Destroying the God Cliche

"Is your god really God? Is my god really God? I think that God isn't God if He fits inside our heads."

-As Cities Burn


 

The Camp Drain

It is unbelievable how much camp drains me. I've experienced it before and still I entered the summer underprepared, for I am drained in every way imaginable, and it is taking significant effort to get built back up before becoming engulfed afresh by the vortex of "regular" life.

I'm fine with the work of camp, to be honest. Long days do not bother me, nor do hours on end of work without breaks to speak of, nor even the voluminous expanses of time surrounded with people. I can even deal with that.

Do not mishear me: I believe that camp does wonders for a whole lot of people. I have seen the Spirit move quite physically in a body of people; I've felt the tears of life change; I've watched baggage be thrown at the foot of the only Cross fit to bear it, yet I still went to bed at night wondering exactly what we were doing.

The last week of camp was the week we all knew was going to be the biggest challenge: we were going to be severely short-staffed, undersupplied as far as student numbers go, exhausted from a summer of leaving it all on the court, and, on top of everything, adding a whole day of camp to our months-long established routine. We approached the week expectant both of great struggle and a great God, but in hindsight, I believe I was in no way prepared for what I got.

Confessions

It was only night two, but still I walked into my church group's meeting to find tears, buckets of water, and my Bible Study team embracing me, praying for me, and washing my feet. Oftentimes, churches come to camp expecting to be fed by the super-spiritual staff, but this one was different: they wanted to come on the last week of camp so that they could bless us. To say the least, it was overwhelming and powerful, unexpected in the most delightful of ways. But this was not the part that I needed.

One of the guys in my Bible Study pulled me aside (I taught High School seniors), we walked down the hall, and sat in a narrow corridor while he talked to me through tears about things that he was going through. Things he had done not even weeks before which had hurt people in the room right behind us who were praying and washing other staffers' feet. Right as he was telling me about stuff he had gotten into, up walked one of the guys he had been getting into it with. His was a different, and in some ways more familiar, story.

He told me this: "I've been doing all of that stuff too, if not more. What makes it bad is that we're the church superstars. We're the worship leaders, the ones people look up to. And what makes it even worse than that is that I just don't care. I've come to grips with the fact that God is real, but this church stuff, I just don't know anymore. I don't want to just accept something because it's always been said to me, but I don't know what to believe."

Now this was conversation.

This post is not about these guys' stories (because honestly, they are now two of my good friends and they are most likely reading this), but they are useful because they bring to light the two things I enjoy most: genuine recognition of the need (and inability within ourselves) for life change, and a real, honest attempt at searching.

My routine had been broken. It was no longer enough to say the "camp" thing, because they could spout the "camp" thing right back at me.

Iconoclasm

“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.” -CS Lewis

If we're being real (which we are, because this is my blog, on which I may do what I want), I have been just as frustrated as the second guy in my story. This church business gets inside of your head and floods your thoughts and suddenly, before you know it, God = the Church. Or God = your evangelism strategy. Or God = your new building fund. Or God = a set of $700,000 crosses you erect on the highway (This is not meant to be about the Cross building project in Chattanooga or about the article I linked you to, though I find this sentence interesting from it: "But really, I think we’re frustrated with the church at-large, the church as a whole, which means we’re really frustrated with each other.") Or God = the defense for your political theory. Or God = a justification.

In fact, I think that the more we say "God =", the less we're really understanding about Him. The more we say "God is," the less we're letting Him say "I Am," and that's a problem, because every time I've tried to say "God is" something other than what He's already said He is, He steps in and says as he said to Job, "Who are you to say anything about me?"

I've heard people complain about why we don't hear God speak anymore and I wonder if it's because we're so busy speaking "for" Him. I hear people ask why we don't watch God move anymore and I wonder if it's because we've constrained Him inside something that He isn't - we've made an idol out of our perception of Him. We've shaped him into the figure that best suits our needs, stuck Him at the beginning of our dinners and in the subtext of our political agendas and in the slot where we put batteries to fuel our days rather than saying, "here's me. It's all I have, but You're getting all of it. Don't let me use You to suit my needs, rather use me to be the miracle people are begging to see."

Perhaps we've gotten too comfortable with our "Christianese" to understand that God is more than "camp" language could utter. Do we really think that He can be summed up with a cliche? Perhaps we're so busy pointing out the things that God wouldn't like that we forget it's our duty to love our enemies and to love the sinners, not play God-hospital like we can fix anyone, much less ourselves. Do we really think that we're the ones worthy of holding the "good enough" limbo stick?

What about this: could it be that a God as big as He claims He is requires the constant pursuit of fresh ways to worship and talk about Him and not just a recycled, purely human and already-used church expression?

If we really believe that God wants a "personal relationship" with us, make it real and honest and raw. Don't be afraid to say "I'm not good enough," because you're not. Don't be afraid to say, as I wish I had said to my friend in my example above, "you know what, doubter? I doubt too and I wish God would do what I want and there's a pile of things I do not understand and I think stuff's unfair sometimes and I'm probably a worse sinner than you, but God hasn't given up on me yet, so the only response I can think to engage in is to give Him everything I have."

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.