I wrote the following in an email to the house church that I’ve been participating in for the past few months, and I thought I’d share it here as well…..
I know there was talk of spending time Saturday answering some hard questions that have not been fully answered in any sort of unified way by the group, and I guess I want to start out by simply saying that I hope we don’t (answer the questions). I know I may be quibbling over semantics here, but the prospect of answering such questions brings an air of finality that I’m simply not comfortable with. To use the "Christian-life-as-journey" metaphor, following Jesus seems to imply a kind of movement that doesn’t permit something as final as an answer to a theological question/problem. I would instead echo that image from Scripture which depicts Jesus as the "yes" to all God’s promises and trust that somehow, some way, this "yes" is for me too, and not just for me, but for all of us. Remembering that God is mystery, and that God-in-the-flesh is a greater mystery still, I would mine (dig, extract, etc.) the language which speaks of God being somehow both immanent (close/in your face) and transcendent (other, foreign, beyond comprehension) and learn to live with the paradox that this represents, embracing the mystery of this God who hides.
After all, we do not find God where we might expect him- in the heavens, on his throne, or housed in some "church" building. We find him in the most unexpected places instead- in a baby’s cry, in the face of a prostitute or crack addict, in the tears of a homosexual (who- for many "Christ"-ians- is nothing more than an "issue" to be debated)… or broken and weak on a cross, with blood and water flowing from his side. It is no wonder that God hides, for we could not bear to look upon his face. In the Exodus account this is true because to look upon the face of God would be to die. Hence, Moses could only see God’s "back"-side (God "mooned" Moses). Likewise, using the language of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 to describe Jesus, we find in him a most unpredictable God, who is so despised and of little account that he is as one from whom others hide their faces. Jesus is the living Word who was there "in the beginning" and in whom all things continue to hold together each and every moment of each and every day. It was this same Jesus who was born as a Middle Eastern peasant 2,000 years ago, only to endure capital punishment at the hands of a government who believed the accusations that he was fomenting a rebellion. Likewise, he is the resurrected Jesus whose Spirit gave birth to the Church and is giving birth to it still, if only we will permit ourselves to die and rise again with him.
My friends, to speak of such things with something as imprecise and symbolic as language is akin to trying to trace the Mona Lisa with a can of spray paint. It’s like trying to perform brain surgery with a pizza cutter. My point is that however skilled we are at communication, we kid ourselves if we do not realize that when we speak of God we speak of a mystery that is to be tended, not tamed. This is why Jesus said " follow me," not understand me. When we say we understand something we presume a mastery over our material that I would never be so brave as to claim in relation to God. I would much prefer to have a life together with my teacher, lord, and savior- along with those others who are also following along the Way- trusting that whatever I am to know of God, whoever I am to be in relation to Him and all those around me, it is enough that God knows what that is/who I am, and so long as I stick with Jesus, I will know too when the time is right. In other words, what I believe about Jesus matters far less than that I believe Jesus when he bids me come and follow.
So what does all this have to do with our talk on Saturday? Well, for starters- as a member of the one Church made up of every tribe, nation, tongue, and time- let me express my heartfelt conviction that "less is more." I will confess to being one of those who has clamored behind the scenes for us to have the very conversation that we are about to have. As I’ve said, "I see that you all (the house church) have such amazing, wonderful, family-like relationships, and that is good, but I can’t help wonder- what are they for?" What will you do with all the love you’re cultivating amongst yourselves? Are you a pilgrim people on a mission together, or are you setting up shop somewhere in the religious marketplace? If you are such a people (on a mission together)- what is it? Please, let us agree on something that will captivate our imaginations, something that we can truly live for…and maybe even die for. Let us agree on something that will set us apart so that we can be the peculiar people that Scripture describes, those who share in our Lord’s sufferings because we have not stopped following him in the Way….of the Cross. Let us die together, so that we might live again.
Look, I don’t mean to espouse a mere "social gospel," but it’s hard to ignore the words and actions of Jesus- he who is anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind so that the oppressed might go free. It’s likewise difficult to ignore the words and actions of that prophet/rock star Bono, who at least year’s National Prayer Breakfast said:
Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives. Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone. I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.
Whatever we say about ourselves, whatever we do, if we want to keep up with Jesus we must "find our own Calcutta’s" and meet him among the "least of these." We must join him in his revolution….of love. I trust and hope beyond all reason that our lives will never be the same, but then again we must lose our lives in order to find them…..