A friend sent me an Internet link that pointed to an online "Christianity Test." There were about two dozen questions or so on this test and my answers determined how spiritual I was, and it gave me a score (as if such a thing could be measured with a letter grade).
After completing the test, I realized that I had failed, or at the very least, I had a lot of work to get to where I needed to be. But in my defense, all the questions seemed to focus on church responsibilities, allegiance to a narrow set of beliefs and behavior management.
There were questions about tobacco use, how many minutes a day I prayed, how many verses of the Bibles I read in a month, and how many times I went to church each week. Quickly it devolved into an inquisition of obligation, rules, religious policy and list-keeping (with a conspicuous absence of Jesus).
This kind of testing is unfortunate because as long as the emphasis in our spiritual lives is on what we can, must or should be doing, no matter how noble our intentions might be, then the emphasis is on our personal attempts at righteousness. And our attempts at being right or virtuous are simply inadequate.
So why do we stay it, running like a hamster-on-a-wheel, abiding the crushing weight of hopeless and exhausting nit-picking? Because in the end, we are afraid. We are afraid of God. We refuse to accept his grace for us. We think of him as merciless, graceless and compassionless. We are so terrified of the rule-enforcing-test-giving God that we unnecessarily keep trying to earn the love he has already shown us.
This ghastly, judgmental, angry God that springs up in so many imaginations is a lot like the "Booger Man." My Southern grandmother often used the Booger Man to keep her grandchildren out of mischief. She would say to me: "You better behave or the Booger Man is going to get you."
Or late at night if I had to check on the chickens or walk to the barn, she'd offer up a little giggle and say, "Don't let no Booger get you out there." Not to be confused with the Bogey Man (a European invention), my grandmother's Booger Man originated with the Cherokee Nation.
The Cherokee developed a ritual known as the Booger Dance, sometimes called the Ghost Dance by the white man, to keep away evil spirits, demons, sickness and disease. Later this dance was used to symbolically keep away the Europeans.
The tribe would gather for the ritual late at night around a roaring fire, and on cue a group of preselected young men would come storming into the meeting house. They would be dressed in big, furry, grotesque masks and be adorned with bear hide and feathers.
They would act ferociously, clawing and scratching at those huddled in fear in the corners of the room, or they would wail and howl. As the ritual went, only the proper dance would soothe these savage beasts. Once tamed, each Booger Man would begin to dance with the people and then finally slink back into the darkness.
Of course, those who might dance improperly or out of step -- a young child or pretty girl -- would be snatched away, kicking and screaming, and carried into the Appalachian woods. Generations later the ritual was forgotten, but the Booger Man was not.
Is God heaven's Booger Man? Is he a lurking, spooky, other-worldly creature who waits to gobble us up when we do not perform the rituals correctly or stay in step? Is this why we huddle in the corner, praying our prayers, dancing as properly and as furiously as we can, hoping to placate him?
But we cannot make the Booger Man of our imagination reconcile with the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. For Jesus did not come to condemn us or frighten us with rules and retribution. He came to give us a better way to live. He came to give us life.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of "Leaving Religion, Following Jesus." He writes and speaks about life, faith and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www. ronniemcbrayer.net.