I realize that I’m a nobody. I’m just a small house church leader in SE Calgary who’s voice is but a whisper in the midst of great speakers such as people like David Platt. But, I couldn’t help but cringe as I listened to these words in his post “Why You Should Not Believe in ‘Heaven is for Real‘“. Have we so lost our imaginations to the power of telling our story?
My mother lived to be 39 years old. I was 15 when we both were in a car accident in 1994 where she passed away and I would spend the next 3 months fighting for my life in the General Hospital Intensive Care Unit. Over that year I witnessed several miraculous experiences but one will be with me for the rest of my life.
I laid there, starring at the wall at the foot of my ICU bed listening to the beeps and the whirrs of the machines around me. Then a small pin light appeared at the foot of my bed. It grew over the next few minutes until it was the size of maybe a yoga ball that radiated all around the room. I didn’t really think or feel anything until a voice spoke to me from the light. My eyes filled up with tears and I could feel my self choking a bit as I heard my mother’s voice. It was warm and filled with love and only spoke a few words. She said, “You and your father will be ok.“
It perplexed me in many ways that I won’t share here but I felt a great sense of hope and peace knowing that my mother was with Jesus. Perhaps that is what many of these experiences and stories of the miraculous are meant to mean; a struggle or paradox between our rationality and reason with the ever present tense of the Kingdom of hope and peace being near! Should we ever hide these stories? Should we be quiet out of the fear that others simply will not understand?
David Platt is right that several of the biblical authors also experienced prophetic visions of heaven with Isaiah seeing the Lord on a throne with his robe filling the Jerusalem temple and angels all around him (Isa. 6); Ezekiel envisioning fire lashing out with gleaming metal (Eze. 1); not of Paul’s vision, but the testimony/story of another man’s vision of the “third heaven” – “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” (2 Cor. 12:2) (Interesting to note here that Paul himself accepted the story of a fellow believer while leaving the wonders of it up to God); and of course John’s vision of doorways to heaven, thrones, and voices like trumpets (Rev. 4)! Yet each grappled with what words to use to describe what they saw and each were ostracized, judged, and told to be quiet by the priests and community around them much like those who share such stories today.
There were also many who experienced resurrection and coming back from the dead such as the young girl who Jesus laid his hand upon as she “awoke” (Matt. 9:18-26); a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17); and most famously, the story of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Again, you are correct David Platt that the scriptures do not speak of any stories or experiences that these people shared and yet, that does not mean they did not share any. What stories do you suppose Mary and Martha shared with the villagers and those they saw in their travels? What experiences could Lazarus have spoke of while being dead in the tomb? Who are we to say, or were you there?!
I don’t profess not to struggle with some of the details in people’s visions like Colton Burpo’s story. But I don’t doubt at all that they experienced something significant that greatly affected the trajectory of their lives! So in what ways can these visions and dreams speak to us today?
In the first sense, these events happened to these people and their experiences have deep and meaningful significance to them. They have a right to speak of them and share how God may have spoke into their lives! We may not understand or even agree with everything they share but, we cannot deny that they experienced something in their life and it is shaping who they are.
Secondly, by listening to their stories we can find symbols of hope! By witnessing their testimony and the radical transformation that it has on their lives, we find an epiphany of God’s presence, love, and recognition to our existence. Though we know only in part, God’s glory is still in these stories. They are visions of God’s Kingdom come near in both the personal experience of the individuals and the communal promise of hope to the greatest story ever told!
Perhaps the greatest way we can treat these stories is by taking the advice of James, being quick to listen and slow to speak so that whatever righteousness God might work (James 1:19-20), might be done so through His works and not our own. Or should we become like the Pharisees commanding the crowds to silent at Jesus’ presence?! I think not less the stones begin to cry out! (Luke 19:40) If we all were willing to cry out “The Kingdom of God is near!” without fear of the judgements of others, perhaps then yes David Platt, we will recognize heaven is.. for real!
