Tag Archives: love

God is NoWHere…

There is an old story that is often used in sermons. It’s one of those “brilliant Christian student embarrasses the evil snooty professor” type stories. In the story the professor writes “God is Nowhere” on the chalk board. Somewhere by the end of it the clever student rearranges the letters so that it says, “God is Now Here.”

But often it seems to me that both of them miss the boat. Somehow it seems to me that there is a tension between the two notions. Because there are times when I cannot deny the presence of God. There are times when God is so real and vibrant and true that I cannot imagine how anyone could ever deny that God is right here among us. But on the other hand, there are times when I wonder how I could have been so blindly optimistic. I look around at the pain and suffering in the world and I just don’t see how God could be so close. And to be honest I can sometimes get a bit resentful that God seems to be hiding.

But I read something online. It was another of those cheesy sermon illustrations. In this story there is a couple and the husband is dying. And the wife says, “I love you so much, what will I ever do without you.” And the husband replies, “Take that love you feel for me and give it out to the world.”

And suddenly it makes a bit of sense. If God, the Ultimate, the object of ultimate Love, were physically right here with us in the same sense as you and I are sitting in this room, then we would miss out on the very thing that God seems most interested in. God is all about our relationship with God, yes, but also with others.

So, perhaps this absence we often feel from God is God’s way of saying, “Take that love, that hope, and that devotion that you would pour out on me and spread it to everyone you meet.” Because somehow, in some strange way, that is the way that we can best experience the presence of God.


reboot your brain…

So, the other day I got an ad that popped up on my cell phone. It was the first time I’d seen anything like this. And now it does it all the time. It used to be that in the top I’d get a little bug of a notification. But now I get ads that hijack my phone and throw full screen pictures up of games and junk that it wants me to buy. It gets all glitchy, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it because I don’t know which app I installed that is causing the problem.

It looks like I have nothing left to do but to reformat the thing.

Now this is a pain. It means that I will have to rethink everything that I have done with my phone up to this point. I will have to decide which things I used and which I didn’t. I will have to decide which things wasted my time, and which things got in the way of my doing things that were more important. I will have to decide which things were useful and necessary, and which things were just like a lead weight slowing down the proper working order of the phone.

It’s a pain, but really, it’s kind of exciting too. I get to start over. It’s like new year’s eve for my phone.

And it’s got me to thinking, how often might it be useful to do something really similar with our ideas about God?

Because let’s look at the way things have gone from the start. Let’s look at the Christian creation narrative. God creates Adam and then Eve. They walk together with God in the cool of the evening. They have a deep and loving relationship. There is one basic rule. God says, “Don’t eat the fruit from that tree over there.”

Now, I don’t know why. It never made much sense to me why God would bother putting the tree there. I mean, I get the discussions about free will, and that sort of thing. But to me the tree seems like entrapment. But I guess that’s why I’m not God.

Anyway. Like I say, there’s this one rule. Don’t eat that fruit. And then comes this snake. And this snake says, “Aww, come on. One bite won’t hurt.” And Eve says, “Nope. God said don’t eat from the tree. DON’T EVEN TOUCH IT.”

Did you catch that? God never said not to touch the tree. Eve has added a rule to the rule.

But before we string her up for being such an idiot. I have to say, I think that there wasn’t much wrong with her extra rule. Given that she didn’t eat the fruit until this snake talked her into it, it would seem that her rule was helping her to stay away from the tree. You know, it had fruit that was pleasing to the eye and everything. Probably not a bad idea to just draw that line a little farther back and to decide, “yep…better not even touch that tree.” I mean if you’re an alcoholic, you don’t hang out in the bar.

So we don’t really have a huge problem yet, but then as we continue to read on we see people constantly adding one more rule to the rule. Installing one more app on the phone, so-to-speak, until we find something like 614 rules about the rules. And things start to get a bit glitchy.

