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UPRISINGA Revolution of the Soul
By Erwin Raphael McManus
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Erwin Raphael McManus
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRunning Free
The roar was a combination of fury and hunger. Its sound rumbled through us like an ominous warning of the danger to come. In spite of all our efforts, our momentum kept us moving toward its mouth. Our struggle seemed futile as we found it impossible to reverse our course. This particular summer the American River was more unforgiving than usual. The heavy rains had turned the rapids into more than an adventurous joyride. Already the summer had been filled with reports of the tragic end for some of those who had braved its waters. Now it was our turn to either pass or fail the river's test.
It seemed like such a good idea when we said yes. Though Kim and I had never been rafting, the team who spearheaded this annual adventure assured us it was nothing but great fun. Most of the forty or so who were with us were also novices, so there seemed to be no reason for concern. The water at the point of entry was so calm and peaceful that it didn't even bother me when our particular guide confessed this was his first solo run. Certainly for the first hour or so it seemed like this journey was anything but a challenge. In fact, beyond soothing, it was at times even a bit mundane. The lifejackets seemed about as important as wearing a seat belt when you're parked. Funny how a sleepy little river can lull you into virtual unconsciousness.
But the roar woke us all up. It's not that we were asleep, but we were not alert. The rumblings literally shook us. We looked ahead and saw a giant boulder protruding out of the river's center. Coming out of a blind turn, there was enough distance for us to see two of the rafts in front of us crash head-on into the boulder, flipping them like toys and throwing our companions into the white water. We had enough time to adjust. I am certain that skilled navigators would have found a way around the crisis, but that would have been someone other than us. All I remember is "Row!"
Looking back, I realized we were all rowing, frantically, desperately, with all the strength we could muster. The left side was rowing; the right side was rowing. We were all neutralizing each other's efforts. In the end, all we accomplished was to increase the velocity at which we hit the very boulder we were working so desperately to avoid. We flipped. Our raft was pointing straight up to the sky. I held on to the side handles, fighting to stay in. One of the men fell directly on top of me, using me to stay above the water and on the raft. I imagine in that moment he considered my head an answer to prayer for his foot. This was working out great for him. It was dramatically less advantageous for me. I knew he was not a strong swimmer, so I was apprehensive to let go and have us both go under. But when I was coming down to my last breath, I decided he could learn to swim if he really wanted to. And so I let go, and we both went plummeting into the river.
Once I fought my way to the top, I immediately began swimming upstream looking for my wife, Kim. Our raft had stabilized and two of our crew had somehow avoided falling out. Even while fighting the waters, I noticed that all the men fell out, but the two women somehow remained in the raft. Once I saw that Kim was fine, I stopped wasting my energy working against the currents and allowed myself to begin the trek down the rapids.
It was at this point that our prerafting instructions became far more critical. We were reminded to keep our lifejackets tight against our chests. It was so uncomfortable. The river seemed so peaceful. At the time I didn't see any reason to really pull it that tight. Only now, as my life vest kept working its way up to my chin, did I fully understand the importance of a snugly fitting lifejacket. But this wasn't the right time to punish myself for not paying attention to the instructions. So I moved on down the list of important things to remember. Our instructor's voice was so clear in my head: "If you fall into the rapids, keep your legs up. At the bottom of the river there are all kinds of rocks forming nooks and crannies. If you don't keep your legs up, they could get easily caught in between the rocks and snap against the weight of the river."
The idea of bouncing down the river with a broken leg was more than unattractive to me and highly motivating, so I kept my feet up. I wanted to see my feet above the water, but every time I got my feet up, my head would slip under. It was impossible to breathe, and I would then have to risk lowering my legs to get my head back up, which in turn caused me great concern. So I would immediately pull my legs back up, trying with all my being to follow the instructions given us. There was just one problem-I don't breathe with my feet. This system just didn't seem to work.
Before I knew it I had exhausted myself as I fought the rapids, and I felt it overtake me-not just the water, but surrender. I wondered if my efforts were only a symphony of futility. Was it simply better to calmly accept my fate and give myself over to the river? It was a surreal moment. I watched the water swirling around me. I could see the sounds but could not hear them. I don't remember any fear. Just regret-regret of things undone. Flooding into my mind were thoughts like, Would I leave my wife when we still had so much love to share? Would my son and daughter grow up without their father? Would I give up on them so easily? That's when I knew. There would be a day when the end would come, but if I had anything to do with it, this would not be it. I knew there was more life in me than there was water in that river. It was as if I could hear a voice inside of me both crying out and confessing without shame, "I want to live!"