Lastly David Platt, regarding Kevin Malarkey… Who are we to speak against a person’s birth right and family name let alone that of a boy?! Does not the bible speak of the significance to a person’s family name? These are names of importance, history, meaning, and they deserve respect and honour in any room! To demean and mock them with a tact of bullying is in no way an act of Christ discipleship!
This might completely have you question the legitimacy of my Christian faith but, I am fascinated by apocalyptic films and television shows like ‘The Book of Eli‘ and ‘The Walking Dead‘. I guess I’m just enthralled by the wonder of how society and humanity would live without all the electronic, web connected, and media driven devices we are so used too and impacted by on a daily bases. As I get drawn into the stories and lives of these characters I recognize a simplicity to their practices and yet they each struggle to find meaning, purpose, community, and direction. They become heroic to me in their synergistic desire just to simply live and thrive as a community in mission; even if it is with flesh eating people all around them!
Speaking of eating… I like to say this simple quote while watching these shows that absolutely drives my wife nuts; “Everything’s got to eat some time!” I laugh as she squirms and blurts out with sarcasm, “Erik!” But it is true, is it not?! We might like to think differently but the reality is that these worlds of flesh eating zombies and cannibalistic appetites really aren’t that different from our own world. We simply give it a different title so that it sounds more economic and humane. The word we use is “Consumerism“.
Millions of people spending hours a day wanting, desiring, craving, and some times even obsessing over the self perceived drive for MORE!! And it doesn’t seem to matter how we get it either, whether through sweat factories, cheap labour, political bullying, even war; we want more and even after we get it, we might be subdued for a brief moment but ultimately we fall back to that same drive for more tech gadgets, more money, more clothes, or more vacations. Our lists for more can be never ending! What is it that quenches the scales of guilt towards greed in Dante’s Inferno? A pound of flesh!!
A few days ago I took some time to simply unplug from the grid. No TV. No internet. Ok, I did listen to a little music but who can escape the melodic guitar solos of the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Paige, and Stevie Ray Voughn?! It was a day of simplicity as I cleaned house, did some reading, and hit the weights in my basement. I felt great, rejuvenated, and even a little nostalgic to the days when I lived without all the electronic gadgets my wife and I use today (yes, it is a reality that I’m beginning to get that old!).
Jesus would often retreat to the mountains or go off on his own to unplug from the demanding world around him (Luke 5:15; Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12). Perhaps it was in the same way that he found rejuvenation, a time of refocus, and reconnection with his Father and the mission he came to complete. A mission not so much to take and consume but one to give and submit too. Of course, to complete that mission he couldn’t stay in the mountains; he had to return to that demanding world. Yet, even in the midst of those demands, he was not distracted from the very real purpose and work he came to complete.
My time in retreat reminds me that I have this same need for refocus in my own walk of faith. I must be willing to unplug from the demands of a consumer driven world if I am to become the person that God really wants me to be. I cannot allow my passion and desire for knowledge and understanding of God’s Word to become self consuming and absent of the actual practice of its calling and purpose. To do otherwise might place me into the same realization that one of my favourite characters, Eli, tragically comes to see in himself saying, “I spent so long trying to protect the book; I forgot to do what it says!” If I am not walking in submissive nature to faith and service, I am only one of the walking dead consuming anything and all in the name of more.
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.” God’s words here leaped in my heart as I reflected on the meanings to a rule of life. A rule of life must not be one of doctrine, complexity, or teaching, but rather an embrace of breathable naturalism and simplicity to which we ascribe in living communal practice with an expectation of becoming that which we are. Fyodor Dostoevski put it as, “The whole law of human existence lies in this: that man be able to bow down before the infinitely great”
The submission to communal life as a Christian is not sustainable through the life of just one and as our creator, it is God who first makes those relational ties with our inner being as he seeks intimacy and knits the fabric of life into the community around us (Jer. 1:4-10). Miroslav Volf rightly identifies that, “The Christian faith is not primarily about human doing but about human receiving. The barebones formal injunction to which the gospel can be produced is, ‘Receive yourself and your world as a new creation.’”
