Sunday, September 27, 2009

There were no exceptions

Faith for the long haul, that endures the test of time, of the questioning pluralistic secular world, faith that makes sense of that world. The test, as always, is in the living.

Full article here:

A thoughtful Asian-American student came up to me on Saturday night, wanting to talk further about the Smashing Pumpkins. We had been talking through the evening about my observation that those who continue on in deepening faith are people who have the spiritual skills and theological tools to engage the brokenness of the world — artistically, politically, economically, sociologically and on and on — in the name of Christ.

Earlier I had told a story about going to one of the Pumpkins' "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" concerts with my teenage sons, and wondering about some of what I had seen and heard. From the 15,000 person "YES!!" to the lyrics in the song "Zero" — "God is empty just like me.... I'm in love with my sadness" — to another song with the lyrics "... I'm still just a rat in a cage," we pondered what words like that mean in a culture like ours.

On the one hand, what is being said that we ought to listen to, really trying to understand the dreams and disappointments of the artists and of the culture they represent? On the other, what is foolishness and ought to be called what it is? As we sat in a quiet place he told me that even with all that he believed about life and the world as a Christian, there were times when he found himself singing out, with all his heart, "... I'm still just a rat in a cage." And he wondered what to make of it, viz. what was it about those words that rang true to his experience of life and learning?

Like so many I have met in universities and colleges all over America, he found himself wondering whether the Christian faith can truly speak to all areas and arenas of human life, from personal hopes to public dreams. In words I have heard so often: when push comes to shove, is it really true? Can the Christian worldview truly address the sadness I have experienced and the brokenness I meet as I try to live out what I believe in the world? Or is the fallenness I see and hear all around, in myself and in everyone I encounter, in the end just too much, too complex, too hard?

If we could account for this story by blaming it on the secularizing influences of Yale, or on the theological and psychological deficiencies of one student, then we could all breathe easier. We might imagine ourselves off-the-proverbial-hook. But that is not possible. I have heard this story so many times in so many settings from so many students — in both secular-spirited universities and Christ-centered colleges — that I have come to believe it is the central challenge facing serious Christian students today.

On the question at hand we can listen to those who have made their way through their university years and who still believe that the gospel of the kingdom is real and true and right — decades after their own experience as students. The last half of the book, The Fabric of Faithfulness, is a report on what I found as I listened to men and woman from all over the U.S. and the world who, 25 years later, were still pursuing a coherent faith. Those who, in the language of the Yale student who invited me to speak, had "sustained spiritual depth on into the rest of life." I asked them a host of questions centered upon the relationship between their present commitments and their experiences as students two or three decades earlier.

What did I learn? That those who keep on keeping on, growing in love with God and his world, are people marked by three habits of heart:

* they developed a worldview that could make sense of life, facing the challenge of truth and coherence in an increasingly secular and pluralist society;

* they pursued a relationship with a teacher whose life incarnated the worldview that they were learning to embrace; and

* they committed themselves to others who had chosen to live their lives embedded in that same worldview, journeying together in truth, after the vision of a coherent and meaningful life.

There were no exceptions.

The novelist Walker Percy writes of the person who "gets all As and flunks life." It is a warning lurking around the corner of everyone's life.

For you who are serious about God and the worldview that grows out of the word of God, listen and learn to the saints who have gone before you. And above all, make sure that your every experience as a student — every class you take, every book you read, every friend you make — serves to deepen your love for what God loves. That is what the college years are really all about.


"For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves."

--Saint Augustine


Questions: Where have you laid up your treasure? Read this weekend (in a story book, no less!) that preparation for the life spent in eternity must begin in the here and now - sobering thought, pulls one back from heedless frivolity and reckless expenditure of time and resources.

The BMG took me to SKS bookstore last week and I went ever so slightly mad. Banning myself from buying any more books for about a month (at least!) so that the book queue can be reduced, somewhat. The last two weeks have been awful for my reading life, constant migraines and sleep disturbances having plagued me day and night. This last weekend was spent quietly - mainly resting, not even reading/listening to sermons - just resting quietly so that my brain chemistry will right itself again. The meds are helping, kicking in at long last and it's so good to feel well and whole again!


Book queue:

Saint Augustine's Confessions and The City of God are on the queue. So is Milton's Paradise Lost. Oh dear. Methinks that all book buying shall cease until several of the monstrously large reads are down.

Halfway through Kerouac's On the Road. What a ride! Utter disregard for literary conventions (mostly forgetting the existence of the humble comma and semi colon), bebop, jazz, sex, drugs, hitchhiking, men named Dean who sleep with every woman in sight, crisscrossing the US of A, grapepicking, exhausting just to read it.

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