I’ve mentioned before that stepping onto the board at my church has taken over my thoughts in many ways. I’ve felt a bit disconnected from my writing in many ways and while I have not shut down it has been hard to fully engage as I had been doing in the months prior.
It feels disappointing but I can accept it at this point because I went into this endeavour with my eyes open and with a clear idea of why I was doing it and I feel good about that and I’m happy to let this take up residence in my thoughts for this period of time.
One thing that is a part of all this mind space dedicated to my church is the thinking about what a church should be and what it means to be a Christian. I’ve spent so much of my adult life thinking about the cultural expressions of Christianity that are more recognizable to the world at large, and I have felt troubled by this. My feeling is generally that Christianity as it is understood by the wider culture is that it is something backwards and empty. I touched on this a little bit in my last post.
I keep coming back to this as I think about my church and I find myself growing more and more eager to move forward and to somehow move past this concern with the general understanding of Christianity and to begin to change it, and not just to apologize for the legitimate complaints about people who claim Christianity but who behave in ways that are a deplorable reflection of Jesus.
The thing is that there are many Christians of all stripes who are walking the walk in laudable and beautiful ways, but of course, as with so many of the quiet operators in this world, very few people (if any) outside of the immediate circle of influence ever hear about these things.
But it’s not just about defending my faith. It’s not just about trying to rehabilitate the image of my religion, because I have to admit that there is a sense of feeling mortified about the way my faith is being misrepresented, and not just for Jesus sake, but also selfishly for mine. It’s embarrassing. There’s this feeling of wanting to distance myself from these things.
Paul famously wrote that he wasn’t ashamed of the gospel and I’m sure I’m not alone when I admit to thinking at times that I’m not ashamed of the gospel but I feel at times that I am ashamed of others who claim to love the gospel. But I feel now that I need to let go of this.
There’s something that happens as a parent when my children misbehave in public and I feel embarrassed. There are times when I respond to my children not thinking about how best to deal with them but how best to demonstrate that I’m a parent who doesn’t accept this kind of behaviour. I want to appear to be a competent parent. I am responding to my child but I am also putting on a show, not for their sake, but for my own. I think that my reaction to the perception of Christianity often operates under a similar bad motive which I think is ultimately unhelpful.
This is not about my reputation as much as there may be times that I feel that way. This is about the power of Jesus to bring what has traditionally been referred to as salvation. I think that there are many people out there who would emphatically state that they are not in need of salvation of that kind so I want to try and come up with a different way to say the same thing. What Jesus does has not changed, but I think the way we talk about it could probably use some variety – some attempts at connecting to the heart of the matter.
When Peter gave one of the first sermons that is recorded in The Acts of the Apostles it records that the people who heard it were cut to the heart. I think that when the gospel of Jesus connects, this is what happens. When people understand the truth of Jesus, it reaches across the gap that can be felt so keenly when people are faced with the meaning of our existence in this world and it goes right to the heart and it is felt deeply and undeniably.
This world is filled with good things and with meaning – I would say mainly in our connections with other humans and with the love that we can share. Then there are the ways that creative expression like music and theatre and dance can touch us deep within in remarkable ways. It is wonderful. It is a glorious potential we have in this world, but it is not sustainable and eventually we all feel the gap. We all feel our mortality and the finite nature of our lives and the lives of those we love. Death is an ever present eventuality that comes along at some point for everyone and this is inevitable whether we feel it lurking or not. We can accept it as a part of the cycle of life but I do not know if it is ever possible to bridge that gap that will be felt in one way or another.
And then there is the gap of our own abilities – even when the approach of death and aging has yet to be felt, our limitations and our inability to achieve all that we might hope for creates that gap. We may frame our failures as victories and take heart in what we can learn from these things, but the reality of our weakness and our fallibility can leave us with a real sense of that gap. It can leave us feeling lacking.
There is a glory and a peace that is beyond our reach for all the good things of this world and it is the good news of Jesus that can reach across this gap and the promise of life after death that gives hope even as the good things of this world grow weary and begin to wind down. Jesus stood in that gap and he stands there still.
This is what I want people to understand. This is what I want people to experience. It is what I want to experience myself. I may not have the time to write about these things as much as I would like these days, but at least I have opportunity to think about them, and I have hope that this too will bear fruit in time.