“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he has planned out for us long ago.” Eph 2:10
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about church, faith, salvation and all of those other complicated things. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I haven’t come to very many conclusions. Basically, after hours of talking and thinking, all that I know is that I think God is love. Last night I came to the conclusion, that that’s enough. I have no idea who gets into heaven, or how. I have no idea why the old testament God seems so different than the new testament God…but apparently are the same God. The thing is, I have all of the generic answers that Christians give to answer hard questions. I don’t understand how a God who is in essence love, could ever allow people to spend eternity in hell, what ever that looks like. Mostly, I have have come to the conclusion that I really don’t know a lot of things. Sometimes I really hate that feeling, like the more I learn, the less I actually know. Society likes us to believe in the concept of progress, of always moving to something better, becoming more “knowledgeable” or more “solid in our faith”. Sometimes I think that is crap. Maybe that is mostly, like I said before, that that isn’t true for me. I’ve been a Christian for a long time, and I think I question and doubt and wrestle now more than ever. And I think that is ok.
I do know that I believe in the saving power of Jesus’ death. I believe in salvation, not from hell or eternal suffering or whatever, but I believe in salvation for today. It’s like this: there is freedom in Jesus because it is through Him that God tells us who we are. There is salvation for today because I know that my identity, my worth and my value is intrinsically tied to God’s love. I am free today because I know that even though I am flawed, I am perfect in God’s eyes. I am saved because I know that there is nothing more I could do to make God love me any more. I experience life because through Jesus, God has shown me what is valuable: relationships, love, beauty, justice, grace, hope. I am saved because I have be shown that true life comes from loving and being loved- not career or material success, not fame, fortune or power. There is salvation in knowing my value has already been decided, that it is not dependent on how much I make of myself, or how I contribute to society. I am free because I have learned that life is not about me and knowing this has opened a whole new world. I am saved because I know that I am made for more than an education, a house purchase, a mortgage and living for the weekend. My value is not related to how much money I make or how many friends I have. I am saved from my sin or flaws or selfishness, whatever you want to call it. And each day I am given a clean slate and new eyes to view the world. I am saved because I have chosen to try to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world and free because I can see the love of Him in my friends, family and strangers. Salvation has come in the form of hope, when the world around me seems to be getting worse and worse, I am believing that He makes all things new- and that I can be a part of that too. Salvation is recognizing the moments where heaven and earth are intersecting and understanding that there can be hell on earth too- and trying to change that.
I know that I have issues with the church- that it seems to be a place where people come to sit and listen to a sermon and leave. I don’t think that is church. So I don’t go. Church is about experiencing life together. Matt asked me last night to think of 5 characteristics or values that I think the church should embody. I said this:
1. It should be lived out of “the least of these” principle. We should recognize that we are all “the least of these” in some capacity and we should understand that there is no “us” and “them” but rather just “we”
2. It should be authentic- in the sense that you can be honest, struggle, disagree, question, doubt. People should be able to be real.
3. It should breathe redemption and new life- knowing that Jesus’ death on the cross overcame hate and death- and that we can be redeemed because of this. We should be agents of redemption too- not “saving souls” but restoring justice, beauty, love
4. A church should live in the conception of learning- from each other, from those outside the community, from children, from the environment, from the bible, from books, from God. Faith is dynamic and is always in motion, movement, change, flux.
5. Inclusion- I have been to churches before where I have felt like an outsider…and no matter the good work a group of people are doing, if a person feels “outside” the clique, there is a problem. In my “ideal” church everyone is welcoming and makes an effort to be inclusive.
Matt has a similar list, but with different titles. We both struggle with the idea of the institutionalized church and probably idealize the early church too much. It just seems that the modern church has become another arm of capitalism and legalism- a terrible combination. It seems that people inside a church are under the impression that they are “heaven bound” and make it their job to “evangelize” to all of the “heathens” outside of their walls. The problem with this conceptualization is that it is inherently “other-ing” ; there becomes an “us” vs. “them”- and sometimes Christians say that they are “evangelizing” out of love, that they don’t want people to spend eternity in hell because they failed to tell them about the “saving power of Jesus Christ”. But, the thing is it seems a little crazy to me that God would choose to do things this way- especially when he came to abolish separation and segregation (jew from gentile, man from woman, slave from master etc..) It seems as if we’ve re-segregated by creating “saved” and “unsaved” -“Christian” and “non-Christian”. I don’t want to disregard the the sacrifice or Jesus- and how it really is lifesaving- for all of the reasons above. Choosing to recognize Christ’s love and forgiveness is the biggest choice I have ever made- I just hate how it separates us. I don’t think I am better than anyone- especially non-Christians. I don’t think I have the answers about heaven and hell. I can fully understand why someone wouldn’t want to let Christ love them (a) it sounds absurd, b) the church has done a lot of bad shit, c) a lot of Christians are hypocritical jerks, d) etc…)
This is the prayer of Saint Francis.
I like it.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
“And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s children should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep his love really is.” Eph 4:17, 18