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Dangerous WonderThe Adventure of Childlike Faith
By Michael Yaconelli
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2003 Michael Yaconelli
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDangerous Wonder
We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid
Sometimes I think the people to feel saddest for are people who once knew what profoundness was, but who lost or became numb to the sensation of wonder.
We live in a time when faith is thin, because our aching for what is above and beyond us has been anaesthetized and our capacity for wonder reduced to clever tricks.
It was one of those snowfalls you never forget. Millions of white flakes filled the air, quieting the earth and swallowing the sounds. The resulting silence was thick with a texture you could feel.
My nephew stood in the living room at the opening to our deck, a stranger to snow, his two years of life about to be altered irrevocably. His eyes were blank, unaware; his body clueless; his mind about to be overloaded with the electricity of discovery.
In the dark, Mother had maneuvered herself onto the deck's two feet of snow to capture the event on video. Dad manned the sliding door, which had been unlatched for quick opening into the darkness. Uncle's hands were poised on the switch to light the deck. And Aunt was ready to lift her nephew into the mysterious new world of twinkling ice and frozen softness.
The moment arrived.
In a perfectly timed instant the deck lights went on, the camera started recording, the sliding door swept open, and a two-year-old was transported from the world he knew to a world he had never seen.
Wonder filled the air.
His eyes stretched wide with astonishment, as though the only way to apprehend what he was seeing was for his eyes to become big enough to contain it all. He stood motionless, paralyzed. It was too much for a two-year-old, too much for an any-year-old (too often, when a person gets older, the person's "too-much detector" malfunctions, corroded by busyness and technology). He twitched and jerked each time a snowflake landed on his face, feeling it tingle as it was transformed from hostile cold to friendly warmth, caressing his face with tiny droplets of water. Just behind his large eyes you could see sparks flying from the crosscurrents of millions of electric stimuli overwhelming the circuit breakers of his previously small world. His mind was a confusion of strange, conflicting realities: white, cold, floating, flying, tingling, electric, landing, touching, sparkling, melting-causing an overload so great, so overwhelming, he fell backward-a slow-motion landing in the billowy whiteness, the snow tenderly embracing him. He had given up trying to understand snow and had given in to experiencing snow.
It was a moment of wonder.
The more I think about it, it was a moment of dangerous wonder. My nephew's awe and wonder caused him to surrender to the snow by falling into it. For a few magical seconds, the danger of snow had given way to the wonder of snow. For a brief moment my nephew came face-to-face with life at its fullest. He didn't know whether to cry or laugh, to be afraid or happy. My nephew experienced what it must have been like that first moment in Eden when Adam and Eve's eyes could not comprehend the staggering beauty of God's new creation. He experienced what it must have been like when the scales fell from the blind man's eyes and the explosion of color and shapes bombarded his mind for the first time; when the leper felt a surge of electricity through his body, his dead and rotting skin suddenly transformed into the fresh skin of a baby; when the bitter, hopeless prostitute looked up fully expecting judgment and death and instead heard the words of forgiveness and life.
What moments! What holy moments! To be in the presence of God, frightened and amazed at the same time! To feel as if you are in the presence of Life itself, yet with your soul shaking in both terror and gratitude.
I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.
If I'm honest, most of my longings have been unfulfilled, and my living, very untreacherous ... until a few years ago.
In 1991, my wife and I spent a week in a L'Arche community called Daybreak, where the majority of the members of the community are mentally and physically challenged. Many times during our stay, people in the community reminded me of little children. They were childlike. And what surprised me was how much the L'Arche community taught me about Jesus. I shouldn't have been surprised. Matthew 18:3 describes an incident in Jesus' life when He called a little child to come close to Him and then said to the adults in the audience, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." It was true. This wonderful community of people-who had not had their childlike attributes taken from them-gently guided me back to the place of danger and wonder.
What would happen if we all took Jesus' advice and "became like little children"-like my nephew? Is dangerous wonder a possibility for you and me? I believe it is. Why, then, don't more of us experience life in this way? Because we allow obstacles to squelch our wonder and steal our souls.
The Obstacle of Dullness
Episcopal priest Robert Capon named the first obstacle: "We are in a war between dullness and astonishment." The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn't change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, He changes them into "nice people."
If Christianity is simply about being nice, I'm not interested.
What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down? What happened to the category-smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever He went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God?
I'm ready for a Christianity that "ruins" my life, that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and ... well ... dangerous. Yes, I want to be "dangerous" to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered "dangerous" by our predictable and monotonous culture.
A. W. Tozer said a long time ago, "Culture is putting out the light in men and women's souls." He was right. Dullness is more than a religious issue, it is a cultural issue. Our entire culture has become dull. Dullness is the absence of the light of our souls. Look around. We have lost the sparkle in our eyes, the passion in our marriages, the meaning in our work, the joy of our faith.
The Bible names our problem: sin. Don't let the word fool you. Sin is more than turning our backs on God, it is turning our backs on life! Immorality is much more than adultery and dishonesty, it is living drab, colorless, dreary, stale, unimaginative lives. The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed. Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness; He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted souls. He came to save us from dullness. Our culture is awash in immorality and drowning in dullness. We have forgotten how to dance, how to sing, and how to laugh. We have allowed technology to beat our imaginations into submission and have become tourists rather than travelers. Television dominates our time, alters our values, numbs us to life in all of its wildness. We have been stunted by mediocrity.
