Happy Day After Easter, everyone! So I know I wrote this blog disavowing my faith last week, but shortly afterwards I became enamored, perhaps even obsessed, with this song.
It is, of course, about God’s love for us, which is so reckless that even when we make ourselves his foe, he chases us down. God is the father of the prodigal son who welcomes home the son who squandered his inheritance in profligate living. God is the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep and goes after the one that is lost until he brings it safely home. The latter, referred to in this song, is from Luke 15 in the Bible, and interestingly enough I have “Luke 15:4” tattooed in a discrete place on my arm, right under the Tolkien quote, “Not all who wander are lost.”
And this is why I am reluctant to write a lot on the subject of my faith, because I am, yes, full of questions and doubts and objections, and yet my experience of God is like that expressed in this song. God always chases me down. There is the head asking the questions and turning away, and then there is the heart, which hears this irresistible call and can’t help but respond. Reconciling the two has proved to be a little beyond my ability so far. I can tell you that my faith makes no sense whatsoever, yet it is kindled and rekindled. I can think, no, not this time, but yes, always this time, in a day, a year, sometimes even a decade, I hear that call, I feel that love reach out and wrap itself around my heart.
One of the things I love best in Christianity is worship. For those who don’t know, this is the term applied to that time in a church service when all the congregation joins together in singing. Worship is other things, too, of course, and I have to say that in general it is something to which I feel called. I can’t tell you how many times in church I have longed to just lie down on my face in the aisle. But the singing, that is sweet. I do this in other places, of course — in my car, at home. But the congregation joined together in worship creates something really special. This is honestly my primary prerequisite in a church. It has got to have good worship. I went to a local church I might otherwise really like, a little more liberal than most I have attended, but on the Sunday I happened to be there they had decided to do simple choruses in many different languages. The worship leader told us how important it is for people to be able to worship in their own languages, and I’m thinking, uh yeah, it is! Like English? Nor do I like the simple choruses. I love those songs that reach deep down into our experience of God, like Hillsong’s Oceans, for example. Although I know that Sunday did not represent what is generally found at that church, I never went back to give them a second chance. I’m not ruling it out in the future, just saying that had I found a deep experience of worship there the first time, I might never have left. Those who think that an eternity spent worshipping God in heaven would be boring have never attended a good worship service!
It is always this first thing that calls to me. I said to my daughter, what I want to know is why the God I find in the Bible is not more like the God I find in worship. The head and the heart. I was reading a book yesterday which said, “Jesus is the Word of God.” Jesus is the standard, the test against which all other representations of God must be tested. If there is a seeming contradiction, any resolution must be found in favor of Jesus. It was suggested that the Old Testament be considered the story of the nation of Israel learning to know their God in the context of the world in which they lived. Everyone else in that world offered blood sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites through animal sacrifices necessary, even though Psalm 40 says, “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire…. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.”
My desire for worship tends to draw me to the more conservative churches, where I can exist only as a nonconforming member. Do they care about this? Mmm maybe. There is the gay thing, of course. I know many gay people. I dearly love many gay people. I know their hearts, and the love they have for their partners, and there is no way on God’s green earth I can call that love sin! Yes I know, proof texts and all that, but I know there are responses to those as well. Justin Lee’s Torn is a beautiful and compassionate account of a young gay Christian’s grappling with this issue from every which way, and his final understanding that should be read by every Christian who has reason to think about this issue in any context.
I asked the church I belonged to if I could be a member and serve in the church and also be an active supporter of the gay community. I asked the local church and received varying unclear responses, so I wrote to the denomination. I got an email that said, hmm, let us think about this and get back to you. A couple of weeks later I got an email that said, “We don’t have an answer to this question.” So there that is.
Honestly, I have a daughter-in-law who has not always been my daughter-in-law. She used to be my son-in-law. It’s just been in the past year that she has come out and gone through the lengthy process of transitioning into her true self through counseling and hormone therapy. I have to be honest, I have not always liked her. She used to be angry and hard to live with (and she did live with me), a person so unpleasant that it made accepting anything she did difficult, including gender transition. I said at the time that those who loved her as a man would love her as a woman, but I didn’t, and the hostility spilled over. But she has transformed not only physically but psychologically, and I can see her now — not a perfect human being — but sweet, smart, passionate, creative, and you know what? I love her for just exactly who she is, probably even more now than when she was my son-in-law, and nobody is going to make me question this.
I can’t get to church right now anyway because can’t drive due to my dratted seizures. So I have time to be a lone wanderer. A friend actually suggested this morning that as long as I can’t get to church that I host a home church! So I guess I am going to do that, with a congregation of one and a whole slew of guest preachers! If you would like to be part of this journey, with me, feel free to join me right here. If you, too, are a wanderer and a wonderer, please please feel free to put in your two cents in the comments. You never know when you will be the voice of God from someone else. But be kind, please.
So I am off, running shoes laced. Prayers for the path! Let me not stumble in the darkness of the forest or faint on the mountain pass. Let love be my guide and my strength.