Sunday, December 20, 2009


It’s not like there haven’t been thoughts swimming like minnows around in my head. There have been a lot of them . . . but there haven’t been the right words on which to affix them. It takes precise words to try and communicate to the outside world that which has already moved you. But it moves you like a beautiful melody without lyrics. You dance with the melody without knowing the answers or the meaning . . . at least sometimes. Tonight I hope to knit some of the lines together into meaningful thoughts.

I first heard of the concept of the tapestry metaphor from Edith Schaeffer (even before Carole King). I heard it directly from Edith while speaking with her at conferences and sitting in the LAbri home in Rochester. I’ve also read it in her books. But my use of it here will leave her original purpose almost from her starting point. She describes how life can look messy with cancer, pain and loneliness, just like the back side of a tapestry. While it is messy on that side, flip it over and you will see a beautiful work of art that God is slowly weaving in your life. This may all be true, but it is not the image I was looking for.

I see life as a metaphoric tapestry but I use the concept differently. Rather than the smooth organized side being what God has intended, in my illustration it is the surface of pretentiousness that I often speak about and loathe. So, on this synthetic surface, things look in order as they should be. But on the back side, tangles and strings dominate, hanging one way and another . . . making no sense at all.

In my world, I see this imperfection of chaos as the true reality of how the world actually is. Not how God intended it to be, but how it became nonetheless.

There is something about me, which I don’t understand, that has made me lean towards the entangled side for most of my life. It is how I am wired. For example, I often had social problems in elementary school . . . through high school . . . for saying things that were absolutely true—but not socially acceptable.

But after I fell away from Evangelicalism, I set my sites on trying to live on this rough side of the tapestry. While I do believe that all people have a tendency to live on the orderly side, Evangelicals seem most hell bent (pun intended) to do so.

So it is in this area I find myself in constant conflict. I know that at least part of this conflict is my perception or fear of rejection. But I know that sometimes the offense is real.

One easy example is where I posted about the ballet and making a statement that my mind was tempted to take an erotic bent. That offended someone. But I honestly believe (on the rough side of the tapestry) that if you put 100 heterosexual men on the front row of a ballet with beautiful young women dancing around in their panties (with a token dress) that everyone of them would have some erotic tendencies. If we are really honest, we would know that was the purpose of some of the dress and some of the moves. That doesn’t make us perverts. That doesn’t distract from the beauty of the dance (unless we allow it). But when I make such brutally honest statements, it offends people.

My motivation for living on the rough side (or near the basement in the previous metaphor I used) is not only how I am wired, but because if God is there, that is the God of the Bible, then He is the creator and the God of truth. So I know that you actually find God in those tangles . . . and likewise loose sight of Him on the cropped, orderly side.

Another reason that I believe in the rough side, is that I am personally convinced that most leave the Church do so because they are forced to live on the smooth side as kids . . . until they are old enough to discover that the rough side is real-reality. This relates to the previous statement about loosing sight of God on the smooth side.

I know that I’m being redundant. I seem to beat the same poor ole horse. But I want to build on this thought over the next few days, leading up to Christmas . . . that is if I can continue finding the right words.

My first thought along this line is about certainty of God. When I speak of God I am of course speaking of the God of the Bible, with Jesus being His intercessor with humans.

If you stand up in any typical Evangelical church and ask the question, “Are you absolutely certain, that is 100% sure, that the God of the Bible is really there?” I bet that 99% would raise their hands in the affirmative. If someone (like me) would fail to raise their hand, they would feel immediate guilt. Most likely they would have someone say something to them . . . like they will be praying for them. Some in the congregation . . . maybe all . . . would assume that you could not be a real Christian and not have 100% certainty. After all, isn’t that what an agonistic is? Someone who is not 100% (if they have been an athlete they would say 110%) sure, they can not be a Christian?

But at this juncture, it becomes obvious that they are living on the perfect side of the tapestry. Knowing what I know about human nature, psychologically, neurologically and theologically . . . humans can not obtain certainty about anything.

I know that I’m not the first to discuss this. Since the Greek philosophers this concept of knowing, or epistemology, has been debated. Theologians, good Christian theologians have debated this at least since the Scholastics. Simply we are fallen, we live in a fallen world therefore we can not know anything with certainty. Years ago, even to admit this would scare the hell out of me. We were taught that it was a Pandora’s Box. Once you open the lid to contemplate that you are not certain . . . your whole Christian world would collapse around you. My world collapsed me when I realized that my certainty, (and that of my Christian friends), were fake.

So what do we often do? We kept on pretending on the orderly side of the tapestry. But the lack of certainty is not the same as lack of belief or faith. It is not the sign of rebellion or sin.

Actually, if you have a 51% certainly that God of the Bible is there, then that is enough. Then you can build your life on the confidence that is the best possible answer. For the first time in my life I think I have peace with that.

My Christian friends would be appalled at this thought. They say they are certain because the Holy Spirit has made them certain. Really? I’ve had conversations with Taliban in NW Pakistan who are equally confident that God has spoken directly to their hearts that America is Satan and killing people is God’s will. I’m sure that they are countless of other people groups who have certainty about preposterous and hideous things.

I was a true agnostic at one time. That is where you feel that it is impossible to know with certainty, so, in despair, you believe nothing.

In conclusion, I think the first step in living with the peace of the rough side of the tapestry, is the acknowledging that lack of certainty. At that point, you come to grips with reality and without the (false) guilt of not always knowing.

I want to move on to my second thought, which is more practical, about sermon fatigue.


Anonymous said...

I was raised in evangelical "smooth side" home. We looked great on the outside. When I turned 30, my parents divorced and the "whole story" came out. The affairs, the church discipline, why we moved, etc. and I left the church.

During those years, I was an avid cross-stitcher. My work always looked as perfect on the back as it did on the front. There was no rough side to my work or my life, until recently.

Now I'm in my 40's and I'm rough on both sides. It's better this way.


MJ said...

Great story. I always prefer a rough reality over a smooth, placid pretense.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.

I'm on the not-so-smooth side. Big time. I'm also struggling with what has always been a 100% certainty of belief. I love what you said about anything at 51% or higher, "counts." Amen to that. :)