All Wounds and No Scars (Thoughts on A Culture of Grievance)

The title (all wounds/no scars) comes from Erwin McManus’s new book The Artisan Soul, and sums up perfectly some thoughts that have been brewing for a while. Also, what follows is, in many ways, a follow-up to my last post, so check that out if you haven’t seen it.

One of the great gifts of post-modernity has been the resurgence in the importance of story. I have found thinking about the elements of story, seeing my life as a story, and even reading scripture (and doing theology) from a narrative perspective to be immensely helpful.

But, there is a dark side to the elevation of story. That dark side manifests itself in all sorts of ways: from social media/selfie narcissism to an agenda based hybridization of the gospel (a tactic used by those on the left and the right both politically and theologically).

In other words, stories are important, and thinking narratively is helpful, but when your story becomes THE story, we are right back at the same old problem we’ve always had.

We are not the hero of The story.

When we are the hero of the story, life is all about us and what we have experienced, and we end up with a culture of grievance.

Let me give you an example. In liberation theology, much good work has been done to bring the stories of the oppressed to light. But when getting the story out is the ultimate goal, or if expressing my story and all the pain I’ve experienced is the end, we don’t leave a lot of room for Jesus to work. It might be a gnarly story, and it might make a great movie, but if there’s no resurrection there’s no life.

To use the parenting example from the previous post: both examples of parenting stances I cited end up making the child the Hero. So, let me say it again: we (nor our children) are the hero of The story.

What’s fascinating to me about all of this, is that when we make discipleship in the way of Jesus about causes or projects…when we reduce parenting (or governing, or leading, or anything) to an either/or paradigm of rules vs. total freedom…we commit the worst mistake of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees are these characters in the story of Jesus who get a bad reputation for rule-sticklers and judgmental (which they deserve, and which, as we have seen, both miss the point completely). But, if you read the stories of Jesus you will notice a phrase pop up from time to time: wanting to justify themselves (see Luke 16:15 for an example).

The real problem of the Pharisees wasn’t being judgmental, it was wanting to justify themselves.

And this is the danger of story. We end up creating stories that seek only to justify ourselves.

Which is the antithesis of the gospel, the good news that Jesus does the justifying for us.

McManus writes that there are two kinds of “uninteresting people”: those who have never suffered, and those who have suffered and that suffering is all they know.

He writes: “They are trapped in their pain; they wallow in their despair; they are all wounds and no scarsAll they can talk about is their pain.”

It is good to tell our stories. It is good to share our pain and experiences.

But may we move past our suffering and our stoires to something deeper and more beautiful.

“These are the most compelling people: the ones who have overcome tragedy and found beauty; the ones who have drowned in despair but found hope; the ones who should have forever remained trapped in this rubble of their failures and yet found courage and resolve to rise from the dead.

The Most Emo Psalm of All Time

There are bleak Psalms and then there’s the 88th Psalm. It doesn’t get much darker than this:

“You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.” (v. 18)

At times the question is raised: are the Psalms biblical? “Biblical” is a loaded word and sometimes it can get thrown around in unhealthy ways. And yet it is a fair, and intriguing, question, especially in light of the hopelessness of Psalm 88.

How does this belong?

If you try to fit Psalm 88 into a neat and tidy theological framework it doesn’t hold…you have to rationalize it away or not read it.

But it’s there. Right between the musical joy of 87 and 89.

And that might be the point. The psalms are not an instruction manual
or a theological treatise,
they are life.

And sometimes life is happy
and full of singing and rejoicing,
and other times life is painful
and full of darkness.

The point is not to try to distill a lesson from psalm 88. Just let it be there.

Because, sometimes there is no answer.
Sometimes there is no resolution.
Sometimes there is only darkness.

The Icing on a Turd Cake

My final year in college my dorm burnt down. That was the icing on a turd cake of a year. The twin towers fell a week into school. A kid overdosed on my floor and died in his sleep. A girl in my small group passed away over spring break in a tragic car accident. My girlfriend broke up with me.

Then the dorm caught on fire.

I remember watching it burn and being overwhelmed by a number of feelings. The thought running through my mind, though, was “really God, now this? How much more do you expect me to take on?”

We’ve all had rock-bottom moments. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)

David did such a good job of capturing that moment, that feeling, that Jesus quoted him.

Think about that.

The Psalm makes no effort to explain suffering, it just lays out in brutal honesty how much it sucks. And then, far from tying a happy bow on tragedy, David resolutely grounds his hope in a righteous God who gets the last word, who has to win. Life is hard, but God gets the last word, and that word is hopeful.

Pain Deepens Love

“It is true that in a technocratic society all human relationships are reduced to the level of things, and general apathy is spreading on an epidemic scale. It is true that in a world of high consumption, nothing is so humanizing as love, and a conscious interest in the life of others, particularly in the life of the oppressed.

“Love leaves us open to wounding and disappointment. It makes us ready to suffer. It leads us out of isolation and into a fellowship with others, with people different from ourselves, and this fellowship is always associated with suffering.

“It [love] changes the world, in so far as it overcomes the death urge which turns everything into a possession or an instrument of power.

“It is right to follow Jesus at the present time in the specific activities of love, suffering, and revolt…His suffering contains more than merely the necessary suffering of love which becomes a reality in following him, the ability of love to be wounded and disappointed. When the pains of love are accepted, they deepen love.

– Jurgen Moltmann

Adventure, Love, Suffering (RePost)

From Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost (The Faith of Leap)

“To love is to suffer…and that’s probably why we generally don’t do it well. Unwillingness to venture, plus a desire to be safe, holds us back from love. To be sure, most of us do have a vision of what makes a good life, and as believers we know that it involves growing in the love of God. What we seem to lack, however, is the will to attain to this good life of love. Most of us prefer to skip over the pain and the discipline, to find some easy, off-the-shelf ways to sainthood. Christian self-help spiritualities are a classic dodge of the real issues and manifestly do not produce maturity. We do well to be reminded of the cost of shortcuts in Carl Jung’s penetrating statement, ‘Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.'”

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah

This past week, in Joplin, our students spent some time with Jeremiah…hearing about his life: his struggles and triumphs and what makes a great life.

Stephen Lutz says that Jeremiah 29:11 is the most quoted/most popular verse among college students. It goes like this:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Good stuff. Encouraging. But, too often we forget about 29:10

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”

Exile. Dislocation. (Long) Suffering.

These always go together, and the mature person can hold them in tension. The exile and the return home. The seventy long years and the promise of rescue. The suffering and the hope.

Jeremiah lived a great life, but it is was only great because of the tremendous challenges he faced, and the faithfulness to God he demonstrated over a lifetime.

And may that be true of us as well.