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Spiritual eavesdropping

In my last post I wrote about my recommitment to my Abilene world. Hold on to that thought because I will revisit it. But right now I want to go back in time a little bit and talk about some experiences in other worlds that have been formative to what I am doing in life right now.

Over the past few days I have been reading Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. For those of you who have read the old novel Catcher in the Rye, I believe that Blue Like Jazz is a book that the main character, Holden Caulfield, would have written had he become a Christian. Donald Miller seems to fit, in a Christian context, Holden's description (found on Sparknotes.com):

Holden Caulfield - The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Holden is a sixteen-year-old junior who has just been expelled for academic failure from a school called Pencey Prep. Although he is intelligent and sensitive, Holden narrates in a cynical and jaded voice. He finds the hypocrisy and ugliness of the world around him almost unbearable, and through his cynicism he tries to protext himself from the pain and disappointment of the adult world. However, the criticisms that Holden aims at people around him are also aimed at himself. He is uncomfortable with his own weaknesses, and at times displays as much phoniness, meanness, and superficiality as any else in the book...


A lot of Miller's experience with Christian spirituality has been the rejection of fundamentalism and the embrace of of a richer, darker, and more complicated worldview that recognizes the brokenness of the Christian system and the unbearable hypocrisy of many of its adherents. He constantly ranks himself as one of those hypocrites. And so his quest to break out of the phoniness of his own spiritual life has taken him to places that have challenged him deeply and forced him to face the deepest levels of his own conviction. He talks much about immersing himself in the world of Reed College in Portland, said to be the most Godless institution within the most unchurched area in America. The reader can tell that these experiences are what have led him to face God and the search for the reality of his own faith, which has constantly fostered more doubt than comfort. But through it all he has found more of the core of his own identity and has shaken off many crusted layers of Christianized baggage.

In a similar kind of way, these are the things that slowly began to happen to me when I trecked off to the big world of the University of Oklahoma years ago. Suddenly I wasn't in a safe environment anymore. Suddenly I found myself faced with a whole new world of ideas that shaped who I was very deeply and pounded hard at many beliefs and assumptions I had. This is sometimes seen as a bad thing - and why Christian schools are so in vogue among evangelicals. Anything that challenges people of faith to really reexamine what they believe or to consider other ways of thinking are not opportunities of faith but threats to it. The commencement speaker at ACU's graduation a couple of weeks ago said that the school has aimed to "Christianize" the students during their time here. Really? What about the students' quest to Christianize themselves based on a constant building through the faith community and hard challenges through the world and their education? Do we have a collective faith so weak that must rely on the institution to tell them what their faith is and to carry it for them?

When I lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I ended up living in an old plantation style house that was right next to campus and a block from University Boulevard - the main strip that goes through town. This was an amazing opportunity because in a matter of minutes I could walk down to The Strip and sit in front of the Crimson and Cream coffee shop and simply listen to people talk. Places like this in the world of the major state school are constantly filled with people pontificating on politics, religion, academics, world affairs, relationships, and football. And this could be at all hours of the day. And there would never be a pretext of any sort of belief system between people - just people talking about what they thought. This was always tremendously educational to me because it was a window on the real world. Wandering The Strip was also a tremendous spiritual exercise at times too, because after getting home from a gigantic football game late at night I would often head back out by myself to walk up and down the street among thousands of people indulging their own desires - drunkenness, lewdness, drugs - so many things people did to cover their own insecurities and drown themselves in orgiastic partying. This was such a powerful time to walk among the crowds and simply pray that God would reveal himself in hearts that needed him so much.

So now my quest is to recognize how God is working in a place like Abilene, Texas, and a place like ACU that is so shrouded in spiritual cloaks and where faith is property of the institution. Where churches are gigantic and religon is a consumer sport. Show me, God, the windows into the real lives and hearts of people. But first reopen the window into my own heart.


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