Desiring Permanence

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The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” I sometimes wonder if this means he has placed in our hearts a longing for permanence.

Unmarried or married, most of us will admit that we long for a place we can eventually “settle down” or “raise a family”.  If you are like me, perhaps you just want a place where you know that those closest to your heart are always close to your home.

Marriage and family are probably the most permanent things we can expect within our lives in the highly transitory culture that we live in. And being unmarried can often strike fear into many, including myself, because for most it sounds like a life lacking permanent companionship.

Of course, no relationship is permanent. Marriages fail, kids leave the house, tragedies happen. Death still ends the happiest of marriages, yet even the writer of Ecclesiastes knows that even though death comes to all that you should still “enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you because that is your portion in life…” Despite life being a vapor, the Preacher still knows that in our lives we find comfort in our toil through companionship. Even earlier in the book he mentions that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” The Preacher recognizes our need for loyal friends (not just spouses) in the hardness of this life.

Ever since Adam was alone in the garden, we as humans have desired companions. We have desired friends to go about life with us and to help cultivate the Earth through our work. However, because of the Fall we  no longer possess a permanent residence. We like Adam and Eve are without a permanent home in this life. Yet even in being banished from Eden, Adam and Eve were sent out together. Marriage is a taste of the home we once had without actually being there. However, again, all marriages end. Even Jesus Himself said that in the resurrection, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Those unmarried taste a permanence of something to come.

As earthly marriage is, in some ways, reminiscent of Eden, being unmarried is, in some ways, a hope for the new heavens and new Earth. Both of course hope and reminisce of that which once was and that which will be. This is not to say one is better or worse than the other, but both offer complex challenges. And for those unmarried, it means the longing for a permanent home may feel more keen and more exasperated because it is not as tangible. This I find to be both a blessing and a curse. Like the Apostle Paul said, “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that…For the present form of this world is passing away.” The longing for the permanence we tangibly lack hurts, yet it makes us more eager for “the things of the Lord” or more desirous of that which will not pass away, as Paul would have it. Although marriages may no longer exist, besides between the marriage of Christ and His Bride, I can not imagine that the friendships we have in Christ will ever be lost. Whereas those married may have a sample of that Marriage to come, those unmarried also get a taste of something permanent to come—vast, rich friendships when we “neither marry nor are given in marriage”. 

As we experience intimate years with friends and then hear news that they must move on, we are reminded that this life only offers glimpses of permanence. This life is damn hard, and we need those companions, whether they be our spouses, our Hermoines, our Rons,  our Eddies, our Faithfuls, our Hopefuls, or our Sams, to remind us that the fleetingness of this life is not all that is. As Paul said, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” We need friends who, among many things, long for that permanence with us. 

There is certainly a better day coming: a day when friends do not depart, a day when tears are no longer lost on the graves of those we love, and a day everlasting in communion with the very One who has always been and will always be. The One who has called himself “the beginning and the end” has written eternity on our hearts, and like Augustine once wrote, “he has made us for himself.”

“They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night in the city, and they will have no need for the light of a lamp or of the sun. For the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:4-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intended for Love – Part 2: The Consequences of Materialistic Sex & Gnostic Friendships

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This post is part of an ongoing series. If you have not read Part 1, I would highly encourage you to do so before continuing. 


In the previous post of this series, I argued that we have mistaken ourselves to be creatures simply looking for sex rather than creatures who are fundamentally driven by love and in result have been left lonely and disconnected. In that post, I sought to define those two contrasting frameworks in detail while in this post I have sought to present some of the more specific consequences of operating out of that sex-seeking framework. To clarify these consequences, I have broken this post into two parts: “Consequences in Culture” and “Consequences in the Church”. The final third of this series will seek to explore some of the possibilities of moving forward within a love-driven framework.

1) Consequences in Culture

One of the most day-to-day consequences that I have seen played out in our culture while operating out of this sex-seeking framework is the sexualization and decline of friendship. As a man in our culture, for instance, I have found it increasingly difficult to pursue rich and intimate friendships with people of either the same or opposite sex without eyebrows being raised. If I put an arm around another guy, will people assume that we are sleeping in the same bed? If I give a big hug to a female friend of mine will people assume we are romantic lovers?  As a male, the solution it often seems to maintaining reasonable friendships is to remain at a physical and emotional distance with anyone who is not considered my romantic interest. Closeness would seem to be reserved for only those I want to be sexually intimate.

