Something has changed in me recently. Massively so. I’ve become quieter, spent less time opening my mouth and more time listening (much to the delight of some folks). Only a few years ago the world seemed to fit into such nice, neat little boxes, and I had an answer for everything. And so often when you put the world into nice little boxes, what you’re really doing is putting God into a nice little box too.
Beginning a higher education in Theology has certainly challenged some of my easy answers. My arrogant little quips might have impressed some people, but not the heavy-weight theologians I’m brushing shoulders with now. Maybe it’s not even that they’re heavy-weights, maybe they’re just people like me who think a lot, but have more years of thinking under their belt. And maybe I’m becoming more like them – less satisfied with straightforward answers. That great tension between God’s transcendence and imminence continues to perplex me.
Lately I have been constantly astounded by the deep conversations I have in the most unlikely of places. Surface level “How’s the weather?” conversations which I used to love, now leave me feeling cold. I tend to value time alone a lot more. And then there are the other conversations I keep having. Every once in a while, but regular like a train. These conversations stimulate and exhaust me in equal measure. And these conversations so rarely happen within the four walls that we mistakenly call ‘Church’. In the magistrates court with a security guard, sat in a rickety smoking shelter with some homeless folks, or sipping a steaming coffee at 1am at a bike rally with mates from other clubs. These are the conversations I’m beginning to treasure. That challenge me, that excite me, that leave me with so many questions. The depth of intelligence, knowledge and perception I encounter from people society has written off, never ceases to amaze me. Conversations you would likely never have sat in Starbucks or over tea and biscuits on Sunday. People who are observing the deep wounds in our society, and who are asking all the right questions. People who, like me, recognise the ignorant, dogmatic, self-serving nonsense spouted by those who have power. Be they politicians, media moguls, social media truth engineers or sadly sometimes key figures in the Church establishment, these friends know they’re being lied to, and are searching for something resembling truth. Or, if not truth, then at least a direction.
I don’t yet fully understand this. Maybe I’m becoming too post-modern? I don’t know. But what I see is that the people who are making more sense, the people who – dare I say it – seem closer to finding God, are the people who are able to think outside the box. The people who recognise the limits of human knowledge and achievement. Could it be that those born of establishment have no ability to think outside the box that made them? Or are they too afraid to question the rules and boundaries which keep them wealthy, influential and/or powerful? Someone recently described thoughts as like rooms, when you grasp something it opens the door to a new room, and each room has several doors leading to new potential thoughts. Most of us are only able to traverse these rooms of thought in a linear way. There are of course those rare few who seem to see from a higher perspective, able to get a glimpse of an overall map, and allow their minds to wander into a multitude of possibilities. These people are forced into two categories by society, we celebrate them as genius or condemn them as insane.
But anyway, what’s my point? Maybe I don’t need to have one. Writing this all down is helping me make some semblance of sense to myself. All I do know is that, to borrow words from Mother Teresa, I’m finding God in some seriously disturbing disguises at the moment. So don’t overlook the drunk bum you just walked past, or the labourer shovelling sand into a cement mixer. Don’t cross the road from the tattooed, pierced biker on the street, or the toothless call-girl. You might be missing out on a conversation which could change your life. If you have the humility to listen of course.
Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (MSG)