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Yesterday I picked up Over The Rhine’s new CD, The Trumpet Child. Good stuff. I’m liking it a lot. I want to hear from you OTR fans. What do you think of the new album?

The Conversation Continues

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It’s a nightmarish situation. One that makes your palms sweat and leaves you feeling helpless. It’s dark. You’re lost in an unfamiliar and dangerous section of town, when suddenly the unthinkable happens: your car stalls and then breaks down all together.

This is a scene that unfolds in the movie Grand Canyon. A man trying to bypass heavy traffic gets off the interstate. After making a wrong turn, he ends up lost on a dark city street. That’s when his car breaks down. There he is, lost and stranded in the wrong neighborhood. Within moments he is surrounded by a group of thugs. Just as things are about to turn ugly, the tow truck he called for shows up. As the car is being hooked up to the truck, the thugs protest until the truck driver has had enough. He pulls the leader aside and gives him a brief lesson on a very basic truth about the world:

“Man,” he says, “the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. Everything’s supposed to be different that what it is here.”

Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is here.” This is a statement that resonates with each of us if we’re honest. From the small annoyances of life to significant global tragedies, and everything in between, we sense that something isn’t quite right. Whether it is the bad day at school or work, the argument with a friend or spouse, the regret and shame that nag at us, the decay we feel in our bodies, the deaths of those around us, or war, famine, genocide, and other injustices; we know that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. The universe seems out of order. There is a pervasive brokenness to things and something inside us tells us that we’re not at home – not in a world like this. This raises an interesting question for me. Why is it that no matter where we come from in our worldview or belief, humans agree that there is something wrong with the world?

And have you ever noticed that everyone has an explanation? I love to ask people what they think is wrong with the world because it never fails to produce good conversation. All kinds of answers are offered. Some say the problem is fundamentally psychological. Others say it is behavioral. Some say social, and still others insist that the physical world itself is the problem. There are of course other explanations offered as well, but in the end I believe all these come up short. They are all too simplistic because they inevitably focus on one aspect of the problem and elevate it as the main problem.

I find the explanation offered by the Bible in Genesis 3 to be much more comprehensive and satisfying. Genesis 3 indicates that there has been a fundamental spirtual breakdown. A rift has occured between human beings and their Creator. We come into the world alienated from God, trying to hide from Him. This spiritual breakdown is foundational. It is the root problem. However, this problem leads to problems across the board. We also see a personal breakdown in the story of the Fall. Human beings are haunted by an inward sense of guilt and shame. We do wrong and it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. There is pollution in the inner recesses of the human heart – alienation within. This includes both psychological and behavioral issues, but can’t be limited to these. Finally, Genesis 3 indicates that there has also been a societal breakdown. There is tension between humans. But even more, the created world does not fully cooperate with us. We are even alienated to some degree from our surroundings.

The Bible’s explanation is big enough to include other explanations. It is comprehensive. The Bible insists that every aspect of reality has been invaded by a deep and radical brokenness. An oppresive fallenness covers us. We are swimming in it. Every area of life is touched by it. I believe this accounts for reality as we know it.

So how do you answer the question, “What’s wrong with world?” as you read the newspaper, watch the news, and look in the mirror? Does your answer do justice to human experience? Or is it too simplistic? The explanation offered by the Bible is true to the way things are. It matches up. Does yours? Let me know what you think.

The Conversation Continues…

This week I ordered my ticket for the Over the Rhine concert in Philly on November 1st. I first saw OTR last December at the Theater of the Living Arts and was very impressed. The show in November is at World Cafe Live. I can’t wait. Their new album comes out next week.

Ordering my ticket made me wonder about the best concert I’ve ever been to. I would have to say it was the Sufjans Stevens show last September at the Tower Theater. After the concert my wife put her finger on what made this show so good. She said, “Sufjan’s music reflects that there is both beauty and brokenness in the world.” I agree (always a wise decision). His music and the whole experience of the concert had a way of bringing me on this tension of beauty and brokenness, a tension I know from the world around me and also within myself. They are also realities I’m being confronted with this week as I prepare to preach on the Fall from Genesis 3.

What is the best concert you’ve ever been to and why?

The conversation continues…

“I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition – that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.” – Frederick Buechner

I’ve heard the story told of an old Russian priest who early one morning was walking through snowy woods toward the cathedral. The fog made it hard to see, but he could hear someone approaching in the distance. Finally, a guard appeared and called out: “Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?” The priest’s response was unexpected. He came close to the guard and replied, “I’ll pay you 50 kopecks (Russian money) a week if you’ll ask me those same questions every single day.”

This priest desperately wanted to be known. He wanted someone to show an interest in him and his story. He wanted somebody to care. We all identify with the priest to some degree. We long to be known by others as we really are. At the same time, the prospect of being known also scares us more than anything. It causes us to shut down and shrink back from entering into meaningful relationships with others. This tendency represents a significant barrier to authentic community. How can genuine community form if we are unwilling to open up and share our real stories with one another?

The reason we resist being known is that each of our stories is marked by beauty and brokenness; dignity and depravity; glory and shame. We invest a great deal of energy into covering up the negatives – the brokenness, depravity, and shame. More than anything, we want others to believe we have it all together so sharing our whole story seems counter intuitive. Why would we share the very things we try to hide? Why would we share the things which make us vulnerable? So out of self-protection we keep our stories to ourselves. We don’t open up and allow others in. Even though we want to be known, we decide the risk just isn’t worth it. The longing to protect ourselves proves to be stronger than the longing to be known by others.

This is why the story of Jesus is so relevant to community. The fundamental question is who or what makes me safe? The gospel (good news) tells me that I’m far more broken and flawed than I ever dared to admit, but that I’m also more loved and accepted in Jesus than I ever dared to dream. In other words, trusting in Jesus makes me completely safe with God. God looks at me in the midst of all my ugliness and twistedness, yet still accepts me. I’m both fully known and completely safe with God. This means I don’t have to obsess over winning the approval of others because I have the approval of the One whose opinion matters most. Because God approves of me, I’m free to be the real me. I can look without fear at who I really am. I don’t have to justify my existence by performance or by lying about myself. Knowing I’m safe with God enables me to open up and share my story with others. Since my identity isn’t dependent on what others think of me, self-protection no longer has to enslave me.

When the gospel brings this kind of freedom to our lives, community is enhanced. As Dan Allender says, “Stories obligate.” Truthful storytelling enables us to learn each other’s joys and struggles, strengths and weaknesses, dreams and fears. Stories obligate by reminding us that we’re all in this journey together, that we have an obligation to know and be known. Only the gospel creates this kind of community because only the gospel deals with our fear of being known. What do you think?

The conversation continues…

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