In a post I wrote a month ago, I talked about my frustrations with biblical scholarship – lack of heart-felt belief underneath the opinions, focused more on their arguments than encouraging one’s faith, etc. In that post I said that when it gets right down it, poetry still speaks clearer to me than scholarship. After reading poems from Taylor Mali and subsequently writing a few of my own, I’d have to say I feel as though I’m just now beginning to find my stride as a writer.
Four years ago, almost to the day, I read Blue Like Jazz for the first time and found myself itching to write. Donald Miller speaks with such brutal honesty that I no longer felt uncomfortable putting words to paper – words about my pain, my sins, my errors in life. With the content of that book and also the way in which it was presented, Don made himself a relatable person. He wasn’t teaching, preaching, or pounding anything into our heads; He was simply revealing deep, possibly embarrassing parts of his life. Like the Navy SEAL he writes about in BLJ, he sat down beside us, got cuddly-close, and showed us being a follower of Christ doesn’t have to be an intimidating or militant or dogmatic experience. It just requires you.
Every last bit of you.
When I read Don’s blog a couple days ago, I liked it. He brought out an ever-important and often-ignored point: Jesus doesn’t require the best of the best to lead His people; He requires the willing. He requires those who don’t want their lives to be about their names, their books, their arguments, their ministries; He wants those men and women who realize they aren’t blessing the world with their presence, but instead simply want to serve, to lead, to guide people in God’s ways. Jesus does not want religious bickering.
It didn’t take long, though, to find many on the blogosphere explode with emotional responses to Don’s post. I read a couple and must agree, there were some points that Don didn’t seem to address. But what I found lacking in almost all of these responses to Miller is what he was really talking about: leadership. Jesus’ 12 disciples were not by any means the kind of people society would want leading them, but He changed them around and look what happened: We have church today because of their work then.
Yes, scholarship is helpful; yes, opinions matter; yes, the intellectuals and theologians have done so much in keeping the faith strong. But one only needs Jesus and to be led in His ways. When Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, they left everything and followed Him; they came to Him empty handed, with nothing to offer the world but their service. And He taught them how to serve.
I’ve been briefly reading up on some major issues going on within our own government. Disagreements have gotten so bad within the White House that there might be a government shutdown, which says to me that things stop moving forward until an agreement is reached. Imagine what would happen if Christianity got so caught up in our disagreements, our arguments, our religious bickering that everyone stopped until an agreement was reached? Who would be left to lead?
No, there won’t be a global-church-wide shutdown like our government’s (at least I hope not), but that doesn’t mean certain people who are called to lead won’t venture away into the religious arguments and scholarly debates. Yes, Paul was a scholar who argued a lot, but we would be wise to realize he argued because in many cases, his life literally depended on it. Here in America, we don’t face the same challenges he faced. And while he did a lot with this theology (as scattered as it comes out in Scripture), he did more with his leading. He did more with his serving. He saw people hurting around him and did something about it. He brought them to Jesus.
A couple nights ago Tony Overstake, leader of Cross Training and a pastor at my church, gave a message about two things: compassion and action. In Scripture, especially in Jesus’ ministry, these two walk hand in hand; He had compassion and then He healed. He led the people in need. We are a people in need. We don’t need the arguments and debates; we need Jesus. We need His love, His guidance, His Being. Those stupid fishermen that Jesus picked out at the beginning of His ministry are the ones who sacrificed their lives bringing just that: Jesus. We don’t need Pharisees; we need fishermen.
Many have asked in response to Don if he might be exalting heart above head; that we need more of our hearts than our heads in order to follow Christ. From what I’ve read of Don, he says we need our hearts above our intellectual arrogance. There’s a difference. Jesus commands us to love God with all our hearts, souls, strengths, and minds – not our intellectual arrogance. If anything, our arrogance is part of the problem. It needs to die. Throughout Scripture we’re encouraged to explore God’s wisdom, God’s knowledge, and to seek His understanding; but we’re not encouraged to lord our opinions about that wisdom, knowledge, or understanding over others. That isn’t leadership; it’s idolatry.
Poets speak closer to my heart not because they speak solely with their hearts; but because so many thoughts are packed into so few little words. The two poems I’ve posted (here and here) took roughly an hour and a half each to write. It wasn’t just my emotions leading my pen; it was my mind making sure each word was right, each syllable was deliberately placed, and each letter had a purpose. Religious bickering tends to disregard the content and quantity of one’s words, and yet Jesus said, “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” (Matt. 12:37).
Our words, just like our lives, cannot be careless. There is too much pain, too much suffering, too much sickness in the world for us as followers of Christ to sit with idle hands and flapping jaws. Scholarship is very helpful insofar as it helps us love God with our minds; but scholarship is not a prerequisite to follow Christ. If anything, we’re to come empty handed, ready to work.