Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Going Where I don't Want to Go

Sometimes it's scary talking about God. For me, it usually is. There are three main reasons I get scared when talking about God, at least lately:

1. Everyone is watching: This is typically a preaching moment, the latest example being at Annual Conference. That fear is more about performance than being afraid to talk about God though.

2. He holds me to my words much more strongly than others': It's one thing if you hear someone give a compelling sermon or you have a moving talk with someone and feel called to follow God's words through them. Maybe over time you'll forget what they've said or it's easier to explain it away as an emotional moment. But when He's got me saying things like "Go where you don't want to go" and "Where do you need to die to glorify God?" it's kind of hard to forget that. Cause He'll bring it up every moment I'm too lazy or feel too scared to do something.

I had another Space Needle moment the other day. I was walking to my second bus stop after a 2 mile walk because Sunday buses run more slowly than I can travel by foot, and this old Santa Claus-looking guy smiled at me and asked if I "had any change miss?" And I said no, sorry, cause I usually don't carry change. I wasn't sure I'd make it home and then to church on time so I hustled up the hill and saw a Bank of America coming up. I was like ...crap. This is totally an opportunity to have change on me.

I had a lot of excuses and a lot of rebuttals:

I won't make it to church if I turn around - Really? You think God is more present in a building than right here?

Oh look, I'm almost past the bank and I haven't decided what to do yet - Tara, turn around and go back to the bank.

It's not really going to affect my day if I do this or not - Awesome, cause it might really affect his day.

And finally, the real issue:

I'm so scared of what he'll think, of what other people will think - Hmm I remember you telling 600 people to do things even when they're scared.


So I went to the bank, walked back a few blocks, ended up going the wrong way, went the right way, and found the guy again. He was looking at some other people passing, so I said "Hey, I passed the bank and thought of you." He said thanks, and I said "Have a good one" and he said "You too."

I wasn't satisfied with that interaction though. I could have spent those 15 minutes sitting with him at breakfast, I could have said more than "Hey I got you this," and I don't know if my awkward comment made him feel uncomfortable because I could go to the bank and take out money anytime I wanted. That's all I had at the moment though, and I prayed that God would fill in what I had missed.

I was listening tonight to some older sermons from my church in Virginia, and my pastor was sharing a similar story about not having change, but he bought the guy a meal. Kind of like my story, didn't have change but he could access money. But he mentioned that he had one other thing: prayer. I didn't consider that. He was able to tell the guy that he was worth it, he was loved, and this wasn't all that was in store for his life.

If I had considered that I could offer prayer as well, I probably wouldn't have because I would worry about pushing my beliefs on someone. But to offer God's love in a way that tells the person they are loved more than they can know, and that the greed and injustice of our society that put him in that place will be conquered one day, is a lot different than saying "Here's some money, but let me help you get saved first."

But even if I had thought all of this out and heard my pastor's sermon beforehand, I probably still wouldn't have offered to pray with him because of

3. I am constantly struggling with the concept of Jesus.

I will argue all day long about how loved and important each person that ever lived is, and how we need to change our world to reflect the way we were meant to live in the Kingdom of God, but I have next to no answers when it comes to the role of Jesus in all of that.

I started from a young age being confused about Jesus. My mom would say that Jesus is God and God is Jesus, but church would say that Jesus is God's son, so how can he be both? As I got older, I could accept the mystery part better and understood the concept of Jesus having always been in existence like God, and then he was born into the world as a human but also God.

But then I started doing camp at the Jeremiah Project, and one of the questions on the application was "Describe your relationship with Christ." Um. I can talk about my relationship with God, but how do you have a relationship with Jesus? If you lived during his time and in his location, yes you could have human relationship with him. Or since he's now not physically on Earth, can't you just pray to God and have that be it? Or should you also talk to Jesus in prayer? Or is that like the Catholics who pray to Mary? Is it wrong to talk to other dead/resurrected folks? I used to talk to my Grandma sometimes, and people do it on movies.

So I started in high school using Jesus and God interchangeably, my best answer being that they're the same thing. But then in college I was hit with new ideas: what about other religions?? The immediate answers around me were that obviously, Christianity is the only answer and everyone needs to come to that realization. But then what if people don't get to know Jesus?

The first thing that helped me was Romans 1:20 - "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." Ok, so God talks to everyone, and therefore everyone's got a chance to know Him, even if they don't know Him by the same names I do. 

But then this little grain of sand got in my brain: you either accept Jesus or you reject him because he said to go make disciples. If we're supposed to make disciples of everyone, then they can't believe in other religions anymore. But that seems super wrong and forceful, and we've certainly done a lot of harmful, forced conversions in our history as humans. And why would these other religions exist if they didn't have value?

My classes senior year of college and coming to Seattle helped a lot with giving me some answers I felt more comfortable about. From my Psychology of Religion class: everyone is on a spiritual journey, and seeking "The More" is more valuable than having the "answers." From my LGBTIQ class: you can reject parts of the Bible without rejecting the whole. From my Bible study at Lent: "believing" in Jesus is not just an affirmation of his supreme rule (oh yeah, another question I've had since childhood: Is he God or just the ultimate human who will be king at the end?), but belief means living as he taught and lived: creating justice in an unjust world and giving your life for others. 

And most importantly from that study: maybe our interpretations of what Jesus is saying is not exactly what I've heard in church my whole life. Maybe when he says "I am the WAY, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," he's not saying "You must accept me as the only answer to get into heaven," but rather "See how I've lived. Follow my example, my Way/Path, and you will get to know God." Which begs the question: Have other people in other cultures discovered the Way, and therefore have just as  legitimate answers to life in knowing the More?

That's been my most satisfying answer this year, but that sure doesn't help me with the Jesus question because what about salvation? That's the HUGE issue with the every-religion-is-legit theory. Do we have to accept that the only way our sins are covered is through the blood of Jesus? I'm willing to accept that for me, but can I put that on others? And I've been reading a book lately that says the early church didn't believe Jesus's death was to cover sin. It says that's a development of the last few centuries. Ai. 

Jesus talks about being the Son of God and the Son of Man in the Bible, but someone brought up in the Lenten Bible study that these words are mostly found in John, which was largely written by the community after Jesus's death. Would he have actually said that about himself during his life?

A big thing I've found helpful in the last few months was something that Jesus says in the Bible. I'll have to find the verse later, but essentially he says to watch him and see if his ways are true. That's how you'll know who he is.  

He also asks a pretty big question: "Who do YOU say I am?" 

Clearly I have a lot of options for this, but I've decided to look for more. In my second year as a US-2, I want to try a different religious gathering (I was going to say church, but why not try other religions too?) at least once a month and report on who others say Jesus is. I'm not expecting to find The Answer, but I want to get to know God better through other people, and maybe I'll find a few more answers along the way. 

The big thing though is that I want to talk about God away from the comfort of the church walls. Maybe not as someone making disciples just yet, but having conversations about what exists beyond what we can see. (Yes, this is why science has helped me love God more!) I've done this with my family and my adopted family, but rarely with people I'm not as close to. I feel like my relationship with God is incomplete if I'm afraid to tell others that I'm in this relationship. Me and God might seem obvious from my status as a missionary, but saying you love someone on paper (or Facebook) is not the same as being excited to share with others in person why your life is different because of that person's love.

So yes, talking about God: the thing I don't want to do. Maybe it'll be easier once I hear what others think about Jesus. Probably not though. Someone telling you about their best friend/family member/governing body does not make you closer to that person. But two people having a dialog about God does help both of you get to know God better through His presence within us.

So friends please pray for me that I die to my pride, and that I will talk about God, even when I'm scared.