“It’s a glorious time of year” is a phrase we hear in some form every autumn, numerous times. There’s a lot to love, but the centerpiece of it, for many of us, is the colors. Especially where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, the green canvass of a forested hillside is punctuated with spots of color. Here a flaming orange, there a yellow, over there the deep red of a vine maple. We see, and joy wells up inside us.
A little research reveals why the colors change: because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.
The vibrant colors, it turns out, are a leaf’s truer identity. It’s covered through spring and summer, but just before dropping away, the veil of chlorophyll drops away and all the vibrancy that was there all the time is finally revealed. Beauty. Joy. Worship.
I often think the reason that “nones” are the fastest growing faith demographic in America has to do with the reality that our beautiful and life-giving calling and identity are, like summer leaves, hidden under layers of other things, like creeds for example.
One author explains that “the three famous Christian creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasius) were all written for spiritual offense and defense. They were meant to faithfully share the identity of God in Christ to the world, but also to defend against false narratives.” Because of this, creeds came with warning labels against ignoring them. Creeds had introductory admonitions like this:
“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith, without which he shall perish everlastingly. And the true faith is this…” at which point the articulation of the creed began.
As a result, Christianity has developed a penchant for articulating itself as a set of propositions about God, and salvation about affirming them verbally and intellectually. I can’t say this next point loudly enough: This practice has done untold harm to the testimony of Christ! Because of it, people would recite creeds before going into battle as they conquered ‘pagan’ lands. They’d recite it in worship as a means, along with communion, of easing their conscience regarding eternity. They’d defend it by silencing detractors who didn’t subscribe perfectly to its elements.
Meanwhile, the creed of Jesus got lost, hidden in the noise of doctrinal wars over exactly how Jesus was both God and human, or whether women could teach, or whether salvation was secure or conditional, pre-destined or chosen. Christianity became divided; doctrinally tribal – and its glorious and beautiful true colors were lost.
“Jesus had a creed?” Yes. When a religious expert asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, he answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”
Love God. Love people. Those are the true colors of our faith. Everything that hides these two elements become a tragic cover-up. Whether malicious or not, the result is that the church is known as the headwaters of racism, colonialism, arrogance, violence, and shooting our own wounded.
We’ve adapted to this ugliness, but I promise you there’s a growing dissatisfaction with ‘business as usual’. It’s why people are leaving the church, but not leaving Jesus. People’s hearts are longing for the true colors of hope – hungry to embody service, forgiveness, reconciliation, hospitality, advocacy and solidarity with people on the margins, the pursuit of simplicity as a means of caring for the earth, and so much more.
These are the colors of hope, and when they’re seen, our hearts leap for joy, just like they do every autumn.
Our capacity for missing this angers me, and it’s why I stand in solidarity with John, and the ancient church leaders who, before we became wed with power, said over and over:
“Above all else, before all else, love!”
Drain Me Lord
To let the falsehoods drain away
I’ve clung to them for too long
As illusions of power and control
Seduced my heart
Into pools of religious pride
Ugly colors were born
Veiling your beauty
Maligning your character
Begatting violence not peace
Disease not healing
Division not reconciling
Drain me Lord
Of all the false colors
Hiding your glory
As I rest into the beauty
Of your true colors