Above? Or With?

Hurting people don’t need rules and systems and abstractions.  (And by the way, we are all, every last one of us, hurting people.)  And this is what we have done to Christianity: we have turned it into rules and systems and abstractions.  I am fully aware of the danger of arrogance here, as I say: I am pretty sure that Jesus is on the same page with me here.  This is the great perversion of our age.

We have our special prayers and our formulations for who is on the inside and who is on the outside.  We have our pat answers and our explanations for suffering, our images that explain the way of the world.  To be a little more specific: Say the “sinners prayer” and join the ranks of “real Christians” and praise God for the way he honors free will so much that he is willing to watch his children suffer eternal torment.    We will draw you a little picture of this big gulf and how the cross covers that gap to explain it, and when suffering comes around, behind your back we can suspect that perhaps you’re doing something wrong while to your face we will offer up the idea that God’s plan is so much bigger than us.  (Good thing we learned to be so much better than Job’s friends!)

We need an actual presence.  We need love.  We need a somebody, bigger than the abstractions.

Despite the ways that we have so profoundly perverted the story, despite the fact that the church is perhaps the greatest purveyor of rules, systems, and abstractions, this is not the way it is meant to be.  In fact, the whole bible tells the same story.

In the Garden, Adam and Eve had God’s presence.  Instead, they chose knowledge.  Not wisdom, not intuition, not emotional understanding.  Just knowledge.  And this is where it all fell apart.

And then, there was the law: a crazy labrynth of rules.

And then Jesus came.  In some way, this was a return.  There had been a somebody with man once.  We left.  And so he came back.

And now we have this book, this incredible story, and so often instead, we try to use it to create a system.  We try to distill out the rules.  We try to dodge the personal connections that a narrative might form with us.  Not much different than Adam and Eve ducking out on the personal connection with God, not much different than when a person is suffering, and I approach them.  I am faced with a decision:

I can sit with them, and I can listen, and I can enter into their pain with them.

Or I can hold myself above their pain by trying to explain it away, by offering them trite, or even clever ways of dodging and ditching and denying the hurt…  Even if these work, they are temporary fixes, they short circuit something important.

And even now, as I sit at my computer, I am still just theorizing, still above it in some terrible way.  It is hard to imagine what it would be like to follow Jesus with out any kind of system in place.  I am not sure how to find the line between offering wisdom to the hurting and offering them cheap pity…

What I do know is that I have to try.


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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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