Friday, November 30, 2007

The Way of the Reformer

"Only a few people read that and cry." - my friend, Jim Spivey


This essay that I'm sharing with you was written 100 years ago. But I read it yesterday. And I had to share it with you today.


Why? you may ask.


Because I must share my heart...for better or worse, I would suffocate and die without doing so. It is burden that many run from, and I can not blame them. But there are also those who receive my need as their gift, and work with me to understand it, and they are my dearest of friends...most especially those who then use it to address and share their own hearts with me and with others. In my world, we are participating in the very work of God as we thumb our noses at the drivenness so presumed and expected by the world and take the time to engage our hearts. "The Kingdom of God is within you," my Lord says, yet even in the church world, drivenness calls "Kingdom work" things that we do externally, and "Kingdom growth" the addition of people to the church. Kingdom work external inasmuch as you are engaging with other people in their own inward work. And Kingdom growth is the expansion of God's rule in the hearts of men.


I feel so explained by this essay. And since it is by a man who wrote it over a century ago, I don't feel so alone, strange, or abnormal. At the very least, I know I am not the only one with my particular set of abnormalities.


I both apologize and refuse to apologize for how glorious this guy paints the picture of what he calls a "reformer". Humility demands that I apologize for applying such glory to myself. Honesty demands that I admit this is exactly the kind of glory that I want to have.


It is long, but if you can not read it slowly, I advise you to not read it. This is more of warning, than a demand, because if you read it fast you will only be able to say "I read that thing", not "I heard it's heart." And the real tragedy in it would be your unawareness of it.


And just for the sake of a little bonus self-disclosure, I bolded some of the statements that particularly stuck out to me.


I love you all.




THE WAY OF THE REFORMER, from an essay entitled The Power of Truth by William George Jordan, published initially in 1902


"The reformers of the world are its men of mighty purpose.  They are men with the courage of individual conviction, men who dare run counter to the criticism of smaller minds and hearts, men who voluntarily bear crosses for what they accept as right, even without the guarantee of a crown.  They are men who gladly go down into the depths of silence, darkness, and oblivion, but only to emerge finally like divers, with pearls in their hands.

He who labors untiringly toward the attainment of some noble aim, with eyes fixed on the star of some mighty purpose, as the Magi followed the star in the East, is a reformer.  He who is loyal to the inspiration of some great spiritual truth, and with strong hand and heart leads weak, trembling steps of faith into the glory of eventual certainty, is a reformer.  He who follows the thin thread of some startling revelation of Nature in any of the great sciences, follows it in the spirit of truth through a maze of doubt, hope, experiment, and questioning, till the tiny, guiding thread grows stronger and firmer to his touch, leading him to some wondrous illumination of Nature's law, is a reformer.  He who goes up alone into the mountain of truth, and, glowing with the radiance of some mighty revelation, returns to force (through the power of his conviction) the hurrying world to listen to his story, is a reformer.  He who seeks to work out for himself his own bold destiny, the life-work that all his nature tells him should be his, bravely, calmly, and with due consideration for the rights of others and his duty to them, is a reformer.


These men who renounce the commonplace and conventional for higher things are reformers because they are striving to bring about new conditions; they are consecrating their lives to ideals.  They are the brave aggressive vanguard of man's progress and God's promise.  They are men who can stand a siege, who can take long forced marches without a murmur, who set their teeth and bow their heads as they fight their way through the smoke, who smile at the trials and privations that dare to daunt them.  They care not for the handicaps and perils of the fight, for they are ever inspired by the flag of triumph that seems already waving on the citadel of their hopes and dreams.

If we are facing some great life ambition, let us see if our heroic plans are good, high, noble, and exalted enough for the price we must pay for their attainment.  Let us seriously and honestly look into our needs, our abilities, our resources, our responsibilities, to assure ourselves that it is no mere passing whim that is leading us.  Let us hear and consider all counsel, all light that may be thrown on every side; let us hear it as a judge on the bench listens to the evidence, and then makes his own decision.  The choice of a life-work is too sacred a responsibility to the individual to be lightly decided for him by others less thoroughly informed than himself.  When we have weighed in the balance the mighty question and have made our decision, let us act, let us concentrate our lives upon that which we feel is supreme, and, never forsaking a real duty to others, never be diverted from the attainment of the highest things, no matter what honest price we have to pay for their realization and conquest.