If we are creatures that are primarily just seeking sex and in result use relationships for that end, this consequence should come as no surprise. When we are seen as creatures fundamentally in need of sex, nearly any relationship could devolve into a sexual one. Why would they not if we are truly wired to use friendships as a means to an end? With this in mind, friendships are and have been on the decline in several ways.

If sex is the primary thing we need from people, those friends of ours that we are not sexually attracted to will always become secondary to those friends of ours that we are attracted to. Or for those married, when attractions waver for our spouses so will doubts arise of the one in whom we are committed. Only those that we are or continue to be romantically or sexually attracted to can really offer us what we most desperately need in this life (so we think). Not only will marriages suffer, but as singles we will often feel at arm’s length with friends because we do not want to or appear to sexualize a seemingly non-sexual relationship. And these fickle relationships will typically deteriorate when we are offered a relationship that will give us what we think will finally fulfill us. If you have ever been in your early to mid-twenties as a single person watching your friends get married, you might know this sort of experience.

To clarify, when I say “friendships” I mean both friendships existing outside and inside of marriage. Certainly friendship between spouses must exist in a healthy marriage, and it is evident that the sexualization of friendship has had a significant impact on friendships within marriage as well. As a celibate person, I have obviously never experienced what it is like to be married, but as far as I know when a marriage is built upon how good the sex is within it, it will eventually crumple. When sexual gratification becomes the glue of marriage, marriages will fail. Seeing ourselves as ultimately sex-seeking creatures, instead of love-driven creatures, has devalued marriages as well as the friendships within them. This I assume is because as soon as the other is unable to fulfill us sexually we will assume we are being denied “the good life” and/or our proper “soul-mate”. We see sexual satisfaction as a sort of evidence or indicator of true love rather than sex as a gift within committed and covenantal love, and as a result, we have brought an incredible strain on marriage.

If we continue to believe that love is contingent on sex rather than sex being contingent on love, marriages will begin to fail as soon as you board the flight back from your honeymoon. Of course sex is good and healthy for flourishing marriages, but like all good things that become ultimately necessary things, they cripple us. This seems to be a significant reason why this generation has such anxiety about marriage and why “Tinder” and other outlets for easy hook-ups have become more and more common. Why get married when you can find uncommitted erotic pleasure outside of marriage? Why not live with your significant other before you get married so you will know for sure if the sex will be good or not? Marriage within this framework becomes constrictive and unsustainable, and still, it is not the singular victim either… chaste singleness also becomes an absurdity.

As a person in campus ministry practicing chastity, it is interesting to see the response I get when I mention to people on a progressive campus that I am both committed to vocational singleness and yet still believe sex is reserved for the context of marriage. Responses like these are not unexpected: “Aren’t you hurting yourself by doing that? That seems really repressive.” If this sex-seeking framework were true, this response would absolutely be right. If we need sex to live, chastity could very well be considered a form a self-harm. However, if we actually need love to live rather than sex, sex should be treated as supplementary rather than necessary. I would even go so far to say that because we treat sex as something necessary to live, we will inevitably use others for the sake of sex.

It is not hard to spot how destructively sex-saturated our culture has become with the rampancy of pornography, sex-trafficking, and casual sex. If sexual freedom has become one of the gods of our time, using others (even consensually) for our own sexual gain would seem to be the worship of that god. Our culture of consumeristic materialism has made our own pleasure and happiness the ultimate good. Like a post-apocalyptic story in which people resort to cannibalism out of a need for food, it seems we will treat sex the same way if we can not find it by normal means. If we continue to operate as simply sex-seeking creatures we will do whatever it takes to continue to hopelessly seek after that sensual end even at the expense of others or ourselves. The astronomical rise of pornographic films and pornography usage should be clear evidence of this. Not only as we pursue sexual freedom and fulfillment do we slowly diminish the value of sex but this materialistic view of sex also leaves sex devoid of its spiritual purpose.

