Distorted Faith

I was reading Richard Rohr this morning – his Yes, And… book of daily meditations. Writing about how a person develops a sense of the sacred, he notes that in the first half of life, many people’s spirituality is self-centered. He says,

Christians in the first half of life become obsessed with dying a happy death and going to heaven. Even religion becomes a rather privatized “evacuation plan for the next world” (as Brian McLaren calls it), and the clergy seldom recognize that much of religion is trapped at the individualistic and egocentric level. No actual love of neighbor, outsider, the poor, or even God was really necessary. This is garden variety first-half of life religion, and it has passed for the real thing for much of the Christian era.

The truth of Rohr’s insight seems obvious to me, but it runs counter to the dominant emphasis in popular religion, which focuses on “getting saved” and “being good” and “going to heaven.” But that emphasis on escapism from this world cuts the heart out of Jesus’ life and message. He came to establish a new community he called “the kingdom of heaven.” This was a transformation of this world, not an escape from it.

To the degree that we have bought into the popular, “evangelical,” message that Christian faith is about believing some idea so God will approve of us, accept us, save us, we have failed to grasp what Jesus was about. Jesus came to heal us of our divisions and gather us into a new community. But that’s hard. That takes courage and humility. It puts us up against the way of the world.

It’s easier to believe that Christian faith is about “believing” something so we can get a ticket to heaven, rather than about following the way of Jesus and joining his new community. But it’s wrong.

So, I apologize for whatever I have said that has reinforced that distorted message. The world needs people who are committed to the project Jesus came to start — the transformation of this world and the healing of all that divides people and destroys life. Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. Let’s not get distracted by “heaven,” but remember that Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is among / within you.”

Affordable Health Care

Just wondering — surely the Republicans in Congress know how insurance works, right?

You pay into a pool of money along with a lot of other people. The cost is based on the calculated likelihood of how many of those people will need to use the benefits. The greater the number of people who pay in, the less it costs. Which is why the ACA made participation mandatory, to try to broaden participation and lower cost.

Maybe the biggest objection to the ACA is this mandate to join. But, look, your bank makes you buy insurance on your house if you have a mortgage. And that’s not based on their concern for your well-being but for their bottom line.

The motivation for a national health plan comes from the desire to see the most vulnerable people protected from bad health and medical bankruptcy. We want to be a nation that cares for our neighbors instead of only looking out for ourselves. Love of neighbor and looking out for the interests of others and not just ourselves is a central value of Christian faith.

Most of these folks in Congress who are trying to tear down the ACA also claim to be Christian. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

The Stranger’s Blessing

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post.

After I wrote about loving other people without condition, not requiring them to meet my expectations and standards before I can love them, I remembered something from the Rule of Benedict. In this ancient rule for life in Christian community, a central practice is that the community always provides someone to stay by the door, day and night. This person was called the “Porter” of the monastery, the doorkeeper. The job of the doorkeeper was of utmost importance. Whenever a stranger, a traveler, came to the door, regardless of the time of day or night, the Porter was to reply to their knock by saying, “Your blessing, please!”

The Porter did not know anything about the person on the other side of the door. Did the traveler believe the same things? Practice the same lifestyle? Live by the standards of the monastic community? Those questions were not asked. The first response was based in a conviction that God sent the stranger so that the community could be blessed by welcoming and providing hospitality. There were no requirements – only that the person be received as if she or he were the Christ in disguise.

We lose the stranger’s blessing if we place conditions on our love.

Aww… Do I Have To?

I can imagine the disciples of Jesus saying that when he reminded them that the most important things God had ever said to them were: 1) love God with everything you’ve got, and 2) love your neighbor as you love yourself.

In fact, there’s that famous story of the young lawyer (what is it about lawyers?) who wanted to argue with Jesus about that and said, “But who is my neighbor?” So Jesus tells that story of the Syrian refugee who stops to help the white guy who got mugged. Well… it was really a Samaritan and a Jew in the original, but you have to translate because we don’t know what the heck a Samaritan is!

Or it could be a gay couple and a wedding caterer.

I don’t understand why this has gotten to be such an issue that we have to have legislation passed one way or the other. Look, folks, “love your neighbor” does not mean you have to like them, approve of them or endorse their lifestyle. But it does mean that your Lord expects you to act for their good, to treat them with respect and to deal with them as you find them, not as you wish them to be.

That goes both ways. Jesus expects me to love white supremacists and black lives matter activists equally. That sounds good in the abstract, but it’s really, really hard to do. My preferences and prejudices affect who I’d rather hang out with – or approve of.

I saw recently a reminder of something the Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, said about love: “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” He said if we only love what we wish them to be and not who they are at this moment, we do not really love them.

Maybe the bottom line question is whether we can trust God and stop trying to control people. Speaking just for myself – I don’t need to be protected from other people’s existence. God invites me to consider that my neighbor is – all of my neighbors are – another person made in God’s image whom I am called to love. When that prolific letter-writer, Paul, said look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others, he didn’t qualify the statement with “if you approve of them.”

Clearly, we have a lot to learn and a long way to go. But God is patient. And God is love. For that, I am eternally grateful.