In the divine economy of grace, sin and failure become the base metal and raw material for the redemption experience itself. Much of organized religion, however, tends to be peopled by folks who have a mania for some idea order, which is never true, so they are seldom happy or content. It makes you anal retentive after a while, to use Freud’s rude phrase, because you can never be happy with life as it is, which is always filled with handicapped people, mentally unstable people, people of “other” and “false” religions, irritable people, gay people, and people of totally different customs and traditions. Not to speak of wild nature, which we have not loved very well up to now…
…Sin and salvation are correlative terms. Salvation is not sin perfectly avoided, as the ego would prefer; but in fact, salvation is sin turned on its head and used in our favor. That is how transformative divine love is.
—Fr. Richard Rohr, Falling Upward
Part I: The Problem with ‘Christians’ and the Solution
I recently watched a video titled ‘The Rapture’ by Peter Rollins. The video began like many videos detailing the Biblical Apocalypse: a voice reading the Scriptures as devastation flashes across the screen. This video took an interesting and unexpected turn, however, when the ‘Christians’ were lifted into Heaven. The animated Christians, finally delivered from the pandemonium on earth, began breathing sighs of relief.
“Praise God! We escaped – it’s over!”
“I am glad to be here, but he sure took his time about it, didn’t he?”
“Haw haw haw!”
It is then that God declares that it is time for Him to go and be with those who had forsaken Him for the earth – those who had found Heaven in the very act of forsaking it and served at the feet of a broken, fragile earth.
The point of the video, for those who may be concerned, was not to rewrite Scripture. The idea, however, is fairly heretical nonetheless.
The tale was meant to speak to those who read Jesus’ words and hear nothing but an ideal world view. They hear Jesus calling them to be perfect. When broken people, never capable of perfection even prior to The Fall, attempt to attain what was never theirs, the result is usually division and exclusion.
Not to mention the utter delusion that they themselves have achieved some semblance of righteousness.
In Matthew 5, Jesus informs a large crowd that they aren’t the ‘good’ people they think they are. You see, the Law is impossible for anyone to fulfill. And like anything else, if it’s impossible, we’re impressed if we can do any of it. So Jesus addresses a crowd of people who have impressed themselves by living a life free of adultery and murder.
“I may hate some people, but at least I’ve never killed them.”
“I may want to bang the chick next door, but at least I haven’t actually done it…nor will I.”
To which Jesus responds, “Same thing.”
So Jesus, provocative as ever, tells them, “Don’t worry about it. If you cut off your arm and pluck out your eyeball, you’ll manage it! Be perfect like God!”
There are people everywhere who will read this and think that they have enough fight in them to answer this call.
But Jesus was brilliant. He was alluring.
He knows our nature. We’re fixers and doers. We scramble to collect as much security, control, and power as possible. We need answers to feel safe from death. We need answers so that we can at least assert, ‘At least I’m not as lost as the other guy.’
Any amount of, ‘Hey, it’s impossible. I can do it – let me be the fulfillment of the Law. Let me be your perfection. Allow me to complete you, to restore the unity that was lost as your feet brought you out of the Garden,” would have been practically useless. Why? Just look at the Law – when have we ever done anything simply out of the motivation to ‘do the right thing’? God tells us to do something and it usually ends horrifically. We’re not exactly obedient.
So Jesus provokes us. “Go ahead, try it,” he says, knowing full well that we will fail.
Why would he do that?
Because he knows us.
He knows that we have to assert for ourselves that we cannot do it, and perhaps try a few more times in our bullheaded insanity, before we will relent and ask for help. Our twisted, broken souls have to embrace death before we will find the life he offers. Until then, we will simply be supplementing our attempts at life with his ‘free gift’. We can’t have both.
But it is in trying to have both that we find the people Fr. Richard Rohr speaks of. The ‘anal retentive’ people who are constantly frustrated that gay people are happy, that Buddhists lead morally superior lives, and that Grace has the audacity to fall from the lips of a Holy Yogi who yearns for nothing but God.
It is in trying to be perfect that we become the people that God abandons in Heaven (according to Peter Rollins video). Jesus came for the broken and destitute, the ones who didn’t spend their time covering up their brokenness like the Pharisees and instead embraced it. Why? Because even if they find their actions normative, they are far closer to redemption than those who feel they can achieve it. When we yield our delirious dreams of perfection and an ideal world system, we are able to admit that we need someone else to do it for us.
So Jesus fulfills the Law and becomes our perfection. And as we are restored to him, the Law is fulfilled through and in us. Not at our own hands, but by Him healing us to the fullness of our humanity.
Be free. If your Christianity is built upon being right about any number of things, you are still trying to survive while simultaneously claiming to let God do the job you are incapable of. If you are incapable, stop trying.
While it’s easier said than done, even stepping into the journey of finally dying brings radical change.
Part II: So what does this have to do with love?
‘Us vs. Them’ is a phrase that accurately describes what happens when we decide that we are capable of perfection. We begin drawing lines in the sand, excluding people and condemning others. We set a standard and people claim to be holding to it. It would be better to say that they are doing an excellent job of fooling themselves and others. You can talk about brokenness in the past tense, but that does not make it so.
Now, before I continue, I would like to say that I am not furthering the ‘us vs. them’ mentality by speaking to a very specific problem within Christianity. There is a tendency to use our anger towards ‘hypocrites’ as a rallying cry. That is not the intention. In fact, instead of drawing a dividing line, I’m stating that it doesn’t exist. We want to act as though there is a profound difference between Christians and the others, but really, we are all ‘Them’. There is no ‘Us’. For those who have died and let God be their perfection, openly accepting their brokenness, their table is open to all. They know they are on the ‘Them’ side of life. For those who feel they are the ‘Us’, they are living an enslaved life, never truly experiencing freedom while they are still trying to partner with God in the redemption itself. They either feel they are capable of achieving what is necessary, or have been given an image of God that demands such effort on their part.
