at my home group tonight we were discussing a metaphor from Brian McClaren’s book Everything Must Change.
He invites us to imagine someone trying to complete a puzzle using the picture on the lid of the puzzle box. Except that the box lid somehow got swapped with another puzzle. Doing the puzzle becomes increasingly frustrating because the pieces don’t seem to correspond with the picture and vice versa. Eventually, the person either gives up or they decide to “go” with the box-lid picture, attempting to force the pieces to produce the picture on the box. Or the person stops using the picture and focuses on the pieces themselves allowing the picture to emerge.
The metaphor is likened to our lives - and the journey of spirituality - to doing a puzzle. The pieces are our lives, which are real and do reflect some intention and purpose, but this is not entirely clear to us yet. We may have found a few pieces that seem to go together and so these fragments become our starting place. The picture we have been given to use as a guide is the version of the Christian religion that passed down to us. It is a narrow understanding of Jesus that reduces his life and teaching and his death on the cross to a divine plan to get us all into heaven. This “evacuation” theology focuses almost entirely on saving souls for a life hereafter. But it seems to have little to say to our present lives and the reality of suffering, the questions we wrestle with, and the purpose of this life. This view of Christianity has become the “whole truth” and any suggestions that there is more to Jesus than this gets rejected as “liberal” or “new age” or worse.
What is more concerning is the fact that all around the world people are frustrated with the seeming impotence of this “gospel”. War and genocide ravages countries that we are told were 80% “Christian”. Poverty continues while “Christian” countries arm themselves with weapons that can destroy the whole earth 60 times over. (and this is done in the name of “defense”. what will be left to defend once they have used their arms against their enemies????) And while a majority of people on this planet proclaim a belief in a benevolent and ultimate power who created the world (and called it “good”?) still humanity struggles to live in ways that is sustainable and respectful of the planet, the only source of oxygen, water and food that we all have at our disposal…
So, it’s not surprising that many have simply stopped using the lid of the puzzle as their guide. They have rejected organised religion and have decided to live their lives as best they can without the restrictions and prescriptions of religion (they are just getting on with doing the puzzle piece by piece as best they can). Many of them would say they are deeply spiritual, but not particularly religious. Which is, if you think about it, a good observation. Every person IS spiritual - having a spirit which was given to them at birth. If they are doing anything, they are focusing on living meaningfully in the present, finding odd pieces of the puzzle that fit and putting them together. These small discoveries might not get them finishing the puzzle, but reflect more good and positive progress than religion offered them previously.
Others are soldiering on faithfully trying to make the pieces fit the picture on the box. The old story of Jesus has become a matter of life and death. If you don’t accept that Jesus died on the cross to save us from the wrath of God which would put us in a fiery furnace for eternity to placate his(?) own sense of justice, but because blood was shed now he is willing to have us with him in heaven for glorious eternity providing we say we believe… If you don’t accept this is the picture that should be guiding us, you’re basically a heretic unbeliever who is going to hell like all the other unbelievers.
And then McClaren suggests there are some who are suggesting we reconsider our “framing story” - our understanding of Jesus and his purpose - which in the metaphor would be like getting the correct picture so that the pieces begin to make sense and fitting them together begins to progress more positively. For McClaren, the new (correct?) picture for the puzzle is given to us by Jesus when he talks about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the main theme of Jesus’ teaching and is a vision of life lived God’s way - according to God’s values and God’s way. This new vision (picture) allows us to make better sense of our lives - their purpose and ultimate destiny - and will assist us to live more meaningfully in the present, on this earth, as well as prepare us for the eternal destiny that God has prepared…
Throwing away the old picture doesn’t mean giving up on Jesus or the church. Although some of the things associated with Jesus and the Church may need to go. But perhaps it means we see these things in a new way - with new eyes - and are able to live more healthily in our daily lives because of this new vision.