I saw an author’s self-written blurb on the back of a recent book of his, and was struck (read: aghast!) at what it said. Read it, then I’ll tell you why I’m writing this.
The author (a well-known Christian preacher/teacher) wrote:
“I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader’s Digest: A couple ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells..’ Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy.”
The author, a second generation preacher, continues:
This book will warn you not to get caught up in a life that counts for nothing. It will challenge you to live and die boasting in the cross of Christ and making the glory of God your singular passion. If you believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, read this, learn to live for Christ, and don’t waste your life.”
To have the audacity to be able to claim what constitutes a life “that counts for nothing” reveals a very large ego. I personally find that the larger a person’s ego is, the greater the chances are that it is also misshapen. Perhaps that audacity arises from the fact that the author is a preacher, and that his dad also was a preacher is not insignificant. Many preachers believe they are role models for how people should live their lives (just don’t come poking around in the cupboard under the sink: you might find some shells there, or other things).
They believe and teach, just like the main speaker at any pyramid sales event, that “Everyone is a prospect! Everyone needs what you have! Walk the walk, don’t take ‘No’ for an answer.” To be a real Christian, a true Christian, an on-your-way-to-heaven Christian, according to those listen-to-me preachers, you’ve got to tell everyone about Jesus. Everyone! Don’t miss an opportunity anywhere – at the bus stop, the restaurant, on an airplane, or at home! Hand out tracts, carry your biggest Bible, and wear necklaces, tie-tacs, lapel pins, tattoos, bumper stickers, or t-shirts that will let the world know that-
You. Are. A. Christian.
Christianity, after all, is about words- spoken, written, and memorized- right? It’s about getting that person at the bus stop (if you’re way lucky) to say a prayer, your prayer, the one printed right here on this tract, repeat after me: The Sinner’s Prayer, “God, I am a piece of worthless trash…” Etc.
Once you’ve said The Sinner’s Prayer, you’re in! Now you’ve got to tell other people the Good News, and to find what the Good News is, go to a church, maybe even our church. And don’t collect shells. They are a waste of time. As is everything except the speaking, writing, and memorizing of Bible words. Softball? End that nonsense, too! And a 30-foot trawler??? That needs to be sold, right now, and the money- a tithe at least- given to a church, maybe even our church, almost certainly our church! (We did get you into heaven, right? And away from that sordid shell addiction? Also, we’re upgrading the air-conditioning at the parsonage, too, so we could use some extra help. God will bless you for that, indeed he will).
Feeling obligated to “save” the soul of every person you see, to tell your version of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ, and to try to keep up with the people who are running from you or turning a deaf ear toward you, is an exhausting process. It’s exhausting because you either are doing it, or not doing it, and when you’re not doing it you feel guilty or ashamed because you think you should be doing it. People will burn in hell just because you wanted to watch the Mavericks and the Spurs on TV tonight!
Here’s my opinion about what is revealed in that back-page blurb above. And do be aware, in fairness, that the author is also very adept and anxious to point out who is going to hell and why; he would no doubt include me, with glee, in the great majority army who will burn, baby, burn. C’est la vie. Or, rather, c’est la mort.
The author believes in beliefs. He is not alone. Believing in beliefs it is a plague, particularly in the U.S. Belief in belief reduces the majesty, grandeur, and mystery of God to a series of codified rules which are enforced by spiritual superiors, uncritically swallowed because of the fear of not swallowing, and which completely deny the Truths taught and lived by Jesus the Christ.
Belief is about knowledge- what you know- what you read, write, listen to, and memorize. In belief, you learn what to think, how to say it properly, and then are able to consider yourself to be special (elected, chosen, better) for having learned, memorized, and regurgitated the right beliefs- the orthodoxies of others. Faith, the faith lived by Jesus, plays only a very small role.
Faith is about not-knowing. It is about moving forward without knowing the right words, or the consequences. It is about stepping into the Mystery of God, and looking around. The chances are excellent that when you do that, you will feel the desire to learn more about the depth and width and timelessness of that Mystery and that is when you will hear- or, more likely- feel the words, “Follow me.”
When that happens, you might be led to a Jesus-attending dinner party of tax-collectors and sinners, or to a wedding party with more wine than you’ve ever seen in one place. You may be led to break the religious laws again and again because they were turned into legalities by tight-lipped, judgmental preachers. If Jesus is your companion on this journey you will be a revolutionary for real, unearned and unqualified Love; you will fall in love with the revealed Grace and Love of God, and then you’ll realize that the God that fit inside of your imagination for so long wanted you to experience the explosion of God’s continuing Creation. You’ll realize that Truth, real Truth, always leads to more questions. You’ll see the idols that people can make of their beliefs, the forts they build around them, and the defenses they will use to mask their fears.
There’s nothing wrong with belief; but it must be ready to bend, even ready to be thrown out when it no longer is valid- when a newer “truer” Truth takes its place. We can believe in God or have faith in God. The former tends to make God small, while latter tends to make us larger. It may cause us to want to be part of a community which plays..oh, I don’t know..maybe, softball? Or it may cause us to bend over, in increasing awe and always-growing Mystery, and see God’s perfect, evolving and creating Beauty..in a seashell.