When Nature decides any man as a reformer she whispers to him her great message, she places in his hand the staff of courage, she wraps around him the robes of patience and perseverance, and starts him on his way.  Then, in order that he may have the strength and endurance to live through it all, she mercifully calls him back for a moment, and makes him ... a dreamer and an optimist.  For the way of the reformer is hard - very hard.  The world knows little of it, for it is rare that the reformer reveals the scars of the conflict, the pangs of hope deferred, the mighty waves of despair that wash over a great purpose unfolding - except to a very devoted few.  Men of great purpose and noble ideals must know the path of the reformer is loneliness.  They must live from within a very tight circle rather than in dependence on broad and diverse sources of help from without.  Their mission, their exalted aim, their supreme object in living, which focuses all their energy, must be their primary sources of strength and inspiration.  The reformer must ever light this torch of his own inspiration and tend to it.  His own hand must ever guard the sacred flame as he moves steadily forward on his lonely way.


The reformer in morals, in education, in spiritual awareness and practice, in sociology, in invention, in philosophy in any line of aspiration, is ever a pioneer.  His privilege is to blaze the path for others, to mark at his peril a road that others may follow in relative safety.  He must not expect that the way will be laid out and asphalted for him.  He must realize that he must face injustice, ingratitude, opposition, misunderstanding, the cruel and harsh criticism of contemporaries, and often, hardest of all, the wondering reproach of those who love him best.  Leading a great purpose is ever an isolation.  Should a soldier leading the forlorn hope complain that the army is not abreast of him?  The glorious opportunity before him should so inspire him, so absorb him, that he will care nought for the army except to know that if he lead as he should, and do that which the crisis demands, the army must follow to survive and be victorious.


The reformer must realize without a trace of bitterness that the busy world cares little for his struggles, it cares only to join in his final triumph; it will share his feasts, but not his fasts.  Christ was alone in Gethsemane, but - at the sermon in the wilderness, where food was provided, the attendance was four thousand.


The world is honest enough in its attitude.  It takes time for the world to realize, to accept, and to assimilate a large new truth.  Since the dawn of history, the great conservative spirit of every age, that ballast that keeps the world in poise, makes the slow acceptance of great truths an acceptance for its safety.  It wisely requires proof, clear, absolute, undeniable attestation, before it fully accepts.  Sometimes the perfect enlightenment takes years, sometimes decades, sometimes generations.  It is but the safeguard of truth.  Time is the supreme test, the final court of appeal that winnows out the chaff of false claims, pretended revelation, empty boast, and idle dreams.  Time is the touchstone that finally reveals all true gold.  The process is slow, necessarily so, and the fate of the world's geniuses and reformers in the balance of their contemporary criticism should have a sweetness of consolation rather than a bitterness of cynicism.  If the greatest leaders of the world have had to wait for recognition, should we, whose best work may be trifling in comparison with theirs, expect instant sympathy, appreciation, and cooperation, where we are merely growing toward our own attainment?

The world ever says to its leaders, by its attitude if not in words, 'If you would lead us to higher realms of thought, to purer ideals of life, and flash before us, like the handwriting on the wall, all the possible glories of development, you must pay the price for it, not we.'  The world has a law as clearly defined as the laws of Kepler:  'Contemporary credit for reform works in any line will be in inverse proportion to the square root of their importance.'  Give us a new fad and we will prostrate ourselves in the barren dust; give us a new philosophy or way of life, a new worldview, a higher conception of life, morality, and spiritual truth, and we may pass you by, but posterity will pay for it.  Send your messages C.O.D. and posterity will settle for them.  You ask for bread; posterity will give you a stone, often called a monument.


There is nothing in this to discourage the highest efforts of genius.  Genius is great because it is decades ahead of its generation.  To appreciate genius requires some level of comprehension and some of the same characteristics.  The public can fully appreciate only what is a few steps in advance; it must grow slowly to the appreciation of great thought.  The genius of the reformer should accept this as a necessary condition.  It is the price he must pay for being in advance of his generation, just as front seats in the orchestra cost more than those in the back row of the third gallery.  . . .  There is nothing the world cries out for so constantly as a new idea, and there is nothing the world fears so much.  The milestones of significant progress in the history of the ages tell the story.  For example, Galileo was cast into prison in his seventieth year, and his works were prohibited.  He had committed no crime, other than being in advance of his generation.

The modern world says with a large sweep of the hand, 'the opposition to progress is all in the past; the great reformer or the great genius is appreciated and recognized today.'  No, sadly, this is not true.  In the past they tried to imprison or kill a great truth by opposition; now we gently seek to smother it by making it a fad. 


So it is written in the book of human nature:  The saviours of the world must ever be martyrs.  The death of Christ on the cross for the people He had come to save typifies the temporary crucifixion of public opinion that comes to all who bring to the people the message of some great truth, some clearer revelation of the divine.  But truth, right, and justice must triumph, and always will.  Let us never close the books of a great work and say, 'it has failed.'  No matter how slight seem results, how dark the outlook, the glorious consummation of the past, the revelation of the future, must come.  And Christ lived but 30 years; and He had twelve disciples - one denied Him, one doubted Him, one betrayed Him, and the other nine were very human.  And in the supreme crisis of His life 'they all forsook Him and fled,' but today - His followers are millions.


