Observing God from the Fringe
The fastest growing category of those who believe in God is...non-religious. You may know several, or perhaps are one yourself: a person who proclaims faith in God and yet does not subscribe to a given religious practice, or claim membership in a faith community of practice. I am sure that carrying a "union card" in the Church's hierarchy deprives me in any number of ways of being able to walk in the shoes of those who follow this path in life. As a member of a faith community of practice and proclaiming a belief in God that derives from a life lived entirely within a credal faith, it seems to me as if folks are willing and able to accept that God "is" and perhaps even desire to spend some time with God...but in essence this way of being tends to keep God on the fringe of our lives....or perhaps it allows us to keep ourselves on the fringe while observing God from a presumably "safe" distance.
During our sojourn with Paul in his letter to the Church in Corinth, we have witnessed him assailing that "spiritual, but not religious" attitude, pulling at its tangled structure with both hands. In his argument, we cannot be people of God without 1) submitting to a new life in Christ, who was crucified and overcame death with resurrection, and 2) find ourselves willing to experience that new life in communion with God, and with each other.Whereas a spiritual-but-not-religious lifestyle keeps the abrasions of conflict with God and with other people over questions of faith at a hoped-for minimum, this life of faith in communion winds up being messy and disruptive at the human level and almost beyond challenging and difficult at the divine. Just when we think we have our spiritual life in order, either our neighbor or perhaps even God shows up and disrupts things to the point where we find ourselves howling with indignation.
...and spiritual people don't behave like that, right?
I am convinced that it is impossible to sustain a life wherein we wind up observing God from the fringe of the Divine's agency in creation. We can't hold God at distance, nor can we keep our communion with God in this life hermetically sealed in a pristine state. In our struggle for meaning in life, God winds up being an essential governor in the experience...and thus we are challenged to set ego aside, leave pride and certainty alone and somehow find it in ourselves to not only invest ourselves in community-but also submit ourselves to each other and to God in communion with things that are bigger than us, more durable that we are and that extend beyond the reach of our years and our perceptions.
Job's friends keep attempting to bring his travails (and our troubles) down to a reduced state. They want our relationships with God and each other brought down to the simplest of terms. If bad things happen to you, then you did something to deserve it. If good things happen to you, then you are being rewarded for doing right. The problem is, and Job is living testament to this, that good things happen to bad people...and bad things happen to the good. It's more complicated, more complex and takes more struggle and energy to resolve on our part, this thing we have going with each other and with God called "life."
So, as we ALL struggle to embrace communion with God and each other we also perforce wind up being called to risk ourselves, and our sense of ourselves. Perhaps that is what Christ was talking about when he said that those who lose their lives will find them?