The black-white segregated world I knew as kid, the one that closed the local swimming pool rather than integrate in submission to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is radically changed. Radical does not mean swift. It has taken forty-five years.
In a sultry, stifling Atlanta, Georgia summer of '64 , I sulked over the prejudices of my parents and the community at large keeping me from swapping a quarter for an afternoon in that pool. All summers in the deep South I remember stifled in more ways than the experience of the oppressive humidity. Alas, the only places to escape the heat waving off car hoods and pavement was browsing comic books off the rack in the air-conditioned drug store or the city pool. Mr. McCurdy, the pharmacist, would only allow a nine year old to peruse the comics for a brief time without a glare and the pool, filled with that glorious crystal water, lay locked behind an eight foot high, chain-link fence. Mr. McCurdy did allow blacks to enter the drug store for their prescriptions through the back door. In that time defined by one hundred hating years between blacks and whites where the oppression of people was never escaped, what I witnessed four days ago would have been unthinkable even in a comic book fantasy.
We stopped for a break and fill-up at the cheapest station on our I-40 journey through eastern North Carolina. After paying at the pump, I entered the convenience mart for coffee. My daughter wanted some, as well. I shared the floor space before the multiple carafes and cappuccino machine with an American women of coffee-tone skin, about fifteen years my senior. She and I did the polite reach-around-one-another-while-honoring-personal-space dance, as she needed sugar from near the same spot I filled my daughter's cup with French vanilla; then we both needed lids at the same time.
Moments later, I stood behind her in the check-out line. The cashier of European descent might have been described as flesh-toned forty-five years ago, as if the woman in front of me purchasing coffee were not covered in flesh. The cashier announced the total owed for two coffees by the matron in front of me, who proceeded to count out the amount in change. A bare few moments passed, not enough mind you, to need a human breaking an awkward silence but enough to hold a comment.
"I like the Christmas mouse on your shirt," offered the cashier. (Yes, it is the middle of February, but you know those matrons can spit in the wind and wear purple.) My check-out line companion nodded acknowledgment of the compliment but finished counting. She looked the cashier in the eye while passing the handful of change, who answered while taking the change with an unusual, "Thank you." What made those last words unusual was the warmth I thought I detected.
Verifying the emotional level I sensed from the cashier, the matron replied genuinely, "You have a blessed day."
I stepped up to the counter feeling that moment, feeling the honesty and the nature of it. I recognized something in the spirit of the moment totally alien to what I knew about exchanges between people of varied colors in 1964. The cognitive words I spoke to the cashier became only a vehicle for a deeper bit of human involvement. I wanted to add to the spirit in which she had addressed the lady wearing a Christmas mouse, and whom then responded in kind to an opening which intended more than civility.
The incident was brief, warm and common. In that moment I saw a hint of the supernatural. I suspect both women are Christians--not a risky presumption in the Bible-belt. Even if that is not so, the supernatural element is that humans who have proven their separation from God in countless ways, including the racial hatred in which my youth steeped, choose to move beyond social civilities and enter genuine care in the common exchanges of life.
Yes, racism exists to this day. The Dixie war flag is seen occasionally flying in front of private houses. Such anachronisms do not alter the social change I am glad to be experiencing.
In the comments of the last post, Greg names perhaps the largest concern people have on the topic of the "inner" leading of the spirit: Scripture must trump inner voices, otherwise we'll end up with more Jim Joneses and David Koreshes.
This is a fair and needed guideline to be sure, but it begs the question of how does one know the inner voice is the voice of God?
One of the exciting things that initially drew me into my charismatic experience was all these people telling stories where God said this or that, and it had dramatic consequences for good in their lives. This witness of God actively speaking direction to others appealed to me. I wanted that experience, as well.
I clearly remember the Jonestown Massacre being reported by Walter Cronkite. This event pre-dated my Christian conversion by only one year. I had no concern the group I was in was cultic, nor did I make any connection that a perspective of being able to actively hear the leading of a living God might be construed with following a false teacher.
However, I understand those concerns now. I came to realize I had adopted the use of the term "God said to me..." in recounting how I made decisions. Likewise did many people in our group. I also began to know within my heart, that sometimes I used those words too loosely. I determined that I and probably many of those in our group used the terminology because it was accepted, even expected, but the usage was not necessarily reality. Sometimes it was, I guess. God knows for sure. The "voice of God" I heard was usually nothing more than my own inclinations, desires, or needs; and I had learned hearing some of my own thoughts with a deep resonance and power. Imagine hearing some of your particular thoughts with a ring akin to the voice of James Earl Jones.
