September 8, 2017
This is the sixth post in The Evolving Journey of Faith blog series.
Photos are from a backpacking trip this summer on the Tahoe Rim Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
After a summer hiatus I'm continuing with the evolving faith series. My last post, published at the end of June, was about deconstruction.
In recent years, even before I started this series, I've been writing with more frequency about my faith.
This wasn't planned. It's not like I reached a point where I said, "I want to get religious on the blog". In fact, as the words started to surface in my writing, I was very hesitant to publish them. I held back for a time, because I want my writing to be accessible. I don't want to alienate people with religious words, Christian-ese. I don't want to be a labeled as a "Christian" blogger. But I couldn't not talk about what was going on.
Like with anything in my life, if I'm struggling with something, I'm compelled to write about it. Writing helps me organize my thoughts, find answers, and simply get stuff off my chest. It's a great processing tool for me. In this way, I started to share my faith more on the blog.
The deep irony here is that it was a breaking in parts of my faith, an unraveling of how I understand my tradition and what I've been taught, and the unrelenting need to process my questions, my doubts and uncertainty that caused me to start writing more about my faith.
It was in the slow, painful, and disorientating process of unraveling my faith and identity that the message of the Gospel, the unbelievably good news of Jesus Christ, saved me. But not in the way I understood salvation as a child or how I had been taught through the years what it means to be "saved".
I felt saved from myself, from my ego, from my failure and shame. I felt saved from my "relationship-not-religion" religion. I felt resurrected into new life - into hope, possibility, healing, and restored relationships.
Like I wrote in my fortieth birthday post,
We come into new realizations of self as we grow. And as Christians I think we can have new born-again experiences; significant, foundation-shaking, come-back-to-Jesus moments in our life.
I felt born again. Come to life in Christ. And I'm not ashamed to talk about it, or even too worried that you can't relate, because I'm learning to trust the Spirit in all things. My intention is not to proselytize. My intention is simply to bear witness to the human heart, my heart.
It's so ironic. I used to be afraid off being too explicit with those outside my faith tradition for fear of alienating myself from people; being a weird, exclusive, know-it-all Christian.
These days, I'm afraid to be too explicit with those inside my faith tradition for fear of alienating myself from the group; being a weird, inclusive, asks-too-many-questions Christian.
Where do I belong? Where is it safe to tell my story?
I've been writing more about my faith, in spite of the fear of alienation from both within and without my tradition (but mostly from within), because I can't not write about it. It's the edge of my growth curve.
And for the first time in my 33 years sojourn as a Christian, people are telling me they are exploring, meeting and/or returning to Jesus because of my witness. (Maybe all along I've pointed to Jesus in how I live and what I write. This is just the first time people are telling me about it.)
As a Christian, raised and steeped in an Evangelical tradition, I've been taught the importance of evangelism. But I've never been good at doing that in the narrow "go and tell people about Jesus" sense. There are so many things that don't sit well with me about evangelism, at least the way it's been communicated to me, in both the message and the medium, that I basically shelved that part of my tradition's teaching for years. Even in my young adult years I never carried a torch of evangelistic fervor, like many Evangelical youth.
But the freedom in Christ, that I experienced as a result of the breaking, is a message that bubbles up; effervescent, rising from heart, to mind, to written and spoken word. You don't shelf a bubble. Nor is it a burden you must carry. A bubble is light, it is not heavy and it rises, free of its own accord. It is not something you conjure or cajole into being, it's birthed by the breath of the Spirit.
Do you feel the light-ness? The enlivening energy? Do you feel the hope rising?
I am claiming the truth that I am no longer a slave to fear in how I interpret my own faith, how I discover and mine for the truth. I'm not afraid I’m going to get it wrong, like somehow it depends on me and “if I get it” and “how I get it". It doesn't depend on me. This is the best news yet. This is the gospel.
Nothing can separate me, you, us from the love of God.
God is for us. God is with us. God is in us.
In Jesus, the Divine entered humankind to show us how free we are. Free to live. Free to die. Free to give. Free to love. Free to lose ourselves so we can find ourselves, safe and secure in God.
Free to serve. Free to live for something other than ourselves and yet to fulfill the deepest desires of our heart; belonging, connection, and purpose. Free to share the goodness deposited in us at the moment of our creation as bearers of Divine DNA. Free to share in the life of the Spirit.
We’re free. We belong. We're beloved. As we are. Already. It's done. Jesus tells it like this in the story of the prodigal son, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours."
It's not about belief in a story, affirming a doctrine or creeds. It's not about following a code of moral behavior, it's an awakening to your true identity. (Which is not to say those outward actions don't have a place, but they are not the essence, the distilled truth, of Divine Reality.)
I believe the chief message and work of Christ in the world, was and is, to reveal Divine truth.
It's the awareness of this truth (which is a cosmic reality), and living in this truth, that does the transformative work in our lives. Allowing us to live the freedom and love that is already ours. (I feel like writing that with an exclamation. It's already ours!) The gospel writers called this reality the Kingdom of God.
Imagine our lives, freed from shame and fear, which drive so much of our hurt against self and each other (which you can call sin) if we lived you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.
