Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Christianity is a Skill

The pastor is way out in front, bounding over the hills, beckoning everyone else onward. The leaders are behind him, trying to keep up, working to hold everything together. Quick construction, fast changes. Dutifully everyone else tries to follow. No one really knows how.

There is a real problem. This is the rock that sank my first run through Christianity. Lots of what to do, but very little how. It's as if I'd picked a random person, dumped my whole sand sculpture kit n him and told him to go make something beautiful. He has no idea! The tools are a mystery, the process implied but certainly not very clear, and he's never thought about sculpture in his life. He will, very likely, put the equipment in his garage along with the treadmill, the table saw and the easel, and go on with his life unchanged.

It's supposed to be a learning curve, not a cliff. Not all of us are rock climbers, or born with suction cups on our fingers. We need to be taught. We need to gain experience. Try the gradual slopes, the simple sculptures, learn how the tools work, which ones are for what purpose.

How does one become a follower of Jesus? The first part is easy to conceive. If you go for many walks in the mountains you'll soon learn to read the tracks written onto the land by animals in their wanderings, and you'll find patterns. The paths run parallel, covering a wide space and many different routes, until there's some sort of choke point. A rock, a downed tree, a steep and loose slope. All the tracks will converge to pass over or through the choke point, and then they'll spread out again. Anyone wanting to reach that part of the mountain must go through that narrow spot. Our narrow spot is Jesus' cross. After that the paths diverge again, many people moving in roughly the same direction but far from identical.

Except that they're taught to be identical. So, following Jesus becomes just another task, like school or work. Guilt felt for being different causes ever stronger adherence to rules and guidelines, and it's no wonder that we fail. We're not made that way. Ask any kindergartner, if you can tear her attention away from a caterpillar on a plant.

We're so inculcated with conformance that it takes the rejected bottom feeders to find a new way. Jesus loved outcasts. They're honest, and they know they need him. However His will is expressed, it's better than what they have. In this they discover something: God grants moments, one after another, and the future just doesn't exist. Beauty, as he made it, is right now. Not tomorrow, but now.

Learning can be a delight. Each new thing can be held, turned in the hand, admired for what it is and then placed lovingly in the structure that you and God are building day by day. Second by second. Whether you're building a church, a family, a sand sculpture or just hanging on for dear life while knowing that if God doesn't hold you you're dead, the moment is all you have.

Moments added to one another make experience. If they're held together with God's love the moments will build into very powerful experience and nothing will be the same again. Learning is what keeps them coming. Stop learning and the joints between the pieces widen and the whole structure becomes rickety. Let your relationship with God become a mechanical time-killer and the love-glue dries up and things start to fall.

Where does this leave us? Wanting life rather than promises. Wanting instruction instead of more guilt for not doing things. Wanting to build something that will stand up under a lifetime's abuse, a structure solid enough to include others. Right now the learning is only available to bottom-feeders because they're used to establishment opprobrium and will just keep on walking.

Thomas Cahill wrote: "As we stand now at the entrance to the third millennium since Jesus, we can look back over the horrors of Christian history, never doubting for an instant that if Christians had put kindness ahead of devotion to good order, theological correctness, and our own justifications--if we had followed in the humble footsteps of the heretical Samaritan who was willing to wash someone else's wounds, rather than in the self-regarding steps of the priest and the immaculate steps of the Levite--the world we inhabit would be a very different one." (quoted in Brennan Manning's "Ruthless Trust," p167)

I have wondered about this as I've scurried around fixing problems with complex sound equipment required for a modern church service. Do we really need all of this, and the time, energy and money it takes to put it together? I learned church in a much simpler format and it seemed as powerful. Yet we need a way to reach people. Is there a way to combine things? Get Mosaic to stop haring off after whatever's in the future, pause and let people catch their breath? Maybe take time to pick up some of the thousands of bricks lying around and start building something, one at a time?

I know God can do it. He is doing it. That I'm alive right now, early August of 2004, is one testament to that fact. And the way he has been doing it? Showering me with love, at a rate I can tolerate. It has taken a modicum of strength to resist the church's imperatives and trust that God knows what he's doing. Fortunately Mosaic, for all its hell-bent-for-election practice in public, is in private a much more reasonable group of people. In this it is unlike that earlier, simpler church. Koinonia had doctrine in spades but the love was undercover and embarrassed, furtive rather than encouraged. Mosaic has enough room between its doctrinal pieces for the practice of love. May it ever be so.

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