I grew up in a bounded-set religious tradition:
"A bounded set is where we create a boundary, a theological border, a doctrinal fence, and separate those who are inside the fence from those who are out. It is an “us” versus “them” mentality where everyone on the inside is accepted, loved, and welcomed, while those outside the fence are kept away until they can change their beliefs and behaviors to fit the entry requirements." (Source)
The essence of my faith-shift has been toward a centered-set orientation:
"In a centered set, there are no boundaries. There are no walls. There is no fence. There is no dividing line between 'us' and 'them,' no rules or guidelines to determine who is 'in' and who is 'out.' Everyone is loved, welcomed, and accepted, no matter what. Everyone automatically 'belongs.'
"But how is this different than just a random mass of people randomly milling around? Because of what is at the center. A centered set has no boundaries to keep people out, but it does have something compelling at the center which pulls people in. There are no gatekeepers turning people away, for everyone is on equal footing, being pulled toward the center." (Source)
God is Love: that is the Center.
There's a story about Thomas Keating, a teacher of contemplative prayer. When a student complained that her mind wandered 10,000 times in a 20-minute prayer session, Father Keating said, "How lovely! Ten thousand opportunities to return to God!" (Source)
The idea of endless welcome, of truly unconditional love, makes people nervous about "cheap grace" and "loving too much." Just a few days ago, I heard that when someone's done wrong, they need to have a "sufficiently painful" experience so that they won't do it again.
But the thing I've found in my own life is that the welcome of Love is so powerful, so transformative, so unlike anything experienced anywhere else, that when you've had that experience of dropping the shame and receiving the Love, it sparks a magnetic attraction to the Center which allows you keep re-centering, re-aligning, re-turning.
Ten thousand times, turning back to Love.
I remember writing in my journal years and years ago, when we first moved overseas, that all the things that felt safe to lean on were falling away.
I was terrified. Literally having nightmares, the fear was so severe.
I realized, and wrote in my journal at the time, that the things I leaned on were the bars of a cage, and I was being set free.
Even though I understood that I was being set free, I still loved the fence. And watching it fall was terrifying.
If I'd known at the time how free indeed I was going to be, it would have scared me even more. I probably would have sat inside the ruins of that cage, trying to rebuild it.
Fortunately, the journey is one step at a time, each step at the right time.
We are always exactly where we're supposed to be, and Love is always with us.
Long ago, I thought the whole thing was about the fence, being safe inside the right fence, and making sure everybody else I cared about was safe inside the right fence, too.
Instead, it turns out, the whole thing is about being invited on a great adventure that unfolds before each of us individually, always turned toward True North, the Center, the Love that is set like eternity in our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)