Clouds, with a few exceptionable instances, do a poor job of reflecting light, most of the time they just get in the way. I wonder if we are not careful we do the same thing to God.
Donald Miller has become my favorite writer in a very short time. This is not surprising as I am very fickle and will grovel at anything with any sort of ability and his writing feels like plunging into a deep pool of thought, opinion, reason, and imagery that is as close as anything to going inside the mind of another human. I have been reading a lot of his work lately (four books in three months to be precise) and gosh it feels like a dopamine rush to the mind–to emotion and intellect equally, both being carried along a stream of consciousness on paper. Just listen to how beautifully he ends his first book (which was republished later and is the edition I read):
“And if these mountains had eyes, they would wake to find two strangers in their fences, standing in admiration as a breathing red pours its tinge upon the earth’s shore. These mountains, which have seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise, but stand reverent, silent so that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.” –Through Painted Deserts
My friend, who favors poetry over prose, says she likes him because he writes prose like poetry. This makes a lot of sense to me because when you read a lot of Don Miller, he talks a bit about his love of Emily Dickinson and his familiarity with Lord Byron. People who write beautifully always love people who, they think, write more beautifully than them.
It is not just how the content is presented in his books, but the content itself that gets me so worked up. I have these thoughts about life and spirituality and I suppose on a base level it gives me some validation that someone else who can harness words better than I can thinks the same things, yet differently, remembers them well enough to put them on paper coherently, and does it well enough that he gets paid to do it and talk about it publicly. I see myself reflected back when I read him and at the same time wonder at how much he is so different and not like me (which, coincidentally, is 1) a cool God picture, 2) a cool picture of the imago dei, and 3) is what he writes about in Blue Like Jazz in one of the chapters). I read his thoughts and find permission to be myself and think the thoughts I think and do the things I do. Some people might read this and say it is just permission to sin, like identifying Abraham as an adulterer or Moses as a murderer and saying, “God uses broken people” opening the possibility of romanticizing “brokenness.” The thing about that thought train is that brokenness or sin does not need to be romanticized to be reality.
Why this is so important to me is because it helps me find a taste of freedom from my addiction to pornography. If I truly believe that Jesus is the only thing that can separate me from my sin, then the job of a Christian is to introduce people to Jesus Christ as a person so that repentance has a purpose and forgiveness becomes internalized. The reality of forgiveness, the Bible makes very clear, is one open to all who will repent and receive it. Donald Miller has helped me immensely in introducing me to the accessibility of the Gospel. Not only this, but God being a person in Jesus who, after we have accepted the reality of the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness, is a being with whom we can have relationship. Turning from sin means going deeper into the heart of the God to which we have been introduced, providing a why to what people have often reduced to a how, a method.
(What I keep realizing sucks about this post is that all I am doing is restating what people already have access to and have already said: DONALD MILLER FREAKING TALKS ABOUT THIS IN SEARCHING FOR GOD KNOWS WHAT…ugh. Okay, sorry. Intermission over, post to resume momentarily.)
Relationship theology gets a lot of crap, I know, from a lot of people. One of the pastors I respect and admire wrote a book in which he says that relationship theology reduces the preaching of the Cross in strong words that honestly felt like a punch in the gut when I read it. I won’t go to the trouble of going and looking for it, but I imagine Donald Miller, who people have identified as a champion of the school of thought, reading this book entitled Has American Christianity Failed? and finding much in the book to agree with. You could essentially rename Searching For God Knows What to the exact same title if you so desired. Christian thought movements are always pointing out the flaws in other Christian thought movements saying much of the same things they say and watching it makes me feel like I am watching a war in which allies are throwing bombs into each others’ trenches.
It seems like they read each others books with eyes and ears of other people who they do not and cannot know wholly–nonbelievers.
I guess what I like about Don Miller’s books is that he has a lot of grace for people who have not reached the same conclusions he has, it’s honestly inspirational for someone who identifies with his way of thinking.
Turning from unhealthy thought patterns and destructive habits people, including myself, quickly label as sin has never been as easy as many people have made it out to be. Relationship theology adding color and depth to my already robust understanding of atonement or eschatology or ecclesiology or anthropology as impersonal doctrines (I grew up Lutheran and study theology) has caused me to realize and internalize what people so often talks about as an impersonal subject of study. Biola University has it right when their method of education focuses on spiritual formation above all else at the expense of nothing. Honestly a person can point out how thought movements fall short on their own or do not address such-and-such aspect which is important to “proper understanding” all day. This is not new and isn’t different from what the rest of the world does to thought movements and different stances than their own. I watched it happen at the University of Alabama and I’m watching it happen at Colorado Christian University. This is problematic when the deep desire of Christians is to be asked, “What is different about you?” but the reality is that most of the world already has an answer to that question with much of visible evangelicalism: nothing.
I fear I have turned this into the opinionated rant this post was never intended to be, so I am sorry for that. Honestly I can’t take it back because all this thought has been central to me for the past year and, though I love the people I know who have attached themselves to this way of thinking, I need it to say what this post was actually about.
I am giving myself permission to sift through all the garbage I have accepted from so many over the years, garbage I have even heaped on myself at times, and I am learning how to leave it at the cross. I am not afraid of my opinions anymore because offending other Christians is not my purpose, but, sadly it seems, is going to be a side effect of leaning into a calling to seek and save the lost. It’s a calling all Christians have if they choose to listen, but too often I am watching them hate the people they are supposed to be loving and condemning the people who they are supposed to be forgiving. This is not how God advances his kingdom in the hearts of brothers and sisters (See Luke 17), it is how Satan regains his ground. Heaven will come to Earth, will it not be the city that draws the broken, the desperate, the hungry, those yearning for honest expressions of love despite sin and forgiveness for it rather than those with enough excuses and comfortability to say they have enough to not join the wedding feast waiting for them? (See Luke 14)
I watch every school year as my school creates this monster of condemnation towards anything and everything and I have often wondered how long it will be until they realize that repentance is for them just as much as it was for the Pharisees who accepted Jesus’ message. Cities on hills made up of people full of salt and light draw people to them, they do not turn anyone away.
Maybe I need this reality just as much today as I did yesterday. Maybe realizing that forgiveness of those who do more to harm the Kingdom than help it is what Jesus tells me is like my Father. Maybe listening to myself is now more important than anything.
Maybe what I am asking for is forgiveness in this post just as much as I ask for forgiveness for looking at pornography for the thousandth time despite the knowledge that God exists, knows me, and loves me.
Maybe the point of this post, the point of this blog, the point of saying anything at all, is to plead with you to listen to me, to reflect the God you know no matter how hard it gets. It seems that this order may be too tall for some and already practiced by others.
God help me be the latter.