catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 11 :: 2006.06.02 — 2006.06.16


What's next?

Theoretically, I was prepared to leave my Christian liberal arts college after four years.  I had completed all the required courses, racked up all the necessary debts and even learned a thing or two about the world I would be entering.  Most of all, I had learned to articulate the truths of Christ’s lordship over all of life both theologically and philosophically.  Now I was eager to test those ideas out in the “real world”.

I was certainly aware of the uniqueness of the Christian perspective I had gained, so I did not have that fish-out-of-water feeling of moving into society at large from a society at small.  I already had some experience with life outside the Christian bubble and I trusted the validity and strength of my convictions enough to be ready to throw my faith into the fray.  I also knew enough about the spirits of the age to be ready to enter the workforce as a stranger in a strange land, a neo-Calvinist in a post-Calvinist American landscape.  I knew which theories and arguments to trot out when I ran into a Roman Catholic, atheist, Marxist, nihilist or fundamentalist, but I also knew better than to drop Abraham Kuyper’s name into conversations for effect or use the terms “cultural mandate”, “worldview” or “sphere sovereignty” at parties.

This meager wisdom would have to be enough to make the transition from college.  The first few months in Nashville, Tennessee were spent watching my small savings dwindle as my English/Philosophy degree revealed itself to be merely a few letters arranged on a piece of paper.  When I finally did get offered a job, I didn’t care that it was not in my field of study.  I would have money for beer, milk, eggs, pasta-in-a-box and, if I saved, even a car.  At the very least, a job would allow me to keep the dream alive of making the next great rock album. 

Ever since high school, I wanted to do with rock'n'roll what many other reformational people have been doing in education, politics, business, agriculture—proclaiming the lordship of Christ over every area of life.  That is what I wanted.  That is what my heart desired.  So I followed this desire into a communal living situation with six other people in a two bedroom apartment during my first year of marriage.  My aspiration also remained intact as my wife and I moved to Chicago and my musical partner moved to Lafayette, Indiana.  Teaching middle schoolers did not abate my longing, either.  Instead, I became convinced that I did not want a “real job” if the job wasn’t what I really wanted.  So I became a full-time student again.  Getting a Masters degree in philosophy made it more difficult to reconcile the theoretical realm and the practical realm in my life, but the desire to pursue this reformational vision continued to intensify.  Even a devastating band break-up, house fire and stress-induced illness could not overcome this deep longing.  It seemed that the more this grand reformational theory was challenged, the more I wanted to see it through to the end.      

The long struggle and lack of any clear progress led me to question my own motivations, however.  Why did I want to see this vision come true so badly?  I thought I wanted to display just how powerful Christ is by achieving success for my vision, but he seemed to be too slow in showing himself. 

Finally, a disturbing thought crept in, a horrible question attacked my spirit.  What if everything I’ve been doing is wrong?  This possibility haunted me and manifested itself in debilitating physical symptoms: dizziness, anxiety, nausea.  Just as this question arose and took hold, my symptoms became so bad that it became physically impossible to do the things I had been doing all along.  I couldn’t read without feeling sick.  I couldn’t listen to music without feeling anxious—and my own music made it all the worse.  The more research I did on my condition the more I became overwhelmed by the state I was in.  I had no energy.  For weeks at a time, I laid on the bathroom floor until I felt good enough to make myself some food, which I ate without pleasure.

I had come very far from those hopeful days of college.  Now I was tempted to believe that many of the grand theories I trusted could not work out in real life, at least not in my life.  I was not strong enough to carry the burden myself.

Ding!  Light bulb moment.  Why hadn’t I acknowledged this before?  I cannot carry this vision all by myself!  In fact, no human being can.  Even Abraham Kuyper experienced breakdowns trying to keep the vision afloat.  So was the vision the problem? 

I considered this possibility a few times, but whenever I thought about letting go of the vision, I only felt more depressed.  I couldn’t see another way that was better.  And when I read the Bible, this cultural mandate kept staring me in the face.  Then I began to realize that I was missing one of the most important aspects of the vision—or at least I was not putting it into practice—and this was the most practical aspect, the part that makes practicing the vision possible: “Our world belongs to God”. 

“Our world belongs to God.”  Of course, this is an essential element to the neo-Calvinist worldview, but I had not been thinking of it in the right way.  This stock phrase from my college days was not just a theoretical articulation of a Dutch workaholic who wanted to justify his pet project.  It is a practical comfort, a statement that helps us take up the cultural mandate properly—not as a burden but as a joyful exploration, an unveiling of the surprises God has in store for the world.   

Life with God is always full of surprises.  A walk through the Old Testament drama attests to this.  Lately, I’ve been reading with delight how God appears to people in those Old Testament stories.  Whenever God breaks into the action, you can be sure something new is going to happen.  Every time Yahweh visits someone in the Old Testament I feel like it’s been too long since His last grand entrance.  Maybe the reason I’m so tickled by God’s little visits in the Old Testament is because I like the idea of God speaking directly and specifically about what He wants.  It would be nice to get His approval every once in a while for something I’m doing.  I’d even welcome His disapproval—at least I’d know what not to do next time.  All I have to go on is this still small voice of dissatisfaction, longing, urgency that pushes me from one thing to the next.  But in the Old Testament, God is always telling people directly, “Get up!”, “On your feet!”, “Go somewhere else.”  Even though it’s completely natural for human beings to want to stay where they are—it’s what they know, after all—God expects them to gladly trot off into the desert or toward some new enemy.  I suppose He expects us to trust that He has a handle on the situation. 

It might seem easy enough to trust.  Technically, trust requires very little effort.  It’s like sleeping—the harder you try, the further you get from your goal.  And so, technically, God does not ask us to work when He asks us to trust.  He is asking us to lay our work in His hands.  We can’t carry our hopes and dreams into the future on our own power, so we must put our trust in the One who can.  When Yahweh calls on people of the Old Testament, they often respond “Here I am.”  It’s an obvious point to make to one’s Creator, perhaps, but it is also a striking articulation of humankind’s dependence on the “I am”.  No matter where we put our efforts—education, politics, agriculture, parenthood, business, rock music—God is the “I am” of our “Here…”

It now has been seven years since I left college, seven years of practical experience added to the theoretical knowledge I learned there.  Though I have gained in knowledge and experience since then, I know better than to think it can carry me through whatever comes next.  Every new situation will require the learning of a new set of skills.  And no matter how much theoretical and practical knowledge I’ve gained, there still will be new situations I won’t know how to get through until I’ve gone through them.  Recognizing the limits of human knowledge, all one can really do is dive in head first, eyes wide open, hands at the ready.  The country you’re going to is not like the one you’ve come from.

Theoretically, I am prepared to leave these experiences behind and set off for a new place and time.  I never could relate to the Old Testament figures who want to stay put.  Instead I always wonder why, when God comes calling, they don’t ask “What took you so long?”  I know there will be many more “What’s next?” moments and that the uncertainty of this journey will not cease.  I look forward to moving on to something new.  But if I were honest with myself, I’m not any more prepared for what’s to come than I was for what has already happened.  In the face of an irreplaceable past and a future that I can’t predict, there is very little I can do except to say “Here I am.”

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