I walked with this guy across the grass, talking about his life and faith. During the course of the conversation, I realized that he had a few very misguided views on important matters. I don't remember what worried me the most, but I do remember beginning to teach him from the Scriptures, beginning with Isaiah 42/Matthew 12: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not..." Just about then, he interrupted me and with enthusiasm in his voice, he said, "You need to meet my friend, the rabbi. There he is - let's go talk to him!"
Off a little ways stood a very tall, elegantly dressed rabbi. He was speaking with someone, quietly and calmly. He was a picture of beauty, standing like a polished onyx stone. In contrast, I was so...not gorgeous. I was so simple, so human, so semi-precious quartz. My Lord came to mind: "he had no beauty or majesty to attract us" (Is 53). The rabbi didn't seem to notice our approach; but all the while, I found myself thinking, "Wow! Oh, no! What am I gonna do? What am I gonna say?"
Just as we reached the place where the rabbi was, I woke up.
I wonder if that red-haired relative isn't myself. Over the years, I've surely had misunderstandings about faith, and yet tend to be very zealous for what little I understand. Could that be the part of me that urges me on with joy and recklessness toward deeper faith? Could that be the same part of me that loves the art of the Hebrew Scriptures and longs to know people who are intimate with those matters? If so, then I have a problem, because the more thoughtful side of me walks anxiously in the awareness that my knowledge is far from comprehensive enough to soundly discuss or defend the good news of Jesus Christ. Maybe this is my fear coming out? Or maybe this is my zeal coming out? Or maybe both are present in this dream.
How should I have responded to my red-headed friend when he invited me to meet the rabbi? What is the origin of this fear? It seems that my struggles with story-writing can serve to shed some light on the matter.
When I write, I don't include a laundry list of details about the process of creating photographs, the main character's breakfast menu, or the colors of every flag waving from the masts of the docked vessels; but I *do* feel that I need to have these facts straight in my mind in order to thoughtfully select the items that I wish to address in the narrative. I may not need to know what clocks looked like in the 1840's, but when I write about the town office, I want to have the full scope of the physical place in my mind, so that all the pieces that I choose to include actually fit together coherently as an accurate (though distilled/abridged) representation.
In fact, every piece of art is like this. Every piece of art is a representation. The artist cannot include all the facets of reality in the artwork (otherwise, we're talking about "real life" and not "art"). The artist must willfully and thoughtfully select which aspects they desire to preserve. Do they wish to capture the depth and shadow of the moment? Perhaps a sculpture would serve well. Do they wish to convey every literal detail of the flower? Perhaps a photograph would be an appropriate medium. Is the mood of the scene most essential? Maybe a painting, an impressionist painting, is the best choice.
My speech is likewise a representation. While I can't convey all truth in one short phrase or conversation, I can have a vast understanding in my heart and mind from which I draw in order to assist the other person in constructing an understanding of the bigger picture. My mind/heart are like a database, from which various reports can be pulled: an outline for high level managers interested in strategy, a detailed mapping of time-sensitive factors for technical managers, and a program history report for internal documentation. The data set remains the same, but the information export and presentation is based on the information need of the moment.
I want my life to operate in this way. I want my heart/soul/mind to be sound in an understanding of the truth. It's only with this base that I feel I can speak with clarity, accuracy, and relevance to the real life needs, questions, and accusations of others.
At the moment, I feel like I am living by a different methodology, a severely limited one. That is, I feel like I know some Bible verses that speak to certain types of people or situations, and that I can pull these from my arsenal as needed. Due to this, every encounter which has the possibility of touching on spiritual matters becomes a sort of pop quiz for me. I come armed with answers and explanations, but I'm always accompanied by fear that I missed something.
This is not how I want to feel about my faith or my interactions with others.
I don't want to live a life of fear and "cheat sheets." Of course lists can be helpful, but only if the larger, contextual structure is present. As a student in school, I only really learned the material when I studied it in its breadth and depth, more concerned with forging an understanding than arming for a one-time exam. I don't want to live as a Christian robot - repeating words that I've learned without understanding what it is that I am saying, much less the reasoning for such statements. I don't want a set of pre-canned DB reports without the data set from which they were generated. I want to live as a Christian who speaks truth out of a heart/soul/mind that knows the truth in and out. I want to speak appropriately from an accurate data set without anxiety. I don't want my conversations or friendships to be a matter of "my performance" but of sincere "expressions of love and truth." I want to live in the light of truth so that my words are a refreshing outpouring of the vast fountain of life within, which is poured out from God through Jesus Christ. I want to be rooted deeper than surface knowledge. I want to be rooted deep in God Himself. I don't want to represent ideas before others - I want to represent the Lord Jesus by His Holy Spirit.
I want my roots to go deep into good, rich soil. I want my branch to cling tightly to the vine. I want to bear good fruit through the Lord, not through my own strength.
So let me study His word more. Let me learn His words so that I might be able to speak the very words that He spoke. Let me become the walking mouthpiece for the message that Jeremiah, Jonah, Paul, Moses, Peter, John, and Jesus spoke. So whether I am speaking with my red-headed relative, the honorable rabbi, my neighbor's children, or my boss, may my words spring from the same well of truth - the word of God. May I speak appropriately, love appropriately, and do all for the glory of God without fear because He has filled my heart with the words of truth and life. Amen.