May 2009


“‘For surely I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Before I share this week’s post, I want to update a previous entry called “A Biblical Worldview?” with this quote from Peter Rollins, described as a “prominent figure in the Emergent church movement in the United Kingdom.” Rollins observes: “The Bible is not some simple creed. It’s not a worldview that opposes other worldviews. It’s something that brings life, that brings transformation. I think that this understanding of faith  resonates with people who are tired of a religion in which believing the right thing is what it’s all about” (“Seeds of Doubt,” The Christian Century, June 2, 2009: 20).

Now to more reflections on/from the labyrinth at the Mercy Center in St. Louis.chartres

When I entered the labyrinth, I thought I would have an easy time getting to the center. Wrong! Even though a labyrinth is not a maze, it does contain switchbacks, turns, ins and outs. I was led by the path all the way out to the edge, then in toward the center only to be forced outward again by the configuration of the circle.

The medium was the message. The labyrinth is made in such a way as to remind seekers that life is not an easy path. Yes, we ultimately come to our destination, but not without work or sorrow or hardship. We do not achieve enlightenment of the spirit without discipline, practice, and thought on difficult questions. As the very honest title of my college French text promised, we will learn, but “non sans travail” (“not without work”).  

God leads us into his purpose for our lives, but like the labyrinth, through many twists and turns, to the edge and back, through doubt, despair, even suffering and grief. But lead us he does into the center of his will, the shalom only he can give.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

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Note: A labyrinth, unlike its cousin the maze, contains no dead ends. It is rather a spiritual meditation tool which leads those who walk it inevitably to the center and peace, though through many turns. The labyrinth I walked at the Mercy Center in St. Louis, MO is modeled after the Chartres Labyrinth in France.

For more on labyrinths, see, for example, www.veriditas.org/resources.

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The paths of the Mercy Center Labyrinth were originally lined with wood mulch, tons of it. But over time, weeds began to grow through and maintenance became too much. Pea gravel was put down in place of the wood, but the crunch-crunch-crunch as spiritual seekers walked the twists and turns proved distracting. So, recycled shredded tires took the place of the stone, providing both silence and softness underfoot.

As I walked the labyrinth earlier this month during a conference, I thought about those tired tires. They were no longer road-worthy, too bald to grip the asphalt and keep safe the passengers in a car or the driver and cargo of a truck. The miles on interstates, suburban streets, fields, and backwoods had taken their toll. The rubber had met the road for the last time.

But now they were given a new mission, a fresh purpose. Yes, they were shredded, and now nobody could tell a Michelin from a Toyo from a Goodyear. The cheap and the premium, the tractor and the ATV and the car tire were all mixed together on the path. All joined now to cushion the footfalls of humble seekers who had come seeking peace and centering in the labyrinth.

I mused that this is how it is not only with these tires, but with all who find that the mission they once passionately pursued is now no longer possible, whether due to age, lack of skills for a new day, fatigue or circumstances of family and/or the economy. They need not despair, for a new mission will present itself, new possibilities will emerge, though it may mean some shredding of ego, being willing to be humbled and prepared for a smaller, though important and rewarding, task.

God’s way of making things new (Revelation 21:5) is as mysterious as the Creator himself. As A Declaration of Faith has it: “We do not fully comprehend who God is or how he works. God’s reality far exceeds all our words can say. The Lord’s requirements are not always what we think is best. The Lord’s care for us is not always what we want. God comes to us on his own terms and is able to do far more than we ask or think.”

Like the labyrinth, God takes us through twists and turns and ins and outs but inevitably to the center of his will.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Jesus, Matthew 7:15-21).

The Barna Group, an evangelical research company, recently released the results of their “worldview survey.” As reported in April 2009 Campus Ministry Update from Ivy Jungle, the survey showed “that only 9% of adults have a ‘biblical worldview’ as defined by believing that absolute moral truth exists, that the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches, the reality of Satan, the sinless life of Christ, the belief in an all knowing, all loving, God who created the world and rules the universe today, and the belief that a person could not earn their way into heaven.  Overall, only 9% of respondents held all the beliefs for a ‘biblical worldview’…. Young adults (18-23) were least likely to hold a biblical worldview, with only one half of one percent in agreement with all of the statements.”