There are spiritual consequences of reckless, consumeristic sex that are easy to become immune to if we continue under the assumption that it will eventually meet our deepest longing. As sex loses its material purpose so too does it become easier to lose sight of its transcendental purpose. To put it another way: if our sexuality and spirituality are fundamentally linked (as I briefly argued in Part 1) then there is a correlation between the mishandling of sex and the increased harm of our own souls. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce says it far better than I ever could, “There’s something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there’s also something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is.” A dramatic consequence of stopping at sexual liberation for what we think will give us ultimate joy is missing out on what we were intended for. And I believe we as a culture have been duped into worshiping brass as gold… and sexual freedom as God.

2) Consequences in the Church

While our culture has found it tempting to undervalue and overuse sex, I believe the church, out of the sex-seeking framework, has been tempted to overvalue and idolize sex in its proper context: marriage. However, in response to our culture’s materialistic views of sex we have begun to swing towards an almost Gnostic view of all other non-marital relationships. As a by-product of the sex-seeking framework, we have inadvertently assumed that marriage is the only place in which it is appropriate for two bodies to be remotely close to each other both literally and in the sense of consistent physical community.

As culture has made sexual liberation the cardinal virtue, it seems the church has similarly responded by making sex within marriage the cardinal virtue. While sex within marriage is certainly a beautiful thing, an over-emphasis of it has seemed to under-emphasize that we as humans need so much more than just sex to flourish relationally. If we continue to operate under the assumption that we are creatures who need sex to stay sane, we will continue to push for all people to get married, and in the process will undervalue intimate friendship outside of marriage because it seems too risky a thing to pursue.

This is where the consequences in culture and church overlap the most. Whereas culture condones or even applauds friendships that become sexualized, the church on the opposite end seems terrified of them. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons there is such a push to get married and not to remain single or celibate within the church. It is as if we believe the quick fix to sexual licentiousness is getting married while being single is asking for some grand, sexual failure to occur. And as a single person in the church I feel this. It is not uncommon that I find myself increasingly pushed to date this or that woman in the church so I can finally become a mature individual. It is also not uncommon that I find myself increasingly hesitant to get too close to another single person for the fear that people will assume we are either romantically interested or sexually intimate. This sort of fear breeds isolation and kills community.

Do not get me wrong, the church still seems to value friendship and community. However, it often feels as though it is a Gnostic form of friendship that we are seeking… or in simpler terms, a view of friendship that excludes bodily contact or physical presence. This gnostic view of friendship seems to be a by-product of the sex-seeking framework in which has significant consequences within the church. I understand that living in a hyper-sexualized culture means that healthy physical affection can quickly and easily be overstepped, but in our attempts to remedy the situation, we have also been too fearful to take any steps at all. In a similar way to our social-media crazed culture, our church communities have often neglected to cultivate an atmosphere of friendship that includes consistent physical presence or sensory connection (outside of the friendly handshake or once a month meeting over coffee). Tragically, we have been left clueless on how to provide that sort of atmosphere and continue to just push people to marriage. Not only does this leave single people without a script for vocational, chaste singleness that includes healthy amounts of intimacy, but it also places an ungodly amount of pressure on these marriages.

This lack of a script for singleness and this huge weight upon the script of marriage has serious ramifications for those in our churches, whether married or single. For those married, this over-emphasis can often leave many families feeling isolated and left to survive on their own strength. If marriage is supposed to be the exclusive route to human flourishing, what happens then if aspects of those marriages feel empty? If marriage is supposed to be the solution for physical and emotional loneliness, how then do we give support and a voice to those struggling in marriages? Single people need close friendships, and families likewise need those friendships. Marriages should never exist in a vacuum, nor should singles exist to themselves.

Whether it is the woman who has yet to have a man pursue her or a man who is celibate because of his sexual orientation, there are people in our churches who may never get married. That is a reality. And as someone in this category, I have found this lack of a script for singleness troubling. Not only does it unintentionally feel like there is no room for me (and others like me) in the church, but I often feel as though I become either the object of people’s pity or suspicion. Being single in the church often feels like being Pluto among the planets in our solar system… (Pluto is not a planet). And if I do not belong among the planets, do I belong among the asteroids or in the solar system next to us? This lack of a script encourages many of us to move on rather than to utilize the benefits of celibacy and singleness for the greater church community- both among families and other single people. On missing out on this script of singleness, I believe we also miss out on a fundamental characteristic of God.