Catalyzing this receiving of new life and intimacy is the reality of God’s being in the foundation of love. This is not a reaction of motivated love but rather, “God’s love for humanity [as] freely given… The one true God does not need anything from humans, but exists as self-complete and yet not self-enclosed plenitude of self-giving and other receiving of love.” It is in a submission to receiving that love that we can then reflect it in response as an attribute to our being in the imago Dei. This existence however is not limited to our relationships solely between God and us but also in creational community. As we live deeper into this rule of life we recognize that love is not quantifiable and therefore not ours to give and receive, rather there is only one love in the identity of God which is shared and mirrored by all of his creation and intrinsically woven into the DNA of communal practice.
The universal inclusiveness of the Christian community gives birth to an alienation of its practice from that of the world’s understanding. Volf reflects the thoughts that, “through the new birth into a living hope, a ‘sect’ is born. And indeed, before the new born child could take her first breath, her difference, her foreignness, was manifest.” Hospitality and acceptance in the world’s perception is founded on a belief that it is quantified through personal individual meriting and yet, as Christians we fully live out an inclusiveness of hospitality and acceptance for all, despite difference, diversity, or social dictums. We love and entertain as God loves and entertains all!
The freedom in this endeavor to pursue God’s love and redemption of all things, returning his love to that which he creates, brings not a sense of enslavement, but a radical becoming and returning to who we are and who we were meant to be. No longer are we trapped by the self-consuming rules of ego but catalyzed by the movement towards communal self-realization and the rule of life. In Volf’s terms, “Every act of knowing God both satisfies and engenders human curiosity, every encounter with God both quenches and deepens human thirst. In the infinite being of God, the incessant movement of the human spirit begins to arrive at its final rest.”
Rest… indeed, a life long meditation on the practice of Sabbath!
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Je 31:33–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Dostoevski, Fyodor, Quoted in Philip Yancey’s, Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find. (Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000),123.
 Miroslav Volf, Captive to the Word: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 51
 Ibid, 140.
 Ibid, 89.
 Ibid, 177.
“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” – Jeremiah 1:6
Jeremiah was a young man and it seems he felt boxed in by the the pressures of his society’s and cultural expectations for qualification and vocational purpose. It was in his own thoughts and mind that the people around him and the fellow Jewish countrymen would find him lacking. He was too young, lacked in education, failed in pedigree, and generally had no authority for speaking on behalf of God or truth.
It seems like things have not changed much since those days. So often we fall into the patterns of society’s expectation of boxed in rules, perimeters, and requirements for the right to be considered qualified to speak or enact visions for change or mission. Success is even margined by the cultural expectations of independence, self sufficiency, and quality being judged through numbers or profit. It seems authority and power always comes back to that which the individual presents over that of others.
These social and cultural expectations scream at us, “You are not good enough!” “You cannot achieve or act because your not gifted enough, educated enough, wealthy enough, old or young enough, in the right titled or position of authority!” “You lack the abilities to succeed!” It is a worldly noise that fills our minds with the distractions of self doubt to the point that we just simply give up. We don’t even bother to try, and why should we? The world knows we will fail and we know we will fail.
It was here, in this mind set of self doubt, that God spoke to Jeremiah and like him, unless we are willing to quieten our own self defeat, we will miss hearing and listening to our creators voice and calling.
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:6-8
Jeremiah would not find his authority in the world’s expectations but rather would only find it in his relationship with the Lord. He was not to look to his society’s or cultures expectations of character and abilities but rather that of God’s character and abilities entering into his life and personhood.
God has placed you and I in a very special community and neighbourhood! When we look at our neighbours we are not under their judgements but rather sent to them by God’s presence in our lives to speak with his words, love and act with his understandings, and deliver a Spirit of freedom from the worlds expectations of success, power and authority. We live not within the boxed categories of the worlds view but that of our creators view of abilities, talents, and gifts which with him in our lives is endless!
“Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,” – Jeremiah 1:9-10
My neighbour is from Toronto and is a huge Maple Leaf fan. Try as I might, I can’t convince him that the Calgary Flames are a far better team! I must admit, I know I’m dreaming here a bit but, the hope of another 2004 Stanley Cup run just can’t leave my heart. Why am I sharing this story?
Despite the political differences my neighbours and I might have, the reality is God has placed all of us over this separation or relational gap. My neighbour and I can cross over the thresholds of our sports, political, ethical, and religious boundaries and embrace a conversation to which God can speak through and to both of us. We don’t have to have all things in common to relate as it is God’s presence that bridges the words and worlds between us.
“to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Listening to the voice of God in the relationship I have with my neighbours begins to break down the barriers of communal self defeat. No longer are they strangers, they are friends and they impact the person I am today. As we share in life together we begin to find parts of our worlds coming together which shape the meanings to authority that we have and our relationships with God.
It is in these relationships that I can plant seeds of thought through my actions and words which can bring God’s presence just a little closer to my neighbours and friends lives, whether they know him or not. In some sense, I see them doing the same with me. Together we are building community which in relationship with God, becomes a building of the Kingdom.
My Heavenly Father,
The past few weeks have been a blur to me and yet I have anguished over the news reports of the death to a young boy in our city back in May 2013 (Click Here). It is incomprehensible to think of the strife and pain he went through as his parents starved him to death! Why would a mother and father do this to their own son? Why did they not seek help from others?
I’m under no delusions either and I recognize sin has a communal role also. So where were the neighbours to this young boy? Where were the doctors who could check on his health? Did no one notice anything? Or did they turn and look the other way, unwilling to be involved, unwilling to care? Where were you God when this boy slowly weakened to the point that he submitted to the powers of death?
Jesus, your words echo in my heart as I contemplate the complexity of sitting on the side of the Mount of Olives; “Blessed are you who hunger…” (Matt. 5:6). To hunger, it is a state of lacking that transcends the simple need of food and substance. We hunger for purpose, for meaning and significance, for the awareness that you and those around us see us and receive us in communion. That in the breaking of bread we find not just the physical nourishment of food for the body, but a healing and communal fare that speaks into our thoughts and our souls.
Martin Luther King said that, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” The hunger that this boy experienced was not just one of his physical symptoms but of the hunger his parents spiritually and mentally lacked. It was a hunger the community and neighbourhood had lost sight of in the love for those who live so close.
I too live in one of these neighbourhoods Lord. I too struggle with the pains of hunger, the deeper desire for who I am in you; nourished and sustained in the calling of your sacrificial love and the reflection of your eternal presence here in my home, my block, my city. I lament my apathy for communal neighbourhood practice Father. I repent and ask for your leading to the bridges of the full sustenance of community and brotherly love. It is in this “thirst for righteousness…” that I submit.
Righteousness… where do we find this Father? Where is the justice and hope for this boy? The Jews called it shalom, a place where things are as they should be in peace. In some sense it is in the keeping of saying, “In peace I come. My peace I give to you.” Culturally, when a relationship is made, one would not leave the other until that peace is experienced; be it in giving of service, food, hospitality, or wisdom.
My knee jerk reaction in the desire for justice for this boy is to say an eye for and eye, “Let the parents starve!” Yet, is this a place of shalom Lord? Should I find justice in the vengeance of death? I realize in reality that the answer is no. We must also seek righteousness, seek shalom with these parents who lay in starvation for the proper calling you have placed upon them. They are broken, wounded to the spiritual and mental purposes you created them for. In seeking your shalom with these parents we must sit with them, speak with them, nurture them to your presence in the hope of repentance and healing.
