The Bible is an extended argument over who counts as the people of God and what the implications are of that designation for our life and faith. To read the Bible as though we can simply see what is said about a particular action or belief and uphold that same view of sin and faithfulness is to undercut everything that the Bible is and does. Our goal as Christians is to embody the kind of faith-seeking-understanding that is played out in the pages of scripture – not to pull out the verses that happen to agree with what we already expect to be the case so that we can prove our list of sins or beliefs is the one, right, and everlasting truth. God’s love and relationship come first. Upon that foundation we must continuously seek the grace of God that leads to new understandings and embodiments of faithfulness.
To give shape and meaning to how I will lead and relate to others, these are a few of the hills I’m willing to die on:
- Feelings are never right or wrong, they just are
- People behave the way they feel
- Primary emotion is compelling
- Healing never happens in silence
- Voicing pain is never as bad as causing that pain
- Effect is at least as significant as intention
- Denying feelings harms people
- Everything in relationship is 50/50
- Shaming others is the worst possible way to effect change
If I tell you “I’m not hurting you” and your response is “yes, you are,” only one of us is correct (and it’s not me)
The first and greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But the foundation of our very existence is that God has loved us and called us His own. Before we are anything else, we are loved, we are accepted, we are enough.
Far too much of church life and faith either rejects the primacy of this foundation or assumes it is already in place and, thereby, puts the burden on the individual Christian to begin fulfilling the greatest commands. Instead of first teaching, preaching, and embodying the love that God is, we move straight to regulations on sin and holiness as though these were first order concepts. Sin and forgiveness will never mean anything unless we first know the depth of love and relationship that can then be broken. Lives will not be transformed until we give up control and learn to trust in the faithfulness of God’s abiding love. Without the foundation of love and relationship first, Christianity will be, at best, a noisy but irrelevant gong; at worst, an active participant in the harm done to children of God in the name of vapid and ultimately meaningless conceptions of righteousness.
At the heart of the gospel message is God’s choice of feeling over fixing. To feel alongside someone is the heart of empathy and the prerequisite for connection. To fix is the clearest sign that we think we are in control of the outcome and can make things right on our own. Empathy changes lives. Self help reinforces loneliness.
One of the greatest downfalls of most modern evangelical forms of Christianity is the radical emphasis on salvation as God’s clear and unmistakable effort to fix all that has gone wrong in the world. While it is true and significant to see the hope that things are not as they will always be, to focus on fixing rather than feeling is to miss the very heart of the gospel message.
In scripture and over the course of history, we see that God did not choose to simply fix the world in the blink of an eye. God chose to feel with us; to take on flesh and dwell among us; to join us in the deepest pit and say “Me too.” The bible itself is the clearest evidence we could hope to find that God is a feeler, not a fixer. What we find in scripture is not a simple reminder of how God fixed everything in the blink of an eye. We find reminder after reminder that God is with us through every season of life, and God will be faithful to the very end.
Truth is only truth inside the story in which it is told.
The best way I can articulate what I mean by that is through a previous post on story and truth.
This idea may be too academic to seem super helpful, but I would argue that it is the essential factor in understanding how we arrived in the chaotic, partisan, broken place where we are as Americans (and United Methodists).
The core problem with partisan brokenness is not really that people believe a different set of facts or that anyone just needs to be convinced about the specific details of what “really happened” in any given moment. The problem is that many of us think that we’re taking part in very different stories. If the story you tell about how things should be has no room for the existence of those different than you, it will, unchallenged and from a position of power, always lead to the overt harm of everyone deemed not “normal.”
To make the jump from one story to another takes far more than pointing out an inconsistent detail or two. It takes the radical experience of being accepted into the life and story of another; a story with enough room for one more; an acceptance that may cause change but never requires it; an experience of already being enough to be worthy of taking part. As long as we focus on proving our point rather than creating the space for acceptance, we’ll simply keep assuming the story that we tell ourselves is the only one that matters.
The only way finite, imperfect humans are capable of speaking about, acting within, or thinking of the world is through a lens of faith.
There are few things in life I love more than the cool, refreshing feel of jumping into a pool on a hot summer day.
You need at least two things for a pool – a hole or a structure big enough to hold a lot of water; and the water itself. The hole in the ground for a pool can be created in ways limited only by our imagination. The water itself isn’t created. We either find a way to put the water that’s already there in the hole or we have no way to feel the refreshing sensation of jumping in.
Standing at the edge of a water filled pool isn’t enough to get that refreshing feeling either. We won’t feel refreshed just by staring at the water or jumping up and down at the edge. To feel refreshed, the necessary and sufficient thing to do is get in.
We use water in baptism because baptism is a little bit like jumping into a pool on a hot summer day. Water is like the grace of God. Grace washes us clean and refreshes us no matter what we’re going through. But you can’t create grace just like you can’t create water – grace is already there waiting for us. And you won’t feel refreshed by standing at the edge and staring at the water – God invites us to jump right in and feel grace washing over us. Baptism is the way we’re invited to jump into the water of grace.
So every time you jump in the water and splash in the pool, remember that God’s grace is all around you too and God wants us to feel refreshed and clean and loved every time we remember the water of baptism.