Wednesday, November 01, 2006

# 197 THE RIGHTEOUS FOREST - Part II

I May be Last, but I’m Still First

Now my “Righteous Forest”, although a delightful place, was also as ominous as Stonehenge. Important too. As important as a “Last Chance” gas station before the 300-mile stretch of a treacherous snow-buried mountain pass. Though beautiful and serene, when I climbed on my podium-stump, something relegated me to the same last-chance feeling that my child-soul was growing quite accustomed to. That feeling of exile and worthlessness that made leaving a church more treacherous than entering it. Was I supposed to feel this way? So locked in the fear of being reduced to a bloody mass of lifelessness on the church steps by a wayward out-of-control truck or car? But then – Do you remember the minister crying rivers of tears? ‘Do you remember his warnings? He knew and actually foretold how that kind of death could happen without warning right outside the door.

The whole idea behind self-fulfilling prophecy is that by expecting something to happen, it will happen. I, of course, knew nothing of this when I was a child but yet I had an innate understanding of the theory in my young mind. My conviction was this. Think it. It might happen. Will it, (albeit self-consciously), and chances increase that it might happen. Believe it, and it will happen. And because a traffic death is an occurrence more commonplace in everyday life than speaking in tongues, my thoughts kept slipping from one focus to the other. Until death on the church steps was even more likely to happen than speaking in tongues.

I attempted to focus thought, will, and belief on speaking in tongues but still it hadn’t happened. At the same time I attempted to avoid, with the minimal control a child has over their imaginative thinking, the will and belief that I would be wiped out on the church steps, but it was a thought so pervasive – always there, always there. So amidst such conflict and distraction, I could not focus properly on either of these things. The need to dismiss my fear, and the need to find my state of perfection by speaking in tongues.

And where was God’s will in all this confusion? That was the most puzzling of all. Could it be that my inability to speak in tongues was a kind of safety-net blessing from God? Cause you know as long as I didn’t speak in tongues, I was not in a proper state of ‘readiness’ to be run over and wiped out by a truck. Or was God unwilling to give me the gift of tongues to cause a small seed of distrust in my mind about the Minister’s dire prophecy? A way of encouraging me not to swallow everything hook, line, and sinker that he said. To create doubt in the Man of Cloth’s knowledge and shake up the fatalistic notions he had planted in my small mind that so unfairly and unsuitably filled my young heart and mind with such dread? Being that God is a God of love, and his greatest love is children, that could indeed be the case. At least in my newly discovered “Righteous Forest” the death-on-the-doorstep prophecy is moot. There is no risk of wayward or out-of-control traffic there.

And of course, there were still other considerations that needed thought and interpretation. It seemed the longer it was taking for me to speak in tongues, the closer I was getting to that chasm marking the rigid division between a hearing God and a deaf God as well. So I couldn’t afford not to think everything out very carefully. And so the agitated mind rumbles on pulling in more and more things to consider.

Now I initially thought when I commenced this rant that I would write an original entry and grade (‘member the grading I always do), and grade the response. No comments and I would discontinue the discourse and make a superman leap to other subjects. But today I realized the silence is more encouraging than a resounding clamor. This is a thing, that people want to discuss, but don’t want to discuss. Want to hear, yet don’t want to hear. It invites eavesdroppers and Peeping-Toms.

I find it so odd that in our liberal society we can discuss sex preference and positions without blush. The most intimate and private details of one’s life without discomfort. But yet, but yet, God-stuff causes discomfort, red-faced embarrassment, and a longing to escape as if from a wild and raging beast. But if you come along with me, bravely putting one step in front of another, before we know it, you know we will find ourselves starting down a trail with land mines and quicksand. But it can’t be helped. We are compelled to go on though threatening and dangerous the path may be. The quest is the distinctive mark of humanity, the stamp of our logo that we are made in the image of God. And so that ever-present quest fuels the anxious enigma of our very being. We want and need to search for answers to the mysteries that impede solid purpose and total pleasure. And so, why am I doing this? I am doing it for me. And if you wish to travel along and provide encouragement, you are certainly welcome to do so. But if you wish to slink along, stealthily eavesdropping, that’s okay. Or if you wish to back away out of here, that’s okay as well.

Now back to my rant.

