AUTHOR’S WARNING: the following musing may step on your toes, anger you, disgust you, challenge you, make you give off a sigh of relief…or you may merely shrug your shoulders and say ‘big deal, get original.”
We do not find God in church.
Before anyone starts sifting through stones to see which ones is best for casting, pause and permit me a moment to expound on what I see as the truth that we do not find God in church.
For you see, in truth, it is the other way around. We ‘find’ God (a misnomer) and out of that flows a living incarnation called church. For no “model” of church will produce God or God’s life in us. It is in fact our life in God – when shared together – that becomes the building blocks of the expression called ‘church.’
Because we have gotten it backwards (thinking we find God in church) has led us to become dependent, or codependent, upon church – both the building and the denominations – as well as church leaders for ‘creating’ God’s life in us. We have done this so much so that we become passive in our own spiritual growth. When we rely upon others to “impart” God’s life to us, we become spiritually lazy – religious couch potatoes. We end up waiting for others not only to show us how to grow spiritually but we even expect others to do the work for us (as if spiritual growth can be imparted magically with no effort or desire on our part). And to top it off, we then end up complaining about the lack of “fruit” or growth and as a result of our spiritual passivity we tend to give up on the most important relationship we will ever have: the one with God.
But we must become active in our spirituality; we must hunger for and desire to experience what it means to live deeply in God’s great love. And the great work that we do is the mere desire; for grace comes and draws us closer to the One Who is closer than our own skin.
I can tell you about my experience of God, but I cannot impart my experience of God into you; you have to have your own experience of God. Others can offer guidance, but the truth be told, there should be 8 billion spiritual experiences happening, namely each and every person in the world must have their own personal (and therefore unique) experience with God.
In our modern age, it seems everything has become too easy, too fast to obtain that we have surrendered the daily, lifelong journey of a life with God. In short, we have settled. Our relationship with God becomes an historical event instead of what it has always been meant to be – what Jesus showed us it could be – a dynamic, living, breathing, loving, intimacy with God!
This relationship is about God sorting things out within us. God transforms us and by God’s grace and doing (not ours), we learn to live content in God’s providential love instead of in the realm of worry, hurry, and religious structures. But to have this life, to be this type of people, each of us must be having our own friendship with God. Reading spiritual giants, reading about spiritual giants is all good, but at the end of the day, I am held accountable for my own spiritual growth and my intimacy with God.
Paradoxically, I cannot do this alone, but I do this within myself. Community of some sort nurtures our connections to God and all that is divine, but we must as solitudes come face to face with the God of our being. And rest assured, God longs to have this dynamic intimacy with each of us.
Remember this: God starts it; God sustains it; God waters and nurtures it; and God completes it. Our role is, well, our role is to just “show up”…and surrender to this Sacred Love.
Forget the rules, the rigidity, the exclusiveness, the holy roller club techniques, the loopholes that allow the church to reject me because I’m a democrat, a republican, an anarchist, queer, black, white, yellow, red, brown, poor, rich, addict, all tatted up, whatever. If we seek God, God will reward us with an intimacy that is beyond comprehension, beyond words, beyond being.
But we must make the leap and surrender to God, plain and simple.
And as we surrender (and continually learn what surrendering means), we learn to depend upon the Spirit’s power (rather than our own) in all things and for all things, and as we do this we gradually learn and discover the fullness of life – the fullness of God’s life – within us.
I believe that when Jesus said that he came to bring life and to bring it abundantly that he was referring to this life of experiential intimacy with God. See the Gospel of John 10:9-11.
This abundance of God’s life, both in us and through us, is not based on circumstances since circumstances do not make or break us, they merely reveal us. And in this ‘revelation’, God reveals more and more of the divine life to us, and the more God reveals to us, the more we grow in love with and become more like God.
This reality – this dynamic of all of us experiencing God and having God’s life in us – leads us to the experience called “church.” So rather than trying to figure out how to “do” church0 or force community to happen or worse yet, creating a place where a false sense of community comes through conformity we can instead focus on what God is doing inside each of us. And then through these experiences authentic community – a living “church” – can follow.
We must remember God is the God of community. Some examples include the Trinity (God in relationship with God’s own self), the ancient Hebrews who were brought together by Yahweh – the divine name which means I AM WHO I AM – Who made them a people of the “I AM,” and then there are the apostles, the disciples, and the early church. All these forms of community, of “church”, flowed from people being called into deep, intimate relationship with God.
“Church” is our experience of God and God’s love flowing freely into us, through us, and out of us towards each other – and towards a wounded world in desperate need of God’s grace.
The world does not need another experiment called “church” that is about smug, pious, holier-than-thou attitudes that have become the symbolic curse of the frozen chosen lost in a holy huddle. That is not symbolic of a deep experience of God and God’s unconditional Love that is mere fear and folly. Without God’s life in us, in each of us, our expressions of church can become religious country clubs where the broken, hurting, and addicted are excluded from membership. Without authentic intimacy with God (the source of God’s life in us), church becomes a place of self-righteous ethics dictated by appearances rather based on the all-embracing Love of God.
We sometimes forget the very people that hung out with Jesus when he walked the earth would nowadays be frowned upon and judged right out of our congregations today. Lest we forget, Jesus – the man who said if you have seen me, you have seen God – hung out with whores, liars, cheaters, the forgotten, the poor, the unclean and the ostracized, the unholy and the unforgiven, not the perfect or the righteous. The only occurrences we know of Jesus ever judging anyone is when he was confronted by the pious hypocrites of his day, those who thought they held the keys to the rule and reign of God’s love and grace.
God’s life in us – coming from our friendship with God – will pour into us the very nature of this God Whose love is relentless and Whose mercies are never-ending and as we become a people filled with this God, we are bound to turn the world upside-down and set it on fire with Divine Love.
Now that is Church.
When we are with God, allowing the Spirit to change and mold us like the Master Potter, we are transformed. And when we share what God is doing inside of us – instead of focusing on what we think others “should” be doing – God uses that to draw us all together growing this circle called “church.”