What are You Going to do With That?

I was in this great facebook discussion with somebody who said, essentially, that historically, belief in one God has always ended with bullies, war mongering, and forcing beliefs on others. (If this is an unfair summary I hope he’ll correct me)
It got me thinking about all the people Jesus praises for having faith, and I have been comparing them in my head to the way we use that idea today. And I think we are sadly lacking.
Today, I am afraid, we use this as just another way to create insiders and outsiders; winners and losers, us and them. Complimenting somebody’s faith can just be a coded, faux-modest way of complimenting somebody for agreeing with us.
The gospels report that Jesus praised a Roman Centurion for his belief that Jesus didn’t need to actually come to his home to heal his son. The Romans were the conquerers. And the Jewish majority weren’t exactly eager to share their faith. I can only assume that the Roman had all manner of disagreements with Jesus world view and beliefs.
Similarly, he promises paradise to one of the men he was crucified with. This was on the basis of an incredibly short conversation which did not address back ground beliefs.
He does not criticize the woman at the well for her Samitarian understanding of the universe, which Jews at the time typically found deplorable and synchrenistic.
These people all did have faith in Jesus. When they saw what he was doing, they held a certain understanding of it. But Jesus’ praise is based on this– what people do with him– not on holding the right set of propositions about the world.
They did have some advantages over us. They actually saw the real man doing miracles. It has to be admitted that there are some levels on which this analogy does not hold.
But there are some levels on which the analogy did hold. We are often like the Pharisees, we give our little tests, we check people out to make sure that there wider understandings connect with our own. Nearly all of us have our version of the laws that people were held to. On one side, the law is “vote Republican.” On the other, it is “Buy fairly traded coffee.”
I believe at least one of those 2 preceeding ideas is a good thing to do. But I am missing the point if I create an in-group of leftie, fair trade Jesus followers. The question wasn’t “Do you worship the Roman pantheon of gods?” It was “Do you believe that I can heal your son from this great distance?” In other words it was, “I am standing before you. What are you going to do with that?”
The question wasn’t, “Do you forsake your Samiritan changes to Jewish law” it was “I am standing before you. What are you going to do with that?” The question wasn’t “Did you crucified by being a good Jew?” It was “I am standing before you. What are you going to do with that?”
And that is, I am sure, how we ought to be judging faith, maybe in others. Certainly in ourselves. Jesus says, “I am standing before you. What are you going to do with that?”


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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