
With deconstruction having been the buzzword of the year for - from what I can tell - just about everybody, I'd venture to say that you have.
It's statistically impossible that everyone reading these words would believe what I believe about God and faith and life and what it means to be here, now. I've never been much interested in catering specifically to my own people, alone, so that's fine. You don't have to be a Christian, for instance, to have felt like the world you knew evaporated and left you floating in some black space with nothing to cling to.
But for those of you who have or do identify with the Way of Jesus... man, what a time to be alive. When I was in counseling last year, the main issues that I had to work through stemmed from my experiences with the church, and with my addiction to "right," and my fear of "wrong."
Ironically, "wrong" often doesn't even mean that.
It's just that I equated different with damnable.
In one of my sessions, I remember my counselor drawing a diagram on the whiteboard he had hung in our meeting room. It looked something like a straight line, with a point on it that sent the line up and away from its original path in a different direction, like an obtuse angle an a geometry class.
He said that sometimes (and all the time), life happens, and God happens, and the line you're walking gets nicked, and the obstruction or redirection sends you off on a different trajectory...
...and it looks like sanctification.
It's a good thing. Perhaps even, if you'd like to think of this way, an ordained thing.
This was the first time that I can remember ever hearing a positive explanation for the way that "change" didn't mean something like, "be terrified, you backslider," or "to hell with you, heretic."
I worshipped at the altar of certitude and longed for the affirmation and approval of men who had me convinced that we were right about it all (and condemned others who were not in the process).
Perhaps that, too, sounds as cliché as the word "deconstruct." I suppose testimonies like that go hand-in-hand with the process. I suppose they've both become so for a reason.
I have no interest in a conversation solely dedicated to tearing everything apart – one that never moves beyond deconstruction and the anger it seems to foster. And at the same time, as Ron & Vicki Burks say in their book, Damaged Disciples,
"Rage is what happens in our soul when it awakes from living a lie. It doesn't help to deny it."
And so there is a need for both articulating the offense and forgiving it.
Hate is a prison.
We have to keep forgiving.
I want healing and life and wonder and progress, and I want it for my friends, and I want it for my enemies, and I want it for those of you who know exactly what I'm talking about.
I started reading this Thomas Merton book at the beginning of the year, and it has been fascinating. He, too, speaks of certitude, but in a way that is inextricably linked to mystery, simultaneously obscure and sure.
I like that. It reminds me of the "contradictions" I see in scripture (sound the alarm) – things like faith both being the opening of blind eyes and seeing through a glass, darkly. Here again, we come to the both/and of things. (For what it's worth, to all of my Reformed folks who enjoyed Seasons for the treatise it was, there are plenty of people within the Calvinistic tradition who have written on the both/and of God - Piper not the least of them.)
Merton writes: "The very obscurity of faith is an argument of its perfection... Our certainty increases with this obscurity, yet not without anguish and even material doubt, because we do not find it easy to subsist in a void in which our natural powers have nothing of their own to rely on."
I think all of the marketing advice in the world would have me cut this from the campaign.
Too offensive to your own and too uninteresting to those who couldn't care less.
Somebody will love it because it's honest and somebody will hate it because it's crude.
So it goes.
P.S. – We opted to do a traditional pre-order for the album this time around, as opposed to launching a Kickstarter campaign like we did with Correspondence (a fiction). I will be writing again to let you know exactly what to expect when the pre-orders become available. We're doing everything that we can to give those of you who want it the clearest picture possible of what's to come. Until then...
(Photo: Joseph Bulger)