It’s October and with Halloween just around the corner, it feels like an appropriate time to bring my blog back from the dead. Thank you to those who have come back to read even in the absence of new posts.
So many things that have happened in the last several months. Many of the things that have been staples in my life are now gone. After losing my beloved dog, Lexy, a year ago, my dad followed just a few months later and the community with whom I would typically look for consolation and support is now also gone as I have found it necessary to look for a new church home.
I don’t know about you, but looking for a church is one of my least favorite things to do. I would almost (almost being the key phrase here) rather go to the dentist for major dental work than have to map out new churches to try. I have yet to find the recipe for finding a group of people with whom you feel a sense of community while simultaneously feel spiritually fed and challenged.
Part of the problem, at least for me, is that places of worship tend to be very “cliquey”. Now, I certainly understand the phenomenon of like-minded people finding one another. After all, that’s what a congregation is, isn’t it? A group of people who gather together to proclaim their belief in the same deity/dieties and who enjoy expressing these beliefs in the same way? This is how I see it, at least, and I don’t find any wrong with this in general. As a person who is an “extroverted introvert”, I absolutely want to find a community of people that make me feel as comfortable as possible when I walk in the door because, dang it, it’s hard to walk in the door all alone!
But the interesting thing about using a sense of comfort as the divining rod of church choice is that we simultaneously make the decision that those in the other groups or churches are “doing it wrong” – or at least not as “right” as we are. The group of people we worship with helps to mold the perspective we on faith as a whole – who God is, what God does, and what we as individuals are called to do under the umbrella of faith. Is that how we are supposed to choose our faith community? What do miss when we do this? It seems to me that by selecting our faith family this way, we quietly draw lines in the sand and define faith based on personal preferences, not theological truth.
Though I cannot guarantee this is the case with everyone, I would venture that many of us define God and faith through the eyes of legalism. We end up feeling good about ourselves and what we are doing “in Faith” because our community is doing everything the same way so we must be doing it right. We feel better about ourselves and the way we behave when compared to what those “other people” do and slowly but surely we become like some people in the Bible that we really don’t want to be associated with…
I know. That’s a really inflammatory – if not heretical – statement, but hear me out.
When I reflect on the traits that I consider to be the defining characteristics of the Pharisees, I think of things such as self-righteousness and judgmentalism (no, it’s not be a word, but I like it so I’m going with it).
Mostly, I think of individuals who primarily seek to find only the wrong in others’ lives as opposed to accepting those around them as individual masterpieces God created. To me, the Pharisees’ primary goals were to ensure all around them knew they were the most learned, most perfect, and most chosen of all.
And as I look around at my own actions and those I encounter both in the houses of worship I have visited and just around me in general, I see those same traits oozing out of all of us. No, we aren’t literally crucifying people for committing what we consider to be heinous crimes, but I would suggest that we do crucify one another symbolically by choosing actions, behaviors, personality types and even careers that we feel are contrary to the narrow view of God and faith that we currently identify with. We do this by cherry-picking Bible passages that support what we want God to be saying and then using those passages as weapons, condemning others actions and, when possible, destroying the life they had that we find so atrocious. We are deciding for ourselves that one action is more deplorable to God than another because we find it personally offensive or contrary to the way we personally interpret the motivation behind the behavior and then use varied interpretations of His Word as the weapon to prove our point.
Now before you all start frantically typing angry messages to me, let me say this. Yes, I do believe that the Bible is God’s Word. I believe that He gave His Word to us via chosen messengers and that through those Words, He has provided us a clear example of how to live a life that is loving and grace-filled. What gets in the way is our desire to be “right”; to be the one that uniquely understands God better, worships Him more fully, forgives more freely. We all want to be God’s chosen and we will often do whatever it takes for us to feel as though we are accomplishing that goal.
Let me be clear. I don’t think that wanting to be God’s chosen is a bad thing. My heart aches to hear God say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). I long to know that when I depart this world, those who knew me will be able to say that I loved well and lived as God would have wanted me to despite my multitudes of failures. But one of the things that I think is crucial is that we all must find a way to understand that our desires are really no different than those of the Pharisees. They were learned men of the Torah who desired to ensure that all people within their area of influence were living as they had been taught and therefore believed the laws indicated they should be so that God would be pleased with them. In their fanaticism to accomplish their goals, they went to the extreme and while we can point and condemn, we are just as likely to do this as they were and in many cases, we already are.
In the end, I think it comes down to this.
Nothing about God is as simple as the black and white definitions we want to create. There is no right or wrong when it comes to a denomination or a church, congregation or stand-alone group. All there is an instruction from God to love one another. If we can do this, we can break down the cliques that exist and open our hearts and minds to see the world more like God sees it and in so doing, create a community that truly honors Him.
In the meantime, I guess l’ll continue to look for a community that looks more like me.