With such narrow parameters, the results are not surprising. What is it with self-assured, self-righteous people who have to draw the circle of orthodoxy with such a small diameter that it excludes even most people who would call themselves “Christian,” much less followers of other faiths or no faith at all? It must be so very satisfying to them to go to bed at night secure in their grasp of “truth” and believing that God favors them above all others because they hold tightly to a set of doctrines.

My problem is not so much with the doctrines proposed in the cited survey. Sufficiently nuanced and interpreted, I could affirm all of them. My concern instead is that the list doesn’t reflect some very important aspects of biblical thought. Notice that other than a reference to the “sinless life of Christ,” Jesus is not mentioned! For me, he—his teaching, his death, his resurrection—stands at the center of Scripture and thus certainly must be the focus of any “biblical worldview.”

So, I want to suggest my own measures of whether someone holds a “biblical worldview.” Consider these possibilities, a very small sample of what could be included:

  • all people are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28);
  • human beings are to be responsible stewards of creation (Genesis 2:15);
  • the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it (Psalm 24:1);
  • God makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45);
  • anyone in any nation who does what is right is acceptable to God (Acts 10:35);
  • God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God (1 John 4:16b);
  • whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (Mark 10:15);
  • with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:2);
  • God desires mercy and not sacrifice (i.e., ritual action), the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6);
  • God wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4);
  • what is good, and what is required of us, is do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8);
  • God is not far from each of us (Acts 17:27);
  • evil is real and strong but can and will be overcome (The Apocalypse of John).

But really, why make lists at all? I get the idea that people who make subscription lists and call assent to them “faith” or “being biblical” haven’t actually read the Bible or at least the book of James. Simply accepting some proposition intellectually (assensus, in the classic taxonomy) is not faith. James wrote: “You believe God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19).

Intellectual assent doesn’t guarantee that your life will reflect what you believe. That was James’ point. Belief that is true faith issues in action. As an old Presbyterian (USA)standard holds, there is an inseparable connection between truth and duty. So if you subscribe to a narrow list of fundamentals or some other roster of “right” belief, as Barna used in his survey, you will likely display intolerance, smugness, prejudice, arrogance, and even cruelty in your relationships. Not exactly gospel values! But if the major and minor doctrinal bodies orbiting your spiritual sun have wide trajectories, then you are more likely to live with peace, love, and justice toward your neighbors.

And that’s what I consider a “biblical worldview.”

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God” (Isaiah 35:1,2).
 
“Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations,, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20, 21, NKJV).

Susan and I love to sit out on our patio after the workday is done and enjoy the birds and the beauty of our back yard. Recently, we were surprised and delighted when a big rabbit came around the corner by the holly and stopped within a few feet of us. We froze while the animal looked at us and gave us in turn a great view of him. He ambled off, and we thought it was pretty cool that we got to see the bunny. But what should show up moments later but another, smaller rabbit?! She had come the same route and was tracking what we presumed was her mate. Two in one evening!

That same day Susan was talking to her brother Warren, who was in the process of renovating a room in his home. He was out on the back porch cutting some board when he heard two wrens barking like crazy at him. They had a nest in a hanging decoration on the porch, as they have had for years, and they weren’t too happy that Warren had gotten close to it. He kept on with his work nevertheless, but then was surprised when a fledgling wren left the nest and awkwardly made it down to the bottom of the back stairs. Soon another did the same thing. Warren called his wife, and they watched as the excited and concerned parents hustled their babies under cover. Two little birds at a milestone in their lives!

After a recent rain storm, a huge rainbow appeared in the eastern sky. It was extraordinary enough that we could see an almost complete arch. But on the left-hand side, there was an additional green band, on the outside. Unusual, unexpected, wondrous!

In all these scenarios, our majestic and surprising Creator had given something extra, a bit of lagniappe. Sometimes that’s his gift to us all simply for showing up and being in the right place at the right time. Other times, it’s his way of saying, “Hey! I’m here! And there’s more where that came from. Don’t you want what I have to give?”

The world is full of wonders beyond our deserving or our imagining. In these days when news of sickness, worry, crime, greed, and death continually dominate the news, it’s worth remembering that there is still beauty out there, in abundance, a little something extra from a God who is always generous.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

Please note: My next blog post, a comment on “biblical worldviews,” will be on May 15. Thanks for reading.