Thursday, January 13, 2005

Remodeling

Kate wants to remodel the family room. So she’s been going to furniture stores and fabric stores, bringing home swaths of fabric and wood samples, holding them up before my eyes and saying bizarre, esoteric things like, “Does the houndstooth pattern clash with the mahogany stain?” I can no more answer these questions than I can flap my arms and fly to the moon. It is a foreign language, and I don’t even have the vocabulary to enter the conversation.

It’s the story of my life these days. I’ve been to seminary, and I can read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew and Latin, but I scarcely know my own heart. There are spacious, empty rooms in there, and I keep the doors closed and locked and the window blinds pulled down tight. No entrance except by special permission, and no remodelers allowed. You won’t find any light there; just stubborn, recalcitrant sin, in all its ugliness and destructiveness, the kind of sin that threatens to beat you down and undo every good thing in your life. And I don’t even have the vocabulary to address it What do you call a simultaneous desire to surrender fully to God and a stubborn refusal to open the door? Oh, yeah: you call it an addiction. But knowing the term doesn’t seem to help.

In our kinship meeting last night Jeff Cannell talked about different types of prayer, one of which is the “flash prayer” – the quick, in-the-moment prayer where you dialogue with God in the midst of busy life. My flash prayers have been quite repetitive of late. They sound like this: Help me, God. When my manager says “You understand data warehousing, don’t you?,” and I say “No,” and think “why in the hell would anyone in his right mind want to understand data warehousing?”: Help me, God. When my daughter Emily says, “In eight more months you won’t have any control over what I do,” and I can think of about a dozen clever retorts, all of which begin with “As long as you live under this roof …”: Help me, God. When I am sick of work, sick of rain, sick of grey, lowering skies, sick of endless responsibilities: Help me, God. When everything within me screams out Fuck it, all of it, just get in the car and drive away: Help me, God. Here is your mighty prayer warrior, Lord, muttering the same three words under his breath, again and again. And sometimes I don’t even make it that far. Sometimes it’s just a wordless cry, what the apostle Paul calls “groanings too deep for words.” And I find myself groaning to God with all my heart. Or maybe two-thirds of it. I want to let go. I don’t want to let go.

You can’t put a new fabric over this. A new stain isn’t going to make any difference. It’s the old, old stain that needs to be stripped away. The doors need to be opened, the blinds raised, the light shining in to reveal all the dirt and scuff marks and nicked human hearts. I need a new vocabulary. But for now, this is all I have: Help me, God.

5 comments:

John McCollum said...

Amen.

Fred Kohn said...

I have an abbreviated version of your flash prayer. It goes: "HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELP!"

I can identify with the rooms that need remodeling. But what is scary is the closets that branch off of those rooms that I know need work. I haven't even got the nerve to open the closet doors!

Fred
\o/

Scott Sloan said...

Andy, great post, and I love your honesty. I didn't know that you went to seminary. I am thinking of going to Ashland, and I would like to get feedback from people who have gone to seminary to know what their experiences were like.

Andy Whitman said...

Hi, Scott. I attended Ashland Theological Seminary, and I'll be happy to talk with you about my experiences. Keep in mind that I was there 25 years ago, so I don't know how much of what I'm about to say still applies.

But in a nutshell ... I was in the wrong place. That's a comment more about me than the seminary itself. The academic instruction was fine. It was fairly rigorous and demanding. The professors were great, and took an active interest in the lives of their students. And, partly because of the small size of the student body, there was a decent focus on community.

The issues I encountered had more to do with lifestyle. ATS is a very conservative place, both theologically and in terms of lifestyle. I had no problems with the theological end of things; I did struggle with a lot of the, IMO, intrusive lifestyle rules and regulations. God forbid that you should drink a beer. Or listen to rock 'n roll, for that matter (no more heavy metal evangelism, my friend). In all seriousness, these are (or at least were) things that could get you expelled.

So I did what any decent two-faced individual would do; I snuck around the rules. But obviously that wasn't ideal, either.

ATS is the denominational seminary of the Brethren Church (not to be confused with the Church of the Brethren or Grace Brethren; I know, it does get confusing). But the roots of this church trace back to the Anabaptist movement that also produced the Amish and the Quakers. It's not exactly a hotbed of cultural relevance.

That said, I did get a good education. I figured out fairly early on (I think it was after I told the fourth grade Sunday school class to sit down, damn it) that I would make a lousy pastor. So I didn't pursue the M.Div. that most seminary students pursue. My M.A. diploma now gathers dust at the bottom of a closet somewhere. But I don't regret learning more about the faith. I just wish I did a better job of coupling that knowledge with heart issues, like the one I discussed above.

Seth said...

Great post Andy.

It reminds me of something good that Erik Peterson posted on his blog:

"We are human and finite, and thus cannot live perpetually in a sense of expectation, or in a continuous Advent. We are distracted by many things. Our spiritual awareness waxes and wanes in intensity. If an attitude of expectancy, or an inclination to poignant spiritual experiences, is cultivated by conscious effort of our own, we will suffer severe limitations. Such effort totally misses the mark. We may get lifted up in moments of tenderness but will be cast down in hours of dryness. The swing of emotions is natural to us, and some are more subject to extremes than others. We mustn't despair about this...It is here that we need to see why it was necessary for Christ to come to the earth. God has come to us because we, by our own power of soul, by our own emotions, even the noblest and most sublime, can never attain redemption."
--Philip Britts