If Theologee suggests anything about me, it’s that I really like two things: religion and humor. I could also write a blog about the fantastic slices of heaven that make up Niman Ranch bacon but the research needed to publish those posts regularly would not please my doctor. (“Your cholesterol chart does not read a number; it just says ‘lard.’”) I stick with humor and religion for my sanity and my health. So when I came across a book titled Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter are at the Heart of Spiritual Life, I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle and was unable to read it for months because Orange is the New Black needed to be watched. But since catching up with Piper and Alex, I have been able to read the book and I have not been disappointed. Written by James Martin, SJ, (a Jesuit priest), the book is a mixture of scripture, jokes, and personal tales of humor that Fr. Martin has experienced in his spiritual life.
There have been many parts of this book that have made me smile and even chuckle to myself. But one part recently had me thinking about a concept I have never thought about before. In one part, Fr. Martin asks the readers to change their way of thinking from “God loves me” to “Does God like me?” which is a completely different ball game and not a concept I have heard before. Here is the passage (words in italics are from Fr. Martin):
“Can you also allow yourself to think that the wonderful or funny or unexpected things that surprise you are signs of God being playful with you?
Think about this in a slightly different way. Can you imagine God not simply loving you, but, as the British theologian James Alison often asks his readers to imagine, liking you? We’ve heard the phrase ‘God loves you’ so often that it becomes a platitude- like wallpaper that we cease to notice once it’s plastered in our room. We think, ‘Well, of course God loves me. That’s just what God does.’ But thinking about God liking us is quite different. That word has a different energy around it- surprising, lighthearted, personal.”
I was profoundly moved by this paragraph in the book and was lucky enough to have some quiet time to myself to contemplate it. Would God like me? Yes, I talk about Her behind Her back- all good, I promise- but I figured She already knew that. Oh, and sometimes I have a difficult time loving all the people She has created, particularly those who I feel have twisted Her message to suit their own purposes. I am pretty sure God would not be happy with me and would like me to shut that down. But am I someone God would like to sit down and have lunch with while discussing profound ideas and emotions, like friends often do? That’s a good question.
I recently attended the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference and I was forced to talk about my writing because well, you know, it being a writer’s conference and all. I often told people I am working on a fiction novel but I also write a poorly edited blog about religion. And the blog is meant to be humorous. That combination garnered a few “Oh. I didn’t know religion could be funny.” I then have to go on and explain that on this blog I also strive to be balanced and not mean. But the question of “Does it please God for me to write about Her followers in a way that some people may consider blasphemous?” does come up every now and then. And then there is another voice that answers that question: “Fuck yes, it pleases God.” Mind you that voice is usually my husband’s, but still.
Later in the same chapter of Between Heaven and Mirth, Fr. Martin goes further with this friendship concept by pointing out what makes a good friend. Would you still be friends with someone who never called you? What about a friend who never came to visit you? Or one who wasn’t there for you when you were at your lowest point?
Our treatment of our relationship with God changes if we decide that it should include an element of friendship and not just one of unconditional love. Would God like it if you never prayed, except when you needed Her to do something for you? Would She want to remain friends if you couldn’t fit Her into your schedule? Would some of the behavior that you exhibit- hatred, blame, and anger – would She want to continue a friendship if you can’t keep those in control? I am certainly guilty of letting my friendship with God lapse at times because I figure She would always be there for me. And yes, that’s true- She will be. As those who have experienced unconditional love can attest: unrestricted and unreserved love means open arms await you after the good and the bad.
But I think unconditional love even gets tested if your behavior isn’t likeable. I have seen the show Intervention and I know that about the 50th time you have rifled through grandma’s purse to get money for your Adderall addiction, grandma will want to stop enabling you. Yes, grandma loves you but no, grandma doesn’t like you. That goes the same for God. She may forgive you for all you do, but unless you make yourself more likeable and more accountable, She will not want to hang out with you for very long.
What can you do to be liked in God’s eyes? I haven’t a clue because I am not God. But I can assume what pleases Her. Are you trustworthy? Are you kind? Are forgiving of others and yourself? When you meet people, do you see them as part of God’s creation and worthy of respect? I think that is a good start to being liked by God.
So would God want to have a chat over a meal with me because She likes me? Yes, I hope God sees me as a friend with whom She could enjoy a meal. Our friendship is a peaceful one, one that is not strained by my blog’s point of view or my cussing or my run-on sentences. Over our lunch of BLT’s made with Niman Ranch bacon, God would be pleased with my desire to spread Her message in whatever manner I enjoy employing. I just better not go too long without calling Her.