Friday, June 22, 2007

$3 worth of God, please

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Source: Wilbur Rees, Leadership, Vol. 4, No. 1
I originally found this quote on Erin's Biscotti Brain, where she had gotten the hat-tip from Inward/Outward. I've seen this quote spring up a number of places since then, and it's evidently pricked a number of consciences of their respective readers. I'm not entirely sure why, but I have, perhaps, an inkling.

There is a medical term - prophylaxis - which (aside from the birth-control usage, which makes teenagers smirk) simply means preventative. If I step on a nail, I get a shot as a prophylactic for tetanus.

I think that many of us have had church training which presented church life - church membership, weekly worship, and other practices - as a prophylactic for Hell. Certainly I never saw my church life as "fire prevention," but more as "fire retardant." Especially in my youthful, legalistic (and wildly inaccurate) upbringing as a rule-bound Catholic, I saw everything I did - from crossing myself with holy water, to eating fish on Friday, to daily Mass, to weekly confession - as layers of fire retardant standing between me and Hell.

(I now know Catholicism differently, thankfully.)

I've come to see that somewhere between 50% and 90% of traditional American Christendom is precisely the same way. We want just enough God and just enough grace to qualify for the get-out-of-Hell-free card. I believe it's the reaction to this same minimalist idea of "$3 worth of God" that's driven every single act of renewal in the church - from the Protestant Reformation to the Wesleyan movement, to the Azusa Street revival, to Willow Creek and Saddleback, and the entire postmodern/emergent conversation.

Roaring over the mutterings of "$3 worth of God" religious minimalism is the sense of fully-on-fire, burning, sold-0ut faith. I've had that faith; I've lost it several times - and right now, I'm struggling back toward it.

I know that "on-fire" is where I want to be; not blazing and incinerating everyone around me - but burning brightly, letting "my light so shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:17, NIV). I want my faith to be bigger than that prophylactic dose of grace and salvation. I want it not only because I know it feels better there, but because God calls me there, to be present there.

I can't speak for the others who have reacted to this quote as I have. But I suspect that they either see where they are, and want to be elsewhere - or see themselves where they were, and are grateful not to be there today. Or perhaps they see that their capacity for faith might well only hold $3 worth of God today, and they see the need to open wider, to grow in capacity for faith.

That, I hope, is where I am today - a large man with a small capacity for grace, seeking to be stretched and opened wider (in a spiritual sense only, please - I'm wide enough otherwise). I can hope, anyway...


Michael said...

It reminds me of a workshop I attended on sexuality and Catholic religious life for men and women preparing to make their vows -- including celibate chastity, of course. It was an excellent, faithful and balanced series of presentations on the place of sexuality in human life, appropriate and professional boundaries, areas of ambiguity, and everything based on the best of the Catholic/Christian tradition. All of us who were formation directors were very pleased.

The very first question raised by one of the men taking the workshop in the Q&A? "Okay, that's all fine and good. My only question is, how far can I go and not get in trouble?"

wilsonian said...

I appreciate your take on this Steve. It has definately been interesting to see all the places this quote has appeared.

I think the reason it hit me hard it simply because of the place on the journey I find myself. I am no longer content with fitting God into the left-over spaces in my life, giving Him left-over resources and left-over love. Sigh.

And yes, I'm quite wide enough myself... :)

~m2~ said...

you know, everybody wants enough faith "to get them into heaven," and myself, i can recall asking for enough to get through the narrow path, sideways and sucking it in...but like erin, i want more; i am finding when i have idle time i am doing things which i should not be doing, participating in conversations that are less than godly.

i am at a place where i want to meet God in the margins, but i don't want Him to find me there already.

i want a little more than the $3 God, too. i am selfish that way. because if i have more, i can share Him with others.

~m2~ said...

that last line sounded trite and "goody-goody" and i didn't mean for it to come off that way. altruistic, yes. goody-goody, uh, no.


Steve F. said...

You're posting on an "NC-17" blog - by definition, you're not goody-goody... :-)

It's hard not to sound that way on this topic, anyway. I was afraid of that whole thing, when I wrote this. There are folks who just can't go any further, just yet. It's ok for them - but I, unfortunately, know better. I'm called to know better and do better.

And that's why it annoys me when this quote sounds a bit too familiar...