I believe the Gospel and the message of salvation is multi-faceted. You can interpret both from quite a few angles, and remain well within the boundaries of orthodoxy (if that matters to you). I also believe that how you interpret and live the Gospel and share the message of salvation will be heavily influenced by your tradition and personal experience (recall the tricycle metaphor from this post earlier in the series). And this necessarily includes your stage of life and how you are growing and changing as an individual.
To be very clear, I see the good news differently than I used to. I should hope so. Faith would be a dry and stale thing if we didn't grow through and with it.
Something has been broken in me and is being re-built. Something that’s not going to get put back together in a box, or put back together the way it was, or "the way we always do things". God is too big for that. I don’t need to be afraid of asking questions. I don’t need to be afraid of how the Spirit answers. I don't need to be afraid that I'm expressing it wrong.
I don’t need to be afraid.
My calling is to be a freedom fighter, a torch bearer in dark places, which includes my heart, first and foremost. I want to be a truth seeker and a truth speaker. But most of us, I want to be a lover - of God, creation, and humanity. I want to love and live well.
I don’t need to be afraid of using metaphor and poetry to explain spiritual things, how else do you explain the unexplainable? I don't need to be afraid of not being a "trained" Biblical scholar or theologian, of not having the "approved" words to express what's brewing in my heart.
I don’t need to be afraid of seeing the Bible in new ways, as an enduring, Divinely inspired story of what it means to be human and what it looks like when God enters human reality. I don't need to be afraid to filter the words of the Bible through the cultural context in which it was written, and to abandon the notions of my youth that the Bible is a manual of morals for 21st Century North American living. I don't need to define or defend the Bible as the ultimate authority.
God, the Divine, the Source is the Ultimate authority and Reality and the Bible is to help us understand that Reality, not to be the reality. Who is God? What is God? Who are we? How do we live in relationship with God? How do we live in relationship with self and others based on that awareness? The Bible helps us answers these questions.
I don’t need to be afraid that I’ll get it wrong, when my heart’s desire, the desire given to me by God, is to find and know God, to be in relationship with the Divine.
I don't need to be afraid to be a mystic, philosopher, Christian (disciple of Jesus), spiritual seeker of Truth, Love, Beauty, and Freedom, and I don't need to be afraid to say those things about myself.
I don't need to be afraid that I can't nail down my doctrine like a thesis to a door, or a Christ to a cross. What I believe is a living, growing thing, just like me. Just like the entire universe.
I don’t need to be afraid that I don’t have the answers for everything, that it's not wrapped up in a tidy package of apologetics. I don’t need to afraid of the questions or the seeking.
I don’t need to be afraid of people reading my words and trying to put me in a box - I’m this kind of Christian or that kind of Christian. People thinking I’m out, or I’m in. Depending on your perspective, I'm both. But I'm personally not looking to categorize the world, or people, that way anymore.
I don't need to be afraid, because fundamentally, the rock solid bottom truth in my life is that I believe God’s got this - the world, my family, my heart, my faith. I can trust God completely. I'm loved. I'm safe here. Here on earth. Here in the unknown future. God's got this.
I don’t have all the answers. I don't even have "a lot" of answers. I am open to mystery and ambiguity. This is not the last stand on my faith. I might be wrong about some things (I'm certain I am). I will change my mind and perspective as I grow. But even in error, I don't need to be afraid.
It doesn't depend on me.
Jesus the Christ ushered in a whole new reality and a whole new way of living, moving, and being in the world. I am drawn to his life and teaching and to the experience of Christ living in me in a way that is difficult to explain, but I'll try.
We are created in God's image and we belong to a family, it’s called humanity. We all belong, we are all chosen.
Christ came to show us how to be human. He came to show us our potential as Divine image bearers, to love one another. This is our calling.
In Jesus, God enters humanity, in a specific time and space, breaking into a certain point in human development and consciousness, to show us Reality in a way that we might grasp, if only partially. Or like the apostle Paul says, for now we see in a mirror dimly.
God didn't demand a sacrifice, we demanded a sacrifice. And God was the one who made that sacrifice, to show us the utter futility and error of our ways. It's like God says, "you want blood, I’ll give you blood, my own. I don't want your blood, I want your heart to be true to who I've created you to be" - Divine image bearers, lovers, creators, and healers. Christ came to reveal our hearts, the darkness and the light.
The resurrection is the evidence of God making all things new, completely turning everything on its head. God is restoring all things over and over and over again, both in us and around us, literally in our cells and in the energy of the cosmos. All things are being restored. It's inherent in the design.
Christ came to show us how to live without fear because if all things are being restored we don't need to fear sacrifice, loss, or death. Christ came to show us how to be reconciled to God, and each other, through an awakening of our identity, bringing us into a reality that already exists, a belonging that is already ours.
In Jesus, God shows us how to transform the world, to renew and create, to be ministers of reconciliation because we are gifted with the Spirit of God, the very spirit of the Divine, in us, ministering the Good News (which was the opposite of the "Good News" of the Roman Empire into which Christ was manifest, and all other empires) - you are loved, you are free, you are chosen, you are not condemned. You belong. You always have. Live who you truly are.
The great commission is a call to spread this gospel, which is to say, to spread love like there is no end to the supply, because it's the very source of the universe. God is this love.
This is the greatest news I’ve ever heard and is the news I want to share.
Imagine if we lived this way? What would our families, communities, societies look like? What would our "selves" look like. This is what Jesus shows me. This is what I want to live and the Gospel I want to evangelize.
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