Doubt (and Hip-Hop)

So as a 30-year-old, VERY white, rural-raised and rural-serving pastor, I am finally getting into hip-hop.

Really.  I’ve listened to DAMN. quite a few times, HNDRXX and FUTURE have made it into my rotation, and obviously Coloring Book and Awaken, My Love have been listened more than is rational because I’m a white guy just now getting into hip-hop.

(Note: I believe Awaken, My Love is one of the greatest albums ever released, and it will age like Abbey Road and Kind of Blue.  But again, super-white and super-uncool.)

I found myself listening to Logic’s Everybody and specifically “Confess” with Killer Mike last night and the speech that Killer Mike does at the end of the song stopped me cold.

The whole song is wonderful (if rough and clearly NSFW) but here’s the speech in question.

Lines like this just dig so deep into everything that I am thought in my doubts and my struggles:

But tonight, I am in this church
Asking you to show yourself, to reveal yourself to me
Because I’m tired and I don’t know what else to do
– Killer Mike

Go right to Thomas.  Go right to any prayer that goes unanswered.  Go right to begging God to save the body and life of the people you love most, and God not giving you a “Yes.” to that prayer.  Go right to seeing violence and hatred and the powerful forgetting God and believing in their own divinity while the weak yet faithful are sacrificed and slaughtered.  Go right to see the new nation of South Sudan tear itself apart, like so many other African nations.

Go right to a world covered in darkness after that glorious Easter event, and tell me you don’t want to scream those exact words at God.

Killer Mike captured Job, captured the Samaritan woman at the well, captured Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, captured every pained cry every hospital and hospice everywhere.

If only I could have that much vulnerability in the pulpit.  How much more powerful would our preaching be if those words – universal words of pain and doubt – would not just come from our lips as we deliver God’s Word, but be a norm of our preaching?  How much closer would I be with the people I serve if that sort of vulnerability would so effectively come from my tongue in the pulpit?

So if you out there, do something about this
‘Cause I can’t take it no more
Help me
– Killer Mike

That’s soul-baring prayer.  That’s bringing everything to God, out loud, not hiding behind being proper or PC, but just brining everything to God.

May I be that vulnerable.

Peace,

– Robby

How Wonderful to be Thomas

Nora and I were talking a week or so ago and she said something that stuck with me.  She definitely isn’t the first to say it, but her earnestness and the emotion behind it just hit me:

How amazing would it have been to be one of the few who saw Jesus after he was raised and to have confirmation that it is all real?

I preached on Doubting Thomas this week* and aside from all the other stuff you can pull from the story, there was something that hit me like a ton of bricks as I was preparing:

How amazing would it have been to be able to stick your fingers in the holes and know, as a matter of proven fact, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that it’s all real?  How wonderful would it be to have confirmation?

We are so ready to start beating up on Thomas because he doubts, but every last one of us – every last one of us – truly wants to be him.  Every believer, at least at some point in their faith journey, wants to have a real and tangible sign that God exists and that we’re worshiping a real thing.  We each have a moment where God isn’t real, where there is no God, where it’s all a lie and we’re just on this Earth walking towards a pointless end.

How wonderful would be it be to have confirmation?  How wonderful to have Jesus say to you, “Stick you finger in my hands.  Stick your hand in my side.”?  How wonderful, when the world has given you nothing but darkness and pain, to gaze upon the risen Savior and know that it is all real?

I realized, as I prepared and preached and I walked the dog this morning, that I want to be Thomas.  My soul wants to be able to doubt and then have Jesus actually stand before me and allow me to investigate his risen body to know that it is actually him, that he was raised from the dead, that it’s all real.

I think we often forget to acknowledge how hard it is to have faith, especially in something unseen.  Thomas doubted and he spent three years living with, ministering with, and learning from Jesus, seeing the miracles and the proof of his divinity.  Thomas doubted when there was no reason for him to doubt (and he was in good company as the other disciples doubted, as well).

Having faith is hard, especially when life is hard and you feel nothing but darkness.  Thomas doubted because he was rightfully afraid and it made no sense.  I doubt because I pray fervently and yet my prayers are often not answered in the way I want, and my life on this Earth is harder when my prayers were to make it easier.*  We each have reason to doubt; it’s human.

How wonderful it would have been to be Thomas, to have our doubts completely wiped away by gazing upon the physically risen savior.

A bit more depressing than I had intended, but a good thought following my sermon yesterday.  I’ll link the YouTube video to the sermon when I get it edited and uploaded.  FINALLY got it edited and uploaded.  “How Wonderful is Faith.”

Peace,

– Robby


* Please read this in the general sense, not the specific sense; life is pretty good right now, and I’m looking forward to an unknown new chapter when that opportunity makes itself known and complete unfolds.

Matches and Gasoline

Note: The featured image comes from here.  I know I can use it how I like because of the Creative Commons license but I want to support the people whose work I steal. 

I posted a great conversation between Pete Holmes and Richard Rohr on Twitter the other day (HERE) and in part of it, Pete talks about his faith room, deconstructing it, and then reconstructing it.  It really is a great illustration, and I have spent a stupid amount of time thinking about it since I first listened to it.

As I was showering (the best incubator for creative thought) and thinking about what I wanted to write this week, I got to thinking about the three stages of faith that they talk about in that podcast – construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction – and their discussion of getting stuck in one of the early stages.  I especially thought of getting stuck in the deconstruction phase.

