I suppose that it behooves a Christian man, from time to time, to give a plain and simple account of his faith. I can’t tell you that I am feeling particularly inspired to do so in this moment. Frankly, I find myself a little short on inspiration in general this evening and feel there are (what do we call them?), “pressing matters,” to take care of, but it seems as good a time as any to say a thing or two about why this Good Friday is such a big deal and why I choose to build my life around the drama we see unfolding this and every Easter weekend from today and through the next fifty days of Easter. Tonight stands before me a simple and fair question to which I intend to give at least one good answer, “Why, Doug, given all that Christianity seems to have evolved in to, do you bother calling yourself a Christian and carrying on like ya do?”
I plan to start with a short answer and then keep just keep writing till some of the pieces “Pull-to” as my Grandpa used to say. I am not promising exhaustive answers to this question or even several. I suppose that is why I keep a blog, There is a lot to be said about the life of faith that just takes time and more importantly, stories, to have light dawn of the whole life of faith in God. But, I will start by simply trying to provide an answer that is as short and as honest of an answer that I can provide:
I am a Christian because this is simply the most beautiful story I have ever known, and I want more than anything to be a part of it.
I am trying very hard to say that purposefully, so would you be kind enough to oblige me unpacking that for just a paragraph or two?
“Truth” is ugly and predictable? Are we Asking the Right Questions?
I think something quite serious has happened to us in the past few decades, I have watched it take root and change the kinds of questions we ask about life. Heck, I was on retreat with a bunch of Christian youth just a couple weeks ago and I saw this showing up in their questions of the world as well. These days we seem to only care about a very specific notion of something we incidentally call “truth.” I put the word in quotes because I think we have put certain an expectation, a kind of railings, around the idea of truth that doesn’t necessarily jive with the bulk and the best of the history of human thought about the word.
We say truth, but we don’t mean what Plato meant. We aren’t saying the same things that Aristotle said, or Confucius, Augustine, Hypatia of Alexandria said. When we talk about the truth we tend to refer to just a couple of specific things. First, we don’t mean truth, we usually mean “facts,” or some assembling of a series of facts in a narrative form. These sorts of Facts are determined by the scientific method, and the scientific method is about reproducibility, so when we say truth and mean facts, we mean it is predictable. Fair enoughI can see how there is something truthful in what is reliable, but surely there is more. We just seem to like relying on the predictability of the pieces more than considering the whole.
It also strikes me that we have come to some consensus that the truth is usually going to be ugly, We tend to talk about he trut like it is a bandage that has to ripped off. We think of the truth as cold, hard facts. It is something we usually ahve to brace ourselves for. We have made a habit of, and for some people a committment to, pessimism. When we talk about “realists” we usually mean people who are braced for the worse or courageous enough to “face facts.”
For many of us I think part of the internal test to find out something is true is wether or not it hurts a little to hear it. “It isn’t true if it doesn’t sting”. It is as if “beautiful” things are nothing more than the things we seek out to distract us from the reality that life is ultimately, at the end of the day, a tragedy, or (if we are lucky) just meaningless.
Honestly, I think it leaves most of us in a space unable to imagine the good stuff those other philosophers spent so much time thinking about. C.S. Lewis once compared us to, “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
What I think the ancient Greeks would certainly want us to know is that Truth is not the only transcendent thing to reflect on. If we are going for the good stuff, swinging for the bleachers we have to include the Good and the Beautiful. There it is: Humans in pursuit of the ultimate things seek Truth, Beauty and Goodness. All three.
But what on earth could that possibly even mean? Quick! What do you think of when you think of seeking beauty? Visiting more museums? Stopping to smell the roses? Watching more sunsets? I affirm all of these things and believe they participate in Beauty, but they don’t occur to me to be worthy of a Capital ‘B’” for Beauty. I think when we think of these things we mean ‘pretty,’ or “inspiring.” Do we even know what Beauty is? We think so little of truth these days it is not wonder we have trouble really conteplating beauty. Does Truth have naything to do with Beauty at all, or is Beauty just way too UNpredicatble.
What I do think is that whatever answer we give to these kinds of questions, the best answers, the most compelling answers come in story form. What is most true of you right now? I could find out how many beats per minute your heart maintains. I could weigh you and tell you the “truth,” about your weight (would it sting a little?). Are these things telling the truth about you?
How about your furniture? Is that coffee table over there actually a table or is it lumber? is it future kindling (#ILoveFire)? Is it a dead tree? All of these things, the fundamental things about what things are and what is going on is best understood in the stories we tell.
Stories tell us what things are. They help us see which things are important and hwo things are related ot toher thins. Stories tell us what role we might be playing a moment, and stories, yes stories, can be Beautiful, and if we are lucky, they can even be Good.
