life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

treading water in an Alaskan tide...

First, a confession. I love to fish! Hang around this site long enough and you'll read a blog (sometime in May, probably) dealing with that. Just to anticipate... it will involve confession, regret, great joy and memory. (Some would also say bragging, but you can judge that for yourself when the time comes.) If you think fishing is anathema, you'll need to read that post with a heart of forgiveness.

The past two summers I have been blessed to sport fish in Alaska. It is a place of breathtaking beauty and constant change. I stayed on the northern coast of the Kenai Peninsula in a very old wide spot just off the highway called Kasilof. Across Cook Inlet to the north are around 10 active volcanoes. The peninsula itself is sinking inches every year on its northern coast due to so much seismic and volcanic activity.

Then there are the tides.

There is only one place on earth with higher tides than Alaska and that is the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. The differences between low and high tides can be over 20 feet in Cook Inlet where I fished for halibut. There are two tidal changes a day (on average), which means, generally speaking, in a 24-hour period, the tide has come in and gone out twice. Can you imagine how massive a change that is?

What does this have to do with our world today?

Imagine that you are treading water in Katchemak Bay in Alaska. (Imagine at the same time that you are not dying from hypothermia within minutes of entering the water!) If you are treading water next to an unanchored boat with your eyes focused on it, nothing seems to change from your perspective. You are simply holding your position steady.

If it is during slack tide when the water is not moving, you could even look at the horizon and see very little change. But once the tide begins to move, if your focus remains only on the boat you will not realize that the horizon is moving past you very rapidly, that the bottom below you is changing depths very quickly, that you yourself are moving and that if you are not an experienced captain (or swimmer) who knows how to navigate these waters, or if you don't take your eyes off the boat and look toward the shore, you will end up on the rocks dead.

I could be wrong, but I think this is a good metaphor for the church today dealing with the shift from modernity to post-modernity. We have so focused on ourselves, we don't even realize the environment in which we exist has changed drastically. We want to believe that nothing has changed, that our perspectives from modernity are correct. If we keep staring at ourselves through our special modern glasses, we can make that argument quite well. But we run the risk of fulfilling Jesus' dire prediction that salt might lose its saltiness and end up being good for nothing.

The water in an Alaskan tide moves very, very quickly. I kidded with one of the captains I fished with suggesting that one could water ski from an anchored boat. This is not far off the truth.

Our world today seems to have been in a major "tidal" shift, moving very, very rapidly.

As communities of faith, what are we looking at to gauge the times we live in? What do we see when we look beyond ourselves and our fixed ideas? How do we learn to live on and negotiate the tides? How important (or unimportant) are views from outside the Christian worldview in this environment? How do we engage the horizon with faith? Any ideas?

I'll say more in a later post about Alaskan tides because I think there is more to reflect on in this metaphor. In the meantime...

Grace and peace!



Anonymous Marshall said...

Hi, Owen,

Marshall here. I have read your blog entries with interest. You and I know each other, of course, so this response is likely to be more personal than most. A warning to the faint of heart: I have been in Job territory for most of a decade now, so this writing may be too raw for you. My aim is not to offend, but to be "without guile."

As you know, Owen, I spent many adult years in the same modernist/rationalist tradition that you did. And I, too, moved into the suture zone (great metaphor). For years, toward the end of my 20-year marriage, I attended a community church for "charismatics with brains," as one pastor put it, rather than the Church of Christ (C of C). More recently, since the divorce, I have attended only very sporadically.

Before commenting on the rationalist tradition, let me make clear where I am, so that readers may see my critique in context: I am nowhere of which to be proud.

I had nearly been an elder in the C of C at one time, but after Carol's leaving I was nearly drowned in a tide of attraction to drunkenness, porn, pot, and sort-of-loose-women-who-want-to-mother-me. I got some therapy, I got some anti-depressants. I have stumbled, and stumbled, and stumbled. And stumbled. Too, I have questioned and questioned my faith.

And the result, oddly, has I think been for the better, thanks to the living God. Two nights ago, I did some carpet time, home alone, and rededicated my life to God. I have lost pride, tried to relocate it, found it, lost it, picked it up, dropped it, bought a safe for it, had the safe stolen, etc. I (my natural self) am incapable of living the Christian life well. What a clunker I am trying to drive!

But that is what faith is about, isn't it?

I need to make clear: I know and knew The Bible well, from a rationalist/ modernist tradition. It was inadequate to rescue me. What does C. S. Lewis say? Something like, I need Christ, not something that resembles him.

The Christian life is, at bottom, not rational. It can be intellectual, it can be academic - as can the production of art - but it is not rational. There is nothing rational about the command to "turn the other cheek," for example. Love is, as Shakespeare tells us, a sort of divine madness - and that applies to agape as to eros. Jesus going to the cross was not rational. LAW is rational, but love is not.

