Friday, April 14, 2017

The Cherry on the Cake

I think its fair to say that the majority of people are religious to some degree, whether they place their faith in a deity or religious mantra or simply hold to beliefs that lack empirical evidence. None (or very few) of us have a check list of verifiable facts by which we measure every action. We even deliberately go against sound advice and received wisdom when we feel the need to satisfy an emotional compulsion that defies rational thinking but agrees with our core. We’ve all heard (or read) someone say, “I’m not a religious person but I felt the need to pray”. Its a need to appeal to a higher authority that is impartial, compassionate and wise. The heart sometimes doesn’t even need to believe, the hope that good is supreme and actually resides in some dimension is enough to get through the moment.

Many find security in organised religion even though the tenets of faith under girding it mean nothing to them or are quite unfamiliar. Nationalists often affiliate themselves to a religion, not because of its teachings but because it gives them an identity. They very often cite quasi-religious texts that adherents of that religion reject. In reality most of us create our own god like a ‘Have it Your Way’ burger. But unlike fast food, fast religion has always been with us. Religious wars owe more to expediency than religious belief. This very human way of thinking and living is not peculiar to religion.

“Peace and goodwill to all men”, though biblical, is a Christmas meme that resonates for most us but doesn’t pass the litmus test when the warmongering media presents the latest atrocity and calls us to arms. Its natural to want retribution when we feel attacked but its also natural for siblings to fight over the best seat and lash out when they don’t get their own way. Peace is only possible when we deny our baser instincts and look to higher principles. World peace is no more than a motto in a Christmas cracker if all it accomplishes is to make you feel warm and fuzzy when you are not being challenged.

For Christians, Easter centres on the physical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (our saviour Messiah). It leaves no room for the suck-it-and-see faith of those who merely call themselves Christian. It demands the acceptance of an actual person being crucified at an actual place at a precise time in history. And if we are to be faithful to the story we also have to accept that Jesus rose as flesh and blood, not the ethereal icon that ‘lives in our hearts’. But therein lies a problem that has blighted the 20th and 21st century church – taking the Bible literally.

The discussion around literalism, errancy and reliability of the Bible can be excruciating and circular. The more you define your view the more distorted it becomes. I’ve battled with these ideas for years and I think I’ve arrived at something akin to a cherry-on-top cake with an inedible (non-negotiable) case, a distinct cherry in the middle and the rest is stodgy and malleable. My belief in a creator God is non-negotiable, the Bible as a whole is open to interpretation. The words of Jesus and the centrality of his death and resurrection define and give purpose to the whole cake. To explain how I got here is a story long in the baking; its no cake mix.

The more socially aware I become the more I see the life and teachings of Jesus come into focus, the Easter story ever evolving while the essential ingredients stay the same. I see this same model applying to the peace and democracy movement. An ideology can distort your world view and alienate you from those who think differently. Fixating on specifics or being resigned to generalisations makes you a case with no substance or a cherry with no cake. To strive for world peace you need hope but if you have a focus that shifts from side to depending on the circumstances it might as well be just a wish. The cake itself is messy in the making and will collapse many times as you strive for success.

Faith is mostly stodgy and messy. It burns and sinks, delights and disappoints. It never turns out like the picture in the book and sometimes you have to try making it without a vital ingredient. On Good Friday the cake burned and the cherry was stolen. But God had an even more glorious cake planned.

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