Rocking the boat
I want to ask, “How did we get here?” But then I realize we’ve always been here. So I guess the question is, “Why do we stay here?” The “here” is our proclivity to separate and exclude, to see others who are different as an enemy, a threat to our way of life. The Other, by their very existence, rock the boat, and we don’t like our boat rocking. We like our seas calm. A rocking boat reminds us of our unstable and vulnerable position in life, reminds us we are so clearly not in control. We hate it.
When the storm tossed their boat around on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples screamed at Jesus to wake up because they were all together terrified. The disciples hated that their boat was rocking and demanded Jesus do something about it. They knew enough to know Jesus could do something about it, and when he did, when he calmed the storm, I daresay that terrified them even more.
They asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”
And I have to wonder if Jesus did it for them or if he just wanted to get some sleep.
Why did Jesus calming the storm make them more afraid? I think it’s because in Jesus they saw a man who had God-like power. Jesus was in control even when they were not, especially when they were not. I mean, what do you do with that? You don’t. You know you’re just along for the ride. When you know you’re out of control and a dude steps in to quickly and easily do what you know you could not, that’s awe-inspiring, and it’s also extremely threatening.
When you are in awe, you worship. When you feel threatened, you try to tame, or harness, or explain . . . or destroy. Here is one difference between the disciples and the Pharisees. The disciples felt awe. The Pharisees felt threatened, and the Pharisees saw threat precisely because everyone else was in awe.
I’m guessing the disciples felt threatened too because although they kinda worshiped the guy, they also wanted Jesus to explain it all. And I think when we think we’re worshiping God, we’re really mostly trying to explain him so we can tame him. We secretly want to harness him so we can use him to feel more in control of our lives. It’s human nature, really. If we can explain it, we think we are in control. So we try to explain God, and we try to explain each other, and we devise these formulas called worldviews that are very helpful in making us feel like we’re in control.
But inevitably, someone who doesn’t fit the equation comes into view. They blow our minds, blow holes in our worldview, and we feel adrift in a rocking boat. They make us aware of the limits of our ability to explain (which is really exposing the limits of our control), and we are terrified, and angry.
So, like the disciples, we scream at Jesus, “do something!”
But that looks different today. Today we quote Bible verses. We take moral stances. Basically, we are telling the person rocking the boat to sit down and shut up.
It’s our attempt to seize control again by proving our way of life is right, proving what we believe is right, proving who we are is right. And anyone who lives differently than us is wrong, anyone who believes differently than us is wrong, anyone who is different from us is wrong, morally wrong, because our worldview equals God’s plan, because we say God says so.
Except that’s not what God says, at all.
We use our moral stances to trump love, but Jesus says love trumps everything. Jesus says love is the greatest moral stance. And the only explicit command Jesus ever gave was to love each other. But we still cling to our moral stance, saying we’re “speaking the truth in love,” and it’s a hollow, shitty kind of love. And it’s a love that makes God out to be the bad guy.
Hey, we didn’t make the rules. We’re just following them and pointing them out to you so the Dude in charge doesn’t beat your ass when he gets home. We’re doing you a favor. You don’t know what he’s like when he gets pissed. No one wants to see that. It’s ugly and terrifying. So we’re just giving you a heads up. Love you, man!
Let me tell you something. This AIN’T good news. The One who’s in absolute control could go all abusive drunk on us someday? Not cool, Christians, not cool. That ain’t the God I know, and that ain’t a god I want to know. I don’t care how many rooms he’s preparing in his ginormous mansion, I don’t want to live there.
What this kind of talk does is set up Christians to save all the non-Christians (and rebellious Christians) from God and his pissed off rage. It makes God look small and mean and petty, kinda like Zeus, definitely not like Jesus. And Christians wonder why most Millenials and many GenXers are walking away, why churches are getting older and greyer, why they’re losing their political sway. Their morality play is almost played out.
Let’s go back to the being in control obsession and not rocking the boat. Today there are too many boats rocking, too much American evangelical Christianity can’t explain convincingly anymore, too many people walking around living abundant lives who don’t fit that worldview.
