After my digression yesterday on faith and fun (I was watching Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be and reading Neil Simon's vibrant Laughter on the 23rd Floor--what do you want from me; they're delightful and they got me thinking...), back to our earlier theme of the week.
It seems ironic that one lesson learned from all the heady theories and frameworks we discussed at the Center City Summit would be that we're advised to pursue a faith that's experiential and messy, as Jeff commented on Tuesday, and as many of you emphasized in different words in response to Monday's post. But I think he's very much onto something.
One formative experience that led to Grace and I moving to Boston to help start the community of faith that's so shaped us was God seeming to speak profoundly to me, Grace, and a small but persistent cast of others that Grace and I were on the verge of moving to Los Angeles because I was about to win a prestigious screenwriting fellowship with Columbia. I was not at all comfortable with the flow of "God's telling me you're going to win this" comments our friends were passing onto us, but it was hard to ignore them after awhile. Folks who knew nothing about the prospective fellowship were sharing dreams with me and saying, "I think God is telling me you're going to be moving soon for a new opportunity," and so on. When the rejection letter came, I took it hard. If I was building so much of my faith on the understanding that God spoke, what did it mean when so many of us could be so wrong about something that had such consequences?
I didn't get great answers from God in the immediate aftermath, but it did spur me to interview some friends--who, to my mind, had great conversational relationships with God--about whether something like this had ever happened to them. Indeed it had, in each case. What did they learn from the experience? Had they decided that listening to what they perceived to be God's voice was a crazy way to live one's life? Not at all, they each said. Rather they learned that what they were banking on was God, not their ability to hear God perfectly. The messiness that this way of life periodically got them into turned out to be something God was more than prepared to use for good.
Several weeks after talking with them, Grace and I got the invitation to move to Cambridge, MA, to start a new church. We loved San Francisco and wouldn't have been open to an invitation like that...except we'd emotionally detached from San Francisco in preparation for our planned-for move to Los Angeles. So when this offer came in, we were very receptive. And it changed our lives in a completely different way than a screenwriting fellowship in L.A. would have.
I'm hearing the spirit of that story in many of your comments from the beginning of the week. CS Lewis's description of his Jesus-stand-in lion, Aslan as "not safe, but good" comes to mind in this conversation. God seems, in my life, to take a lot of interest in me not being able to find safety in an intellectual, non-experiential faith.
I appreciate Jeff's qualifier that we're by no means hoping for any more mess than is necessary. But it seems like, if we're serious about connecting with God as we're talking about, some (sometimes profound) mess is irreducible with this not-safe-but-good God.