I fought my way back to the surface and noticed that there were branches ahead with vines hanging down to the water's surface. As my body came under an extended branch, I reached and grabbed one of the vines. As I held it with my right hand, I was able to pull myself back against the water and grab it with my left hand also. As I began to pull myself toward the branch, the vine gave under my weight and I found myself plunging backwards down the river. As quickly as I could turn, I saw another branch low enough to grab, waiting there for me. I pulled myself to the shore, exhausted and grateful for being on land. I looked up, after catching my breath, and there was my wife, Kim, waiting for me. I still don't understand how she got so far down so fast and happened to be exactly where I pulled out.
A Transforming Journey
The journey I am inviting you on is not unlike my trek down the American River. There will be moments of great calm, but they must not fool us or lull us into a slumber. This journey is filled with rapids and laced with white waters. There will be times you will find yourself drowning, overwhelmed by the circumstances that surround you. At every turn there is the invitation to journey ahead on an adventure that will not leave you unchanged.
And it is important to note that in reality there is no way back. One moment I will never forget is when we all finally found ourselves at the other side of the rapids and how many had no desire to continue. There were some who made earnest requests to be taken back to the beginning point. There was no meanness in the instructor's voice, no attempt at insensitivity. He was simply stating the facts. "There are still hours ahead, and there is no way out except forward." We had been told about a place on the river known as Satan's Cesspool. We began to ask for affirmation that it was now behind us. Our guide gave us the unwanted news: this challenge remained ahead, and the most dangerous was yet to come.
The same people who fell out of the rafts got back into the rafts, but we were not the same. We were so attentive, so focused. No instructions were seen as too trite or meaningless. What was really important became very clear to us, and it was the important things that really mattered. It was such a great trip, so much fun, the kind of adventure you live for. You know, the kind of experience you avoid at all costs, but when it's unavoidable, it changes you when you've made it through.
This is how life is supposed to work. It's an adventure, a journey, a trek filled with uncertainty, excitement, and risk. One bad or painful experience can cause you to remain on the banks. But when you do, you neither move forward nor backwards; there you sit, just watching life go by. Yet I am convinced in all of us there is a voice crying out, a confession waiting to be declared without shame, "I want to live!" This journey requires many confessions and declarations, but this is a good place to begin. Sometimes this yearning has been neglected or even rejected. The longing to be alive is drowned by lesser ambitions. We just want to make it through the day, survive, make ends meet, go through the routine, and then exist rather than live. If you have conceded to this lesser form of humanity, let me invite you to hear the roar inside your own soul. You may be apprehensive at first but let the trembling turn into rumbling. If you would dare risk it, stop right now, stand up wherever you are, and declare without shame, "I want to live!"
The theme of life and death has been with us from the very beginning of the human journey. God's warning to man was that if he ate of the forbidden fruit, he would surely die. Adam and Eve did eat of the tree, but there was no apparent death at the moment. I think we often assume God was speaking metaphorically. Yet what we find throughout the Scriptures is that in the most important way we truly did die. We are now dead in our trespasses and sins. We are in a sense even dead to life. We merely exist and think we are alive. We have traded the authentic for the imitation. Human history can be summarized as a desperate search for life. We look for it everywhere and in everything. We pursue wealth, power, success, pleasure, and endless experiences just to feel alive. Yet with all that we gain, there is always the inescapable stench of death all around us. Even if we gain the whole world, we die with our souls empty and hollow.
Ironically, what we are so often willing to sacrifice is the very thing most essential for life-God. God formed us in His image and then breathed life into us. His life in us is sustained by His character. When we lose the character of God, we lose the life of God in us. But to have His character, we must first die to ourselves, because to become like Him is what it means to really live. Because this book is a quest for life, it is also a quest for character, a quest to regain what was lost in the Fall. It is a journey to unleash what is promised in the future and to discover and live out a God-given destiny.
