Our human search for God and being people of God has been a long and ever changing journey despite the urge to bundle the accounts together into one, homogenous message. The bundler, then and now, seeks to make all these diverse messages speak for God when, in reality, they have always spoken more about us and our attempts for God’s favor. Christianity has its roots in the Hebrew faith with the one God. They had ways of remembering, retelling, worshipping and mindfully conducting their lives to please God. By the time of Jesus, God had changed from the nameless essence of life, to the wind or breath of life, and then into the highly personified Ruler of Heaven and Earth, the same one Jesus had the gall to call Father.
Without the radical example of Jesus it’s doubtful that we would be having this discussion about the identity of God’s people. Before Jesus, God was the national birthright of the Hebrew nation. Its purity codes were a cultural mandate that distinguished them from the ungodly. They monitored every aspect of their lives and were so complex and constrictive that Jesus was forced to say it was better to follow the intention of the law rather than trying following it to the letter. He also felt that family ties were too tightly bound that they could hinder a person’s spiritual growth. He also broke down the social barriers that separated women, children, the poor, the outcast, and foreigners from access to his deep sense of divinity in the midst of their everyday lives.
After only three years, his life and teaching came to an abrupt end. Slowly, tentatively, his followers were reinvigorated and began picking up the mantle of leading people to the message that they too were God’s people. However, as they began establishing churches, old biases began re-emerging; women were once again relegated to supportive spectators and the debate over the role of Gentiles (which, by the way, make up most of today’s Christians), were hotly debated. The debate over what or who belongs to God has continued, issue upon issue, right up to where we are find ourselves today.
For all that is liberating in New Testament Christianity, the flaw bundled into it is the ancient Hebrew idea of being God’s “chosen people.” This goes all the way back to the moment it was said and then written that, “God made man in his own image.” Right there, is the idea that somehow God is biased in our favor to the exclusion of everything else?! An ancient history professor once told me, “God created man in his image and man returned the compliment!”
As spin doctors of God’s image, formless Yahweh eventually came to resemble the manipulative gods of Greek mythology along with their concepts of heaven, earth and hell. This God for man bias has created and justified the divinely appointed and self righteous; domination, abuse, exploitation, and carnage by Christians for anything caught in the holy crosshairs! The closed book, commonly called the word of God, tends to perpetuate this ancient distortion in the minds of many Christian followers. You may be thinking my scapegoat is the Bible, but you’d be wrong! It’s not the Bible but our slavish devotion to its limited words and ideas.
Jesus wanted us to think and feel outside the boundaries of institutions and written words. Timely messages can carry timeless truth but it helps to know the context of the timely message first. The outmoded and misunderstood purity codes are still a stumbling block that trip up so many in Christianity especially when it comes to sexuality and how people practice it. All issues aside, whenever you negate respect, dignity, love or selfless consideration from any human behavior it is likely to become unbalanced, and destructive, in other words, sinful. That includes all behaviors and excludes no one. It doesn’t matter how many purity laws you follow, if you lose sight of the spirit of loving your neighbor as you would love yourself, you’re a sinner.
Be careful shunned ones, if you’re a follower of Jesus this includes everyone and excludes no one! The old saying that, “a good defense is the best offense” may be a winning strategy in football but when it comes to convincing others that you’re part of the divine design it’s just plain offensive. Too many of the Christians who deny us have their defense mechanisms firing at anything that seems to threaten the shrinking world of strict Biblical adherence and that bundled mirage called “remember when.”
We need to recognize, with integrity, our place on the frontier of change in a world that Jesus would still embrace with our open arms. Many have abandoned the church because of its failure to embrace what it means to be a citizen of earth in the 21st century. Our society needs a reality check in terms of our most plentiful and valuable resource, its people … all of them.
If the God of Christianity is a sexist, nationalistic, bigot, then we need to shift our thinking away from an entity in human form and gender and embrace the Source of all being, the formless essence of life which is in everything and connects everything. I’m convinced that Jesus deeply felt this connection and was calling us away from the petty distractions we thought were sacred to a simpler, more honest place of wholeness that’s written into our very being.
It’s not the sweet by and by or when we all get to heaven; it’s as close as your next breath waiting to bloom wherever it’s allowed to grow, not so much by words as by actions. Your books of acts are still unfolding in an unwritten book called faith in the eternal now. This is your moment and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Florida native Dan Greshel studied at Ringling College of Art and Design and lives in Columbia, S.C., with his husband, who he legally married in 2014 after 17 years together.