Almost 15 years ago I found myself face down on the floor of my apartment, journal in hand, Bible in the other, exhausted. I had worn myself out in the pursuit of a God that I could no longer envision cohesively. I was a fire-ball and passionate but I was whipped and disillusioned from the chase. God was veiled in smoke and so unclear to me. I had numerous disjointed pieces swirling around in my head competing for prime spot on what God should look like; pieces from larger than life theologians, pieces from my youth, pieces from cultural pastors, pieces from the media, pieces from the Old Testament, pieces from my own inner insecurities. If I could be very honest this anxiety never motivated genuine love, even though it might have motivated obedience. Privately, God felt like a Rubik’s Cube to me and my affection for it was fading.
Twisting of Pieces
Now 15 years later I’m a pastor, doing incarnational ministry amongst the scattered effects of the Christendom garage sale currently underway. I am discovering this same tangible but ethereal “Rubik’s God” clanking around in the emotional imagination of real people. In many coffee house conversations I encounter a hidden embarrassment, defensiveness and insecurity about the god looming in the recesses of our minds. But many have not found a secure space to unpack this god-picture. I find that whether people have experience in Christianity or none at all, they are “twisting pieces” to face in certain directions to make sense of God. Twisting pieces to find a God we can bear with is often debilitating on our perseverance and passion. It creates a subtle push-and-pull when it comes to orienting around the in-breaking Kingdom of God. My conviction is that our emotional memory of God directly affects our energy to live into community and our energy to move missionally into our neighborhood.
The Image of the Invisible
On the missional edge, one of our central callings is the project of recovering the “Image of the Invisible”. The image of God has picked up tons of clutter. I find that most people speak of God and then speak of Jesus. Jesus is just another angle on God or Jesus is mostly someone that did something forus or he is interpreted first through some hot-button issue. Much of how we speak of God is extrapolated from the “other” concept of God. Christianity has used up all its bandwidth on practices and messages that are not grounded in the life of Jesus. This is a reality that our teaching, discipleship and friendship enters into. We do not build communities in a sealed vortex. In Post-Christianity we have tenacious work ahead of us to re-center Jesus as the fullest picture of God. N.T Wright once said “The closer we get to envisioning the original Jesus the closer we are to recognizing the face of the living God.” The concept of this thing we call G-O-D is mystifying, enigmatic, and has been hijacked for a number of agendas. A missional church’s ongoing priority is to reclaim Jesus from being a remote kingly figure or romanticized personal savior or political issue advocate.
Currently I’m convinced this is why we observe an upswing in “Ideological-Centering”. Ideological-Centering is when we rally around an ideology or impassioned issue and in return it offers us security and certainty. This ideology becomes a core self-definer, determines who we coalesce with and becomes the lens we employ to see the world. God eventually gets pulled into and under our preferred issue. Gradually, we unknowingly shape and fashion God around this ideology. We erect a privatized God, concerned primarily with our pet-issue. This is a natural tendency but I believe it nudges the Jesus in the Gospels to the peripheral. So many seem to be caught in this ideological-jockeying and the life of Jesus is what inevitably gets left on the cutting room floor. There is no ignoring that we are stirring up more affection for our ideologies (right or left) than we are the picture of God in Jesus.
What is our Image of the Invisible? This is a theological question on some level and a philosophical one as well, but more deeply it is an emotional one. Missiologists and practitioners should invite people on a pilgrimage within community to pay attention to their emotions, not go with them, there is a difference. Many of us are knee-jerk reactionist’s when it comes to being compliant with or repelled by certain pictures of God. This un-navigated approach creates all kinds of collateral damage on our choices, opinions and ambitions. On the missional edge we will be increasingly interfacing with this Rubik’s God. It is imperative to cultivate a centripetal movement that points towards the simple, beautiful, compelling life of Jesus over-and-against all other competing voices and portrayals. (John 1:18)