The 4 Spiritual Hungers of Our Time

Image result for hungry baby birds

By Joe LaGuardia

Writing as far back as 1947, O. O. Boggess hits on four spiritual hungers in his article “Your Body, The Temple of the Holy Ghost” that resonate today. Although the article is a bit dated, these hungers still drive us to find meaning and belonging in community; they engage us and create a yearning that leads us to the spiritual; these four hungers drive us to do things that sometimes defy reason–often at our peril.

If we can articulate them, and then focus on fulfilling them in a healthy way, then perhaps these spiritual hungers can make us more effective in fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives. If churches can meet all four needs in equal measure, perhaps our pews may fill too!

The first spiritual hunger is for safety and security. This hunger begins at the very start of life, as our parents nurture us and create a sanctuary within a loving environment. This carries into our adulthood, and we continue to crave stability and predictability. I used to tell people in ministry that I, as a pastor, seek to be predictable, if not perfect — because people find solace in predictability from their leaders!

If trust in the institutions, norms, and surroundings in which we find ourselves diminishe, then fear increases and we begin to do and say things that are unhealthy. We see the world as a hostile, combative place in which we pit ourselves against others, winners and losers. We seek protection at the expense of urgent profession, and we spend more time looking over our shoulder than we do putting our arm around someone else’s shoulder to guide them to the care and love of Jesus Christ.

How many of our churches and institutions have given into fear by trying to satiate this hunger by placing their trust in the ways of worldly culture and weapons of war? Yes, we need to make our institutions and places of worship safe–to do otherwise is nearsighted and naive–but putting processes in place will not ultimately quench this instinctive hunger. Only placing our faith and hope in Christ–the only constant and certainty in our world–will fulfill this yearning.

The Bible warns us against putting a disproportionate amount of faith in our man-made systems. Psalm 44:6 says, “For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me; but thou hast saved us from our foes.” And the prophets warn Israel against making alliances with other nations. God is our source of strength, and the Holy Spirit our source of power. We should not give into the politics of fear.

The second hunger is for companionship. How many of us fall in love with the wrong people because we are searching so diligently for a sense of belonging? Again, we place our trust in each other, as if our love for others will somehow bring a relief to our beating heart once and for all. The old adage is true: There is a Jesus-shaped hole in our heart that only Jesus can fill!

Do not look for love in all the wrong places, and submit to the Holy Spirit so that you’re empowered to live your life so you don’t become the subject of a country song. God makes us for friendship, companionship and love, but only within the bounds of kindred spirits. Set boundaries, create healthy relationships, and communicate with honesty. Trust that the closer you draw to Christ, then the more healthy your relationships with others will prove to be.

The third hunger is for knowledge. God put in us a drive to learn about the world around us, and curiosity should drive us to experience life with a sense of wonder, humility, and awe. We should be open to the Spirit’s movement in the world, and we should anticipate that God will surprise us as we seek to learn new things.

My wife and I are educators, so we commonly tell people that we are life-long learners. We learn in the things we experience, whether they result in blessings or failures. My greatest lessons came about when I saw circumstances as opportunities to grow, and when I’ve been open to learning something new about myself.

Of course, learning something new means being open to changing our minds and our hearts about things–this is critical in growing in knowledge; we cannot remain unchanged throughout our life. Stagnation hinders spiritual growth!

The last hunger is to know God personally. I’ve met countless individuals who know about God, know of God, and have studied a lot about God–but they do not know God personally. They see God as an idea or a worldview or as a lofty, inaccessible ethereal Being who has no time for us as individuals.

If there is one thing that has sustained my faith through the years, it hasn’t been from intense studies of scripture or time spent with other believers at church (though both are life-giving), but with regular, daily time spent abiding in Jesus Christ.

Christ calls us to be his family, and the Holy Spirit indwells within each of us so that we can walk with God on a personal level. Jesus said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-10, 11b).

As I reflect on these four hungers, I can’t help but think of how lopsided we’ve treated some of them. We are gaunt and malnourished in some areas, and we are too fat on others. We teeter too much to one, and neglect others so that we walk around like zombies, half-dead roaming the earth.

Churches would also do well to attend to each hunger, and provide balance in meeting each hunger in community. Its not a matter of having gifts to fill one or two of these hungers, but approaching God so that Jesus nourishes us completely, in the abundance of life he has promised so long ago.

***

Source: O. O. Boggess, “Your Body, The Temple of the Holy Ghost,” in The Holy Spirit (Anderson IN: Warner Press, 1947), pp. 109-115.

Do Pastors Need Monologues?

Image result for johnny carson monologue

By Joe LaGuardia

This past week, I’ve been addicted to a new channel on XM Radio devoted to old Tonight show episodes with Johnny Carson.  I get a kick out of his monologues.

What is most intriguing is the humor and relevance that make monologues so timeless.  The talkshow host infuses current events with satire and comedy.  This lightens the mood of the weightiest news, but it also keeps people informed with what is going on in the world.

And no one is exempt from the monologue.  Politicians and pundits alike get in the cross hairs of hosts, who are equal-opportunity offenders.  Levity is good for the soul, and it is good for the nation.

