Chapter OneDangerous Wonder
We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid
to whisper "mystery."
Sometimes I think the people to feel saddest for
are people who once knew what profoundness was, but who lost or became numb to the sensation of wonder.
We live in a time when faith is thin, because our aching for what is above and
beyond us has been anaesthetized and our capacity
for wonder reduced to clever tricks.
It was one of those snowfalls you never forget. Millions of
white flakes filled the air, quieting the earth and swallowing
the sounds. The resulting silence was thick with a texture you
My nephew stood in the living room at the opening to our deck,
a stranger to snow, his two years of life about to be altered irrevocably.
His eyes were blank, unaware; his body clueless; his mind about
to be overloaded with the electricity of discovery.
In the dark, Mother had maneuvered herself onto the deck's
two feet of snow to capture the event on video. Dad manned the
sliding door, which had been unlatched for quick opening into
the darkness. Uncle's hands were poised on the switch to light the
deck. And Aunt was ready to lift her nephew into the mysterious
new world of twinkling ice and frozen softness.
The moment arrived.
In a perfectly timed instant the deck lights went on, the camera
started recording, the sliding door swept open, and a two-year-old was
transported from the world he knew to a world he had never seen.
Wonder filled the air.
His eyes stretched wide with astonishment, as though the only
way to apprehend what he was seeing was for his eyes to become
big enough to contain it all. He stood motionless, paralyzed. It was
too much for a two-year-old, too much for an any-year-old (too
often, when a person gets older, the person's "too-much detector"
malfunctions, corroded by busyness and technology). He twitched
and jerked each time a snowflake landed on his face, feeling it tingle
as it was transformed from hostile cold to friendly warmth,
caressing his face with tiny droplets of water. Just behind his large
eyes you could see sparks flying from the crosscurrents of millions
of electric stimuli overwhelming the circuit breakers of his previously
small world. His mind was a confusion of strange, conflicting
realities: white, cold, floating, flying, tingling, electric, landing,
touching, sparkling, melting-causing an overload so great, so
overwhelming, he fell backward-a slow-motion landing in the
billowy whiteness, the snow tenderly embracing him. He had
given up trying to understand snow and had given in to experiencing
It was a moment of wonder.
The more I think about it, it was a moment of dangerous wonder.
My nephew's awe and wonder caused him to surrender to the snow
by falling into it. For a few magical seconds, the danger of snow had
given way to the wonder of snow. For a brief moment my nephew
came face-to-face with life at its fullest. He didn't know whether to
cry or laugh, to be afraid or happy. My nephew experienced what it
must have been like that first moment in Eden when Adam and Eve's
eyes could not comprehend the staggering beauty of God's new creation.
He experienced what it must have been like when the scales
fell from the blind man's eyes and the explosion of color and shapes
bombarded his mind for the first time; when the leper felt a surge of
electricity through his body, his dead and rotting skin suddenly
transformed into the fresh skin of a baby; when the bitter, hopeless
prostitute looked up fully expecting judgment and death and instead
heard the words of forgiveness and life.
What moments! What holy moments! To be in the presence of
God, frightened and amazed at the same time! To feel as if you are
in the presence of Life itself, yet with your soul shaking in both terror
I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in
dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with
meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I
long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with
Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.
If I'm honest, most of my longings have been unfulfilled, and
my living, very untreacherous . until a few years ago.
In 1991, my wife and I spent a week in a L'Arche community
called Daybreak, where the majority of the members of the community
are mentally and physically challenged. Many times during
our stay, people in the community reminded me of little children.
They were childlike. And what surprised me was how much the
L'Arche community taught me about Jesus. I shouldn't have been
surprised. Matthew 18:3 describes an incident in Jesus' life when He
called a little child to come close to Him and then said to the adults
in the audience, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become
like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." It
was true. This wonderful community of people-who had not had
their childlike attributes taken from them-gently guided me back
to the place of danger and wonder.
What would happen if we all took Jesus' advice and "became
like little children"-like my nephew? Is dangerous wonder a possibility
for you and me? I believe it is. Why, then, don't more of us
experience life in this way? Because we allow obstacles to squelch
our wonder and steal our souls.
The Obstacle of Dullness
Episcopal priest Robert Capon named the first obstacle: "We are
in a war between dullness and astonishment." The most critical
issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration
of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality,
or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We
have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good
news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it
is life enhancing. Jesus doesn't change people into wild-eyed radicals
anymore, He changes them into "nice people."
If Christianity is simply about being nice, I'm not interested.
What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of
Christianity that turned the world upside-down? What happened to
the category-smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel
that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered
(by those in power) dangerous? What happened to the kind of
Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke
the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world
uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever He
went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled
with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get
over the grace of God?
I'm ready for a Christianity that "ruins" my life, that captures
my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an
astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and
unpredictable and . well . dangerous. Yes, I want to be "dangerous"
to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered
"dangerous" by our predictable and monotonous culture.
A. W. Tozer said a long time ago, "Culture is putting out the
light in men and women's souls." He was right. Dullness is
more than a religious issue, it is a cultural issue. Our entire culture
has become dull. Dullness is the absence of the light of our
souls. Look around. We have lost the sparkle in our eyes, the
passion in our marriages, the meaning in our work, the joy of
The Bible names our problem: sin. Don't let the word fool
you. Sin is more than turning our backs on God, it is turning our
backs on life! Immorality is much more than adultery and dishonesty,
it is living drab, colorless, dreary, stale, unimaginative
lives. The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say
they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed.
Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness;
He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted
souls. He came to save us from dullness. Our culture is awash in
immorality and drowning in dullness. We have forgotten how to
dance, how to sing, and how to laugh. We have allowed technology
to beat our imaginations into submission and have become
tourists rather than travelers. Television dominates our time,
alters our values, numbs us to life in all of its wildness. We have
been stunted by mediocrity.
The Obstacle of the Dream Stealers
Somewhere along the way we had the child chased out of us. Our
childlikeness is usually snuffed out by people who tell us what wecan't do. They are dream stealers.
My first year of Bible college was a nightmare. Naive, immature,
and wildly enthusiastic about my faith, I quickly became active in
all the college events. My friends and I signed up for the campus talent
show and worked for two months on a very difficult jazz
arrangement of "Moonglow." Everyone who heard us practice was
impressed. The applause in the rehearsal hall was deafening when
we finished tryouts, and we were sure we'd made the performance.
Abruptly, we were called outside by a lanky, harsh-looking man.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but you will not be able to perform tomorrow
night. Your song is too worldly. It sounds too much like a song that
would be sung in a nightclub."
"What?!" I responded. "But we're not in a nightclub, we're at a
"The decision is final," he said and walked away.
Our group was crushed. I never recovered. My enthusiasm was
gone, and I withdrew from all activities. For reasons I still do not
understand, the teachers at this college proudly lived out their roles
as dream stealers.
Jack Canfield tells about a young high school student whose
father was a horse trainer. Because the family had to follow the
horse-racing season, the young boy had to change schools throughout
the year. During his senior year he was asked to write a paper
about what his dreams for the future were. His paper described his
dream of owning a 200-acre horse ranch with stables and tracks,
and a 4,000-square-foot home. He even drew a diagram of the property
and the design of his house. He turned the paper in . and two
days later it came back with an "F" on the front and a note to see
the teacher. After class, the teacher explained to the boy that his
dream was "unrealistic." The teacher said that if the boy rewrote the
paper with a much more realistic dream, he would reconsider the
grade. The boy went home and asked his father what to do. "It's
your decision," said the father. Dad knew this was a very important
decision. The boy kept the paper for a week and then returned it to
his teacher after class. "Here," the boy said, "you can keep the 'F'
and I'll keep my dream."
That teacher was another dream stealer.
During his first year of college, a young man I know became
clinically depressed and decided to take a break from school. The
boy's father, who was quite wealthy, tried to convince him to stay in
school, but to no avail. Instead the young man went to the mission
field, and his life turned around. He went off his anti-depressant
medication and soon decided to follow Christ to a dangerous and
politically unstable country. His mother was thrilled, but the father
went ballistic. Threatening to sue the mission organization, the
father harassed and verbally abused his son to the point of brokenness.
The depression returned.
This father was a dream stealer.
Interestingly, the Bible has a name for religious dream stealers-Pharisees.
A man was blind from birth and Jesus gave him his dream of
sight. The dream-stealing Pharisees did everything to rob that man
of his dream (John 9).
A woman with a questionable reputation poured expensive perfume
on Jesus, and the dream stealers in the room tried to steal from
her the joy of gratitude (Mark 14).
Matthew's gospel (see 12:1-8) also gives us an example. Christ's
disciples, new to the faith, were giddy with the exhilaration of following
Jesus. They were clueless and naive, filled with awe and
wonder. Hungry, they begin to tromp through a field picking food
to eat. Suddenly their reverie is broken by Pharisees yelling, "WHAT
ARE YOU DOING? You are not to work on the Sabbath! Religion is
about rules and regulations and you are acting irresponsibly."
They might as well have said, "Look, religion should not make
you full of life, it should be serious business. Religion is all about
rules and regulations. Learn where the lines are. Now, obey the
Sabbath and behave like the rest of us and we'll give you another
chance." In effect Jesus said to them, "You can have your rules. I'll
keep giving people their dream of an adventurous faith!" Christ is
the Dream Giver who wants us to listen to His dream for us so we
can run like children in the fields of His grace. Trouble is, the fields
are full of obstacles-obstacles that deafen us to God's dreams for
us and keep us from an adventurous faith.
The Obstacle of Predictability
Something happens in a technological society-first identified, by
the way, in 1964 by a French Christian, Jacques Ellul (The
Technological Society, Vintage Press). Ellul predicted that the emergence
of technology would alter the nature of life as we know it,
just as the Industrial Revolution did. First man and nature, then
man and machine, and now, just machine. Technology would
become autonomous, and soon, rather than man controlling
machine, machine would control and define man. Not only would
hamburgers and health care be franchised, but human beings
would be franchised, first by an exterior cloning and then by
He was right. Even genetic cloning is upon us. But cultural cloning
is even more harmful to our souls. It levels human personality and
deifies predictability. When this is the goal, diversity is no longer
recognized as a strength in this culture. Sameness becomes the bottom
Predictability and faith cannot coexist. What characterized
Jesus and His disciples was unpredictability. Jesus was always surprising
the disciples by eating at the wrong houses (those of sinners),
hanging around the wrong people (tax collectors, adulterers,
prostitutes, lepers), and healing people on the wrong day (the
Sabbath). There was no Day Timer[TM], no strategic plan, no mission
statement; there was only the eager anticipation of the present
moment. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to be the same as they were.
His truth should be the same truth that they had spent centuries
taming. But truth is unpredictable.