DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Shades of Mahogany

Written by: on February 15, 2018

“Do you get what you’re hoping for? When you look behind you there’s no open door. What are you hoping for? Do you know?”  – Theme from Mahogany

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.”  – The Rolling Stones

 

In the 1975 movie, Mahogany, (starring the legendary Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, and Anthony Perkins) a young woman gets what she wants and it almost destroys her and everything she holds dear. It’s a lush, dramatic telling of a classic storyline: not everything we dream of is good for us, and need is very different from want.

 

In my experience with evangelical Christianity, this same storyline is used as cautionary reminder of why God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want God to – sometimes the answer is No. That, and millions of other platitudes are offered when people are in pain over the loss of a job, a child, a relationship, or even a church. It makes sense that people outside of this tradition are skeptical. This seems like a convenient way to explain away unanswered prayer. I struggle with this skepticism, but I have also experienced the phenomena that Luhrmann researches in When God Talks Back.[1] By taking an anthropological approach to the study of Vineyard churches, Luhrmann brings a fresh take to the topic of prayer and hearing God speak, particularly in evangelicalism.

 

At this point in my life I struggle to identify myself as an evangelical. I still deeply value Scripture as God-breathed (just maybe not quite so literal as some think); I continue to trust in the death and resurrection of Christ for atonement and redemption (I just think the incarnation offers some pretty big ideas as well); I am sold on the utter duty of Christian activism (I may interpret this a bit more liberally than some from my tradition); and I believe that turning one’s life over to Christ is the way to be in complete relationship with God (I just have an issue with selling fire insurance). So, TECHNICALLY I check all the boxes of Bebbington’s Quadrilateral that classically defines evangelicalism.[2] I just don’t seem to check the boxes in the way a growing number of evangelical traditions seem to require.

 

Luhrmann’s study reminded me, however, of the reason I have not left Christianity – God cares enough to talk back. I’ve mentioned before that I am in a particularly “silent” and dark place in my life. Where I was once like so many whom Luhrmann interviewed – hearing God clearly on a daily basis – I rarely hear more than a whisper these days if I hear anything at all. I can’t even do that thing where, as Luhrmann puts it, I pretend that God is right next to me like my best friend.[3] Because, once you have heard rushing winds, there is no pretending that a ceiling fan is the same thing. The formulas, routines, and practices that once ‘worked’ don’t do it anymore.

 

Rather than discouraging me, however, Luhrmann’s account of the people she met and the conversations she had made me smile and remember the way God tends to give us what we want in the beginning. Like a parent who replaces the pacifier every time her infant cries (even when the baby is the one who threw the pacifier away in the first place), God hovers close by to fulfill needs AND wants so that we know we aren’t alone. Similarly, there comes a time when that child must learn to self-soothe, to find her own way and, eventually, live life without constant attention and help. My Spiritual Director calls this time a place of learning to rely on what God has placed in me; understanding that as I lean into becoming like Christ, I don’t have to ask which direction to go anymore. Frankly, it sucks kind of like paying for my own car insurance sucks. But how will I learn what I know if God never stops fixing my problems for me? God has not left me. God is in me just as God always has been.

 

Does that sound like heresy? Even writing it felt like I was stepping into a place where many from my tradition are not willing to go. But Luhrmann explains that the invitation she noted in her time with Vineyard Christians is, “to experience God as if he[4] were real in the flesh and standing by your side, with love.”[5] If that is truly the invitation of evangelical Christianity (which I believe it is), then am willing to journey places where the tradition of my youth doesn’t travel. If I know God the way I think I do, there are others heading the same direction and I will not be alone.

 

If you know of a tradition or faith community that is willing to walk alongside people like me, let me know. It’s what I want AND what I need.

 

 

                  [1]. T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, (New York: Vintage Books, 2012).

                  [2]. David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 2-17.

                  [3]. Luhrmann, 73.

                  [4]. I suppose I should note here that, in my spiritual formation journey, I have come to avoid using male pronouns as a descriptor of the Creator or the Holy Spirit. Occasionally I will use female pronouns, especially when describing the Holy Spirit, but I have realized that visualizing God as solely a male entity was limiting the intimacy of our relationship.

                  [5]. Luhrmann, 38.

About the Author

Kristin Hamilton

14 responses to “Shades of Mahogany”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Kristin, thanks again for a powerful post. I find it interesting that, like you, many of my colleagues don’t consider themselves evangelicals —for reasons too numerous to list here. There is a deep searching for real and authentic answers to life that was at one time painted in a completely different light. Even the term “authentic” is quickly becoming a cliche. “Because, once you have heard rushing winds, there is no pretending that a ceiling fan is the same thing. The formulas, routines, and practices that once ‘worked’ don’t do it anymore.” Dear God, send the winds!

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Amen, Jim. I don’t recognize the evangelicalism of my youth in most churches that claim the title. The Spirit doesn’t appear to be invited in the same way anymore. One thing that Luhrmann identified that I struggle with is the way church services are divided into “worship” – the singing that calls to the Spirit but is often emotional manipulation – and “teaching” – the pinnacle of the service where God speaks. This separation makes me uneasy.

