Sunday, November 23, 2014

Leaving the Well Behind

I've been thinking about Jesus' disciples- how were they "initiated"? Were they baptised like He was? We know they were Jews & that some had been followers of John the Baptist. But did they confess their sins regularly? Did Jesus have elaborate ceremonies like the Catholic Easter Vigil to welcome them into the fold? Or was their simply following & saying "I believe" good enough?

Jesus didn't tell the woman at the well (John 4) to go & sin no more. He didn't approach her with a crowd of religious leaders & lambast her. No, His disciples had gone off to find food & He was tired. He sat down by a well & asked for a drink. He even sparred with the woman a bit. Maybe He was feeling feisty. He acknowledged her faith, told her she was missing something, then proceeded to reveal He knew she had been married 5 times & was pursuing a 6th. For whatever reason, she didn't find this offensive or intrusive. Someone from this generation would most certainly find Jesus' words accusatory, inflammatory... We might hear someone say "Who is He to judge me?! He should mind His own business!". And indeed, beyond the fact that He is God, what right did He have to say anything to that Samaritan woman?  He was, afterall, sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. This didn't seem to matter to Jesus & as a result, a few ordinary moments at a foreigner's well changed the lives of many... throughout history.

My personal faith started out in black & white, with crisp, clear lines. God created me. I am a sinner. Jesus died for me. I can be saved. Or like the woman at the well believed, Jews were technically off limits & her people lived by their own traditions (John 4:9,12). But as I've gotten older, the lines are starting to blur a bit... there are variations of light & shadow creeping in. I no longer see things through a lens of a hard & fast "right or wrong", guilty or not guilty verdict. Each person is different. I'm not praising relativism by any means, but if God is infinite, then faith should be too. Each person has the potential to express their faith in an infinite amount of ways. Would God rather me follow the "rules" of the Christian faith & drink from a stagnant well? Or would He rather that I fumble toward Him & drink from the banks of Living Water?

I wonder how many of us overlook the fact that Jesus actually praised the woman at the well for her honesty. "I have no husband" she said. She could have made up some story to save face, but she didn't. "You speak the truth!" Replied Jesus. For some reason, I can picture Him looking somewhat astonished.  No doubt this gal had a reputation. But He didn't tell her she was bound for hell... He didn't tell her to repent & do penance. He didn't even make her confess her sins. He already knew. He simply told her He was the water she was thirsting for...

I think this is how I'm beginning to see my faith. Its not at all what I expected... in fact, it feels very unpredictable, uncertain, unsafe. What did the disciples expect when they followed Jesus? All through the Gospels we see them saying & doing things based on the "law", based on what they thought they knew about God & faith... but Jesus always seemed to blow their minds. In time, they came to realize there was no telling what He'd do next. Or how. Or why. In time, they learned to leave the well behind & drink from the Living Water.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tofu Love

I know faith is something "good" that should "work". But why isn't my faith "working"? Why does it constantly get trampled by pigs, stolen by thieves or hijacked by lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh or the pride of life? Where is my hope anchored? And why doesn't it hold?

I feel as though I've lost the "essence" of Jesus, lost the very point of His coming, of religion, of faith. Sometimes I'm tempted to think religious tradition is just a myth, just an elaborate human yarn that reaches back too many centuries to even remember how or where it first began. Why do we tell stories? And how do we know the ones we've heard are really true?

Does my faith only depend on what I've been taught? On what I've heard? Does it depend only on someone else's interpretation of scripture, of doctrine or life? Or is faith... MY faith... something more internal & personal? Does it depend on something more than the written word or the spoken tradition? Does it even depend on more than my own senses, feelings (or lack thereof)?

I've found myself wondering what the core issues of belief actually are, especially in light of organized religion. What am I missing?! Certainly there must be a center to this nebula of differing opinions, expectations & constant failure.

So I prayed about it. And the 1st thing that came to mind was the famous verse at the end of 1 Corinthians 13- the one that talks about faith, hope & love...  "and the greatest of these is love". Honestly, that answer seemed kind of cheesy to me. I mean, how many times does a Christian hear about love in their lifetime? Love has become some innocuous word that can mean anything you want it to.... kind of like tofu. Yet out of love- true love- springs forth hope. And from hope, comes faith.  Paul said the greatest of the three was love. Not surprisingly, he also lists love as the first fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Without love, it seems, everything means nothing. I am nothing & I gain nothing if I don't have love.

I began to realize that my problem isn't necessarily faith... My problem is my tofu love... its so easily moldable, crumbled or flavored by any hand & season of life & consequently, easily devoured. But true love is more substantial than that. You don't have to water it down or flavor it & it doesn't leave you feeling famished later on. Or so I've heard.

Love, it seems, is a word I tend to subconsciously pass over. Even telling someone I love them feels kind of strange & empty sometimes. I think I love them... of course I care about them deeply. But when I observe what love actually does to other people, I have to ask... what has love done to me? More specifically, how has "love" for God changed me or anyone else?

Maybe it hasn't. Not really. Because maybe it wasn't really love. Am I rooted & grounded in love (Eph 3:17)? Maybe that's why my faith doesn't work so well, or why my hope tends to drift off into oblivion.Go figure.