“God is fed up and he’s coming back to gather up those who are getting it right.”
I’ll just let you imagine the look on my face as I listened to a preacher shout those words to a gathering of chronically homeless friends. These words came within a Bible study held weekly for the street community I serve at Network.
I won’t spill all the details of what happened in my brain but my censored inner dialogue went something like, “Nobody should have to listen to such theological garbage and especially not the vulnerable ‘least of these.’ This incessant shame-laced-fear-based God talk just perpetuates the addictive behaviors of these folks.” And on and on went the frustrated grumblings in my head.
We give our second-hand worn out clothes to the poor. Why do we also hand down our used up and worn out theology?
This experience comes within a fall season in which I’ve been studying and teaching on the stages of faith. Drawing from James Fowler, Richard Rohr, Janet Hagberg and others I've attempted to describe what it looks like for faith to move and progress toward a healed, non-violent, non-fear based understanding of God and ourselves.
A large part of the later stages involves learning to hold tension responding to conflict in an honest yet non-reactionary way. I attempted to remember all this as I listened to the Driscoll-like theology being offered which I considered immature and irresponsible (at best).
According to most stage theories another key characteristic of a maturing faith is the ability to hold paradox. In our current religious and political climate the masses are most easily brought together by the polarizing approach that frames everything into a dualistic 'us versus them' paradigm - the opposite of paradox. A generative faith becomes increasingly a paradoxical non-dual faith.
As I tried to take this seriously, I began to wonder if my quick reaction to the street preacher was actually dualistic.
On Tuesday evenings I facilitate a gathering of mostly middle-class educated folks who pursue a more progressive and contemplative faith. I’ve invited many of my street friends but most who have visited our gathering end up deciding it’s not their cup of tea. It's quite different from the street preaching they're accustomed to.
The more I’ve thought about the street preacher I’ve recognized that in some ways he loves my street friends in ways I simply can’t. He helps them out with practical resources and as I've listened to the preaching I've been able to parse out strong messages of God's love (amidst the violence).
So, now I’m back to the paradox of it all - sitting in the invitation to reflect and pray through these contradictions.
I’m humbled by the reminder that (contrary to worn-out teachings) a strong faith is not a reactionary faith. How incongruent would I be to lash out with the sarcastic criticisms that took place in my head?
While at the same time, a larger and more progressive faith that is not creatively shared with others is nothing better than elitism. It’s no different than buying a new shirt for myself and giving my old stained one to the poor.
As we get into the mood of giving around these upcoming holidays how might we creatively gift others with our growing faith?