A friend was bible thumping all over a thread I posted today. While I wished he would stop, it also made me question why I don't quote scripture during dinner conversation, or use the Bible as back-up in debates, and why I steer clear of bible studies from study books that give you the "right" answers. I don't throw Bible verses around unless I’m in a pastoral or teaching situation - where it’s implied and expected.
The Bible was not intended as a tool to hit people over the head with. Or to defend the path of my choice in a duel to the death with people I don't know. That's just what you'll get. Spiritual death in those you're talking to. Even if unintentional.
I don't like being told what to think; or anyone trying to shut down my thought process or flow either. I revel in the "getting there," the unfolding and discovery. I want the lesson to reveal itself. I want to own my a-has.
Clearly, scholars and theologians know more than I do, but I still might see something they haven't. I'm also teachable.
Learning from someone with something to say is welcome, however. It's a great improvement over rote answers to bible study questions from a book as if they're coming out of a vending machine. Isn't it liberating when new knowledge integrates with what you already know, giving you the freedom to arrive at your own conclusions? It stimulates thinking and activates creativity. Studies that fed me answers, without encouraging critical thinking insulted my intelligence and stifled me. I needed my own observations. Understanding that bubbled up and resonated.
Some friends might respond predictably saying, "You want to do it your way, not God's way." That I'm trying to interpret the Bible the way I want to hear it.
So, is it true?
I don’t think it is.
I want to connect with it in a way that means something.
I want it to come alive.
It’s my way of attempting to
declutter religion, and
the language associated with it.
I want to simplify.
There's value in decluttering...
...and deconstructing our belief systems to free up some hard drive space.
What if we experimented with breaking down religious language to bare bones -
and rebuilt it in a way that resonated -
at a time.
I'm not advocating a rewrite of all liturgy or another new translation of scripture - or that you change what works for you.
I'm simply want to challenge our own status quo a bit - to help us get out of, what can often become, stagnant thinking, untested assumptions, and a loss of creativity and critical thinking.
It's healthy to test our ideas occasionally. Or open ourselves to learning how others perceive or understand us. Or not.
When we've been standing in the same spot for a long time without moving, we can miss things - simply because we're seeing it the way we always do. Taking a second look at an idea we're certain about or think we understand can be refreshing - if we step out of our comfort zone. There's no need to fear. Testing our limits and understanding helps us grow. We might be enlightened in a whole new way.
I'm often tempted to ask people if what they're reciting during a call to worship, or in unison during a responsive reading in the liturgy, speaks to their heart. Do they authentically comprehend and own what they're saying? Do the words reflect how they feel or relate to this experience?
What do you experience when you're reciting a creed or another liturgical response?
Sometimes it moves me, and other times I feel like a lemming - like I'm in that futuristic Apple commercial during the Superbowl a few years back.
What if we had the freedom - and opportunity - to hear and speak about our experience of God in ways that made us quicken? Or learned how to say the words from the deepest place within so they reached us where it matters? Wouldn't that feel better than the self-consciousness some of us feel when standing and speaking in unison?
Can we transform the words we say together into living statements we have genuine ownership in each time we speak them? Why not collectively and creatively find new words that authentically reflect who we are as our culture or language changes?
Why not try it as a simple exercise in your small group? Choose a liturgical reading or creed together. Then do a re-write in words or meaning that speaks to you as a group. Have a scribe write what you come up with on a HUGE piece of paper on the wall, or project it. Just try it on for size. Write everything down, and make sure the introverts have equal input. Then edit it together until you get it right. You can pass it back and forth in an email if you choose. Sometimes they take time. It doesn't have to become part of the Sunday service...but you'd have something with your voice in it.
Or do it as part of your own meditation time. I do that.
When I'm planning worship services, I write (and re-write) readings and liturgies just to explore different ways to say or experience them. I like to test if something will lead me into the holy. And how something might inspire others on Sunday. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't - but it's a great exercise to practice your own voice and how you relate to God.
Would it be an improvement over speaking religion-ese or an obligation to language that...
...we struggle to connect to?
...we resonate with?
...feeds us spiritually?
Do we do it because it's how it's always been? Is that a good enough reason?
You know what they say.
If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got.
(People in my workshops know they'll hear this if they keep getting what they don't want. If you continuously say you want something (lose weight, be sober, change jobs) and it never happens, you probably weren't willing to get out of your comfort zone enough to make real change.)
Bottom line, the experience matters. Does the language lead us to an experience that's alive? Or does it have the reverse effect? Or none at all? The latter might be the worst possible outcome.
My first instinct was to suggest Deconstructing God – dumb idea. God is complete. Duh.
But we can deconstruct the attachments we have to what God means or
is supposed to look like,
or that we need to chase him
simply let God …
It’s more than enough.
Plus, who knows?
Deconstructing the language that works so hard to define God and the religion you attach to God might be exhilarating.
Church language can distort the experience and understanding of God for some who haven't been regular church goers - or those who have rejected church because they were hurt for one reason or another.
