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Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Be A Point Of Reconciliation

"Forget religion, and just be human." It's an understandable sentiment. Church people aren't the best, many times. And we find in outsiders often enviable qualities we do not find in ourselves, or in our co-religionists.

The trouble is when we get to defining "human." Without God who reveals, there is no reference point for our aspiration. Every time men conspire to define themselves apart from revealed truth, "human" can mean any number of things, many of which define cataclysm and disaster. The best case in the realm of error is a fuzzy sentimentality. When it gets right down to it, nobody wants this either.

"Religion" isn't very popular these days. I should have stopped rolling my eyes at, "It's not religion; it's a relationship" and made t-shirts. But what do people mean when they use "religion" pejoratively like this? They mean that things have become stale, that the plethora of rules has no intelligible meaning deep in their hearts. That this entire thing is about as enthralling as a trip to the DMV. No wonder people leave; I'd leave, too.

There are no precepts without the reality of the Incarnation. If Jesus came as a man to die on the cross and be raised from the dead, then there are reasons to commemorate that as the redeemed community, the family of God. You cannot rule-follow your way to Heaven. The redeemed life is intelligible by a personal encounter with the risen Christ. Without this, it's crazy. In fact, we should acknowledge the fact that it's crazy anyway. There is a sense in which we need rules, but they don't need us. That is, any person is probably aware of the failure to meet some standard, but knowing that standard, even meeting it fleetingly, won't fill us. Probably people try religion at times trying to fill that gnawing, I could be better in their hearts. It doesn't work; it can't.

There's an edifice to Christianity, there's a civilization, but there was no power in that either, but for the fact that millions of people and perhaps billions, had a personal encounter with Christ, and decided to share experiences. Consider this: That the peaks of human civilization occurred because Jesus spoke into the darkness of this world. It's not something we can claim as our own to preserve, because without Him, it falls apart.

I digress.

I have seen a movie called "Field of Dreams" many times. Besides the charm of this baseball fairy story--and that's exactly what it is--I love a part of one scene. Our protagonist Ray is attempting to discern whether to follow the presumptive leadings of Heaven's messengers, risking the financial health of his family in the effort, while his wife Annie tells him all the reasons it's a terrible idea. They're behind on the mortgage, the baseball field Ray built ate up their savings, she says, and, "We could lose this farm." Simple words, and I don't know if Amy Madigan messed up acting this line, or if she nailed it, but it has a certain unreality to it, almost inviting Ray and us to believe that it's going to work out, that ignoring the call is worse than losing the farm and their home. (I say "Heaven's messengers" because both the book and the movie are a kind of Christian story, but the good news is in fact baseball, if you will pardon the scandal.)

Suffering and trial are a bit like possibly losing the farm. They have a reality that pulls you, they offer a legitimate counter-invitation, but next to God's invitation, it sounds like a poorly-delivered line one barely stops to consider. When we start hearing God clearly, all the trial and pain of the world in a sense has an unreality, an ephemeral existence that pales in contrast. There are times not to say this, of course, but anyone on the other side of a trial knows what I'm saying.

We can be a point of reconciliation when the defining reality of our existence is that Christ loves us. We can't simply know this; we have to taste it in the air. What do you taste in the air when there is no one else around?