The road rising from
earth to eternity
carried on by
terroir and terrain
a zigzag of
gush and glory.
the road from
heaven to earth
is trod by
brass brazen angel feet
hints and clues
of heavenly vintage
and teach us
that from grapes of wrath
will come forth
vintages of grace…
Human beings need stories not to provide answers, but to make us comfortable with our lot in life as limited creatures.
It all goes back to Genesis. The ultimate temptation for every person is the rejection of our dependent creaturehood: “You shall be like gods!” God is the only One for Whom there are no mysteries. For us, on the otherhand, life is a matter of bowing gracefully before the melodies that are too delicate for our hearing, and before immense things that we can only see from one side, and before spiritual realities that our bodies distract us from perceiving, and before very old legacies that are new to us, and before minute complexities that we are too far-sighted to see.
Stories are supposed to acclimate us to the omnipresence of mystery as our lot in life. They are supposed to lead us to the peace that most things are too big for us, and that that is okay. As my friend Karen Hall says, “I may not know the answer, but Somebody does.” As C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we aren’t alone.” And this is what we get from stories too. That somebody else has encountered a particular mystery. We are all in this together. So, you don’t have to jump off a roof.
As writers, we don’t share THE answers, because we will never fully sound any reality. We share “what we know to be true” always aware that our experience and information is the tip of the ice berg. We share something true about living with the mystery. The mystery remains.
I have spent countless hours pondering what went wrong with Christianity in our generation. What happened to our religion to make everything so crazy and off track? How could something centered around authentic relationship with God become so dangerous and hurtful to its participants? More than anything, I’ve asked myself; why wasn’t it working for most people?
I’ve found that the pattern of growth for those who seem to truly know Him has been pretty much the same. The common thread I see over and over is that every person in relationship with Him must go through a shedding period where all that they have been told and all that they have believed is gently taken from them until they are left with nothing but what is. Each person discovers a contentment in knowing they were wrong all along and the stresses of what they had been told all their lives, whether good or bad, trickle away, leaving their spirit relaxed and satisfied.
It’s not as if merely the bad things they’d heard about God were proven wrong. Everything was wrong, the good and the bad. The spectacular claims that used to thrill them during worship services and the absolute promises that they stood on when they felt weak. It all gets stripped away as relationship blooms.
I’ve come to the conclusion that somewhere in the last 200 years, we felt that we needed to market our relationship as a religion. At some point in time, someone decided that Christianity needed to be packaged and presented in a way that would appeal to the masses. In other words, we purposefully marketed our faith to unbelievers. I am convinced that this is where the dominoes began to tumble.
If you’re going to market a pair of shoes to a specific group of people, you must find out what excites those people the most and convince them that if they wear your shoes, they’ll find it. If you’re selling shoes to gang bangers, you’ll need to convince them that these shoes will make them tougher and stronger, perhaps even invincible.
You must make them feel like others will be intimidated by them if they are wearing the shoes. They should believe that once they put those shoes on, something will happen to their very soul that will make them fearless and powerful. This is how marketing works. Once the idea is planted into people’s minds, they buy the product without thinking it through.
I believe that Christianity has been marketed to the carnal nature of unbelievers. We successfully got people who would not have otherwise become a Christian to sign on the dotted line and join our religion. We did it by presenting “relationship with God” in a way that would appeal to power-hungry money mongers who want to escape the cold reality of life.
We told people that God would financially prosper them. We told them that they would never get sick and if they did, God would make it go away. We’ve promised them that if anyone hurt them, their God would stick up for them and get revenge on their behalf. We convinced them that God would also give them godlike powers and they could dazzle their friends and family with magic tricks. We promised them that God would make sure they held a position of leadership in life where everyone would respect them and pay them honor.
I’ve even seen different ministries claim that Christians have better sex than non-Christians. The list goes on and on. One by one, people signed up for Christianity. People who would not have otherwise given it a second look, found themselves strangely tempted with a religion that promised to fulfill their every carnal desire. The offer was just too good to be true.
Generations later, people are holding onto the promises the sales agent gave them, in spite of the fact that they’ve never seen the results manifested in their own life. Others finally leave the “faith,” drained and disheartened. They didn’t get what they wanted from Christianity so they continue searching for a religion that will give it to them.
Then we have the people who would have given their heart to God without any marketing at all. It was already in their heart. They came to Him because they wanted Him and nothing else. They would have come without the fancy marketing and boastful claims.
Sadly, these sincere people go through life thinking they are always one step behind the rest of the crowd. They secretly feel like they’re doing something wrong and failing God because they get sick and are short on cash and are stuck in a dead-end job at the bottom of the totem pole. They aren’t full of intense joy and happiness 24 hours a day like they were told they would be, so they blame themselves for not getting it like they should. They beat themselves up because they truly love God and yet none of the explosions they were told about are happening.
These are the people who will eventually become Free Believers.
These are the people who will still stick around once the good and the bad of their religion has been stripped away. They never needed promises of power and prosperity to pique their interest. They didn’t go into it looking for an escape from normalcy. It was never about avoiding life’s hardships or obtaining magical powers. It was relationship that drew them. It was the Spirit of relationship that they first heard and listened to.
The process of stripping the good and the bad of religion is a long and painful one, but I’ve found that Free Believers love every minute of it. Their faith doesn’t shudder for even a second during the process. When the embellished things of God disappear, they find themselves becoming more pleased and pleasured by what they find behind it than most of their institutional friends would ever have been.
In fact, they would willingly give up everything they had ever been promised, if it meant they could be one step closer to the heart of the one they love. This stripping away of religion’s boasts and promises is truly what separates the sheep from the goats in our generation. The goats become angry and faithless and the sheep become “Gratefully Disillusioned.”