Thursday, December 17, 2009

Simple Faith

Tonight as I drove home, I was listening to a message given by a popular, nationally syndicated minister on the local Christian radio station. I should have known better, but tonight I experienced a weak moment. Over time, I have discovered that most “popular, nationally syndicated ministers” say the same things. And most of them read (and write) the same books. Judging by their seemingly endless cycle of similar messages, they must work from some common “approved list” of conservative Christian topics. Sadly, I am not a fan of reruns.

However, as irritating as the mind-numbing repetition may be, my primary struggle is with their utter conformity to the prevailing winds of church culture. I consider myself to be evangelical and even – on my off days – a conservative. But I find myself more and more frustrated by the starched and pressed adherence to the conservative religious bandwagon so consistently rolling off the mainstream Christian media assembly line.

Itching ears. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But I’m not objecting to the continual proclamation of the eternal truth of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the world and his message of God’s love and calling to love others. We need that. It’s the only good news worth talking about. I’m objecting to the freeze-dried, pre-packaged, bulleted list of “stuff to work on to get your life in order before God” that spews out of the extremities of the FM band between the hours of six and nine p.m. every weekday night.

Nobody ever promised our lives would be in order. Certainly God never did. He didn’t promise success either, not the kind of success we imagine. One glimpse of the cross will tell you that God’s success looks rather uncomfortably like failure. God never promised financial security (Jesus had nowhere to lay his head), perfect families (from all the evidence of His children, God’s household is a wreck), great marriages (have you read Hosea?) or any of the other magical carrots dangled from the end of any preacher’s religious shtick.

Life with Christ just isn’t that easy… or that hard.

The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but the road to misery is surfaced with religious regurgitation. The architects and organizers of the Christian religion have done more damage to faith than all the atheists and pagans in history. Their efforts to distill faith in Christ into an orderly, well-groomed, respectable religious occupation have largely been successful only in enslaving people to religious rules and regulations. And I’m not directing a spotlight on the Roman Catholic Church (the whipping boy of the protestant masses). In the last 500 years, Protestants have created their own intricate structures, organizations, ritual, dogma and religious language which – while perhaps more diverse – have proven no less damaging to faith. I suppose it is simply the nature of religion.

Faith is simple… and awkward. It works exactly opposite to the way the world functions. There are no lists, no manuals (the Bible is not a manual, it is narrative and proclamation), no black and white regulations or 12 Step programs to follow. It is simply trusting Jesus wherever you are and trusting the Holy Spirit inside to lead you as you go.

Unfortunately, that means there are no general-purpose, one-size-fits-all religious programs on how to “do” life once you set foot on the road of faith. Anyone who says otherwise is either tragically misinformed or requesting a donation.

Life in faith is at once magnificent, frustrating, relentless, beautiful, offensive, vibrant, sad, joyous, sacred, and profane. It is a promise overcoming the curse and the triumph of love over justice. It is life constrained only by love.

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