The marker verifying such was truly the Father usually included an elevated pulse rate or just a compelling sense of I must obey this. Think about how you physically relate to some act of worship that is particularly moving for you. Communion maybe, when you find yourself physically feeling a deep peace or deep regrets for sin as you seek forgiveness. Think of anytime an intellectual understanding of anything from the Bible's witness results in you being emotionally moved. This is so powerful your physical body reacts some way. That marked for me at the time that I was "in the spirit" and "hearing God."
Now, I rarely feel such things and I only hear James Earl Jones if I am watching a movie in which he is an actor or the voice over. (I really enjoy The Hunt for Red October, but that is another topic.)
First, I don't hear voices in the plural. I hear my thoughts. Thoughts may take on varied tones or levels of importance, but that is inconsequential in listening for God's direction, as it reflects my personality, the culture around me, etc. I have learned to strip away the mystery of is this thought from God or not? That was a conundrum I didn't enjoy one bit when I began to distrust my learned behavior of accounting for the direction of God as being one of my thoughts making my heart rush. So what is "listening to God" or being "in the spirit?"
I have determined His voice is my functioning conscience. I am rarely confused by and never disappointed answering the urges and inhibitions of that which I know is from God when my conscience speaks. Lining up these morally directive thoughts with Scripture is relatively easy. More than that, however, is the amazing results seeing God's hand move when I obey my conscience. What's more, as I have learned to trust my conscience as the voice of God, it has become ever more sensitive. And learning more is simply exciting, like those first days when I wanted the experience of actively hearing the Father in the now!
The Wild Wood, its many voices of wind and doctrine and its storms of hate and lust, is little trouble to navigate now that the inner light of God is alive and well within me.
In my last post, I stated Christianity may be divided into to two differing perspectives. For the three or four of you who read here most often and have followed this blog since '07, I don't think what I am about to say will come as surprise to you.
I am thinking about Christianity in its earliest form through the sweep of the past 2000 years into its many varied expressions today. Attempting to reduce that broad topic into two categories may be a ridiculous exercise in over-simplification. Nonetheless, I do.
Perspective number one is the current dominant perspective and is the root of the mainline denominations, as well as the multitude of splintering into a proliferation of sects evident today. Greg, commenter on the last post, divided Christianity into Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant. These primary branches are really a function of one perspective: I'll give it a label--hmmm......well......uh........hour glass icon on forehead......
How about the "Follow God by the Book" perspective. Under such a heading one can trace the development of western Christian thought in which rationales and exegeses are anchored in a temporal view of the scriptures addressing the natural existence within time and space. (Thanks Carey for helping me articulate my thoughts.) Natural here referring to both our fallen natures and our physical bodies. The human experience is described as a living mortal within the confines of a physical realm defined by the five senses of the body and the inexorable passage of yet another day with the rising sun.
This view does not exclude the reality of the spiritual realm nor shrink back from teaching about such topics. Not at all, in fact, the various divisions within Christianity are a function of individuals and groups attempting to find the correct and ultimate understanding of things spiritual as revealed in scripture. Divisions come as disagreements about the spiritual realm surface. Follow-God-by-the-Book folks are continually shaping discussions and deriving doctrines based on scriptural interpretations of God's intended spiritual meanings. Usually followed by a strong expectation that "true" believers will hold to these doctrines. This is done fairly often as an apologetic of thought not intended to undo pagan falsehoods of the Most High God, but against other Christian belief systems deemed as inaccurate on spiritual interpretation or resulting consequences of behavior. In either case, from my observation I assert the critique of another view or of a particular behavior is usually based on assumptions that are created by forming the parameters of thought strictly within the time/space box.
The second perspective has a smaller following, but I think the current exodus from mainline and institutional expressions of Christianity is rooted in either the understanding of the contrasting perspective or the search for its meaning. This perspective might be labeled "Follow God from Within."
The emphasis from this perspective is on having a knowing of the the direction of God's leading from within one's heart. The written word is not ignored, but the primary inspiration for decision-making is from within. This perspective attempts not only to understand God as existent beyond time and space on the earth but to know the human experience within the earth's boundary as an existence joined to limitless God and participating in His eternity even as the body breathes temporarily. Consider Colossians 3: 1-3.
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
There is violence done to meaning sometimes by analysis which pulls parts of the whole open for examination. This delineation of thought here for the purpose of discussion is in some ways artificial. Clearly we Christians live life as some composite of both views. Hence my assertion in the last post that I am not calling one side wrong over the other. Based on Romans 10: 9-10 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses resulting in salvation.
God knows above and beyond us whose confession is from a true heart and produces righteousness unto salvation. However, this does not alter the idea that there exists two different ways to approach understanding God and walking with Him. The letter kills but the spirit gives life, taken from 2 Corinthians 3:6 is a mainstay of Christian thought and living. Though God is not blocked from reaching the true heart who is within a construct that is based on living to the letter of the written word, I believe an ever deepening relationship with God will develop further and further along the path of living in the moment in union with an eternal God who is not bound by time and space.