The Bottom Line
|Colorado National Monument|
Despite the title this post will not tell you which underwear to select when wearing something clingy. In fact, this post will not instruct you any which way at all.
Last week our 'Safe Space' group gathered to discuss what is at the core of Christian faith; the central beliefs that must remain if we are to describe a faith as 'Christian'. In any faith setting we can sometimes feel as though we are trying to believe too much, like the White Queen in Alice through the Looking Glass:
"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
It is tempting to try to boil down our beliefs into something that defines us tightly, whilst defining others as the infidels - as illustrated by this slightly ridiculous story from Emo Philips. So we looked at a selection of creeds, some of which were startlingly simple, some of which were plainly written by committees of stroky-bearded men with no homes to go to. The one that resonated with the group best was from the second-century bishop, St Irenaeus (and incidentally is the motto of the school where my kids attend and husband teaches - well done them):
"The glory of God is a human being fully alive."
No, it doesn't tell you what you must do to be saved; no, it doesn't clarify the persons of the Trinity; no, it doesn't even mention Jesus. But there is something about its simple, joyful expression that we loved. It tells us that God enjoys us; and that his enjoyment is fulfilled when we enjoy him. And we do this by being...well, us. Us, in the best possible version. Us, all the way through.
In case you're worried, yes we also agreed that Jesus was vital to a faith that is Christian; there's a clue in the title. But there are times in life when being too prescriptive about what doctrines we must believe is at best unhelpful and at worst destructive. Jesus was very good at saying and asking just the right thing at the right time to the right person; he didn't need to regurgitate every last detail at every opportunity.
We also took to this distillation of a life of faith, confirmed by Jesus:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...and love your neighbour as yourself." Luke 10:26-28
Simple. Clear. Direct. Challenging.
Many of us find periods in our journey of faith when we are unsure what we feel: having instructions to do can get us across such arid deserts. A quote from George macDonald illustrates this:
"Troubled soul, you are not bound to feel, but you are bound to arise. God loves you whether you feel it or not. You cannot love when you want, but you are bound to fight the hatred that is in you to the last. Try not to feel good when you are not good, but cry to Him who is good. He changes, not because you change. No, he has a special tenderness of love towards you because you are in the dark and have no light. His heart is glad when you arise and say, “I will go to my Father.” For he sees you through all the gloom through which you cannot see him. Will yourself to be his will. Say to him: “My God, I am very dull and low and hard but you are wise and high and tender, and you are my God. I am your child. Don’t leave me here, alone.” Then fold the arms of your faith, and wait in quietness until light begins to rise in your darkness. Fold the arms of your faith, but not of your action: think of something that you ought to do and go and do it. If it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend. Heed not feelings: Do your work."
Our worship used a song from the duo The Civil Wars, which expresses the tension in a human relationship where there is love but also pain - and in it all, a sense of knowing that love underlines everything - the bottom line.
Oh, and here is my attempt at a creed, written for Easter Day last year - one that hopefully is more of a celebration and less of a legal, read the small print, sign on the bottom line, document.
We believe in one God, the Almighty,
The ‘yes’ at the heart of the Universe
The starter and completer
Who holds, envelopes and sustains.
The Father heart whose fierce hug
embraces the wrestling nations.
We believe in Jesus
The dancer and leaper of our hearts’ delight.
The one who entered our world in human flesh
And lived amongst us, knowing our pain and our joy.
The gatherer and sender out
Who flung his arms wide
laughing at death and making all things new.
We believe in the Spirit
The Holy One from God
Intangible and unknowable
And yet closer than each breath;
Inhabiting our thoughts and dreams
Discomforting and comforting
Calming and inspiring.
We believe in one God
The mystery, the hidden treasure
who is found by those who seek
and brings answers to those who question:
we believe that in him we find all that we are searching for
and that together he forms us into his own people
foreknown and forgiven
experiencing his now and awaiting his future.
We believe in one God
And welcome his presence in this place.
TAW Easter 2011