I have often wondered why God created Adam initially by himself without Eve. Certainly, it was incomplete without Eve, but I still am struck by the fact that God created in the order that he did. It is not as if he just created Adam and Eve at the same time, but he created Adam, then put him to work in the garden, and then declared that it was not good for man to be alone. I have a hunch that in God doing this He wanted to show us something of his nature. Not only do we reflect God in marriage but we also reflect him in singleness. And I think Johnathan Grant nails it in his book Divine Sex. He says, “Whereas marriage reflects the intimate bond within the Godhead, singleness expresses God’s ever-expanding love for his Creation…Christian singleness must be affirmed as a positive vision of life because it engages our sexuality rather than ascetically rejecting it.” While most of the sexual energy in marriage goes primarily towards the cultivation of the marriage (and subsequently on the lives of those around it), singles have the benefit of using that sexual energy more widely in the cultivation of the Earth and in the lives of those around them. Without this affirmative view of singleness, I believe we have deprived our communities of a reflection and embodiment of God’s character in the lives of single people within the church.

Not only do we lack a compelling script for single people in the church and increase the burden on marriage with a singular script, but we have also bought into a reductive view of human sexuality in presupposing the sex-seeking framework. If sexuality is really just about the pursuit of sex, then we are essentially reducing ourselves into animals. And one of the greatest arguments against this anthropology is in the person of Jesus who was both fully God and fully man – which includes a sexual nature. Even with this sexual nature, Jesus remained chaste while simultaneously being perfectly sexual. This seems ridiculous to even write out, but Jesus did not move towards others so that He could sexually gratify Himself. Rather, out of his sexuality, He moved towards people in love. In Genesis, we learn that God created sexuality before the Fall, and that the Fall has seriously disordered our originally good sexualities. Yet, Jesus the Incarnate Son of God used his sexuality as it was intended – to move towards others in love and to cultivate life. His sexuality expressed in singleness was used in his “ever-expanding love for His creation” and, yes, his sexuality expressed in marriage was, is, and will be used in the love, pursuit, and consummation of His Bride in the long-awaited marriage of the Lamb. In reducing our humanity not only do we reduce the image of God in which He has specifically placed in mankind but we also lose sight of the Love our love-driven natures were intended for.


These consequences have certainly forced us into paying a heavy toll on ourselves, our relationships, and in our communities. However, these consequences should help lead us to believe that perhaps our assumptions have been drastically off. Rather than just trying to survive as creatures in dire need of sexual gratification, instead, we can begin assuming and seeing the fruit of living out of the reality that we are in reality, love-driven creatures.

I hate to leave posts hanging like this. It absolutely bothers me when people make mention of loads of issues but leave it as if there is nothing to be done but be miserable and despair, and it seems as if I am doing that very thing here. I urge you though to please wait for the final part of this series in which I hope to begin a conversation on what it may look like as we begin to address these issues and grow in intimacy as love-driven creatures.


*Stay tuned for “Intended for Love – Part 3: The Fruit of Love-Driven Creatures”*

Falling Through the Cracks of Same-Sex & Traditional Marriage

“Loneliness is the greatest plague of our generation. The fight for gay-marriage is simply a response to it. Church, we are doing something wrong in our approach. Until we can be a nest of intimate friendships and a holistic community for the lonely, estranged, and non-married, a traditional sexual ethic will never be attractive.”

I wrote that last week in a bit of frustration over the responses I’d been reading about the recent SCOTUS ruling, and I wanted to follow-up on explicitly what I meant by those words. Hopefully this post will explain a bit of my frustration from both sides’ responses, and maybe this post will offer a little hope of something better.

If you haven’t been able to notice by now, if you know me or read this blog, I talk about loneliness and isolation a lot. Not just because I deal with both, but because I’m beginning to recognize like Henri Nouwen did that “loneliness is one of the most universal sources of human suffering today,” and I’d like to see a way forward for me, for my friends, for my community, for my church, and for my culture.

