As living, breathing, ambulatory human beings, we have an insatiable need. We need to be right. We need to be validated, affirmed, and patted on the back. Just get on Facebook and you will find this to be true. Sometimes, being right is good. But sometimes I fear we take the whole thing way too far.
I’m reading a book. It’s called Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, and if you’ve ever been to church, hated church, or been hurt by the church, you should read this book. It has brought me a great deal of clarity and peace, and although I feel as though I subconsciously opened the book in the hopes that it would validate me and tell me I was right for the anger and unforgiveness I’ve harbored toward several different aspects of the church, I must say, as of Chapter 28, it has done the opposite in its own gentle way.
I grew up in a denomination–because Charismatic is totally a denomination, whether you want to admit it or not (just ask any kid who grew up in a 90s charismatic church about the ridiculous rules we had)–that taught me we were right. You know what I’m saying. God loves everybody, even Baptists and Catholics, but we were more on target. If this was even possible, we had “more of God,” and don’t even get me started on how much “more of the Holy Spirit” we had.
Even as a young child, I remember having conversations with my Baptist friends and thinking to myself, “They just don’t get it, poor things.” As I grew older I learned they felt the same way about us wayward charismatics. We were and are so obsessed with being right. How many tears have been shed, how many relationships severed, how much confusion has ensued because of our ridiculous need to be right about a particular passage of scripture or skirt length?
I’m beginning to think this whole Jesus thing means we give up our right to be right. The whole new testament is a compilation of Jesus telling a bunch of different denominations, “You’ve heard it this way, but I’m saying do it completely differently. You think this is right, but my standards for right and wrong are so much higher and deeper than yours.”
And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.
38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Here’s a thought: maybe none of us is completely right. Maybe the enemy’s greatest tool is to entangle us in a convoluted mess of needing to be right–and the joke’s on us, because this side of heaven we will never know: “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”–(1 Corinthians 13)
The more I see other denominations, the more I am so sad and so happy. Sad because denominations I was taught were “too legalistic” are ever so kind and welcoming. Denominations I’ve been taught were lifeless and boring are full of life and hope. Jesus is no more present in my church than he is in yours, and I’m no more doctrinally on track than you or anybody. But isn’t that the beauty of being invited on this adventure? We are all broken, flawed, prideful, petty people who are swept up in a love story that is altogether complex and laughably simple. It is so magnificent that we will never fully understand it, and so graspable that we can taste it and breathe it and dance in it today, regardless of where we attend church or what our views on speaking in tongues are.
That, to me, is the most liberating feeling in the world. No one is fully right, everyone has something to offer, and we are all invited.
“There is only one invitation it would kill me to refuse, yet I’m tempted to turn it down all the time. I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of completely engagement, a life of whimsy, a life where love does. It doesn’t come in an envelope. It’s ushered in by a sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee drifting lazily from the kitchen. It’s the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but I’ve seen plenty of people turn down an invitation to fully live.”
– Bob Goff, Love Does