April 17, 2010 in Features

Christians may find more room for faith outside ‘tomb’ of our beliefs

Paul Graves
 

When I was in college in the early ’60’s, I read a stimulating little magazine for Methodist students called “Motive.”

One of its short stories just resurfaced in my memory. It told of a community of people who lived under a large glass (or plastic) dome. They had been taught to fear whatever lay outside of the dome.

As it happened, one young man broke a major community rule and his punishment was to be dismissed from the dome. People gathered to watch what would happen as he was hurled outside.

As he lay on the dusty ground, he took a tentative breath, sure it would be his last. The air was fresh, however. He stood up, looked around, and breathed even more deeply.

Then he turned toward the dome, and yelled back to those expecting to watch him die a suffocating death. He motioned excitedly to them to join him.

With looks of fear on their faces, none of those at the dome wall turned away from him. No one joined him.

That’s all I remember of the story. But it came back to me on Easter as I reflected about the empty tomb story.

Yet my imagination turned that story on its head.

I have this image of a tomb crowded with religious people, church people, all excited that Jesus is gone from the tomb.

But they, themselves, don’t want to leave the tomb. It’s crowded, but they feel safe with their centuries of Christian tradition, with its varied doctrines and rules about being Christian.

Suddenly, they hear someone yelling to them. “Hey, friends, I’m not in there anymore! Come join me in the world. This is where I’m most needed. You are too!”

A few people poke their heads out around the large stone that was rolled back in front of the tomb. Only a small entry is available.

Some people get very excited to hear the words from outside, but still they hesitate. They’ve grown used to singing their hymns, reading their liturgies, obeying their community rules.

What new ideas and challenges would await them outside the tomb?

A few do slip outside to join Jesus, but not as many as he had hoped. There is so much more room outside of the tomb – room for faith and religion to be so much more than life inside the tomb allowed. There’s room to learn more about the abundant life that Jesus offered for all people, not just those who believe a certain way.

The fresh air invigorates our ability to responsibly push the boundaries of traditional biblical interpretation, yet hold true to the elusive mysteries of God’s relationship with humankind and all of creation.

Outside, the tomb’s harsh, discordant sounds about religious beliefs are mere background noise. Here we can more clearly hear Jesus challenge us to seek more than what we’ve settled for on our faith walks.

We have room to sit down with those of other faiths to discover the common humanity we share, to discover that our definitions of “God” are never big enough to contain all that God is.

In this new space, we can entertain intuitive hunches we’ve had all along about the limits we have put on ourselves by not boldly, openly questioning both grandiose and nitpicky notions that keep us so religiously predictable.

Jesus’ invitation to join him outside the tomb is a reflection of God’s radical hospitality. He invites us to experience more of the abundant life than we have settled for before.

He calls us not to be more religious, but to become more human.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is founder of Elder Advocates, an elder care consulting ministry. He can be contacted via e-mail at welhouse@nctv.com.

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