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.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

the voice of god...

I’ve been thinking about listening to God again. I’m thinking of a particular time in my life when I was convinced that God had spoken to me, asking me to do something that I didn’t really understand. I don’t know that I know the full import of it still. Here’s the story....

Most of you know that I lead worship for Central Church in Bakersfield, California. Some years ago, when we were still in the old building, I had just finished leading and Mark Turner, our then pulpit minister, had gotten up to preach. I remember this clearly for a number of reasons. When I sat down, I sat on the left side of the building rather than the right. Being a creature of habit, this magnified my memory of what happened. Sitting there just felt different.

Well, Mark had started the introduction to his lesson while my mind was otherwise occupied getting settled in this “new” place. Suddenly, I can’t say that this was characterized by words per se, but a strong compulsion came over me that I was to wash Mark’s feet. It came out of the blue. Consider, we are not into foot washing in my denomination. We have traditionally intellectualized the practice, extracting the “message” that Jesus wants us to learn from it. As far as I can remember, my immediate reaction was to ask myself, “Where did this come from?” Mark wasn’t preaching on John 13. None of our songs had a hint of water in them that I could remember. But this compulsion had a weight to it – I don’t know how else to describe it except weight – that I couldn’t ignore. My first question to God was, “Right now? I don’t have any water. I don’t have a towel. No soap. It would be terribly disruptive at this point.” Seeing no opportunity to do what the heavenly imperative commanded, I spent the rest of Mark’s sermon puzzling over this. I have no clue what Mark said that morning. I was struggling with a much more personal dilemma. Or was it so personal? Hang onto that question for a moment while I finish the story.

I told no one of what had happened, not even Dorothy. Convinced I had heard from God (and I’m still convinced of it), I began trying to find opportunity to complete the task that had been given me. Several months went by and no opportunity arose. I remember that a bunch of us, including Mark, went to Promise Keepers in Los Angeles at the Coliseum. I thought prior to going, “Maybe there, maybe I’m to wash his feet there.” No opportunity arose.

Back to Bakersfield with no resolution. Working. Leading worship. Dealing with kids and other family obligations. Life kept rolling along and still no opportunity.

Finally, and this was probably six months after this had been presented to me, it was time for all of us to go to camp. When our family does camp, we take a lot of stuff. The car was packed to the gills. the kids were buckled into the back seat. Dorothy was getting her seatbelt arranged on the passenger side. I took the opportunity to sneak – unbeknownst to them – a plastic basin, towel and soap into a small void in the back of the station wagon. I did it with a silent prayer. Something along the lines of, “Okay, Lord. If you really want me to do this, you need to make it very obvious to me.” Then we headed to camp.

I think I was leading worship that year and helping with music at campfire. I know I wasn’t teaching. It was a kind of family encampment. We had just lost a number of people and families due to the closing of a Christian school. Anyway, days went by. Nothing. It must have been Thursday of that week. I was taking the quarter mile trek from the Green House where Dorothy and I were staying up to the cafeteria. Walking along the baseball field, I was having this long internal and very intense conversation with God. “I brought the basin. I brought the towel. I brought the soap. If this is really from you, I need to know. And if it doesn’t happen now, I’m going to attribute this thing to temporary insanity or something.”

I was late for the morning session. Our then youth minister had begun leading the worship already, which was fine with me. I was still struggling with that internal conversation. I honestly can’t remember who said what, but someone began reading the opening lines of John 13. “Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime....” And so unfolded there in the cafeteria that two-thousand year-old story of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. My friend Wade, I believe, was to speak on that very text at the evening worship.

It hit me like a truck. I don’t think God could have made it much more obvious than that. As we walked up the sidewalk to Cabin High, where the men’s class was being taught by Mark, I began a new line of questions in my mind. “How am I going to tell Mark? Is he going to think I’m nuts?” Again Mark taught. Again, I don’t think I heard a single word of what he said. I hung around after class was over. On the sidewalk back to the cafeteria, I asked to speak with him. He was very gracious, didn’t question my sanity, though I certainly was.

