There have been days over the past few years where I have felt old. Let me clarify, I am getting old, just like…well…all of us, but I have never really felt old despite that fact. There is something about the events we are living through that make you feel the passage of time viscerally. A day feels like a week and getting through a week feels like a major accomplishment. Am I right?
There have been several times that I have thought about the famous quote from J.R.R. Tolkien. It is from Lord of the Rings and Bilbo Baggins is talking to his old friend and mentor:
“I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”
Have you ever felt like that? Like “butter scraped over too much bread”? That is so descriptive isn’t it? I feel that in my soul when I read those words. We have all been through the ringer haven’t we? All of the things that we have grown to trust over time, have failed us in some capacity. Many of the institutions that are bedrock to our society, have come up empty. We’ve learned the hard lesson that politics and government are more divisive than helpful. Our inability to do what is in the best interest of one another has left us alienated and fearful of one another. Our schools have been under fire as well. Topics like vaccines and masks have disrupted PTA meetings and erupted in full blown fist fights rather than a peaceful solution that addresses the needs of our students. The entertainment industry has been shaken up and many theaters have shut down as a result, concert venues have closed and restaurants have struggled to stay open.
To be clear, I am in favor of doing all that we can do to keep people safe and I am in favor of taking necessary precautions to help others and help ourselves. My point is that the institutions we have once trusted in have failed us on a massive scale.
We can go ahead and lump churches into the mix as well. The American Church was hurting pre pandemic to be clear. However, during the pandemic and post pandemic churches continued to struggle to keep their heads above water. Of course attendance at churches plummeted but the trust that people had in the Church also took a nosedive. We were more divisive than usual over issues like science, racism and gender equality just to name a few. Instead of spreading a gospel of peace and grace, we effectively became more combative, political and in some cases hateful.
As the Church, we effectively eroded what little relational collateral we had, not to mention we damaged our ability to speak lovingly into the world that we live in. In church terms, it damaged our witness to our neighbors. We have a long way to go to recover from that damage. As a result, many people began to question their faith and begin a process that many have called “deconstruction”.
For some, deconstruction is a journey that people go on where they question aspects of their faith and get rid of some of the toxic beliefs that they have held that have nothing to do with following Jesus. Some of those toxic beliefs are what some might call “cultural Christianity”, others might be denominational issues while others may include political leanings that we have grafted into our faith in Jesus. While some people go on this journey and have positive experiences that free them from a legalistic and often times unhealthy views of God and as a result their neighbor, others make the decision to leave Christianity all together out of frustration and exhaustion from the people who claim the title Christian.
I’m kind of weird when it comes to seasons like these. Instead of becoming depressed about the state that followers of Jesus find themselves in, I see this as an opportunity of a lifetime. If you are a genuine believer in Christ, you can make a difference like never before. If we lead and live in love, we have a chance to shine; to show compassion to our neighbors in a unique and impactful way. The question we have to answer is, “are we willing to do what it necessary to live as Jesus lived?”
The bigger question we have to tackle is “how do we find our way back?” or to use another Lord of the Rings quote, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (Gandalf)
I have been spending an unusual amount of time on just a few verses found in John 14:6-7. It is the well known passage where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The point of the entire passage is that Jesus is the way. I will rephrase that, for followers of Jesus we have to actually follow Jesus. What I mean is, we can’t just claim that we believe in Him, that is important, we actually have to love the way He loved and live the way that He lived. That will require a lot more out of us than it has in the last few years. There is a lot of work to do. I have started to write a little bit about this topic and will post more on this blog of what I believe the way forward to be.
In short, I am convinced that there are unhealthy beliefs that have been grafted into our faith in Jesus and there are many “Christian” leaders that have reenforced that. This makes the way forward a lot more difficult and convoluted. There may be things that we have to evaluate and then begin to let go of when it comes to the way we have been practicing our faith. The Good News is that if we can identify what those things are, and put them in their proper categories, we will experience a more vibrant faith and a faith where we can look more like Jesus at the end of it.
If I had to boil it down to just a few things, I would say that the way forward is faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13). As you expand them, they are pretty BIG categories that can hold a lot. However, all of this starts and ends with Jesus. Everything we interpret from a Scriptural standpoint is through the lens of Jesus. He is the Way. We can only move forward with a laser focus on trust, expectation and compassion in and through Him. That is enough to think about and consider practicing for now. Let’s talk more in the weeks to come.