Well, here I am, unable to sleep at 3:34am Wednesday morning. What better time to break my blog silence.
I know that in my last post I said I would be blogging more now – so much for good intentions. I think my problem over this time is a few parts misery from chemo, a few more parts self-pity, and a heaping helping of there’s-already-too-much-being-written-these-days-to-add-one-more-voice-to-the-cacophany.
But, a sleepless night is a good time for a little therapeutic blogging and let me just say by way of update that I find myself strangely at peace with the world this evening. I say “strangely” because I have not been at peace, I have tried to play the good soldier in my battle with cancer, but have secretly nursed a grudge at God and felt that He had given me the short end of the stick.
But two articles over the last several months may have set the tone for the rest of my life. The first is by Carl Trueman, titled, An Unmessianic Sense of Non-Destiny. He writes:
This belief that we are each special is, by and large, complete tosh. Most of us are mediocre, make unique contributions only in the peculiar ways we screw things up, and could easily be replaced as husband, father or employee, by somebody better suited to the task. The mythology nevertheless helps to sell things and allows us feel good about ourselves; indeed, the older you get, the more things it sells, from gym memberships, to cosmetic surgery, to hair pieces, to botox injections; but it is just mythology – the whole of human history so far strongly suggests that, as you get old, you cease to be as cool, and that you inevitably find that life just isn’t as sweet as it was when you were eighteen.
As I look round the church, it strikes me that this zen-like condition of a lack of ambition is much to be desired because far too many Christians have senses of destiny which verge on the messianic. The confidence that the Lord has a special plan and purpose just for them shapes the way they act and move. Now, just for the record, I am a good Calvinist, and I certainly believe each individual has a destiny; what concerns me is the way in which our tendency to think of ourselves as special and unique (which we all are in some ways – D.N.A. etc.) bleeds over into a sense of special destiny whereby the future, or at least the future of myself, comes to be the priority and to trump all else.
Put bluntly, when I read the Bible it seems to me that the church is the meaning of human history; but it is the church, a corporate body, not the distinct individuals who go to make up her membership. Of course, all of us individuals have our gifts and our roles to play: the Lord calls us each by name and numbers the very hairs of our heads; but, to borrow Paul’s analogy of the body, we have no special destiny in ourselves taken as isolated units, any more than bits of our own bodies do in isolation from each other. When I act, I act as a whole person; my hand has no special role of its own; it acts only in the context of being part of my overall body. With the church, the destiny of the whole is greater than the sum of the destinies of individual Christians.
Even the Lord’s Prayer is modest by comparison to many of our prayers:
Take, for example, prayer. Compare the prayers many of us have no doubt prayed, of the “O Lord, please use me for doing X’ variety, with the priorities of the Lord’s Prayer, where the petition is much more modest – ‘lead me not into temptation, deliver me from evil, for the kingdom is yours etc.’ One could paraphrase that prayer perhaps as follows: ‘Lord, keep me out of trouble and don’t let me get in the way of the growth of your kingdom.’ No basis there for the typical `Lord, use me greatly to do this, that or the other thing I quite fancy doing’ — usually prayed, of course, before or after the pious throat-clearing phrase, `if it be your will…..’ The Lord’s Prayer, by contrast with many we cook up for ourselves, is a great example of words designed for the lips of believers who really understand the gospel, of those with, to coin a phrase, an unmessianic sense of non-destiny.
The second article is one I came on today, titled “Why You Won’t Find the Meaning of Life” by David P. Goldman who writes as Spengler, for the Asia Times Online:
There is something perverse in searching for the meaning of life. It implies that we don’t like our lives and want to discover something different. If we don’t like living to begin with, we are in deep trouble.
Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author Soren Kierkegaard portrayed his Knight of Faith as the sort of fellow who enjoyed a pot roast on Sunday afternoon. If that sort of thing doesn’t satisfy us (feel free to substitute something else than eating), just what is it that we had in mind?
People have a good reason to look at life cross-eyed, because it contains a glaring flaw – that we are going to die, and we probably will become old and sick and frail before we do so. All the bric-a-brac we accumulate during our lifetimes will accrue to other people, if it doesn’t go right into the trash, and all the little touches of self-improvement we added to our personality will disappear – the golf stance, the macrame skills, the ability to play the ukulele and the familiarity with the filmography of Sam Pekinpah.
These examples trivialize the problem, of course. If we search in earnest for the meaning of life, then we might make heroic efforts to invent our own identity. That is the great pastime of the past century’s intellectuals. Jean-Paul Sartre, the sage and eventual self-caricature of Existentialism, instructed us that man’s existence precedes his essence, and therefore can invent his own essence more or less as he pleases. That was a silly argument, but enormously influential.
I think I have been insulted that God would choose to give an important person like me cancer. To be sure in the early days I geared myself up for the great fight – I was going to face it bravely and be an inspiration to others. The trouble is that I live with myself and I know that my bravery is a face I put on – the real me is the one turning like a door on the hinges of his bed most of his bewailing his fate – ah, but we are actors on a stage.
