I Still Haven’t found What I’m Looking For…

The first U2 song I really remember really listening to, the one that grabbed me most significantly at the time, was ‘Í Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’.  It was at a youth group camp in the late 1980’s and I was one of the leaders.  Another leader led the devotions and played this song.  I had heard it before but not really listened to it and now it grabbed me, held me and I wanted to hear it again.  The song speaks into the band member’s experiences within the Christian church and life and of seeking that place where they find a spiritual home, a place to be and belong.  They sing of the various places and forms or styles of faith, worship and of love they moved in and out of but the song speaks of the yearning heart, the sojourner who seeks and journeys into deeper meaning and life.  Perhaps it is a yearning for a deeper experience of the Divine and Sacred in our midst, a spirituality that lifts us above the other things that dominate our lives and squash our hopes and dreams.

I remember extrapolating upon the themes of this song, calling it an anthem for our generation at the end of the 20th century.  I think it remains a song that reflects the yearning of the human heart and cuts across the dominant themes and seductions of contemporary society.  We are dominated by affluence, materialism, violence, individualism, competition and exclusion of that which is different or fearful.  Yet we feel the alienation of life within our being and yearn for something different but don’t know where to look or even what it is that might give us the peace and life we seek.

U2 say, in this song:

I have climbed the highest mountains/I have run through the fields
Only to be with you/Only to be with you

I have run I have crawled/I have scaled these city walls/These city walls
Only to be with you/But I still haven’t found/What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found/What I’m looking for

I have kissed honey lips/Felt the healing in the fingertips
It burned like fire/This burning desire
I have spoken with the tongue of angels/I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night/I was cold as a stone
But I still haven’t found/What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found/What I’m looking for

I believe in the Kingdom come
Then all the colours will bleed into one/Bleed into one
But yes I’m still running
You broke the bonds and you/You loosened the chains
You carried the cross/Of my shame/Oh my shame
You know I believe it/But I still haven’t found/What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found/What I’m looking for (rpt)

I thought of this song when I again when I read a favourite passage from Mark’s Gospel, the reading for this week – Mark 10:17-31.  In this story a man described as a rich young man comes before Jesus and begs of him to tell him what he must do to gain or find eternal life.  Jesus smiles and suggests a few of the 10 commandments.  After all he is a pious young man, a good Jewish fellow.  The young man pushed this suggestion aside: ‘Yeah, Yeah, I know all that and have done it since I was a kid.  All good, all important but it doesn’t cut the mustard.  What do I have to do?’

Jesus looked at the man with a look of love and deep compassion.  He looked into the man and said that there was only one thing he lacked. ‘You must sell all you have, give the money to the poor and come follow me.  Then you will have riches in heaven.’

The man went away sad and distressed because he was very wealthy.  The ensuing conversation between Jesus and the disciples pushed this a little further suggesting that there is a way into deeper life that touches the place of our deepest yearning.  This way is in God and putting God into the primary place within our lives and allowing everything else to flow from there.  Jesus pointed to the man’s wealth as the thing in his life that was most important, that which commanded all his attention, energy, hopes and dreams.  He gave his time and life to growing and protecting his wealth.  His trust in wealth was total.  He wanted his wealth and this other life and hope – he wanted his cake and to eat it too.  Jesus is pretty strong on wealth throughout the gospel because it is one area where people find a deep obstacle to the spiritual life.  People trust in money and material values and hold these things uppermost.  This despite the reality that we find meaning elsewhere.  Wealth brings comfort and even some fun but not meaning, purpose or deep joy.  It is no fun to live in deep poverty but having significant wealth, beyond that which supplies our needs, doesn’t make people any happier.

Jesus’ words are not just about wealth – that is the particular idol the rich man worshipped.  There are many idols that people give their lives to – power, celebrity, hobbies, sex, work, ambition, owning and so on.  These things get in the way of God’s place in our lives.  God brings freedom and liberty to human life.  All other things fall into place when God is given the central dimension in our lives.  It is about our whole being – body, mind and spirit.  God brings balance to our lives by drawing us into a place where we are not obsessed with what we have, can do, want…  God draws us into a community where we can share and find ourselves valued and supported and become the person we truly are.

The man wanted this deeper life and yearned for that which he knew he didn’t have but could not and would not let go of the wealth that held in its grip.  If he was truly happy he wouldn’t be talking to Jesus.  If he had everything he needed in his wealth he wouldn’t be asking Jesus for wisdom.  The man reminds me of the monkey who becomes caught in the hunter’s simple trap.  The hunter can’t catch the monkey because it is too quick so he places a jar with a large bottom and thin neck near a tree and ties it up.  Into the jar he places peanuts and waits quietly until the monkey comes.  It puts its hand into the jar and grabs the nuts but can’t get the closed fist out of the jar and won’t let go of the nuts.  The hunter easily catches the monkey.

I think the rich man is much the same.  In fact most of us are much the same – caught in the trap but won’t let go to receive the freedom and life for which we yearn.  Jesus invites us to let go, trust God and find life in deeper freedom, joy and peace.

By geoffstevenson

Pushing Boundaries – Encountering Grace!

Children and young people can certainly push one’s boundaries.  They seem to relish in testing the boundaries and pushing them as far as they can be pushed!  Adults do it as well but generally with less energy and adventure.

