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I have a new domain which I will be posting on: http://postmortemism.wordpress.com. I think it’s a bit catchier.
To many of you, this article may come as a surprise. In his new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), her “postulator”, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk shows us her most personal, intimate letters which encompass over 60 years of her life. Though Mother Teresa has been venerated by Catholics and Protestants alike, the man given the task of petitioning her sainthood discloses what appears to be a spiritually vacant soul.
David van Biema of Time magazine writes,
The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book’s compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”
We read that, Kolodiejchuk, “produced the book as proof of the faith-filled perseverance that he sees as her most spiritually heroic act.”
Are we ever called to persevere on our own strength, apart from trusting in the promises of God? I believe if Mother Teresa had embraced the authority of the epistle to the church at Rome instead of the Roman Catholic church, she could have had a peace and security not in the goodness of her actions in spite of doubt, but on the basis of Christ’s work done in perfect obedience, graciously imputed to her by faith.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
She wrote of her own effervescent smile, calling it, “…a mask…a cloak that covers everything.”
Contrast that with the words of Peter,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9, NASB)
Donald Miller is no stranger to the Christian world. In 1998, he published Blue Like Jazz which has become not only a best-seller, but a manifesto of the Emerging Church. Although his books are not as directly ideological as others in the Emerging scene, he puts those same ideas into narrative form and intersperses observations throughout his books which are geared for a more post-modern Christian.
Through Painted Deserts is even less propositional than Blue Like Jazz. So even if you don’t care about Miller’s ideas about life, you still may find the book enjoyable. The book, simply put, is about Miller’s van trip from Houston, Texas to Portland, Oregon. He drives this route with his friend, Paul. Both seem to be on a journey of self-discovery and divine inquiry.
In the author’s note, Miller writes,
We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?
It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.
I want to repeat one word for you:
The theme of “leaving” permeates the early portion of the book. Miller and his friend, Paul, head out of Houston destined for Portland, Oregon. Miller leaves behind the city in which he lived, his friends, and his girlfriend.
As he leaves home, we are invited along to see, smell, hear, taste, and touch everything through Miller’s highly descriptive prose. If anything else, his narrative ability makes the book accessible and imaginative for the reader. Often, Miller uses very poetic language to describe the events of the trip. On several occasions, their Volkswagen van breaks down and requires some sort of jerry-rig to restore some semblance of operation. Right before one of these incidents, we read an entertaining account that flirts with aspects of horror and comedy:
I can tell by the look on [Paul’s] face that he wants the van to die. It’s like a vengeance thing. This old heap has been kicking him around for months and now he’s killing it. Slowly, but surely, driving it into the ground. The engine light casts a demon-red glare in his eye. It’s like he’s possessed. (p. 49)
Vivid descriptions such as this give the reader a clear sense of the moment throughout the memoir.
Interspersed throughout the novel are several reflections which indicate there is, in fact, a larger journey Miller is taking. This journey is not merely a matter of geographical re-location. On his website, he writes, “What you will find in Through Painted Deserts is the beginning of a long trail of walking away from home, from religion and from an American version of Christianity.” His exit from Texas parallels his departure from the spiritual infrastructure to which he has grown accustomed.
As he reaches Dallas, in chapter two, he reflects,
Dallas blew in on the wings of a Gulf coast hurricane and rained glass and steel onto a field of bluebonnets…A big, Republican, evangelical city where you can’t drink, girls wear black dresses for dates on Wednesday, and the goal is to join the local country club like your daddy and his daddy before him. When you build a city near no mountains and no ocean, you get materialism and traditional religion. People have too much time and lack inspiration. (p.21)
This passage, and many others like it, encapsulate much of Miller’s discomfort with the South. He chafes at institutionalized Christianity which tells him, “Here are the five keys to a successful marriage,” when he asks, “What is beauty?” (p. 10) Miller offers no certain alternative to this spiritual paradigm, instead focusing on emphasizing the question “Why?” as opposed to “How?” The spiritual environment in which he has grown up tells him that Christian faith is rooted in pragmatism, its exercise is merely expedient, and its rewards are purely materialistic.
I agree with many of Miller’s critiques. As an outsider to the South, I’m interested to hear his observations and, inasmuch as I’ve grown up in “American Christianity”, I feel very sympathetic with his dislike of shallow pragmatism. It seems that self-help guides, the prosperity gospel, and cutesy little books attempting to answer vast questions are the big sellers in Christian bookstores.
Though I suspect Miller doesn’t intend to deceive his audience, at times he is too immersed in his own subjectivity to compel me to agree. I appreciate the depth of imagery with which he expresses his immediate situation; but in order to legitimate his struggles, he must ground them in reality, or at least address his own biases – not pontificate from the perspective of an outsider.
In fact, Miller mistakenly stereotypes Southerners similarly to the way he claims American evangelicals stereotype God. If you’re curious, I ask you to consider Miller’s claim that Dallas is a “big Republican” city. In, 2004, one year before Miller’s book was published, Dallas voted for Bush over Kerry by 50.3% to 49%. But the nation as a whole voted for Bush by 51%! So Dallas is actually a tad bit left of center. Moreover, it would do well to remember that Multnomah county, which includes Miller’ current home, Portland, voted for Kerry overwhelmingly by about 71%, with only 27% voting for Bush.
