When I finished seminary, I was working as a carpet cleaner in Los Angeles, traveling throughout the city in a van and pumping steamed water into stained fabric. This trade allowed me conversation with a large cross section of humanity, and the many conversations I had about God during those days were, in retrospect, a profoundly valuable part of my theological education. It was because of these rug cleaning gigs that I got the chance to learn what people really thought about God.
It turns out that most people had lots of respect for "God". It also became quickly clear that for most, the god they respected was of their own making. Picking and choosing from the gamut of values and character qualities, they built their own unique notions of deity, resulting in endless 'designer gods', created in the same way I used to turn a potato into a character using my "Mr. Potato head" toy box, choosing this nose, those eyes, that mouth until...Presto! I've made a creature unlike any other.
The history of religion shows us that the biggest danger of all isn't walking away from the truth entirely; that would be blatant, obvious, bringing our desire for autonomy into the open. Much worse is to keep fiddling with all the genuine character qualities of God, pasting some on our designer god, while being careful to leave others in the box. When I do this I build a god that's just like me, a god that reinforces my basest natures, while providing enough idealism to convince me that I've the coolest, truest god on the block. Church history is rife with these distortions, but rather than breaking open textbooks, we can simply go to the Bible, where Jesus told the religious experts that the searched the scriptures because they thought it was there life could be found. The scriptures pointed to Christ, but those same experts were unwilling to come to Him that they might have life, preferring their designer idol to the real God. You can read about it here.
I'm of the opinion that it's not the real God that's been fought over and defended in the enormously destructive culture wars and denominational divisions during these past decades. Instead we've been busy hurting each other because of our defense of "Mr Potato-gods" - and mine is better, stronger, truer, than yours. The greatest tragedy of all is that every little group, it seems, has only a few pieces in their box, and could never find the true God without coming together with the other boys and girls to see what parts there have to offer.
I'm hoping there's a place where we can come together and throw all our pieces on the floor so that we can work together to build a testimony of the real Jesus. The right has some things to offer; some of their pieces are forgeries, and other pieces have gone missing from their box, so much so that the poor children don't even miss them. The left faces the same problem. Established and emergent churches face the same dilemma. Pray with me that we'll have the courage and humility to do this - each of us in our own circles, so that Jesus can have His way with us, and His real character can be seen.
O Lord Christ -
You've watched us try to scare each other into voting for God's man, as if one party had all the pieces in place and was committed to using them. You've graciously stuck with us, and we watched history this week, and pray that your mighty and merciful hand would be upon our new leader. You've faithfully brought us closer to your heart by breaking down walls of racism, even while we remain far from you in so many ways. I pray that we, your church, would have the humility and courage to come together in prayer, dialogue, prayer, and service, trusting that as we do so, we'll all become exposed to the missing pieces that might better represent your heart. To do this will require grace and love that none of us, on our own have. So we ask for your indwelling and the stirring of your spirit, to take us down this path. We'll thank you for it, and give you the glory, even as we pray that your glory would find expression through our lives, homes, and communities of faith in these amazing days. In your great name I pray...