stairs leading to a desert trail
The Coachella Valley (where I live) is dotted with lavish "gated communities." Beautiful Spanish-style haciendas and sleek modern condos are built on lush golf courses, sporting man-made lakes and flowing fountains, all behind walls and gates high enough that people on the outside can't see in.
Recently, my wife and I were driving by one of these communities near us. It appeared to be particularly attractive, and so we thought we would see if we could get inside the gates and take a look around, but the guard would have none of it. We were unceremoniously directed to turn the car around and go on our way - the community was for "residents only."
At one level I could understand why we weren't let in beyond those walls, but the feeling of standing on the outside and not being allowed in was aggravating, and even a bit depressing.
Several social commentators have suggested that the "gated community"is a new icon for life in America nowadays. People climb the ladder of success, and when they have reached some degree of achievement, they surround themselves with similar others, and build walls and gates to keep out those on the lower rungs and those who are different.
I think plenty of people today live enclosed within a "virtual" gated community of life; and there are also plenty of people who find themselves locked outside the gates of life, feeling like they don't belong.
I wonder if the images of a "gated community" may also be an icon of how people think about God.
I wonder if people think that they have to earn admission into God's good graces - come to church, follow the rules, say your prayers. Do all this, and the guard lets you in.
Thinking about God in this way fosters a sense of self-righteousness for those who have earned their way in, and makes outcasts of those on the other side of the walls - sinners, slackers, doubters, agnostics, atheists.
But I don't think this is how it works. God doesn't live behind walls and there is no secret password or price of admission to get in. God is the Holy Presence abiding among us, gently embracing all human beings and every part of our humanity with a love that has no conditions.
I was recently reminded of something Paul Tillich once wrote about "grace." In essence, he suggests that the voice of God speaks only one message to every human being, "You are accepted." This message is especially directed to those who feel like they are on the outside looking in.
You are accepted. You are accepted...
Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything.
Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.
So when I drive by that gated community today. I will imagine those walls torn down and those gates wide open, and I will listen for the voice of God, "you are accepted." And, today when I drive by that gated community, I will also tear down my own walls, open my own locked gates and throw open my arms embracing all who come my way, saying to them: "You are accepted."