I was visiting a church service this morning by myself in my hometown looking through the church bulletin which was covered in pictures of beautiful families, and as the pastor ran through his pastoral prayer for the congregation, I felt a tinge of isolation. His prayer hit on all the families in the church, the kids, those adopting, the grandparents, and those married without children – all wonderful things to pray for – but I felt like an oddball by its conclusion. Very rarely do I hear of single or celibate people being prayed for within churches. I hear many sermons on marriage and parenthood, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a sermon in person on singleness or the goodness of celibacy, despite what I see in scripture as a commending of those who are single. Add to this the little phrases littered throughout Christian culture like “family first” and “focus on the family”, and hopefully you can begin to see just some of my frustrations with being a celibate man in the church.

It often feels like there isn’t room within the church for those outside the context of biological families. I’m not saying this is always the case as I (and many others) have been blessed by a beautiful church home which has loved me incredibly well, and I only hope to love them a fraction as much as they’ve loved me, but I feel as though this is a rare treat. There’s definitely a pressure present in the mainstream of Christian culture in America of feeling as though I have two options: get married or be alone.

This is what has me sympathizing (but not agreeing) with the Left over the recent SCOTUS ruling. Although I don’t believe in a sexual ethic of anything but a man and woman engaging sexually in the context of marriage, I do understand the dark corner in which those with a homosexual orientation or who are experiencing same-sex attraction have been cast.

There’s a tension in our culture that if you don’t fit into the mold of a traditional family that you will forever exist in isolation and loneliness. For many who’ve considered themselves “gay” or “same-sex attracted” within the church, there’s this seeming, unwritten dichotomy in most places:

1) go away… and don’t get married despite not being in the church.

2) stay… but magically shift your entire orientation, and get married.

Is it any wonder there has been such a push for gay marriage? There’s an assumption in place that only in marriage can we escape loneliness. So why wouldn’t the LGBT community long for the same thing? We’ve offered what we’ve considered to be the “antidote” to isolation, and we’re now angry that others are seeking the same antidote.

I want you to consider living the rest of your life with no promise of a spouse, no promise of kids, no promise of grandchildren, no promise of people to take care of you when your old, no promise of people to love you if you fall seriously ill, and no promise of ever experiencing lasting intimacy with another. These are just a few of my thoughts that circulate when I imagine a life without marriage in this culture. Does this not sound even just slightly despairing? It makes sense that gay-marriage would be inevitable does it not?

As I scanned my newsfeed last week through the outrage and celebration over the results of the ruling, I again felt overwhelmingly overlooked. As someone who identifies with a traditional sexual ethic yet also experiences exclusive same-sex attraction, both sides left me frustrated. I don’t agree with the impossible dichotomy imposed by some of those in favor of traditional marriage, but, besides not morally agreeing with same-sex marriage, I also don’t agree with the conclusion that by marrying members of the same sex that we have found an answer to the problem of loneliness.

Between the traditional family and (now) the progressive family, I feel like someone caught in no-man’s land, and I know plenty of others who feel the same. Consider the single women who long to be married but can’t, the men and women who’ve chosen to live celibate lives despite their sexual orientations, the socially impaired, the mentally handicapped, the widows, and all the others that Jesus alludes to in Matthew 19:12. Consider this in the church where the traditional family reigns supreme, but consider this with the progressive family as well. Loneliness still exists, and (gay or straight) marriage can’t solve that.

So where do we go for the answer?

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?

I have a few thoughts, but I’d be foolish to claim to have a definitive answer to such a question.

I think my own church has been a really beautiful reflection of what it may look like to move forward, so much of what I’m about to say has been sparked by the hospitality I’ve already so received and have been allowed to personally give to others.

So hopefully without sounding too idealistic, the church needs to begin to be a nest for those inside & outside the framework of the nuclear family. We need it to be a place that if you were to no longer be married or have kids, for whatever reason, that you’d still have enough meaningful or intimate relationships to sustain you. Single people need a place they can expect lasting, intimate friendships and not be looked down upon or suspiciously questioned for it. Families need a place they can be cared for by other families and single people – others who enter into their dysfunction, help cook meals, help look after kids, and take part of their load and place it upon their own backs. The church should look like an integrated community of single people, married people, families, widows, the elderly, college students, those of racial and sexual minorities, and all those I’m too naive to name.

Or as Wesley Hill quoted J. Louis Martyn in his recent article, “the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ.”

We need a way forward that proves that a life without sexual intimacy can still be a life full of intimacy in the context of friendship, community, and a “water thicker than blood” family. And perhaps by cultivating a community which includes those who’ve fallen through the cracks, we can begin to close the cracks themselves.