Sweet indeed is human sympathy, the warm hand-clasp of confidence and love brings a rich inflow of new strength to him who is struggling and the knowledge that someone dear to us sees with love and comradeship our future through our eyes is a wondrous draught of new life.  If we have this, perhaps the loyalty of two or three or six or ten, what the world says or thinks about us should count for little.  But if this be denied us, then must we bravely walk our weary way alone, toward the sunrise that must come.


The little world around us that does not understand us, does not appreciate our ambition or sympathize with our efforts, that seem to it futile, is not intentionally cruel, callous, bitter, blind, or heartless.  It is merely that, busied with its own pursuits, it does not fully realize, does not see as we do.  The world does not, because it cannot see our ideal as we see it, does not feel the glow of inspiration that makes our blood tingle, our eyes brighten, and our soul seem flooded with a wondrous light.  It sees naught but the rough block of marble before us and the great mass of chips and fragments of seemingly fruitless effort at our feet, but it does not see the angel of achievement, beauty, and gracefulness slowly emerging from its stone prison, from nothingness into full being, under the tireless strokes of our chisel.  It hears no faint rustle of wings that seem already real to us, nor the glory of the music of triumph already ringing in our ears.

There come dark, dreary days in all great work, when effort seems useless, when hope almost appears a delusion, and confidence the mirage of folly.  Sometimes for days, weeks, or months your sails flap idly against the mast, with not a breath of wind to move you on your way, and with a paralyzing sense of helplessness you just have to sit and wait and wait.  Sometimes your craft of hope is carried back by a tide that seems to undo in moments your work of months or years.  But it may not be really so; you may be put into a new channel that brings you nearer your haven than you dared to hope.  This is the hour that tests us, that determines whether we are masters or slaves of conditions.  As in the battle of Marengo, it is the fight that is made when all seems lost that really counts and wrests victory from the hand of seeming defeat.


If you are seeking to accomplish any great serious purpose that your mind and your heart tell you is right, you must have the spirit of the reformer.  You must have the courage to face trial, sorrow, and disappointment, to meet them squarely and to move forward unscathed and undaunted.  In the sublimity of your perfect faith in the outcome, you can make them as powerless to harm you as a dewdrop falling on the Pyramids.

Truth, with time as its ally, always wins in the end.  The knowledge of the inappreciation, the coldness, and the indifference of the world should never make you pessimistic.  They should inspire you with that large, broad optimism that sees all the opposition of the world can never keep back the triumph of truth, that your work is so great that the petty jealousies, misrepresentations, and hardships caused by those around you dwindle into nothingness.  What cares the messenger of the king for his trials and sufferings if he knows that he has delivered his message?  Large movements, great plans, always take time for development.  If you want great things, pay the price like a man.


Anyone can plant radishes; it takes courage to plant acorns and wait for the oaks.  Learn to look not merely at the clouds, but through them to the sun shining behind them.  When things look darkest, grasp your weapon firmer and fight harder.  There is always more progress than you can perceive through your senses, and it is really only the outcome of the battle that counts.


And when it is all over and the victory is yours, and the smoke clears away, and the smell of the powder is dissipated, and you bury the relationships that died because they could not stand the strain, and you nurse back the wounded and faint-hearted who loyally stood by you, even when doubting, then the hard years of fighting will seem but a dream.  You will stand brave, heartened, strengthened by the struggle, re-created to a new, better, and stronger life by a noble battle, nobly waged, in a noble cause.  And the price will then seem to you  . . . nothing."  


Final note from Brian: And now, dear reader, if you have made it this far...and you have paid the price of listening...and you have resonated with anything in this (and it is not to your shame if you have not)...I would love to hear the cry of your heart that it awakens.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The New Normal