Whether or not we are very intentional about it, we all have some story that narrates our word and shapes our deepest conviction about what the world is and what humans are for. We may have merely strung together pieces of truthy-parts or developed some but we all are performing a part of a story.
These narratives not only shape how we live and what we do, but what we do tells the story of our conviction to the rest of the world. There is no way not to have a story. You have to be somewhere. Even to try to live story-less is itself a story of its own. I keep wonder, is this narrative of which I am part true? beautiful, good?
So what is this story into which I keep throwing myself as a participant? Christianity, among other things is a story. Notice I am not saying it is just a set of beliefs, sure, that is part of it, but it really is about living in to a story that shapes the way I live in the world, and guides how I in turn shape the world. It is what I believe, but it is also what I do, what I worship.
No wonder when we dissect the story of God into little arguable pieces we call beliefs, and then argue about what true (read ugly and predictable) about them in ways irrelevant to how we actually live, we end up with a faith that is relatively ugly and predictable sounding. But that is not the story as I know it.
The plot of the Gospel as I know it (today). AKA the Gospel According to Doug
Here are some of the things Christians have to say. Please note, I am paraphrasing generously: God loved God loved God so much that that love became excessing and creation popped out. Just like that. It may have been a big bang, it may have been a small one, but that detail of the story isn’t really part of the plot.
Since the world was made by God, it looked a lot like God. Light was called from darkness, then sky from waters, the waters from land, and all of this was Good. On the fourth day God created… ahem… time…. on the fourth “day.” (DO you see what the story does there?) The planets, moon, and sun all got put in to place just a few “days” after God separated light from darkness. A day after that God made fishes and birds to match the pretty water and sky that had been called out separate form each other. It is like everything is being called out form each other for the sake of being in relationship with each other. A day after that God makes beast of the land to match the land that had been called out from the sea. And finally, God made this human, and then God even separated the human out in to pieces that were meant to commune, and when they did, MORE HUMANS!
How rich, how excessive, is creation?. How abundant? Creation, made from love was meant to spill over the edges. It was dripping with grace and covered in the fingerprints of God. It is messy gushy and full.
I love this whole story because it works to tell us what to think, not about science in the way we think about “facts,” (time was create don the fourth day, what?!) but it tells us the truth about God and because creation bears the marks of God, it tells the more improtant truth about the nature of creation as well: Abndance, Communion ….Love. We were made from love.
But soon enough we discover competition. Adam and Eve want to be like God, Cain, the stingy one, kills his brother because God liked that his brother Abel wasn’t as stingy. How quickly our world disintegrates into violence and competition. Ugh.
Even then God tries to protect Cain, but Cain take s pass and goes on to do things his way. He builds a city. And not too many generations later, competition and violence are running the world. It is untrue to itself. It has become unlike God.
So God sets a plan in motion to set things back on track. Out of nowhere, out of the impossible God does something unpredictable and makes a people, a nation, and helps them build a life without violence and competition…. a people meant to live without violence and competition, a people to live in the world as God made it. Abundance, Communion, Love.
However, being the humans that we are, we frequently took the laws that helped us live a life focused on the loving and abundant nature of God and used those laws to compete with each other. Soooooo, the exact opposite of what God intended for us. That sort of thing has never ever ended well. The brokenness of the state in which we find ourselves (competition) will never be the means by which we find our way home to abundance, grace and communion.
But we seem to love our competition. Don’t we? And I don’t have to say much about the violence that follows to see that it is something of a fact. It strikes me as a cold hard fact that humans tend to kill each other. I just don’t think that is all there is to say about this story.
Eventually we get so good at using the law as a weapon against each other, instead of the means of living abundantly. The prophets just go nuts.
Amos 5: 21-24 “I hate, I despise your feasts,and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings,I will not accept them,and the peace offerings of your fatted beastsI will not look upon.Take away from me the noise of your songs;to the melody of your harps I will not listen.But let justice roll down like waters,and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
Ezekiel. 22:29,31. “The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice… Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord GOD.
Jeremiah. 5:28f. “[The wicked] do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?” declares the LORD. “On such a nation as this, shall I not avenge myself?”
Nevertheless we just find ourselves so bound to competition and violence we cant seem to quit. The law that was mean to redirect us to abundance and trust has become the weapon we use to compete and destroy. How do you fix that? The law that was suppose to reveal God ends up being a tool to hide from God and to hide God from each other .
So what would God do at such a time? Well…
God shows up.
