This morning, I’m shaking out the cobwebs after a delightful week spent out in Winnipeg with the students, staff, and faculty at Canadian Mennonite University as pastor in residence. It was a week full of chapel talks and forums and lunchtime discussions and devotionals and informal conversations with students in the campus cafe and a whole host of other interactions and opportunities that have gotten all jumbled together in my weary brain. I feel a bit like a wrung-out rag, but in a contented, satisfied, grateful sort of way. It’s good to spend oneself in good ways with good people.
During my last chapel talk, I reflected a bit on the experience of being back on a university campus, about the memories it triggered, and about what advice, if any, I might give my younger university self from the vantage point that I now occupy a few years down the road. The following is a lightly edited version of some of what I said yesterday morning.
For most of my twenties, I was very concerned to think as hard as I could and read as much as I could and ask as many hard questions as I could and come to as many conclusions as I could and construct as many “defenses of the faith” as I could.
Looking back, I think that I looked at life and faith and education as something like, “whoever arrives at the most right answers at the end wins” kind of deal. My faith was kind of like an intellectual fortress that I was building, brick by brick, and I seemed implicitly to assume that each level, each brick, each piece had to be examined and scrutinized and approved, or else the whole structure would come crumbling down.
There were good things about this. Thinking and questioning and building are important things. It’s important to scrutinize what we believe and why. It’s important to strive for coherence and consistency in our views of the world.
But, after living a few more years, after seeing a few more things, after wrestling with a few more questions for longer periods of time, after walking with Jesus through circumstances that my university self couldn’t really have imagined, my views have changed a bit.
When I look back at my university self, I would want to tell him to be open to adjusting his understanding of what faith and life with God looks like. I would want to tell him that the life of faith is not an intellectual game where whoever arrives at the “rightest” theology at the end wins the prize. It is not about building an impregnable wall to stand behind, to fend off attacks, to lob volleys from behind…
It’s not really about building anything, to be honest.
The first verse of Psalm 90 describes the Lord as our “dwelling place.
I like this image of God. It brings to mind images of safety, security, comfort, solidity. It makes me think of home—a place from which to venture out in hopes of adventure and discovery, a place to return to, a safe place to lick ones wounds, to reflect upon lessons learned, a place to be loved and to learn how to extend love outward.
It’s a place (or, more precisely, a person) that is given to me for refuge and strength, rather than a fortification that I build to protect myself. It is a place and person that slowly, patiently, lovingly, inexorably wears down my defenses and teaches me the value of being instead of relentlessly doing.
What I would want to tell my younger self is that if you think that faith and discipleship are all about coming up with enough right answers to enough hard questions and enough defenses against other worldviews, than you will be chasing shadows for the rest of your life.
And you will end up, finally, making a god in your own image—a god that fits your need for certainty, for control, for predictability, for superiority over others, for a whole host of other things…
Your faith will become mostly about you.
But, if you learn how to be content with a few loose ends around the edge of your worldview, a few loose screws in the intellectual scaffolding, if you strive to love God and other people well, you seek to dwell with God instead of endlessly trying to explain the idea of God to yourself and others…
Well, that’s a much better, safer and more life-giving place to dwell.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:1-2).