Most of the time, Through Painted Deserts isn’t like this. It is, first and foremost, a story. But I cite this problem because it’s clearly indicative of one of the goals of Miller’s book (as well as others he has written): to create a dichotomy between conservative Christians who are almost always hypocritical and his own liberal, “spiritual” perspective, which supposedly lends itself to openness, thoughtfulness, and integrity.
I enjoyed the book. Miller is a good writer. You might enjoy it too, especially if you enjoy memoirs. As a student of literature, I have a deep appreciation for Miller’s ability to write compelling stories about his life. But as much as I like it, I hasten to say that reading this book required me to exercise a fair amount of spiritual discernment.
But shouldn’t all books be that way?
My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.
Many portions of Scripture declare the importance of knowing the Bible. But have you ever meditated on this one? When I consider the habits of my soul in terms of “longing”, I can think of several things which have nothing to do with God’s rules.
The one and only example I have of this is Jesus. As we consider his response to Satan when he was tempted after 40 days of fasting, we catch a glimpse into the utter psychological reliance Jesus placed on the word.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Constant longing for and reliance upon on God’s word.
Last week, we began our series following Scougal through his applications of Jesus’ command to love our enemies. He began by focusing our attention on how the love Christ commands, “excludes all harsh thoughts and groundless suspicions”. He showed us how those “groundless suspicions” contrast with divinely rooted love which, “hopeth all things,” and, “believeth all things”.
As he continues, he emphasizes that a true love for our enemies keeps all anger in check. If we become angry, we must make sure that our anger is a) clearly warranted and b) “governed by discretion and kept within the bounds of reason”. It is so easy for us to become outraged by something which is not even wrong, but merely unusual or hard to understand. But even when we are right to be upset about something, there are biblical principles by which me must manage our anger. Scougal makes several references to passages which teach us these principles, but he gives no references. If you’re up for it, try to find any of the verses he alludes. Please leave your findings as a comment if you do!
Luke VI. 27.
But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies.
Again, the love which we owe to enemies, excludes all causeless and immoderate anger: it suffereth long and is not easily provoked; endureth all things.
Our Saviour tells us, that whoso is angry with his brother without cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and if his anger exceed the cause he is equally guilty. All anger is not vicious; we may be angry, and not sin. This passion, as all others implanted in us by God, is innocent when kept within its due bounds: it has its proper office in the mind, as the spleen in the body; but its excess and distemper swells into a disease. To make it allowable, it must not exceed the value of the cause, nor the proportion of the circumstances. It must be governed by discretion, and kept within the bounds of reason, that it break not forth into indecent expressions, or violent and blamable actions. And further, it must not be too permanent and lasting; we must not let the sun set upon our anger.
Plutarch tells us, that the Pythagoreans were careful to observe the very letter of this precept: for if anger had boiled up to the height of an injury or reproach, before sunset they would salute each other, and renew their friendship; they were ashamed that the same anger which had disturbed the counsels of the day, should also trouble the quiet and repose of the night, lest, mingling with their rest and dreams, it should become prevalent and habitual in them. And sure, we owe an infinitely greater deference to the precepts of our blessed Saviour, and his holy apostles, than they did to their master’s reasoning and advices. And though we should not take this precept in its strictest and literal signification, yet this we must know, that the same passion and resentment which was innocent and rational in its first rise, may become vicious and criminal by its continuance. Anger may kindle in the breast of a wise man, but rests only in the bosom of a fool.
This evening, I had the blessing of attending my cousin’s wedding. It was a reminder of God’s faithfulness to provide companionship for his children. It was also a joy to be a part of such a happy day for a dear friend and relative (who is also my brother in Christ).
As my family left the church and headed for the reception, I began to reflect on what had just taken place inside. While this wedding was breathtaking, some elements were clearly unorthodox. I weighed each part in my mind, evaluating it based on my past experiences of matrimonial ceremony. I determined that every part, even ones I didn’t fully appreciate or understand, expressed the unique personalities of the bride and groom. They weren’t just being unorthodox, they were making it personal…and I was honored to be able to celebrate their wedding their way.
It’s important to be careful about how particular we think about what should and should not happen at a wedding. The Bible has virtually nothing to say about weddings. One of the few verses that even comes close is Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Note that the passage doesn’t even say “weddings”, it simply says “marriage” is to be held in honor among all. There isn’t any set standard of dos and don’ts when we talk about weddings. You can make it exactly how you like it… as long as it’s not too long!
I think the most important detail a wedding should have is to place a high priority on the meaning of marriage. So when their pastor took time to focus on this passage from Ephesians, it showed me that he and both my cousin and his wife sought to honor marriage through their wedding. All the glitz and glamor is well and good, but in order for it to be meaningful and lasting, a wedding must reflect the values of our Creator as we seek to abide joyously in the relationship he designed.
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.