October 22, 2020

Let’s Review: Some basic concepts at Internet Monk (2) — Wilderness Journey

Western wilderness (2019)

Let’s Review
Some basic concepts at Internet Monk (2) — Wilderness Journey

We are reviewing some basic concepts that have taken hold over the years here at Internet Monk. Most were introduced by the blog’s founder, Michael Spencer. Others come from Chaplain Mike, with thanks to friends and partners who have contributed. Since I, Chaplain Mike, am setting these forth, the language and emphases will be mine (except where directly quoted from Michael or others).

In my view, these represent the “fundamentals,” as it were, of Internet Monk. These are the themes the site and its conversations are built upon, the themes we return to again and again.

Wilderness Journey

We are all outside of paradise. We are locked up aboard an unsteerable ship, and we bide our time, unsure of ever reaching land, hungrily eyeing each other as the foodstores fail. We are that tainted generation of former slaves who now must perish in the wilderness on the outside chance that it will help our freeborn children enter into their promised rest.

A Lent Sourcebook
edited by Baker, Kaehler, Mazar

In our first post, we talked about the “post-evangelical wilderness” many of us here at Internet Monk have traversed, and which some are still navigating. It is the personal side of that pilgrimage, as written about by Michael Spencer, that drew many of us to this blog. Michael wrote with intense honesty and vulnerability. And his reflections transcended the “post-evangelical” theme. He wrote about the human experience. He recognized himself as an exile in this broken world, lamenting his own limp as well as the unwelcome conditions that make the journey a continual challenge.

After Michael’s death, we who write here at Internet Monk have sought to honor this approach by being transparent and forthcoming about our own journeys through life’s wilderness. I, Chaplain Mike, have invited you to join me on the path that led me to the Lutheran church, to share my own questions, doubts, and fears, reflections on my childhood, my experiences in evangelicalism and beyond, my travels, my pictures, the music I love, and my times of being with people in the end of life as a hospice chaplain. And all the regular writers here have joined me in sharing their own stories and reflections as well.

In my view, these personal revelations form the heart and soul of Internet Monk.

I would encourage you to go to the right sidebar. Right above the Blog Roll you will find a search box marked “Categories.” Hit the drop down arrow and search for posts in the category “Exploration of the Self.” Then search “Wilderness Journey.” Reading the posts in these categories will set you well on the way to seeing how this theme has been a major emphasis of the blog over the years.

And, by the way, thank you to all who have been generous enough to share thoughts about your own journey in the Comments over the years.

We are travelers traveling
We are gypsies together
We’re philosophers gathering
We are business or pleasure
We are going or coming
We’re just finding our way
To the next destination
And from night into day

• Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Transcendental Reunion”

The heart and soul of Internet Monk, I say.

Here are some samples from Michael’s posts.

I have my doubts. About it all. God. Jesus. Life after death. Heaven. The Bible. Prayer. Miracles. Morality. Everything.

“But you are a pastor. A Christian leader.” That’s right, and I am an encyclopedia of doubts. Sometimes it scares me to death.

I’m terrified by the possibility that I might have wasted my entire life on the proposition that Christianity was true, when in fact it wasn’t even close. I wonder if I have been mentally honest with myself or with others, or have I compromised my own integrity in order to collect a paycheck and have a roof over my head? Have I acted as if the case for faith was clear when it was a muddled mess in my own mind?

What’s really frightening is that these doubts persist and get stronger the longer I live. They aren’t childish doubts; they are serious, grown-up fears. I don’t have the kind of faith that looks forward to death. The prospect terrifies me, sometimes to the point I am afraid to close my eyes at night. I have more questions about the Bible and Christianity than ever, even as I am more skilled at giving answers to the questions of others. I can proclaim the truth with zeal and fervor, but I can be riddled with doubts at the same time.

Why would I write an essay about this subject? Is this the ultimate whine from a selfish and narcissistic member of the victim class? Am I wanting advice or sympathy? No, I’m writing to try and face this part of myself, and to tell myself the truth about it. I’m trying to build a foundation for repentance. If it’s not interesting to you, I’m sorry. (“Where’s the funny stuff?”) I’ll make it up to you next essay.