Hope… yes, I see you Father, sitting at the side of this boy as he anguishes in his room. I realize that understanding comes at the bigger picture of the whole which is solely in your thoughts. Yet, here you are. Bringing shalom in the hope of your eternal presence amidst all this hunger. Here is a place of submission that justice will be in your receiving and embrace of this boy’s eternal life. This is a hope I can be “… satisfied.“
Satisfied… A place of contentment where your eternal presence and love supersedes with authority over all places and times of strife, anguish, hunger, and suffering. Richard Rohr brings the words of, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” It is to this spirit Lord that I live into the satisfaction of knowing, amidst the brokenness of my city, my community, my being, that you are present, you are righteous, and you are hungry to be with me. – Amen
This fall tens of thousands of young people have begun studies after high school. They have worked hard for this. Having won the prize of admission reserved for those disciplined in study, they will enter rich academic environments, richer then they have ever known, to pursue the promise of a good job.
They will find courses devoted to every question under the sun. But there is one question for which they will search in vain: the question of life’s meaning, of what one should care about besides a job and why, of what life and living is for.
I’ve been thinking about this vacuum recently. Western public education began with the notion that life’s most important questions are appropriate subjects for students to explore. This has all but disappeared. It is perhaps truer to say that what is most important in life has been collapsed, within education itself, to economics. Economic globalization of the last three decades or so has been the final squeeze to push questions of value and meaning out of formal learning. The disciplines with the oldest, deepest connection with these questions, the humanities, including the study of religion, have been badly weakened, even within secular universities. Research, the capacity to produce “true value” for new economic opportunity, is now king. Education is about commodities and the quantifiable. The question “What is life for?” is homeless here.
The loss of the quest for meaning has come at a staggering price. The September 2012 Maclean’s headlined Canadian students feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal. Among other things it discussed the results of a 2011 survey of 1,600 University of Alberta students, where “about 51 percent reported that, within the past 12 months, they’d felt things were hopeless. Over half felt overwhelming anxiety. A shocking seven percent admitted they’d seriously considered suicide, and about one percent had attempted it.” Canadian universities don’t have a monopoly on these things. At Cornell University in New York, the solution for hopelessness and depression has been to install bridge netting under the seven bridges leading to campus to catch jumpers on their way to class. Sadly even the article itself reduced the problem to one of “mental health“. Mental health is serious stuff, and important to acknowledge and deal compassionately with. The issue though is complex. Hopelessness, depression, and anxiety has much to do with the conditions of life, like prior to a major assignment. There will, as the saying goes, “always be prayer in schools as long as there are exams.“
Despite globalization, the quest for meaning persists. At one level it helps us cope. With a “why“, Victor Frankl observed, we can deal with any “how“. For Christians though, our longing for transcendence empowers us to invest in riches that can be enjoyed forever. The scriptures call it “hope in Christ” (1 Cor. 15).”Hoping in Christ” helps us to endure too. It also gives us the Model for living, a Christ shaped character, and a horizon far past the hollow promises of consumer culture, a reason to spend life for the sake of others.
Since questions for meaning are always questions of the spirit, and the right and proper subject of Christian education, it would be easy to say here “Hooray for Christian education!“
However, life’s meaning is far more than “a question” of the spirit. It is rather a quest, a hunger of the spirit. That’s why not all churches or even places like ABC are automatically places of authentic spiritual food. Sometimes Christian institutions bear a strange similarity to religious studies classrooms where information about God or belief systems is passed off as sufficient for Christian discipleship. Information however, while important and necessary, is hardly sufficient for becoming a follower of Jesus.
At the heart for our quest for meaning is Jesus who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you ‘Ten steps to walk in the Way.‘” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you the Truth.” He said, “I am the Truth.” He offers Himself. This of course matches our yearnings precisely. They are for Love Himself. Information is not enough for the quest!
Jesus knew all of this! He knew that what disciple-learners needed more than anything in their quest was a model of loving surrender to the Father. This was a lengthy process, even under the master Teacher! Along the way there were questions, doubts, fears, denials, prejudices, jealousies, and a host of other distractions. Their enemy was ours too: they thought that the “Way” was the way of privilege and power. All of them desert Him at one point. After three years of instructions they still think that (Acts 1:8). Throughout this jagged journey to learn Him, every moment was a teachable one. He never gives up on them.