As a child I yearned for understanding and I still yearn for understanding. And similarly, I still yearn as I have always done for a Spiritual Guide that is willing to speak directly about their experiences rather than wrapping everything in trappings. There is too much marketing involved when the truth I am searching for has to come in a carefully crafted setting of a dimly-lit altar, soft pianissimo, tears, and emotional outbursts, rather than in the direct way that I am speaking to you right now. We would expect, would we not, that these Spiritual Guides, so cozy and warm in their robes of unshakable righteousness would be different from us? Not wanting to avoid discussion but welcoming it. But yet, I have found they are in the same trap we are in. Wanting to discuss, but yet not wanting to.

They may have different reasons but they are the same as us. They are not flattered by the questions that we feel a need to ask. Sure, they are confident within their own venue, but when someone is bold enough, direct enough, to start asking about the real mysteries, or point out that maybe their altar commands to their God (that I have already referred to) are falling on deaf ears, they become exceedingly uncomfortable. And the issuance of warm grace and love I expect from them turns into shunning. A wish to escape uncomfortable interrogations and return to their own kind. It is almost as if they identify with the Top Guns in an organization that are unwilling to share their knowledge in case they could be replaced. And equally unwilling to share their inadequacies should such confessions force them into the Public Square to eat, (while the rest of us watch), a hearty three-course meal of Humble Pie.

To explain further, have you ever heard of anyone standing up in church and saying, “I think God is dead. The children are sick, I lost my job, my wife is having an affair, and I am feeling ready to discard this whole deception.”

I know what the righteously-dignified would say. “Sit down, be quiet. That is not a testimony.” But that is a testimony. A real testimony. A testimony, that God really does exist, and as a God of truth, demands nothing less than truth. Proof that there is a spiritual blessing within that individual that is real, animate, and tangible. Grace sufficient to nullify politics and forcefully put the whole truth in that person’s mouth. No cloning. No warping. Just pure God-given truth. Some would think this would drive others away from salvation. But I don’t think so. It would encourage all of us to share with total honesty sad situations that make our paths difficult. And that sharing of negative feelings as well as positive ones would lighten every load. Allow us to share the weight. How can we call this church business a unification of ‘sharing’, if that ‘sharing’ is so crippled by what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to share?

At camp when people were testifying, that’s when I was really excluded. Black sheep that I was, with my grievous forgotten sins that made speaking in tongues an impossibility. I was sure the room would titter and rock with laughter if I stood up to say anything. But I wanted to. I wanted to confidently stand and state the obvious. “In case you are unaware I love God and he loves me. I haven’t spoken in tongues yet, but I am not disheartened as you might be because it says in the Bible ‘the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.’ That’s good enough for me. You are all last. I am first!”

Now, if you have ever been in a fundamentalist church, you know that sometimes services are very animated. Creating such ripples, such a backwash, that everyone gets caught up in it, saint and sinner alike. But there are other services when one occasionally senses, with disappointment, a cool and utilitarian aspect to a worship service. Why it happens, I don’t know. It just happens.

Now what I always wanted to ask, but didn’t, was a question that haunted me about a man and wife that went to our church all the years I went there.

I thought it odd that whether the service was as cool as a somber business meeting or as animated as a circus performance, these two always stood with the rest of us for prayer and with eyes closed and gently swaying on their feet, they spoke in a loud outburst, even when no one else was doing so. And for your edification, let me tell you in phonetics a portion of their tongue speak. After a loud, explosive, call to attention, an understandable preface, “Hallelujah!” (rather than ‘Listen Up!’) they continued with, “Ah-sik-ee-ah-hundi-ah.”

Now I don’t want you to practice that, I don’t want you to use that, or to be tempted to find inclusiveness in your church with that. But I do want you to tell me if you have heard that phrase before. I already talked about how suicidal it would be for you to seek inclusiveness by using this phrase. Please don’t do it. I am busy writing a story here. I don’t have the time right now to plead for the forgiveness of your deceit and utter recklessness, as I did for my dear friend in episode one of this rant. But the question that arose from the repeating again and again of this phrase by this couple was about the nature of God. Though God be omnipotent, and never changing, he does flow through all time and space so I am convinced he is not that static. If he was that static, as part of his creation we would all think the same, look the same, talk the same, and tongue-speak the same – wouldn’t we? Yes, we all have the same creator, the same likeness, the same logo ‘made in the image of God’, but we are radically different in all other respects.

Despite the random mix of this rant, these are minor things I felt a need to express before I move to the bigger questions. I should have a plan here but I don’t. The honest testimony I want to share is that if you are assuming that in writing this I know where I am going, the truth is I have not the slightest idea. I have not the foggiest notion where we are going and I have not the foggiest notion where we will end up. But still you’re invited to come along. I enjoy having the company.

...to be continued...

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