Friday, April 30, 2010

Intimacy vs Formalism

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not a formal person. The only time in my life that I actually enjoyed wearing a tie was in high school, which was kind of weird. I don't own a suit, in fact when ever there is a wedding or a funeral I inevitably have to buy dress pants as they never make the cut when I am moving around the world.

I guess it's no secret that Australian culture is also less formal than some other western cultures. This can certainly get Aussies in trouble at times when relating to some Europeans and North Americans. And I am certainly one of the casual Aussies around. I'm not saying that everybody has to be like me, far from it. But I would like to explain in some way why I prefer deep and intimate relationships to formal and distant ones.

There is a bit of a thought process going on that has been latent but recently has risen to the surface. I guess I really have been listening to a lot of Steven Curtis Chapman recently. His musical genius is probably the most significant music that Melody has brought to our marriage (she doesn't listen to as much music as me). Just recently one of his songs hit me square between the eyes.

It's called Beautiful Scars:

Sit here wth me, tell me your story
Even if it breaks my heart
Let me see your scars

Shame will whisper
Although we can't listen
Cos these are the stories
That make us who we are

And I love who you are
And your beautiful scars
Your Beautiful scars
Reminders of the wounded love that has carried us this far
Beautiful scars, turning the marks of our pain into beautiful scars

For us bruised and broken, for us he was forsaken
Our wounded healer, suffered to set us free
See in his hands and his feet

Beautiful scars, beautiful scars
Reminders of the Saviour's love that has carried us this far
Beautiful scars, turning the marks of our pain into beautiful scars

See in his hands and his feet

There is something incredibly intimate about this song. Just to imagine sitting down with Jesus and him telling me the story of the pain and sacrifice he went through to redeem me. To ask to see someone's scars is a very intimate thing to ask. But would Jesus hold back from such a request? No. In fact he invited St Thomas to touch his hands and side, to which St Thomas responded "My Lord and my God!" Jesus invited intimacy. We know that he had very close friendships with all of his disciples. Does this intimacy stop with the disciples though? I don't believe so. The LORD God walked in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden to fellowship with Adam and Eve. He had intimacy with them. Sin broke this intimacy. This broke God's heart. Adam and Eve had to wear clothes to hide their shame. This was also a reminder of the intimacy lost between them and God.

Ever since that fatal day many thousands of years ago the Lord has been working to restore intimacy with us. He allowed formalism at times, as a concession to our weaknesses; we see this in the structure of the tabernacle and temple. But this is not where God was most pleased. He was most pleased when people like King David worshiped with everything that they had. When David danced before the Lord he was naked and unashamed. (I'm not actually advocating a nudist movement here.) The key is that he was unashamed, and sought intimacy with the Lord. We know that David was a "man after God's own heart." Isaiah goes on to prophesy against the formalism of the sacrificial system saying that

"Who ever sacrifices a bull is like one who murders a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who break's a dog's neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig's blood and whoever burns memorial incense like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations."

So it is my theory that God is seeking intimacy with us. Jesus taught us to call him "Abba Father", that means "Daddy." He didn't teach us to call God "Sir" or "Your excellency." Now of course when Jesus taught these things it turned the Jewish world view on its head. I think Jesus would turn the church on its head today and that we have strayed a long way closer to calling our heavenly Father "sir" than "daddy".

To me formality in relationships is the opposite of what Jesus teaches us. Jesus desires intimacy with all of us. He doesn't just desire that we have intimacy with him, but that we also have intimacy with one another. To me formalities get in the way of intimacy, especially when the "professional" nature of a relationship puts up barriers to intimacy. I know there are some that will not agree with me. That's ok. I just wanted to put up my case as to why I do not seek formality, but rather intimacy in my own life.

I remember years ago I told the Lord that I wanted him to "use me." It was as if I was applying for a job. Four years later the Lord said "you want to be used by me, but do you want to know me?" He was telling me that he was not interested in a professional relationship, in giving me a job. He told me that he wanted intimacy with me a thousand times more than anything else. He took away all the things I proposed to do for him, and asked me if that all came crashing down, would I have a relationship of intimacy with him.

I guess that's who I am, the Aussie Sentimental Bloke, who likes intimacy, mateship, loyalty, redback boots, and hates suits and ties, professionalism and formalities. I prefer a good old fashioned yarn over documents in triplicate any day. I am oral, not literate in my approach to the world....