Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Blessing of Complexity

It hit me the other day, as I was reviewing a thematic bible study called Kerygma, that the concept of God in the Bible is anything but static.  In fact what hit me is an odd paradox.  That the more the people got to know God, the less they thought they knew God.  In short, the more confusing and bewildering God and God's ways became.

In the beginning it was so easy.  Be good, prosper.  Be bad, suffer.  God is on your side, you win.  God isn't on your side?  You lose. Faith was all a matter of nice little formulas.  A + B = C.  But the problem was that the formula's didn't work. at least not all the time.  Evil Kings prospered and Good Kings got killed by the enemy.  Bad things happened to good people.  It got confusing!  Just ask Job!  And every time people thought they had it figured out, something happened to make it abundantly clear that they did not.

Alas!  And so confusing!  Anger!  Frustration!  All those things that occur when we don't "get it" surface in the pages of scripture.  It is interesting however.  The more we realize that we can't figure it all out, that we can't put God in a box, or define God with a formula, the bigger God gets.

Or maybe it is better to say the more we understand how big God is. As Brennan Manning says, "the more complex and emotional the image of God becomes in the Bible the bigger He grows, and the more we approach the mystery of His indefinability."

There are times when I wished the formulas worked.  That A + B always equaled C.  When a really good guy (Go with God Mikey O'Conner) dies of cancer, when an oil well explodes and pollutes an ocean, when crackpots get to pretend the nonsense they spout is really news (Glen and Sean), when the rich get their way and the poor get poorer, when a really nice person is afflicted with mental illness.  I wish it worked the way I think it should  -  God?  Why don't you make it so?!

But in the end I am rather glad I don't get my way.  I would be toast!  And in the end, I am glad that there is one thing clear about God.  God loves us.  God gave us the most powerful image possible, the cross, to make sure we understand one unalterable truth.  That we are loved with a ferocious love.  A love that forgives and heals.  A love that allows us to be open, fearless, giving and forgiving ourselves.

I have to remember that critical fact about God.  Yes dear British Petroleum Executives.  Yes Sean and Glen.  Yes members of House and Senate.  Yes, all of you.  God's love is for you as well as me.  No more, no less.  We are all loved.  Saint, sinners, ministers, hookers, rich poor, oil executive, environmentalist... we are all loved by God.  The nature of God's love is outrageous.  Couldn't God arrange to have a little more discretion?  More dignity?

No.  Thank God!
Forgive me God when I struggle to accept your inexplicable, embarrassing love, and for those many times when I do not offer that same love to others. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

He was busy!!

I have been, for most of my life, an incurably busy person.  Pushing my way up as a minister, seeking to move from "success" to "success", from small church, to medium church, to large church.  Building programs through a international disaster relief program, developing curriculum in medicine and spirituality at a medical school, and now building a nonprofit program serving vulnerable people.  Oh, and on the side trying to be a part-time pastor.

And yes, I have "succeeded", at least in some ways.  Churches have grown, grants have been won, people have been served, and my current program is great, multifaceted, and growing.  But, at another level, I wonder.

My first question recently has been related to why I am the way I am?  And my only conclusion is that I am driven by a constant need to prove myself.  To whom?  Good question! I am not so sure about that.  To God?  Probably.  Others? Undoubtedly!  To myself?  Yes, probably most of all to myself.

Why must I do this?  Because somewhere, somehow I got it into my brain that in order to experience love and acceptance one has to earn it, deserve it.  And that one must strive everyday to be a person people look up to, admire, find wise, witty, effective.  Somehow being busy and productive became equated with being lovable. 

Perhaps this is because deep down I realize that I am a paradox.  That I am a lot of contradictory things.  I and smart and foolish, kind and harsh, honest and dishonest, hopeful and hopeless.  I am dark and light, good and bad.  And I have always suspected that if I ever let the "dark" side of myself show, I would be rejected, looked down upon.  Perhaps, and this is the worst of all, pitied.  "Oh you poor dear.  I'll pray for you."  

But this creates a problem.  It means I am always striving, trying, working, hiding, trying to impress.  I am always trying to put my best side forward while trying to hide the parts of me I don't like, or of which I am ashamed.  So I am incurably active, I go around "serving" but I am anxious, distracted, insecure, stiff, and closed.  And the result?

I miss out on a lot. I had a dream the other day.  I dreamed that I had died and that I could hear what people said about my at my funeral.  What did they say?  "He was busy!"

That is not the legacy I want to leave behind.  I want people to say that I cared, that I loved, that I had time, that I listened.  And what struck me was that the only way I would get there, would be to be at ease with myself.  To accept myself enough that I could just "be".  

And how does that happen?  By accepting the acceptance of God.  By experiencing God's love, which is after all, ferocious, and unrelenting.  It is that simple, and that difficult.  That is the path to sainthood.  As Merton put it, "A saint is not someone who is good but someone who experiences the goodness of God."

Secure in God's love, I accept the totality of who I am.  I can accept that I am loved.  And thus I can get outside myself, and be with others.  God has seen me, all of me.  The good, the bad, the skeletons in my closet, everything.  And God loves me.  I can trust in that, accept that gift, and live the gift of grace.

I like the way Brennan Manning describes the person who trusts, really trusts God's love.  "He is not all exhaust and no intake.  She does not impose herself on others.  He listens well because he knows he has so much to learn from others.  Her spirituality enables her to enter the world of the other. . . "

Wow.  That is where I want to be!  I don't want to be merely - busy.