That night, in the middle of Wade’s sermon, I walked from the back of the cafeteria to the front carrying a basin and a towel and some soap and washed Mark’s feet. There was a hush in the room. A number of tears were shed that night. God showed up.

Now years later, I am still told this had a long-lasting influence on a lot of people that were and are part of our church. There is no glory in it for me. None at all and none deserved.

It began with God’s direction.

One more point... isn’t it interesting (perhaps more than?) that this directive from God (for so I still believe it to be) seemed to be intended to be witnessed by the community? I’m wondering again if the voice of God is primarily concerned less with us as individuals and more with us as a community of faith intended to bless and break into the world as the living kingdom of God?

What do you think?

Grace and peace,

Owen

9 Comments:

Anonymous Wade said...

God morning to you all,
It is 5:52am PST and having just read this post Ia m moved to say God spoke to me reminding me of that wonderful and very different time as I witnessed "the washing of the feet". I say that to say the experience still "speakes" to my heart and I believe God is the one doing the talking through, Owen. You probably see where I am going. By example Jesus said alot and the way I read the Bible especially when Jesus washed the disciples feet says we can hear God's voice the sane way.
Last week our pulpit minister Randy called asking me if would offer the devotional on Sunday night, to me that was a call from God of which I contimplated what I was going to do the rtest of the week. Is that some more of god talking or not? YES it is for me.
Then as I read John 17 God spoke to me then, too. It seems God talks alot if we would accept hearing his voice.
I do so need all the help I can get
in His love
Wade

6:05 AM  
Blogger Tones said...

This is a story about hearing God that I haven't talked about a whole lot (for obvous reasons). When Zee and I had just had Griffin we realized that we couldn't feed and diaper him without a job, so I started loking for a youth ministry job. I had interviews lined up all over the nation (Louisiana, Tennessee, Michigan, California) and I had a couple of other irons in the fire. One of those irons was in a church in Colorado. If given a choice of all the places in America to live, I would be most excited about living in Colorado.

Anyway, I was praying over all this whole situation when I thought I heard God tell me to call the church in Colorado and ask for Kerry. Believe me, I thought it sounded as ridiculous as you do. I couldn't escape the internal pressure I had to make the call, so I did. No one named Kerry works for that church in Colorado. No one named Kerry even goes to that church in Colorado.

I'm still not sure what to do with that.

Tones

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Curiosities:

I wish I could remember this young lady's name, but I can't. She was a co-worker of mine years ago, and one day, out of the blue, she asked me, "What's prayer for?" As we talked, I learned that she was struggling hard with the silence of God. She had been raised in a Pentecostal church that often said, "Name it and claim it." In other words, if you ask, consider it done - that's faith. But then she had an autistic son, who was about two when she and I talked. I gave her all the practical advice and Bible knowledge I could, but she concluded, "God's a jerk."

I knew another woman who insisted that illness, any illness, was a clear sign of God's disfavor. I thought she would get violent one night when I said that a photo she showed me of "an angel" was a photo of a cloud.

I know an old preacher who was once confronted with what seemed to be a clear case of healing. An elder's wife had been diagnosed with cancer - all the sophisticated tests thrown at it reached the same conclusion. She was given months to live, and - bless her heart - was trying to set her husband up with another woman before she died. :-) But others prayed over her, anointed her with oil, etc., and suddenly she had a clean bill of health. The old preacher said simply and flatly and finally that she had never had cancer in the first place.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

You see? This is exactly why I posted the knowing god 2 post. How can we know the voice of God?

At the same time, I appreciate what Wade said. I, took, think we can hear the voice of God in the texts. Perhaps hearing the character of God in the texts enables us to better hear the voice of God?

BTW, Tones, I found a nearby Franciscan monastery that is offering a week of silence from Jan 8-14 as attendees go through the Ignatien Examine. I'm waffling as to whether I want to attend that, but, hey, it's something to think about. I'm convinced the desert fathers had much more peace with and understanding/practice of the discipline of listening to God than most any of us.

