What we would like to tell our neighbours….
I went to a neighbour’s house the other night for dinner with Matt, my husband. They are some of our new neighbours as we have moved house recently, and are now starting the tentative steps of getting to know the people living near us. They are lovely, welcoming people, parents and grandparents and grandchildren all living in a large house with a granny flat attached.
The evening was really enjoyable, good food and conversation, and of course a glass or two of red wine. We had to leave early as we had a commitment at our local Uniting Church, one we had organised and so could not be late. We were to hear Emeritus Professor Bill Loader, a world renowned New Testament scholar talk about the Book of Revelations. Now before you screw up your nose, this was the second of 4 talks looking at the history and background of Revelations, who wrote it and why and whether it, in fact, has anything to say to us in the 21st. A little different from the view that the bible is solely the inspired word of God sent down from on high that cannot be questioned.
The challenge for us, Matt and I, was how to convey that approach to our hosts, who, once they heard we belonged to a church and were going to hear someone speak on a book of the bible, were already calculating what we believed. They in fact had probably already put us into a religious box, believers of outlandish, ridiculous and farfetched things, and out of touch with life as we know it.
This is a constant dilemma for anyone who takes the bible seriously but not literally, who has a good understanding of science, but that science does not explain everything, and who’s view of Jesus is as a wisdom teacher, sage, prophet, reformer, social activist and the most complete revelation of God in this world. But still a man.
The church has given us a written legacy that is, on the one hand, beautiful, poetic, and life giving, and those that follow it have been leading reformers in changing the world for the better, courageously and persistently. But on the other hand the church has also used this legacy to be narrow minded, judgemental, and life denying, refusing to see that God is revealed in the whole of life and not just in one book.
How can we explain to our neighbours that the God we believe in is more universal? That we see the God of the universe is also the God of every single person and creature on earth, from the beginning of time until now. That this energy or spirit, is part of the created order and pulls us in the direction of love and forgiveness, justice and peace. That we believe all people share in this divine presence whether it is acknowledged or not and whether they call themselves and commune with it as a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Jew. As the mystics have revealed down the centuries, we are one with God.
How can we tell our neighbours that we don’t pray to get some magical response, so that we can have a carpark or rain, or a job or money. We pray to somehow sense that presence deep within us, that small quiet voice that helps guide our actions and stills our own desires. That praying or meditating provides a window into a mystical world where God resides and in which we can truly find who we really are and who we belong to.
How can share with our neighbours the desire we have to engage with others in bringing some hope to those in our society without hope. Whether it is visiting refugees, supporting programs that help aboriginal communities, campaigning for better rights and protections for those less well off, or providing better aid to counties devastated overseas by war or famine.
How can we tell our neighbours that we go and listen to Bill to hear and honour our tradition, to listen to the voices of those people of faith who shared the journey with Jesus and his followers all those years ago. To discern how we can be Christians in the 21st century, in situations that are eerily similar to those in these earlier communities.
How can we tell our neighbours about the joy our faith brings, but also the responsibility, the overwhelming need to reach out to others in whatever way we can, and the deep unrest it gives us when we succumb to our culture’s comforts instead of following the way of Jesus. God’s presence is like an itch that never goes away. An itch when scratched fills our life with meaning and purpose.
Needless to say we did not mention any of this to our beautiful, friendly neighbours. Perhaps in time they will come to see that not all religious people are literalists, or worse still fundamentalists, who judge and exclude, who deny the world in which we live and the suffering of those marginalised and without power.
Hopefully they will come to see that the call of God in our lives is to love one another, and we do the best we can. That this is the main game, and it has very uncomplicated rules. All are loved and all are included. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
Anything else is just spin….