So, God comes along in the form of Jesus. And Jesus tells us, “Look, you’re getting off base. Let’s reformat this thing. And here is what you need to reinstall. Love. That’s your starting point, and if you have to start over again, it always comes back to Love.”

So my challenge for you and for me and for all of us is to face the anxiety of a reformat. Take your images, take your ideas, take the things that you have been wasting time with and that have been getting in your way and delete them. It is terrifying. It will cause a great deal of anxiety. But ultimately it is freedom. It will set you free from the things that keep your faith from functioning the way it was designed to function. Hit the reset. You’ll be glad you did.

Love,

-Andrew


The Grammar of the Reformation…

On October 31, 1517, a young man named Martin Luther wrote a letter. The purpose of this letter was to speak against the selling of indulgences. In other words, Luther felt that it was wrong for the church to ask people to give them money for a certificate to show that they bought their deceased loved ones way out of purgatory. Obviously this was a very unbiblical practice, and Luther courageously asked the hierarchy of his church whether they might stop doing this.

Enclosed in this letter Luther added a copy of a writing called, “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Luther’s purpose in writing this was to offer scholarly reasons why this practice ought to end. However, those who held those positions of power were not impressed. They did not feel that it was Luther’s place to challenge the practices of the church. And as Robert Wilson said, “Most people live in a myth and grow violently angry if anyone dares tell them the truth about themselves.” When Luther held up his mirror to the corrupt leaders of the church, they grew violently angry with him.

Copies of Luther’s Disputation were translated and circulated widely. This Disputation came to be known as Luther’s “95 Theses.” A legend formed around the writing that Luther had nailed it to the door of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. The writing sparked what came to be known as the Protestant Reformation. In 1520 Luther was brought before Pope Leo X and in 1521 he came before the Roman Emperor Charles V. In both accounts Luther refused to recant. He stood in the face of these men who were entrenched in their clout and power and refused to submit to anything other than his conscience and understanding of God. He was excommunicated from the church and declared an outlaw of the state.

Now, as you go out into some circles of church life today you may hear people every Halloween saying, “Happy Reformation Day!” This is the history of why you may hear that. It is not exactly a happy day, but many Christians do choose to commemorate Luther’s brave challenge of the established order of the church on October 31st.

The reformation is a period in church history in which the church had to correct itself to get back into line with the teachings of Jesus. It is something that we ought to appreciate. But there is one danger. Often we look back at this time and we say that after the Reformation, we became “Reformed.” And we can draw new lines and build new walls that establish a wholly new hierarchy. I consider the reformation to be for the corporate church something like our own individual sanctification. It is not something that should ever end with “-ed.” It ought never be put into past tense. Instead it ought to always end with “-ing.” We ought to always be becoming, but never arriving.

When we put the reformation of the church in the past tense and say that we are now “reformed” then we allow ourselves to stagnate. We establish a new hierarchy that centers around arguments that are on the cutting edge of the 1500’s. This is true of both sides of the coin when it comes to “reformed” or non-“reformed” theology. May we always be reforming. May our reformation never be complete. And may we celebrate the corrections that the church has made while knowing that we will always have more ways in which we need to change.

If each individual making up the church is constantly growing into a more Christ-like person, then it stands to reason that the church will have to constantly grow into a more Christ-like group. Sometimes that means embracing the past. Sometimes that means jettisoning things that we have made more important that the one thing we are told to cling to. Love God, Love each other.

Love is the Word.  Believe. Amen.


Some Thoughts on Church Discipline…

Okay, I know I’m a bit late.  The Driscoll hysteria has passed.  But I was asked in a final exam for one of my seminary classes about the concept of Church Discipline.  And having been on the pointy end of that stick myself in the last year or so, I thought I might share my two cents here as well.