Regardless of how that quest unfolded in particular cases, the common thread was that Jesus was always with them, entering life with them, challenging, encouraging, whittling away their self-preoccupation. All this to say that for Jesus curriculum was not enough. He longed for them to experience His inner life. His presence was key!
Dallas Willard puts it this way: “…spiritual formation rests on the indispensable foundation of death to self and cannot proceed except in so far as that foundation is being laid and sustained. You cannot follow Jesus from a distance. You do life with Him.” (Renovation of the Heart, Page 64)
The quest for meaning is satisfied through the challenging conversation and encounters where life’s big questions are faced honestly. In fact, our gospels are both declaration and a “working through” of the conversations about what it means to live for Someone else. Without those conversations, they wouldn’t exist! Peter Berger is correct: “Worldview hangs on the thin thread of conversation.“
As they walked with him, Life seeped in. Jesus’ own dreams of a new, Other-oriented life took shape. They learned to serve by serving. They learned to love by loving. They learned to be loved, by being loved. Meaning arrived not by armchair philosophizing, but through fresh encounters with Life Himself. Jesus knew that the transformative turning points of life are already in the journey, not just in the synagogue.
It is easy, and so tempting, to think of what is done outside the classroom as unimportant. It is not. The stakes are too high, the consequences too stark, the possibilities for Others too rich, and the horizons of meaning to beautiful, to abandon the co-curricular.
I tend to like the dark. Truth is, I spend most of my best reading time in the dark; staying up late into the night in bed with my book in front of me and my small little reading light curled over the top of it as I envision the author standing before me speaking the words I’m reading as though we were engaged in a deep conversation. I’m not sure why but I feel like my mind is just more focused that way, more willing to engage in what the text is saying.
It was a few nights ago though that after starting Brian McLaren’s new book ‘Naked Spirituality‘ that I came across a conversation he expressed having about gratitude that deeply disturbed me. I usually am greatly inspired by his writing which is why it took me back so much when reading it. Try as I might, the discontent would not leave so I thought it best to put pen to paper and express my thoughts in an open letter here. Will McLaren every read it? I do not know but, I hope by verbalizing it we might all grow to find a deeper, more unconditional spirit of gratitude.
Dear Brian McLaren,
I remember the first time I ever picked up one of your books. I was in a Chapters book store here in SW Calgary looking for something different and came across your writing of ‘A New Kind of Christian‘. Like most other times in book stores, I began reading it in one of the aisles and found I could not put it down. Most often I like to read apologetics or theology books and it is my wife who reads the narratives and biographies but your thoughts in this book where mesmerizing! Needless to say I was finished it in 3 days and on to find the 2 follow ups after it.
Since then I have gone on to read a number of your other books including starting most recently your latest work in ‘Naked Spirituality‘. After hearing so many of your thoughts in your other books though I must admit to being a bit distressed in a story you speak of regarding a spirit of gratitude. You say,
When I was still a teenager, my friend Mary asked me, “How much money would you give to keep your eyesight if you knew you were going blind?”
“A lot,” I answered. “Everything.”
Then she asked, “What if it was your ability to walk – if you had a disease that would leave you wheelchair-bound unless you could pay for a cure. How much would you spend?”
“Everything,” I said. “I’d liquidate everything I own and go as far into debt as I could to save my mobility.”
“How about your hearing?”
“The same,” I answered.
“How about your sanity – your mental health, your intelligence?”
Finally I asked, “What’s your point?”
“I’m just trying to save you from BYTS – the Big Yellow Taxi Syndrome,” she said, evoking the newly released Joni Mitchell song. “If you were to loose any one of these abilities, you would pay millions of dollars to recover it, so each one is worth millions of dollars to you. You would rather have the ability to see or hear or move or think then tens of millions of dollars in the bank. Well,” she smiled and gave me a little shove, “you have them! Which means you’re better off than a multimillionaire! You have to know what you’ve got before it’s gone.”
