Retrogression (and) the Outsider

RETROGRESSION.

I liked this word before I even knew it was a word. I thought I made it up. Apparently, though, the medical community thinks that it means the process of returning to an earlier state, typically a worse one. When I thought I invented the word, I thought it meant something different. To me, Retrogression means going back to the way you used to be when things were better. When life was better. When I believed God was good. When I felt like I was alive.

Retro is good, right? It’s a kind of nostalgic looking-back and, for a while, being there. Sometimes you’ve gotta go backward before you can go forward. For instance, if you take the wrong road, you have to go back to the intersection where you made the wrong turn. Go back to where you knew you were on the right path. So that’s where I’m heading, in a way. Back to where God was everything.

I had a chat with my friend Kate recently (hi Kate!), and I ended up talking about how I’m doing better now… actually, the best I’ve been since *the breakup*. I started thinking, then, about how maybe this whole breakup thing had been good, even though when it happened (and happened again, kinda, in my mind)… when it happened, I wanted to die. Now looking back, I can see how it has worked out for the best for me. I never would’ve guessed I’d be saying that back around Christmas of last year, or even around February 6 ’08… but here I am. Romans 8:28 is true… but it’s slim consolation to one who’s suffering.

How can a breakup be good? Good question. See, it’s like this… I’ve been getting to find out who *I* am… not who Kara’s dad wants me to be. I decide for myself what I want to be involved in – from prayer advances, to church softball teams, to which church to go to, to participating in church-related stuff… I miss Awana, though, and chasing the kids around the church. And those people at church who I could tell both knew and loved me. I really miss that.

See, when I was at Friendship Baptist, Kara’s dad told me he was watching me. (He said he was watching every potential suitor). He never should’ve said that. From then on, I felt like a bird in a cage. Like my every move was being psycho-analyzed. I lived in fear. Fear that I wouldn’t live up to his expectations. Fear that he would say that I wasn’t good enough, just like my dad always told me, but never with those words.

Besides that, I have a tendency to show off. I devoted my life to gaining Mr. E’s approval. Performing is well and good if it is for a few moments, but not if it becomes a lifestyle. I did my utmost to persuade myself that what I was doing was not for him, but because I believed in it. Many times I succeeded, but my heart knew that what I was doing “for him” was more about Steven Eichelberger that about Him. Time after time, God dealt with me about it, and time after time, I gave her to God… and gradually took her back.

Now? Well, now I feel a sort of freedom. Freedom to live the way I believe is right, without fear that doing so will jeopardize the most important relationship in my life if it doesn’t line up with what one man believes. Slowly, even, i have (oddly) adopted some of the things he believes in, but this time for my own reasons, and not to impress him.

For instance, every Sunday, I dress up, put on good shoes, and tuck my shirt in. Not because I need to impress God or the other people in the church… but just to make Sunday special. Different. Set apart. Holy, I guess. And in so doing, I think that I obey the commandment to keep the sabbath day holy, but derive joy from it! Imagine it! Why would deriving joy from keeping commandments being strange to me? Perhaps because, it seems, to the fundamentalists, keeping the commandments is a drudgery.

Perhaps I’m over-generalizing here. Perhaps the fundamentalists against which I argue so strongly are a bunch of straw men standing beside only one real person: my dad. I want to live with passion, and with joy. I want to sing about Jesus, not because I should, but because it is my passion. I want to love God because He loved me first, not simply because He commands me. I want to worship this God because He is worth worshipping, and delight in it because I was made for it. I want to obey because it is the path of life, not simply because I must.

The short of it? The breakup was good for me in this way: I no longer question my every motive for my every deed. I go to YAs because the YA group is my life support. I go to Awake every Friday because they are my life support. My spiritual life as well as my emotional. They aren’t just my fellow Christians.. they are my friends. I don’t hang out with them because I should. I hang out with them because I need them. Because I want to.

And then… talking about Jesus? I don’t talk about Jesus because it’s appropriate to. Every time I meet somebody who knows Him, that’s what I most want to talk about. I guess it’s become my passion. Not because I should… not because it should be… but because it is my delight. Mark Driscoll once said that we serve God, not because it is our Duty, but because it is our Delight.

Yes. I feel free. Free to live what I believe for the right reasons – because I believe it, and not because I believe life as I know it could end if I don’t. Yeah, it’s a good feeling. I know it’s true because… well, because there’s no way Steve Eichelberger will find out about anything good that I do. (Unless, of course, I tell him). That’s how I know.

***

I feel, sometimes, like an outsider wherever I go. I am comfortable in strict fundamentalist churches, but I don’t quite fit in there. I am an outsider in the churches where they talk about making tons of money and being successful. I keep meaning to ask Pastor Henry what he means by desiring us to be great. I wonder if he knows that Jesus, when he spoke of greatness, was referring not to becoming a famous evangelist or standing on a platform, or giving away billions of dollars to charitable causes… all of which are good, but none of which Jesus did. Nor did Jesus consider these things to be greatness or a means of attaining greatness. The greatest, in Jesus’ book, is the one who serves everyone. The slave. Not the man who sends thousands of slaves off to build houses for the poor, but the slave who goes.. is greater. I don’t fit in there, either… but I know far too much of grace and love to feel comfortable sitting under the teaching of those who preach “Do, do, do!” (Jesus said that it is DONE.)

My point is that I do not feel like I am at home. “I am an outsider now, both within, and without.” Those who live passionately for Christ do not seem to reside in churches that preach of God’s love and grace, and those who believe passionately do not seem to reside in churches that preach very much of the truth (however much they my proclaim, and with however much volume, that they preach only the truth at “this church.”)

Where is that sweet spot, the place where grace and truth collide? Where obedience is taught as a means to the sweet life; where God is known, and therefore loved – not simply known, and not simply loved. Where lives are lived in a way that gives God glory, because God is loved, because He is known, because He loved first. Where fellowship is so important… Where service is important – for the people themselves, not simply for “their eternal souls.” What about the part of them that is stuck in time – right now? The part that needs a washer fixed, or can’t get outside to mow the grass? What about that part?

I want to know this God. And I want to know the other people who worship Him with their lives. Who love the old hymns and the new songs. Who don’t object to drums, but simply don’t prefer them to be in church… Keeping drums out, not because “they are evil,” but because, well, that’s not how we like it here. Do it at home. (Even there, it seems, I have managed to come to agreement with Steve Eichelberger on my own terms… not because the continued beating of my heart is at stake should that become a major issue.)

Where are the reasonable people – those who both live their lives well, and know and express the mercy and love of Christ? That is the church. That is the irresistible church, the one that the world will track down and notice that something is different about… and LIKE it… and want it. That is the mustard seed.

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