When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Art of Being Human

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13

When my father was a boy, he and my uncle were fascinated with figuring out how things worked. As young curious boys do, they decided that the best way to conduct such research was by taking things apart.  Things like my grandfather’s car radio.  Unfortunately, while disassembling the radio did help them discover its million moving parts and unravel the magic of how the music played, it didn’t help them figure out how to put the radio back together again.  When my grandfather found out, silent car trips weren’t the only consequences to their unintentionally destructive quest for knowledge.

Over the last century or so, curious minds have been performing similar dissections.  Jazz music examined the harmonized melodies of band and orchestral pieces and stripped them down to their distinct individual sounds. When they rebuilt, notes were architected into a sum of their parts, rather than the swelling symphonic ensemble they once were.  The result, though very cool, was occasionally jarring and discordant. 

Art took a similar journey, dismantling faces and landscapes into shapes and colors, dots and angles, wandering down the hill of genre from Classic to Impressionistic to Abstract.  Arms and legs could occupy separate spaces on a canvas and still represent humanity, swirling swaths of paint could portray beauty or love or anger without any defining reference point except the intention of the artist.

Biology picked up on the theme of separation, as did psychology and religion.  In fact, medicine exploded and psychology thrived because of their newfound ability to take mankind apart and by examining each piece, figure out how the magic of the music played.

The dissection of man, like the dissection of music and the dissection of art, into original building blocks is, in itself, neither morally right nor wrong.  The danger lies in our capacity to rebuild.  We’ve taken ourselves apart, and we’re not sure how put us back together again.  We’ve forgotten what “whole” looks like.

Our faith has suffered the brunt of this unintentionally destructive quest for knowledge.  We’ve allowed ourselves to separate our minds from our hearts, our souls from our bodies.  Our beliefs are confined to a nebulous space inside of us we call our spirit and all prayers, groanings, hopes, intentions, and decisions are corralled inside.  The rest of ourselves we apportion out when we feel it appropriate.  Our faith comes on stage when we’re at church, our intellect runs the show at school or work, our heart steals the spotlight when relationships, sorrows, or sappy movies call, and our bodies do whatever feels best, no matter where or when they are called into action.

No wonder we feel like our faith isn’t relevant to real life.  No wonder we feel like we don’t belong anywhere – we’re not ever showing up all in one piece.  We’ve been stripped down to our distinct individual parts and the effect, while occasionally cool, can be jarring and discordant.

God calls us to be whole.  He designed all of our parts to work together as one integrated organism, not simply the sum of its parts.  We are to fear Him with our intellect, to walk with obedient muscle and sinew and bone, to love Him with our will, to serve Him heart and soul – our faith should cover us like skin, should run through every part of us like blood, carrying the life-giving oxygen of His power and purpose into every cell (did He not breathe it into us at our inception?  Does the reenactment of that holy respiration not bind us to life every moment of every day?)

My faith exists in fingers on a keyboard, a voice on the phone, and feet on the gas pedal.  My love for God lives in my knees and ears and too-busy mind intentionally quieted so that a voice desperate to speak might be heard.  Obedience to God cannot be corralled into a nebulous space in my spirit – it must be breathed into being, as I once was, into literal space and time and motion.  My intentions to serve God must bleed into actual physical obedience or I cannot call myself His servant.

We belong in one piece.  That’s how we were composed, how we were designed, how the Author of creation wrote us into history. Taking ourselves apart for examination is beneficial for discovering our million moving parts and how we function, but we must not remain disassembled, or we will forget why we function.  If we do, the consequences will be more than just silence - the magic of the music may be lost all-together.

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