Solitude Brings Coherence

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. Only discord can come of the attempt to share solitude. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures. One returns from solitude laden with the gifts of circumstance.

– Wendell Berry, “Healing,” Stanza IV in What Are People For?

Wendell Berry’s statement that we lose loneliness by entering solitude seems completely counter-intuitive. Most of us are afraid of solitude for the very reason that we feel, in being alone, we will necessarily become lonely. But it does not have to be that way.

As Berry mentions, it is often in the “wild places” are where I feel most at ease in solitude. The fresh air, the rugged wildness, and the scurrying of creatures around makes me aware of both my smallness in the vastness of God’s creation, yet also God’s infinite attentiveness to the cosmos He has made. In the midst of this, nature’s contours soothe my soul. I am sure this soothing arises in part because, as Berry writes, in these wild places we are without “human obligation.”  In wild places we are away from people we feel obligated to engage with and things we feel obligated to do.

Both for good and ill, it is in solitude that we hear inner voices. Words that have been floating around inside of us – whole streams of though – suddenly take on such clear force that we are at times overwhelmed. We wonder, “Where did that thought come from?” Or, “I haven’t thought about that in awhile.” In reality these thoughts and ideas – these inner voices – are ever-present yet go unheeded because of the clamor of people and things in our daily lives. The voices and thoughts are there, but until we quiet ourselves enough, both externally and internally, we often either suppress them or ignore them.

When we are attentive to these inner voices and more intimate thoughts, we have the opportunity to come to a more comprehensive internal order with God and ourselves. We bring those clamoring voices to the living God and ask to hear His voice in it all. The unheeded voices that were always there speaking messages of fear or hurt or joy to us have been heard, conversed with, and brought to greater resolution in conversation with the God who hears and knows us. They grow quiet now. God’s voice becomes more solid, enduring, and strong. It is in this journey that we achieve a sense of coherence. We become less divided and distracted.

It is from this order and coherence that God sends us out with the ability to more fully engage with others and the created world. We become more fully present and able to connect with those around us.  We are in tune with God and the cosmos because of His work in our turbulent souls. With the Spirit’s power strengthening our will we can face the things that come into our daily lives, both planned and unplanned.

In solitude the various slivers of our distracted and fragmented selves come to a greater unity in God’s presence. That greater unity enables us to receive people into true relationship and bring our tasks toward completion. It is that powerful reality mentioned in the psalms:

Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. (Psalm 86:11).

The Weekend Wanderer: 31 August 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

91885“What Majority-World Missions Really Looks Like” – “Beauty Ndoro is part of a growing movement of international missionaries sent out from the Global South, which includes Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. According to Christianity in Its Global Context, 1970–2020, a report by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 66 percent of all Christians will be from the Global South by 2020, up from 43 percent in 1970. This could reach 75 percent by 2050. Christianity is surging in these regions, even as North America and Western Europe see the number of religiously unaffiliated growing at an increasingly rapid pace.”

 

91883“In Christ, Alone: Most Believers Say They Don’t Need Others for Discipleship” – Christianity Today reports on a recent LifeWay Research study on spiritual growth in the life of American Christians. The trend toward individualism continues in most American churches and Christians. However, it is worth paying attention to this: “Hispanic and African American churchgoers may represent an exception to the overall trend, showing even greater progress in discipleship while deepening community ties.”

 

Liz Dong“Confessions of a Chinese Dreamer” – Here is Liz Dong, sharing her story of faith, immigration, and God overcoming the idols of her life. “The summer of 2009 was one of the scariest times of my life. I should have been excited about heading to Northwestern University on a scholarship. Instead, I struggled to sleep. As a first-generation Chinese immigrant with a precarious immigration status, my future rested on my academic performance. I didn’t have safety nets if I fell short.”

 

McCarthy The Road“God, Morality, and Meaning in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – As an undergraduate, I studied English literature at Wheaton College under the tutelage of some amazing professors, like Alan Jacobs, Jill Peláez-Baumgaertner, Leland Ryken, and many more. They taught me many things, including a love for a wide-breadth of literature, appreciation for the craft of writing, and savoring the intersection of faith and the arts. I read widely, yet there are a few books I return to often. One of those, for me, is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road, which I just finished reading again this past week. While this book is intense and sometimes gruesome, the combination of carnage and beauty, death and hope, in the midst of the world that seems alternately godless and God-rich is marvelous. Here is an essay specifically on McCarthy’s themes of God, morality, and meaning in this outstanding novel.

 

college classroom.jpg“The Loneliness Crisis on Campus” – I started my full-time, vocational ministry career working with college students who attended the various campuses in the city of Milwaukee. Now I have my own college student attending a Big10 university. Here is an article from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on the loneliness epidemic gripping students on university campuses, and what it means for ministry to college students today.

