Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Learning to Speak Martian

Having now read through Stormie Omartian's The Prayer that Changes Everything (R), I can say that...well...I don't tend to read books like this.

Tillich's Systematics, this was not.  Nor was it the bare-knuckled mentally-demanding practical mysticism of my Teacher George MacDonald.

As I wended my way through this very, very straightforward book, it was clear that this was not written with me in mind.   She genuinely tries to be welcoming, to bring everyone in.  Her first chapter essentially reads: "Do you want your life to be terrible?  Me neither!  Here's one sure-fire way you can make it super extra awesome!"

In reality, not all beings are the same, and we encounter our Creator differently.   And no, it's not because she's Martian and I'm an Earthling, although when on page 154 she credits her faith in Jesus for getting her  "...through that extremely difficult transition from one planet to another," I did get to wondering.

We're just different folks.  How so?

I do not encounter creation in quite the same way as Ms. Omartian.   Really and actually, I do not.  I do not, for instance, have any issue with our having evolved from "monkeys."  One, well, we didn't.  We're hominids, technically.  Different family.  No tail, see?   I don't see the evolutionary process as lessening our value as children of God, any more than saying we're made of dirt devalues us.

Some of what she finds mysterious, I don't.  Like, say, how an airplane stays in the sky.  In one chapter, she recounts her fear of flying.  She doesn't get what's happening, and how it can happen, and it makes her anxious and afraid.  Then she realizes that she's trying to control things that are beyond her ken, and lets go and lets God.  That helps calm her.   I feel that same anxiety in planes myself, that same lack of control.   But what calms me is visualizing the reality of the airframe around me, and the thrust of the turbofans, and the physics of the Bernoulli effect.  I know the why of Creation, and that eases my mind. I save my praying for those times the plane is tossed around the sky like a leaf in a storm.  In that, we are not so different, I suppose.

Neither do I encounter scripture in quite the same way as she does.   For Stormie, God's Word is great because it means you don't have to worry anymore.  It just tells you what to do, which makes life a whole bunch simpler.   Scripture for her comes in snippets, verse by verse, here a little there a little.  It's all written for her, she says, a love letter from God.  I see in it the complexity of thousands of years of our encounter with God, sacred stories that need to be understood in their entirety, and in context.  My encounter with them changes me, but they are not mine alone.  Understanding their purpose requires both reason and the light of the Spirit.  The heart of it is simple.  But that simplicity is not always self-evident.

And worship?  I like a good worship, too, but here again, we're a tick different.

Omartian's first love is praise music, and so thats the focus of the book.  Praise worship is The Prayer that Changes Everything (R).   You just have to praise!   Meaning, 1) Sing!  and 2) Cry!   A great worship involves a great deal of Kleenex, and will both clear out your sinuses and change you forever. I've known folks who believed this was the only way to worship, and honestly?  Having been part of a church that was All About Praise (R) I know this isn't always true.  Some were fine folks, who really got the Jesus thing.  Others did a lot of emoting on Sunday, and went right back to gossiping and petty cruelty and bullying on Monday.   Or Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of the church.  Heck, some folks couldn't even make it through the fellowship hour.

Being Presbyterian, I worship differently.  For me, a great worship involves a great deal of Thinking, which we tend to do best with our eyes serenely closed in meditation.  That our congregation is nodding jerkily and drooling a bit during the sermon is just a sign they're Thinking Very Hard.  Or so I've been told.

After all, God speaks in our dreams.  My sermons just facilitate that.

But reading Stormie's writing, I found myself unable to get to that place of cattiness that makes for such good bloggery.  "Chill," said the Spirit.  "Listen to your sister."

Snark is easy, particularly when encountering a very simple and heartfelt faith.  What is harder is looking at a very different soul and saying, "Is there grace here?"  If someone believed and acted upon what was written here, how would they live relative to the teachings of Jesus?

I've known people like Stormie, and the people with whom her writing resonates.  They're good, practical people, and there are a lot of them.  They do read, a great deal.  But recommending that they read Tillich would be like telling me to rebuild a four-barrel carburetor.  Or, more entertainingly, having me lead a liturgical dance.   I've only done that once, but for all my pleadings, they won't take the video down.

Reading through this book, she doesn't appear to have a mean bone in her body.  She's been through a whole bunch, and she's perfectly open about how challenging her life has been.  In the face of those challenges, her faith has been hugely important to her.  Her encounter with Jesus prevented her from breaking, and kept her from becoming sour and vindictive and cruel.  Faith in Christ turned her soul towards a life of mercy and reconciliation.  So what she's doing is just sharing that.  I hear her, and as I read her, I see no reason to doubt it.

That, I think, is one of the primary keys to her success as an author.   Her writing about her experiences is simple.  Honest.  Authentic.  Practical.  Hopeful.  It speaks directly to the experiences of her audience, which is considerable in number.

Am I that audience?  No, not exactly, but that doesn't mean what she has to share isn't a good thing for many.  Do I agree with all of it?  No.  But that's the case with almost anyone I read.

Perhaps it's the name, which still amazes me, but reading this book I found myself thinking of Paul's preaching on the Areopagus.  When he got up on Mars Hill, he made sure to articulate the Message in a way that had purchase with the Athenians around him.

Long and short of it:  If you're going to speak to people about the importance of what Jesus taught, you need to speak in ways they understand.  And there are many, many ways to do that which preserve the essence of the Gospel.  That's the great strength of having so many different flavors of Christian faith.  That there are books out there like this one that reach folks I'd probably bore the bejabbers out of?  All the better.

Not all of us speak Martian.  But that some do?  Well, that's cool.