Thursday 21 February 2013

You said what?

I have questions.  I've always had questions, I will always have questions.

To me, belief is the beginning of questions, not the excuse to stop people asking questions.  I think the satirist and comedian Bill Maher is mistaken when he says "faith means making a virtue out of not thinking."  Faith demands we think more.

So, because it's Lent, let me tell you some things I believe.

I say that, "because it's Lent," because I believe that Lent is a time for self reflection and examining ourselves, our lives and how we're living.  Let me clarify that: Lent is an "I" time.  It's not time for me to tell you how you should live, what you should fix, how you should behave or what you should think.  I'm not sure there is ever a time for that, to be honest.  Still, I think Lent is about looking inward first, and examining "me" and how that "me" relates to God and you.  "And you, and you and you," to quote the Sound of Music.

So to say "I believe …" is just the starting point, the beginning of questions.

I believe, for example, that God is awesome.   I could say so much more about that, but let's just leave that one there for now.

I believe that Jesus is about life, not death.  While I respect the various theories of atonement (and there are many), I believe that Jesus dying should draw our attention to the important part - how he lived - and we should "live" like that, too.  And that should bring us closer to God.  At least in this life.

I believe that we come from God and we return to God.  I believe, therefore, that God knows us before we come here, and will know us again, and God knows us for who we truly are, no matter how we live this life.  I believe that we should want to live this life well because that, in itself, is reason to do so.  Created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27; 5:1; 9:6), should mean a desire to live in grace and right relationship with the world around us, not a need for power or control over the world around us.  To me, the threat of eternal punishment and a terrifying afterlife shouldn't be necessary.  That's like saying you should do the right thing or else you'll be punished.  No.  You should do the right thing because you should do the right thing.  That's why it's called the right thing.

Yes, I know "the right thing" is a little subjective.  Perhaps that's why we need more questions, more thought, more conversation, more relationship to understand what it might be, which is to be what is true.

I also know that I can say we should "live in grace and right relationship" and I leave myself open to the acknowledgement that I haven't always done that.  Yes, that's true.  Good thing there's a time like Lent to look hard at that and reflect on it.  Good thing there's also grace.

You see, that's a huge one: I believe that God's grace is for all.  God's grace is God's love and forgiveness freely given.  It's not up to us to decide if we're worthy of it, or who gets it or, more importantly for some, who doesn't.  God simply gives it.  To everyone.

To live out God's grace in our lives is to share that grace and love as best we, in our humanity, are able.  For followers of Jesus, that is to live not just as Jesus teaches, but as Jesus showed us: to, literally, "love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).  We might not always be successful, or make the right choices, but it's grace and love that empower us to continue to try, not the threat of consequences or the desire for superficial gain.

That's a lot of legs ...
Well, that's just a start, probably just enough to start thinking about and question.  Oddly enough, what started me thinking about it was the image Jesus uses to describe himself in Luke 13:34, part of the reading for the second Sunday of Lent: "Jerusalem … how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"  Jesus knows that he can't make people follow, and he laments that.  But with wings spread and chest exposed and vulnerable, he offers himself, nonetheless, open to attack or embrace.