A* is reading a books called In the Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson, the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. A*'s sister sent us the book as she had attended NCC when she lived in the DC area a number of years ago. We visited that church once, and I remember enjoying it. They met in a movie theater in Union Station. The book is also being used as the summer sermon series of the church we've been going to, so for A* it has been helping her to evaluate from her perspective whether we should stick with this church or not. Me, well, as I mentioned previously, I'm at the point where I don't care much about going to this church or any church right now.
So given that attitude, A* found a section in Chapter 4 of the book that she thought would be helpful to me. I'm really glad that she read it to me because I think it is true and I also think it connects with the a major topic in the first chapter of An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches. She read me parts of this excerpt:
Let me share something I've learned from some of my personal struggles. When I get into a spiritual or emotional slump, it's usually because of I've zoomed in on a problem. I'm fixating on something I don't like about myself or someone else or my circumstances. And nine times out of ten, the solution is zooming out so I can get some perspective.
So how do we zoom out? The one-word answer is worship.
A few years ago I had a thought that has become a worship mantra at National Community Church: Don't let what's wrong with you keep you from worship what's right with God.
Reframing problems is about shifting focus. You stop focusing on what's wrong with your circumstances. And you start focusing on what's right with God.
Paul and Silas could have zoomed in and complained about their circumstances. We cast out a demon, and this is what we get? We're on a missionary journey, and we get beaten and thrown in jail? Instead of God watching our backs, our backs are bleeding from a beating! They could have complained till the cows came home. But they made a choice to worship God in spite of their external circumstances. And that is often the most difficult and most important choice we can make.
Worship is zooming out and refocusing on the big picture. It's refocusing on the fact that two thousand years ago, Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin. IT's refocusing on the fact that God unconditionally loves me when I least expect it and lease deserve it. It's refocusing on the fact that I have eternity with God to look forward to in a place where there is no mourning or sorrow or pain.
Worship is forgetting about what's wrong with you and remembering what's right with God. It is like hitting the refresh key on your computer. It restores the joy of your salvation. It recalibrates your spirit. It renews your mind. And it enables you to find something good to praise God about even when everything seems to be going wrong. (p. 66-67)
I think about when we've gone to LCBC and how no matter when we've gone, we've always been able to worship, leave everything else at the door and walk away refreshed. It's because we've zoomed out of what we'd been focused on before walking into that worship opportunity; we've opened our hearts to be reminded of God's love for us; we've desired the Spirit to refresh our souls. There was no plan, no preparation. There was no analysis of what happened later. It was worship, pure, simple, and naively real.
Naively real? Well, I just learned that phrase this week in the first chapter of An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches. The author is discussing the theological differences between the church in Jerusalem, led by the 11 remaining disciples of Jesus turned apostles, and the church in Antioch, which is led by Paul, a self-proclaimed apostle by the revealed Spirit of Jesus. The first chapter is full of interesting narratives of how the theology that came out of Antioch (through Paul) differed so strongly from the theology steeped in traditional Judaism of the disciples, and how that conflict played out. The major point of the chapter was that Paul claimed the entire basis of his theology was from revelation from the Spirit of Christ. His support for it was not just his own personal claim, but also the fruit of the work the Spirit of Christ was doing within the community he was ministering.
So how does naive realism come into this? Well, the church in Jerusalem criticized the church in Antioch for removing the requirement of circumcision, and various other traditional Jewish elements. Similar to how emerging churches today are criticized for "lacking theological sophistication," so was Paul similar criticized. The author shows that Paul responds in a naive realism, which means that he approached his revealed theology of the Spirit of Christ as "reality as something that involves more interaction between what is real and a person's perception of it." It is dynamic, not static, described also as "modest realism" as "the way that knowledge of reality involves something of the knower as well as openness to a more-than-meets-the-eye (or fills the mind) experience of reality. (p.39)
What is a real-life example of this heady definition? The author describes a team of theologians and Young Life leaders discussing papers about evangelizing to young people. One person asked a professor present how it was that they could discuss this without challenges "on the basis of recent textual criticism theories?" The professor responded, "Some of us have concluded that redaction criticism of the text has come to a dead end and that we should simply accept th text as Word of God given to the believing community and read and use it as such!" (p. 39)
How freeing that is! To allow the Bible to simply be the Word of God given to us as believers. Paul wrote to us as Word of God given to him, revealed by the Spirit of Christ, his faith founded in Jesus revealing Himself to Paul on that road to Damascus. So anyone (like the church in Jerusalem) who demanded his sources for his theology and teachings, Paul simply pointed to the reality of Christ as the basis of the truth of Christ. He needed no philosophical proofs, no empirical data, and no historical evidences; simply the reality of his experience with Jesus and the Spirit, which revealed to him his knowledge of Jesus. So while modern thinkers look for evidences of truth, Paul looked for evidences of reality, supported by evidence of the Spirit revealing and moving through the community of believers. (p. 41)
So in this way we should read the Gospels as they were written, "in an unapologetic way - reality and knowledge were assumed to be true, not parts of the truth." (p. 40) For what is written is the reality of Christ as witnessed by the Gospel authors. The truth of that reality is the Word of God revealed to them - to us; the kingdom of God arriving; the Way mapped out.
And so with all this in mind, it is freeing to be able to focus on the Spirit of Christ in worship, to sing of the love of God given to us, to simply believe in the only reality that our souls know - the longing to be in relationship with God, worshiping Him, and receiving His love. If I can let go of my frustrations, let go of my idealistic viewpoints, let go of my Utopian desires for church and community, and live in the moment of worship, that would be heavenly.
Does it sound naive? I hope so, because it also sounds real.