Updated: Aug 8, 2019
"If you step on a rectangle you die!” My children love to play this version of don’t-step-on-the-sidewalk-cracks at our community park. The pavement is a pattern of squares and rectangles, and, according to my children, stepping on squares brings life and stepping on rectangles brings death.
My children’s innocent game reminds me of evangelical Christian culture. Some doctrines are right, others are wrong. Some paths lead to salvation, others to destruction. Some people are in, others are out. Some teachers are legitimate, some are false prophets. And because the right can be precariously close to the wrong, be on the lookout. Some wolves look so much like sheep.
In other words, the gate is narrow and the sign on the fence reads: SQUARES ONLY.
It takes finesse to only step on squares. You’ve gotta have your head in the game, and your ego often wants others to notice. Check me out! I’m rocking this! Best Christian Award? Right here. But school children jumping to and fro on pavement tiles is different from adults jumping from pre-approved theology to pre-approved church to pre-approved politics to pre-approved answers to hard questions. The former is darling, the latter can cripple.
It gets really hard to avoid the rectangles after a while. You do get crippled: tragedy induces theological crisis, a few tragedies may trigger theological collapse. A person you respect sees things differently and your apologetics fall flat. You read a book that blows up your tidy categories. Teachers you once admired do unspeakable things, voices you initially dismissed turn out to have value.
Eventually your heel catches a rectangle, maybe you even fall down on top of one. (Walking the prescribed path of squares is exhausting, after all.) The tumble is unnerving. Perhaps embarrassing. Even terrifying. You wonder who saw, who knows -- what if someone tells? What will people think? Will you still belong?
The crazy part is you *don’t* die. The rectangles are not toxic. The rumors aren’t credible. You’re still breathing. You don’t know who you are, you don’t what’s true, you’re entirely disoriented, but, strangely, you’re alive. You wonder, does anyone else know this secret? Has anyone else gone down the slippery slope from squares to rectangles?
You feel free. You don’t have to keep up the fancy footwork anymore. You don’t have to pretend the Bible doesn’t have contradictions or passages that paint God as a petty vindictive warlord. [Click to Tweet] You don’t have to subscribe to theological positions that turn your stomach. (Unconditional election? Yuck. Unilateral submission of women to men? Ugh.) You don’t have to tow the evangelical party line on political issues you know in your gut are actually incredibly nuanced. You don’t have to even consider telling your hairdresser about Jesus… maybe you really don’t know more than she does.
You don’t have to measure up to arbitrary standards of good-churchgoer: read the whole Bible in a year (anyone who ever got through Leviticus, bravo), go to small group or D group or accountability group or Bible study or life group or house group every week, feel guilty when you don’t pray for everyone you said you would, run a lay ministry at your church, have a quiet time every day, go on a mission trip every year, tithe the right amount. You don’t have to be a professional Christian either: maybe you went to seminary, or became a missionary, or became a pastor, or married into ministry. Suddenly a fog lifts and you realize you don’t have to measure up in any way because it’s ALLLLL GRACE and God’s love is radically free.
Without even knowing you’re doing it, you start stepping on rectangles on the regular. The squares too, the rectangles, both -- wherever your feet land, because you’re just walking. The squares vs rectangles, us vs them -- it no longer works. You realize not only are you still breathing, you’re breathing deeper, you’re filling your lungs, you’re invigorating your body, mind, spirit. You’re not striving, you’re not competing. You are no more “found” than anyone else, and yet you’re fully found in the Love that is God. You feel it in your soul; it’s that same Jesus you invited in all those years ago. He smiles at you and says, “Have you figured it out yet? I am so much MORE GOOD than you knew. THIS, this is 'life to full' for which I put on skin.”
Forget about squares and rectangles. Run through the park and find the playground, dear ones. Press on towards Love, and always in that direction, run.
Halley W. Kim is a writer, dreamer, and advocate. She writes about shape-shifting faith at www.halleykim.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @halleywkim.