I was talking to a woman yesterday who was sounding me out, as many Christians do, to try and find out what sort of Christian I am. You could almost hear her brain ticking... "Is he a real Christian? Or is he just an 'establishment-liberal-namby-pamby' Christian?" I told her that in out look I was fairly "liberal" as far as the way I interpreted the Bible. Again she was trying to put me in a box... "But you still believe ... x... y... & z.. don't you?" I hate that. I hate people attempting to put me in a box. They often think because of my biblical perspectives and non-conservative approaches that I am weak in the faith department. I have a metaphorical approach to the Bible, and I have people sometimes joking with me as if I don't really take following Jesus seriously. From their perspective I pick and choose what I believe. (I think the word "believe" is a wrong concept for following Jesus. It distorts the reality, and is a distortion of the Biblical concept.) But I am often looked down upon by more conservative christians. I have been told I have a "social gospel" blah-blah-blah... and even that I'm going to hell. (I have mates in both places - I joke.)
This Sunday's lectionary readings includes a well known passage from Jeremiah. In it "God" says, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." I guess many will call me a heretic or consign me to hell. One thing I know is that I experience the sacred in annoyingly powerful ways. Let me tell you one event that happened on Monday - my day off.
My wife and I went into town to a corner cafe for morning tea. We sat having a coffee and scone at a table by a window looking out at the cars and pedestrians passing by. We got to talking about retirement. I am planning on retirement at the end of next year. We talked about the things we might do and that we don't plan on worshipping at my current church. As we talked we watched the people going by. Tourists from the cruise ship in town, looking bored as they take their mandatory walk through the city at the latest port of call. They stand out because they have near new expensive looking "casual-holiday-clothing" with walking shoes and cameras. I watched cars pull up at the lights at the intersection. There were some beaten up cars that probably should not have been on the road. Along side of them some flash looking cars worth more than my house with "suits" driving them, surreptitiously talking on their smart phones. (its illegal in NZ to drive and talk on your phone) Local business people walked by on the way to their cafe of choice for a business meeting. As we watched "Fred" walked by. Fred (not his real name) is a nice young man who comes to our drop-in from time to time. He hears voices. He told me once he had been baptised in a "happy-clappy" church. He said he was told that he would be healed of his voices and be able to give up smoking and just find a nice girl who loves him. He is a nice hearted man. Later when these things didn't happen it was suggested that maybe he was being punished for evil thoughts or actions. He asked me if I thought it was because "he had lustful thoughts and sometimes masturbated". I told him "we'd all be in deep poo if God did that!" Fred is a lovely guy. I played soccer with him and he is a gifted soccer player. As he walked past on Monday he was smoking and his head was rocking backward and forward, he was disheveled and looked every bit a sad mental-health patient. The health system is letting him down. Another of our occasional drop-in guys walked past, hesitated and took a step back. His hand shot out to the outside table just through the window. He fiddled with the cigarette butts in the ashtray... there were a couple of nice looking half smoked ones. Then this young man (30's) spied us and quickly retreated. Another of our "friends" went past. He is a guy who is often in prison because of theft or drugs or both. He walked past with his latest sad looking girlfriend. He had dyed his head to look young. As I sat there looking at the twisted lives of the rich and poor I was nearly in tears. In spite of my "liberal theology" and the fact that I am a heretic destined for hell, I had the real love and passion of God bursting through my veins. I was deeply sad for the parade of distorted lives, values and directions going past the window. My eyes were watering up because these rich and poor children of God were "in hell" in their messed up lives. They were keeping on making bad choices that were destroying relationships, health and wellbeing. I felt deep anger because most churches, even "successful contemporary" ones were "islands of irrelevance in a sea of despair", even contributing to the distortion. - God's anger, God's sadness and frustration, and God's love for his people was bursting inside me. I was so disturbed I said to my wife, "I've got to get out of here!" I may not be orthodox, but God's law is very deeply "written on my heart" and possesses me, capturing me and driving me even as I dream of retirement. As a man of God once said, "Woe is me!" Call me a heretic, but still my faith wells up in damn annoying ways inside! Bugger!
Reflecting on the Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister writes: "No one really has full control of their own lives. We're all limited by something. The difference is that some people decide what they will allow to control them, and some simply find themselves controlled by the whims and fancies of life. All of us meet and wrestle with authority. The only question is to what authority I have surrendered...?" (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Harper Collins, 1991).