Trueman opened the door for me to quit feeling so important. Goldman has cracked it a little further and helped me see all that I do have. I have the pot roast on a Sunday afternoon, truth be told I’d prefer lasagna, but the point is the same. I lack nothing necessary for an extraordinarily happy life – any unhappiness, self-pity, or courage is simply a put on. I am who I am – not courageous, but cancer notwithstanding not in bad straits by any means.
I think it’s time to say goodbye the Christian industrial complex, the evangelical hype and marketing machine that promises life change every Thursday and promises that you, yes, you, and me yes me, can change the world. Hogwash. None of us is required to change the world for Christ, Christ has changed the world permanently, none of us can do anything about it. Everyone wants to change the world, no one wants to do the dishes or take out the trash. I would trade every kid who takes a mission trip to change the world for one who would stay home and clean his room, treat his brother like a human being and help mom around the house without being asked twice. Changing the world is easy, the latter is harder and far more Christlike.
The same goes for adults – I don’t need to become a great leader, I need to prepare a regular ol’ word based sermon for Sunday, make some phone calls to some shut ins, listen to my elders instead of sharing my vision with them and generally be available to my congregation.
And I need to be thankful that prayer is not nearly as difficult a thing as the books make it out to be. Trueman’s prescription is right – Lord thank you that you have come in the flesh, have died, resurrected and forever changed the world and that the Kingdom has come. May it keep coming and keep me out of the way. I confess that I haven’t forgiven so and so, so I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but want it anyway and with your help I’d like to forgive so and so. Keep me out of trouble and I not only pray for daily bread, I thank you that daily you spread a cornucopia before me that generations in the past could only dreamed of. I wouldn’t blame you if you slay me if I utter one single cotton-pickin word of complaint about the government, the president, the kids next door, the barking dog two doors down, or if my wife burns the biscuits.
So all of this is to say that I am in the midst of a mid life change of heart and mostly I simply want to learn the art of thanksgiving. To do that let me give thanks to God. I’m in a season which is pretty good – blood numbers look good and I’m handling the side effects of chemo better than I have in months. But I have a killing disease and my greatest prayer is to be able to mean it from my heart that though he slay me, yet will I praise Him.
Even on a night like tonight when I have the inconvenience of insomnia, this is a reminder that I have been given a few extra hours to praise the Lord and thank Him. And also to thank you dear reader, and especially you Dan Phillips. I have it all – the Lord, food, family, I have been kept free from major trouble via the evil one, and I have dear friends like you who read these meanderings. May you be blessed as I have.
Thank you. I awoke this morning at almost the precise time as you, fretful and unable to return to sleep. Your words have helped reset my compass.
David, It’s great to hear from you and know you have so far fought this battle successfully and have kept your faith intact. You have been on my heart for some time but as often happens the “no news is good news” mentality checks in and no contact becomes o.k. for yet another opportunity to call and find out how you are doing. I will ask forgiveness for a flaw in my ability to put first things first and say that this blog will be passed on in whole and in part to Pinewood congregation.
My part in this whole response is to say that I make an effort to keep up with folks, members past and present that are ill or struggling for whatever reason on behalf of Pinewood Mercy Ministry. I reort back to Pastor Rod and Cat Bowden whatever I learn. All of this will tell them that though you are still under active treatment, not doing well in the sleep department, you are able to read, think, and pass on the things you are learning to those who love, and are concerned about you and your well-being. Please keep these posts coming as often as you can and know that you will stay in the hearts and prayers of those who love you, especially down the “Dixie. Highway,” round and through Middleburg, Florida. Get some sleep and don’t be concerned as to when it’s given. Kate Smith
Ohh, dude. Dude, dude. Bruising reading, as I know it was bruising writing born of bruising thinking.
You remain on my heart and in my prayers. As to the post, I’ll have to try to get the spaghetti of my mind to think more about it. But for now: important/unimportant is a false dichotomy. God is so massive, His mind and purposes so vast, that I don’t think it works for us to conclude that anyone or anything is insignificant.
It goes beyond “for want of a nail” and the beat of a butterfly’s wings. It takes a lot of Divine resources to keep you and me breathing and saved. It wouldn’t even be a shrug of His shoulders to stop that whole breathing thing. So I think it’s warranted to believe that every breath is not only a gift, but an indication of ongoing Divine purpose, and encouragement to seek and fulfill it. More than once I’ve been challenged by Col. 4:17 — “And say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.'”
What is that ministry? True, it may not (=probably isn’t!) be leading the largest revival in history. But even if it’s calling your shut-ins, or encouraging my handful of readers, that’s a ministry, and it has purpose and significance, and to God’s mind — while there MAY BE others would could do it as well and better — it remains that we are the ones whom God wants to be doing it.
Trueman’s a sourpuss. He’s taken that as his “gig.” He’s got a point, but not the whole point.
Stay hopeful, brother. What you and I are most hopeful for is a hope with a long, long, looooong shelf-life.
Good stuff. Thanks.