But it’s hard to stop believing this stuff. We’ve grown up hearing it. It’s what we’ve been taught all our lives, and we’ve conflated this teaching of man with God himself.
Leave the teaching, and you’re leaving God.
But you know what? That’s a horrible thing to say.
That’s an ultimatum and it’s using religion to manipulate and control. It’s a “warning” couched in terms of love that’s more about maintaining a certain worldview (to maintain a sense of control) than it is about any particular concern for someone’s soul. It’s about keeping people in the fold, keeping people in the bubble, in the echo chamber . . . keeping people from rocking the boat.
I get it. We all want smooth sailing. Because when you dig down to your gut, when you see the gutter, life is a pretty terrifying endeavor. It’s unpredictable and painful, and it’d be so nice if everyone agreed to live in this little idealized worldview we’re clinging to.
But that’s not faith. That’s not trust.
We don’t like rocking boats. I get it.
And maybe I’m leaving this teaching and this worldview because to keep believing, to keep living here is rocking my own little boat.
Believing that God is angry, that I’m a horrible sinner for embracing how I was made, the design he made for me, there’s no balm that can soothe this existence. How do you live in a boat that tells you god knits you together in the womb, that god makes you unique and beautiful, and then tells you that even though god fearfully and wonderfully made you and you say he made you that way, made you to relate that way, made you to love that way, to do so would be an abomination?
They tell you if you live that way you will be rebelling against god, the god who made you, and you know you were made this way. They tell you to go against that deepest part of you that makes you, you. They tell you it’s not you. They tell you it’s sin, which makes you start to believe you are sin, and what kind of god makes a person to be the sin he hates?
They tell you to conform to their worldview, to conform to the way god made their world not the way God made you. They tell you, you must fight every day of your life and be divided against yourself if you want to be truly happy. They tell you to suffer and struggle because that is the abundant life.
No, it’s not.
And I finally realized that these were not the words of God but the words of men. These are the words of people who don’t want their boat rocked, the words of those who are so desperate to feel in control of their own lives, so determined to make their explanation of their world the explanation of the world, so convinced that they know exactly what the Bible says, what God says, that they make everyone else in the same boat sit down and shut up.
We kind of do it to ourselves, you know. Because we want to be in the same boat. We want to hear someone say, “me too!”
We’re all castaways in our own skin, starving for connection.
So when a nice boat full of nice people came along and tossed me a life preserver, I grabbed it and jumped in. And at first most of the things they say are cool, things I can get on board with, like love God and love your neighbor and do good to others. And I like these people. They love me and seem to really care, and they’re feeding me and giving me something to believe in and somewhere to belong. So it’s all cool for a while.
But at some point the “me toos” stop.
The wind picks up and the waves are crashing in again. And then I realize those waves are waves of shame and they’re coming from inside the boat. Buckets of shame. And the buckets are in the hands of the people next to me in the boat, the ones who threw me that life preserver so long ago.
And my boat is rocking and I’m drowning because everyone is bailing on me.
They keep telling me to stop rocking the boat, they with the buckets in their hands drenching me with shame. They tell me it’s my fault, all this water, all this rocking. I’m bringing it on myself. Bucket in one hand, life preserver in the other. All these people bailing buckets on me and telling me to grab the Life Preserver again.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’m grabbing the life preserver, clinging to the Preserver of life, and jumping out of the boat. I’m taking my chances on the open sea for a while because I was drowning in that boat.
But the funny thing is, being in the same boat with everyone, that’s what I needed then. I needed the people in that boat. They fed me. They gave me strength. Being in the boat taught me what I needed to know out here on the open sea. The people in that boat taught me to navigate and showed me how the Life Preserver is also the Anchor. They gave me the tools and skills I needed to survive. They introduced me to Jesus, and that I’ll never forget.
And I know I can trust Jesus on the open seas, because I know even the wind and the waves obey him.
And I realize that boat was really more of a nest, a safe place to be born, a secure place to grow.
And although the people back in that same boat will see me falling overboard,
what I’m really doing is learning to fly.
Mark 4:41. Matthew 22:37-40. John 13:34. John 15:17. Ephesians 4:15.