Okay, so this has also been a long time coming… I am putting down some thoughts here after reading entirely too many political and news sites lately. As 2016 gears up, I am concerned for the world my children will inherit. But not everything looks bleak.
It is hard to be a Christian in today’s America. Not in the sense that Huckabee and plenty of other commentators mean. I am not worried about my religious beliefs being infringed upon to the point where I am unable to practice my faith. But what makes it hard for me to say I am a Christian in today’s world is primarily… other Christians.
What I mean by this is derived in part from both personal and anecdotal experiences. I don’t claim to have access to lots of data to explicitly back up my suppositions, but there are general trends we are aware of (or should be) in the public sphere that back up in broad strokes what I feel.
I should probably start with an explanation of what being Christian means to me. Learning to refine one’s theology is a bit like self-reflection. It’s often painful, full of surprising depths and turns, and at times contradicts itself. But like in smithing, the refinement process can produce something of even great strength if handled well.
I call myself a Christian because I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This person was, in my understanding, a historical figure who lived, acted and died in a specific place and a specific time with repercussions that have lasted for millennia. But this person was also the incarnate persona of the infinite divine, God’s self, poured into human form, acting for a love beyond our understanding for a flawed and finite creation desperately in need of that love.
I believe that God has and can do miracles that are beyond our capacity to understand and that fly in the face of established scientific fact. I also believe that God placed rules on creation that we can understand and explain. As such, I have no problem believing in evolution as I consider myself a part of creation and being related in measurable ways to other creatures on this earth in no way threatens God’s love for me or the special place I have in God’s eyes. If anything, evolution makes me appreciate the love God has for us even more.
I find comfort in the presence of an invisible spirit. I believe that the Holy Spirit comforts me when I mourn, fills my heart with joy beyond my own capacity at times and helps to keep me connected with God when I feel most alone. I believe best as Shakespeare put it, “There are more things Horatio, than are dreamed of in your books.” Scripture is a tool that points us to God and shows us how to live through the life of Christ, but it is not infallible, nor should it be used as science to explain the world we live in… at least not in my opinion.
I am leery of saying I am “saved” as I often hear it used by many people today. I believe I am called by God’s Grace and great love to be in relationship with God through Christ. Not by anything or any decision I have made, but because “God so loved the world, [s]He sent his only Begotten son, that all who believe on Him should have everlasting life.” It is through Christ’s faithfulness that I am given new life and called to live a life that reflects that faithfulness even though I will often fall short. And that new life is to be lived in community with others, believers and non-believers alike, living in such a way so that as the hymn states – “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
I suppose that hits the highlights: Creator/Divine being kicked it off – check, full humanity & divinity of Christ – check, importance of Scripture – check, importance of community – check
Now to the harder parts…why, in my mind, it is so hard to be Christian in today’s America.
As millions of young Americans begin to self-identify more and more as “Spiritual but not Religious” and as more and more are leaving the church, the answer for me is in part that same sense of alienation that these people report having. Christ’s life, when I was a child, was how I viewed the whole world. We were supposed to love everybody and welcome all to be with him. There was nothing in that about refusing service to someone, turning people away, condemning people to Hell and more in my simple child-like understand of the greatest commandment – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself, on this hangs all the laws and the prophets.”
Love. First, last and always. If we couldn’t get that part right, the rest of it didn’t matter. And honestly, right now I think we are failing that part… miserably. And, in my opinion, it’s why more and more people are finding it hard to be a Christian.
If being a Christian means that you have to support free trade, low taxes, conservative politicians, criminalize abortion, deny same-sex couples rights, ignore institutional racism and corporate greed under the umbrella of “tradition” and “job creators” then I am not Christian.
If being a Christian means that you have to deny scientific research because it threatens your belief in God, believing that poor people are just lazy, that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything to save those around us, that Scripture must be taken literally as history and the unchangeable word of God (until it doesn’t have to be), then I am not Christian.
If being a Christian means that people who disagree with us are the enemy, that illegal immigrants are not God’s children too, that Pagans/Hindu/Muslim/Jews are all going to Hell, that war is justifiable and violence is an acceptable means of solving problems, that the death penalty is okay, then I am not a Christian.
PLEASE NOTE: I am NOT saying that if you believe these things, you can’t be Christian. I am simply saying that being Christian may be more than this list, at least to me… and that in my own head, I cannot reconcile these ideas with what I understand to be the mission of Christ. If you can, more power to you, and may Christ’s Shalom bless you, but I can’t go there with you.
I keep wondering, if we’re such a “Christian” nation, why cut the programs to feed and help the poor, the needy? If our Savior is the Lord of Peace, why do we spend more than any other country in the world on our military? Why do we take words like compromise and cooperation and turn them into imprecations? When did the only way you win is by ensuring that I lose? Have we forgotten what it is to really be a religion of the poor, the meek, the mourning, the sick?
All this and more is done by people who wrap themselves in the mantle of religion, specifically Christian religion, turning it more and more into something that not only do I not recognize, I no longer want to be a part of.
But I have seen God…and I have Hope.
Not that somehow everyone around us will suddenly turn into conservative evangelical Christians or be raptured or whatever. My hope is that in big and small ways, people from all walks of life and yes, even of all faiths and none, are still coming together to work on bringing about the coming of Zion, the peaceable kingdom, however they understand and choose to define it. People still love and are learning to love, in ways that challenge us, that push us forward. We aren’t called to forget the traditions of our past or deny our heritage. It is what shapes us and has formed us to where we are. But we are not called to stay there either. The past is gone, but maybe… just maybe, we might yet get this whole love thing down.
1 John 3:15-23 (NSRV) 15 All who hate a brother or sister[e] are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister[f] in need and yet refuses help?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.