I realize that we live in a world that likes to box frame such things as success, richness, blessings, normality, and capability but in honesty I can’t help but feel personally towards this story. In open truth, here I am, in a wheelchair, paralyzed as a quadriplegic after a car accident 18 years ago, reading this story, and what I’m hearing is you would rather do anything, including go as far into debt as possible, then become like me!
Why? What is wrong with me? What am I lacking that makes your abilities more valuable then my own? Should I then go and do “everything” to not be this person in a wheelchair?
Let me share a story with you which comes from an experience I had prior to the car accident that has placed me in this wheelchair and is strangely similar to your encounter under the stars. It was about a year before my life would change in such a dramatic way and like most days I was found dribbling a basketball down the street. I was always athletic competing in just about everything and being a 6 foot 210 pound 15 year old I was as invincible as you could be!
Growing up in the church I understood the concept of God but I really didn’t take the conversation seriously. Anyways, there I was, dribbling down the street towards the courts and I distinctly remember an inner voice speaking to me. It said, “How would you like to be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life?“
Now my mother had worked with people in the health care industry before who had been in wheelchairs and so it wasn’t like I wasn’t aware of some of the challenges these people face in life. Still, without really taking notice of who I was talking with and the implications of what I would say, I shot back, “Sure, I could do that! It would make me cool, unique, and I’d be some what revered!“
Let’s be honest here; I had no idea what I was talking about. More to the point, I had no idea who I was talking too! Looking back now I can honestly say that I know I was talking with God that day and he was preparing me for what was going to become very shortly, a new projection to the pilgrimage of my life. Still, what was I looking for here? What was the deeper desire? Maybe even, what would make me grateful to be who God created me to be?!
Let’s look at it from the perspective of the secret vision of Jesus. (Thought you might like that term ;) ) Jesus’ disciples loved asking questions and they were constantly asking him about the “why’s” in life. One time they were walking on the streets of Jerusalem and they came across a blind man begging on the side of the street. His followers turned to him and said, “Teacher, why is this man born blind and disabled since birth? Is it because he himself has displeased God or did his parents offend God?” (John 9:2)
Jesus looked at them and answered, “It is neither because God is displeased in this man or offended by his parents. It is so that he can do the incredible works of God through being who he was created to be!” (John 9:3) Blindness was seen by Jesus not as a lacking or deficiency but rather a personification of God given character and identity. This man was special, unique, and cool because of who God made him to be!
I have been in a wheelchair for many years now and gained much more wisdom and appreciation for the gifts God has placed in my life because of the wheelchair I live in. As such I must admit to recognizing that you probably are writing this false understanding of gratitude without realizing the danger nor damage this sense of false gratitude can create. But, we must see beyond the world’s sense of segregationalized and marginalized gratitude. Our eyes must be blinded by the glory of the cross which drives gratitude straight to the hearts of the segregated and marginalized!
I have been around some incredible people who face incredible physical and mental challenges in life and one thing that has been greatly impressed upon me is the real spirit of being able to accomplish all things through Christ’s inspiration and guidance. (Phil. 4:13) Perhaps something I am most grateful for is the encountering of Christ’s presence through such relationships and events!
We have met one time before a few years back when you came to Calgary to speak with Bob Goudzwaard on your book ‘Everything Must Change‘. After your talk I came up and shook your hand while you signed my copy of ‘A Generous Orthodoxy‘. Perhaps this is something else that must become more generous in recognition and must change in our society’s understanding of appreciation. A real spirit of gratitude is not an appreciation for what we quantify as the justifiable right in our life; but rather the physical, mental, and spiritual diversity and beauty God has placed in each one of our lives both individually and communally. Sharing those things together as equals and sharing full equity between each other despite differences; those moments are truly miraculous and filled with the glorious spirit of eternal gratitude!