Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Shades of gray

There are a lot of things about this Christianity business that don’t quite sit well with my soul. I wish I could say I believed with every fiber of my being that the Bible meant EXACTLY what it says, and I will gladly profess to believe that, but deep down, I have too many doubts to feel confident in that belief. I’m just not sure if the God of the Bible is as black and white as many Christians claim He is. I think He is definitely firm about the Calvary road and our hope for salvation, but as far as the non-essentials of the faith go, sometimes I think He’s messin’ with us! Let me first state that the thoughts that rattle around in this feeble mind of mine are just that – thoughts and most often, doubts that I love to toss out there into the great unknown. Add to that the rebellious spirit within me and the weird fascination I have with conflict and chaos, and I’m pretty much nothing but trouble. Basically, don’t take offense; I’m just expressing a feeling that is in no way carved in stone. Alrighty then…

I think it’s possible that God may be a lot less concerned about the sins we do (and do not) commit here on Earth and a lot more concerned about how we deal with people – the ones who agree with our philosophies and the ones who march to a different beat. In the end, I believe what we did FOR God will matter much less than what we did WITH those we came in contact with. And by what we did, I don’t mean all the fabulous sacrifices we made, the lavish gifts we gave or the profound wisdom we offered in their time of need. I mean, the way we related to them, the grace we extended, the love and mercy and understanding we attempted to extend. Do we really try to express God’s love or do we use it to guilt them into buying into our agenda? Do we accept them as children who hurt and act out of that hurt or do we fault them for their shortcomings, differing opinions and non-conformity?

Ok, so maybe it’s not the best movie in the world, but I’m actually going to use the movie Saved to illustrate this point. If you can get past how inappropriate you may believe the movie is, you may discover that there’s truth beneath the humor. Perhaps that may be why so many people find it offensive. In one scene, the main character, Hillary, throws her Bible at a former friend and screams, “You are backsliding into the gates of Hell. I am filled with Christ’s love.” Come on now, look beyond the blatant and pointed attack on super-religious Christians and try to see for just one moment, what struck ME about this scene. One thought screamed at me over and over again as I watched this scene unfold. God’s word, the Bible, is a love story. Jesus is the love song God sings to each one of us. And Hillary’s friend sums it up perfectly in her response, “THIS (the Bible) is not a weapon.” Do I use the Bible as a weapon to alienate non-believers and condemn believers or do I read it as the love story I believe God intended it to be, a love story written just for me?

Ok, movie reference #2…in Pleasantville, the town is in an uproar when their black and white existence is threatened by splashes of color. Things begin to change and their lives can no longer be contained within the neatly packaged box they’ve lived in for years. When change threatens to disrupt familiarity, chaos ensues. The possibility of anything unexpected and unfamiliar is simply frightening and must be stopped. Here’s what I see as the beauty in the story (and again, my favorite scene). The people of Pleasantville have read the same books for years and know exactly what to expect. When this sudden change begins to take shape and life as they know it, is altered, the pages of the books are suddenly blank. As they listen intently to the main character tell stories out loud - stories many of them have never heard - the words begin to appear on the pages. The story writes itself as it is told. What I love about this picture is that it begins with a blank slate. No one knows what to expect until the story unfolds and while some of them find this disturbing, others are somewhat intrigued. There is no mandate on where the road should lead or how they must respond. They are left with nothing but a desire to relate to one another, to share and to discover, together, what the next page will bring. I think our faith is much like this. God did not intend our lives to be lived in black and white, always knowing what lies ahead, what behavior is “appropriate” and what rules will best satisfy our every need. I believe He intends us to write the story together. As the final line in Saved states, “What would Jesus do? I don’t really know, but I think the goal is for us to try to figure it out together.”

I’m not saying that none of us should follow the guidelines God has clearly communicated to us through the Bible and divine revelation. I am simply asserting that sometimes, maybe following the rules is not as important as letting the road take us into unfamiliar territory. Isn’t life a journey, after all? And I do believe God is ok with that. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we can freely disregard God’s word to suit our needs, but rather, overcoming our “shoulds” and “ought tos” to suit the needs of another. Imagine the possibilities if just once, we put our own ideals and opinions aside long enough to listen to those of someone else, to HEAR what they are saying, understand their heart’s cry, and be what they need us to be at that moment, despite what we feel we should be or should say or even what we THINK they need. I think the only one who truly knows what we need is God and he deals with me in the most precious and unimaginable way possible, he loves me, regardless of my faults, in the absence of my desire to be faultless and with the gentle touch of someone who truly “gets” me. I think instead of trying to get everyone saved, we should get them all loved and let God do the saving. When I read the Bible, I usually pray first, “Speak to me, God.” I think now I’ll pray, “Sing to me, Jesus, the love song I so desperately need to hear, and let me sing it to others when they forget the tune.”
God’s love to you all!

Are you there God? It's me, Julie.

