Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are a product of our influences. The traditions that have been handed down to us shape us in one form or another. These can be very good things, but they can also insulate us.
As much as our theology focuses our attention in a particular direction, it also draws our awareness away from other perspectives. This creates rigid, almost imperceptible boundaries in our thinking. When we encounter other individuals that have views or ideas that challenge our own, these boundaries prevent us from being able to engage them. Instead, we engage our perceptions of those ideas, which are often filtered and misunderstood.
Yet, we are not trapped by this. The key to discovering those less traveled roads, to opening ourselves to thinking deeper and wider, is to connect with those travelers whose journey follows a route different from our own.
During my undergraduate, I remember sitting around at lunch one afternoon with several of my friends and colleagues in the Biblical Studies department. One of them had recently lost her pet of many years, and was still very much in the midst of the grief that comes with such a loss.
That day at the table she turned our attention towards a theological question that flowed naturally out of her grief. She simply asked, "Do pets go to heaven?"
Being married to a veterinary technician, it is a question I have come to ask several times myself. The answer that I found might just surprise you.
“You're telling me that you believe that Christ comes back to life every Sunday in the form of a bowl of crackers, and then you proceed to just eat the man?”
So asked an astonished Charlie in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Despite the irreverence, the question belies an important realization: the gift of Holy Communion is a highly misunderstood sacrament in our increasingly post-Christian culture.
Worse, it is highly misunderstood even among Christians.
Yet, there is power in the blood of Jesus. When we gather on Sunday to partake of bread and wine, consecrated to convey the body and blood of our Lord, something happens beyond just a ritual of remembrance. The Eucharist changes us. It impacts us. It unites and transforms us.
Here are three ways it leaves us different.
Facts provide data, but it is only in the Story that we discover meaning.
Sin and separation. Atonement and reconciliation. This is what we often proclaim as the Gospel message, that Jesus has died and rose and now grace has come to us. This is a tidy summary, but it is grossly incomplete. There is so much more to the Gospel than four spiritual laws.
One common criticism leveled against Christianity is that of legendary embellishment. Given the length of time between the life of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels, can we really claim a historical resurrection?
Despite the contemporary popularity of the "Rapture" idea, the ancient church knew nothing of it. Does the "Left Behind" mythology actually benefit Christianity or strip it of its meaning?
Doubt, we are often told, is the enemy to faith. When we encounter questions, we suppress them or turn to any possible answer to assuage doubt's lingering specter. What if doubt is not actually the enemy, but is instead the key to unlocking a deeply vibrant life of faith?
If Jesus is not perfect, what does that mean for us as Christians?
The way we conceive of and discuss God can unlock untold beauty in our spiritual life, but it can also erect rigid barriers that rob us of vitality.