Whether it is by their own hand or a misunderstanding, it is of no consequence – in the end, they are just as broken as everyone else, and are unknowingly part of the ‘Them’. Sound familiar? Pharisees were just a messed up as the next guy, but had convinced themselves, and others, that they were somehow more put together. In their own minds, they are living on the righteous side of some imaginary line.
We love hating the Pharisees and condemning them, but really, their life is a painful one. Like it or not, we need their mercy as much as they need ours. Why? Because we are all, again, the ‘Them’. We were never perfect, even before the Fall, and we never will be. We are all broken, God being our audacious grace and perfection, which puts all humans in the same boat.
But, it is in admitting our place among the ‘Them’ that we finally realize Love. You see, some part of us still desires to cover our bodies when we come before God. While we’ll admit we are sinners, we utilize that admission to assert ourselves again (i.e., at least I admitted that I was wrong!). Since we’re asking for forgiveness, receiving the Holy Spirit, ‘escaping Hell’ and living out the Christian ‘bucket list’, we must be better, or at least more ‘right’, than others.
When we truly step into God’s space, however, and find ourselves before Love, a few things happen. First, it is repulsive. We almost immediately see the contrast of who we are and who God is. It can be likened to meeting a person who has seemingly never had a hardship in their lives – it drives you crazy. Their life is simply too pristine. You can’t handle the contrast of your life against theirs. It’s easier to call them ‘naïve’ or ‘young’.
And so, when we truly see God’s love, we feel repulsed. How can anyone be like that?
Our repulsion goes further than that, even, as our bones begin to show. When we truly come before God broken and naked, finally losing the fight and quitting the struggle, we reveal ourselves as we are – a disgusting eyesore. But God’s love persists in these moments, and we struggle to understand how He could love what we not only hate in others, but deeply loathe in ourselves.
When the tangible world will have nothing to do with us, it isn’t a far stretch to think that God would do the same.
For many people, love must be ‘balanced’, as they seem to think it needs to be supplemented in order to ‘manage sin’. But this is simply not so.
What happens next, if we are truly encountering love, is the catalyst of change.
When we are enveloped in this love that repulses us, and we realize that we are loved despite our inability to love ourselves, it changes us. It does not condemn us, but we certainly see ourselves in contrast to its goodness. We want it. It is the very thing we demand from our relationships; the very contentment we hope to find in our job. And while these things are worthwhile and satisfying in their own respect, they are not the catalyst of radical new life. Both our relationships and jobs can be transformed by it, but they will never birth the restoration we all desperately desire.
It is in Love that we learn Love. We find that Love encompasses all that is beneficial and redeems all that is not. In Love, we do not find condemnation for our imperfection, but rather the fulfillment of it.
And not only does Love teach us how to love, but the process of encountering love humbles us as though we were reduced to the crushed dust of our bones. When someone sees the full nakedness of our broken bodies, and loves us regardless, we walk away changed. We have nothing to prove, and find ourselves in love with those with similar stories of shattered, filthy lives.
In fact, it is in the contrast, the realization that we were wrong all along, that we finally begin to live. We stop fixing life at face value, desperately snatching at security and power, and instead seek the path of an organic journey. It is mystical to be sure, because it allows the process of Jesus redeeming our life moment to moment to be the revealer of truth instead of grasping for answers immediately.
This Love seats us at a table with other murderers, adulterers, idol-worshipers and thieves. We find company at a table of broken, shattered humans who have found themselves pursued by the Great Love. Who found they had nothing to offer, but were invited in anyways. They found that the journey is forward, towards restoration, but somehow still find ways of mucking it up post-invitation.
They found a place to ease their weary bones.
Part III: The Ideal World is Later – Be Here Now.
To quote the movie ‘The Help’, “Aren’t you tired?”
We romanticize life beyond what it is. We disappoint ourselves. And in that space, we cease to love because we cannot love ourselves. We cannot love life when it refuses to align with our ideal world view.
God calls us to be present in the now – the present tense. Tomorrow, you could wake up and be perfect. Sure. What the hell.
But today, at this precise moment, you are not. So be imperfect. It is only when we fully embrace our imperfection that we create space for perfection. For Love. For Father.
And, again, aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of being the ‘put together person’? For me, it was being the zealous Christian, fighting for God’s glory, rushing to make Him famous. I was fiercely loyal to this ideology, and in the end, it was not there for me. God was.
So, I had to start showing my bones. I had to be naked before God.
I’ll be honest – ten seconds of honesty with God will completely change the way you see the Gospel. It will change everything. Everyone will call you a heretic, and it will be beyond frightening, but perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he said the way was narrow. Few people bare their bones. Few Christians die.
And fewer come to the realization that they are deeply loved. Even fewer actually love.
But once we allow ourselves to step into it, we will find love for those around us. We will find love for ourselves.
Can I define Love?
It’s crazy, man. It’s irrational and radical. It turns order inside out. It destroys hierarchies and elevates spoiled sons who deceive their fathers in order to gain a blessing that was never theirs. It binds up the brokenhearted, bringing them to the table. It creates brotherhood across dividing lines. It is audacious.
And you shouldn’t live another moment without it. It may mean you’re wrong. It may mean that you have to be honest. But it is truly the only thing worth having.