forgetting grace

I don't know about God. 

I don't know about Jesus, or the Bible.

I do know that I am troubled by the way many people claiming to speak for God have used the Bible to justify ugly, un-Jesus-like things. 

But the Bible and Christianity were where I heard about God, and it's there that I've found whatever it is of God that I have experienced (at least in a cerebral sense). It is a part of me, and will always be a part of me. It has shaped my thinking, and will continue to do so. 

I respect and love a great many Christians, and I have found SO MUCH truth and wisdom in so many of the things that many of them say. There are past writers who have opened up the world to me, and there are present writers like Rachel Held Evans and Dr. Richard Beck and Ben Myers and others, whose writings have kept me hopeful about the Christian faith today. 

I know I grind down on that faith a lot on this blog, but maybe that's because I think it can be better. I want it to be better

I'm aware that there's that other side, too - an affirmation of the good that's there, and ought to be pointed out, sometimes. I have a hard time with that part of it, and I end up mostly just writing out of a place of anger and sadness. Maybe here's why: because I approach Christianity in a really cerebral way, and from a cerebral perspective, a lot of it seems really effed-up right now.

My faith has never been a primarily emotional experience. I have gone to charismatic churches in the past and I have felt the tug of it, but that aspect never felt all that... solid. I wanted it to. I prayed for it. I went up to the front, and then up to the front again. I had people pray for me. I'm an emotional guy, and I had emotional experiences in church. But I also had emotional experiences OUTside of church, and I felt this cognitive dissonance over the way I was being told that those outside-church experiences weren't as valuable. That they weren't as real, and the emotions weren't as good. 

They sure felt good, though. And real.

I got tired of trying to split the world into good/spiritual versus bad/secular/physical. I studied, and learned that a split like that was actually a gift (curse?) from Platonic dualism - from the Greek culture the Biblical writer Paul appropriated in order to make the words of Jesus relevant and understandable to the people living in his time. I learned that the Bible is this collection of the stories and poems and essays of people trying to do just one thing... to express who God is/was, and how God related to them. 

The Bible seemed to me to ask one, big question: What's God like? 

And then it answered with a lot of small answers, that were more like stories. They said, God's like this. And God's like this

No one story ever told the whole thing. They were all just pieces - all glimpses of truth seen "through a glass darkly," as Paul put it (quoting, again, from Platonic dualism).

I looked around and I saw these glimpses everywhere. I saw them, even, in Hollywood movies. And I thought... maybe I can write some glimpses, myself. I found that I could get lost in stories. That I could find truth, there, and wisdom. I found that art and stories could be, for me, a sort of transcendent experience. They could be my prayer. When I prayed and felt like I was talking to myself, I could turn that prayer into a story, and make that story into a truthward-meandering exploration. 

I prayed a LOT when my marriage ended. I prayed two things: the Lord's Prayer, and the Serenity Prayer. I prayed them like a mantra. I prayed them on the way to work. I prayed them during the day. They calmed me. They helped me out of my foxhole. 

But time passed.

I crawled up out of that foxhole, and maybe I discounted those prayers. I forgot, somewhat, about the hand that helped to pull me out of there. Maybe I spent too much time thinking that it was the stories that had saved me, and not the truth they pointed toward. Maybe I started to believe that the stories came from ME, and only me. I forgot the way it felt when I was writing them - how they seemed to speak to and through me from the Transcendent-Beyond toward which they had tugged my spirit, allowing me to survive that Dark Night of my Soul. I forgot, and forgot, and forgot.

I don't think this is ever going to be something I'm going to fully escape. 

I tend to rationalize a lot, and to forget about things like my dependence on Something More. I know that lately I've been feeling more anxious and even depressed, from time to time, and I can see how it's likely that this is the result of the false beliefs I've slid towards. The false pride that's had me believing that I could be my own salvation. And I can see that I need to remember and be reminded that I need to move away from that, back toward humility. Back into an acceptance of my own fragility. I need, as I once wrote, to "stop seeing God as just another tool I could use to get over the hump until I was able to manage things again on my own." I need to remember the community of the fellow-humble-broken if I'm going to keep to my feet... if I'm going to keep from falling back into that dark pit. 

I think this will probably be a lifelong process for me: forget-remember-forget-remember. 

That doesn't scare me like it once did. For one, because I think it's very human of me. And for two, because I no longer believe in a God who sits around waiting to Himself-damn me to hell if I screw up, or forget for too long who I am and who I'm meant to be - a humble creature cradled in the loving arms of God and community. I no longer worry that God's love for me is contingent on my behavior, on my emotional experience, or on my beliefs. I no longer feel that forgetting that love from time to time as I live my life is a cardinal sin. Who knows? Maybe God likes it when I just get lost for a while in this little life-gift I've been given.

That, to me, is the whole bonus and appeal of Jesus... that God's love is inescapably there. Not because of me, but because God is Love. I guess that's what they call Grace - that thing Bono once said was the only difference between Christianity and any other faith-tradition. 

I don't rationally know this, and sometimes I don't even believe it. 
But that's where my faith and hope lie. 

That's what infuses my stories with the love they need to come alive. 

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A FINAL NOTE: Writing isn't magic. It's hard work, and the greatest reward for that work is to share it with others. So if you enjoyed this little (ad-free) piece of my brain... please share the love on your social internets. And pick up a copy of my Short Story Collection, whilst you're at it. You can even get it as an ebook for less than a fancy cuppa hot bean-water, and it'll last waaay longer.


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