(Throwback Thursday or #tbt has become a social media convention for posting old pictures. For the next few weeks, I want to use it to re-post some old pieces of writing from my blog that stand out to me as some of the best of what I’ve written in the past. This was originally published on July 24, 2006, and I’ve given it some minor editing.)
I grew up immersed in the Christian story and culture, but history alone is not why I name Jesus as my center. I’ve been wrestling to define this, and I reserve the right to change my words, but here is where I stand now: I choose to name myself as a Christian because it best describes the way divine encounter and human community have intersected in my life.
The way I make sense of the world we live in is to choose to believe that there is a God, and that I am not that god. There are logical reasons for this; there are evidences of it in the created world; but none of those could prove it to another person beyond a shadow of a doubt. For myself, I cannot deny the shocking beauty of being encountered by something beyond, something spiritual, the Divine Other. This which I name as God is incredibly broad and sometimes surprisingly specific (theologians would say, both transcendent and immanent.) My experience has not been that I discovered what I name as God after a long search. Rather, the eternal longing love of God sought me from the time I was being knit together in my mother’s womb, and to this very moment still pursues me, sometimes gently and quietly, sometimes with a relentless and nagging ferocity of loving protection.
So against some who take the name of “Christian”, I do not believe that I have found it, or that I possess it, or that I now somehow hold the keys to the power to do more in life because I have prayed a magic prayer. I have been found, I am a possession. How do I make sense of what has found me? How do I name what it is? How do I speak of it, grow into it?
Beginning with people who loved me (my parents), I was introduced to the Christian story in the bible. It’s a story told by many human writers from diverse cultures over thousands of years of history, but it is a story with a plot that completely resonates with my experience. It is the story of one God who created the whole universe and created humanity in order to open God’s self up to relationship with us. It is the story of a God who creates recklessly, with joyful abandon…simply so that God can walk in the cool of the evening in a garden with the first couple. God’s pursuing love of relationship leads to revealing God’s self to Moses (and us) as “Yahweh”, the great I am.
It is the story of people like me; people who aren’t god, but who want to be and sometimes act like they are. People who ruthlessly and relentlessly want to define and choose their own story, their own life, their own frame of existence. People who from the beginning are willing to destroy relationship (with God and with other people) to pass the buck or increase their own power or standing in the world.
It is the story of a God who will not give up the hope of an honest and whole relationship with this rebel humanity created in God’s image. It’s the story of a God who called an old man and a barren woman to give up all they ever knew on what sounds like a used car salesman’s promise (“more descendants than you can count, and land I’ll show you… after you sign on the dotted line”). The story of a God who ridiculously committed to a fickle group of whining Israelites (who followed rescue after rescue with idol after idol), the story of a God who kept raising up men and women who could hear God’s voice and speak of love and justice and mercy and judgment, the story of a God who finally took the ultimate step of embracing wayward humanity to the Nth degree by becoming one–a person named Jesus of Nazareth.
This biblical story absolutely matches my own experience of divine encounters with a pursuing, relentless, loving God. It’s a story written down by individuals who truly listened to this God. It’s a story preserved by people whose encounters with God through the person of Jesus Christ changed them forever.
We don’t live any longer in a world where individuals have some sort of direct claim to truth (I’m not sure any of us ever did.) All of our experience, all of our understanding of Truth, is filtered through community. I must trust others. I do it implicitly, through using words and the English language that others have created and defined. I do it explicitly, by recognizing that part of being NOT God is knowing that I cannot see all truth, and that I need others to help me interpret and understand what I am experiencing.
Here I stand, and I can do no other, to use Martin Luther’s words: When I read the bible, I recognize the same Voice/Author/Spirit that I cannot deny I have encountered mystically or spiritually (you can deny it, but I cannot!) This is divine encounter. When I think of the people I have known in my life who have most affected me, most helped me, who live and act most like I want to be, they are all people who are utterly captivated and found by Jesus. This is community.
I choose to let the bible be authoritative in my life. I do that because its words consistently prove able to bring me to the Divine Center; because generations upon generations of Spirit-filled people have chosen to preserve the words and to live by them; to allow these words to point them to the living Christ. To me, it seems strangely arrogant to pick and choose which parts of the bible I will allow to define what I believe, and which I will reject. Twice in my life, I have packed up and moved and left places of comfort because a group of people in a meeting for clearness told us that was their discerning of God’s leading. To reject those people, my community, would be to choose ridiculousness. I trust them. I gathered them for the purpose of helping me know God’s leading. Why would I pick and choose from what they said? I choose to see the bible as a record of millions of people’s meetings for clearness. I may not like all of what it says, but I trust it to lead me to a deeper understanding and experience of the God who has already discovered me.
And if you are still brave enough to be reading this long, it shouldn’t be difficult to see why Jesus is a name I joyfully embrace. What is said of Jesus in the bible connects absolutely with my experience of God. My community–those present and living, and those long dead–my community that I respect and who helps me encounter God more deeply, says that Jesus is immensely important, in fact central to everything: Jesus is God’s definitive action of love in our rebellious and hurting world.
I embrace and am embraced by words like these in 1 Peter chapter 2, verses 4-8. Some will read this as confining, rejecting, and absolute. I see them as an invitation to something that really matters, an invitation to come to Jesus.
Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him.
And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures express it,
“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem,
a chosen cornerstone,
and anyone who believes in him
will never be disappointed.”
Yes, he is very precious to you who believe. But for those who reject him,
“The stone that was rejected by the builders
has now become the cornerstone.”
And the Scriptures also say,
“He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that will make them fall.”
I submit this to you all as my experience, and hope some will find in it something which “speaks to your condition.”
(You can also read one of my favorite posts of all time, a tongue-in-cheek follow up to what’s written above.)