Preamble: this post is written in a style that’s becoming recognizable already — that of Bill Kinnon’s The People formerly known as The Congregation, which has really hit a nerve among people who were formerly known as something in a church setting. Several people have appended contributions to it now (including me) and it’s got over 180 links to it, meaning that single post has become more popular than most entire blogs… tell me that isn’t resonance. Tomorrow I plan to publish my proposal for something of a series wrap-up that sets it all in place. So y’all come back, now. But first: a post that threatens to get me in trouble, as you shall see. Just as Bill gave me a preview of his original post for comment, I ran this one by Bill, who suggested a few necessary adjustments. Any offensiveness which the post retains are my fault, not his, and largely due to the subject matter and the voice which I assume in this entry, for
Once the People Formerly Labeled have began talking about the pain associated with how others had formerly labeled them, I got to thinking… what would God say?
Once, you knew me. But no longer.
Once, I walked with you in my garden, in the cool of the evening. But you no longer live in my garden. Now you live on “Mother Earth.”
Once, I told you my name, my personal name. I “gave you my number,” but you don’t call me much anymore. Now you mostly just call each other.
Once, I spoke from Heaven to you on a mountaintop. But you don’t climb that mountain anymore. Now you think the things I told you then are outdated anyway.
Once, I spoke to you through those who listened to me, and told you all what I said. But you killed so many of those listeners that they stopped talking. Now you don’t believe they even hear.
Once, I came and walked among you so that I could explain things, tell you I loved you. But you even killed me. Now you doubt it really was me.
Once, I did many miracles and wonders through those of you who prayed, listened, and did as I had shown you. But you don’t ask for these things anymore, and often you don’t believe I still do them. Now, you’re starting to think I never did them.
Once, others killed you just for being associated with me… but you knew me well enough to count it worthwhile all the same. You regularly shared a meal in my honour. But for the most part, people stopped killing you for being associated with me. Now you’re not so sure about whether it would be worthwhile.
Once you were happy to be with me. You called me God, you worshiped me, sang praise to me, and petitioned me to act. And I was pleased to move among you, to dwell in your midst. Your numbers grew rapidly, and many joined you. You were happy to be called my followers, to worship me and to depend upon me.
But so much has changed, hasn’t it? You set aside an hour for “worship,” and call it a “service” to sit, stand, sing, pray, listen, gulp, and leave. If you’re serving me, I’m sorry to say I’m not always that blessed. Oh, there was once power, intimacy, and devotion in your liturgies, and these were pleasing to me, but now … well, there’s just something missing, isn’t there?
Now you really want for little. You’ve got a good-paying job and a family, so your needs are all met. Nobody threatens you for my sake. You’ve gotten a lot of your own preferences, and little by little, those became fairly inflexible, didn’t they?
Even as you, the church, the collection of people experiencing the pain of living together as fallen beings have been practicing church more along the lines of your own perceived needs, those outside your walls have been labeling you, and labeling themselves. You they’ve called hypocrites and irrelevant. Themselves, they’ve called spiritual. They call to me as “Mother Earth” or “A Supreme Being” or any of a hundred names that are not my own.
I gave My Name to you, hoping you would share it with your neighbours. Along with my name, I gave you a promise… that you would be My People, and I would be Your God. This promise I still want to fulfill, as it means we must know one another. I know you, but do you still know me?
I was formerly known. But no longer. I haven’t changed, and I long for your return, for the days when you knew me. Oh, you still call me “Lord,” but for all intents and purposes…
I am the Being formerly known as God.
Posts that speak for God are always dangerous. Just to add my $.02 (USD) to the mix (which generally seems to be critical), this hardly sounds like the God I understand TO BE. This god sounds like a lonely forlorn little boy sulking in a corner because no one appreciates him anymore.
The God of the prophets uses words more like “detestable” and “abomination” and “vomit” and “filthy rags”. He makes statements like “not for your sake but for the sake of My Name”.
I knew it was dangerous, but I decided to forge ahead anyway… so I’m spending the day sitting around the house in my flame-retardant suit ;^) I think tomorrow’s post will help put things in perspective — second time today that I’ve said that… the post is already written and future-posted to appear in the morning, and oddly enough, many of criticisms are set in context by it. But I think the question of how God sees the whole thing is important, and that’s the train of thought that this is intended to open up, whether or not each (or any) of us agrees with the nuance.
Yes, God uses harsh language, but not always… sometimes he uses the language of invitation. Sometimes he sends a man before a king to tell a story about a the theft of a pet lamb from a poor man by a rich one… and then when you get it, he socks you between the eyes. Sometimes he uses the language of comfort. The God of the Prophets is not always angry, and sometimes speaks with a different tone in an unusual way, sometimes in dreams or riddles, which is what has always made the role of the prophet such a difficult one. To recognize the voice of God is not easy, because it doesn’t always sound like we think it should. Sometimes it sounds like thunder and sometimes like an inaudible whisper in the breeze.