God has actually been present all along, but this time God shows up in the flesh. God not only shows up but shows up as a baby who will be raised by a young teenager and an (initially) reluctant carpenter. Here is where the story gets even more interesting. God shows up, knowing full well just how far off track we have veered. God knows the depths of our competition, and most importantly, God knows the depths of our violence. And…
God shows up anyway.
Anyway. God shows up anyway. Maybe that is why I love advent so much. The relentless love God offers is is embodied in Good Friday and Easter, but it really begins in just insisting to show up, when we had every intention of being a humorless competitive violent world. God shows up anyway and that is unpredictable, or what I believe Aristotle would have called “comedy.”***
God shows up in the flesh, in our flesh, in flesh like ours even though it will inevitably lead to his death. Maybe it is not so much that God demanded a sacrifice as God demanded to be present to us, even if we would rather kill him than quit competing and learn to live with trust and abundance.
This is why I take a whole day like today, Good Friday, to contemplate the horrific circumstances of the death of Jesus. It isn’t that we Christians love the macabre. It is a time that reminds us not only of what depths to which humans are capable of sinking but it does so in light of the heights of God’s love. He came anyway.
That is, however, not the end of our story. God has the final say.
That is a lot of what Easter is going to be about for us, nor is he a magician or a trickster out to wield revenge on those who hurt him. Jesus fully dies and does not come back to life because of some fluke. God has the final say.
The Resurrection, far from being a magic trick, is for me today the mere faith that it is God and not my enemies, or my debt collectors, or my bosses, or the state police or even my death will have the final say on my life. God has the final say on my life, so I am free to live like that is the case.
That makes all the difference in the world.
So God pitches a tent among us, we kill him, and God lovingly refuses to let us get away with it. And the story isn;t over yet. This last part gets left out.
God still means to create a community that embodies the Abundance Love and Communion of the world as God meant for it to be. Rather than just sending us back out to the trenches with nothing more than a prolonged reprimand of Jesus trying to set us right, Jesus does the most humble, most gracious, most ridiculous thing ever. He lets us become part of him.
He washes our feet, he kneels before us and then breaks bread and pours a cup and says,
“Drink this, eat this, and become a part of my body.”
So there it is. All that relentless Love… is now mine to give as well.
Even with the rebelling and competing, and ultimately the killing, Jesus gathers us in and invites me to be part of the drama of relentless love, abundance, love and communion. And the act of reconciliation that God gives us overbite we eat and rink together is a see dog hope for the restoration of creation to be a place of abundance, trust, communion. Theater of all things is love. How do we know what love is? He washed are feet and was willing to die. That’s a good start.
So the “organized religion” part of my faith is actually pretty important as well. Its how I stay connect to the body of Christ that is being beheaded in on a beach on the mediterranean. It is a point of reconciliation with my black sisters and brothers and a source for us to begin reconciliation. It is my connection to the starving parts of our body on the other side of town. Its a start. And frankly, that is a lot.
I know there are a 10,000 anecdotal descriptions of the Church that make it look angry, judgmental, violent, fearful or just unkind.
Let me be clear… they are doing it wrong.
I am not sure what their true narrative is but it sounds quite painful. I hope in my life and even what I write here at the Outpatient Monk creates an opportunity to rewrite those stories and to help everyone lean into the a more beautiful and loving life of faith.
At some point in this story when you ask me if I actually believe this is true, I will tell you, yes. I believe enough. I struggle with faith, and as a thinker I have to look at each claim of the Christian faith from every angle. I still have some major questions. We haven;t even scratched the surface here. But I believe enough to build my life around this story. I haven’t found a better one.
There are some beautiful other stories out there, aren’t there? I am glad to have them as friends and companions on the way as well. I will be the best Christian that I can and to be of service to you as best as I can, living with you, not from fear but from abundance trust and love.
I believe enough. Enough to keep going. Enough to take time today to pray, to get my butt to Church on Sunday so I stay connected to all those other parts of our Body Enough to stake my life on this. And when you ask me if I believe this is true and I can only respond by also asking you if you think this story is also Beautiful or Good. Yes, I believe enough…
Lord, help my unbelief.
God invites me to tilt the scales of history and be part of creating communion and abundance. I am invited to participate in the infinite and relentless love of God. I am called to be sight to the blind, food to the hungry and freedom for the prisoner and good news to the poor. I am called to find Jesus in the sick and the suffering, and even in my enemy. And the most fundamental part of this story is the increasing realization that I am the beloved. I am loved. I am loved beyond the measure of my own imagination. And so are you.
“Why, Doug, given all that Christianity seems to have evolved in to, do you bother calling yourself a Christian and carrying on like ya do?”
I am a Christian because this is simply the most beautiful story I have ever known, and I want more than anything to be a part of it.
I write this for you in all sincerity and love,
Your. Brother. Doug.