Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hunger for Mystery in a Culture of Certainty

This is a version of my column published on January 25, 2008 in the "Faith & Values" section of The Huntville Times - Steve West

I remember meeting Jeff, who leads the praise band for one of our services, after I came to Huntsville to serve. “I heard you are a rocket scientist,” I said. “Yes,” he replied, “but I don’t do that here!” He smiled with a width I’ve grown to love and went back to playing guitar.

The church I serve is in the context of a highly technical culture. We worship ten minutes away from the NASA space flight center where shuttles are designed and built. Nearby is the arsenal where missile command for the United States is controlled. One parishoner’s full time job is to write the programs that test the programs that operate the space shuttle. It’s a culture of engineering, mastering information, and exacting personalities. Yet I have discovered that we hunger for mystery.

In Ephesians 3, Paul describes his call to preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ” and “make plain the mystery.” Do we dare claim a faith that is about something bigger than what we can identify, control, or explain?

I come from a long line of pastors that go back to the days of riding horseback. At my great, great, great uncle’s gravestone these words are chiseled: “For 50 years preached the unsearchable riches of Christ until his decease.” They echo Paul’s words.

Years ago, young in ministry and dealing with my first disappointments, I went to that grave and knelt. My heart melted in realization that my struggles were not just about me. It’s about the unsearchable riches of Christ. Fathoming a bigger mystery gave me a great deal of hope.

When I moved here to serve, I was led to write my own mission statement. I keep it by my desk. It reads: “I have been placed here in the Huntsville culture to help people who are conditioned to think they can fix any problem, explore any place in the galaxy, or settle any conflict by force to live a life that encounters mystery and embraces uncertainty.” I’ve tried to live by it.

During the season of Epiphany, we remember the wise men who saw a bigger picture and followed a star. The King had been born right under the noses of the people of bustling Bethlehem, and it took some stargazing Persian astrologers to see it.

Sometimes we are so concerned with what’s right under our noses that we miss the mystery. We water down the gospel to acquiesce to a culture of work and rewards. We reduce the message to a few principles to follow in order to make our lives a little better. The problem with all that is that we’re still in control. Face it, we’re control freaks.
The news of the gospel is that certainty is an illusion. It’s mystery that’s real. Christ makes plain the unrevealable and reveals the unsearchable. Christ makes God touchable, lovable, knowable, even feelable.

This mystery can’t be capsulated by a few bullets on a brochure or a power point slide. It can only be absorbed throughout a lifetime of beholding its light.