Then again, why do I have to feel like a contortionist in the midst of all this???

Grace and peace and the "still, small voice",

Owen

10:56 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

...and Tones...

Maybe that was God's way of getting you and Zee and the boys to Bakersfield???

;-)

Owen

10:57 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

TYPO CORRECTION: In my first comment, "I, took," is supposed to be "I, too,"

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

You know, to Samuel, God just said, "Samuel."

6:01 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

I know, Marshall. I know. And I find the knowing of that intensely frustrating given my experience (or the scattered nature of it, at least).

It seems there would be someone who would have a class or seminar on this, don't you think? (Spoken with post-modern tongue in cheek!)

All I can really do is joke about it. But I truly am frustrated with the whole thing!

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

More on the voice of God, Owen. I probably shouldn't post this, because it really is purely for the not-easily-shaken. So I've sort of "buried" it back here under an older post. Maybe I'm just tired today... But I've been thinking a great deal lately about the difficulties in seeking actual encounters with God and about the nature of the gospel message.

In regard to hearing God, possibilities:

1) The Bible’s representation of God is figurative. Many today say they “know God” or “hear God,” but they are merely objectifying subjective experiences. But the evidence always allows for naturalistic explanations. From time to time, unlikely good happens and is attributed as answered prayer; from time to time, unlikely bad happens and necessitates the doctrine of an adversary. God either is not at all, or is not as personal or intrusive as the Bible suggests. Such is the way it has always been.
2) God has altered his modus operandi. In the past, a more hands-on approach was necessary, but is no longer required or for the best. Jesus was God’s clear and final word (Heb. 1:1-2); no ongoing word is necessary.
3) God is silent because he is displeased or because we have lost the will or ability to listen (1 Sam. 3:1b).
4) Word from God was and is rare. Literature is life with the dull bits excised. Few have ever heard from God, and then only rarely. Such it was and such it remains.
5) We suffer from a western delusion that the world requires significant change, that it necessitates the active wrench-in-hand of God, and that God doesn’t act without our Sturm und Drang. Our eastern friends, on the other hand, offer a healthier outlook. The world is not broken; it merely is as it is. We can help it to tend toward the beautiful and pain-free, but through a far more accepting, patient process that we are accustomed to.

I guess that 5 above is sort of a correlary of 1... Ah, well.

I continue to believe in a personal God, Owen, meaning that I believe God is a Person. I don't find that thought anthropomorphic. I think my cat, Duma, is a person, too, that she has her cat-like thoughts and feelings, intent and reactions. I cannot believe that an existence that allows for mind and heart and intent and significance in the details is the result of blind, dumb processes.

But I am leaning increasingly toward an amalgamation of possibilities 4 and 5 above. As I read your posts, you tend to be leaning toward 3.

My "reading" is certainly flavored by my experiences. More than with anything else, I am struggling with the stress of the Bible. When we teach the "good news" that people are "saved," we must first teach them the bad news that they are lost, that God is so displeased with their choices that he is going to cast them into the eternal garbage!

But I look around and see, increasingly, a world of folks simply doing the best they can. So often "sin" is just some form of self-medication. Life is hard! Life hurts! And so often we say, lay down the crack pipe, stop visiting the bars, leave your live-in girlfriend - and then we offer religion and pressure everyone to become the apostle Paul as quickly as possible.

Wanna hear what would feel to my heart like actual gospel? - "It's okay." Just that. Or maybe, "It's okay. Keep trying." I guess my mid-life suffering has led me to question the bad news that predicates the good news. "...such a worm as I..." Indeed. What really did Jesus offer?

Tones has said here somewhere that he's sometimes tempted to let church go and just try to be Christian. As always these days, I feel pretty far out on the fringe; I feel like setting my Bible aside and just trying to be loving and accepting and helpful. Do I really need more word than that?

I think God works in my life, inching me towards maturity, but the cosmology and the logic-chains and the expectations and the frustrations...

11:06 AM  

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