The modernist tradition with its emphasis on rationality inevitably makes the gospel into a new set of laws, and shifts responsibility to the believer. It does not, however, confer the authority to be able to live up to the responsibility. Salvation comes to be a matter of proper interpretation and action. But, as I have learned the hard, hard, hard way, I'm not up to that! - and I'm a bright fellow, BA summa cum laude, MA with distinction, both with a perfect 4.0.

Bluntly, The Bible without The Holy Spirit is dead. And we don't gain the Spirit by ratiocination.

We don't need to bring the lost or the struggling to The Bible (primarily) or to baptism or to a set of interpretive principles...we need to bring them to God. Now, I was brought to God, but also basically told: We can do it; we've got the guide book, the map, and the flashlight - there's nothing left for God to do. I actually remember a kind, sweet-hearted fellow in the C of C praying, without complaining, "God, we know it's your work, but we do it for you..."

I grew up in a chaotic household and developed codependent tendencies - an aim to please others to gain approval. Put such as me into a modernist religious system, and we will do our best to erase or deny all doubts, all questions, all unruly self, so that we might feel accepted... But it will be to greater or lesser extent a lie.

Reality: I believe in God. I believe in Jesus, but I have doubts. I am drawn to unhealthy things. I WILL fall prey to porn, pot, drunkenness, and worse. I don't want to, but I'll slip into automatic pilot - unless God does a miracle that my reading of scripture can't do by itself. I have found some health and relief in the eastern tradition of mindfulness. My poetry is full of curse words.

But I have admitted all this - here it is. I am in the light, thanks to God. I have talked about these struggles, not hidden them, not sought to obviate them to squeeze myself into unrealistic constraints so that I might gain the approval of others. I do not believe that within the modernist/rationalist constraints of the C of C and other churches, there would have been an acceptable avenue for such growth.

Perhaps eight years ago now, I prayed to God that he would be "real" to me. I had in mind seeing the miracles of the Bible. Instead, God seems to have answered my prayer by making me real to him. This walk has taken me down some dark alleys. Apparently, I needed to walk them. Lewis is right when he calls God "the great iconoclast." No merely human system can contain him.

Lots of love, Owen,


11:04 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Hey, Marshall... Welcome!

You know that I love you, too! Greatly!

Thank you for being so honest. That is one of the things I have treasured about you in our long friendship. You have been honest about your doubts and struggles, even "back when" in the midst of your decision to conform to the rational system.

Lack of honesty is one of the biggest downfalls of many in the modern church. Being in tortured conformity to a religious system or doctrinal checklist (or secretly not being conformed to it) does no one any good and often does great harm. Being stripped stark-naked before God may be a painful place to be. But it's better than the former. For as bleak as it is, it is the only honest path to real hope. Would that more of us were as honest as you have been. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Life is found in God alone. Not in a set of texts, however sacred they are. (We can do -- and have done -- exactly what you have suggested: turn these texts into some kind of Law by which we save ourselves.) Not in a statement of faith, whether oral or written. (Statements about beliefs are impotent; living faith in a living God is not; it's just that we cannot control the demands nor the outcome and that galls us.) Not even in our idea of God. (This is a hard one for us to get over in that we want to be able to wrap our minds around God; our minds, of course, are way too small for that!) But in God alone.

God told Israel in Deuteronomy 8 that he let them be hungry as they wandered in the desert so that they might know that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of his mouth. This might seem to suggest our main focus should be on the word. That's not the point, though. The point is the struggle of relationship between God and man. I have long loved the name given to Jacob by the Angel of the Lord at Peniel in Genesis 32. "You shall be called Israel," which translated means something like "he wrestles with God." The Jews have it right in this. They know it's a wrestling match. We would do well to listen to them.

About doubt... Brian McLaren (who has been severely afflicted by doubt at times in his life) suggests that doubt is really letting go of false notions of God and faith and such, so that you can embrace a greater reality. For many of us, the truth is that that is not an easy or comfortable thing to do. It causes earthquakes. And you have had a few 6 and 7 pointers. (Easy for me to gauge low, eh? Probably more they've been 9 or 10 point earthquakes!) No question about that.

My strongest and most fervent prayer for you is that every so often, as often as he will, God will tap you on the shoulder to remind you that he is walking this journey with you. And that he is more than up to the wrestling match!

One more thing... I hope that in our interaction with each other over the years that I have been an encouragement toward the path that leads out of the valley, not a false guide toward the deadend canyons of the humanly rational. If I pushed you the wrong way, please forgive me.

You are very precious, my friend!

One more thing... we need to go fishing!


10:38 AM  

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