"That is completely normal." - a commonly used phrase, but for completely different reasons (but most recently and powerfully used by my new friend Rick last Tuesday night in my basement)
They way most of us eat is completely normal, but it's not good.
They way most of us think is completely normal, but it's not healthy.
The way most of us act and interact is completely normal, but it's not best.
The way most of us go about success is normal, but it's not right.
The standards most of us use to measure ourselves are normal, but they are not Christ.
Don't get me wrong...I find so much comfort, and hope you do too, to know that some of our deepest, darkest struggles, habits, and behaviors (the ones that are self-defeating and bring us death) are not unique to me. It is quite nice to know that I am normal.
But there has to come a point when we who follow Christ confront normal, and create a new normal.
For those that follow Christ...
It is normal stay in things when they are hard.
It is normal to forgive everything of everyone.
It is normal to share our deepest thoughts, sins, and struggles.
It is normal to share our ideals, dreams, and joys.
It is normal to suffer humiliation for our faults and not be crushed by it.
It is normal to be patient with our kids.
It is normal to honor our parents even when they are undeserving.
It is normal to sacrifice anything temporary for the good of someone else's temporary.
It is normal to consider who we are around and be sensitive about what comes out of our mouths.
It is normal to defend people's hearts from the wounds that come from others.
It is normal to defend the hearts of those "others" that did the wounding.
It is normal to love and want the best for our enemies.
It is normal to use prayer as our answer for everything.
It is normal to suffer for the joy of it.
It is normal to swallow our pride for our spouses daily and like it.
It is normal to be free.
It is normal to feel peace.
It is normal to have joy.
It is normal to live in ways that bring about life to the full.
It's the new normal. And if we are not in the process of creating a new normal, we are not in the process of bringing about the Kingdom of Christ.
Most people I know that do not have the above as their "normal" are normally:
1. Not following Christ.
2. Pretending they are following Christ.
3. Calling what they are doing following Christ.
4. Following Christ part time.
5. Saying they don't need Christ.
6. In love with their own potential for Christ.
7. Disbelieving that the "new normal" is possible at all, calling Christ an "impossible ideal".
My desire is to constantly be creating a "new normal" for my life, and helping others do the same. It is grueling, sometimes slow, confronting, emotion-producing, status quo breaking, opposed work. And it is the best possible life.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Question: "Colder or Warmer?" Answer: "Yes."

"Make them one, Father." - Jesus Christ
My daughter was dipping her feet in the bath water that I was running for her so I could find out if the temperature was to her liking.
"You want it colder or warmer?" I asked.
So I turned the knob a little warmer and asked her to feel the flowing water. She looked at me, and said, "Warmer!" a little more emphatically.
"Okay!" I said, with an emphatic tone of my own, to point it out the inappropriateness of hers, as I made the water a little warmer.
She felt it, and looked at me with an incredulous look as if I was intentionally disregarding her instructions. My 5-year-old looked right in my eyes and said to me loudly, slowly, and as if I was only a 2-year-old, "WARM-ER!"
I felt the water to make sure I was, indeed, making it warmer...which I was. It was actually starting to get uncomfortably hot. I said, "Callie...I'm making it warmer, but it's starting to get hot."
Then she yelled, "I don't want it hot...I want it WARMER."
With an explosion of understanding sweeping through me, I realized that Callie was asking for something dramatically different from what I was delivering. In terms of water temperature, she knows 3 categories: "cold", "warmer", and "hot". So when I asked her if she wanted it colder or warmer, then she felt it and it was hot, she said "make it warmer."
The tension that was growing between us because of our slightly differing understandings of the same exact words lifted completely as we figured that out. But it took some work.
Oh, how I see this happen in our church. For example...
Everyone wants more evangelism - but to some that means getting more people in the building for Christ, and to others it means getting more people out of building into the lives of others for Christ.
Everyone believes in Bible study - but to some that means getting people into Bible classes more, and to others it means getting people into Bible living more.
Everyone believes in baptism - but to some that means giving baptism the same "salvational" weight as we give Christ himself, and to others it means using it as yet another of Christ's means of transforming people into his own image.
Everyone believes in worship - but some think it's what they do on Sunday morning, and others think it's what our lives are.
Everyone believes in God - but some think He's a divine police-man, some that He's a gentle Santa Claus, some that He's a frowning parent, some that He's a demanding boss, some that He's an uninterested Other, and still others think that He is just like them, whatever they have come to be.
These misunderstandings are not a huge problem of any consequence, in my opinion. At least they don't have to be. If all of us will just "stay in the tension" that is created because of our differing understandings of our Christian vocabulary lists, then we will actually and usually find an explosion of understanding of each other that will allow us to communicate, agree, and serve each other and with each we follow God, worship God, baptize people into God, study the Bible about God, and evangelize the world for God.
Back at the bathtub, when Callie and I finally understood one another, it took humility from me to accept her definition of the words we were using (especially since I "knew she was wrong"). I then was able to teach her my definition of the same words. The laughter that she and I shared as we "played back" the tension we were throwing at each other actually increased our joy in that moment. If it hadn't happened, it would've been an uneventful filling of the bathtub.
I think many us run from the discomfort of misunderstandings between us way too soon. Too soon for us to know each other's hearts, too soon for us to feel the tension, too soon for us to have the explosion of understanding that would make us intimate allies. That would make us one in Christ.
But if we stayed long enough to become one, then we would have the glorious honor of being an answer to Christ's prayer to his Father recorded for us in John 17 - "Make them one, Father."
I wonder what Christ meant by that? "Make them one"?