Believing in God is hard.
If anyone tells you otherwise they’re lying, or they’ve been frozen for eons under a housing development in Southern California like a Cro-Magnon Brendan Frazier in Encino Man.*
(*NOTE: “The 90s were the gilded age of American cinema.” — Probably Corey Feldman)
From endless rocket fire in Gaza, to the smoldering rubble of a commercial plane in the Ukraine. From child refugees being turned away by a country that has (if we’re being honest) a rather lengthy history of welcoming immigrants (that whole “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” in the form of a 300-foot bronze woman off the coast of Wall Street has a way of sending mixed messages to children fleeing unrest in Honduras) to the fact that the only bill managing to sail through the House is one suing our sitting president.
When we have more people currently incarcerated than Slovenia has people, it’s safe to say our great country is a bit south of that “Christian Nation” mantle touted by the Manifest Destiny, Founding Father, Realtree Patriot’s, Rapture Bible filling the shelves of your local LifeWay Christian Store.
“And on the third day, God created the Remington Bolt Action Rifle ….” — Mean Girls
Meaning: If this is a world who’s every action is controlled by a divine force, then I’d hate to see what it looks like when God takes a long weekend.
Now, I know folks have good intentions whenever they proclaim from on high they’ve never wavered in their trust and fidelity to God, because “Christians who really believe should never be hopeless, ever. God is good all the time and all the time God is good” or something along those tired lines.
Just like worried parents have good intentions when they tell you the desperately ill family dog was sent to get some fresh air on a local farm. Or that babies live in the “tummies of their mommies.”
I get that walking 6-year-olds through their impending mortality or an anatomically correct diagram while employing descriptors like “uterus” might be somewhat bracing, but then again, finding out that babies do not grow in the stomachs of their mothers as a college freshman in a Bio-101 lecture may be a bit worse.*
(*NOTE: Sadly, this story is incredibly true and decidedly not one of those pastor anecdotes beginning with, “after the sermon, as he was shaking hands with parishioners …”)
Before you say it, I already know — cynicism is a real struggle for me. But to be fair, I’m 29 years old, have adult acne, will never know what the word “pension” means and write things for free on the Internet on which anonymous posters can comment incoherently.
So, while cynicism can be a real drag at parties, I can’t say I find it all that helpful when I’m continually reminded that, “for the sake of the gospel,” I’m expected to mislead people about my growing confusion at the rampant chaos in our world in order to convince them long enough to make some sort of decision about Christianity. Which is, most of the time, only a decision about the afterlife.
Leaving me to ask the question: is there anything worse “for the gospel” than a group of people so out of touch with reality, they’ve confused actual persecution (you know, the kind where you’re jailed or killed) with living in a democratic society where people are not mandated to share your opinions about health care, God, firearms, life, politics, contraception and SEC foobawl?
Is there anything worse “for the gospel” than a group of politically, racially and educationally privileged people declaring to a world where somewhere around 2.7 billion people live on less than two dollars a day, that believing in God is not only quite easy, it should be pretty obvious to those of us paying attention?
What if the reason so many folks struggle to connect the dots to a loving divine being from a world filled with unrest, strife, failure and destruction is because the only people they see delivering the “good news” don’t seem to have heard any bad news — ever?
Which of course, isn’t true, but this is where my cynicism begins to rise once more.
However, at the bottom of my growing anger, doubt and confusion, I come across the stories and faith of people who believe in something holding the world together, despite the fact their belief has given them little in the way of social, political or economic credit — unlike my own.
Like when my gay friends cling to the way of Jesus even in the face of shame, ridicule and rejection at the hands of their families and their churches in the name of the God they love and serve.
Or when impoverished Latin American women, often caring for their children without a partner, meet together for Mass in their homes without the benefit of a priest or recognition from the Catholic Church.
Or when women pursue graduate degrees in theology, lead churches, teach, preach and create fresh expressions for a faith that, even to this day, often refuses to acknowledge their abilities to undertake this work solely because of their gender.
“It is likely that our theological problem in the church is that our gospel is a story believed, shaped and transmitted by the dispossessed; and we are now a church of possessions for whom the rhetoric of the dispossessed is offensive and their promise is irrelevant.” — Walter Bruggeman
Meaning: Is it little wonder that a faith founded by an impoverished, homeless rabbi born to an unwed teenage mother in a backwater Middle Eastern town occupied by a world superpower, has lost a bit of its prophetic edge when its chief defenders are the wealthy citizens of a world superpower attempting to control the Middle East?
What our faith needs isn’t more political power, more celebrity endorsements, more New York Times bestselling pastors, or more kneeling-in-prayer touchdown celebrations, but rather it needs more weakness, more struggle and more people with a white-knuckle grasp on redemption in the very midst of chaos and pain. When people who’ve been pushed out, rejected, ignored and scapegoated continue to believe there is a sacred hum to the world, it clears enough of the fog away for those of us living more “acceptable” lives to unearth an actual belief, an actual faith, an actual resurrection of our own.
Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he announced that his kingdom, to the exclusion of all other kingdoms, would be inherited by the poor.
So to the meek, the impoverished, the weary and the barely there sort of believers hiding out on the margins of our faith, I want to say, with tears on my keyboard, thank you for saving my faith.
I’d be lost without you.