Is it possible to feel close to God in the absence of a horribly tragic experience? I have not felt close to Him in a very long time and I take full responsibility. I haven’t spoken to Him or cried out to Him or (God forbid) even needed Him for quite some time. But what I’ve noticed is that the times I need Him and cry out to Him are the times I am most vulnerable, the times I am going through some sort of turmoil or suffering some sort of loss. I need Him desperately in those moments and in the “in-between” times, I am ambivalent. This troubles me and I wonder – can I feel that closeness with God that I long for when things are going ok for me or do I have to feel pain to come to Him on a daily basis? I guess pain develops in me that longing for the comfort of God’s healing touch, of intimate belonging, or reliance on His strength. I guess what I really want is to feel that longing without having to suffer great pain, without having a need so overwhelming I have no choice but to need and cry out to God.

Is it awful to say that I don’t need God right now? Will He send tragedy my way so that I will need Him? Is His heart breaking because I have barely acknowledged His existence lately? I’m not sure we can actually break God’s heart. I have a very good friend that I only speak to once in a blue moon. My heart does not break when I don’t hear from her for a while, but when she does call, I am more than elated to hear her voice. My personal belief is that this is how God views us. He loves us but He does not sit around in mourning when we don’t call. My unsettling struggle at the moment is that I don’t want to be in this situation any longer. I MISS GOD. I miss His friendship. I miss feeling connected to Him. I do believe we go through peaks and valleys in our “crawl” with the Lord, and thus breeds my curiosity – can I feel close to God in my ambivalence, when things are not spiraling out of control?

And now, I will cloud the issue further. Can God use me to confirm the faith of others despite my ambivalence? And at what cost? Can my words (despite the lack of feeling and faith behind them) be used to communicate God’s love even if I myself do not feel loved by God? Sometimes I feel as if I’m sacrificing my own relationship with God to ensure that others develop their relationships with Him. I speak faith very well, but it doesn’t seem to be active in my own life. I am preaching someone else’s experience and not my own. I believe that God loves me, but I have not felt changed by His love. I believe the events that were illustrated in The Passion of the Christ but I was not moved by them or brought to tears the way everyone around me was. My thought was, “Great movie, good fiction, very well done artistically.” God’s love and sacrifice seems so far removed, I cannot possibly allow it to stir in me a heartfelt response. I am deeply saddened by this and further frustrated when friends tell me they have seen a drastic change in me. How can I be changed if I don’t feel changed? I discussed this issue at length with some friends last night. Typically, the more I talk about my situation, the more clarity I have about what it is that makes me tick. I think it’s possible I discovered the underlying reason for my lack of passion in regards to my Heavenly Father. I have allowed the walls to crumble in numerous relationships with people I (thought I) loved and was betrayed time and time again. I would even go so far as to say that I chose intentionally NOT to sin in a particular area (hehe), despite my fears of abandonment, to honor God and yet, He still took from me something that I held very dear, something I believed was precious – at least at that time. I felt wronged by those relationships and even by God. Broken and hurt, I vowed somewhere along the line to never feel wronged again. I vowed to never feel ANYTHING remotely close to vulnerable, to steer clear of any sort of emotion that could potentially cause me pain. And now, it is nearly impossible to trust and believe in a loving God. Is there any greater loss than the potential loss of God’s love? It is so much safer to say that I believe in His furious love, but yet refuse to let it in far enough to move or change me. So I guess it isn’t so difficult to understand how a girl who claims to be a child of God can stand with Him and not be moved by Him. I’m just thankful He stands with me in the times I feel like running. But I’m still a bit dissatisfied. I’m a firm believer in exploring our past experiences to learn to recognize certain behaviors in our lives, but not to explain or excuse our actions as justifiable because of what we’ve been through. So now that I’ve shed some light on why I feel so ambivalent about God’s love, how do I put aside my fears and insecurities to allow His love to sink in?
Through the kind (and much needed) advice of a dear friend, I was gently reminded that maybe God needs to hear these thoughts that I’ve been having for so long. I was somewhat shaken when I realized that even though I’ve been feeling so distant from Him, it never once occurred to me to tell Him I feel distant, that I long to be brought near again, that I miss Him terribly. There is a line in a song by Lifehouse that has been reverberating in my mind endlessly these past few weeks. “How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?” Suddenly it dawned on me; the part I’ve been missing is standing with God. And I don’t mean fighting for Him, preaching His word or even vocalizing my faith. I mean standing still with Him, just being in His presence. Maybe a lengthy prayer isn’t necessary. Maybe a song of worship is too much. Maybe, just maybe, all that is needed is to remember He is there when I do feel needy.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

God versus the HMO

HMO: You choose your provider (who must fall within the network).
GOD’S KINGDOM: Your provider chooses you.

HMO: If you go outside the network, you are no longer the responsibility of your provider.
GOD’S KINGDOM: If you go outside the network, your provider will go after you.

HMO: Monthly contributions ensure your future.
GOD’S KINGDOM: A one-time contribution ensures your future.

HMO: There is a limit to the quality of care you receive.
GOD’S KINGDOM: God’s love knows no boundaries.

HMO: You cannot be accepted with a pre-existing condition.

GOD’S KINGDOM: You were accepted with a pre-existing condition.