Things Are Not What They Seem

17 05 2014


Call me a hopeless romantic. I love fairy tales, super heroes, wizards, and knights with inhuman courage. And there seems to be a boy inside me always looking for the wardrobe– a portal to another reality that is somehow intertwined with the seemingly mundane one that I inhabit.

I remember, vaguely, when it all started. I was five, playing super heroes with my cousin. The liturgy for this is pretty standard. When your opponent displays a power that trumps your power, you “upgrade” to another, more powerful, hero. Superman trumps Batman, etc. At one point in our play-acting my cousin declared himself Superman. No one can beat Superman. Well, I couldn’t let it end there, so I put on my cape AND my cowboy boots and became. . . Super Cowboy! Who, conveniently, possessed the super-powers of ALL the super heroes combined.

I think we all, deep inside the child within each of us, hope and believe that the onion of reality can be peeled back until the ultimate– love, strength, courage, beauty, and skill is revealed– in us! In me, and in you.

Now, stay with me, there is some serious theology at play here (and “play” is the right word).

Fast-forward to when I turned 12 or 13. I learned that those with super powers were real: angels and demons. And we were all engaged in battle with and against them. And in youth group, I saw strong evidence of this hidden reality. And when I prayed I could see the battle between the Light of Christ and the Darkness of the Adversary. In the keen imagination that was still alive at that tender age, as God’s people prayed and praised, I could see heaven’s hidden doors crack open. And that crack was enough to flood our sanctuary with uncreated, all-pervasive light. I knew, simultaneously, I had been brought into something so, so much bigger than me, which also gave me a unique and irreplaceable part to play in the struggle to push back the Dark Lord and his minions.

Over the next few years that clarity faded– all too soon. Other things took precedence, like grades, girls, and getting my driver’s license. I became myopically focused on the visible world.

In college I was given the great gift of rational, empirical thinking. My faith was greatly bolstered and set in stone in my fertile, hungry intellect. But, unbeknown to me, my imagination, my heart, was sorely underfed and began to make some noise to regain my attention. I entered Seminary in the midst of a faith crisis– what was the point of church and prayer?! I already had all the knowledge that really mattered! Then I sat down in Don Boyd’s worship course and discovered a powerful mystery: the sacraments. As it turned out the angels had returned to my world (as if they had ever left!) as fellow worshippers who were present at every sacred gathering of believers. But, like the cheesy, bombastic infomercial, there was more–much more. Jesus himself was present, giving away his very self and life through silly little things like bits of bread and Welch’s grape juice. And as He gave, and we received, we became united to Him and to each other. The church was re-born at every communion service. The church: a sacred fellowship of warriors following their Captain into the fray for the pure joy and love of Him and His Kingdom. (For you Middle-earth geeks, it’s like the Guard of the Tower, Beregond, breaking man-made rules for the love of his captain, Faramir– whose life he rescues in the process).

Super-heroes, saints and angels, had re-entered my story, my imagination. And as I became a pastor this truth– that the supernatural is always impinging and penetrating our hermetically sealed (so we think!) natural order. Things are almost never what they seem! And, oh the mistakes I’ve made, and continue to make, because I do not take that aphorism seriously. And how I wish more Evangelicals, those intrepid inheritors of the late Middle-Ages AND the Enlightenment, would awaken from their slumber induced by naturalism and materialism! Far too many of us who believe the right things about Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior, have insisted that He leave His superpowers at the door as He enters the church! Miracles, angels, demons, transformed Bread and Wine– these are fairy tales and we are all grown up now with our exegetical tools, and church growth strategies. Only the emotional Pentecostals and archaic Catholics still follow such outmoded methods of doing ministry. We know better, however.

I grant that such sentiments (theologies?) are rarely expressed so directly. And most Evangelicals would vehemently deny being anti-supernatural. But our actions, the way we behave and the things we don’t do as Christians betray our true beliefs. Fortunately, the tide is turning. Younger Evangelicals are recapturing their imaginations, and the faith of the Apostles and Fathers.

Hans Boersma in his book, Heavenly Participation, labors to help Evangelicals reclaim the ancient faith and a truly Biblical imagination: A way of thinking, feeling and living where we see that there truly is an intricate and real connection with the heavenly, spiritual universe.

And I will have more to say about this soon…