Many would say I've back slid; my compass is broken and I aimlessly heading off the edge of a cliff. But those close to me, my friends understand...I hope. That this has been a long process, at least 15 years...the last 5, immersing myself into the depths of the redemptive imagination and life of Jesus in the gospels. I will no longer be restricted by "christianity " in my pursuit of Jesus. I don't think he would restrict himself to "christianity", I think Jesus is bigger than any religion, and can't be contained by their barriers. I am more passionate than ever about Jesus, my faith has never felt more alive. I don't expect you understand...be patient. I'm free...and believe it or not, following Jesus.
Scarey stuff for sure. Many of my past church friends won't get this at all, your either in our your...out. Many would simply say I have left the faith. I would simply say I've left the church building, and navigating outside the barriers of Christianity. But it has taken 15 years to get here...it was an arduous journey of reading, reflection, conversations, prayer...and living. It was really about coming to terms of what faith is.
The big question...does Jesus occupy such a liminal place, where one is not anchored to much bobbing in this sea of questions. Fifteen years ago I would have said " no ", I would have been in the shallow end of the pool wearing a life jacket, and with in arms reach of the life guard at all times.
If any thing after reading nothing but the gospels for 5 years ( believe me my good friend Bill Dahl has listened to my musings for as long )...you can't reduce the gospels into a concrete block of theology. It's like this messy primordial mysterious ooze. Try as you might to shape into certitude, it squirts, and oozes through your fingers...the answer you thought you had is gone.
Something that really became clear was that Christianity's concern is the " church ", where as Jesus concern is the " Kingdom of God." And it also becomes apparent that there are clear solid lines as to who's in the church, and a lot less clearly defined lines as to who is in the Kingdom.
The challenge of the gospels is it's filled with paradox...one moment you think you've got the right answer squeezed tightly in your grasp only to open you hand and see it's vanished. Jesus, the God-man who could give an immutable answer doesn't. He tells these profound mysterious parables, stories, riddles...he lobbs them into the crowd like a grenade that has had the pin pulled. He, in many cases offers no answer. The crowd is left to try and defuse it.
In this search, this defusing of the parable they are drawn into a liminal space...where it is just them and God. And in this frantic search to find certitude to defuse... the only thing to be found is the mysterious redemptive power beyond human imagination called grace. The gospels are filled, over flowing with the stuff.
For the longest time " in " the church, I knew exactly who was "in" and who was "out". There were strict guide lines. Everyone had to believe certain doctrines, a statement of faith; behave a certain way...and you belonged. But the guidelines for who is "in" the Kingdom have been blown apart much like the crowd wrestling with the parables. The lines of the church were much like its walls, solid, fortified and impermeable. But there seems to be no lines fortifying the Kingdom, just this permeable redemptive membrane called grace...where we become profoundly surprised...or shocked by what can leak in.
I am the Good Shepherd and know and recognize my own, and my own know and recognize me. Even as truly as the Father knows me and I also know the Father...and I am giving my very own life and laying it down on behalf of the sheep.
And I have other sheep besides these that are not in this fold. I must bring and inspire those also, and they will listen to my voice and heed my call, and so there will be, and they will become one flock under one sheperd. ( paraphrase John 10:14-16 )
This is one of those stories that we want to read with our "church" default mindset...the certitude of knowing exactly who's "in." It's like were hanging on to our answer; dangling, grasping two fisted...and God cuts the rope.
WTF!!!...or what the flock is going on here? " I have other sheep besides these that are not in this fold. I must bring and inspire those also, and they will listen to my voice and heed my call." What kind of flock is this?
We know historically there were other faiths, and religions in the midst of the culture of Jesus day. So is this talking about some kind of conversion to " Christianity "? Remember at this point there wasn't any, and Jesus passion was the redemptive imagination and reality of the Kingdom...now, in our midst...among us. It's obvious there are other sheep that belong ( I have ), and they listen to his voice and heed his call. And Jesus is not forcing, trying to convert the sheep from different folds to change shepheds...he's asking his disciples to inspire, to maybe recognize that the God they have come to know through Jesus...is also the God of others.
Now, am I saying all religions premeate across the membrane into the Kingdom of God...I don't know? But I wonder if there might be sheep within those folds...that belong in Jesus flock?
Jesus says, " Who ever has seen me has seen the Father ", that the invisible God has been made visible in his life. It's like Jesus is say, " Hey, if you want to see what God is like, look at me; my life, my way, my deeds, my character...my truth.
Maybe, the other sheep have heard Jesus voice and heeded to his call, and are living...the way, the truth, and the life. Maybe our problem is we want to treat the Kingdom like church...where we have this tribal, exclusive, elistist view of God...where we have wire attached to our beliefs, our doctrines that prevent anyone from getting in but those that believe like us. Maybe the Jesus, of the Kingdom of God is more profound, more gracious...than the Jesus of the church.
Stories like the Good Samaritan...an other sheep besides these that are in the fold, that have heeded Jesus call. A person of another religion profoundly living...the way, the truth and the life of Jesus. He may not be in the "church ", but, mysteriously, I think he might be in the Kingdom of God.
And again, Matthew 25, and the thief on the cross all challenge are perception of what Jesus' flock may actually look like.
Brian McLaren says this about the Kingdom of God, and I wonder if Jesus does not look across this vast herd of sheep and think the same thing as to who get's in...
" it will not involve God ( please pardon the crudeness of this ) pulling down our pants and check for circumcision or scanning our brains for certain beliefs like products being scanned at the grocery checkout. No, God will examine the story of lives for signs of Christlikeness...for a cup of cols water, a plate of hot food given to one in need, for an atom of mercy shown to one who has been unkind or unthoughtful, or a visit to a prisoner or an open door and a warm bed for a stranger, for a generous impulse indulged and a hurtful one denied, like Jesus." ( A New Kind of Christianity; page 204 )
Will there be other faiths, other religions besides just Christians in the Kingdom of God...I don't know for sure. But the redemptive imagination that fills my mind explodes with excitement at the possibility.
I have seen that it is possible to be a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu or an atheist and carry the cross. The words are different but the self-sacrifice and thirst for justice are the same. And these men and women, who may not profess what I profess or believe what I believe, are my brothers and sisters. And I stand with them honoring and respecting our differences and finding hope and strength and love in our common commitment. ( Chris Hedges )
“Never be content with your current grasp of the gospel. The gospel is the life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth. It has more facets than a diamond. It's depths man will never exhaust.” ( CJ Mahaney )