If we really took God seriously, we'd begin to listen and love
By TOM EHRICH / The Dallas Morning News
Let's assume that the Incarnation, as originally conceived, wasn't about gifts, jingling bells, make-or-break retail sales, school holidays or turkey.
Let's assume that the Resurrection wasn't about bunnies, candy, flowers, or ham.
Let's assume that Jesus didn't die so that one market town could construct a grander cathedral than its neighbor, or so that cross-bearing soldiers could slaughter Muslims, Anabaptists, or Incas; or so that TV preachers could sell their prayers.
Let's assume that the events that unfolded in Bethlehem long ago were more like the day of creation, when God planted a garden; more like the word of hope that Isaiah spoke to exiles; more like Jesus' cry of submission from the cross.
Let's assume that, in the beginning, God had something in mind – something that goes farther than the sons of Jacob turning against their brother Joseph; warring tribes conniving with their enemies; vain Solomon building a grand temple to impress other royalty; vain Peter pretending to be heroic; vain bishops competing for power; vain parishioners sniffing at lesser souls.
Let's assume that, in the beginning, God had something to say and a need to say it, and that no amount of arguing over Scripture can stifle God's determination to be heard.
Let's assume that the slate is relatively blank, that 2,000 years of Christian history have produced some great music and art, that believers have done good works like establishing hospitals, schools, and orphanages, but that most of what God intended to say remains to be heard.
What, then, would we do?
We would start, I think, in listening. We tend to be talkers, not listeners. How can we receive God's Word if our mouths are filled with words and our hearts with noise?
We would start close to home. We would listen to our partners, children, parents, and friends. Listen for their yearnings, for their goodness, for their deepness.
In time, we might risk listening to our own hearts. We might hear our yearnings, our sadness, our joy, our incompleteness. We might see our hands reaching out for love. We might sit still. We might imagine life without toys and tinsel, without thrones and thrashing, without false conquests. We might become at peace with ourselves.
We might then listen to the world, not as a source of profit or peril, but as a noisy, bruised, restless, and joyful place not unlike our own hearts.
I have no specific vision of what would come next. I doubt that we would build churches, establish hierarchies, promulgate religious laws, or erect barriers. We inherited those structures, and we have struggled bravely to sustain them and breathe life into them. Sometimes it works.
Mostly, I think we are worn out. If someone said we could proceed in the new year without adopting a budget, replacing the slate roof, recruiting teachers, attending conventions and committee meetings, and arguing about who is worthy to worship with us, I doubt we would complain.
I am sure we would gather, for love seeks to love, but the nature of our gathering would take surprising shape, maybe focusing on pews and pulpits, but probably not. I am sure we would sing, for the soul touched by grace cannot keep from singing. I am sure we would touch each other, for incarnation means incarnation.
Beyond that, I don't know. It is difficult to separate the faith enterprise from the religious structures that we have inherited. But I would like to find out. Not because I am angry, frustrated, or rebellious, for I don't feel any of those emotions. I loved being in my church this Christmas, singing carols and holding a small candle aloft. I feel blessed beyond my deserving, and I know that God's grace has touched my life.
What I feel is yearning – a yearning to know what God has in mind. If the Word could be heard above the noise, what would it say? If the light could shine in the darkness, what would it reveal? If the heart could sing God's song, what tune would it carry?