All Things Go. All Things Grow.

Ok. I did it. I’ve plunged headfirst into the Sufjan Stevens, fandom pool. And yes, as you can tell, I’m a little behind the times on cool, hipster music.

What hooked me was his song Chicago. If you haven’t heard it, I’d suggest you go drop everything your doing and go listen to it with your best friend, preferably in a van… in a parking lot (so sorry). I’ll even go ahead and do you the favor:

As some of you know, I’m currently in the process of moving to Connecticut (not Chicago) from my home in Orlando, Florida. A big change geographically, culturally, and pretty much in every other way. So, yes, I do know it will be blisteringly cold up there, most of the time anyways.

It’s a pretty strange feeling though. Orlando is where I have planted my roots for what seems like the first time in my life. And if I’m honest, I’ve never really let my roots down before having moved to Orlando. It feels weird now having to uproot and move to another culture, away from the friends I have made, the church I’ve invested in, and from a city that I’m beginning to realize I actually pretty well enjoy. Most have felt the pain of leaving home, and this feels like the first time for me.

I’m struck too with a little bit of existential angst: will life forever be laying down roots and uprooting every couple years? Will I ever find a permanent home? Is there even a point in letting the roots down?

I’m certain there is a point, but at the moment what I’m feeling in leaving is something that I’m having to grieve.

About a week ago, my community group from church threw me and one of my best friends a going away get-together. He happens to be departing to Jackson, Mississippi, so we’ve talked before about how we may never live locally together ever again. It’s a morbid thought but a true one nonetheless. Ironically enough, we’ve both bonded over that Sufjan song recently. Having listened to it way too many times, I think it’s about Sufjan uprooting and rooting from one place to the next for reasons that have left him upset and feeling sorely mistaken for ever having left. It’s an upbeat but somewhat melancholic song because I think like most of us, we’re constantly searching for “home” and coming up short (in our minds, in our minds). We are ambitious and excited but are then left wondering what we’ve done and why we’ve left.

For me, I know I am called to Connecticut but am now currently stuck in this tension of calling and comfort. Will I ever find a home on this Earth? Will I ever find a calling on this Earth?  When I lift up my roots will they dry up? If I stay in this soil will my roots dry up? Is this an act of naive self-destruction or hopeful self-cultivation? There’s a terror in this tension.

At that get-together, I voiced these thoughts to an incredibly wise and maternal other. I told her how I couldn’t fathom leaving my friends and community behind, and with a gentle but confident tone she responded, “Jeb, you know, after being uprooted – it’s the best time for something new to grow.”

Bingo.

I think that’s what Sufjan’s conveying by saying, “All things go. All things grow.”

It’s not about whether the roots should’ve been lifted or not but about now what will be grown.

It’s not about where the tree will be re-planted, in that soil here or that dirt there, but about who’s the gardener. My genuine home isn’t found on the ground in which I’m placed, at least right now, but in the hand of my Beloved – the one who cultivates us even when it feels like we are losing everything.

I’ve talked to numerous friends these last couple days who have previously left our community or who are soon departing, and all have mentioned the difficulty of living in an “already but not yet” world – a world between our former home of slavery and our future home of intimate glory. We’ve left home for a new home, but still, we are not yet home.

The nexus of Chicago leaves us with this, “If I was crying, in the van with my friend, it was for freedom from myself and from the land”.

I clutch for that freedom. The freedom that dispels the despair of feeling like I don’t currently belong in this land and the anxiety of wondering if I ever will find home.

I have a home. I have a purpose. In those two statements lies a freedom that I can find nowhere else but in the dirty hands of an often unrecognizable gardener.

A Life of Flight: Finding Rest in a Distracted World

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There is a lack of stillness in our society, and being perpetually busy seems like a mark of maturity. Vacations never quite leave us rested. Hours of TV after work are not filling what needs to be filled. A fast food meal is a preferred choice over an hour of deliberate cooking. Even driving in your car without music, radio, or a podcast seems impossible. As Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, once bluntly said, “The public is on the lookout for distraction.” We seem both debilitated and busied by it, and so like birds in migration, we seem to be without a perch.

