It was not meant to happen. I sat down in front of the television and intended to watch the last bit of the news before going up to bed to read. The news ended and the programming turned to a local travel show. I was also multi-tasking as I traversed the Internet on an aimless search that occasionally bumped into something intriguing but I flitted from screen to screen in a vacuum.
I knew something was wrong. There were pulses of energy that were met with a brain freeze that stymied any thoughtful decisions. I sat and watched the next show which was the day’s accounting of the foibles, errata, and boggling idiocy of our most salacious stars. I sucked this down with shame but I didn’t turn my eyes. Soon the programming brought a silly family show about a family that is written to resemble my own but sufficiently bizarre that I can feel secure that we are not that abnormal. Another show passed, then another. I was caught in the hypnotic glow of the interplay of the sound on the television and the passing websites explored for little more than the initial intrigue of the home page.
I knew I was wasting away the night. I had email to finish, a novel I was enjoying; I could join my wife in bed, sleep, if I only chose to get up, but instead I surrendered to the darkness of banality. When NCIS came on, I watched the entire show though I could have predicted each line and nuance of the drama. I then went to the perambulation of the remote and clicked through the channels in a final frenzy of boredom. When the late local news came on it was a signal that I had gamboled away nearly 5 hours of my life in the seduction of nothingness. I felt like crap. I binged and I felt dirty, stupid, and empty. Debauchery comes in many forms.
This day was different
The next day I blew it off as a need to chill out. No big deal. But there was a film over my heart and I felt neither freedom, anticipation, or goodness about the day. It is in moments like this I have far too often ignored the ache, dismissed the greasy presence over me, in me, as an inevitability of living in a fallen world. Buck it up, partner, throw your leg over the saddle and mosey on to round up the little doggies. I am a professional soul herder and not every day is lively or lovely. For whatever reason, this day was different. Jesus smacked my steed and I was left standing before him and I heard him say, “How about you and I sitting for a while?”
Most of the time I am fond of Jesus. I like to engage the one I read about in the B-I-B-L-E. I know he is God. I know he is human and I love to watch and think about the manner in which he traverses the dirt and uneven terrain of Palestine. I just don’t like him interrupting my day too often, especially when the conversation is going to be about me, or us. I am linked to a tradition of cessationists that are comfortably assured that the gifts of the Spirit that showed up in Bible days ceased when the Apostolic era ended. One can never trust the level of disorder those unruly gifts might create unless the Apostles are present to clean up the mess and toss out the imposters with impeccable wisdom. I don’t recall the other reasons I am not allowed to believe in the gifts of the Spirit but it has made my life far less complicated and more lonely.
Nevertheless, he smacked my horse’s rear and I stood alone before him and he moseyed me to sit next to him. How do you prefer to receive this story? Metaphor? Illustration? Dream sequence? Or in my mind’s eye, I saw him dressed like a cowboy and he hit my horse and I stood before Jesus and he sat on his haunches and invited me to sit. I did. But I’m not limber enough to do anything other than sit on my derriere. Now the rest of the discussion I will distill into content and not tire you with the process. It didn’t last terribly long—about a half hour. You are certainly welcome to dismiss this story as exaggeration, narcissistic hubris, or if you know portions of my story a chemically-induced, imaginative flash-back to a by-gone era. Whatever it was, whatever he is, I was unnerved.
Not what I was expecting
The central question he asked was not what I expected. It seldom is. He wanted to know why I found the glory he offers me so troubling. The debauchery of the night before came after two weeks of exhausting and utterly amazing stories of heartache and redemption. Suffice it to say, I spend most of my days in the dark tunnels of sexual violence—shame, addiction, idolatry, cruelty, and occasionally redemption. In countless ways, I am a sin eater. When redemption comes it invariably surprises me. I am thrilled but always surprised and somewhat leery. Why then? Why not later or before? In some form it is a drive to understand, to comprehend so I can replicate it for others. On the other, it is a deep suspicion with change, of any sort. And it is as well, a relentless hunger to be in the presence of God’s glory.
What I can tell you about the conversation is it was tender and kind. The words he spoke about the Sabbath conference and how our group leaders walked into dry, angry, and exhausted hearts to humbly invite the warriors we served to hear the delight of the Father brought tears streaming down my face. And he blessed me. I led those good men and women who fought in the small groups; I taught and prayed for them. But the words he spoke to me about my heart as a leader still make me blush.
As unnerved as I was I still had not connected the words I heard to the night before. The conversation ended rather abruptly. He got up and walked away to get coffee. I looked around and I was staring at the same television that had captured me the night before. The screen was dark. I felt no urge to turn it on, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
My heart felt alive and strong and I wondered why the night before I felt so dead. And it seemed so simple. I was tired. I had no energy left for anyone or anything and I wanted to plunge into a numb, hyper-stimulated nothingness so that I didn’t have to think, feel, or choose anyone or anything. It wasn’t primarily my exhaustion that was at war with my senses. It was glory. I simply had no space left, no capacity to bear up under the combined labor expended and glory experienced. I could bear nothing more of the presence or kindness of God. To have done so I would have had to collapse in his arms and cry like a child. I would have had to ask him what he thought of me and my labor and heard his words or risked the static silence of my jumbled brain. Instead, I used television as a pornographic mockery of all that I had experienced to tune out his voice or silence my need for his words. What I fled from was his kindness and what I ran smack into was his presence.
The word that kept coming to mind was debauchery. It was loud and insistent. I know its meaning. But something compelled me to look it up in the dictionary. It comes from the French word debauch—to lead away from duty. It is what I had done. I had allowed myself to be seduced, to indulge in a sensuous affair to escape my duty. But what dawned on me in the aftermath of the night’s indulgence and the comical and odd conversation with cowboy Jesus was he had seduced me from duty—not in my sin of the night before—that is mine alone, but in his casual, nonchalance and invitation to not get to work but to hear him, to receive from him, the very kindness that I most desire and yet so often steer far from. He led me away from duty. Oh, kind and crafty Jesus, how do you want to enter our flight from you? How do you want to make yourself known to us, to speak? What do you want to say to our most weary and hardened heart? How Jesus do you wish to debauch us from duty to receive from you the delight of your heart?