I came across the picture above on the internet. Something about it resonated with me, the way people were falling out of the church and into an abyss.
I held onto the picture, planning to write about how we need to be careful of where we worship because some places lead us not to a higher plane of love and compassion but into the abyss of hatred and self-righteousness.
I worked up an indignation over how so many “Christians” reject anyone who experiences God outside of their tiny theological boxes. How they want legal consent to hatefully shun others in Jesus’ name. How they insist we should turn away refugees – let them die over there, it’s too dangerous to save them over here.
And I just want to say: WTF? What’s That Faith?
A couple of things I saw while driving around recently also got under my skin. First, I came upon a pickup truck toting a trailer that berated everyone on the road who didn’t share their beliefs. On the truck bed was a videoboard playing gruesome scenes of crucifixion. You also notice a U.S. flag, an Israeli flag and a POW flag. Whatever.
A week later, I pulled up behind an SUV with this bumper sticker:
Jesus loves me more? Really??? What in God’s name is going on here? I totally get it why so many people call themselves spiritual but not religious these days.
Oh, and I haven’t even started on the white, evangelical “values voters” who decided to become disciples of someone who has lived an entire lifetime mocking and repudiating their values. The ones who heard him say that he’s the only one who can save them, and they were like: We’re good with that!
Out with the old savior, in with the new.
As you can tell, I’d worked myself into a nice, judgmental mood for an into-the-abyss blog.
And then, I had a come-to-Jesus moment.
A man who is friends with someone in my UCC church contacted me. He said he wanted to talk about God. We met at a Starbucks. He comes from a deeply fundamentalist background. I sensed that he was anxious.
WTF? What’s That Faith?
He started quoting scriptures about judgment and punishment, and I just wanted to get up and leave. But then it occurred to me why he was doing what he was doing. He’s terrified that his friend is going to hell because she belongs to a church that believes God actually loves us.
Fear. I sensed a deep fear in his tone.
He kept going, hoping that if he repeated his Bible verses enough times, he might convert me and then God might accept me and not eternally torture me. He was worried about me, too.
I was touched. And I felt so sad for this kind, caring, anxious man.
It reminded me of something Nadia Bolz-Weber said during her reflection on the parable of the prodigal son – you know, the story of how no matter what we do wrong, we get love and hugs and a party in the end.
Nadia tells how an 82-year-old woman posted a heartbreaking message on her public Facebook page saying that she was afraid of dying because she thought God was angry at her and was going to torture her.
This poor woman’s “religion” had made her terrified of God.
“She’d been so condemned by the bogus reward-and-punishment system of false religion that at the end of her life rather than her faith being a source of comfort for her, it was a source of torment for her,” Nadia says.
I felt the same way sitting in Starbucks across the table from a good man who has been taught that the most God-like people in his life weren’t good enough for God because they didn’t attend his church. He’d been told that God hates most everything about all of us but will grudgingly accept those who get baptized into his denomination. All the others — we get eternally waterboarded.
Can you imagine the anxiety it produced in him? Poor man! I felt so sorry for him.
This poor man!
In that moment, all my indignation – OK, some of my indignation – melted. I saw not a self-righteous person but, instead, a victim who’d been beaten up by his “religion” and left bleeding by the side of the spiritual road.
He didn’t need theological debate. Instead, he needed someone to offer compassion and reassurance and love and healing and peace and hope – all the things that his religion was denying him.
In other words, he needed what religion is supposed to do. It’s supposed to lead us upward to a higher place, directing us to love. Away from the abyss.
I really hope he finds his way up and out. He deserves that grace. As do we all.
A link to Nadia’s reflection: http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/files/2016/03/2016-03-06_NBW_HFASS_Podcast_64kbps.mp3