In the Present Tense

August 19, 2010

The Startling Conclusion

Resuming the stages of faith and leadership.

Somewhere along this journey comes– the Dark Night of the Soul II– which I simply call “Gethsemane.” Yes, Jesus had two dark nights of the soul, and as he told us, the servant is not greater than the master. We can expect no less– unless we short-circuit the process, and choose to stay at an earlier level. But if we choose growth, we will encounter a second dark night of the soul.

The First, like Jesus temptation in the wilderness, tempts us with easy choices. Indeed, in M. Scott Peck’s “The People of the Lie,” which is an examination of evil, Peck’s conclusion is that the real evil is making easy choices. Not only do I agree with it, it frightens me. Because I’m always tempted to make the easy choice.

When we get to the dark night of the soul II, to Gethsemane, we are overwhelmed with the sense of futility. We know who we are, we know our mission in life, but it seems that we will make the sacrifice and receive nothing in return. After a whole lifetime of seeking and struggling, is this all there is?

And the answer comes back, as it did for Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Perhaps our witness seems ineffective. The darkness appears stronger than our small candle. Like the flower that blooms unseen, we may think that we have lived in vain.

But of course the darkness can nevery overwhelm the light. We can never know which life we have touched that will have great results, and which would have not happened for our witness. And no flower ever blooms unseen. For the Father of all notes the fall of a sparrow, sees the light from a smoldering flax, and traces the thousands of tiny influences that lead a soul to salvation.

We live to Him and for Him, or we live for naught. And when we claw our way through Gethsemane, when we reach the conclusion “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours–” we come to the last stage: Unconditional Love.

The wrongs we have suffered no longer matter. The sacrifices shrink into insignificance. Having come into complete accord with God’s will, we can no longer hate anyone.

Now, I don’t claim to have inhabited this exalted state. At times, I think I may have visited. I have met others who certainly appeared to have attained this state.

One would think that, when a person attains this unconditional love, peace would result. And internal, spiritual peace does (once again, I have visited, not attained). But that does not mean that the world is at peace with us. Quite the contrary. For if you love everyone, then you also love my enemies, and I find that particularly upsetting.

It’s interesting that nearly every one of the Disciples died a violent death. What we know of their deaths, they approached them with peace in their hearts. They were not killed because they had done violence, but because their existence was a reproach to those around them.

When confronted with Christ, or with a truly Christian person, there are two basic reactions. We see this in the gospel. The Pharisees saw Christ, and said, “Why does he have to be that way?” The disciples saw Christ and said, “Why can’t I be like that?”

True saintliness almost always evokes both those extremes. We either aspire to be like that person, or to be rid of his or her offensive example.

And this leads to M. Scott Peck’s final dictum on these stages of development. Once again, they are:

I. Romance

II. Discipleship

III. Success

IV. The Inward Journey

V. The Outward Journey

VI. Unconditional Love

Peck said, when you are one stage ahead of those around you, they admire you. When you are two stages ahead of those around you, they are perplexed by you. When you are three stages ahead of those around you– they will kill you.

I was startled when I first heard this. But then I realized I had seen it again and again. Many, many church members get stuck in the first two stages. Those who are in Romance are horrified and frightened by someone embarking on the inward journey, with its Dark Night. For them, everything’s wonderful, so anyone struggling must be ‘losing his faith.’

For the person in Discipleship, with its earnest seeking to internalize all the rules and norms, someone embarking on the Outward Journey appears to be breaking all those rules. Worse, his very existence brings tough questions to the Disciple’s world view that are not easily answered, situations with which the Disciples’ rules simply cannot cope.

In both cases, the main remedy appears to be to simply cast out the troubling individual.  They will kill you.

There’s more, but this is enough for now.

August 11, 2010

Drums?

A young friend asks about drums, specifically a drum set in church or for worship.  I suppose we’ve made progress. No one seems to object to the guitar anymore. The short answer is that there will never be an end to people attempting to make lists of good and bad instruments, foods, books, ideas– what have you. It saves everyone the trouble of thinking about things, about making judgment calls. Just adhere to the lists, and you will be OK.

Of course, one big problem is that the lists change over time. At one point, the organ was considered taboo, since it had been associated with gladiatorial combat. Come to think of it, I’ve known quite a few churches where “Who gets to play the organ” battles were somewhat reminiscent of gladiatorial combat. But I digress.

Of course, all this,in Adventism, is predicated on one reference–although repeated in several places– to “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing,” that took place in Indiana in the Holy Flesh movement of the early 20th century.

It’s always interesting how these passages get parsed out. For example, rather than taking what happened as a whole, critics like to single out drums and dancing. It seems to me that shouting is a staple of certain types of preaching which is deemed quite acceptable. Nor have I seen any serious attempts to ban all music.

But why should that be? If all these things, “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing” were bad, why should some be banned and others accepted? I just don’t buy it.  I’ve posted this video before, but I think it bears repeating.

Does anyone seriously contend that this Nigerian carol is inappropriate? It is not the type of music I grew up with, but I cannot listen to it without being profoundly moved.

If Christ can cast demons out of human beings who were once their willing hosts, cannot inanimate objects be employed for His glory as well? Things are just things. What we do with them is what makes them a blessing or a curse.

Shouting, drums, music, and dance can be used to deaden the moral faculties and lead us into sin; or they can be used to the glory of God.

Legalism, on the other hand, is always deadly. At the GC session this summer, Pastor Paul Frederick from India addressed gathering with these words :”One of the most serious problems facing the Christian church today is legalism. It wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. Legalism is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for obtaining salvation. But when we are living by grace, we realize that everything we need in our Christian experience is a gift from God.”

There followed a performance of an Indian song praising God, accompanied by hand drums.

To this ear, it sounded both uniquely Indian and uniquely Adventist in the same way that “Mas Alla del Sol” sounds both uniquely Adventist and uniquely Mexican. And the drums added to that effect.

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