There are many varying views of the subject, and, in my opinion, there are many abuses of the idea going around in the contemporary church.  Let us begin with the words most commonly used to describe how we ought to carry out discipline in the church.  Those words are the words of Jesus in Matthew 18.  Jesus says,

“If your brother or sister sins,go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

So, what we see here is that Jesus tells us a sort of hierarchy for how to carry out Church Discipline.  We first go individually.  Then we take one or two others.  Then we tell it to the church.  Then we treat them as the pagan or the tax collector.  In contemporary church circles – specifically that of the neo-reformed movement exemplified by Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill in Seattle – this has come to mean that we ought to call people out harshly.  If that doesn’t work, we send in the church’s elders in to beat them up a bit tag-team style.  If that doesn’t work we kick them out of the church and tell anyone who is a member that they ought not talk to them anymore.

Instead of this scenario, I think we ought to approach this subject by taking these verses in their context.  Prior to Jesus speaking these words he had been talking about who will be first in the Kingdom.  He says that children will be first.  He says that whoever wants to be first in the Kingdom ought to become like a child.  And he then continues to say that anyone who causes one of these children to stumble, it would be better for that one if they had never been born.  Then he further gives a parable that illustrates God’s love for those children.  He shows God pursuing the lost child like a shepherd pursues the one lost sheep while leaving behind the 99 to do so.

Then he gives the statement of “church discipline” as a way of preventing abuse by religious leaders.  He lays out a way of dealing with those who “offend” by doing it in a loving and kind way.  After laying out the loving way to deal with “one who sins against you” Peter – apparently looking for a loophole – asks, “how many times do I have to forgive one who sins against me?”  And Jesus answers by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant.  In this parable a servant of the King is forgiven an unpayable debt.  The servant then goes out and demands payment by one of his fellow servants for a minor debt.  The unmerciful servant is then punished because he would not forgive little when he had been forgiven much.

So, the idea of Church Discipline, in this light, consists of lovingly and privately calling out the offense.  Then taking a few people as witnesses if that doesn’t work.  If that doesn’t work, we then involve the church community.  If that doesn’t work we treat them as tax collectors and pagans.  However, this doesn’t mean we kick them out and avoid all contact.  Instead we treat them the way Jesus treated tax collectors and pagans.  We leave the 99 and pursue the 1 who is astray.  We love them and love them and love them no matter what.  We have dinner at their house.  We ask them to change their ways.  But we also never stop inviting them into community.  In no way do we shun them until they get on board with our way.  It is not our job to convict of sin.  That is the job of the Spirit.  It is our job to show love and forgiveness.  And if we must call out sin, then we do so in a loving and forgiving and understanding way.

So, instead of kicking people out who disagree or offend, we love them back into the group.  One of the greatest offenses that Christianity has committed against a dying and lost world is that we have systematically removed ourselves from society by segregating ourselves, and by kicking out anyone who doesn’t fit the mold.  If we follow the model of Jesus then we will draw people to us.  Without compromising Truth, we can at the same time not compromise Love.  Our witness to the world consists in our being the type of Christians who the watching world will see and say, “Wow…look at how they love…I need some of that!”  Instead I’m afraid that they know us by who and what we oppose.  When Jesus ascended into heaven he left us one final legacy.  He said that the world would know we are his and that he was sent by God if we love one another.  At one time the Roman historian Tertullian said, “See how these Christians love one another!”  When you ask someone today what they think of when they think of Christians, that is not the first answer you will get!

So, the challenge I issue today to you and to myself is to make an intentional effort to love someone you disagree with.  Find someone who has harmed you and make an effort to forgive them.  Make every effort to reconcile with them.  And even if you can’t, make every effort to let go of the hate.  Make every effort to be the sort of person who others will look at and say, “Wow!  Look how that person loves!”

Love is the Word,

Believe,

-a


Are We Still Waiting?

Peter Rollins tells a parable in his book The Orthodox Heretic.  In this story Jesus finally makes his second coming.  When he does he goes largely unnoticed.  Finally he decides to approach a group of faithful people who have still followed his teachings.  He goes into a small church where a group of people are weeping over the suffering in the world and working day and night to bring aid and an end to this suffering.