Churches often shy away from current events and news.  Since most news is divisive, this avoidance gives the illusion that churches are safe spaces where people of diverse backgrounds and political leanings can worship God without having  to confront various opinions.  We get enough biased media on cable television, we don’t need to be bombarded with more on Sunday morning–Give us an hour without political commentary, please, along with some peace and quiet!

Yet, because we avoid politics, our churches come off as irrelevant or, worse, silent concerning the most pressing issues of the day.   Should we Christians, especially in the church, not frame current events and issues from a biblical point of view so as to help our congregations understand them differently?  Should we not create a safe space for dialogue and collaborative–dare I say, “critical thinking”– and meaningful,  conversations that inquire about topics and how they might relate to issues of justice and relevance to the Bible?

Silence is the easy way out, and woe to the pastor who, on the opposite end of the spectrum, creates dissent and divisive speech from the pulpit.  Talk about an issue like that, and she is sure to marginalize at least half her congregation!

Perhaps we need monologues in the church for this very reason.  Think about it: Before the invocation and right after the welcome, we clergy can stand–without hiding behind a pulpit or altar–before our people and provide a different, humorous view of the events of our time.  If we add enough levity, then over time we will build enough trust to touch on sensitive issues too.

Take Jimmy Kimmel Live, for instance.  His monologues are funny and relevant, but after the mass shooting in Las Vegas some time ago, he got deadly serious.  His tears carried our nation’s grief, and his words cut to the heart of our nation’s longing for sensible gun legislation.

I have a feeling that we’re afraid because, if we pastors start monologues, we may fail at times.  These late-night guys have professional writers that write jokes every day; we don’t.  We are not that smart, and writing a sermon is hard enough.  Yet, I think we should consider it.

Our congregations need a good word not always framed in a formal sermon.

We need to speak from the heart and expose Christ’s tears for the world.  We need to push back against instigators who mock tears and we need to expose grief that we hide behind entertainment and celebrity culture.  And, if we don’t do anything else, we at least need to show people that,  sometimes even in church, laughing is still good medicine for the soul.

A Reading Life (prt 13): Being a Steward of Stories

 

By Joe LaGuardia

A Reading Life is a blog series focused on the literature that has shaped my life and call to ministry. Find the introduction here.

You may recall the post in which I said I read voraciously in high school, primarily those books in the school library that intrigued me the most.  Because I read so much of what I wanted, I failed to read books assigned to me by teachers. I went for years without touching those classics that most students read: Hawthorne, Lee, Hemingway, or Twain; but it was not a total loss.

My favorite teachers were eleventh- and twelfth-grade English teachers.

My eleventh grade teacher, Mr. Mitchell, taught American literature. He introduced us to Joseph Campbell’s hero myth and drew out all of his lessons on that premise. We watched movies from Star Wars Episode 5 (the best of all Star Wars movies) to The Crucible and The Witness. We read Native American literature and the poems of Dickinson. He introduced us to the plays of Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesman was memorable.

My British lit teacher, Ms. Brunnel, introduced us to Beowulf and Shakespeare in a way I’ve never read them before. We also read The Canterbury Tales, which played into my religious imagination and expanded my idea of the church as a pilgrim community made up of storytellers and stewards of stories.  She also snuck in Greek mythology, which fascinated me to no end–especially her feminist take on Medea.

What these teachers did differently than the rest was assume that we weren’t going to read outside of class. They made time in class so that we can read the books together. This was brilliant because (1) they assumed correctly–I never read assigned texts at home; and (2) reading together taught me the power of being part of a reading and interpreting community.

Little did I know how this practice of corporate reading would shape my understanding of the Bible and of church.  Church is, after all, a reading and interpreting community, and many books in scripture are meant to be acted out, if not in the reading of it, then in the living of it.  We need to remember that ancient Greek practices of playwright and of rhetoric shaped and informed the writing of the New Testament, which is written in Greek.

Reading literature also payed the bills.  When I graduated seminary, I landed a high-school history teaching position at a local Christian academy. I taught history, so it was an easy fit.  By the third year, however, the school needed a literature teacher and asked me if I was interested. I said yes and put Joseph Campbell, community interpretation, and storytelling to work once again. It was a fun and joyful year; and teaching grammar made me a better, more precise writer.

It was the year I caught up on my reading. I picked up books such as The Old Man and the Sea; The Great Gatsby, and Night. I studied the technical and aesthetic aspects of poetry.  I fell in love all over again with the concise art of short stories.  I read To Kill a Mockingbird, which inspired courage in ministry as it related to race reconciliation; and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by the amazingly moving Maya Angelou.  Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt expressed an immigrant’s point of view of poverty, not to mention McCourt’s unique run-on sentence writing style.

I realize now that both my teachers and my teaching of literature ignited a fondness for reading the Bible and of reading in general.  I believe that people who thrive are those who have mentors who shape their worldview and then, in turn, mentor others.

This is what it means to steward stories– to be a caretaker of those narratives that frame and shape our lives, and to encourage others to articulate the deepest notions of what it means to be human, individually and together.

A reading life is a life in community. It is one in which we learn how to read and interpret the words that build worlds. It is a life that leans upon and into others who have taken great pains to be stewards of stories themselves, for in this, the words we have are those in earthen treasures ready to be explored anew.