I well remember at youth group many years ago.  It was a large youth group of about 50-60 young people of high school age.  There was a diversity of ages and types of people in the group.  There were the good kids who knew the ropes of church life and fitted in.  They were happy to join in anything and get along.  They were quiet and attentive, giggled and laughed and had fun.  There were others who were less familiar with the ways of the church and questioned some of the things we did, pushed a little but generally fitted in and had fun.  Then there was a group of young guys – they weren’t boys and thought, erroneously, that they were men.  They were somewhat rougher and wilder than the rest.  They were disruptive and somewhat course and in your face.  They were different and something of a challenge!

On one particular Friday night we were gathered in a smaller room for the devotion, which was delivered by one of the leaders.  It was the part of the night that focussed on faith, God and life.  One leader prepared something that was relevant and meaningful for the group and helped them to understand something of God, faith and Jesus.  The simple rules were that they were to be respectful and quiet.  Preferably they were to listen and take it in, digest it and engage with it.  If they weren’t going to listen then we asked they were quiet and at least pretended to listen.

On this particular night there was one young bloke who was a year or so younger than the others in the wilder group of males – he was about 15 and always trying to prove himself to the others.  I can’t remember his name so I’ll call him Dave.  This night he was in full form, full of bravado and cheek, which wore very thin very soon.  He talked through the opening of the talk.  He talked to his mates on either side and was asked to be quiet a couple of times.  He made loud, rude comments and was again asked to be quiet.  In the end I lost it a bit and shouted at him to be quiet, stop being rude… It was probably (definitely!) over the top but it quietened him.  The look on his face said a lot  – shock, anger, hurt.  He held his face in his hands and rested on his knees and said nothing else.  I felt bad.

After the talk when others went into the hall I went over and apologised, saying I was wrong to say what I did the way I did.  I tried to explain why and he only grunted.  After a bit he looked up and I saw he was crying – all the bravado had fallen away.  I kept up the talking and eventually uncovered a story that was very sad and painful.  Dave had a stepfather who beat him up, more-so after drinking too much.  He often hit Dave’s mum and hit Dave regularly.  Sometimes he would come home late, drag Dave out of bed and beat him.  Dave found this group of guys and wandered the streets late at night until after his stepfather had come home and went to bed – he then slipped into bed.  If he was home early Dave often slept in the shed with his dog so the stepfather wouldn’t find him.  My heart melted at this story and we actually changed a whole lot of what we did with these guys.  A young couple opened their home to the boys and invited them to go there and talk on Friday nights and at other times.  It changed how we responded to these people.  We moved from enforcing the rules, erecting barriers and borders and in effect inviting people to take their place either inside or outside the church’s boundaries.  Previously they either got the rules, the culture, the ideology, the expectations and accepted them as is or went their way.  Behaviour and belonging were based on expected orthodoxy of rules, structures, beliefs etc – the barriers we set up.

This and other experiences taught me and other leaders that God and Jesus are about relationships and love and that barriers only keep people from experiencing grace.  Structures and rules are important for order but ought not get in the way of reaching out to people.  God welcomes each of us as we are and where we are at and barriers often stop us from engaging with God’s grace.

I tell this story because I think it reflects the truth in the story that we will read this week in Mark 10:2-16.  Jesus is said to be on the border regions of Jewish territory – beyond the Jordan River.  Here some religious people come to trap him with a theological question.  They want to check his orthodoxy – whether he is with them or against them, on their side or somewhere else.  The particular question revolves around divorce and what the law of Moses (Jewish Law) says and means.  The issue of divorce raises all kinds of questions and feelings in our minds, most of which are probably unrelated to the specific laws they were asking about.  The point here is not so much about divorce but whether Jesus adheres to the orthodox views and agrees with the barriers, the rules, the structures that are in place.  Is Jesus on the side of traditional belief systems or outside it.

In fact Jesus is neither. He offers an answer that is relational and about building relationships of love and trust – that’s what marriage is actually about.  The laws that were often used as a source of injustice, especially towards vulnerable women, were not to become barriers to life, living and God.  The religious leaders wanted strong boundaries and Jesus pushed the boundaries until they served love and relationships and helped people experience God more deeply.

Jesus then received children that people were bringing.  The disciples tried to stop them but Jesus exclaimed that the Reign of God belonged to the littles ones such as these and anyone who wants to be part of God’s Reign must receive it like a little child.  The way of God is to embrace the vulnerable and marginalised and lift them up.  It is to bring the powerful, wealthy and privileged down so that they share their privilege with those on the bottom such that everyone has enough and has a place at God’s table.

In our youth group we had ignorantly accepted the rules, structures, orthodox belief, boundaries… and applied them indiscriminately.  The above experience, along with  others, opened my mind and heart to another way.  Later I would take disruptive kids outside and we’d talk because I finally understood that relationships are the heart of God’s love and mission in the world.  Barriers keep people away whilst relational strategies build community and enable us all to encounter and receive the grace and love of God.  I wonder what in our lives builds barriers to people receiving grace, justice, love, peace and healing?  I wonder how our churches and other organisations are perpetuating division and separation rather than healing, grace, love and community?

By geoffstevenson