If only learning things were as easy as buying a new pair of shoes! Simply slide my credit card through the old machine, or fork over a few bills, and the acquisition is complete - I can wear the new boots out of the store. One minute the footwear was on the shelf, the next it has become my property to do with as I please. I own it. Alas, gaining knowledge is not that quick of a transition. I am learning a new language and nothing about that process is rapid. Ask any teenager about school and the ensuing groans verify the agonizing length of time it takes to improve their minds to the satisfaction of the school system. But we do have an amazing capacity to learn. Humans have an incredible ability to gather information, make precise observations about the world around them, and develop new skills. But even a student who gets an "A" in Chemisty might not actually "get it." As soon as the course is finished, all that valuable information may be deemed no longer necessary and they might be hard pressed to list even the most basic elements. Too often the things that we mentally acknowledge somehow allude us when it comes to understanding their true nature. Why is that? A merely theoretical approach to learning will never let the truth take hold in your soul. A surgeon who has years of training but has never made a cut is not really a surgeon at all, but he can sure talk about it like he is!
Anyway, where am I going with this? For most of my life I have heard that it is not my good behaviour that puts me in God's good books. Nod, nod. Of course. I know this. You must have faith, know Jesus, I've got it. But do I really? In some communities I have lived in it was frowned upon if you drank alcohol or danced (though both are biblical, if you want to argue the point) so it was easier to avoid those things and avoid questioning eyes. In some churches I have attended lifting your hands during worship was never done so it was easier not to draw attention to yourself and restrain any urges you might have. In other churches if you did not raise some part of you during the singing you might be asked to undergo counselling for repression, so it was easier to go with the flow or just hover inconspicuously at the back. Having been in church leadership, you soon realize how simply uttering a swear word can cause your employment to hover on the brink. And missing two Sunday meetings in a row, well, that was reason enough for a serious reevaluation of your commitment to Jesus. So while professing to comprehend the concept of acceptance from God not being based on my good works, I find it easy to live in the reality that good works will earn me respect in the church and the community and the pressure to do so is actually a good thing for society. BULLSHIT!
Jesus spent his entire life butting up against an established church community that had good behaviour down to a fine art; he called their leaders snakes and their venom poisonous! While all this good behaviour dazzles us on the outside, it squeezes the life out of us on the inside. If you read a little more closely, you will begin to see that good behaviour mentioned in the Bible is always as a by-product, a result, an outcome of something infinitely greater than regular church attendance. It is a life truly changed at its very core because one has encountered the living God; it is life breathed into a soul that could produce nothing but lifeless forced compliance before; it is a taste of freedom so sweet that you will want to fling all your clothes from your body and dance until you are exhausted. I believe the greatest yoke of western civilization Christianity is the false expectations we accept from others. Most of us also add some perceived expectations that we are sure God is requiring, just for good measure. Why do we insist on adding so much crap to the simple directive of God to love him, to know him, to hang out with him? If you read your Bible, there is a serious penalty for anyone who adds to the precepts God has put in place or tries to change the rules he has laid out. Be afraid.
So let me be clear...though I value my friends, family, and leaders and respect their beliefs, I will not be made in their image - it smacks of idolatry. Though a good reputation in the religious community is nice to have, I want to value it about as much as Jesus did. I am not out to offend anyone, but due to the nature of humanity, that will invariably happen, and for that I apologize. My goal is no longer to be a good person, but to live. Check out John 17:3.
And let me end with a quote from John Stuart Mill, a proponent of Utilitarianism, who, though I am not in total agreement with all he puts forth, had some brilliant insights in the area of freedom. "Many persons, no doubt, sincerely think that human beings thus cramped and dwarfed, are as their Maker designed them to be; just as many have thought that trees are a much finer thing when clipped into pollards, or cut out into figures of animals, than as nature made them. But if it be any part of religion to believe that man was made by a good Being, it is more consistent with that faith to believe that this Being gave all human faculties that they might be cultivated and unfolded, not rooted out and consumed, and that he takes delight in every nearer approach made by his creatures to the ideal conception embodied in them, in every increase in any of the capabilities of comprehension, of action, or of enjoyment. There is a different type of human excellence from the Calvinistic; a conception of humanity as having its nature bestowed on it for other purposes than merely to be abnegated." from On Liberty.