The bottom fell out.
So much of my life feels like it is on the wrong side of the bars. Perhaps my whole life.
When I was younger, and still “on fire for God,” I was certain that I would make a difference. Lead a church. Plant a ministry among the urban poor. Live a life of radical discipleship. Have joy.
Now, I’m just a failed Christian. Trapped inside the bars. Bars of depression which rob me of joy. Bars of responsibility which limit the choices we can make as a family. Bars related to the choices I have made in my life which have foreclosed avenues that I might have taken at 25. Bars of failed expectations which prevent me from being satisfied with the life I have been given.
What do I do with this? I’m older, and hopefully a bit wiser, and no longer believe that I need to be Mr. Super Radical Christian in order to win God’s favor (something that is unwinnable, since there is no need to win it). But I still have this nagging feeling that I have allowed myself to become imprisoned and it is only myself who forecloses those avenues.
What is worse, I worry that I am building the bars around my wife and my children as well.
Lord Christ, who came to proclaim release to the captives.
Grant me vision to know
the things in our life which have become bars
and the things which are gifts from you.
Break down the bars which separate us from the kingdom you are birthing in this world.
Heal my pain, my sorrow, and my apathy.
Bring life to this old, failed Christian.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
I re-took the Theological World view course, and interestingly enough, am less of everything except Emergent/Postmodern (the same) and Roman Catholic (now #2, interestingly enough). Here is the comparison between the last time (on the left) and now (right):
Roman Catholic: 64-75
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan: 75-71
Classical Liberal: 43-32
Modern Liberal: 50-29
Reformed Evangelical: 32-11
Interestingly enough, it looks like I’ve basically rejected all of modernism (in both it’s liberal and fundamentalist manifestations) in exchange for basically an Ancient (as evidenced by my Roman Catholic score) – Future (Emergent/Postmodern) faith.
Not exactly a surprise, but it’s interesting to see it highlighted in numbers.
I just completed a theological double header: Robert Farrar Capon’s The Fingerprints of God and Rob Bell’s Love Wins.
I will get to both books in a minute, but first let me write a few words about Rob Bell. In short, like Brian McLaren before him, I spent too much time listening to warnings from the heresy hunters (primarily online) regarding his teachings, and so I kept my distance. But also like McLaren, that distance could only survive interacting with his thoughts and becoming completely won over. Brian McLaren was instrumental in helping me swap out my old wineskins for new, more generous ones, and Rob Bell has probably put the finishing touches on the sea change I am convinced God has been working in me for some time with regard to my eschatology.
Honestly, this sea change started as I was drawn to the writings of the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, who introduced me to a vision of God’s grace that resonated deeply with my soul. I grew up in the faith after my conversion as a pretty mainstream Evangelical (note the capital E), with pretty mainstream Evangelical notions of heaven and hell. But the concept that God’s love would be so limited that the vast majority of people would succumb to the fires of hell never really sat very well with me.
And then Michael Spencer pointed me to the teachings of Robert Capon. Michael articulated an irresponsible Grace. A Grace that was so much bigger than the one I had known before. A Grace which was available to EVERYONE – not just some select few, not some elect, not even people who assented to a certain belief system. ALL. EVERYONE. No exceptions. Yes, it is a Grace that can be ignored, if we so choose to engage in our pity party and reject it, but even in ignoring that Grace we cannot completely escape it.
Rob Bell’s and Robert Capon’s books are perfect complements to each other, and it is clear that while so many are condeming Bell as a Universalist (in the “all roads go to the same place” sense of the word), he is clearly more a disciple of Robert Capon in this regard. The two of them do not reject hell, but rather that God is the one who condemns people to it. Neither of them deny heaven, but both assert that we will be quite surprised by everyone who gets there. And they both affirm that the story of salvation began in the opening chapters of God’s story, rather than suddenly appearing when Jesus died on the cross.
I thoroughly enjoyed both books, but if I had only one to recommend to someone starting down this path, it is Bell’s. His retelling of God’s story as a means of encouraging us to let God retell our story really resonated with me, and the second half of his book is really evangelical in the truest sense of the word. This book is for those who have been told that God needs them to get their lives together before they come to him. For those who have been wounded by the church and by people outside of the church. It is for those who really need to hear about a God who has already taken care of everything that could keep them apart from him.
But it’s also for those of us who are quite sure about our place in the Kingdom. For we, like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal, are the ones most likely to engage in the pity party at the end of the age, when we scratch our head at all the riff raff that God has let into his banquet, while we stand outside in our own personal hell.
Newt Gingrich is warning us that if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up in an atheist (or) Islamist country by the time his grandchildren (or, to be personal, my children, since they are about the same age) grow up. Now, not to be snarky here (ok, maybe a little), but I’ve never exactly viewed Newt as the Righteous Leader of the Church. But out of charity, I will give him the benefit of the doubt here.
That being said, my question to the Church (not to Newt) is this: what great things has Christendom done for the world which makes an atheist (I will set aside Islamist as that has exactly 0% chance of happening, despite tea party imaginings otherwise) future something to fear?
Is it the fact that we have turned the faith of the one who stated that how we treat the “least of these who are members of my family” reflected our relationship with himself into one solely focused on getting people into heaven and to hell with how they live on earth?
