A couple of years ago I read everything written by Mohandas K. Gandhi that I could get my hands on. I get these wild desires to read everything under the name of a particular author . . . and then I just tackle it.
Right now I'm on a Brennan Manning kick. Last year it was all about Barbara Brown Taylor.
Back to Gandhi . . . I read something in his autobiography that forced me to look back into my own eyes. And what I saw there frightened me. It was scary because it explained something to me that I've spent a long time wondering about.
"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Gandhi
If you are like me and grew up in church and are still involved in a faith community, please don't get upset and leave right now. Even Gandhi can make a generalization. Even famous writers don't know everybody.
I have met many Christian people who do remind me of Christ - who give me a strong sense of Heaven on Earth . . . the "kingdom come" right this moment, right here on this ground. Their love for others, and their compassion strike me as being almost tangible - they invite all different kinds of people . . . and all different kinds of people find rest in their company. Inspiration. Motivation to live beautifully.
Likewise, I have spoken with many Christian people who have worried me and caused me to question . . . who have hurt me and hurt those I love - causing kind, good people to reject the idea of any kind of faith community because of a bitter taste . . . a lack of love and compassion. A sense of "us" and "them" . . .
It's dizzying. Confusing. I can't wrap my mind around the gap between what I know of God and what I know of people who say they speak on behalf of God. It's like not being able to focus a camera lens.
Yes - I am your local church music director . . . admitting that I don't trust everybody who says they speak for God. And this mistrust has a damaging effect on my own relationship with God.
Here is the biggest confession: I don't always trust God.
It isn't a matter of not trusting only when bad things happen . . . it's a general sense of not knowing what real trust feels like. I read something in a Brennan Manning book last week that sent me straight to my knees.
“Like faith and hope, trust cannot be self-generated. I cannot simply will myself to trust. What outrageous irony: the one thing that I am responsible for throughout my life I cannot generate. The one thing I need to do I cannot do. But such is the meaning of radical dependence. It consists in theological virtues, in divinely ordained gifts. Why reproach myself for my lack of trust? Why waste time beating myself up for something I cannot affect? What does lie within my power is paying attention to the faithfulness of Jesus. That’s what I am asked to do: pay attention to Jesus throughout my journey, remembering his kindnesses (Ps. 103:2).”
Of course nothing is focused. The trust doesn't come from other people. The trust doesn't come from myself. The trust comes from paying attention to God - to the kindness of Jesus Christ. All of this reminds me of my journey into Thanksgiving - the "altar in the world," the everyday Eucharist that makes itself known in blades of grass and conversations shared with children.
Manning talks about our ability to trust God in terms of the "conversion experience" many of our churches prize above all things. He talks about the fact that being converted or "saved" isn't synonymous with learning to trust God for most people. That it's a bigger, second step. And many people don't come to it willingly. We go kicking and screaming, dragging our baggage and our human ideals . . . our rules and our justifications. But it's the one thing we can't justify. We can't reason it out. And we can't use other people as our measuring stick.
God is not other people. God is not a church building. God is God. If I only look for God's face in the rules of my religion or the actions of people who say they have authority, I will not find it. Because God has only ever had one human face . . . Jesus. Everything else is just a window, a frame too small to reveal the big picture.
I have a favorite song . . . one that I want to post on this blog SO MUCH. But I'm afraid that some of my readers will find it alienating. Possibly offensive. And so I'll just tell you about it. It's by the Gungor band. It's about what God is and what God isn't. It's about who God loves. And that's everybody. If you want to hear the song you can look it up yourself by searching for "God is Not a White Man" on youtube. If you don't want to hear the song, it's ok. When I first heard this song a door to my heart swung open and even though circumstance has tried to shut that door again and again, it has stayed open.
I grew up in a loving church surrounded by loving people. And I love to work in the midst of the church. But the church is not the thing my faith is based on. My faith is based on a love for God. And I hope that someday it will be also based on unreserved trust.
The day I learn to trust God with my whole heart . . . the day I stop asking, "Are you sure that this gift is for me? Are you sure you still love me?" . . . it will be the best day of my life. It will be better than the day I said, "I believe that Jesus is real." It will be bigger than the day I got baptized. It will be the best thing I've ever done for myself or anybody else - to trust that God loves somebody like me without reservation.
If we are honest, we'll admit that the trust issue is more difficult than saying we accept God.
We accept many things.
We trust very few.
This is something I'm learning about and wading through right now. And so, again, I can't offer anybody any answers. I just know what's rolling around in my own heart, waiting to be full grown. I hope that you can see the same kind of hope I can - just barely visible - that God can be trusted in a way that transcends our trust of other human beings.
I believe that God can heal my broken-hearted mistrust of goodness in the world. And I am looking for that to happen.
This song took FOREVER to get just right. I am hoping through this song. I want to trust like this.
Peace & Goodness,