Religious groups tend to gather a whole lot of fear-based people and call that fear ‘holiness.’ They gather people who are highly compliant, highly insecure, and it works. Richard Rohr
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Blessed are the pure in heart, Jesus says. And what he means is this: Blessed are you whose hearts are undivided, whose hearts are known and seen and loved by a God who welcomes sinners and indicts the religious hypocrite.
After all, God has been looking for us since he uttered those beautifully tragic first words to fallen Adam and Eve – Where are you? This is certainly not a God to be feared unless, of course, you’ve sewn an elaborate self-protective garment of fig leaves. This God despises the fig leaves of false humility, pretend religiosity, narcissistic self-aggrandizement. But, “a broken and contrite heart he does not despise.”
Yet, we define holiness as a kind of religious purity, a sin-managed life decorated with an elaborate array of the church’s finest fig leaves. Holy people seem to always do the right thing, pray the right prayer, cite the right verse. They make straight A’s in seminary, and preach boldly on being more like Jesus. However, at Lent, we recognize the truth. You are not holy. I am not holy. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. We need Lent. It’s truth serum for self-deceived souls.
It takes courage to answer the question, “What is the biggest problem in the world?” as G.K. Chesterton did. “I am,” he answered. That’s holiness. It’s an honest appraisal of our human predicament. You can’t pretend to be spiritual. You can only admit your poverty.
It’s about wholeness, a life of integrity, where the inner matches the outer.
Yet, fear works. An intimidating, angry God sells. But it’s not the God who says, “Where are you?” It’s not the God who runs with reckless abandon to his returning rebel son.
You can keep people close by making them fear you. Insecure souls are drawn to narcissistic bullies like mosquitoes to light. But God came near in Jesus precisely to turn the tables, to pave the great highway to God not by bullying but through suffering servanthood.
Lent is a difficult season, because the mirror is turned toward us. In this season, more than any other, I am faced with the depth and breadth of my self-deceit. I see that I have become the aggressor rather than the one who surrenders. I recognize the enemy, because it is me.
And the paradox is profound – in turning to our shadow side and admitting our darkness, we are welcomed into the light. Our fig leaves melt in the light of grace. And we discover not a God who frowns and waves the finger, but one who smiles from ear to ear, saying, “Welcome Home.”
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