I have a colleague in ministry who had a regular coffee shop ministry in the days pre- Covid. Laptop in hand he would go to a busy coffee spot, get a coffee, and set up at a table facing the line of those waiting to order. His laptop sports a very prominent sticker, oriented to be right way up with the laptop open, that says: “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, I probably don’t believe in that God either.” It is a very visible, very curiosity-provoking statement. Some people just smile and laugh, nudging their friends so they see it too, others pause and comment, and occasionally someone takes the invitation and sits down with their coffee for a talk. He tells me the talks are incredible!
What is it about this God thing? What is it that makes God seem inaccessible or simply NOT worth one’s time? Well, let’s start with the obvious – those who claim to be good church going people often engage in incredibly hateful, hurtful, ridiculous behavior that declares who is “in” – people who believe like them – and who is “out” – everyone else. What an incredible turn off, really! Then of course there is the history of the church since it became an institution which has used select Bible readings to dominate, colonize, and damage people with less power, privilege, and resources than they had. Yuck!
But the other thing that makes it hard for people to connect with “the God thing” is things from our past – abuse, terror, or pain – that left us with an understanding of God that makes us say “just NOT my thing”. I am a Christian and so the meaning making story for me is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is MY meaning maker. I know that this is not the only way to understand, relate to, or experience the Divine. I DO believe we each have something within us that gives our lives meaning, direction, and purpose. Whether you name it God, Jesus, Love, Creator, Goodness, Allah, Jehovah, Spirit, Inner wisdom, Goddess, Humanity, Heart, or don’t name it at all. Deep down within us there is a unifying energy that is essential to Who We Are as humans. Our experience of that and understanding of that shapes how we live, what we believe, and how we relate to others.
I grew up in a Christian home where God was a powerful, loving presence and faith was lived out in kindness, acceptance, and love as much as is humanly possible. However, like many, as a child things, happened that changed me. I “knew” in the way 8 year olds do that bad things happen to bad people. Therefore, I concluded that I must be bad. I decided that God, who I knew was loving and wanted to bless everyone, actually did not want to bless me because I was bad. Now, I know as an adult that last assumption is NOT true. Bad things happen to all people. I wasn’t bad and God certainly did want to bless me as well as anyone else. However, I lived that initial belief through all of my childhood and much of my adulthood. It was foundational to the self-abuse that manifested in addiction. But, one day that was challenged.
Talking to a fellow after a recovery meeting I said, in response to the blessings he felt he was experiencing due to recovery, “Oh, God doesn’t bless me like that.” It was my truth, I was confident in it, and stated it as a fact. His eyes went wide, he scowled and exclaimed “Well, eff your God. You should borrow mine, because my God will bless the heck out of you.” I was rocked back on my heels. It had never occurred to me that I might be WRONG about God. He told me to go home that day, take out a piece of paper, write on one side a list of everything I believed about God, then turn the paper over, and on the other side write what I wanted God to be. “Then,” he directed, “start living as if the second side is true.”
Now, it wasn’t an overnight change but that one conversation and the list I created in response to his suggestion, was the beginning of my journey to an understanding of God that has changed my entire outlook on life.
So, if you are holding on to a hurtful understanding of God, a scary understanding of God, or a belief that God is punishing people because of who they are or what they have done I would say “borrow my God” because the God I have discovered is loving, present, empowering, and good. I’m curious to know what you believe – no matter what that is. Like my friend in the coffee shop I would extend the invitation: “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that God either.” Let’s talk about it, we probably have more in common than you imagine.
Reverend Susan E. Breisch
Minister/Community Spiritual Companion
Communities in Faith Pastoral Charge Rossland/Trail area