Sunday, October 26, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here?

It's been a week since I started the sabbatical (see "Hey Babe: Take a Walk on the Quiet Side"). I figured I'd provide a few observations, and ask a small favor from you. I have a wonderful wife, where many of the observations come through conversations with her. She IS the source for most in my life. As I write this, it is currently 16:45 on a Sunday. Our cat, Harley, is acting extra mischievous and finicky. My wife figured out it was after 16:00 and he was desiring his afternoon snack - something I'm prone to overlook. She is gifted, I tell ya!

She reminded me of something I've asked her in the past when it came to Lent. Most people who observe Lent, do that by giving up something - hopefully of value to them. For me, giving up Brussels sprouts would be the perfect option, except for the fact that I won't eat them at any time (Yick!). My question is not what one is giving up, but with what is one replacing that thing? The replacement is supposed to help provide focus during this season. For instance: give up video games and provide care for an elderly neighbor. So she wanted to know, since I've "given up church", with what am I replacing it?

(Side note: I wrote an email to the couple who have been leading the worship team for the last year so that they would know what was going on - I really don't know who actually reads this blog! In the email I stated that I was taking a sabbatical from "intellectual Christianity". I think that best sums it up.)

I told her that the observation of Lent was based on religious practice. Most people will only do such an act during the Lenten season. Once it is over, they're done. I did not approach this sabbatical based on a religious practice. Actually, this is more of a pressure release valve. I needed to walk away before I found myself in a more precarious position in my faith.

She then asked me how I will know when/if this sabbatical will be over.

I told her that it would probably be similar to how I knew to take the sabbatical. This was a slow build up over time. I knew when it was time to start. I'm figuring that it will end in a similar fashion.

I purchased a bite guard about a month ago. It's a small device that keeps your teeth from grinding together at night. I decided to purchase one because I found that when I woke up in the morning, I wasn't able to bite down - put my teeth together - without extreme pain. As I mentioned in "Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guess My Name", grinding my teeth will culminate in severe headaches that wake me up at night. My wife noticed that once I came to this decision concerning the sabbatical, I haven't used the bite guard. This has apparently been a source of stress - stress that manifests itself in the grinding of my teeth. Another sign that this has been a good decision.

Which brings me back to her last/first question: Since I'm not going to be attending church for now, with what am I going to replace it?

I told her the one thing that I'm going to miss the most during this sabbatical is worship. I'm an advocate of, but a terrible representation of, private worship. I need to keep that focus in my life. My wife wants to support me in this, and suggested going somewhere on Sundays to remove distractions and meditate. That's one method.

The other method brings me to the favor. We have a large music library. So large, that there is no way we could actually listen to it all over the course of a year (you know, during times of consciousness). I listen to little-to-no radio because of it. Here's the kicker: the majority of that collection came from referrals. And that's where I need you. Our collection is quite weak when it comes to "worship" music. We have quite a bit of "Christian" music, but most does not bring one into a state of focus upon God (you know, "worship").

Would you take a moment and provide me music that you find helps you focus on God? I'm looking for artist names, song titles, and even whole CD titles (yeah, I still purchase physical media!). This request is not just for those Christian friends of mine. If there is music that you find brings you into a meditative state, that helps you focus on the "other", the less-about-you, I would love to know that too.

You can let me know easiest as a response to this blog in Facebook or Twitter (Twitter is the best - @nocturnecsh). Or, if you already have my email address, please feel free to drop me an email. I'm hoping to do some shopping soon, so your help is greatly appreciated.

So in answer to the title of this blog ("Where Do We Go From Here?" - taken from the Alan Parson's song, "Games People Play"), I think that a stepping away from the "intellectual", and a stepping toward solitude and devoted worship is where I'm headed.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hey, Babe: Take a Walk on the Quiet Side

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog called "Oh to be Ignorant", where I shared my desire to step back from the painting, stop staring at the brush strokes, and take in the whole "picture" of God. I wanted to share what has happened since, to let you know where that blog has taken me, and the uncertainty of where I'm going.

(If you haven't read "Oh to be Ignorant", please take a moment to read it before going on - it will help you understand what follows.)

My wife described what I've been feeling as "burn out". I think she's right. I'm not burned out on God, though. I’m burned out on the brush strokes - the driveway. To misquote Festus to Paul, "Much learning is driving you mad!" (Acts 26:24b NKJV) This is not something new. One of the symptoms of my burn out has been the complete emptiness I've been experiencing sitting through sermons over the last several months. Yes, I said "several". This is not new to me. Again, the sermons have been of high caliber - perhaps too high.

