Cliches. They’re a dime a dozen (see what I did there?).
And there is no place steeped in cliches more than the Christian faith.
I’ve been around the Church all my life. And I’ve heard phrases that made no sense to me whatsoever, millions of times. In fact, faith itself often doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m just being honest.
I have no idea what it means to “let go and let God.” I’ve never felt Jesus “touch” me and I’ve never heard the voice of God …that I know of. I never feel any “invisible arms” around me. I am routinely given more than I can bear (even though the bible is adamant that this won’t happen). Putting my “trust” in Jesus has often felt like giving up and watching TV when I should be doing something.
And honestly (and this is going to get some people upset, I know) I always had a difficult time with the whole idea of a “personal relationship with God.” See, all the personal relationships I ever had required a two-way conversation. In my dealings with God, I would talk and talk and talk …and nobody ever talked back. I would listen. But it was pretty much just silence.
People told me that God spoke through the Bible, so I would get my answers by referencing a 66-book study guide. Basically, you take your question to a pastor or priest or youth leader or someone in power, and they would then give you riddles to research and coordinates triangulate. And THAT was how God spoke back to you. NO fun!
I mean, don’t get us wrong, God can do anything. He is bound by nothing. He is all powerful, all knowing, all present and all understanding. But he can’t seem to manifest himself in our dimension or talk to us in our own language. It’s a minor glitch. Help him out, would ya?
It wasn’t just the cliches. There were also some contradictions that bothered me about faith. Still do, in fact. We were always taught that material possessions and physical beauty meant nothing and were temporal, superficial pursuits. We were to find our reward in more spiritual things. But then, when you get to heaven, it’s NOTHING BUT material things! Streets of gold, walls of jasper, gates of pearl. Everybody gets a ridiculous mansion and a beautiful, new body that never ages. I gotta tell ya …heaven sounds a lot like Beverly Hills.
A lot of the hymns I was raised singing seemed to sound a lot like union grievances and tenant complains. “Some glad morning when then this life is over I’ll fly away. To a land on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.” In other words, “this place sucks. It sucks so bad I can’t wait till I die! I can’t believe I’m stuck here. I not only want to get out of here, I want to freaking FLY out of here!
I love I’ll Fly Away. But it sure didn’t bolster my love for the earth.
All of our cliches are based on what we choose to believe. Plain and simple. But what if we found out that something we believed deeply …was not true? Admitting you’re wrong about something as important as spiritual faith is almost impossible to do.
I used to listen to family members, in the 70s, debate the right or wrongness of hair length. I’m not even kidding. These were people who had studied scripture for decades, actually wasting precious time and breath contemplating the length and style of someone’s hair. Even at 7 or 8-years old I was dumbfounded by this and could not wrap my brain around why God would care about such things.
As it turns out …he doesn’t. And my 7 or 8-year-old way of looking at it was actually the correct way. Who knew you had to approach all of this as a little child? Anyway …
As I age, I think more and more that what we are going to find on the other side of our lives might end up being vastly different than what we think it’s going to be or what we were taught it was going to be. And I have a strange feeling it won’t be anything as boring and mundane as the cliches we’ve developed or the rules we’ve set up to strengthen those cliches. At least I hope not.
And what of the here and now? Well, for my part, I decided a long time ago to stop living by cliches. I don’t understand them anyway. How on earth could I build my life around them? I think we have to find the heart of it in our own way. For some it IS about those cliches. And I respect that, if that’s what moves you and helps you make sense of it all.
For me, the whole ball of wax comes down to Good Friday. A voluntary sacrifice; a revolution of unconditional love; a willingness to lay down one’s life for those who despise him, is the essence of the whole thing. It is argued that the resurrection is the most important part of the Easter story. I get it. Cinematically, we HAVE to have that ending. And if that part of the story doesn’t happen …well …all this is a lie, isn’t it?
And so this coming Sunday Christian preachers from coast to coast will load both barrels (see, I did it again) with cliches we’ve heard for centuries, and scatter them into the congregation. This will incite big, triumphant song singing, involuntary hand raising and inexplicable tears of joy. Our guy won! He did it! He’s not just a defeated loser. He is a winner! We are winners!
But as these celebrations take place, I often wonder if the cliche of being the ultimate winner is really what Easter is about. If Christianity is about winning, Tom Brady is a better Christian than Detrich Bonhoeffer.
Easter is a sacred day for so many. What it means to us is probably more what we need it to mean than anything else.
For me personally, it’s more about sacrifice than triumph. It’s more about the willingness to endure Good Friday than it is the foregone conclusion of Sunday. It’s about going against your basic survival instincts to show love to someone else.
Maybe that’s the voice I was waiting to hear all those years. Maybe that’s how God gets into our dimension and speaks our language. Maybe that’s how all of this transcends the cliches and becomes …well …divine.
Enjoy the cliches this weekend. There are sure to be plenty of them spoken from pulpits all over the nation.
If you find yourself bored, waiting on the sermon to be over, just remember …this too shall pass.