February 10, 2010

The Funk

I finally heard someone say it. I've been waiting for these words to come out of someone's mouth because I know we're all thinking it. I heard it at the Mercy Lounge, a venue in Nashville a few weeks ago. The Space Capone was playing "fun funk" music. At least that's how Ben Gortmaker, their fill-in bass player, described it to me in a text when I was deciding whether to go or not. The lead singer and nine others took stage and rocked one of the most enjoyable funk songs I've ever experienced. These were the words of the chorus: "If it feels good..." and then in musical matter-of-faction, they ended the line, "It's alright." I was planning on sitting down for the show--that didn't happen. It felt too good to stand up for that.

I loved the show, so thanks Ben Gortmaker for putting me on the list. The chorus of their song is the modus operandi of our culture--whatever you feel is right and conversely, whatever you don't feel, isn't right. This leaves us really confused the next day from whatever we did the night before.

Here's to a smooth and diplomatic transition: You and I tend to put experience above all else and I think we're missing out on the depths and riches of true life because of it. It wasn't until this last January in class that I realized how much we as modern Christians base our relationship with God solely on experience and not on unwavering devotion of Christ.

I think experience is invaluable and essential to our faith. The Holy Spirit himself is an experiential person, giving us feelings, intuitions, inclinations and desires. These are all very good and I treasure those experiences in my life when the Holy Spirit has cried out, "Abba, Father," on my behalf with a groaning words can't express. Even in Paul's defense of the gospel in his letter to Galatia, he uses experience as the first argument of his probatio (3.1-5). Here's what I'm saying: I've seen many Christians get "experiences" with God early on in their walk but when they stop having them, they give up on faithfulness. As Americans, we love Romance but we hate commitment to long-lasting relationships and we're not alright.

N.T. Wright put it this way in answering a question posed to him in a lecture called "The Language of Life" (part 2 of 2): "Romance is wonderful; a steady worked out relationship is better. Striking a match is very exciting, but it's not going to last long. Use the match to light a candle and it will give a steady beautiful light to the room. Yeah fine, let's have some more matches, that's fine... sparkles, but you can't live off of that stuff. I mean I really do worry about that."

The question given him was: "Do you think that the church is preoccupied with sort of like maintaining the honeymoon period or a crush with God and we're not getting engaged in the marriage? I think that God calls us to more than that."

I'm running a half-Marathon in April. It's in Music City. If I approach this training like a romantic, I'll probably be out of shape, run slowly and injure myself somehow. But if I take it one week at a time, working steadily, I think I'll cross the finish line in shape, with a good time and without injury. I think it's also going to feel amazing to complete this one big step for Chad-kind.

Again, experience is essential (Isa 6; Matt 17). However, if we stay there, we won't mature. And that is God's will for our lives, that we be sanctified (Jam 1; 1 Th 4). Our Christian existentialism, coming from at least 20th century theology and philosophy, focuses on our emotions which is good in part (especially after Plato). The problem is that when we live a merely emotionalized spirituality, we miss out on the joy of a holistic salvation. This kind of salvation takes us beyond ourselves and what we feel to push us into the kingdom of God. I think the question posed to Wright was brilliant--we are obsessed with the honeymoon period even in our relationship with God. What would a Christian look like who started out with all the feelings and kept running and maturing even when feelings subsided? That sounds like true Spirituality to me.


Peter said...

I totally agree with you. I think this is not just a problem with our relationship with God. I think this is a problem of the current ways many people have when they think about love and trust/faith/action. We get so addicted to the honeymoon we just want it to last forever. If it does not last forever, we just move on to the next relationship and the next honeymoon. Very well communicated Chad. We don't even know what intimacy is anymore; how can we appreciate different seasons in the relationship with God when all we want is a perpetual honeymoon. When God wants so much more for us.

Peter said...

I wonder if the Preaching of John Wesley and the development of romantic love hasn't played a significant role in what we are observing. Not that I think that it was Wesley's intention, but maybe a bi-product of his message.

Chad said...

P Buck, thanks for comments! I hadn't directly applied this to Mr. Wesley, but I think there are signficant correlations. His epistelomology was four-fold: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Experience was a rare epistolomological pillar in his time. More importantly though, his conversion experience was very emotional and it carried through his movement. I don't know how it has influence American Christianity but I'm sure it has through people like Whitfield in the Great Awakening (a Methodist) and the modern methodist movement. Good observation though!

I miss our d-group! Great times. See you soon.

Nathan said...

I agree with pretty much everything and I especially like your thoughts on romance verses a long steady relationship... but.

I wonder... even that long steady relationship has feelings. I mean, that's the point of faith... you don't just have a mental faith and that is what keeps you faithful, but you have this mental faith combined with deep meaningful connections to certain parts of that faith that keep you faithful.

Experience is involved with every bit of knowledge that we have. Just to clarify, I would add that we can never get rid of, nor should we try to get rid of experience... but to transform the experiences from selfish views and times with God to servant and other-focused times with God.

For example... a selfish view might be listening to Christian music 24/7 and putting your hands everywhere, but never actually helping anyone or being merciful to those you love. (this is one example... worship like that is not bad)

Yet, if our experience that drives our faith is being "zealous" for good works as Titus says, then when we serve others and pray and do these things that go beyond ourselves into the realm of God and others then we have a longstanding relationship.

I mean, that is the success of relationships I believe... to serve and to love through being a servant above all.

Chad said...

Nathan! Hey, I was probably not clear enough--I think feelings, romance, experience and deep meaningful connections are all important. I said that, "Experience is essential (Isa 6; Matt 17)," and "Experience is invaluable and essential to our faith."

However, we tend to oscillate between extremes in life and my point in writing was simply to say that experience is great, but when we DON'T get the experience we were hoping to feel, then it's important to be faithful anyway. So I think you may have missed the point--I didn't deny the importance of feelings; I only encouraged more than that. Feelings are very much a part of the steady realationships... but there is so much more to a relationship than that.

If you read the above response to P Buck, I cited John Wesley's four-fold epistemology including experience as one. I think that's an important epistemological pillar that's often missed. Experience is a key to how we know. That's a beautiful part of the relationship.

Yes, being a servant is a success in relationships. But there comes a point where a good feeling is not enough to keep us going in service. Faith/fulness which transcends feelings is what Wright was talking about in lighting the candle with Romance... it's better not because it doesn't have flame but because it lasts longer and has a flame.

Did I read you right?

Kinz said...

Yay for half marathons!!! Do you have a training schedule? I like Hal Higdons (google), they worked superb for our first half 2 years ago!
You can do it!!!

Chad said...

I'm running three days a week and at least one day of cross training. 30 min. each time. Except on Sat. (one of the three) we run increasing amounts. I'm running with the Galloway group. Thanks.