David, it was good to hear from you again. While Trueman’s thoughts have some merit, I think what is important is to keep utmost in our minds that each of us was created specifically by our God for a purpose that He knew well. It is just that His purpose may be quite different from what we might suppose during our life. Pride sometimes (often?) causes us to ascribe as God’s will in our lives those things that are really our own will and when it works out differently, we are discouraged. I am not good at remembering jokes but there is one which says if you don’t think God has a sense of humor, try telling Him your plans. But, I am a firm believer – having seen Him work in my own life independent of anything I might have done – that everything we encounter in life is part of God’s plan for us. But, it isn’t just about us – it is about us in the context of the world in which we have been placed. Notice that I did not say within the context of the Church since we are to be an influence in the World, not just stay in the comfort zone of the Church. Keep strong in the faith, David and have a Happy Thanksgiving (lasagna perhaps?)
Pastor Wayne, I get so excited when I see the the words Jollyblogger turn from gray to black on my Google Reader subscription list. You always give me something to think about, to consider and to practice. And maybe that doesn’t change the the entire world but it certainly makes my particpation in it better.
So glad to see your writing.
Oh and just one final word, I agree with Bibchr, Trueman kind of sounds like a sourpuss. Ha. But I don’t think you are.
You write like a man whom God has revealed Himself to. janspooner
Thank you David. A good humbling word. I prayed for you this morning. Blessings my friend.
Dave, you always seem to strike a chord with me in these posts. Thanks for writing!
David, I have really appreciated your transparency and willingness to share your struggles. Oh, that more Christians would be honest and believable. I am praying for you and hope you will be able to keep writing…although I do hope you will be able to get a good night’s sleep!
I remember ‘running into’ Jollyblogger some time ago…over a year or two…I don’t remember. But stumbling upon it now will not be forgotten.
God’s peace and blessing be upon you and your family.
Thank you. I needed and need this.
Your writing is a tonic much needed in this season of new resolutions. You put us mediocrities in our right place in the scheme of things, and what is left is so reassuringly simple, but very hard to do– to get out of the way of God –but it is the essence of Christlikeness.
I don’t think Trueman is a sourpuss, he is just like you, seeing the ‘complex’ for what it is. I love this quote of his, it sounds like something you would write:
“We mediocrities struggle at a different level, hoping that our own petty contributions, irrelevant and ephemeral as they are, will be puffed and acknowledged by others; and, in a sense, there is nothing we can do about that. I am a man divided against myself; I want to be the centre of attention because I am a fallen human being; I want others to know that I am the special one; and as long as the new me and the old me are bound together in a single, somatic unity, I will forever be at war with myself. What I can do, however, is have the decency to be ashamed of my drive to self-promotion and my craving for attention and for flattery and not indulge it as if it were actually a virtue or a true guide to my real merit. I am not humble, so I should not pretend to be so but rather confess it in private, seeking forgiveness and sanctification.”
I am so glad you are continuing to write, and will continue to pray with you that your killing disease, as it finishes off your flesh, will leave your willing spirit intact. Amen, and amen: “though He slay me, yet I will praise Him.”
I am not going to waste words…
Trueman says: “Most of us are mediocre … and could easily be replaced as husband, father or employee, by somebody better suited to the task.”
I totally disagree with this statement. NO ONE could ever REPLACE the man who is my husband with me or his children, who
are now adults in their own right. He is unique. Anyone who came after him certainly could not replace him easily or be BETTER suited to the task. He fills his space in time as only he can do it.
As do each of us.
Thanks, David. May the Lord be your sustaining grace.
I don’t even know you but this has touched me. Thank you.
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Dear David, Just checking in to say hello and Happy Blessed New Year to you and your family. We pray that you are doing better healthwise – you remain in our prayers always. Blessings and peace, Lisa
I’m reminded of a phrase from one of John Newton’s letters where he writes, “I see daily, and I hope you have likewise learned, that places and outward circumstances cannot of themselves either hinder or help us in walking with God.”
I botched that last comment, and want a re-do. This is what I meant to say:
I return here often for a recalibration of my life. You have helped me see the vanity of living for the ephemeral praise of men, that it is a fruitless exercise which contributes only to the growth of the “Christian complex”, and instead I have come to value just cooking that pot roast on Sunday and being content with the approval of God.
It is not mediocre to point one sinner back to faithfulness in the small things– that is the greatest thing in the world — and there has been real repentance in my life, and a time of refreshing. Thank you!
I pray often for you and your family. It would be wonderful to have another update.
Thank you for this post and comments. I have seen “Jollyblogger” named on various other blogs where I have been blessed. I copied and saved the quote about the mediocrities and even dated it and signed it, with the comment, “I love this”. I also love what you wrote just above about recalibrating our lives and the comment “it is not mediocre to point one sinner back to faithfulness in the small things…” This is where I hope to “settle”. I think it is certain that this is to be content.
I don’t know the present health of our Jollyblogger. I note the last post was in November? But David, if you are with us on this side, may the peace of God surround you and yours. If you are “at your new address” with the Lord…I will look forward to lasagna with you, if I may. with love from one you have yet to meet.
It would be good to hear from you again – how are you doing? You don’t have to write a long dissertation – just a note to say what’s going on with you. You are missed. The peace and love of God be with you always.
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