Saturday, January 11, 2014

It's not what you think...

Preconceived notions are social evils we refuse to tolerate in anyone but ourselves. 

How many times have we been offended by someone’s pre-judgment of us?  Our appearance, social status, or abilities called into question by those assigning our value from a distance?  “It’s not fair”, we say.  We fuss and fume at their ignorance, we point a finger at intolerance and blame it for the ills of the world. 

(And still we lift a mental eyebrow in the direction of those who do not meet our standards, rolling our eyes and elbowing our friends at the inability of the ones who cannot “get it right.”)   

The consequences of this nasty little habit range from the abortion of potential friendships to the ravages of racism.  It is the stem of terrorism and war, the seeds from which all manners of abuse grow.
Preconceived notions are ugly and we know it.  Each of us has felt the suffocation of being buried beneath them, the stripping of our identity by the carelessness of another’s half-knowledge.  At one time or another we have all tried to muffle the bruised whisper of our hearts: “If they knew me−really knew me−they wouldn’t treat me this way.”

We long to be known.  We long to be valued.  We long to be seen clearly, and not through lenses fogged by expectation or judgment.

         We are not alone.

Do me a favor.  Get up and find a sheet of paper.  Could be a notecard, a photograph, yellow legal paper−it doesn’t matter.  Hold it flat between your palms and stare at your thumbs.  Or rather, stare at the edge of paper running from the heels of your hands to the tips of your index fingers.

Imagine that this edge is your preconceived notions.  Your thoughts, your understanding−your expectations, disappointments, and judgments.  This edge is your narrow view, your thin ledge upon which you have hung all your conclusions.  About God.

Now, pinch that narrow edge of paper with your left hand, turning the page outward and grabbing the opposite edge with your right hand.  Look at the sheet of paper, notecard, photograph, whatever, full-on.

It is the same sheet of paper you stared at a moment ago, but a whole new perspective has now unfolded.  The edge gave very little clue about the entirety of the paper. Perhaps it hinted at color or texture; you could make a guess about its strength.  However, the edge itself gave no indication of the words written along the other side, or images found there.  It couldn’t−the edge was limited; it was narrow, sharp, and seemingly insignificant.

Perhaps, this is how you have looked at the idea of God−He is narrow, sharp, and generally insignificant.  You have heard snatches of stories about Him, met those who claimed to follow Him but  have left you with a bitter aftertaste of narrow rules and impossible standards. 
Likewise, a sheet of paper may seem innocent, but its edges are razor sharp if handled incorrectly.  A paper cut may be a small thing, but it causes a great pain; your edged perspective of God may indicate a God who seems to either cause hurt or ignore it.  Such a God should be kept at arm’s length or treated very carefully−it would be dangerous to get too close. 
And because we look at the inadequacies of others who say they know God or the seeming inadequacies of God, Himself, in the light of a broken world, we conclude that if this God is out there, He could not possibly hold much significance in our day-to-day lives.  After all, if we have managed this long without His thin edge of interference, what could He possibly have to offer us?
The problem is that God is even less fond of being subjected to preconceived notions than we are.  Just as we long to be truly known, to be seen clearly and valued for who we are, God desires for us to know the truth of who He really is. 
“You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)
In reality, the edge you’ve seen gives very little clue about the entirety of who He is. You may have had no indication of the astonishing words and images covering the pages of His heart, impossible to grasp by only a glance at a misrepresentative edge. There is more to Him than what you may have heard and just as we are offended when people draw uneducated conclusions about us, He seeks to be known for who He is, not who we think He is.   

He simply asks us to show Him the same courtesy 
we expect from others.

So I ask you to let go of your current edged image of God.  Take everything you think you know about empty religion, about spiritual hypocrites and political blustering and self-righteous arrogance and put it away.  Forget it.  Put it in a completely separate category than the stories you will uncover here.  Give yourself unbiased eyes to see a side of God you may have never imagined.

These stories are just that−stories.  They are ideas−snapshots−juxtapositions of the angles of God, taking Him out of where you think He is and setting Him against a different background in order to see Him more clearly.  Jesus did the same when He told stories.  The religious leaders of His day thought they had God pegged−they knew every inch of His narrow edge.  Jesus deflated their pompous egos by telling stories about everyday life; stories which blew their religious edge away and revealed a new perspective, a full-on display of the God they had been missing all along. 
No matter what your preconceived notions about God are−whether He is mean, inconsequential, boring, or vague−decide right now to stop looking along the edge of the paper. Face it full-on.  Dare to challenge your notions and ideas with the possibility that first impressions are not always accurate ones.  Be willing to see past the edge to the endless frontier beyond.  That’s what these stories are, a turning of perspective so that you are shown a picture of God you may have never pictured before.

May your judgments be shaken and your preconceived notions be shattered.  You didn’t really need them anyway.....