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    Kristin, I always love your writings. I learn more about who you are. I know that you are true and you have a special relationship with God.
    Please know that God communicates with us in many ways according to our season and maturity. During those isolation moments of not hearing his familiar voice, he uses other communication methods. At times watching the televangelist (yeah I know lol) that person would say a phrase and I would go “YES!” that’s it!!! Or I am having a conversation and that person makes a particular comment and I go “WOW” that’s it!!!!
    God is ever evolving. He wants to develop us to recognize him in all situations. Satan is listening also and he is doing his best to intersect the message (smile).
    Kristin, I believe you are being developed for your next level, therefore, new skills need to be developed to sustain and be victorious. He is still communicating, observe the new signs.
    As far as a community to accept you! You are already in a faith community – the SEVENs. We are not traditional, isn’t that great!

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Thank you Lynda. I AM so grateful for the community of the Sevens! Thank you for reminding me to watch for the signs.

  3. Mary says:

    Thank you for having the courage to continue your story, Kristin.
    “At this point in my life I struggle to identify myself as an evangelical.” Are you familiar with Misio Alliance? They have some great articles on the scandals of evangelicals lately. To me it gets back to definition – evangel – taking the gospel. I conclude with Part 3 or their recent series – why don’t we start by living up to the name?
    Since a major part of this book was on prayer – my prayer is that more faith communities will head in the right direction.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I love Missio Alliance, Mary! I agree that it seems evangelicalism stopped living up to its name. I think we stopped BRINGING the good news and focused only on preaching about fire insurance and how to follow the rules.

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “But how will I learn what I know if God never stops fixing my problems for me? God has not left me. God is in me just as God always has been.”

    When I read this, I thought “So is this a post-modern version of the old FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND poem?”

    Let me share you a story that Dr. Tony Campolo once shared. Years ago, while he was pastoring a church, his wife (a preacher’s daughter) told him “I don’t think I believe in God anymore.”

    This, of course, is not something that most preachers want to hear from their spouses.

    He told her “what are you going to do?” She finally came up with a plan. Every Sunday morning, she would leave early to visit the elderly shut ins of the church. At first, this was just an acceptable “easy out” for a pastor’s wife.

    The elderly would often ask her to read the Bible to them, or watch a church service on TV.

    Many months later, she told Tony… “I just realize that I believe in God again.”

    The point of this story… for some, finding (and feeling) God happens best in the context of community / corporate worship / sound teaching / or a prayer closet. But for others, God makes Himself known WHILE engaging in ministry. By DOING the things God wants us (the church) to do, we BECOME who God wants us to be (James 1:22).

    Maybe FEELING / HEARING God comes later?

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I remember that story, Stu. Helping others is always a way that I feel connection to God. I think that’s why this time of ministry barrenness has been such a stretch for me. I appreciate your encouragement!

  5. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Kristin I appreciate how each of your posts give us more insight into your spiritual journey. Thank you for your transparency and vulnerability! I hope you find a community that is formed by what you outlined in your post!

  6. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    “Because, once you have heard rushing winds, there is no pretending that a ceiling fan is the same thing. The formulas, routines, and practices that once ‘worked’ don’t do it anymore.”
    You’re entire post spoke humbly from your heart, but this statement, I believe, succinctly drives at both the dark place you find yourself in, and your unwillingness to settle for the status quo evangelicalism you find yourself surrounded with.

    So… how far away do you want to move to find this faith community? 😉

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I sometimes wonder, Katy, if my unwillingness to settle for the status quo is what has gotten me in this mess. 🙂 Truthfully though, I know I am not supposed to settle. I once believed I was supposed to be a part of reform. Maybe I’m just on a break from that – who knows?
      As for moving, check with me again after graduation!

  7. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    #metoo “…the reason I have not left Christianity – God cares enough to talk back.”

    Hear, hear: “God is in me just as God always has been.” Rob Bell has an interesting take on God literally being the breath within us, as His name Yahweh suggests. It is a breathy just in its pronunciation as the vowels are not entirely known, and he brings this back to the garden when God breathed life into Adam. Although this is a critical review, this article explains his intriguing -and unbeknownst to me, controversial- perspective. https://thideology.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/nooma-“breathe”-a-review/

    This does not seem far-fetched and I like the concept of every time I take a breath, I am breathing in and through God. Your comment reminded me of this and the profound impact of living as if we all have a piece of God within us designed to give us peace. So I’m going with “no, you are not a heretic.”
    Preach on sister!

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I love that, Jennifer! In private, I often refer to God as Yahweh. (I don’t publicly because I don’t want to be ‘that seminary student’) When I took Hebrew, I learned how important breath is to the language and to the understanding of who God is and how the Spirit works. I love the way you put it – I am breathing in and through God. That’s really beautiful.

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