There hasn’t been a time that I’ve read Joy’s writings and not been completely moved. Sometimes, I’m wrecked, challenged by her words. Sometimes I cry, because my heart breaks for whatever her words bring into my heart. Sometimes I concur with her opinions. This time, I’m encouraged to write, maybe more openly and honest than I ever have.
I’ve actually been writing this post for a very long time, because I’ve been thinking about it and struggling with it for a very, very long time. When I found Joy’s new Life: unmasked project, I couldn’t think of a better topic to begin the unmasking of my own heart…
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There’s something that’s been on the very, tip-top of my mind lately. It started with reading Chad’s post on homosexuality, then having a long-winded discussion about religion with @TalesFromthhood even more recently, then spending two evenings last week stress-crying. In between all that, Colin listened to me whine and complain (my usual 8pm ranting) about the church and Christianity and Christians (especially the kind that make me really angry).
The topic that’s completely consumed my mind and drowned my sense of confidence lately is… the things that divide the kingdom of God. Those things, at their best, sharpen us. And at their worst, they create cults and religious sects, doctrines and dogma, legalistic rules, the churched and the un-churched, the saved and the not-saved — all the things that make me stressed and sad, angry and disappointed in Christianity and God (since He is the reason for Christianity and all).
Of course, there are things that divide us — important, non-negotiable things — but aren’t those obvious? We spend tons of time arguing about whether or not Jesus was the actual Son of God, or was seriously born of the virgin birth. Did He die for all people’s sins? or just certain people’s sins? But those things, they seem worth arguing, don’t they? (And let’s face it, at the end of the day, we can agree on those answers). After all, what fun or interest is there in religion without a little debate?
But those things are not really the things I’m talking about. I’m talking about the other things.
Like whether or not you read your bible daily, or go to church regularly, or volunteer weekly, or take communion when you should. It’s whether or not you believe in sex before marriage, Obama as the anti-Christ, the demonic meaning of Harry Potter, and the redemptive course of homosexuals. More things in this category: pro-life or pro-choice (for an interesting discussion on this topic, visit the DeeperStory), tax cuts or cuts to the international affairs budget, church or state, the age at which a child truly understands the weight of accepting Jesus into their heart, and whether or not Mary is that special. [Add your own things here]
It’s the dogma, the doctrines, the legalism. It’s the rules and the non-rules and the in-between rules that are still consequential if you break them, even if you don’t know them. (Let’s not forget about the accountability things we argue about). It’s the culture and church and scripture and interpretation thing that bleed together so badly, I can’t tell which is which anymore (although I’m unsure if I’ve ever known the differences).
And it’s those things that divide us.
But they’ve also divided me.
I’m the person that’s annoyed when I hear someone talk too conservatively or pray too loudly (or slowly, or just plain annoyingly). If you mention church to me more than once in the day, I might assume you’re overly Christian — the kind of Christian that makes the rest of us feel embarrassed to be associated with. Your regular use of Christianese and theological terminology have no effect on me, other than the fact that I now think you’re kind of a Christian elitist. The kind that “bought” their Christian wisdom with schooling or extra hours at youth group. Not the kind that earned their wisdom badge, the kind I like and respect. (For more thoughts on Christian elitism: “Poverty tourism, poverty elitism, and grace“)
I am divided.
I am a Christian who spends half my time “being Christian” being frustrated at other Christians. It might be you, or some nonsensical, avid Christian tweeter, or it might be the senior pastor of some charismatic, emerging church.
I am divided.
I love God and am perturbed by his people. I believe in the words of the Bible, but I don’t always have a deep desire to read them or remember them (and I’m definitely not found quoting them all the time). I think the concept of the church is brilliant. I think the modern day church has somewhat failed, especially to welcome the millennial generation. I don’t really understand how my faith can or should play a role in my politics. I let my faith motivate my work, sometimes, and allow it to discourage my work other times.