 

p07l27rv“What the Voice Inside Your Head Says About You” – From the BBC: “Psychologist Russell Hurlburt at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has spent the last few decades training people to see inside their own minds more clearly in an attempt to learn something about our inner experiences at large. Though many individual studies on inner speech include only a small number of participants, making it hard to know whether their results apply more widely, Hurlburt estimates he’s been able to peek inside the minds of hundreds of people since he began his research. What he’s found suggests that the thoughts running through our heads are a lot more varied than we might suppose.”

 

Cantor-Dark-Side-of-the-American-Dream-683x1024“Paul Cantor and the Dark Side of the American Dream” – Titus Techera reviews Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies by Paul Cantor. “Paul Cantor has a new book on popular culture, completing his long-term project on the American dream. His previous book, The Invisible Hand In Popular Culture, established how real the American dream is and how it connects freedom and success. His new book, Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies, examines the dangers of individualism: apathy and violence; the yearning for success whatever the cost; and the ongoing failure of confidence in America.”

 

“Everything Is Waiting for You” – a poem by David Whyte from River Flow: New and Selected Poems.

 

Music: James MacMillan, “Seven Last Words from the Cross,” performed by the Dmitri Ensemble directed by Graham Ross.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 6 October 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

nobel prize“Nobel Peace Prize for anti-rape activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege” – From the BBC: “The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to campaigners against rape in warfare, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. Ms Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi who was tortured and raped by Islamic State militants and later became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people. Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who, along with his colleagues, has treated tens of thousands of victims.” As Christianity Today reports, Dr. Mukwege is a Christian who has dedicated his career to caring for victims of rape. “If Christians do not live out the practical implications of their faith among their communities and neighbors, ‘we cannot fulfill the mission entrusted to us by Christ,’ he said at a keynote for the Lutheran World Federation last year.”

 

83718“What Tim Keller Wants American Christians to Know About Politics” – Christianity Today‘s “Quick to Listen” podcast has an interview with Tim Keller this week on the hot topic of Christian approaches to politics. “Shortly after the [Kavanaugh] hearing, a book excerpt from Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, appeared in The New York Times. ‘Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics and simply “preach the Gospel,”‘ he wrote in his latest book Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. ‘Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo. … To not be political is to be political.’ But that doesn’t mean that Christians have to hold convictions about every moment of political life, said Keller.” About twenty minutes in, Keller speaks some wise words about the way in which politics can easily become our identity or are religion, and how the gospel might strengthen us within the church to have meaningful discussion about these divisive issues in order to bridge gaps.

 

merlin_144839694_a3396ea5-3907-4a24-8669-225c037f5985-superJumbo“A Complete National Disgrace” – David Brooks writes on themes of the Kavanaugh hearing, political polarization, institutional thinking, and the possibility of a way forward. “Over the past few years, hundreds of organizations and thousands of people (myself included) have mobilized to reduce political polarization, encourage civil dialogue and heal national divisions. The first test case for our movement was the Kavanaugh hearings. It’s clear that at least so far our work is a complete failure….What we saw in these hearings was the unvarnished tribalization of national life.” I do believe that  [Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this article.]

 

william-willimon“Court Preachers” – Speaking of this sort of thing, Will Willimon, professor at Duke Divinity School and co-author, with Stanley Hauerwas, of Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, writes a provocative essay against “court preachers.” What are court preachers? “Preachers attempting to ingratiate themselves with the powerful; some clergy are always willing to sacrifice the gospel in exchange for proximity to the crown.” Who might be a court preacher today? Willimon takes aim at Franklin Graham on this account, and for some good reasons, it seems. I continue to ask myself: have we lost who we are as evangelicals in this season of time, or are we trapped within the endless cycle of ideological polarization?

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 8.20.23 AM“Overcoming Our Greatest Affliction”Andy Crouch, author of such books as Culture Making and Strong and Weak, opens up an important cultural discussion for those of us naming Christ as our Lord. “We are the most powerful generation in history, but also the loneliest, most anxious, and most depressed. We’re meant to flourish in heart, soul, mind, strength, and relationship — yet culture asks us undermine our personhood to acquire power. ”

 

Stalin“Among the Disbelievers” – Gary Saul Morson, in a wide-ranging essay in Commentary, traces the ways that atheism was not just a part of Soviet communism, but “central to the Bolshevik project.” He explores the place of “ethics” within that ideology, as well as the loss and recovery of “conscience,” particularly as seen in the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He writes: “As Richard Dawkins explains in The God Delusion: ‘What matters is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does.’ This comment displays an ignorance so astonishing that, as the Russian expression goes, one can only stare and spit.” [Thanks to Micah Mattix for sharing this in the Daily Prufrock.]

