By Connie May
Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old, all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; The old will deny the new; The old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.
— Neale Donald Walsch
These words flung me back to my time as a hospice chaplain. With more and more people having no affiliation with a faith community at that most important time in their lives, I began to see something happening. People were saying in so many words, “If that is what God is like, I don’t need that.” In a strange sort of way, they were making room for the new. The old way wasn’t big enough for the new reality they were facing. One lady said she didn’t want any “dumb God talk,” but she had been asking the nurses questions that seemed more the chaplain’s territory. The nurse asked whether I could come once.
So one hot summer day, I stood outside her closed screen door and introduced myself as Connie May the chaplain, and I heard she didn’t like dumb God talk.
“What is that?” I asked.
She told me that a pastor once told her that she was going to hell because she wore fingernail polish and played cards.
“I hope you told him where he could go with that,” I said, and she opened her door.
This began a ministry to a woman who had raised several kids on her own and was a shop steward at work. Eventually I put her quote on my business cards, and it got me in doors and hearts that were closed before. Many people, especially the young, are done with dumb God talk — talk that makes God smaller, meaner, and less loving than they are. A test for such talk would be to introduce someone with the same language they use to describe God. Would they be insulted? Many of my families were living the kind of Gospel lives that Jesus taught in the ways they lived into their mystery of death and dying. They just needed someone to point out that being spiritual (which they always accepted) wasn’t the same as being “religious.”
I still remember having lunch with a man after his wife died. He had shared what taking care of her in her dying month involved. I challenged his not being “religious” by pointing out how he had been living the Gospel. All he needed was a translator. Love, especially in the face of loss, can bring out the truth that it is stronger than death. Isn’t that the truth of the resurrection?
My mission now is to identify and challenge myself and others when facing dumb God talk. It seems as if Jesus had that same problem with the religious authorities of his time. He kept saying, “You have heard it said, but I tell you . . .” Isn’t it funny that the ones who crowded around him were the ones rejected by the religious? Are we seeing this same thing today? When people are touched by a couple of women in pop-up tents offering to pray with someone, could they be the way God is bringing the new (Sneaky) Spirit into our world? I wonder. We can continue to defy, deny, decry all we want, but that same Sneaky Spirit has never yet been effectively contained yet. I trust this is just the newest angle God is using to make room at our inns. Then we can truly move from being like the God-fearers of Jesus’ day to the God-bearers of our own time.
Connie May, BCC, is a chaplain emeritus in Marion, IA.