I am divided.
I don’t read things like The Purpose Driven Life but I will read “Jesus Needs New PR.” I sometimes keep my eyes open when everyone else is praying. And I fall asleep nearly every time I try and meditate on the word of the Lord or silently await the promptings of the Holy Spirit. (I’ve actually resorted to believing that having God as the last thing on your mind before you fall asleep is a good thing.)
I don’t agree with all of God’s plans, but I do believe they are His plans. I don’t believe in using Jesus or Christianity or faith as a crutch in our decision-making or reasoning. Sure, it should influence our decisions, but should it be the sole factor that dictates them? There is so much unknown in the faith of Christianity and also in our own personal faith that allowing our faith to singularly dictate decisions like budget and overhead or Saturday night church or Sunday morning church seem quite silly to me. And “because Jesus told me so?” — does that statement actually fly with you?
I believe God is the final word. And that word, we might never know until the final days. (I didn’t mean for that last sentence to sound so cheesy Jesus). And because of that, I don’t believe in declarative statements about things we, as humans, will never really know — like why God makes certain decisions, or whether or not a particular scripture is literal or is a parable.
But I also don’t believe we can make statements about the eternal damnation of homosexuals, or the earthly damnation of non-church goers. This brings me back to the beginning of this post and the things that divide us and segregate the Christian faith.
A dear friend, Rachel Held Evans, blogged this recently after a visit to West Knoxville Society of Friends and St. Bernard Abbey where she prayed and sat in silence and chanted and hymned with the best of them:
As we sat in silence together, I remembered something William James said: “Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest, which co-mingle their roots in the darkness underground. Just so, there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a other sea or reservoir.”
It occurred to me that the distinctions between Catholics and Quakers that seem so pronounced on the outside are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace.
…I think that ever since our church plant failed, I’ve been trying to recapture the sense of belonging…no, control… I had when I was such an integral part of creating our community’s identity. Now, when I visit other churches, all I can see are the fences—the doctrines, traditions, and idiosyncrasies that rub me the wrong way and make me feel isolated from my fellow Christians.
After reading those words, I silently vowed to write a post of my own on the very subject of accidental fences. It’s turned into this post.
Those accidental fences Rachel and William James talk about… I build those all the time. We all do.
But they are the same fences I long to tear down, with my bare hands if I have to. They’re the fences that I despise but continue to let come between me and the church, and me and other Christians (the kind that make declarative statements). But they are also the fences we, Christians, let come between us and non-Christians, or us and non-practicing Christians. Or us and other Christians.
I may be amazed at the little things that divide us, but I, too, fuel the problem when I let accidental fences arise.
I can’t remember where I came across this quote, but when I read it, I saved it particularly for this post. It’s a quote from Chuck Swindoll: “The problem with legalists is that not enough people have confronted them & told them to get lost. Those are strong words, but I don’t mess with legalism anymore. I used to know legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers. They’ll drive off every new Christian you bring to church. They are enemies of the faith. If I’m trying to force my personal list of no-no’s on you & make you feel guilty if you don’t join me, then I’m out of line & I need to be told that.”
I confess, I’m out of line… most of the time. Thank God I’m blessed with the grace of Jesus to forgive me time and time again when I am out of line. Maybe that’s why I’m still a Christian… and why, for today, I’ll still identify myself with the same words as those whom make the declarative statements that make my salvation cringe — other Christians.
This is my Life: Unmasked — an honest exploration of finding God in my mess. Writing this post with this ideology in mind has been freeing. It’s a way I could write about all of this and actually feel free to do so, unmasking some of the deepest questions and tensions in my soul as of late.
If there are experiences and emotions that create burning tensions in you, I hope you consider sharing them in the Life: Unmasked project. Or if you don’t blog or don’t wish to blog this subject, I’d still love to share in some of your deepest struggles. Send me an email instead: lindsey (dot) talerico (at) gmail (dot) com