 

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“Azusa Pacific Reverses Approval for Gay Student Couples” Last week I shared an article on Azusa Pacific University’s (APU) change of stance in relation to human sexuality and, more specifically, attempting to not shine the spotlight in a discriminatory manner on same-sex attraction or those with gender dysphoria. Apparently, the board of trustees of the university weren’t asked about it, and APU has reversed course on that move after receiving severe criticism about this change.

 

83694“No Refuge: Persecuted Christians Entering US Dwindle to Record Low” – “Refugee resettlement hit a record low over the past year, with the United States taking in fewer than half the amount permitted under a reduced refugee ceiling of 45,000….Though most of the refugees welcomed over the past year are Christians, the overall drop means far fewer believers are finding refuge in the US than in prior years. In the 2018 fiscal year, 15,748 Christian refugees entered the country, a 36.4 percent decline from the previous year and a 55 percent decline from fiscal year 2016.” Of course, as the article points out at the beginning, all of this is a subset of the overall reduction of refugee resettlement both in the past year and now in the coming year.

 

merlin_141072990_3f059377-d122-45a7-ba46-95c7e81bf387-jumbo“Migrant Children Moved Under Cover of Darkness to a Texas Tent City” – “In shelters from Kansas to New York, hundreds of migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in West Texas. Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases. But in the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.”

 

83583“The Unintended Impact of The Church Planting Industry on Our Evangelistic Impact”Ed Stetzer, a seasoned church planter and trainer of church planters, reflects on some issues that have led me to pull back from modern expressions of church planting. Primarily, he begins to question one of the driving assumptions behind the modern, American church planting movement since its beginnings in the 1980s. That assumption (given to us by missiologist C. Peter Wagner): “church planting is the most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven.” Ed asks some meaningful questions, while admitting that an industry has arisen around church planting. His admissions don’t go far enough in my mind, but I still encourage you to read this essay.

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

How Long and the Sense of God’s Absence

The prophet Habakkuk begins his conversation with God around the question, “how long?” That question is one we all voice from time to time. It is our question in the midst of times of trouble, but also humanity’s cry in the apparent absence of God. Habakkuk raises his voice to God, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you…but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 2:2).

Many times our own “how long?” is a cry for God to act when we sense that He is not at work. We wonder if God is absent from our suffering. As the troubles of our world and our personal lives boil around us, we may begin to ponder questions like these: “where is God?”; “what is going on here?”; “does God even care?”

In these times we may resonate with the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who turned his own straining soul in search of God with these words:Read More »

Are You a Lonely American?

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My friend, Ryan, recently caught my attention with a book entitled The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century.  This book was written by two professors of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz, in an effort to uncover the increasing disconnectedness in American life and its startling effects. It has been garnering a lot of attention, from Oprah to Newsweek. For anyone who has looked into the work of Robert Putnam and his book Bowling Alone, this book builds upon that important research.

Here’s a taste of Olds and Schwartz’s insights:

  • from 1985 to 2004, the number of people in America who said they did not have a single confidante – someone they could discuss deeply personal and important matters – tripled to a stunning 1 out of every 4 people
  • being disconnected reduces happiness, health, and longevity, increases aggression, and correlates with increasing rates of violent crime
  • today’s busy parents “cocoon” themselves by devoting all of their non-work time to children, leaving no time for partners, friends, and other forms of social contact, and unhealthily relying on the marriage to fulfill all social needs

The directions I could go in responding to this fascinating book are almost endless: socialization of children, family life, singleness, depression, small group communities, and more.

However, I’d like to get some discussion by simply drawing an excerpt from the conclusion of the book on religion’s impact on loneliness. Even though this excerpt is a bit long, I would love to get some interaction going on the important topics it touches upon.

One thing is certain. Religious life speaks directly to the discontents that arise from a socially disconnected life, and it offers a cure. Remember that the cognitive effects of social exclusion include meaninglessness and lethargy. A welcoming pastor and a welcoming congregation solve the problem of social exclusion and at the same time offer direct relief from meaninglessness and lethargy. The dramatic rise of membership in evangelical churches over the last several decades is no doubt a response to a complicated mix of yearnings, but the yearning for human connection has played a major role. Some of the more successful churches are very clear on this point and have explicitly organized themselves into just the kind of small groups that are best at making lonely individuals feel connected and held, the kind of small group that formed the basic survival strategy of the human species. We are ‘built’ to need and to respond to the connection and holding that small groups provide….Religious life and religious organizations remain a vital source of social connectedness in the personal lives of individuals. Even if religion is not currently the wellspring of social capital that it once was in America, it still plays a major role in countering the social isolation of individuals and families. To us as clinicians, that is no small point. (187-189).