It can over-complicate the experience at the onset.
For others, it makes navigating a spiritual path with Christianity confusing and intimidating.
In this culture, it can distract people from getting to the essence of what God is - and put up a roadblock to wanting to go deeper. Especially for those unfamiliar with church.
I'm not suggesting we eliminate aspects of a church service that invokes the holy. Only that we make our decisions about what touches or resonates with people in today's culture by asking them, instead of forcing it on them.
The language of church is the way it is for a reason - even if you think it's resistance to moving into the present. For many, the words are what make their traditions, sacraments, and history real. The problem is many of us don't share the history and traditions with a particular church, and can't connect because it's not familiar or too stoic, sometimes even frightening if we're unfamiliar with it. Sometimes the distance is too great.
However, many words and rituals invoke an experience of the holy or take us deeper into a spiritual experience. These words are powerful to those who are moved by them. Each of us - churches and individuals alike - might consider finding a way to explore what takes us into the mystery, and what divides us from our culture. It's a path to journey with respect and care.
Over the years, I never gave up searching for a church that resonated. I'd go to every kind of church when I was in a new community, and it was rare when something lit me up inside. But even then, it was more than this that drew me back through those doors to stay.
I wanted to remember and reconnect to the essence of my connection to God.
But it had to feel experientially honest, and provide a space where my heart also opened to others. It had to be real and alive. Not robotic and fake friendly. Or boring.
Quiet, meditative, reverence, stillness - all good. Boring - not so good. They're different.
Our goal is to keep the main thing, the main thing and provide a space for people to experience the holy - the mystical, while connecting and opening human hearts to each other in the process.
Disclaimer: If church language is meaningful to you as it is, never mind! Traditions and words that invoke the holy are powerful. If this is the consensus where you go to church, I'd give it a big hallelujah. As long as the younger (as in newer) members of the community agree.
The last thing I want to do is weaken an experience of the Holy Spirit for a single child of God.
When the Spirit enters, the words - whether in scripture, liturgy, or a hymnal - can come alive.
They can literally seem three dimensional in these moments. Yet, to those who haven't had this experience, can sound archaic and meaning-less. Some words will even push buttons, causing some people to shut down. "Fear God" is an example. In this day and age, who wants to belong to something that encourages fear? Taken literally and without context, this doesn't feel inviting. Of course, it's not meant quite the way it's heard when out of cultural and historical context.
Present in the Presence
Another powerful way to deconstruct religion-ese and the burden of misunderstood liturgy, or too many words is to simplify how we communicate our experience of God.
What if we relaxed a little, and encouraged people to stop worrying about finding God, or longing for God, or seeking God, or pleading with God, or declaring God....and allow God to find his (or her) place in our understanding and experience...
Let God be GOD.
Isn't this what Jesus did?
He was present with God. God just was.
I never heard it described this way, but I imagine Jesus being a clear channel that God naturally rose up in when he sought God. And he naturally sank into God. (Of course, the fact that he was God probably helped too)
Being a present and open channel.
It’s how he felt God, how God spoke to him. It’s also how God speaks to us.
You could spend less time seeking and longing for God, and instead, just allow God to be with you.
Allowing God to simply be. Here. Or there.
Because there God is.
It's kind of like ransacking the house for our glasses until someone points out they’ve been sitting on top of our head the whole time.
Or like spending our entire lives looking for the perfect partner - and they are right under our nose the whole time.
When we drive, we look ahead on the road in order to respond accordingly - our brain and reflexes need time to negotiate and maneuver the vehicle with the road in front of us. This is a wise tactic when planning our day, or developing goals for our life. We have to look ahead to plan - but it’s different with God.
God is. We’re not driving to meet him at the next stoplight. He’s already there.
We're the ones who aren't present.
We don't have to plan the next turn - we have to be in the now. If you're navigating the road to find God, you might have to stop and let NOW catch up with you.
It’s just a matter of being here…in this place. In this time. In this moment.
And pay attention to allowing.
Without the jargon. The religious speak. Unless you want it.
Wordy belief systems sometimes confuse us, while interpretations can distract us if it's the primary way we communicate or think about God. Or if we think we're supposed to.
If music unlocks your heart, put it on. If stillness calls your soul to attention, all sound off.
Don't let religion-ese or over-thinking it keep you from getting to the heart of the matter.
Just be in the presence of God. The God that is All That Is.
God is now.
You are of God.
Get out of your comfort zone to do some decluttering; and get down to the bare and essential bones of you and God...
…and take the simple path for the next leg of the journey.
Decluttering is simplifying. Moving stuff around.
Throwing out what you don't use.
Decluttering has a way of taking us back to the basics.
Back to where we belong.
It's safe in a clutter-free zone - manageable.
A safe place is a good starting point for what shows up next on your journey.
It gives you momentary rest, replenishing you to step into the adventure being created just for you.
It also gives you a place to come home to - if you find yourself in places you're not yet ready to explore.
Sometimes you need to just be.
To just be with God who just is.
…to be continued. Soon.