A Smelly Sack of Faith

For a long time, Christianity was a numbers game to me. It was about convincing someone to adopt your belief system. To pick up the ideals you were espousing and forsaking all others. It was binary. You were a Christian, or you weren’t. And that’s all it was. You behaved in a certain way because that’s what the instruction manual said to do.

And for a time, I think that’s okay. Public opinion has swung in such a way that’s it’s easy for us to get uncomfortable when we see Christianity alongside any form of legalism. I think we need to be careful with that though, because there is some value in living your faith out according to the “rules”. The same way we have to spend time learning the rules of the road before we get behind a steering wheel, we need that time to get the basics down before we start wrestling with amorphous blur of advanced Christianity.

When I was young my faith used to fit neatly inside a box with crisp edges. These days it seems to be inside a wet, smelly sack that I’m never fully convinced I care to touch. But, the one thing I can say for it is that it feels much more natural now. Like something I’d stumble over in the woods instead of getting it from a factory. What’s the reason for this change?

There’s an ancient word my church is really fond of saying: Shalom. One says it when they wish the wholeness and completeness of God into the life of another person. Essentially, Shalom is the way things are meant to be. Perfect. Restored to the greatness for which it was intended. Over the past year I’ve felt the concept of Shalom looming on the horizon. It’s steadily marched toward me, and from time to time I feel myself standing in its shadow.

Here’s the thing… For me, Shalom has become my higher calling. It’s the context that has made the numbers game of Christianity make sense. See, before being a Christian was about adopting a belief system that was essentially self-serving. “I don’t want to go to Hell, so I’ll become a Christian.” But now, it’s not even about that. It’s about discovering the life God intended for me and doing my best to live it out loud in such a way that those around me see and hear a difference and want to experience the ultimate satisfaction of living out their lives the way God intended when he first imagined them millions of years ago.

One of my favorite movies is called, “Pi”. In it, a mathematician begins to discover that the entire universe is ran by a system of patterns that he begins to decode. There are several moments in the movie that I feel are allegorical to the search for God, but one of my favorite lines is this:

My new hypothesis: If we’re built from Spirals while living in a giant Spiral, then is it possible that everything we put our hands to is infused with the Spiral?

Just replace the word “Spiral” with “Shalom”. As we begin living these amazing lives, we begin not only experiencing Shalom, but actually generating it. As our hearts and desires fall more in line with what God intended, we find ourselves caring more about things that never used to matter. The homeless. The environment. The guy sitting next to you in the waiting room. Social Justice. You begin to see past what’s actually there and you start seeing the potential of what could be there. We become God’s hands and feet in a way that doesn’t necessarily involve mission trips, fund raisers, or dare I say it, getting people “saved”.

Instead, you become the warm hand that holds a compress to an open wound. You become the foot that helps take the burden off someone who is about to collapse. You become the shiver that travels up someone’s spine when you’ve led them to an idea they’ve never considered before.

Shalom changes things. It changes you. I haven’t found it yet. I’m still looking, searching and hoping.  But I think I might be getting close. I’m not even at the epicenter yet and I find myself changing in ways I never would have imagined. Caring for causes that never used to seem important. I find myself loving people not just for who they are, but for who they could be, and I’m discovering that I want nothing more than to have a hand at bringing that potential person to the surface. I don’t know where this stops. I don’t know what it looks like when I get to wherever it is I’m going. But more and more I’m learning that it looks like nothing I ever would have expected, or possibly could have imagined.

Also, here’s Pi’s trailer just because it’s awesome and everyone should watch it:

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3 responses to “A Smelly Sack of Faith

  1. It’s a shame that some people never reach this point of maturation in their faith. If it stayed in the box with nice, clean edges, we would never grow or appreciate it at all; we would never contribute anything to the spiral. I really like your hypothesis. It provoked a great mental image for me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, actually.

  2. Pingback: With Relentless Fury « Hunting for God·

  3. Paul: this post speaks to the very issue of a book I’m reading by NT Wright:Surprised by Hope. He talks about the idea that maybe we are not gonna be ” outta here” so much as we Re going to be part of a great restoration project …and maybe we need to start caring for people and places NOW … Wright is a great theologian but his writing is very accessible…

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