The Obstacle of the Dream Stealers
Somewhere along the way we had the child chased out of us. Our childlikeness is usually snuffed out by people who tell us what we can't do. They are dream stealers.
My first year of Bible college was a nightmare. Naive, immature, and wildly enthusiastic about my faith, I quickly became active in all the college events. My friends and I signed up for the campus talent show and worked for two months on a very difficult jazz arrangement of "Moonglow." Everyone who heard us practice was impressed. The applause in the rehearsal hall was deafening when we finished tryouts, and we were sure we'd made the performance. Abruptly, we were called outside by a lanky, harsh-looking man. "I'm sorry," he said, "but you will not be able to perform tomorrow night. Your song is too worldly. It sounds too much like a song that would be sung in a nightclub."
"What?!" I responded. "But we're not in a nightclub, we're at a Christian school!"
"The decision is final," he said and walked away.
Our group was crushed. I never recovered. My enthusiasm was gone, and I withdrew from all activities. For reasons I still do not understand, the teachers at this college proudly lived out their roles as dream stealers.
Jack Canfield tells about a young high school student whose father was a horse trainer. Because the family had to follow the horse-racing season, the young boy had to change schools throughout the year. During his senior year he was asked to write a paper about what his dreams for the future were. His paper described his dream of owning a 200-acre horse ranch with stables and tracks, and a 4,000-square-foot home. He even drew a diagram of the property and the design of his house. He turned the paper in ... and two days later it came back with an "F" on the front and a note to see the teacher. After class, the teacher explained to the boy that his dream was "unrealistic." The teacher said that if the boy rewrote the paper with a much more realistic dream, he would reconsider the grade. The boy went home and asked his father what to do. "It's your decision," said the father. Dad knew this was a very important decision. The boy kept the paper for a week and then returned it to his teacher after class. "Here," the boy said, "you can keep the 'F' and I'll keep my dream."
That teacher was another dream stealer.
During his first year of college, a young man I know became clinically depressed and decided to take a break from school. The boy's father, who was quite wealthy, tried to convince him to stay in school, but to no avail. Instead the young man went to the mission field, and his life turned around. He went off his anti-depressant medication and soon decided to follow Christ to a dangerous and politically unstable country. His mother was thrilled, but the father went ballistic. Threatening to sue the mission organization, the father harassed and verbally abused his son to the point of brokenness. The depression returned.
This father was a dream stealer.
Interestingly, the Bible has a name for religious dream stealers-Pharisees.
A man was blind from birth and Jesus gave him his dream of sight. The dream-stealing Pharisees did everything to rob that man of his dream (John 9).
A woman with a questionable reputation poured expensive perfume on Jesus, and the dream stealers in the room tried to steal from her the joy of gratitude (Mark 14).
Matthew's gospel (see 12:1-8) also gives us an example. Christ's disciples, new to the faith, were giddy with the exhilaration of following Jesus. They were clueless and naive, filled with awe and wonder. Hungry, they begin to tromp through a field picking food to eat. Suddenly their reverie is broken by Pharisees yelling, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? You are not to work on the Sabbath! Religion is about rules and regulations and you are acting irresponsibly."
They might as well have said, "Look, religion should not make you full of life, it should be serious business. Religion is all about rules and regulations. Learn where the lines are. Now, obey the Sabbath and behave like the rest of us and we'll give you another chance." In effect Jesus said to them, "You can have your rules. I'll keep giving people their dream of an adventurous faith!" Christ is the Dream Giver who wants us to listen to His dream for us so we can run like children in the fields of His grace. Trouble is, the fields are full of obstacles-obstacles that deafen us to God's dreams for us and keep us from an adventurous faith.
The Obstacle of Predictability
Something happens in a technological society-first identified, by the way, in 1964 by a French Christian, Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society, Vintage Press). Ellul predicted that the emergence of technology would alter the nature of life as we know it, just as the Industrial Revolution did. First man and nature, then man and machine, and now, just machine. Technology would become autonomous, and soon, rather than man controlling machine, machine would control and define man. Not only would hamburgers and health care be franchised, but human beings would be franchised, first by an exterior cloning and then by genetic cloning.
He was right. Even genetic cloning is upon us. But cultural cloning is even more harmful to our souls. It levels human personality and deifies predictability. When this is the goal, diversity is no longer recognized as a strength in this culture. Sameness becomes the bottom line.
Predictability and faith cannot coexist. What characterized Jesus and His disciples was unpredictability. Jesus was always surprising the disciples by eating at the wrong houses (those of sinners), hanging around the wrong people (tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, lepers), and healing people on the wrong day (the Sabbath). There was no Day Timer[TM], no strategic plan, no mission statement; there was only the eager anticipation of the present moment. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to be the same as they were. His truth should be the same truth that they had spent centuries taming. But truth is unpredictable.
Excerpted from Dangerous Wonder by Michael Yaconelli Copyright © 2003 by Michael Yaconelli
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