Have you ever seen or heard of someone who has dissected their head of hair looking for one grey hair? Have you ever done it yourself? It is not a “woman thing” – I have seen/heard loads of “mans” do it as well.
And upon – finally – finding one grey hair (amongst thousands of non-grey hairs) there is always the astonished: “Look at this – can you see it?” And then the forlorn punch-line: “I am going grey!”
And forever more the counting, the colouring, the denial of aging … It’s a coming of (old) age thing. It is a tradition almost.
Traditions. So often: “We’ve always done it this way.”
And the church is not immune. In fact the church actively embraces tradition. It seems that religious traditions become religious beliefs, and religious beliefs carry religious consequences. Because religious beliefs are the only thing to differentiate one brand from another (to an insider).
To an outsider (and a lot of insiders) it just seems like “More rules – less God”. Like this one …
“Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.”
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
This particular quote could be of any denomination (this is not a bashing session of one brand). Because different denominations all have similar – but different – tradition and beliefs that they (don’t) call their rule-books. But in truth it is the only thing that makes sense of “denominations” and “faiths” – their “differences” and their rule-books. Which is why I think denominations like writing down their differences. Just so they know why they are different.
And before someone says: “We only have one rule-book – it is called the bible!” Look again. “The Bible” is similar but different. There are at least three different versions.
But despite all the differences – all seem to need just one consequence (which I find really odd): “Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned … “
And yet the God I hear “ordinary people” talk of is a very simple God. All those ordinary people yet to be saved. All those unchurched ordinary folk. The “sinners” in the “lost world”. With all their “depravity” and “licentiousness” (the ones who refuse to go to church on Sunday). Those ordinary people.
I hear these ordinary people talk of a God of Unconditional Love.
A God who is bigger than “them”. A God of Love who transcends understanding. A God of Mystery who they question. A God that ALLOWS questions. A God who ALLOWS them to get mad at Him, sad with Him, cry with Him, laugh with Him, and to LIVE with Him. Not in the way we live with God. But in an easy everyday sort of way. A simple everyday God who will never be explained to the satisfaction of all. But who is real in a way we ALL struggle to explain.
Theirs seems to be a loving God who accepts that they turn their back when they are angry – a God who ALLOWS them to – because He is that kind of God. A God who ALLOWS them to be themselves – who wants them to be themselves – a better “them” – a loving “them” – an inclusive “them” – a real “them”.
I know that God too. He and I walked my uneasy walk for decades. Until I was saved. Until I joined the church.
And then? A knee-jerk response of rules that exclude. And along with that response, the spoken (and unspoken) “loving” statement of consequence. The universal one-size-fits-all consequence.
Being saved is quite an experience! And with sadness I look around our churches. I look around our towns and cities. Because I see a huge gap.
I see this everyday God in the living of so many who never venture into church. Who never venture into church because they see a god so much smaller than the Everyday God already in their own lives. I see a lot of ordinary people with an Everyday God who don’t see that same loving God in those who attend church.
And – of course – these are all labels and stereotype and generalisations (just like “we” use labels of the “the lost world” and “unchurched – yet” and “saved” and “denominations” and “dogma” and “tradition and beliefs” and stuff like that).
Because just like looking for that one grey hair amongst a fine head of hair …
I see this “church of differences” so often ALL teaching us to look for sin in exactly the same way. I see us taught so often to (symbolically) stand in front of God and (symbolically) dissect the goodness of His Love looking for our one small (literal) sin. All so we can cast it out. Until we find the next one. And then the next one. And so on.
I wonder …
Is that why Love without Condition seems to scare us? Because love without condition needs no rule-books?
Is it because (when we strip everything back) we don’t really want to worship a God of Unconditional Love … because then there would be no need for differences and rule books and “the consequence”?
There are days I find myself asking questions like this … because my God allows.