My humanity, my spirituality, my relations, my work, my thinking, my life; they are all substantially influenced by my obesity. Increasingly, I have to be honest and admit that my weight is the platform from which I exclude God, hurt people, live my life and and choose my sins. Being fat has made sin easy; sins of every kind, and sins that have proven the hardest to mortify and remove from my life. My fear of dealing with my weight is a reflection of my fear of dealing with my deepest self, and who and what I am. It is a fear of the past, and I am sure it will one day become a fear of the future. I hide in my weight, and I foolish think I can hide from my weight.

What was that I heard? “Well….we’re getting better. That’s sanctification. I’ve been delivered!” I suppose some of us are getting better. For instance, my psycho scary temper is better than it used to be. Of course, the reason my temper is better, is that in the process of cleaning up the mess I’ve made of my family with my temper, I’ve discovered about twenty other major character flaws that were growing, unchecked, in my personality. I’ve inventoried the havoc I’ve caused in this short life of mine, and it turns out “temper problem” is way too simple to describe the mess that is me. Sanctification? Yes, I no longer have the arrogant ignorance to believe that I’m always right about everything, and I’m too embarrassed by the general sucktitude of my life to mount an angry fit every time something doesn’t go my way. Getting better? Quite true. I’m getting better at knowing what a wretched wreck I really amount to, and it’s shut me up and sat me down.

I’m just a guy with a life, and life is full of failure and loss. I wanted MINISTRY to be the ongoing reward. I wanted USEFULNESS to be my satisfaction. I wanted to be SIGNIFICANT. I wanted the contract to be in place and the insurance to protect me because I was the guy with the Bible. Well, that didn’t go very well, did it?

God thought it was time for all that nonsense to stop, and for the lifelong addiction I’d developed to my church as my universe, my wife as unquestioning supporter and my theology as my version of the inerrant Word of God to end. He made an appointment to pull the teeth, and I was not consulted in advance.

Ordinary life, extraordinary events and stuff that just don’t make no sense all combine to rearrange the furniture of my world. Every time I head for a comfortable seat, God sells it. Every time I look for the comfort food, the fridge is empty. Every time I get out my copy of “Things You KNOW Are True,” the dog has eaten it.

…Life goes on. Losses, gains, light, shadow, confusion, laughter, tears, God, Jesus, Denise, me.

When I look up from the road, I notice that the lights in the distance are closer and the noise behind me is not as loud.

Good journey friends. See you on up the road.

For further reading here at iMonk about Michael’s journey, I suggest these articles:

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Let’s Review series

Comments

  1. Burro (Mule) says

    Mike Spencer was taken from us ten years before we really needed him, although I wouldn’t wish him back for a moment. Not to this shitstorm.

    4:13 Being made perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time:

    4:14 For his soul pleased God: therefore he hastened to bring him out of the midst of iniquities: but the people see this, and understand not, nor lay up such things in their hearts:

    4:15 That the grace of God, and his mercy is with his saints, and that he hath respect to his chosen.

    4:16 But the just that is dead, condemneth the wicked that are living, and youth soon ended, the long life of the unjust.

  2. Michael Bell says

    Never realized until now that Michael Spencer used to stutter. An affliction I have had to endure my entire life. Probably the primary reason why I did not end up in Pastoral ministry.

  3. thatotherjean says

    The thing I like best about Michael Spencer is shown in this post. He was so incredibly, absolutely, forthrightly HUMAN, and honest about it. He was afraid, in the way we are all afraid. He had doubts about. . .well, everything. . .just like the rest of us. He failed; he tried again. He tried to understand his failures, sometimes understood, sometimes not–but he kept to the journey. And he wrote about it in the most moving, elegant, comprehensible prose. If Michael was right, and there is a god who cares for his creatures, I profoundly hope that Michael’s doubts and fears are gone, replaced by joy.

    • Christiane says

      “. . . he kept to the journey”

      good words

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The thing I like best about Michael Spencer is shown in this post. He was so incredibly, absolutely, forthrightly HUMAN, and honest about it.

      He was NOT the Over-Saved, Super-Spiritual Christian whom Angels carry around 24/7 lest he ever dash his foot against a stone. (I’m sure you know the type.)

  4. The “A prayer of lament, missing God” link doesn’t seem to be working

  5. Michael is surely missed! But, dear community, you carry on in a way that does honor to his vision and labors.

  6. “Honesty is such a lonely word,
    everyone is so untrue,
    honesty is hardly ever heard
    and mostly what I need from you.”
    Billy Joel