When Jesus goes in to this church and reveals himself to them the people there greet him warmly.  There is much excitement at his return, but the people are left with one nagging question.  They approach Jesus and say, “Lord, we have but one question left to ask of you.”  Jesus, knowing already what their question is, allows them to ask.  They say, “Lord, we have been waiting and watching for your return for many many years.  We have this one last question for you.  When will you arrive?

Upon hearing this question Jesus simply smiles, and then settles in to working with the people in this church on their efforts and tears to rid the world of suffering.

There is a very real sense in which we must face the teachings of this parable.  We have to understand that there is a sense in which everyone who is right here with us is, in some profound way, still yet to come.  In some way we have to recognize the danger we have in assuming that we fully grasp anyone.  This is especially dangerous when we think we fully grasp Jesus.

In many Christian traditions we speak of salvation and the Kingdom as the “already…but not yet.”  This is a beautiful tension to live in.  But often this same way of thinking does not carry over into our understanding of Jesus.  It does not carry over into our understanding of God.  We begin to think of them as a series of propositions that we can affirm or deny, and if we can just do that with just the right phraseology then we will somehow grasp God in a more perfect way.  So often we replace moral legalism with a legalism of right belief.  It is this sort of legalism that Rollins so eloquently counters with this parable.

But there is an opposite danger.  When there is a tension to be lived in, then we can easily come down on either side, throw stones at those opposite us, and pretend to ourselves that our static position is somehow the tension where the Truth lies.  In other words, if I come down on the side of the “not yet” then I miss the truth of the “already” and vice versa.

In The Stages of Life Carl Jung says it this way,

“Whoever protects himself against what is new and strange and regresses to the past falls into the same neurotic condition as the man who identifies himself with the new and runs away from the past.  The only difference is that the one has estranged himself from the past and the other from the future.  In principle both are doing the same thing: they are reinforcing their narrow range of consciousness instead of shattering it in the tension of opposites and building up a state of wider and higher consciousness.”

I say all of that in order to say this…

My family has just begun exploring the liturgy of advent.  For those who, like me, didn’t grow up knowing too much about advent, it is basically a way of experiencing the waiting for Christ to come.  It is the source of all those beautiful minor key Christmas songs like “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”  It speaks of the pangs of longing for a Savior who will come and set things right.

But then comes Christmas.  And it is in Christmas that we celebrate the coming of that Savior.  In advent we allow ourselves to experience the “not yet” but in Christmas we celebrate the “already.”  It’s so easy to lose that in all of the things that Christmas has become.  But leaving aside for now the critique of modern consumerism as it relates to Christmas, I think this is a far more insidious danger that lurks beneath the surface of our holiday celebrations.  We take this one day, and even if we do it right – even if we truly celebrate the joyful news that in Jesus, God became one of us – we somehow lose it by a day or two later.

We go right back to waiting.

I do not ever want to be guilty of saying we shouldn’t think of God as “yet to come.”  Even the Bible teaches that “no one has ever seen God.”  It is an integral part of the Christian faith to acknowledge the fact that we long for the full realization of God’s presence.  There is only the thinnest whisper of a veil between us and God, but that whisper is at the exact same time an iron curtain that is light-years thick.  I do not wish to downplay that.  The health-wealth-prosperity “preachers” will tell you till they are blue in the face that God is so present among us that it must be your fault if you aren’t driving a BMW right now.  That teaching is a lie.

But let’s not be so cynical that we throw away the truth that makes that lie seem real.

Because we can very easily go the other way.  We can spend a day celebrating the arrival of Jesus.  But then we have placed it in a place in our minds where it is so far removed from our lives that it sits right there on the shelf beside of Santa Claus.  It’s a nice story we tell once a year.  There are some shepherds, and there is a baby in a feed-box.  There’s a pregnant lady with a blue thing on her head sitting on a donkey with a very confused carpenter leading her to Bethlehem.

