Faith: Before and After
July 19, 2010

I gave a talk at my faith community today, summarizing how my faith has changed. Here’s a summary of that summary. Hopefully you’ll get the picture.

It starts with the simple message I gave people when evangelizing: “It’s so simple. All you need is Jesus. Just choose to follow Jesus.” And when we would get them interested in the simplicity of the message, we’d then say…well, all it takes to start following Jesus is to accept him as your personal Lord and Savior. And to do that you need to say a prayer, and so on.

So someone would say the prayer, become a Christian, and get involved in a church, because every Christian has to go to church…Oh yeah, that’s another guideline we forgot to mention before you said the prayer. And then with the attendance of church comes certain stipulations, and with those stipulations come others, and so on, until we end up with something like this:

My Faith Before

“What should my life be about?”
(abbreviated version)

1. Choose to follow Jesus
2. Choose to accept Jesus as Personal Lord and Savior
3. Sinner’s Prayer
4. Baptism
5. Confession of sins
6. Public Confession of belief, which includes (but not necessarily limited to) the following…
7. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
8. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
9. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
10. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
11. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
12. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
13. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
14. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
15. the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,
16. the forgiveness of sins,
17. the resurrection of the body,
18. and life everlasting.
19. Read your Bible
20. Pray a lot
21. Go to church (the right one)
22. Evangelize
23. Put a Jesus fish on your car.
24. Don’t Smoke
25. Don’t Drink
26. Don’t Chew
27. Don’t go with boys or girls that do
28. Don’t cuss
29. Don’t be Democrat (abortion, communism, anti-God)
30. Don’t be Republican (don’t care for the poor, arrogant, narrow-minded)
31. Don’t be Gay
32. Don’t be friends with gays (encouraging sin)
33. No secular music
34. No materialism (unless it’s organic, fair-trade, or makes Christians look cool)
35. No tattoos (unless they make Christians look cool, which promotes the gospel)
36. No questioning the anointed, appointed leaders
37. No questioning the wisdom of saints of old
38. No questioning this list, which may grow or change with or without notice…
39. Etc…

I tried to adhere to this list since the times I grew up evangelizing others.

And here’s the thing. I would have said that “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship.” And that my Christianity is not a dull religion that’s nothing more than rules and rituals. Because we knew that that was an opposition people had to becoming Christian. But the fact is that, even though the general idea revolved around a “relationship with Jesus,” we had plenty of rules, some unspoken and some very outspoken, for describing what that relationship should be like.

So at some point–maybe it was more of a process than a “point”–I threw away the list. All of it.

“Yeah, but you’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” some might say. Well, yes. I had to. Because the baby was dead. We had drowned it. It was no longer recognizable. I had to start with a new baby, a tub, new water, a new house, everything. A blank canvas.

A blank canvas is like an ocean. Wide and deep and full of freedom and possibility. But it can also be very lonely, isolated, and empty feeling. So I was tempted to make my own list again. I needed to establish boundaries to tell me where to go and where not to go. It started to say things like, “Those people should do this…or should not do this.” And I realized that my list was no better than the old one.

And eventually I realized that my faith was too precious and personal and ever-evolving to boil down to any list to assert on myself or others. It was more like a work of art (with no guarantees of quality, by the way). And this is what I came up with the other night:

My Faith After (for Now)

My Faith Now*

I won’t explain. It is what it is. I am also trying to appreciate the fact that others’ faith is like this too. Each of us have our own expression of life, and it will help us all if we try to value each others’ individuality of faith.

But anyway, my wife just wrote something on her blog, GirlReupholstered, that so clearly and concisely gets at the heart of it:

I have seen a lot of people try to be what others think they should be or what is the most acceptable.  It’s easier to be what someone else wants you to be b/c you know, more than likely, you will be accepted. Also, it’s easier to be told who to be instead of searching yourself to find out who you truly are.

Maybe this has been a struggle for me b/c I was brought up in Christian culture where there are very distinct ideas on how you were created or how you should live. It has always been a very suffocating experience for me which caused a lot of anger, frustration and depression. It’s been since I have left the traditional institution of Christianity have I been able to truly experience freedom to be who I believe God has created me to be. Which is sorta ironic, don’t you think?