Last week everything came to a head. When we woke up Sunday morning, I told my wife that I just wanted to skip church. She said we should go - since it was a guest minister. I told her I "knew" what he was going to preach on (it was announced the previous Sunday), and I didn't want to go. We went anyway. After the service she said to me, "Halfway through I realized you were right." As a husband, I find those words don't come very often!!

The topic was "Healing Generational Issues". He pulled passages from Lamentations, Exodus, and Jeremiah (all Old Testament) to show where generational curses (sins of the fathers being passed down to the sons) is both acknowledged and contradicted. He then went on to show how the paradox (his word - used incorrectly I might add) can be reconciled. At one point I pulled up John 9:1-3 (New Testament) on my tablet and showed it to my wife. The passage is a discussion between Jesus and His disciples right after He heals a blind man. They ask him "who sinned? He or his parents?" Jesus replies "Neither!" Which, to me, totally wipes out this guy's total sermon. Also, not only does the passage contradict his entire sermon, there is no instance - that I've seen - where Jesus breaks a generational "curse".

He also brought up the "value" of praying in "The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth Who came in the flesh". In other words, praying in the name of Jesus was not sufficient for this type of prayer. I concluded that this guy was a moron. So much for the value of a minister who has the title "Dr." in front of his name. Besides, I heard this kind of "preaching" back in the 1990s. We were right back to the Name-it-Claim-it-You-can-have-what-you-say-Positive-Speaking baloney that was so prevalent back then.

I spent the rest of the sermon catching up my journal - trying to ignore the blather.

During breakfast (a common thing for my wife and I to do after church) we had the discussion that culminated in a decision. A decision that some of my church friends may not agree with. I decided that I needed to take a break from church. Not God. Church. We call it taking a "sabbatical". I'm not church hopping. At this point I have no expectation of permanently leaving the church I attend. I just have no intention of attending ANY church. I will miss worshipping God in church - since I have NO qualms concerning the praising of God. I just can't go from worship-to-the-offering-to-the-car in good conscience.

I needed to tell someone at the church my decision. I didn't want to be one of those people that you suddenly realized disappeared - you know the ones, where you really can't remember the last time you saw them. And since I've been a member of the worship team for a long time, it was prudent that I told someone in leadership. I contacted the person who has led the worship team, the person I've been able to share concerns with over the years, and met him for dinner. He said that he understood my decision, said we needed to keep in communication (a.k.a. "accountability"), and that he would let the rest of the church staff know.

After dinner we went to the church - he went to make sure it was unlocked. I wanted to remove all of my equipment. There are too many idle hands that mess with things that aren't theirs. I packed up my Jeep, turned off the lights in the sanctuary (with a quick prayer) and went home.

And it's done. How long will this sabbatical last? I have no idea. I know that I'm going to do my best to step back and get as far away from the brush strokes as I can.

If anyone asks, tell them I'm taking a walk on the quiet side.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wrapped in Unconditional Love

This was the most painful poem I've ever written. Between each phrase I paced the floor and sobbed - not wept; sobbed. It seemed to take forever to express the ache.

It took four months for me to sit and write after that. I just didn't have the courage to put myself through it again.

-j.p.

© Emittravel 2014


Wrapped in Unconditional Love
 
Love
Overwhelming
All consuming
Beyond anything ever known before
Every thought
Every passion
Every breath
Focused on one

One
Beautiful
All encompassing
Beyond anyone ever known before
Every word
Every motion
Every breath
The focus of my existence

Unattainable

I cry out with love
But you are gone
I seek you
I search for you
But you are not there
You stand before me
But you are far away
You long for another
Shutting me out

My heart reaches forth
Grasping the air
Wanting nothing but you
You smile and turn away
Looking for the love
Of one who has shut YOU out

Does your heart cry for him?
Like mine does for you?
Do you know the pain?
Wrapped in unconditional love?

To hold you again
To proclaim my love for you
As I fall into those eyes once more

Time
Moving
All knowing
Beyond the ability to control
Every desire
Every prayer
Every moment
Waiting just for you

J.P. Wiegand
© Emittravel 2003

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Oh to be Ignorant

There is probably nothing more irritating to an old Christian, than a new Christian. They are so excited. It's Jesus this, and Jesus that. Every prayer seems to be answered without delay. And they are simply oozing with sticky, sweet, joy. You know what I mean, don't you? Better yet, you remember BEING that, don't you? Now you are in the group that tells them to calm down. Not to be so obnoxiously evangelical. You're already a Christian - you don't need to hear them singing every new Christian song, and don't want to see them wearing all of those obnoxious t-shirts covered with clich├ęs and slogans. You've matured. You've grown. You've become stale.

