Hearted

Got a little older, got a little colder;

There goes that easy enthusiasm.

It never spilled–it seeped out slowly:

One day I realized I was lying on the floor,

With no idea what to do next,

Thoughtless.

 

Mad monsters made you meaner

Than you ever imagined you being.

You realized you don’t smile at strangers

Anymore–no energy.

You used to wonder what was wrong

With everyone.

 

There’s some audible hollowness

When you tap on these chests

When you’re looking for sturdiness, anywhere.

The drywall is thin

And scuffed up, and holey,

But–standing.

 

Hard-hearted or broken-hearted:

In a cracked and shattering place like this one,

That’s all there is.

outside the camp

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:10-14
Follow the logic of the author’s train of thought here – it is beautiful.

We as Christians are entitled to eat from the altar of the holy communion, the bread and wine which depict the very body and blood of Jesus, an altar which the priests of the old covenant neither understood nor accepted. Just as they burnt their sacrifices for sin outside Jerusalem’s gates as prescribed by the law they idolized, Jesus, the only efficacious sacrifice for sin, also suffered his death outside the city. He was hated and excluded from their religion and from his people as a “blasphemer” – yet he volunteered for this. He did it to cleanse the consciences of sinners and to bring them in his wake to the Father.

Therefore, says the author, let us abandon our familiar territories, our safety zones, and our mundane desires. Let us claim the reproach and the ridicule that is ours by right, as people named after the great Outcast, the supreme Reject. The “city” we too comfortably habitate at the moment is on its way out. We aim for a different city altogether: the New Jerusalem, the breathtaking city of God that will be here before the world knows it.

The New Testament book of Hebrews is one of my favorites in the Bible. It is something of a commentary on the Old Testament, with a perspective, a realness, and an urgency that all revolves around the person Jesus. Here at the end of the letter, the unknown author beckons his very persecuted, very human, very real recipients: “let us go to him outside the camp.”

Of people who would answer his beckoning, several things must be true.

Jesus must captivate them. Not in a passively impressed way, like observing an interesting specimen behind a glass. Nor simply in an ethereal, indefinably spiritual way, like being drawn by the Spirit into figurative clouds of heavenly understanding. As a person with a particular personality who lived a particular life, Jesus of Nazareth must inspire awe in them. No one can imitate someone, to the point of self-denial, whom they do not know, or do not cherish.

Jesus’ love for these people must saturate them. They must unshakably believe that he is on their side, that he belongs to them, that he treasures them. Not by right nor by nature – sinners assuming God’s blessing is ultimately ridiculous – but by his proclamation of mercy at the cross. They must be utterly convinced of the cross’ power to transform them from self-loving lawbreakers into the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). “Jesus paid it all,” they say. “All to him I owe.”

Jesus’ Spirit must empower them.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t fit into any of our ordinary categories, and we very much like categories. Perhaps part of his majesty comes from his refusal to submit to our categories. In any case, we underestimate him all too often. He is the agent of power within us, the power that builds new things where old things were destroyed, explodes God’s love into our hearts, resurrects corpses, gives gifts of a spiritual nature to the church with variety and creativity, leads the sons of God, and a thousand other things for which he deserves worship and thanks – and dependence. People venturing “outside the camp,” outside the mold of self-reliant, self-serving living, must, out of necessity, lean harder on the power of the Spirit than on any other thing.
At this point in writing this post, personal experience forces me to consider the question: “What if I don’t feel this way? Why should I even care?” Whether from non-Christian or Christian lips – or more likely, unspoken thoughts – these words uncover something important about all this. Captivation, assurance of Jesus’ love, and the Holy Spirit all sound to my ears like very intangible, emotional things than I can do little to stir up inside myself. Emotions peak and bottom out, and efforts of the will have little to do with them.

But God does not submit to our categories, he does not. He does not leave us because our emotions dry up, nor does he lessen what he asks of us.