It’s a cute story, but if it’s just something that happened a few thousand years ago in the middle east then I’d rather watch “A Christmas Story.”

It is only in so far as we don’t really believe it that we treat it as a history lesson.  Of course there is a place for understanding that there was a historical person named Jesus.  He was born in a barn in Bethlehem to a teenage girl named Mary and her very confused but supportive teenage husband Joseph.

But we make a fatal leap.

We jump straight from that history into the waiting for the second coming.  And in doing so we treat this entire life as a giant waiting room.  There’s boring muzac on the speakers.  There’s some dull and lifeless conversation between some people who aren’t too introverted to avoid eye contact with strangers.   But the whole point is the waiting for something better (or possibly worse) than what we’re in right now.

So, the point of all of this is to ask you, and me, and everyone else to please, don’t lose track of the point of the story.  It is important to see that this thing happened historically sometime two thousand years ago.  But the point is not the story.  The point is that the baby who was born in that feed-box grew up and said, “I have come to preach the good news to the poor…”  That baby was God come to set things right.  That baby grew into a man who taught us to love each other, and who said that the Kingdom is already here!

If that doesn’t make you want to grab the person next to you by the collar and scream, “Hey!  Have you heard this?!?!” Then maybe the problem is that we keep moving from waiting to waiting, and skipping out on the point of the waiting.  Christmas is about New Year’s!  It is about the coming of the one who starts things over fresh!  We don’t have to wait till next year to start living like the Kingdom is here.  The Kingdom is here!  God is with us.  Love wins.  Death loses.

Now, if you want a New Year’s resolution, let it be this:  Live the rest of your life as if you believe this is true.  And when you see suffering and pain and disease and sadness; expose those liars for what they are!  Work and weep and sweat and pray.  This is your sermon when you go out and preach the good news to the poor.  The Savior has come, and is here.  That pain is real, but when it tells you it will always be, it is a liar.

Love is the Word.

Believe.

Love,

-A


Scripture, perception, and walking in through the out door…

There are many facts which are up for debate.  But one thing is absolutely certain.

Often the way my mind works is a little off…

Now that we all agree to this obvious point, let me explain why I bring that up.

I work in a restaurant.  It is a corporate chain restaurant which will remain nameless.  I stand in front of the grill all night.  Recently the fine folks in the corporate headquarters have begun trying to keep a better handle on the workings of the restaurant.  For example, we aren’t allowed to have drinks on the cook line.  Instead we get 5 oz portions in little sno-cone cups, then wash our hands and return to the line.

Brilliant.

Anyway, another of these rules is that they have decided to post “entrance” and “exit” on the appropriate side of the double doors leading from the front-of-house to the back-of-house.  You know…because no one knows that foot traffic moves like car traffic, and you keep to the right side of your path so you don’t slam into anyone…especially when going through double doors carrying large trays of food.

Okay.  So, far we are at the level of mildly insulting and annoying.

But here’s where my mental issues come into play.  When you start toying around with the idea of perception and preconceived notions, even with the clearly labeled doors, this “entrance” and “exit” conundrum gets a lot weirder.  Say for a minute that you’ve never driven a car.  Say you hire two people who come from a foreign country that has no protocol for which side of the pathway to walk on.  We’ll say one of them is hired to work in the kitchen, and one is hired to work on the waitstaff.

Imagine for a minute you are the person hired to work on the waitstaff.  When you approach double doors that go between the kitchen and the dining room – one saying “entrance” and one saying “exit” – how does your job affect your perception?  Are you exiting the kitchen into the dining room?  Or do you go through the door that says “entrance” because in your mind the dining room is the main part of the restaurant…therefore you are entering the dining room?  And the same with the kitchen staff.  If you walk from the dining room into the kitchen, do you go through the “entrance” door because you are entering the kitchen?  Or do you walk through the “exit” door, because you are leaving the dining room?

