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.