In an era of post-truth, fake news, and deliberate misinformation, I think the question of meaning is one with which Christians need to be concerned. We deal in meaning because God does. God isn’t beholden to meaning as if it is above him; in fact, he is Lord of meaning, as much as he is Lord of the Law and Covenant. In Greek mythology, gods are beholden to law and Fate, subject to their own emotional reactions as they submit to a greater power.
God offers meaning, he is not a slave to it. So for a Christian, meaning isn’t just the result of modernistic principles, and by extension neither is our faith. But neither is it subject to our own experiences and our own social construction of reality, that is to say, submit it to the god of postmodernism. Instead, we relate to God, who himself is not the Great Other, but rather the Great Related One. His relatedness is most fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ.
I started with a little philosophy, because it frames so much of how we see the world. If the world derives its meaning intrinsically, as if God set it all in motion and then let it go, we lose the need for an engaged Spirit, an incarnate Savior, and even a discerning community held together in a dialogue of love. If meaning is simply a matter of preference, then we develop our own spirit, our own saviors, and our own arbitrary community, held together by our whims in the moment.
We are not tossed to and fro by the wind or by the sea because we are grounded in God. But despite God being the giver and maker of meaning, let us hold on to God and not the meaning he creates. We are followers of the Creator, not a distant Other or our sense of things.
So what does this mean practically? As Christians, we demonstrate a posture of inclusiveness, of hospitality, of safety. We create an environment where God can be experienced. We offer a place for exploration and expression of God’s love and meaning. The method is the medium. Our security is not found in doctrine (which might just start a pointless argument), but rather in the fact that we are related to God, who calls us beloved.
We discern truth together. We need more people to help us figure it out, too. I have ideas that I think are worth sharing, about Jesus, the world, and what to do with the mess we have in the United States. But you do too. We work on it together. It’s a group project, being the church is. It’s communal and created together. You aren’t “going to church” to receive a stagnant truth constructed during the Enlightenment. Our group process matters, God speaks through his Body. And you’re a part of that. It’s elemental to what we are doing. A church that includes is a church that moves with the Spirit.
In a time where we are talking about closed borders, extreme vetting, and travel bans; Jesus offers us another thing. The exclusion of our neighbor is the anti-Gospel. The entire point of the New Testament is the opening of the Kingdom of God, the Temple itself is destroyed because the Temple is within us now. The publicity of God in the person of Jesus Christ is the central component of our faith. Jesus, himself, is the Gate; we are the Body of Christ, Gates for God in our own right. We are includers.
But, still the church gains a reputation for being exclusive. I think we need to be creative about how we include; not because we have cornered the market on meaning, but it takes all us to discern it. Why not name the meaning you know from God that you find in someone else? This is exactly what Paul did in Acts 17. He walked around Athens, found an unusual inscription, it said: to an unknown god. And Paul goes ahead and names the unknown God as Jesus. He included the Stoics and Epicureans in the movement, at least potentially. He’s reaching across the boundaries, culturally and otherwise. He’s helping to fulfill the meaning that God is making in the world.
So that’s how I felt after the Super Bowl last Sunday. It is a national spectacle, one whose blatant idolatry might deter the more fundamentalist among us. I tuned in to the historic match and see how the cultural, or at least the mainstream culture, was making its own meaning or finding some of God’s. (And to watch Tom Brady be the greatest of all time.) I missed the halftime show, but I got to this interesting article about Lady Gaga after the game. The writer is developing some faith for Lady Gaga (straight out of the postmodern playbook). And honestly, some of it is super out there. But rather than just negatively react to the construction, why not find the little grain of truth that’s in it? Check out this line from one of her songs:
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
She’s not saying something that’s very different than one of Circle of Hope’s own proverbs: One’s sexual orientation is not a barrier between them and God. The love of Jesus makes no distinctions. We are one in Christ.
Why not name the meaning and the truth like Paul did? According to the writer, Gaga is being inclusive and considerate of other people, something that the writer argues not enough Christians do. A vitriolic reaction against Gaga and the writer confirms that theory. Here’s how Gaga responds to her critics:
“We are not just ‘celebrities,’ we are humans and sinners, children, and our lives are not void of values because we struggle. We are as equally forgiven as our neighbor. God is never a trend, no matter who the believer.”
That sounds like the Gospel to me! We can do something different. Why not learn? Why not include? Why not name the meaning that Gaga has uncovered about God? I think she’s onto something. And to be honest, it’s not that far from the spirit for which we strive in Circle of Hope.