catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 18 :: 2013.10.04 — 2013.10.17


Challenging authority

I’ve always been a rule-follower. And sometimes it seems like I grew up with an enormous amount of rules.

Don’t say oh my God.  

Don’t dance.

Don’t go to movies.

Don’t drink, smoke or do drugs.

Don’t have sex before marriage.

Don’t gossip.

Obey your parents.

Tell people about Jesus.

Pray and read your Bible every day.

Memorize Bible verses.

Put others first.

Go to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night.

I was given reasons for all the rules, and some of the reasons were good ones. It was all related to a relationship with God, and to protecting your heart, mind and body from sin, which would lead you away from God. At the time, I didn’t question those rules. The church had authority; the Bible had authority; my minister parents had authority. That was that.

Fast forward to today, when I am still a Christian but part of a very different church, and yet it still feels like there are rules. If I eat breakfast before a liturgy, I can’t take the Eucharist. I’m supposed to go to confession regularly. I’m supposed to fast from meat and dairy for about a third of the year. Again, all of these rules are believed to be spiritual disciplines to bring us closer to God.

But I am beginning to question whether our submission to the authority of the Church should be equivalent to our communion with God. I watch people place their full trust in the Church, while I flounder in a sea of doubt and questions. Why is there suffering in the world? Did all of those miracles in the Bible really happen? If I don’t believe in all of them, am I still a Christian? Why must we always “take a stand” for things? Why can’t we just help people in need and love the unlovable? Can I know God if I don’t follow all the formulas?

Madeleine L’Engle said, “You cannot cram the glory of God into something so thin as a fact.” Sometimes I think we take a fact-driven, rule-based approach to God, and that leaves our spirits wanting. Such an approach may leave us disconnected from our numinous selves, and even from God’s Spirit. The glory of God is fat with beauty, rich with mystery, and astoundingly complex. Yet we continue to try to pin it down with all of our human constraints. 

I want to find God away from all the rules. I want to know He exists and that He loves not because some authority tells me so, but because He’s shown me so Himself. I want to step away from all the religious culture and lingo I’ve always been surrounded by and find God in a secular song, or in the starry night sky, or in a bird flittering around my back porch. I want to find Him in a Mary Oliver poem, or in the laughing squeals of a child, or in a rich conversation with a friend. I want Him to speak to me, close in my soul, in a mystical whisper that surpasses all human notions of Him.

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