A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Off the Leash: God on the Loose
August 6, 2006
Feast of the Transfiguration
The young woman who sat in my office was soon to be married. “Glynn, I want you to know,” she said, “that I don't believe in God.” “Which God is that?” I replied. She proceeded to describe her auntie's God who kept guard of the planet, barking at moral turpitude, and biting offenders. “Sounds like a bit of a mongrel,” I said.
We all have our Gods. Indeed we all live our Gods, for better or for worse. An agnostic and atheist may think they are immune, but how they live will reveal what they believe, and to what or whom they pay homage.
I was sobered this week to read in The Observer that the huge support the militaristic faction in Israel receives from the US populace is not due so much to Jewish lobby groups but allegedly to the support of conservative American Christians whose God is cheering for the Israelis regardless of how many casualties. Their God is worshipped amidst blood and broken flesh.
The bride's auntie had had a spiritual experience. She had gone up the mountain, had her vision, and had come down to build on it. God had confronted her up there. Yet what she built down here was more a reflection of what she wanted a God to be. She built a security wall, entrenched it, and created a God who would patrol it.
In contrast I knew a lady who went to a large fundamentalist church. She liked the singing, but the rest she pretty much ignored. She hadn't met her God on a mountain. God had just wandered in through her backdoor one day, eaten the cat's food, found a warm hearth and heart, and decided to stay. Her God was a playful God. It would giggle or yawn at inopportune times. It enjoyed the antics of children, and like a puppy wanted to join in. The lady's fellow parishioners in the large church disapproved and dismissed her as being rather simple. The children though liked her and she ended up assisting in the nursery. There her God found the freedom it needed to be real.
On life's pathways I've met a number of Gods. Some are well behaved and some not. Some are on leashes, some straining at them, and some wandering free. Some Gods bring joy, healing and inspiring the best in the human community. Some Gods are frightened, trying to protect their owners from the inevitability of change. Some Gods are frightening, destroying anything seen as threat.
Rex and his God were very similar. Both preyed on people. Anybody who felt a bit insecure, who had been bruised or battered by life, anybody who didn't fit and felt it, was fair game. Gently Rex would befriend them, stroke their wounds, and get them on side. It was nice, until they wanted to leave. Then Rex got nasty. He prayed for, and preyed on. The Rex-God took over the house, and then started a church. Not infrequently I meet people with scars from where they had been bitten in that church.
Jimmy had a God that didn't need a leash because it never went out. It lived on Jimmy's sofa. Jimmy would take it and stroke from time to time, particularly when he was watching TV. When his brother died, Jimmy stoked it a lot. The God was a great comfort. It helped Jimmy to keep going. Jimmy's God never complained, barked, or bit. It demanded very little of him. Jimmy did though need to keep it looking good, grooming it fortnightly. It was a well-trained ornamental house-God.
Pete wanted a God with clout. One that was big and had connections. One that people wouldn't mess with. In other words, a reflection of how he wanted people to see him. So, up the mountain, where heaven and earth collude, and mist and mystery dwell, Pete went. He wanted a God of majesty, power and glory, and he found it. The two Hebrew heavyweights of old, Moses and Elijah, supposedly turned out in the blazing white jersey to bind with the Messianic Hope. It was glory all round. And Pete was part of it, swigging it back.
Pete wanted to build a house for this God. Like kings David and Solomon before him Pete wanted somewhere for God to be comfortable and under his control. Leader's Handbook p.343: 'To control the people first control their military, then control their God.' [Its rumoured George Bush read a copy of this handbook]. Pete, Dave, Sol, and Dubya all tried to tame the untamable and transform Her into a house-God.
As David and Solomon learnt, Gods that aren't house-Gods misbehave. They mess up well-laid plans and other expectations. Pete would learn. Majesty, power, and glory came to a sticky end. Pete's sword wasn't needed and then when it got tough he chickened out. Only the women stayed staunch. Later, much later, Pete would learn about the God-in-Jesus who broke chains, removed leashes, undid collars, and tore down fences – bringing liberty, joy, and mayhem. This was a God who had never been and never will be anyone's pet.
The bride who didn't believe in her auntie's mongrel had some questions for me. “What's your God like?” she asked. “Well, not only does it not have a leash,'” I replied, “It doesn't try to put one on me either. It's not afraid of playing, cuddling, upsetting things, or doing it differently. It is a powerful, unrestrained, transformative energy whose best name is Love.” She left my office thinking.