[ *Note: The artwork I used here is an image of a beautiful painting by Ren Crawford, found here. I just slapped words on top of it. Ren, your art touched me deeply. Please don’t sue me. 🙂 ]

What you didn’t see on TV: Grammy for BEST BELIEFS goes to….
February 1, 2010

“First and foremost, we just want to thank Jesus…”

…Yes, I know I touch a very tender spot with this one. You just don’t mess with the creeds. People throughout the centuries suffered for these statements of faith. People today also suffer for these statements. So I know the Christian creeds are precious to millions and should not be spoken of lightly. And without the devoted guardians of doctrine, the Apostles’ Creed might sound something like this…

Some may think I’m crossing a line here, but my sermon today does not debate the value of the creeds for the Church, but it’s about the value of the creeds for me. For years, I have not been able to honestly confess all the elements of the Christian creeds, even while I was helping lead others in worship. The ability to confess all the items listed in the creeds is like your passport that grants entrance into Christendom, or a VIP badge that gets you a backstage pass to Heaven, or a line you cross that defines you as a pick for the favored team, or whatever example you want to use. But because of this, I have hidden my inability to say all the things those teens did in the video above. I subscribe to some of the thoughts but not all.

Anyway, my quarrel is not with the larger truth that the creeds attempt to protect, but it’s with the value of creeds in the first place and the criteria by which they exclude potential followers of Christ. I know my words would be weak here, so I’ve found someone much older than I, a saint on whose shoulders I stand, who bears witness for me from the grave. He passed on 30 years ago, but he captured his thoughts in writing. One of his books reads me, so let me pass on some quotes from Rev. Leslie Weatherhead, who was sort of another version of C.S. Lewis and one of the legendary English preachers of his day. These excerpts are from his book, The Christian Agnostic:

This is how a man falls in love. he could not write a creed about the loved one at the beginning. He finds someone whose life he would like to share, and, if she is willing to do so, as fellowship deepens, he comes to believe certain things about her. Then he can write his creed, and it is of far more value, and much more his own, than if it were imposed upon him by someone else at the beginning as a condition of belonging to her. In my opinion, the beginnings of the Christian life have much in common with falling in love.

I wonder what the state of the health of this country would be like if, four hundred years ago, a committee of physicians had written down thirty-nine articles and demanded that, for ever after, physicians should prescribe according to them. Yet we have [a list of specific articles which every Christian] declares that he believes….[I do not] sneer at the creeds and ancient statements of what some men used to believe. But they were written down to rebut current charges [of their time], not to impose formulae on future generations. Though not as important as loving, believing certainly matters. it matters so much that, if it has any relevance to the business of living, it must be born in the individual mind, not thrust by church authorities on others.

The Christianity of tomorrow will embrace all truth wherever it is found or however men have come to apprehend it, whether through specifically Christian teaching or through [other religions] or even in the bleak desert of apparent atheism. Many of our greatest minds pass through the latter, feeling that to deny all is nearer the truth than to be identified with those who deny all approaches to truth save their own, and in their narrowness and exclusiveness deny love which is more fundamental than anything else.

Jesus never mentioned the Virgin Birth, neither was it for centuries any part of the missionary message of the church. We still make of prime importance matters about which Jesus said nothing. How can a matter be fundamental in a religion when the founder of the religion never mentioned it? And all this goes, not for the Virgin Birth only, but for a dozen improbabilities about which not even a reverent agnosticism is allowed by the die-hard Scribes and Pharisees of today, and the sad result is that we lose from Christian discipleship some of the ablest minds of our time.

Believing theological dogmas was not Christ’s test of those who sought to be his disciples, and for another very important and fundamental fact, you cannot believe a thing because you are told to believe it.

I do not have truth imposed on me. I do not impose it on myself. Truth is self-authenticating, and when it possesses me, nothing can shake it from its enthronement until some greater truth displaces it or gives it less prominence.

[In quoting Brunner,] “Who can establish criteria to judge whether or not the Holy Ghost is really active in a human heart to which God is only just beginning to reveal himself?”

It is [unfair to] demand that to be a Christian one must “believe” this or that intellectual proposition which has put so many thoughtful and lovable people off. “Must” and “believe” are words that should never go together.

…Otherwise, we end up with something like this…

I have a hunch this is not what God had in mind. So please, believe in and hold fast to your creeds if they give you truth, but don’t exclude me from being called a follower of Jesus if I can’t.