In his new book, The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren offers an image of opening a can of Coca-Cola, take a sip, and gagging at the taste–it’s gone bad. You open another can in the case. Terrible. Another. Bleh. By the time you get to the fourth or fifth can, it is unlikely you will go through all twelve before maybe calling customer service to complain. A representative answers and you being to complain about the case you just bought. The reprentative asks you about the can:
It’s red with white lettering? Yes.
It’s not dented or leaking? No.
The cardboard box is intact, the logo is clear and unblemished? Yes.
“Ok, those are the important things. Enjoy drinking Coca-Cola.”
McLaren compares this experience to the experiences of many in Churches today, and to the religious leadership in Jesus’ time: focused on appearances, focused on creating a slick worship service in which we say the right things and espouse the right doctrine, giving just enough to the community and participating in enough mission to make ift feel like we’re doing something. But beneath the facade of orthodoxy, the contents inside, have gone sour.
“Our opinions, our conceptual formulations, our doctrinal statements may be interesting,” McLaren writes. “They may even be important. But they’re not the point.” (p. 22)
McLaren tells the story of being on retreat and realizing that the system of beliefs he had been espousing as a pastor, and believing were the center of his faith, were no longer working. “The systems is crumbling” he remembers thinking.
Then he remembers years later talking with a rabbi. “That something about you Christians that never made much sense to me as a Jew,” the rabbi said. “We don’t read stories in the Bible looking for beliefs. We read them for meaning. … We see our sacred stories as bottomless wells of meaning” (p. 25).
I read this somewhere else years ago, maybe in something by Marcus Borg, and it has shaped my teaching and pastoral identity every since. In my weekly bible study on Wednesday mornings, I try to invite those present to search for the meaning of a text, and more specifically what meaning might God be offering them in this moment or season in their lives. What bible stories might you tell if you were to write a gospel, a story of the “good news” of God’s indwelling in your life?