If we strip away the cultural context, we are still left with our own personal perception of what is most important, where the priority lies, and into what place we personally find ourselves fitting.

The same thing happens when we go to interpret scripture.

Often we hear people say that the Bible constantly contradicts itself.  They insist that the Bible simply cannot be trusted because of these obvious contradictions.  See Isaac Azimov’s guide to the Bible for a million examples.

Others insist that any contradictions in the Bible are merely apparent.  In other words, if we read one part of the Bible that seems to contradict another part, then we must be misinterpreting the contradictory passage.

That’s fair.

But there’s a problem…

The “all contradictions are merely apparent” faction tends to explain the contradictions with a somewhat misleading phrase.  They say, “scripture interprets scripture.”  To my odd little mind this seems a bit like saying that you can use the entrance door to interpret how you interact with the exit door.  In other words; it works, but only as long as everyone agrees to the same set of rules ahead of time.

And this is where the factions of the Church come into play.

We each come to the scriptures with our own agenda, preconceptions, biases, and preferences.  So, one group favors the Biblical concept of Grace over works.  They favor the idea of Christ as substitute for each of us on the cross.  They favor the idea of the depravity and utter helplessness of humanity against our own broken nature.  Each of these concepts has a very strong Biblical basis.  But then we see another group which favors the Biblical concept that “faith without works is dead.”  They understand the Bible to be a revolutionary book calling for social justice, non-violence, and equality for every living being.  They understand Christ’s death and resurrection as the ultimate victory over sin and death.  Each of these concepts also has a strong Biblical basis.

But then we treat them as mutually exclusive.

So, what if we are finding a group of like minded people who are reading the text in the same way as us?  What if we are having conversations with them to determine the best way to explain away the passages of scripture that contradict our agreed upon conclusions?  Of course we would never say as much.  But it seems to me like this might  be exactly what is happening.

But I would argue that this is counter productive.  The humble, Christian way of looking at this would be to open a space for conversation.  Paul teaches that we can come to a place where we choose a teacher and exhort them above the material they are teaching.  In the context, he tells the Corinthian church not to distinguish between the theology of himself versus a man named Apollos.  He says it is God who makes the faith grow.  And this applies to the debates between Calvin and Armenius, the Pope and Luther, Bell and Driscoll, Piper and McLaren.  What if the question really comes down to whether we are “front of house” or “back of house”?

What if the entire point is for us to wrestle through these questions together?

And what if the sacrifice of Christ…whether is be substitutionary atonement or victory over death and hell…what if that is what actually binds us together?

I argue passionately that it is this very sacrifice…it is this very Love…that binds us all together on this journey of faith.  And it is to our own peril that we lose the conversation in favor of the debate.  It is our own throats that we cut with our swords of truth.

It is my prayer that we can enter into a conversation.  It is my prayer that we can walk together in this journey.  And let those who favor Calvin, and those who favor Armenius, and those who favor Ekhart, and those who favor Schaeffer…let us all take our place in the Body of Christ.  A pinky toe and an ear lobe are equally important, but it is rarely necessary for them to walk side-by side.  But neither the pinky toe nor the ear lobe will ever get more than a few feet if they don’t agree to be in different places, and then move ahead together.

This is my prayer for the Church Universal.  I pray that we walk this path together whenever possible.  And I pray that we separate while maintaining unity.  Let the Love of God be the sinew that binds the bones in the Body of Christ.

Love,

-a


Uniformity vs unity…

There’s a story we tell in churches.  Maybe not in all churches, but in most.

It’s a story about belief.

Often we stand together, and we read off a list of things we believe.  We read an apostle’s creed.  We read puritan prayers.  We run down lists of propositions, and we nod our heads and affirm each item on the list.