Here, my intent is to allow God’s longing to come through just a little… a God that has emotions, who wants us to come to him. In the end (and maybe I got there, maybe I didn’t), the idea is to realize that the fault is ours, for ceasing to allow God his place — not that we could ultimately dethrone or demote him in any way, but we can, and do, figuratively depose him in our hearts and minds too often. Sometimes we learn harshly that God cannot be deposed no matter what our attitudes would attempt… and often before that happens, there’s an invitation to return. We just don’t always see it, or understand it for what it is, or from Whom it comes. But his nature seems to be that even in the harsh-sounding words, there is mercy, somewhere.
Hope that helps to clarify.
While I agree that it is tricky speaking for God, I don’t think anyone reading this is going to assume Bro Maynard is trying to add a Gospel. Further, while I understand the tone may bother some, if we read the Old Testament, there are many statements made by God where He expresses His sadness or dissatisfaction with where His children have gone. So I think this is a provocative addition. Well said.
Actually, I realize that I did write something in a slightly different tone about this already: Dear Church (Please) — it’s not written as first-person from God (though I thought about it) and it’s a bit more harsh.
I realize God speaks in myriad ways but when you begin to look at his tone in each context, I think you find definite patterns. To the broken and lost, he is the gentle shepherd and loving Father. To the haughty and idolatrous, he is the jealous lover and righteous judge.
To whom is this addressed?
(I’m not sure why I’m so worked up about this…I guess I’m just tired of polemic that evokes a response of our “doing something to help God out”.)
No problem, Bob. I think this is addressed to a broken people that doesn’t understand that they’re the authors of their own misfortune. Having said that, I think your last comment is appropriate — the context of who is being addressed isn’t clear from this post. Perhaps rather, it’s in what light they’re being addressed that’s unclear; we probably know who, but not whether they’re being cast as willfully rebellious or just feckless. I guess I’m suggesting the latter.
I think I see what you mean about “helping God out” but that isn’t the way I actually see it, despite how it sounds. My theology is much more Reformed than it appears here… here I’m putting the decision in the hands of the believer, which is typically how people first respond to God, as though it’s all up to them… only later do the realize how much bigger he is than what they thought. Hmmm, I guess that’s a whole ‘nuther large discussion, ain’t it?
Fundamentally, what I want to move toward is the idea that if we fail to understand God in his proper position, it’s going to be very difficult to sort out our “formerly’s” and our “currently’s” and impossible to grasp our proper “going-to-be’s”. In this sense, it isn’t so much that we put God in a certain position as much as we finally agree that he already is there, and we then start to act like it.
I had to link to this for those in my audience who don’t normally read here. This struck me as extremely poignant for some reason, and although I understand the possible dangers here, I think in many ways this needed to be said.
As I mentioned in my post linking here, I almost broke down and cried when I read it. I was in a public computer lab, and it would have been embarrassing, but I didn’t care what others would think. I ended up taking a walk outside and just pondering.
Thank you for writing this. I look forward to the next post.
And fundamentally, I just wonder if your post portrays God’s “proper position”.
I wonder how it would read it you reverse the order of each paragraph?
You live on â€œMother Earth.â€? You no longer live in my garden. Do you remember once, I walked with you in my garden, in the cool of the evening?
It may have a powerful effect in generating a thirst for the springs of living water.
Hmmm. You know, Bob, I think maybe that is better. Except in extreme circumstances, it’s my policy not to re-edit posts to make major changes… once I put it out there, I tend to leave it and clean it up in a followup or flagged update. For this change, I’d have to rewrite the whole post, and I think that if I end up re-publishing it, I will seriously look at doing so, to help convey the tone and context a bit better. Thanks for the editorial insight!
Steve, thanks for your kind words about this post as well… I’m glad that it touched you in this way, despite the weakness of my (or any of our!) words.
Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever pulled a post. Especially if it has been discussed. You really can’t because it is the interaction of the blogosphere the produces the revision–we need to keep the original so we understand our “formerly’s”.
Thanks for the original–obviously it affected my thinking. Instead of my angry, wrathful God, I have One who calls to my imagination and innate longing for Him.
We change structures in hopes of getting closer to what we had the moment we were born again. What happened? I have been asking that since my wife and I left the church we attended for 22 years last October. I was an elder in this church for the past six years. I was there almost every time the doors were opened. I tithed and served-yet reached a point where I said this isn’t what Christ died for.
Bob Mumford wrote a book entitled “Dr. Frankenstein and the World Systems” which sums up much of what we experienced.
As I look in the mirror, I don’t see the bruises which came as a result of me questioning the system, but they are still there underneath the surface.
I have prayed for people with cancer and seen them die. Yet I believe that people were healed by just touching a piece of cloth that Paul had handled.
Tonight, I left work at 3 and took a 22 mile bike ride. I am a little closer…but it still seems like I am a hundred miles away.
Thanks BM. I think your post makes provocative reading and adds to the grains of discontent that these “known as” posts largely seem to have generated – then again bits of grit are the pearls of the past :)
My only concern is that we can get quite idealistic about church – as if there was ever a good/perfect version of church or indeed that we will ever create the perfect church. Admitting imperfection is as much the first steps to followin God.
Still i look forward to your next part :)