This tiny ten-letter-mustard-seed-phrase

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There are certain word-strings that stick a pin in me.  A very real “ouch” word-string.  And then I have to find out why.  GSHJ does that from time to time.  I can be reading something and “ouch” followed by “What was that for?

It happened with this:  “Have We Made Bible Study Too Simple?”   The first “ouch” was the word ”study” followed closely by another with “we”.

It was Don Merritt who made me aware of me using a “straw-man” in some of my writing: A fictional “they” in order for me to tear down this fictional “they” as evidence for the point I was making.  And the use of “we” is the most-used straw-man.  Because “we” is (almost) the same as “they” – with a twist.  “We” is me being right and you (who should be one of “we”) having to agree with me – because “we” are correct and “they” (who say – incorrectly – that they are “we”) are not.

Ouch.

Then the word “study” in front of “bible”.  Bible Study.   A phrase used so often it is now its own “evidence”: bible study.  This tiny ten-letter-mustard-seed-phrase packed full of institutional religious baggage like this (from the “About Page”): “Missio Alliance began as an initiative of Ecclesia, a relational network of missionally-minded churches and leaders that takes a primary interest in encouraging and equipping church planters.”  Which screams: “We are God Qualified” – unlike like me.  Unless “me” is God Qualified – and then I might be “we”.

Ouch.

Then this from the post: “At the moment I was a bit taken back.  This shut down the conversation.  It was before my days in seminary and honestly, I wasn’t equipped with a good answer.”

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I get a lot of this Paul – I got a lot of this from you in your “early days”.  This dependence on you and your own cleverness – to fit-in – to be seen to have a “good answer”.  To be able to win the argument – to successfully argue me out of the bible and into another (allegedly).  See the infamous Pharisees and Sadducees – all the “sees and cees” (now reborn as “ologies and isms”).  It’s all about cleverness – being seen to have the right answer – to win hearts and minds for me.   And in the process to split and divide – to maintain the God Qualified as gatekeepers for me – to maintain “them” relying on “we” to explain me.

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And I have just created my own straw-man.  The God Qualified (of seminary and theological college).  My direct conversation with God Soft Hands Jesus – my “baggage” of “dividing” those who believe in the same God Soft Hands Jesus as I do – but not “exactly” the same as mine.  My appealing to those who have a similar train of thought – and in the process dismissing those who don’t.

Because if any of us (or they) really lived this “All Are Welcome” fiction – none of this would matter.  It wouldn’t matter what I (or you) believed if we really lived being capable of love without condition – really lived that love can only be love without condition.  Really believed that “love” split into four (God Qualified) Greek words … is putting cleverness in the way of God … causing another to stumble … perhaps a child who loves without condition because love IS without condition.

And that makes us all false teachers – makes us all use and abuse the bible – because we all look at “sinners” and “sin” as some external force to be beaten – we all look to God to save us.

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And there you go again.  Who is “we and us” – and what were you saying about using “we and they”?

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And he is right.  As is the (possible) rebuttal that “Church folk have to talk to church folk – so using a common language saves time.”

Except that I bumped into this “common language” and the language is not “common”.  It is institutional and God Qualified – it is the language of “seminary Church”.

And that keeps me from you – and keeps us ALL from God Soft Hands Jesus and living love that IS love without condition.

Him, you and me.

“All” without condition.

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Takes me back to the good old days when it was just the “sees and cees”!

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Jesus is simple. We can be too.

I just feel as though we have grown apart. You have never understood me, allowed me to be me. You never allowed me to really know you, you always held back. You insist you should be you, but you keep trying to change me into something I am not. When we are good we are great – but all too often we are miles apart. I am not sure we want the same things anymore. The only thing we have in common is the children, and now that they are all grown up …

Relationship breakdown.

Why do we assume love is the soft option? That love is not enough – that we need some rules to provide the backbone, the right stuff, the clarity? Relationship breakdown is love corrosion. And talk of “patching things up” makes love seem too “ordinary” to be worth it: If we really loved each other we wouldn’t need to.

On the one hand – we say love is “too soft” to be the answer. On the other – we believe love is “too special” to need rules. So love becomes elusive, hard to pin down, shouldn’t be pinned down … all the “opposites which attract” … don’t really.

So it is left to the “heaving breast” writers of fiction and song … the pain of love, the sacrifice of love, the sweetness of love, the power of love. They capture the essence of love. They show us how.

Except we all know that is baloney. We have lives to lead, work to do, children to look after, friends to keep in touch with, appearances to keep up, all of that. But the songs and stories all tell us that if love is real it will overcome all that “ordinary” stuff. And we tend to buy-into that whilst denying we have. We so often expect the stardust of love to somehow sprinkle itself over the rest. And if it doesn’t – then it can’t be really be love. Can it?

“An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’ John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’” Luke 9:46-50

More and more as I read this thing we call the bible, the more I see a God who desires in us the same simplicity He sees in Love. A God who is Love. Does not see Love as stardust. Who sees Love as we see breathing: I Am Love (here is how).

‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

All too often we reserve that sentiment for Church. The brief interlude of sacrifice and smiles we call worship. An hour of nodding in agreement before heading back to the real world. The real world where our brand of God suits us nicely. Where yours does not. Where your labels and rules do not suit me at all. Where I defend my faith in so many ways. Often through no more than inertia. The inertia of NOT welcoming “this child in my name”, through NOT welcoming “the one who sent me”, and by NOT even paying lip-service to the notion of “the least among all of you is the greatest”

So is this inertia Love? Is this inertia Relationship? Is this inertia “real anything” at all? Can we really poke a stick in the eye of the Pharisees – when we already sit amongst them through inertia – preferring to tick boxes of attendance and tithing we call faith?

Because when presented with an argument, Jesus sought out a child. When presented with righteous indignation Jesus found words of healing.

Jesus makes Love simple. Not because He was qualified to “love”, not because He had a degree in God, nor because He had a duty to love. Jesus makes Love simple because He is Love. He outflows Love. He cannot be anything but Love. And that IS Love.

“Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”

So just how do I know who is against me or for me? How do I know who I should love and who I should not? How do I know when to love others and when not? How do I know who to save and who not?

How do I know?

God Soft Hands Jesus never taught the theology of division. He never pursued academic religion. Jesus never teaches me who to love and who not to love.

I did that. We did that. I do that. We do that. And every time we even think or ask ourselves or others the question “who and who not” – that is NOT Love.

We are taught to harness power, taught to contain power, to make power “safe”. And then too often harness the “power of love”, and almost always make safe the power of God. We make God safe. And in making God safe, we make Love NOT Love. And in making Love not Love, we need rules to fill the gaps. We create the gaps we then need to fill. Or else we would not know if we were loving.

And if I call myself a Christian, I must know when to love, who to love – who not to love, what not to love. Or else how can I know who to save, who needs saving, when they have been saved, when they can call themselves a Christian, when I can call them a Christian (and when not). And so, like hamsters in a wheel, we spin ever faster. Ever more irrelevant. Ever more distant. Safe In these safe cages we call church. Safe to call each other saved. That is NOT Love. That is religion. That is gaps. That is rules. That is God safe in a box.

Jesus is simple. We can be too.

Love set free IS always the answer – IF we allow.