When God Talks Back

In last week’s blog I wrote about the idea of God giving us a “new song”. I posed a challenge of sorts at the end of my post. I said, “Ask yourself if the song you’ve been singing is one you own, that resonates with you in the most authentic parts of yourself. If it doesn’t, ask God to give you a new song. Then hold on tight…”

As my new song has emerged I’ve found myself reading a book entitled, When God Talks Back by T.M Luhrmann (published by Alfred Knopf, New York). She is a psychological anthropologist who spent a few years in two different Vineyard Fellowship Churches (one in Chicago and another in California). She wanted to research the evangelical mindset that has construed a hyper-personalized faith and an allegedly supremely personally engaged God. I should be quick to point out that she doesn’t necessarily consider herself to be a Christian but at the same time isn’t sure that she couldn’t be.

She is quick to say that there were times that even her own experiences confounded her. She describes small groups where the members were praying for one another and her being moved to tears by the compassion that was shown to those in pain, need, or desperate loneliness. It reminds me how the world will know we are true followers of Jesus by the way we love one another.

She shares that anthropology demands humility and that she can only speak to the human side of the relationship. What she is most curious about exploring is how we as believers can come to a place in our own psyche that allows us to suspend natural laws and believe what we cannot see, prove, or support with “facts”. The things that keep sane people sane are somehow suspended (and even required to be) when it comes to matters of faith, and yet the most intimate spiritual encounters can test the bounds of solid mental health criteria.

She says emphatically that she isn’t here to answer the question about whether God talks back, but rather what we might be experiencing when we think he does.

There is a lot to digest here. Not because she is trying to throw any of us off of the horses of our traditions or religious persuasions, but because she is asking some very good questions that might help me get a little further along on that new song I’ve been talking about. Questions like how much of myself I project on to God when I think I’m hearing him, when I pray, or when I find myself speaking on his behalf to others.

Since I haven’t completed this book I’m not commending it. I can only say that so far it has been very thought provoking in light of a subculture that gives God credit for everything from telling us where to spend vacations to getting our imported Italian marble counter tops delivered in time for the cabinet maker to meet the closing date of our house.

Losing Our Way

“The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.”
Henri Nouwen

I’ve read about a time in the early church when Christians weren’t known as Christians but rather, The Followers of The Way. The Way as in, The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

The term resonated with me because it seemed to imply that faith was not passive or simply about getting our spiritual passport stamped as I’ve said before. It wasn’t just about whether or not one was going to heaven. There seemed to be something tangible about following The Way. It was an interactive demonstration of Jesus and a proactive, intentional, and applicable faith that changed the lives of those who were touched by these followers. It wasn’t a static, removed experience but rather one that impacted those in its path.

It left me wondering when Christianity went from being The Way to an “it”. When did being a follower of Jesus become reduced to joining a subculture, simply taking on a moral code that defined us, and checking off things on an offering envelope? When did we settle for an overly privatized and personalized “belief” as opposed to an interactive presentation to the world around us of who Christ is to us?

Naming myself as a Christian seems to be a little easier than defining myself as someone who follows a “way”. There is a vulnerability in others being able to observe from the outside whether my life as one who calls myself a Follower of The Way is congruent with that Way. Simply calling myself a Christian on the other hand doesn’t seem to require much of me these days. A Christian can be a lot of things. It can also not be a lot of things. A Follower of The Way, however seems to imply a more specific understanding in what the world around me can expect from me.

A Follower of The Way is going to exhibit peace making, show mercy to the poor, reach into the places where those who have no voice are ignored, and most of all, be a light in what can be a very dark world.

Following The Way implies a counting of costs. As I think of simply “becoming a Christian” it sounds a bit like I have simply changed my political party affiliation. A Democrat is an “it”. A Republican is an “it”. A Christian seems to have become an “it”. A Follower of The Way however opens up the lid to many questions, implications, and curiosity regarding what I’m about. It offers a compass by which I can align myself as it calls me into something instead of out of it. It implies a calling as opposed to simply being aligned with a certain ideology. It puts into perspective that I am a part of something bigger than myself and am one among many while the term “a” Christian can imply something singular and isolated, at least on the surface.

I’m going to give more thought to how I identify myself with The Way and examine how it challenges the things that I take seriously in my life and the lives of those around me.

As absurd as it sounds to say, simply being called a Christian is feeling a bit generic.