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.

A New Song

New Song

Psalm 40:3 – He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.

Two things make people nervous about mystics. They ask questions and they don’t ask permission.

I’ve said before that I’m really a mystic disguised as a cynic who has opted for conformity to avoid conflict.

Somewhere down inside my perfectionist, driven self is a heart that is asking more questions than will ever get answers on this side of heaven. And I’m good with that – really good. In fact, I’m freer because of that than I’ve probably ever been in my life. It is as if God has given me a new song. I’m not sure that I have all the words yet, but it’s coming together. The melody is still a little rough to be sung by others but it will happen. I can feel it. As a songwriter this is the best way I know to articulate the experience.

I’m beginning to understand that being a believer is about loving the things that God loves, not satisfying a minimum requirement to get into heaven. In fact, I’m seeing that a lot of my Christian experience in the church has been experiencing people as either in or out and feeling like it was my job to help them find out which they were.

In this new song that I believe God is giving me (and I’m not speaking of a literal, singable song lest anyone find themselves awaiting some new worship tune from me), I’m finally able to be honest with myself about what I don’t know, what I believe I do know, and that there is a lot of open road between the two to be explored.

The joy and relief that come with the words, “I don’t know for sure” are freeing. They free me from defending things that feel like I have to memorize a handbook to address. I’m free from the anger that crawls up the back of my neck when people put me on the spot with their spiritual quandaries expecting me to answer them and be God’s personal PR person. It frees me from trying to convince myself of something while I’m trying to convince someone else of something. It frees me from trying to turn an “out” person into an “in” person.

This new song was conceived during lots of dark nights, lonely days, silence, and literally aching with uncertainty. I wasn’t sure I wanted this song at first. It evolved as I found myself in the company of other very broken and honest people who celebrate life in a way that I never had. This song was delivered in joy and ultimately worship as I truly begin to seek the things that God loves and in turn, learning to love Him. Not the concept of Him or the idea of Him.

I always believed that a new song would be one sung with gusto, assurance and certainty. Now I’m hearing a song that sounds distinctly different. My naïve self believed it to be a song that everyone would embrace and want to sing with me and that has turned out not to be the case. I realize that such journeys are up to God and mine doesn’t make me better, more evolved, or more mature. It just makes me different.

If I had to attach a wish here it would be that everyone reading this post would take the time to sit quietly. Turn off the music in the car. Turn off the TV while you eat dinner. Take a walk on one of these cool spring nights we’ve been having and 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…