Now, I’m not saying that these creeds and prayers and lists are bad.  It is deeply important for us to take stock of what we believe.  We are dealing with infinity.  We are dealing with a being so vast that every aspect of the universe was created by this being’s word.  We are dealing with a being so intimate that you cannot split open even the tiniest molecule without this being’s love rushing over you like the ocean’s crashing waves.  Without some sort of system of knowledge to make some sense of this, we’d never be able to digest any of it.

But there’s a danger.

Too often we take these propositions – we take these tools – and we make them into a yard stick by which we can measure our faith.  We take these propositions and we tell everyone, “You need to agree to each of these, or else you are not fully a part of the club.”

And so we play a game.

In order to avoid being excluded from the club, we stand together and we say, “I affirm this belief.  I believe each point on this list.”  But in our minds we might actually struggle with some of it.  Maybe we even disbelieve some of it completely.  And most shockingly…maybe we’re not alone.  What if there is a whole lineage of Christians who have wrestled with the delicate balance between doubt and faith?  What if even your pastor or your worship leader or your Sunday school teacher have questions and doubts?  What if they even sit down and discuss those doubts with each other, and it is a beautiful and deep part of their Christian life?  But then they stand up on Sunday morning and say, “I affirm these beliefs.”  Doesn’t that in some way reduce faith?

Jacob’s name is changed to Israel because he wrestled with God, and with men and prevailed.  And then Israel becomes the name of God’s chosen people.  God chose a people who would wrestle, who would ask questions, who would push back.  This is what a relationship is like.

So in the church when we use our doctrines and creeds as ways of saying, “I’m in because I will intellectually affirm each point (whether I truly believe it in my heart or not), and you’re out because you doubt,” then we do a disservice to God.  We dissect God into tiny parts leaving only the corpse of an idol in God’s place.  Meanwhile the world looks at these parts of God that we are holding up and saying, “you need to worship this,” and they say, “Why?  You’re only showing me a corpse.”

In reality we are talking about a God that won’t fit inside a creed or a doctrine.  Our creeds and doctrines tell us a lot about who God is, but they are not God themselves.  The menu is not the meal.  The map is not the road.  So we can stand together, link arms, recite our creeds, and talk about how this is unity.  We can exclude anyone who does not get on board with that so-called unity.  But we are not talking about unity anymore.  When we deny our real and honest questions, doubts, and disagreements, we have moved past unity and into uniformity.  When you put on the uniform it doesn’t matter what’s inside.  We all look alike on the outside, and we keep any disagreement carefully concealed.

If this is faith, you can have my share.  If this is Christianity, I’ll pass.

But it isn’t.  Faith is a vibrant, living, breathing thing.  Christianity is a relationship.  There has never been a lasting relationship that had no room for doubts and questions.  There has never been a true relationship that couldn’t survive some real, honest discussion.  In fact there has never been a true relationship that could survive without it.

So, I ask my fellow Christians – and beyond that, I ask my fellow humans – can we please keep our doctrines and beliefs where they belong?  I would love to sit down with anyone and have a conversation that says, “In my experience, and to my understanding, this is how God seems to be…” Then we can offer feedback to each other.  But can we please stop picking up those beliefs and smashing them over each other’s heads?

And specifically to my Christian family…

Can we learn the difference between unity and uniformity?  The world does not need to see a band of robots swallowing orders and towing the party line.  If they want that, they can get into politics.  What the world needs to see is real people being real.  They need to see a different sort of society in which we can disagree.  We can even disagree about some very fundamental things.  But those disagreements do not have to be a source of division.  Maybe we can maintain our disagreements in love.  We can disagree without saying, “You are no longer welcome here” or “You have no more valid opinions because we disagree on this.”

My heart breaks with longing for a time in which we can disagree with love and respect because we know that God is bigger than our ideas about God.  Grace is stronger than legalism.  Love is stronger than hate.  And as Rob Bell says, “The Good News is better than that.”

I love you,

-A

P.s.- as usual, I am indebted to Peter Rollins for much of my thought here. If any of this strikes you, I’d suggest you check him out asap. http://www.peterrollins.net