Or perhaps it’s the fact that we have turned the Gospel into a get rich quick scheme. Or a therapeutic treatment to allow us to live our Best Life Now? Or perhaps even that we’ve turned it into just another consumer good to be purchased by its adherents?
And don’t forget the fact that we have allowed his name to be known more for the people we hate and the stridency of our rhetoric than for the love of a God who would live with us and die on the cross to complete his plan for the forgiveness of every last person ever born.
To be perfectly honest, the church in the era of Christendom has lost its mandate to lead. In many ways, I welcome a future run by just about anyone OTHER than us, so that we, as a church, can stop worrying about how we’re going to prevent someone else from screwing things up (in a different way from how we’ve done it), and can focus once again on how we can be a witness to a screwed up world (there’s a better word for that, also featured in a Dead Milkmen song if you want to Google it, but I will refrain from using it out of respect for those who are already offended by my post). A witness of love, justice, compassion, and hope. Not of fear, anger, and uncertainty.
Oh, I’m going to step into it now.
It’s a good thing nobody reads this blog.
Okay, here I go.
I don’t believe in the God who condemns people to hell simply because they didn’t choose to say the right words before they died. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe in the God who condemns people to hell. Full stop.
Do I deny the existence of hell? I can’t, without being faithless to the witness of the scriptures. But the more God draws me into his grace, the more I suspect that hell will either be lightly populated, temporarily populated, or perhaps not populated at all when all is said and done. And with Robert Farrar Capon, I wonder if in fact hell won’t be the pity party in the midst of the banquet of grace which goes on for all eternity. A pity party that God will frequently interrupt in order to bring his pitiful guests back to the table of celebration. Until all have finally come back.
I don’t believe in the God of correct doctrine. The God who carefully parses our theology, and kicks those who color outside the lines into the cellar (Google “Dead Milkmen, Methodist Coloring Book” for the reference). The God who wants us to choose sides against our fellow brothers and sisters, branding those on the wrong side heretics.
Do I then deny objective truth? Am I so post-modern that I believe that whatever one believes is equally true as long as it is sincerely felt? No, but I have tasted the poison of my own failure enough in my life to realize that any doctrine is simply an approximation of the truth, colored by our own biases and mental wiring. And so I choose to be generous in my understanding of orthodoxy, and assume that you are my sibling in Christ despite all evidence to the contrary.
I don’t believe in the God who chooses some people to be with him and dumps the rest into the fiery furnace. God may in fact be the great predestinator, but if he is, it’s because he predestined everyone to be forgiven on the cross. I also find it remarkable that our response to his free gift could in any way, shape, or form affect the outcome. We’re not all that important in the grand scheme of things.
I don’t believe in a One True Church, unless you are talking about the church catholic, with a small c, which includes the church Catholic, and Orthodox, and liberal Episcopalian, and even Calvinist, among others.
I don’t believe that God’s word, in the form that we have it today (the Bible, for those following along at home), is inerrant. I don’t believe that you need to read the figurative parts of the scripture literally, and the poetic parts of scripture as prose. I do believe that the bible that God has given us is good enough to lead us to him, even if it may have some defects which reflect the cracked vessels he asked to write it.
In the end, I continue to scratch my head that so much of the movement started by the radical, itinerant, rabbi from Nazareth who would hang out with anyone (especially the really bad people) continues to draw lines, choose teams, and pluck specks out of eyes. And sometimes even pluck out entire eyes.
And I continue to be amazed that this very same church, for the most part, misses the fact that the Christ who rose to glory did so by rejecting the very judgement and violence that we so wish he would have meted out instead.
I have something to confess.
I’m a Christian failure.
I worry about just about everything. I am far from Christian when someone cuts me off on the freeway. I can be hot headed at times. I get depressed relatively easily. I don’t pray very much, and when I do, it’s rarely meaningful. I’m not a very good husband a lot of the time. I’m not very patient with my kids. I think I might be with the rich young ruler in walking away sadly if Jesus called me to sell all my stuff. I don’t give enough to the poor, or my church. Sometimes, the pain in the world makes me just want to shut everything off and play Angry Birds.
I think I’m exactly where God wants me.
Listen, I have absolutely no idea how to follow God. I don’t know how to get close to him, although I know many techniques to try. I don’t know how this whole thing is going to turn out at the end of my life. I don’t even know if things are going to get any better with the whole faith experiment I’ve been a part of for the past two decades.
I really, really suck.
And yet, there’s something liberating about coming to terms with who I am. I can stop trying to keep it all together because the fact is, I’m broken and will continue to be. I can stop believing that if I just do the right things, I will get closer to God and become the follower that I’ve wanted to be since college. I can stop pretending that I have any idea whatsoever about how to stop sinning. I can finally give all of the trying over to God.
I can’t fix myself. I also can’t prevent the world from turning my life into its own personal dumping ground. But what I can do is dive into the ocean of grace. My only trust can be in the One who took on all of my garbage (and that of the entire world) on the cross, knowing that we would keep heaping it upon him even after he did it. Not in myself. Not in my spiritual disciplines. Not in the five points to becoming a better fill in the blank.
So I’m a failure. But that just means that I need to bring my sorry, failure self back to the cross on a daily basis, knowing that the One who died there waits for me, completely accepts me, and will carry me through my failures to a future that I cannot perceive.
Amen. Christ have mercy.