How do I know this? Because I'm stale.

What happened? How did I get this way? My story from when I first became a Christian to now is rather long and detailed, so I won't go into it too much here. Let's just say that the saying is true: the more you learn, the less you know. Let me explain.

Have you ever tried Google Earth? You start off looking at the Earth, and start zooming in. Click, by click, by click you get closer and closer to the Earth's surface, and see more and more details. Pretty soon you went from a big ball of blue to your driveway. That's so cool. Tell that to the crew of the Apollo 8 mission. As they orbited the moon, they watched the Earth "rise" and quoted the first ten verses of Genesis: "In the beginning, God … " The beauty and majesty of the Earth from space has had similar impacts upon those fortunate enough to "… have danced the streets of heaven, and touched the face of God." (Cuthbert Hicks) It's not the minute details of the streets, it's the overall beauty of the Earth seen from 100 miles above it.

(I have used the phrase "Five thousand foot level" several times in previous posts in reference to viewing the Bible. It sounded good, but in retrospect I should have used something more akin to 528,000 feet. But to be consistent, I'm going to continue using five thousand.)

Christianity, at least in the varieties I'm familiar with, starts off looking at God from such that low Earth orbit (100 miles). As you read the Bible, expose yourself to sermons, books, and other sources of knowledge, you get "closer and closer" to God. Soon you find you've broken through the clouds and gotten right down to your driveway. Some would say that is a good thing. At one point in my life I would have agreed. Today? Oh to be ignorant.

Let's look at it with another example. Have you ever looked at a painting? Not a print of a painting. Not a picture of a painting on the internet. A real, honest-to-goodness painting? Gotten so close to it you could see the individual brush strokes? That is where I am in my Christianity. I've heard so many sermons, read so many books (including the Bible, over and over), that I've gotten right up close to the brush strokes of God. The problem? I've forgotten what the overall picture looked like. I forgot the beauty and awe of God that I first saw when I first saw Him. I've spent so much time getting to know about Him, that I've forgotten Him. And what's worse, without my reading glasses, I can't even enjoy the individual brush strokes!

I want to be ignorant again. I want to wipe out all of those years of study and go back to that simple joy of meeting Him. If you had asked me what made going to church such an impactful part of my life, I would have told you it was the sermons - the powerful preaching. Not today. Today I would soon as much leave before the sermon starts. Go from worship to the offering to the car. I don't even mind the offering - to me it's an extension of the worship.

I'm a little biased: I happen to be on the worship team of our church. I sing, and play blues harmonica and a little percussion. For me, I find it "easier" to worship God from the platform than from the congregation. I find I worship God through the instruments. There was a Sunday a few weeks ago that the worship leader (who happened to be sitting at the piano) had tears running down his cheeks while he played. He was worshipping God through his playing. If the church asked me to step down from the worship team, I'd find I'd have very little reason to keep coming.

To be honest (if that above wasn't honest enough), if it wasn't for the fact that I'd end up leaving my instruments still on the platform, I'd leave right after the offering anyway. Its not that the sermons are no longer good - they are still phenomenal. I just find that I'm so empty sitting there. I am no longer interested in one more "nugget". One more Greek translation of some amazing truth of the Bible.

Jesus said to "Come unto me like little children." (Matthew 18:3). Some believe that that means that you come to Jesus as a little child and grow up from there. What is the most "popular" prayer in the Bible? It's called the Lord's Prayer. It starts off with "Our Father, Who art in Heaven. Blessed by Thy name." Do you know what that really says? "My Daddy, Who lives in Heaven. Blessed is Your name." Daddy, not Father. It's a word of endearment. Those who have translated it "Father" have done a great disservice. We are to come to Jesus, and continually come to Him, as a little child.

When I was a child I would reach up my arms to my daddy. He would pick me up and place me on his lap, and hold me. Today? We go out to breakfast and talk man-to-man. The thought of him picking me up and holding me on his lap is absurd.

I want to go back to climbing into God's lap. I want to be a child again. Oh to be ignorant.

© Emittravel 2014