Posted by: DCox | February 26, 2009

Loss of Connection

In November and December of the past year, about two months into my unemployment, I began searching Flickr for photos that spoke to me. I found photos of art, buildings, people, and places that all spoke to me in some deeper way. Why was this happening and at this time?

I think I was looking for some deeper meaning; things that speak of mystery, beauty, and have eternal value. It’s a God-given drive to reach upward and higher much like C.S. Lewis describes in the last volume of the Chronicles of Narnia. However, it’s a calling we can kill.

Where was I coming from?

man-71 Many’s the time we gaze into the mirror in the course of a long work life and see our own faces shaded and eclipsed by a complete loss of connection with our striving. — David Whyte

I think this loss of connection with who we are isn’t just limited to the vocational life. We can lose ourselves. It happens gradually over time and we’re not even aware of it. Some of it is our own doing. We experience pain and loss and we stuff it. What’s the impact of not feeling the bad? … are we able to be fully present to the good?

Our culture defines what is acceptable and what’s not. It’s easy to acquiesce. We’re emerged in our culture daily and it’s unrelenting. As Americans we can’t escape consumerism and the cult of wealth, youth, and physical beauty. What happens if we’re not wealthy, young, or handsome? The ad executives tailor their ads to compel us to strive after these things. It’s hard to be content with who we are. We get so caught up in materialism that we define ourselves in terms of what we possess. And we don’t even know our true self. But there’s more.

We also live in sub-cultures – based on ethnicity, recreational endeavors, volunteer activities, and religious affiliations, etc. I’ve been struggling with some of the indirect messages that I live with as an evangelical. All churches exist within a prevailing culture and the culture deeply impacts the expressions of religious life. As an American evangelical, I along with my peers, experience the impact of consumerism on Christianity. The evangelical church in the U.S. doesn’t look much different than the rest of society.

For me there’s been an even more subtle conversation going on. I’ve come to understand a theology that is killing my heart. It’s based on a legal system in which who I am is defined in judicial terms – I’m justified by faith in the judicial work that Jesus Christ did on my behalf on the cross. My sin is not counted against me because the slate’s been cleaned by Christ’s substitutionary death – paying the penalty for me. While this is true, it can lead a person to see their relationship with God in terms of a legal system. My sins have been paid for, now I need to be obedient because the relationship is with God as law-giver. Evangelicals, often with unspoken words, convey the message that we’re saved by faith, but then after salvation we live by works. Of course this isn’t put into words, but it is seen in how we treat each other. We are forever judging one another.

It’s not that I haven’t been deserving of correction when I’ve sinned, but at times the “words of loving correction” have been harsh condemnation. But that’s not really the place of death for me. Instead it’s been the smaller things. I have experienced this time and time again in what I call “Nike theology” – just do it. It’s as if the evangelical police are enforcing what must be the approved ways of thinking and behaving. I’m an evangelical so I should be conservative politically and fiscally, focus on a very narrow social agenda, be attentive to the evil in our world, and not stray from the thinking of popular writers of the evangelical thread. That’s the stuff that can kill the soul.

Lest I come across as being overly negative, let me say I am grateful for God’s pursuit of me and the union I have with Christ that allows me to participate in relationship with the Trinity. However, I’ve allowed my heart to be hardened as I’ve battled with the voices of indifference, rejection, and judgment. And this is the point, if we protect our hearts from pain and suffering we also lose the ability to joy in the good and beautiful. We lose the ability to be our true selves or even know our true selves.

So in the past months, I’ve been looking at beauty, reading prose and poetry by gifted wordsmiths, and enjoying music. There needs to be passion and suffering. And it some ways they the same thing. Passion is a deep longing for something and the deeper the longing (for example, for things eternal) the more painful it can be because it can’t be fully realized in this life.

As I’ve begun to reconnect with beauty and mystery, I’m also finding that my passions for feeding the homeless, for sustainable agricultural systems that are holistic, for mentoring others related to cross-cultural living – are all coming back to life.

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Responses

  1. Vicky told me a quote the other day that said that each day you should experience nature, gaze on a great piece of sculpture, listen to a well done piece of music, and sit with a fine picture, this is one way to keep in balance in our world. The key theme is balance. Incorporating art, the creative act, into our daily lives is to experience God, the creator. The key though is doing a little bit and incorporating it into a broader life of relationships that include a little work, a little love, a little discipline, a little bit of all that makes us human, a little of everything that we are created to be, ” In the image and likeness of God’.


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