Destroying the God Cliche

“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

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Camp ended yesterday. I thought I was going to be prepared for that moment all summer long: when we shut the gate on the cage containing all of the stuff we used this year and drive back jubilant that we all survived and kept the sickness banging at the doors to our bodies at bay with Emergen-C and sheer willpower. The ride back was, instead, silent and strange. After all, how do you end something like this?

This summer, I've: Played music in front of 3,500+ students and their leaders. Taught Bible Study to 167 hurting kids for a week at a time. Built 214 yards of wooden fencing. Hung 3 pavilions worth of fascia board. Dug 4 8x8 drain trenches. Moved a middle school out of one building into a brand new one, which we cleaned and painted. Door-to-door mowed an entire neighborhood. Seen 30 camp staffers who couldn't be more different literally become family. Walked 3 boys and 2 girls to the feet if my Savior so that they may glimpse for the first time just how inadequate they are and just how adequate He is. I've seen the shivers of sinners' first realization of the stakes of it all. I've watched the options being weighed - the recognition that life change isn't something that comes with no cost, and the laugher and pure, inescapable joy after the decision had been made when they realize that the cost is absolutely worth it. Lived for 2 months straight in a state of pure exhaustion, so that every morning was a battle to get up and do it again - and learned what it means to say "Christ is my strength." Escaped from my academic, heady mindset and experienced the world and God in ways books just can't grasp.

And I just don't know exactly how to handle the end of something like this. Don't get me wrong - I cannot WAIT to get home. I have missed my city, my family, my friends, those who, because you carry them in your heart, you carry home with you. But I don't know how to leave this either.

Let me briefly talk about something that has changed (or is in the process of changing) inside of me. On the first day of each week, after everybody has registered and we break from the first worship set of the session, all of the students follow their track leaders to a room for 2 an a half hours of ministry track and evangelism training. It's awkward, of course, because nobody knows the other people in the room, but it is the most crucial part of the week, because it sets the rest of it up for success or failure. We did the activity, right? I gave 6 kids notecards and stuck them on one side of the room and moved everybody else to the other side. On each notecard I had written two things: on the front, something that others see about them, and on the back, something they know about themselves. The holders of the cards only knew what was written on the back, so I made then wonder what exactly was on the front as the rest of the group walked by them and scoffed. All one boy knew is that he had an abusive father and that everybody who read the front of his card wanted to punch him in the face. Another only knew she had parents that didn't take care of her and everyone walking by told her to just go take a bath, already. After the non-card holders finished walking by the card holders, I made everyone tell them what was written on the front of the cards. "You shove kids in lockers," they tell one boy. "My father beats me when I get home," he says.

"You look an smell like you haven't bathed in a week." "My home was destroyed and my family was killed in the Tornadoes last year and I've been living on the street," comes the answer.

"You never go to church." "My parents persecute Christians."

And so on. I make a point that we don't know what's written on the back of these people's cards, and that no matter how gross or maddening the front is, each of these people needed love. Then we move on. But I couldn't move on.

My heart has been broken lately for the broken. Rage has been kindled against injustice in every form. Sex trafficking, domestic abuse, movie theater massacres, these Westboro nutjobs who just won't go away, date-rapists, preachers bent only on making money, elitist, introverted writers/musicians who hang out in Nashville coffeeshops and pretend they have their crap figured out and that the rest of humanity can just burn... I've wanted to bleed them slow that sell humans as slaves, to break the knees of every father who beats his children, to make cowards behind masks who tear-gas and open fire in rooms full of innocent people beg to be spared. We live in an age that celebrates vigilante justice because we CRAVE justice and we see so few fighting for it. But I was confronted this summer with the realization that I serve a King who IS justice. Who tells me, "vengeance and recompense are mine." Who commands me to love those people I hate - for that is my role, and I have to trust that men who molest little girls will get theirs as He sees fit.

It was like this: if a twelve year old who bullies children smaller than he is needs love more than he would ever admit, how much more to the most despicable of creatures need it? Also: who am I to judge what the back of anybody's card says? Who am I to assume that any action done by another man is anything but some semblance of a cry for love and understanding and a plea for a shoulder to cry on or a voice to say, "I know, man, but there's another way?"

If my enemies are the enemies of justice, what am I to do with my King's reminder that I am supposed to love them? Or: what if early Christians felt the way I have felt against Saul, who murdered their own kind in the coldest of blood?

As a philosopher (not in the pretentious way, merely as a lover of wisdom), I love engaging in discussion about justice. What it means, how it looks, etc. But as one who is sick of roundabout reasoning and the disappearance of definition upon its examination, I have learned this summer that the only way to escape this endless cycle if heady talk an conflict and unreadable consensus is through love. An the only way to have this kind of love is through the knowledge of an relationship with the God who calls Himself love.

Imagine with me a world who saw Christians not as this Westboro nonsense or as Fox News enthusiasts or as terrible tippers or as high-horse riding, Bible face-punchers or as picketers or as condemners of "sinners" or as all of the things my people have been (deservingly) labeled, but as people who stood together and loved the unlovable (think of how difficult that is) and prayed for mass-murderers and rapists and wife beaters and forgave anybody who slaps us or those we love in the face. What if we left the judgment and justice to the One who separates wheat from chaff, goats from lambs, and treated everybody as not beyond redemption, as WE have been treated?

Imagine what that kind of body could accomplish for their King.

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.