A lot of people, out of anger or frustration or whatever emotion they are feeling that causes them to deconstruct, just stay in that second phase.  They just want to burn it down, burn their faith down and dance in the smoldering ashes of what was before.  Someone gave them, or they created, something that became matches and gasoline to their faith, and they combined the two in the middle of their faith room and burned the mother to the ground.

And that’s fine.  Sometimes you have to just burn it to the ground.  Sometimes there is nothing good or healthy – especially for you – in your faith room and deconstructing it peacefully won’t work.  Like some abandoned houses or barns, the best option is gasoline and matches.

There are two outcomes to this.  One is the healthy one; the violent catharsis did it’s job and you are able to put out the flames and rebuild.  Maybe your faith room is just a grass patch without a belief structure, or maybe you rebuild with something completely different but still a faith room.  That is fine, as long as you don’t just stay in that burning stage.

The other outcome is that you really liked when you burnt down your faith room; you really liked the violence of the fire destroying your beliefs.  It felt good, and you thought it was the most moral thing you could do.  So you collect your matches and gasoline and force them upon other people, trying to watch the whole house of all belief rooms burn to the ground.  You really push them on those whose houses have the same furniture and decorations that you have, trying desperately to make them burn it down because you needed to burn yours down and no one else should have that faith.

Some people will take your matches and gasoline and burn their faith rooms down because they were searching for matches and gasoline, but you can’t make anyone do that.  You can’t burn the faith rooms down of anyone, no matter how much you want to.  Even if their room causes you pain, even if you can’t stand the sight of what they have put in their faith room, you can’t burn it down no matter how much you want to.

I kind of want to talk about my deconstruction and (hopeful) reconstruction to illustrate this.  I was raised Christian – Presbyterian in fact – and I haven’t veered from it much.

Actually, that’s not true.  I had a time where I just started tossing everything organized out.  Everything.  I didn’t have violent or fast deconstruction, I didn’t move everything out in a day; I just started taking things out that I didn’t think made sense.  I really found myself with an old but wonderful couch – the Apostles’ Creed – and a mirror.

But I started rebuilding from there.  I believed that there is a God, that Christ was real, and that a Holy Spirit works within me.  Everything else was fair game.

It is odd, but I find that the things that have made their way back into my faith room aren’t all that different than the thing that were in here before, just better or older or more intentional and personal.  The couch of depravity of humanity was once a cheap, Walmart pleather couch that wouldn’t last; I replaced it with black heirloom couch that was melancholy but brought me comfort, and then replaced that one with a brightly colored custom couch that is comfortable and great for sitting and talking and be with anyone and being truly comfortable.  The computer of loving God with all of my heart, soul, strength, and mind was replaced by a desk, bookshelf, weight bench, heater, and better computer of loving God with all of my heart, soul, strength, and mind.  The end table of loving God was from the Dollar Store but know is built by my hands, imperfect and flawed but strong and personal.

The thing I think a lot of people who want to watch the faith rooms of everyone burn miss is that I have the matches and gasoline in my room, too.  Some of the matches sit in a cupboard, some are used to light candles and start controlled fires.  Some of the gasoline became kerosene for a lamp, some is gasoline that I left outside while I contemplate what to do with it, some of it had no weight and became water as it entered my room.  But it’s all there; I just didn’t use it to burn everything down.

The thing about the reconstruction phase is it’s kind of like remodeling a house; nothing is ever permanent again.  I’m reminded of my friend Nathan remodeling his kitchen; he took out ten layers of flouring, with wood over and under multiple layers, and wood again under everything (not exaggerating).  The process of changing and rebuilding is never done, and is never permanent.  If I were to put a timeline on it, my deconstruction started in high school and got stronger in the beginning of college, and my reconstruction started at the end of college, but then I started seminary and a bunch of cleaning happened and a bunch of stuff got replaced with stronger and better stuff, some made by me, a lot made by people who make faith furniture that I customized after the fact.  And I burned the hutch of condemning individual sins and judging people whose sins are different than mine in a glorious fashion with fireworks and dynamite that brought the spectators (liberals) and police (conservatives) alike, all whom were disappointed.

Only I can burn my faith room to the ground.  You are welcome to give me the matches and gasoline – much of which I already have – but only I can strike the match.  Kind of like only you could strike the match of your faith room.  And only I can put things in my faith room, build the walls, and decorate the room.  No matter how much you want me to have your couch or painting or rug, I alone can choose what comes in and what stays out.

Everyone would be happier if we stopped trying to control and build the faith rooms of others.  All we can do is give them access to elements and love them; they have to do the rest, and because the only way faith and love work is if people are free to choose.  Love can certainly help move things in if requested, it can certainly let up the gasoline puddles and open the gas valves, but it can’t strike the match or force things in.

Each faith room in individual and personal and can’t be made by anyone else.  So give access to furniture and matches and gasoline and water out of love, and stop forcing them on people.

I hope that all made sense.  Now to do what I actually need to do today.  This isn’t a sermon, I don’t think.

Peace,
– Robby

P.S.: If you like this and want to comment, do so below.  I love Facebook likes and comments, but they don’t really help in terms of a blog.  So if you want to comment on Facebook, duplicate it here, pretty please.  And if you like, share all over the place.  I can only share so many ways before I’m a bother or look like spam.