So is rest even possible? When we regularly want to go home after a full day of work and watch Netflix, and drink a beer or glass of wine before we restart the next day, have we even rested or have we just like that bird in flight given up on the long journey and settled for scraps and shade by a dumpster? It feels as though “rest” has lost its meaning. No longer is rest holistic but now just another word for numbing. Instead of taking walks by ourselves around the neighborhood, we pull up Facebook. Instead of a face-to-face dinner, we grab food and sit shoulder to shoulder on the couch. Instead of an intentional conversation with our roommate or spouse, we gaze into the world of happy families, extraordinary vacations, and perfect bodies on Instagram, and in the process, we are becoming more and more restless. Rest is crushed by distraction, and perhaps it is because distraction is busyness in a tranquil disguise.

In a constantly distracted life, we become emotionally dull. We often attempt to stuff away our fears, our loneliness, and all our anxiety in the busyness, and then we wonder why we are exhausted. Rest requires courage. It requires us, like a bird in a storm, to believe beyond the darkening clouds in front and beneath us. We have no clue what’s beneath those clouds. We are unsure if there is a roaring ocean, a scorching desert, or perhaps, even worse, nothing at all. Henri Nouwen, a well-renowned writer and priest, once wrote:

“Our culture has become most sophisticated in the avoidance of pain but our emotional and mental pain as well. We not only bury our dead as if they were still alive, but we also bury our pains as if they were not really there. We have become so used to this state of anesthesia, that we panic when there is nothing or nobody left to distract us. When we have no project to finish, no friend to visit, no book to read, no television to watch or no record to play, and when we are left all alone by ourselves we are brought so close to the revelation of our basic human aloneness and … we will do anything to get busy again and continue the game which makes us believe that everything is fine after all.”

This is not to say rest is just a constant journey into morbid introspection. We absolutely need ways to cope and relax at times and to take our eyes off ourselves, but we must recognize that a constant life of distraction is a life that is centered on avoidance rather than a life of pursuit. Like that bird by the dumpsters, it was given some relief but forfeited its journey. It desired rest and some sort of stability, rightly, but in the process strayed from the flock and stopped before a far better destination. It gave up on the migration, but that’s not to say it could never continue again.

So then how do we go on, and how do we find the courage to simultaneously rest while keep going?

There is no single answer to this, but we do need companions. Whether it is the flock of birds flying in formation, Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring, Harry Potter and his two dear friends Ron and Hermione, or you and your best friends, we need people to spur us on. We need people who can be with us on the journey and can allow us to bare our souls. Our proclivity to numbing dies when we have people who call to us, who plead with us to continue and to rest. When birds fly in formation, the bird in front takes on the most pressure until another takes its place and allows it to move backwards. Their flight fatigue is thus distributed equally. We need people like those birds who do the same with us, who share our suffering by moving to the front of formation for us, and encourage us to rest by allowing us to take a step back. We were never meant to journey alone. In addition, we need counselors, pastors, or mentors that help us deal with the darkness, pressure, or fatigue in our own lives which has driven us to seek relief in distraction. Often the weight of our shame, guilt, and exhaustion seems like too much. It is hard enough to stand with a load upon our shoulders, nonetheless fly, but like a good friend of mine once said, “Pilgrims are not comfortable, but they are not alone either.”

So what does resting along life’s journey look like if not numbing? If numbing is an extinguishing of desire then a life of journey is partly a life of longing. This is why pilgrims aren’t comfortable. Longing leaves us exposed to disappointment and hurt. A life of longing leaves us dependent but not divided, while a life of distraction has no need of grace, no need of community, and no need of hope. Staying attentive to our longings allow us to experience some sense of wholeness – a taste of what we were created for. If a bird knows it needs warmer weather to survive, then it must long for and pursue a warmer destination. Similarly, we are creatures of immense desire who are tempted to distraction as C.S. Lewis writes:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child [or bird] who wants to go on making mud pies [or eating by dumpsters] in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Perhaps, most of us are so exhausted because we’ve settled for the destination that can not offer us the rest we desperately need. We were meant for more than mud pies, dumpsters, or Netflix. We were meant to journey together in a life of anticipation and hope, longing and sorrow, endurance and rest. Like that bird, maybe we have become comfortable with just enough to keep us preoccupied and deprived of that familiar longing: the longing to finally arrive home.