(This post is a contribution to the April Synchroblog “Bridging The Divide.” This month bloggers are encouraged to offer ideas on ways to heal divisions in the church.)
Existence mirrors God the best it can, though how arrogant for any image in that mirror, for any human being, to think they know His will. (St. Thomas Aquinas)
When I was young and impressionable, I was told my relationship with God wasn’t good enough. I believed it; there were many Scriptures and credible sources telling me that I wasn’t part of the one true church, therefore what I had with God up until that point wasn’t worthy. And thus began the first of many clear divisions in my life: before I was saved versus after I was saved.
On my high and mighty white horse, I rode into the town of my prior church, which shame-on-them, hadn’t done the job apparently. There, my fourteen year old fiery self argued with youth ministers about the need for baptism. They retorted, salvation by faith alone, not acts. I dug my heels in and stood my ground–after all, my new found interpretation of the Scriptures was the only one that mattered, so take that! God, and the mere but mighty 100,000 other true disciples of Jesus who had the keys to heaven, must have been so proud of me. In this contentious and arrogant conversation, another clear divide cracked in my life: THEeeee truth versus their truth.
Since I was one of so few of the saved on an earth so expansive, I was quite busy in high school, what with all the judging and proselytizing of the sinners–yes, the sexually active, the druggies, the ditchers, the cheaters; but, gasp, also the non-Christian (according to us) Christians (according to them). Sadly, they were misled and needed saving, thus ripping open another chasm in my life: me versus you, us versus them.
Early in college, despite my father’s failing health, I was told by various leaders that I could not go home to see my parents, because I would miss a meeting of THE Body. Deep within, I felt the whispers of a voice, a Voice?, urging me to use my own my mind, with which I loved God deeply. But, not wanting to be shunned, or considered prideful, I remained “humble” and open to the “advice.” Here, again, another boundary emerged: the voice of God through men and women versus His private stirrings in my soul.
The places in between places / They are like little countries / Themselves
Later in college, I met a man who taught me how to play in the borderlands between all the binaries to which I held so tightly. His name was Richard Guzman, and I took his course Sacred Texts as Literature. He was a professor, but as I look back and realize his redemptive role in my life, he was much more like a soul whisperer. What I realized in that class was that there is an overwhelming and underaddressed gap between the signifier and the signified (to borrow the language of the deconstructionist Derrida). In other words, when my name is used, Mary, it does and and could not ever capture all the essence and wonder and chaos and disaster that I am. When someone says “I love you,” what does love mean? Does that one word do it justice? Isn’t my Western idea of love very different from the Eastern idea of love, though they are the same word with similar intents? Thus the signifier (the language) can never fully do the signified (the truth, the reality, the essence) justice. Therein lies the invitation to play, again to borrow Derrida’s language, in the gap between the two, to explore and embrace and savor the borderlands between.
All language has taken an oath to fail to describe Him; any attempt to do so is the height of arrogance and will always declare some kind of war: the inner ones that undermine our strength and the other conflicts that maim red.
“Lousy at Math” by Hafiz
It is hard to not notice the war, to use Meister Eckhart’s language, erupting from the many opposing sides of religion. As I scroll through my Facebook news feed, the left is attacking the right, the liberals versus the conservatives, the micro-leaders versus the mega-leaders, the traditionalists versus the post-modernists, the over-haters versus the over-lovers, the church-goers versus the church-refugees, all using God and the Bible to prooftext and and perform and persuade. I suppose in some ways, even the beginning of this post was my echo from across a certain crevice. Each of them claims, all of them, claim their language is THEeeee language to describe God, their interpretation of the Scriptures THEeeee only one, their perception of righteousness and holiness THEeeee only lifestyle. And again, the earth splinters, fissures in the heart of God.
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us. But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
All of these divides and boundaries draw me to the borderland, to see Jesus. In many ways, Jesus is the personification of the borderland. He is not the wrathful, violent God of the Old Testament. But neither is he the misogynistic, doctrine-obsessed God of the epistles. He is not here OR there; he is here AND there. No where, in my language which fails, do I see this more than in the story of the attempted stoning of the adulterer. If Jesus were the Old Testament God only, he would have stoned her himself. If Jesus were the New Testament God only, he would have taken the opportunity to preach a lesson and establish the procedures for handling an adulterer in the church. But, playing in the borderland, Jesus is quiet, an act of reserve. He bends down, an act of humility, and writes in the sand (don’t you want to know what he wrote!?). Jesus then calls the people to be self-reflective, rather than other-condemning, an act of grace. He does not condone her life choices, rather he connects with her (once all the religious imbeciles have left). His conversation with her is private, dignified, honorable, built from love not righteousness. Clearly Jesus understood no one ever wins a debate with loquacious assurance, even the Son of God.
I cannot help but hope that those engaging in the conversations happening across the crevasses in our religious landscape accept the invitation to play in the borderlands, to dissolve in God.
There, in the borderlands, are no stones–only insight into the weakness of the self; therefore mercy and humility breed.
There, in the borderlands, are not facts and concrete, proven points of knowledge–only faith; thus mystery and hope multiply.
There, in the borderlands, are not camps of isolation–only connections and conversations; hence compassion and love bloom.
There, in the borderlands, are not delineations created by versus, or, between–only with, and, too; thereby unity and harmony flourish.
There, in the borderlands, is not me against you, us opposed to them–only me with you, us alongside them; ergo trust and grace thrive.
There, in the borderlands, is not sufficient language which articulates His edges accurately and neatly–only words and questions grasping for the Infinite, the Undefinable, the More, the All; and so together, we wonder and adventure and play in His Beautiful Mystery.
I end with Nichole Nordeman’s song “Please Come,” which reminds us that God has the most generous, welcoming heart of all; his play in the borderlands is glorious and wondrous and majestic and unfathomable. Let us meet Him there in the borderlands.
This blog was inspired by Synchroblog’s topic of “Healing the Divides.” For other playful voices and healing hearts in the borderlands, check out these posts: