Before I dive in, let me tell you about the God I know. The God I know is vast and woven into every cell of us. Inseparable from us. The God I know is masculine and feminine and every energy we know. The God I know is lush, abundant, extravagant, a wild and free Creator continually pouring Source energy into newness, carefully and discerningly determining what is ending and must end, for the new to emerge or be experienced. The God I know is passionately and completely in love with us. Devotedly so. Crazily so. Concerned and attentive to the smallest details. A God who lives for the joy of feeling our love flow, for that feeling when our heart feels aligned with what’s true. A God who cares about our well being and our happiness, because like any loving partner, that’s what matters when you love someone.
The God I know doesn’t give a shit about glory or praise. Doesn’t care if credit is given. Doesn’t need us to prove anything about who God is or isn’t. Doesn’t judge us. Doesn’t shame us. Doesn’t have any need for us to do anything or believe any certain thing in order to be in relationship with us. The God I know is always there, always taking care of us, always showing up, always holding us, always tending.
And there is only one thing the God I know ever wants from us and that is that we let ourselves be loved.
Because God is love. And when your identity is love, you love.
This is the God I know. This isn’t the God I was taught about by the Christian church.
I believe, though, that this is the God Jesus knew.
And this is why they killed him.
(Those of you from other faiths may not identify with what I have to say, though it won’t surprise me if you do.)
I grew up in protestant, Bible-teaching churches. As a child, I believed everything I was taught. I loved God. When I was 7 years old, I wrote the words “God is Love” on a handmade wooden plaque and used my Crayola markers to draw a colorful rainbow above it. I hung it on my wall.
It was the truest thing I knew about God. The only thing that would remain true, it turned out.
I gave my life to God. I was the quintessential obedient Christian girl. I spent a year studying biblical studies with a prestigious Christian college and prepared for a lifetime of mission work. I knew God as a companion who got me through a trying childhood, the one who showed up with me alone in the woods, who was always there, ready to talk, ready to listen. The one who held me. I never felt comfortable with the idea that this God who was Love would insist there was only one way to be in relationship with him. I wanted to go into missions to love people with this incredible love, not to convince them they were ‘sinners’ who needed to believe what I believed or they’d be separated from God for eternity. How could this God who had always been present be separated from us? Anymore than we could separate our DNA from our cells and still be who we are?
The God I knew and experienced was not turning out to be the God I was being taught about through the Bible. Then, I went to Sarajevo, five years after the civil war there ended. I walked into a city that in all reality could have been fighting the day before. Utter destruction and devastation. Every person alive was a victim and often also a perpetrator of atrocities and violence not seen in Europe since Hitler. Mass graves. Genocide. Illusions of innocence where the truth was masked. Corruption by NGOs and nonprofits. The energy of death permeated everything. People who had grown up together had raped and slit each other’s throats. In the same apartments and neighborhoods they’d grown up in. The brutality that erupted seemed to surge from a deep and unsatiated thirst for revenge from remembered and unforgiven World War II atrocities, and in some cases, centuries before that. At least, that’s what I perceived.
I lived there full time for three years. Saturated in this energy and forced-peace environment. The war there was stopped, it did not end. There was no victor and no resolution. Five years on and even now, 25 years on, it still lives in insidious ways.
I couldn’t reconcile the God of Christianity with what had happened there. I couldn’t reconcile a God whom I had been taught was all-powerful and all-loving and yet would stand by and let toddlers be used as human shields, shot down and dumped in mud pits.
I couldn’t reconcile the God I knew with a God who seemingly was less loving than what my own young heart was capable of feeling. How could that be? This wasn’t the God I knew.
I couldn’t reconcile the Christian doctrine that insisted that God loved “the whole world” and yet was so small-minded that this God would only accept relationships with people who admitted they were sinners and accepted Christ as their Savior. Surely, God had to be bigger than that, right?
I couldn’t understand or accept a God who could not find it in himself to forgive without requiring that something or someone, or in this case, his own son, be slaughtered and killed for “justice”, and yet is the same God who requires that Christians find it in their hearts to “freely forgive.” He needs to murder someone to feel satisfaction before he can accept the humans he created, and yet we’re supposed to forgive, no strings attached??
No one taught me back then that the concept of sacrificing a young man for the good and blessing of all and having him rise again three days later was a common pagan belief practice at the time of Christ.
Or that the idea of someone being a “son of god” was also well accepted in those days.
Or that the Bible we have today was compiled and plotted out by a group of men at the Council of Nicaea more than 300 years after Christ lived in an attempt to form a consensus of what Christianity should be. (Up until then there were many different versions. Probably because in those early days, people focused on Jesus’s ideal of loving people in radical ways rather than on rules and doctrine.) The goal was to form one political church body that could and would wield considerable control over large social groups by having an agreed upon set of scriptural teachings.
They also failed to mention that when these men decided what they wanted in the Bible and the storyline they felt would best support their goals, they stripped out the stories of women, including Apostle Paul’s female teaching partner, Thecla; and, of course, Mary Magdalene, who was not, by the way, a prostitute but a very well respected woman in her time, also well regarded as a strong leader in the early church and considered Christ’s “companion.” (Both Paul and Jesus knew the value of having women partner with them in leading their ministries, not only as sources of love and support to them when times and days were rough, but for the feminine perspective and wisdom they brought in loving people.) Thankfully, the monks who were ordered to burn the discarded texts disobeyed and were wise enough to know these valuable texts should be saved. They hid them away and many of them have since been found.
