As a kid, Christianity was a numbers game. Who could bring the most friends to church, who could raise the most money, and the most hallowed of these scores: Who could get the most people saved. The latter was never held in the context of a specific contest, but it was certainly an unspoken rule. Amongst a group of young religious kids, the guy that led someone else through a “sinner’s prayer” was hot shit. This mentality continued as I grew older. You could still see people living out the vestiges of the number game. Church conventions were all about the altar calls. Hell, most church productions were all about the altar calls. An immense amount of planning and preparation were spent on creating a compelling experience that would get people out of their seats. The lights would blaze, the music would crescendo. If they played their cards right, the planning team would reach a new high score before they tore everything down and went to the next city to do it all over again.
But why? What was it that was being offered that could draw people out of their seats and into the front of the auditorium? What was our end game? For a long time, mainstream Christianity would answer that question with “right-thinking”. We were indoctrinated with “right answers”. We were shown how to properly argue the merits of Christianity, and how to present it like a court case. If you were successful, your opponent would see the logic in your argument, and convert on the spot. It was easy to look down from an ivory tower onto the shanties below and believe we had it all figured out.
There comes a point, however, when God can stand our smug sense of self-assuredness no longer. He takes it upon himself to reach down and smash our tower to the ground. The aftermath is ugly. We don’t all make it. Those that do are certainly dazed and completely confused. What happened? The God we believed in would never do something like this! It takes time for us to realize that the God we believed in bore little resemblance to the real God. Outside the confines of our shattered tower, we are confronted with the denizens we used to look down on. Suddenly the problems that seemed so cute and simple inside their theories and hypothetical situations are all-consuming and completely real.
Once those of us from the tower come to terms with the fact that we’re not experts; that we’re broken and lost and dying just like everyone else, we find acceptance. And in that acceptance, we begin to discover God. Not the one they told us about in the tower, but the dusty, smelly God that isn’t afraid to get dirty and get involved in our lives. I think that’s where I am now. I hope. I’ve been keeping my eyes open, and I’m starting to see him a little more clearly.
The shape is still murky. It’s like seeing someone at a distance at dusk. You can’t tell how far away they are, and if they’re still you almost lose them. But it’s there, and you’re pretty sure that you’re not alone. In my next post I’ll see if we can’t squint and make out a few details.