Monday, August 2, 2010

Being Christian and Being Human: Which Comes First?

A topic that is discussed regularly in churches is “how to evangelize.” The assumption is that we Christians have something very important that we need to share with others. If the way of Christian faith is something that is deeply important and formative in our lives, it seems to make sense that we would want to share that part of our lives with others.

But, what is it exactly that we are to share? An orthodox set of beliefs about God, the world, Christ, sin and salvation? An experience of transformation through the way of faith? Or, is it something else? Or, perhaps, should we just keep quiet mostly and live the way of faith?

For some reason I have just lost the desire to think in this way anymore. Because it requires me to first of all identify myself in a way that divides me from anyone who doesn’t self-identify as a Christian. For some reason, I just can’t do that anymore. I am just playing a false role, assuming a false identity, when I try to discuss “evangelism” in the traditional way.

My first and deepest identification is with humanity, as a member of the human race, and that is where I experience a living faith in Jesus, the Christ of God. I experience Christ at the center of humanity more than at the center of the Church. I feel like I have gained the whole world of people as brothers and sisters through Christ, not like I have separated myself from the world in favor of identification with the Church. So, when I begin to talk about Jesus and God, my conversation includes those outside the church as much as those inside the church.

In fact, I don’t have an insider’s message to preach anymore. When I do fall into this, it is very false, unconvincing especially to me. I don’t have an insider’s special secret knowledge to teach to outsiders. I don’t think I am in possession of anything that I can give out to others.

No, for me, I can bear witness and point to a reality that is beyond, but somehow moves within. I can point to a living God that moves beyond our ability to perceive, but somehow can be perceived in the depths of our experience in this life. I don’t have something in my head or in my heart to give out to others as a religious possession. I don’t have a fixed set of beliefs to try and convert someone to.

I am a witness to something that is going on in this world that is talked about in the Holy Scriptures and has been talked about by prophets and teachers and holy people for ages. I have an energy at the center of my life to bear witness to God’s presence in this world.

But, this is not something I ever possess. No, my religion, is not MY religion. It is the experience of something that comes from outside of me, is experienced externally and internally, but never possessed. It must come anew each day.
There is a sense in which I am as internally poor and bereft as the most hopeless and foolish person on earth, but I have this connection, this relation to something outside of myself. I have this orientation of my soul towards the Creator and Redeemer of life. I call this orientation faith. Being open to the coming of God’s Spirit which is constantly moving among the creatures of this world. It is like the sunflower that turns towards the sun and receives its energy.

And, this orientation of the soul outward, towards the Divine – I believe this is the effect of the coming of Christ, to turn the heart that was turned in on itself outward towards the light of day, towards the goodness of God, able to receive gifts of the Spirit of Life. I believe that every heart has a yearning to be turned inside out, to be open to the Creator, to be infused by a peace and power and wisdom from beyond, to be united once again with our human roots in the Divine Creator.

In the history of religions, we find that there were holy men and women and children in every age. The Bible bears witness to this openness of the heart in the prophets and faithful of Israel, but also to the openness of the heart to God among the gentiles as well. And, we find in history that certain human beings among Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam, as well as Judaism and Christianity have had this orientation towards God as well.

Now, I believe that Jesus is at the center of God’s creative and redemptive movement in this world, and the most powerful expression of the very character of God. But,we should remember that Jesus found quite a few supposedly unholy people that were wide open to the coming of God’s grace, and he found many supposedly holy people who were closed off from any real communion with God’s Spirit. And, it seems to me that we have a similar situation in our day. To draw lines and separate people on the basis of religious affiliation just doesn’t seem any more wise or in touch with reality now than it was back then.

I want to say this: celebrating the hope that has come in Christ causes a person to feel confined in the Church, always wanting to go and throw the door open wider, and, indeed to stand a little outside the “holy communion,” so as to not miss communion with the rest of humanity.

I appreciate and need somewhere to gather and speak and listen to words about God and Jesus. I appreciate and enjoy having a place to gather and sing the songs of faith and pray together and be silent together in expectation of the coming of a power, a word, a touch of grace from God. And, I certainly appreciate a place where people gather and do these things in such a way that you feel you can relax, enjoy, and share that with "all comers."

But, this communion only remains vital and helpful if it has an openness at its center: an openness to God’s coming and an openness to the coming of the neighbor, whether stranger or friend, into its midst.

A communion that is truly living from the Spirit of God will receive the Jew as easily as the Christian, the Muslim as easily as the Jew, the atheist as easily as the orthodox believer. Because the unifying force is the Christ, who is at the center of humanity, drawing all elements of humanity together in him.