What he asks of us is to run to him for help a million times over, to believe that one ounce of obedience is worth an ocean of vain emotion, to fight temptation in prayer, and to really obey his command to follow him “outside the camp.” He asks us to obey it, disregarding the cost, disregarding the fact that more often than not we crave the approval of our peers more than the approval of our God, because he is our Lord who has gone before us, and because on the outskirts of the city, among the outcasts, the enemy-lovers, and the counter-cultural anti-heroes, is where he most truly dwells.

Let us go to him outside the camp.

with all your heart and mind

Intellect versus emotions. An eternal battle, it seems.

Christianity at its core is a reasonable worldview based on historical events. The life, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth either happened or did not happen. If you accept that they happened, you must accept it all: God, the Bible, creation, life after death, etc.

If any person wants to know the truth about God, the world, and themselves, there is a book – the Bible – which makes truth claims, and it contains the story of a man – Jesus – who made the most audacious truth claims in history. Such a person may read the book, meet the man, and investigate the claims of truth for themselves. Thousands of people have written thousands of books precisely on the subject of Christianity’s rationality, the argument for which, if anyone cares to look, is extremely strong.

Christianity engages the mind. God did not leave things primarily up to our feelings, as flighty as they are. Most, perhaps all, other systems of “spirituality,” as well as the reigning system of thought called post-modernism, downplay the mind. “Tune in, turn on, drop out”; “empty your mind”; “trust the prophet and don’t ask questions.” Manipulation is easy when intellect is unimportant, and feeling good is easy when feeling good is all that matters.

Any Christian who tends to cherish “logos” above “pathos” is probably nodding their head in agreement at the above paragraphs. “You tell ‘em,” such a person might be thinking. “Touchy-feely people who let their emotions control them need to get rational already.”

Emotions make a great deal of people in our culture very uncomfortable. Many parents never form real relationships with their kids in a lifetime because the idea of sharing their feelings makes them squirm in their seats. Many other parents damage their relationships with their kids because they pile the mess of their own emotional lives into the laps of their confused children. The point is that striking a balance between unthinking emotionalism and unfeeling intellectualism is difficult, and erring too far on either side is equally destructive.

Unfeeling intellectualism is first of all proud. It speaks harshly, critically, and condescendingly, with such zeal for truth that mercy is ignored. It cannot sympathize with either suffering or joyful people, because it views emotions as weak. People become objects to debate. Scripture becomes something with which to beat people over the head. Input may be accepted from only the tiniest group of people, who must already subscribe to its own rigid system of belief. All others may be ridiculed.

Unthinking emotionalism, meanwhile, is foolish, unstable, and self-absorbed. It picks and chooses what it wants to believe, or what the charismatic leader wants it to believe, setting itself up as the authority over God. Above all else it wants to feel good, seeking spiritual experiences and highs, basing its entire view of God on such experiences. Faith lasts only as long as the feeling lasts. Concern for others is directly proportional to the gratitude and admiration received in return. Love for enemies or ungrateful people is never attempted.

I recognize myself in each of these descriptions. Do you?

Jesus, our Lord and our example, was a stunningly emotional man. He felt compassion (Matthew 9:36, Luke 7:13), indignation (Matthew 23:13-15), anger (John 2:15), joy (Luke 10:21), love (John 15:9), anguish (Luke 22:44). These verses, of course, are only a small sample. Looking at Jesus teaches us how to feel, purely, in a way that magnifies God and does real good for others.

Looking at him teaches us how to think in that way, too. He said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I came into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). He loved truth and hated lies. He engaged the leaders and thinkers of his day on technical issues of the law, not for the sake of debate, but for the sake of representing God accurately. He based his commitment to the Father and to his work of salvation not on a fleeting feeling or for the purpose of personal fulfillment – everyone he loved abandoned him, God the Father himself abandoned him while he hung on the cross – but on his steady, unshakable love for sinful people.

Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Loving God is not purely a head thing; it’s not purely a heart thing. It is a beautiful combination of both. God asks for nothing less than our whole selves; head, heart, and all.