A Passion to Live
We were created with a passion to live. When a person loses his will to live, he has essentially begun the first stage of dying. This is why some people live until their final breaths and others die long before their bodies are laid to rest. This is also why suicide is both tragic and traumatic. To take one's own life is to first give up on living. What a horrible place to stand, to look at your life and conclude there is no hope of ever being alive, to be so overwhelmed by despair that you lose all desire to live. Suicide is the strange intersection between hopelessness and a refusal to live in the status quo. It is an emphatic declaration, "I am empty, and I will never be full." There is a consciousness of a present condition without an awareness of the future possibilities. Suicide is antipathy toward existence; antagonism against the myth of aliveness. The conclusion: there is nothing worth living for, so why live? Passion is turned to anger and then hatred, and our final act of violence is against ourselves.
Yet most of us are not consumed with antipathy toward life. We have not become overwhelmed with the awareness of our existence. We simply accept that this is just the way it is. We surrender ourselves to the mundane. It is not antipathy that defines us, but apathy. The first leads to the violent and abrupt ends of our lives; the second, to a torturously slow decay. To be apathetic is literally to be without passion. Perhaps you're familiar with the construction: Atheist-no God; agnostic-no knowledge; apathetic-no passion.
Several years ago I was invited to present an idea I had to a CEO who managed millions of dollars that were funneled into various projects. I was given about an hour of his time, and it was a one-shot deal. When I finished my presentation, he said something I have never forgotten. Just before he declined to give me any money, he said, "It's rare to meet anyone with a passion for anything." I think he genuinely appreciated the intensity of my commitment, even while concluding he would not invest in my idea. But what he gave me was priceless. I walked away remembering that passion was a rare commodity.
The fifteen years since that conversation have only confirmed this conclusion. So many of us have abdicated our passions for obligations, as if passion is a luxury for the young, and we must all grow up one day. We, even if reluctantly, fall into place to live a life of conformity that we describe as "maturity." We've made acting like an adult synonymous with living apathetic lives. Maybe this is why when senior adults finally leave the assembly line of their careers and begin to do what they have always really wanted, they are described as being in a "second childhood." If apathy is adulthood and passion is childish, then I understand all the more the words of Jesus when He said that to enter His kingdom we must come as little children.
The Christian faith hasn't been very helpful in this arena over the past few hundred years. Our incessant focus on the elimination of sin has more than contributed to the problem of passionless living. To an overwhelming degree, human passions are seen as both adversarial to God and corrupting in their nature. We've been taught that God's solution to restraining our passions is His commands. The result has been a Christian religion focused on rules, rituals, and obligations. In this regard Christianity as a religion is essentially no different or better than the other major world religions. Whether it is Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, or Christianity, we are instructed to follow certain practices that will restrain our passions and make us better people. In large part world religions seem predominantly focused on the restraint, sublimation, or even elimination of human desires.
Ironically, the Scriptures place human desires and passions at the epicenter of human action. This is true in both the arena of sin and the arena of holiness. Nothing explains why we sin more poignantly and clearly than human passion.
In Romans 7:5 Paul writes, "For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death." Paul is just stating the obvious. We do what we do because we love it. We desire it. When we sin, it is for no more profound reason than we enjoy it. Of course there is also the added dynamic that the very nature of those things that are counted as sin have a corrosive, corrupting, and addictive nature to them. That's why they're called sins. Their very essence will destroy you and most likely damage or hurt those closest to you. Nevertheless, the fuel of these destructive patterns is passion, and the process of transformation requires a revolution of your passions.
Paul illuminates this passion transformation in Galatians 5:24: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." Whatever else must happen within us, there must be a death to the passions and desires fueled by a heart absent of God. Yet so much of the Christian faith has stopped here. We have been so vigilant to assure the death of passions, and as Paul said, all who belong to Christ Jesus must have their passions crucified-put to death-eradicated-end of story.
But what we have failed to recognize is that when our Christian teaching concerning passions ends here, we are far more Buddhist than we are Christian. It is Buddhism that teaches that our ultimate end is the elimination of all desire. Buddhism builds its practice around this lifelong goal with the promised outcome that in the end you will become nothing more than a part of the cosmic energy. This is the essence of the Buddha-to exist without desire. This perfectly aligns with a view of an impersonal God. Or perhaps more accurately, of no God at all. All that makes us human must be lost to all that would allow us to merge into this cosmic energy. I have always been amazed that in Western culture, where desire is the fuel of so much corruption, Buddhism has become so attractive. We've managed to literally materialize Buddhism's spirituality, to meditate away our desires so that we can go pursue our lusts and cravings while never losing our center.
Excerpted from UPRISING by Erwin Raphael McManus Copyright © 2007 by Erwin Raphael McManus. Excerpted by permission.
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