In my current state of wrestling with expressions of faith, I may, at times, sound quite bitter. Not here, not on the blog, because I haven’t been writing much, but in person, I’m struggling a lot with an ambivalence which borders on hostility. I think these negative emotions are heavily stacked up around what I would call Religious Identity. That thing we use to comfort the fears we all feel about our humanity and mortality. I’m not talking about God himself here, I’m talking about all of our pet activities and thought patterns which we use to tell ourselves We Are OK.
Here’s the thing: We’re not OK. But that isn’t really the most important fact. The most important fact is that God knows, and he chooses us anyway. Christianity makes a really big deal about those who have chosen God and those who haven’t, but our choice is not actually the most important thing happening in the gospel. I’m not saying our choice isn’t important, but it’s not the main event, not by a long shot….
This morning in Sunday school the teacher was teaching out of John 11, where Lazarus is raised from the dead. What really struck me about the story this morning had nothing at all to do with Lazarus, or any proofs of God’s miraculous powers. What stuck out to me were Martha and Mary and their different reactions to Jesus.
You may know Mary and Martha well from the story where Martha is slaving away in the kitchen and Mary is lounging in the living room listening to Jesus talk. Whatever you’ve been taught about Doing vs. Being, these were real people with real personalities; real strengths and weaknesses. I have always identified more with Mary. She’s focused on relationships, feelings, dramatic demonstrations of devotion. Martha is more practical, but she is not less of a friend to Jesus.
When Jesus finally arrives at their house after their brother dies, they both point out that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus showed up a little earlier. At this point, Martha is more obviously full of faith… but what I see in these verses is not so much how I should or shouldn’t emulate either sister… what I see is that Jesus accepted both women as they were. With Martha, he talked some important theology, then when Mary showed up, he cried with her. He doesn’t criticize their different responses to tragedy, and he doesn’t tell Mary not to cry. He doesn’t say, “God works everything for good for those who love Him” even though he was about to do something that would end her tears. First he acknowledges how much pain his friends feel.
What I’m saying here is that even though I need to work through some bitterness toward The Institution of Christianity, I see the main thing. The main thing is God himself; who he is, what he would do. I’m setting down my religious identity, but I do believe that God is still God. His reaction to me is far more important even than my multi-faceted brokenness.
At least I hope, you know?
I’m tempted to title this post Dear Void, because I often feel that way about my current spiritual life. I don’t think I’ll ever again be who I was for the last 20 years. With that spiritual house demolished, I may just stay indigent and homeless. Maybe I’m not writing to the void, but from it. Whatever these metaphors mean, I’m grateful for my close friends and family who continue to accept me in every version, who welcome my questions and love me no matter what.