A Cluttered Faith

Published on 12 November 2023 at 15:14

I don’t like clutter.

It stresses me out, to be honest. I find it hard to think, hard to focus, around clutter. 

One time, I shared an office space with a co-worker who was slightly less organized than me. (Okay, more than slightly.) But I adored her, and we got along great, so I tried to overlook it. We compromised by having a dividing line along our shared desk so her stuff stayed on her side.

However, when she finally took a vacation, I did what I had always wanted to do.

I organized her space.

All you messy people out there are likely gasping in horror at this point. It was probably not advisable or respectful of me. I knew it when the guilt kicked in part-way through, but I had to finish.

I barely threw anything away. I just... organized it. I created files with labels on them to put things that were the same together. I found about $4000 of unsubmitted receipts that I put in one folder. I found two uncashed checks that I put in another folder. I put client files and reports in a few different folders for current, past, and future clients.

I even cleaned the desktop, put all her office supplies neatly in a drawer, and had everything ready for her return.

The day she was due back, I got in early. I waited, wringing my hands, worried she would hate it. She walked in, saw me first and greeted me enthusiastically. Then she turned and saw her desk.

"Oh... my... gosh!" she exclaimed, her eyes wide. "What happened?"

Thankful she appeared more shocked than angry, I explained carefully, "Well, I thought I would organize it for you."

That was a lie. Technically, I had organized it for me.

"Everything is still there!" I assured her. I showed her the files I had created and where to find all her things. Her shock wore off and she laughed. It was a good laugh. A, "I'm surprised you didn't do this sooner" laugh.

Now that I have my own office, I try very hard to keep it clutter free. My home, too. If something is merely taking space and not being used, I have a tendency to give it away. I probably take stuff to Goodwill or the like once a month. I'm not terribly sentimental. I keep photos and mementos but am quick to get rid of things I don't think we'll ever use again.

Sometimes, though, I have donation-regret. Donation-regret is when you give something away and then wish you still had it.

This doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

For example, I collected keychains when I was younger. I must have had fifty or sixty of them. But when I moved out of my parent's house at age 18, I got rid of them. All of them. And I can’t tell you the number of times since that I wished I had a keychain for all the keys I've collected over the years. Not to mention how some of the keychains had been purchased at places we had visited as a kid. There were memories attached.

Lately, instead of buying keychains from places I've gone, I've been buying windchimes for our back patio. We have a small collection of them now. They play beautiful music on a breezy day.

A few months ago, though, we had more than a light breeze. We had forceful winds tear through our neighborhood. One of the windchimes came apart and had to be repaired.

The cord holding the chimes together was made of three separate strands that had been woven together to make it stronger. And yet, not strong enough, as I had to cut all of them and buy a new cord to fix the broken pieces. But the new cord kept coming apart, too. Eventually, I had to buy something stronger.

For some reason, as I was studying the way the strands wove together, I thought about the journey I've been on the past few years, re-thinking through everything I’ve been taught my whole life. It’s been like... pulling cords apart. Trying to separate the strands.

One strand is real, Biblical faith which reflects the life and teachings of Jesus. Oddly, that was the hardest to find in the beginning, and yet now is becoming clearer by the day.

One strand is cultural, perhaps neither good nor bad, but not necessarily required for faith. 

And the final strand is erroneous, false teaching, wrapped up so tightly with faith it pretends to belong but really doesn't. This is the strand of politics and power and privilege.

I worry sometimes, as I separate these strands, that I’ll give away something I will eventually want back. That I'll throw out something that truly belongs there. That I'll put things into the wrong folder.

I suppose I've been challenging the cultural strand for a long time. 

After all, I was raised in a church that believed women were to be silent, wear skirts or dresses with nylons, and stay at home with the kids.

I gave that up in college when I began attending church in jeans and pursuing my education - not merely an MRS. degree. These cultural beliefs around my faith I easily discarded as "clutter".

When I worked at a church some years back, I went through a Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course. In that course, we talked about the challenge for missionaries in separating cultural from Biblical beliefs. In teaching the Bible, and not Western culture, when reaching out to other nations. 

That's the beauty of Christianity - people don't have to leave their culture to follow Jesus. 

Somehow, it seems the American Church has missed that message.

We think culture and faith and politics are all one and the same under the Christian umbrella.

But they're not.

Nor should they be.

Evangelical Christianity is littered with so much clutter it's hard to find anything real. And I truly believe it is the clutter that is pushing people out of the Church, and preventing others from finding God. 

If we want to see real change happen, if we want revival in our country, if we want people to know God and to follow Him, we have to clear up the clutter.

Writing these blog posts over the past six months or so has been immensely helpful for me in clearing up the clutter religion created in my life. The more I discard that which doesn't belong, the more I see Jesus. 

My hope and my prayer is that somehow, this blog will also help others do the same.

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