Have Courage

“Have courage,” he wrote near the end of the letter he sent me when I was beginning my PhD studies. That is a curious thing to say, I thought when I first read it, but again and again that comment has come to mind at points in which I was confronted with the challenge to conform, to do what everyone else was doing, to try to fit into what I thought was expected.

“Have courage,” Moltmann wrote to me. And I’ve tried to listen to his words, words he has certainly lived by in his own career in the field of theology.

In many small and a few big ways over the last few years I’ve made a shift in what I was doing, or what I dared to say or write, to follow this pattern.

And now, this week, I’m in Tubingen, having some afternoon chats with him. After spending a week in France.

When did I become this person who does these sorts of things? Indeed, I’m not sure I am that person. I’m the guy who left Pasadena, stopped making sense in pursuing a job for wage’s sake, moved back in with my parents. I’m the guy who only left the country twice in his whole life, while all of my friends traveled the world on this excursion or that adventure. I’m the guy who had trouble keeping a car that worked, or finding a job, or… any of the other things that gave a person an identity in this present world.

But, while a lot of that path didn’t make sense to others, or to me at times, there was this drive, this pursuit, this burn to answer the unanswered questions that lay in the depths of my soul. I couldn’t turn from them, I was chased by them, by the shadows and the void and the questions of faith which didn’t find resolution in any books I had read or sermons I had heard. There was more to this life, to this quest, to this way. So I stopped running from them. I turned around and said, “Have at me.”

And so I wandered away from what made sense, not because I had given up, but because I knew there was something more. I stepped in the the darkness and it enveloped me for a while.

But while there I heard whispers and songs and voices of hope crying out from the wilderness. I listened to men who spent their lives in the desert and women who found their voice in secluded convents. I found a burgeoning peace and a developing stillness, and a hope in the Spirit who calls especially in the wilderness, because it is in the wilderness where we are finally free to become the sorts of people Christ has called us to be. Where else will we go, Lord?

Now I’m here. Not because I’m of some great worth. Not because I’m the brightest or the best. I’m still a bit of an outsider. But, I had courage along the way to go the way that I knew the Spirit was pointing. Now I’m not lost, but I’m here in Europe with my beautiful wife, traveling around, enjoying the sights, and the food, and the conversations with good people in France and now in Germany.

I’ve been taking lots of pictures and I’m recording the conversations I’m having with Moltmann. Partly because I’m not sure I entirely believe any of this is real and I want to make sure, later on,it’s not just my overactive imagination.

The reality, though, I guess is that I did have hope. And I acted on this hope to pursue the life Christ was calling me towards, to take those unanswered questions of faith and life and identity and approach finding increasingly less opaque answers. To pursue the depths of our understanding of God’s work and the church by being willing to ask entirely hard and occasionally inappropriate questions. In my hope, I tried to add courage. Indeed, all throughout the Bible we find that it is courage that is the great gift of God for his people. Joshua, David, Elijah, Jesus, Paul, they all exhibited courage in the face of great trials, and it was through their courage they were willing to walk long enough and far enough to finally be at the place where they discovered the fullness of their hope realized in renewed life and victory. The resurrected life comes along the path of hope-filled courage, a courage to wait, a courage to act, a courage to be the person who, in each moment, walks in tune with the Spirit of Life.

All because it is the resurrected life that begins to make sense of the suffering and the terror and the doubt. All that has poured into the new this, shaping and guiding thoughts and questions. It is a place of redemption and renewal.

It is a place, today, of delight and encouragement. Thanks be to God.

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