Why does Christianity, the faith I believe and the way of life that has given me purpose and direction, so often play on the wrong side?
Jesus taught us not to condemn, not to “cast the first stone.” Why, then, are so many Christians typified as judgmental, critical, negative, and hypocritical? Why did the life and teaching of a man who died on a cross—actually practicing what he preached about turning the other cheek—become associated with religious people who seem too happy to justify war? Why do followers of a man who said God cared for every wildflower and common sparrow often careless about God’s creation?
In other words, why do we so often miss the point, and do so with such amazing gracelessness?
My books have chronicled my grappling with these questions. I didn’t start writing with answers in mind; rather, the questions drove me to write, and whatever answers I found emerged in the writing process.
So far, two discoveries have helped me begin not only to answer my nagging "miss the point" question, but also to begin imagining what to do about it.
First, Christian faith is at heart not a system of belief, not a list of abstractions to be defended, certainly not a list of rules to be followed. Rather, it is a story, and a way of understanding the human story–where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going. Christian faith goes sour when it misunderstands or loses track of its inherent story, but it germinates, grows, blossoms, and bears fruit when it is believed and lived as a vital narrative of Creator-and-creation in an ongoing relationship.
Second, Jesus’ life and message make the most sense in the context of this unfolding story. To try to fit Jesus into some other context guarantees that we will miss the point. In short, Jesus (as I have come to understand him) came as a Jewish man with good news: God was inviting everyone, beginning with his fellow Jews, into a new way of relating, understanding, working, praying, and living. His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit were ways of making that message visible and possible in our world.
That sets the stage for the journaling experience I would like to invite you to participate in. For those familiar with my writings, these prompts will relate primarily to The Story We Find Ourselves In (second in the “New Kind of Christian” trilogy), A Generous Orthodoxy, and The Secret Message of Jesus. But you really don’t need any familiarity with my books, so long as you have a basic understanding of the biblical story. In this journal, I'll guide you through the entire course of the biblical narrative. Each time you come to the journal, feel free to write as much or as little as you like, and to interact with other people's journals. You can also post photographs or any images you like that help your journaling experience. Every few days we'll encounter a new part of the Bible story, moving from God's great Beginning to the Consummation of all things. I hope that your journaling on this overview of the biblical narrative—told in seven episodes, with three or four prompts for each episode—will be as helpful to you as it has been to me. I look forward to seeing what you have to say.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters . . . .(Genesis 1:1)
1. If possible, get outdoors, into some corner or place where you can experience the goodness of creation. Describe in detail one simple facet of creation that you can see or feel.
2. Remember one of your favorite places and moments when you could sense the goodness of creation. Describe that goodness. Why is its memory important to you?
3. You and your body are part of creation. Describe some aspect of creation that you see in yourself. This isn't bragging—it’s being grateful and aware!
4. Write your reflections on creation in the form of a prayer or psalm, echoing Psalm 8, 19, or 104. Remember that nobody in the history of the universe has been given exactly your perspective on creation’s goodness: you see things in a way nobody else has ever seen.
Episode 2. Crisis: Unsatisfied with the immeasurable gift of being created in God’s image, unwilling to live within limits as God’s creatures in creation, we want more—to be gods ourselves, living without limits, setting our own rules. We reach for knowledge and taste its bitter fruit—alienation between man and woman, brother and brother, humanity and creation. We live on the edge of self-destruction, riding the rising tide of our own flood of evil, trying to build great and prosperous cities that mask our own spiritual poverty.
The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.(Genesis 6:5-6)
5. Where in the last 24 hours have you most seen human evil at work? Express your sadness, outrage, despair, or frustration at what you’ve seen.
6. Focus on a powerful experience you have had as a victim of evil. Tell that story. Why is remembering it important for your life?
7. Focus on a powerful experience you have had as a perpetrator of evil. Tell that story and why remembering it is important in your life.