The story of Christianity we know today is the story that a group of men decided we would know. It is not, I believe, the full story of Jesus.
I’m not sure Jesus would recognize himself in the doctrines of Christianity today. I’m pretty sure that his heart would break to know that he’s been so misrepresented and used and that we’ve done so much violence in his name.
That essentially, we failed to get what he’s all about.
I believe the God I know and experience is the same Love that Jesus believed in and knew and was willing to defy the well-defined “what it means to be a Godly person” beliefs of his day. I don’t believe we have his full story. He knew all the rules of the then Jewish faith, what was required to be “accepted” by God in their terms, and he broke them. Openly. Intentionally.
Because he knew that the rules of religion keep us from experiencing Love.
When you believe that people are essentially good. When you believe that we are born holy. That we are sacred. That a declaration of anything less is to deny God from being God. When you believe that you are a being of Love and Power and Light, that you have the power to choose what kind of impact you will have in this world, in this lifetime. When you believe that you are One with all that is, connected, present with, part of, essential to the Whole. When you believe that your life matters not more but as much as everyone else.
When you believe your identity is Love, then you naturally are Love in this world.
You remember who you really are.
I believe that this is what Jesus believed. This is what he lived, shared, taught. What he was willing to defy the “church” leaders of his day, willing to die for.
To show us that Love, not sacrifice, is the way.
We are talking, after all, about a young man who knew exactly what the rules of being an accepted “child of God” were, and he defied them. Blatantly. Why? Because when people try to decide who gets to be accepted and who isn’t when it comes to God, they fail. Miserably.
They judge. They shame. They say “you’re in if you believe like us, and you’re out if you don’t.” They create hierarchies of power and set up cliques, and bring all their non-religious social structures into it. The very core doctrine of Christianity sets people up in an “us vs them” “saved vs sinner” mentality. And where there is judgment and differentiating on who is or is not following “the rules”, you get shame and division.
Shame never once made someone feel loved enough to change their behavior. Shame makes people hide the truth. It isolates and casts people out and makes them feel shunned.
The Christian “us vs them” (and I’ve lived it, remember) is not any different than the religious practices that Jesus died in defiance of. In his days, the “sinners” were the prostitutes and tax evaders, the drunks and gamblers, the people who didn’t keep the rules as well as others. Who are the “sinners” in the church’s judgment today? The LGBTQ community, women who have had abortions or are pro-choice, people whose marriages have crumbled, those who have affairs, drug addicts, liberals. The labels have changed, but the sentiment of judgment has not.
Meanwhile, Jesus is out there actually accepting and loving these people, not to “save them” with a conversion agenda, but because he actually likes them. He’s never shaming them, never trying to fix them, never doing anything other than embracing them with love and acceptance and the wisdom that knows that when people feel loved and valued, they heal their lives. They remember they are holy. They respond to love.
They hide from judgment.
He’s doing the same thing with Christians who feel they’re not worthy or that they must prove something or endure suffering for “the glory of God” or deny what is true in their hearts in order to stay in situations where they are being manipulated, abused, used, or devalued because they think that “turning the other cheek” means not having a self that deserves your own protection and care. Unlike the church, Jesus is the one who shows up when life gets complicated, chaotic, when things fall apart, when it hurts.
Christians are subtly taught that people who are “unsaved” can never feel as happy or fulfilled as they are. They are taught that the unsaved are always “missing something” in their lives and that only Jesus can fulfill that.
The reality is that Love fulfills that. I am far happier, more fulfilled and far more loving and accepting now than I ever was as a Christian.
Christians preach a lot about love. They rarely experience it. And even more rarely do they have the all-encompassing, nonjudgmental acceptance and love for people that Jesus embodied. As one Christian musician once told me, the church is the biggest mission field because most Christians do not really believed they are loved.
Perhaps that’s because they are taught that their identity is as sinners? Flawed, failed, deficient, falling “short of the glory of God.” Not good enough. Unworthy. Unacceptable to God without blood being spilled for them? Do you really need someone to die in order to be worthy? Valuable?
You are created as valuable. God is constantly in relationship with you. There is no separation. You are always being loved whether you believe it or not. God is love because that is God’s nature. You are also love. It’s your nature, too.
But even if you do believe that you are a sinner and need Christ’s blood to put you into right relationship with God, you do realize that sets you free, right? If you truly believe the Gospel, then you are absolved as if you had no sin and are not a sinner. You don’t have to keep proving your worthiness. You don’t have to prove God’s glory. You don’t have to do anything other than let yourself be loved and be love in this world. God isn’t judging you. God has nothing but love and acceptance for you. You are free to let yourself be free.
In Bosnia, my Christian beliefs could not withstand the weight of human reality. For awhile, I felt that God had failed me. I was angry at him. I felt that this God I had loved and served for so long had betrayed me. It took some time to realize that it wasn’t God who had failed, it was the doctrines of Christianity. God had never once failed to be the Loving presence I had known and experienced.
If you feel God has failed you, look closer at the doctrines you believe. Underneath religion, you will find the Great Spirit of All That Is and that Spirit is irrepressible, wild, creative, gushing with love and tender acceptance of you.
Let yourself feel it.