I’ve been obsessed by three images of late. I’ve been seeing them in dreams, dancing around each other; popping into my mind during conversations; invading my imagination during reading. They’re images I can’t shake – they’re images reflecting feelings deep within me, reflecting conversations with and about me, reflecting a journey I’m taking with Jesus & my community.
They’re images of exclusivity, they’re images of inclusivity; they’re images of community, they’re images of chosenness; they’re images of longing and belonging (well, at least that’s what they are to me).
They’re images inspired by the idea that followers of God, seeking to imitate God, can behave in contradictory ways – because it’s about how you see God.
That if you see God as welcoming, inclusive, expansive and gathering, so too you will be. And if you see God as restrictive, exclusive, limiting and capricious, so too you will be.
These images first started filling my mind round about the time my ex church was undertaking “LGBT conversations”. (Spoiler… it went badly , see here, here and here…) After one particularly offensive comment connecting the LGBT community with Paedophiles (I know, right?!) one person, a lady who had always been pleasant and kind to me (but since my coming out, didn’t speak to me nor could she even bring herself to make eye contact) spoke what might seem a sensible question to some, but brought home to me this idea that humans justify their own bigotry and hatred by imagining God a certain way. The question was, “Why are we talking about inclusion anyway? God excludes people. After all, didn’t Jesus say ‘I am the way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the father but by me’?” At the time I was still too shocked by the Paedophile comment to counter this and if I’m honest I didn’t really have the full answer at my fingertips. But almost immediately the first and second images flashed into my mind along with Jesus words ” I am the Gate; I am the Good Shepherd”. And so this question and these words, together with images I’d known and seen, but brought to memory by God, all swirled in my mind while I lived and walked and prayed for the next couple of months. Then once these had been percolating for a while ( ie, I had been obsessing) I was asked to read a small section of the Sermon on the mount. I was sent the verse and was nervous about how people would feel about me reading those words… Until I stepped on the stage and read “But the Gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it” Matt 7:14 CEB. And almost like I was standing in front of a TV that was suddenly switched on, I saw the Third image. And softly, briefly, I heard The Voice. “Courage Dear Heart”.
What are these images, pictures I’ve seen through my life, that God has been gently, but firmly using to answer (or even not answer) the question that lady asked. I’m going to share the images, tell you a bit about them and then let you mull over them for a while – like homework! 🙂 Then I’ll share a post on each one with what I think God’s been saying. Or it might just be my own random thoughts, which you can take or leave as you wish as ever.
This is an illustration from CS Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. It’s Fledge the winged horse carrying Diggory and Polly to a Walled garden that Aslan has sent them to.
This is a hogget hole.
This is Crib Goch on Snowden.
For some time now the realisation has been growing in me that Jesus is not talking about a massive system of eternal reward and punishment with all the rules for obtaining one or the other being determined by the church. (And then comes the question, which church?). When Jesus speaks of coming to the Father by him he is not talking about signing up to some statement of doctrine as if we could ever be reborn by such means! He is talking about the way of the cross, about dying before we die, about tasting the resurrection. That really is the narrow way.
God has given 15 billion years of patient waiting to each and every life in this world, lives which have required every providential moment within every single one of those years in order to be what it astonishingly is at this very moment. God has manifestly failed to do any excluding of any even of the most tragic of those moments or any of those creatures.
I am sure that you know all of this already but I was saddened to hear of your excluding friend. I pray that she will come to forgive the God who will not do as she asks and probably herself too.
Hang on in there! God bless you 😊
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Stephen, you are always so encouraging and generous in sharing your own thoughts and wisdom… And there’s a good bit of wisdom right here, some I shall ponder on.
Thank you. Although we may never meet face to face in this world, I look forward to sharing a drink or two in Aslan’s country.
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Me too 😊
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