Will the Real Christians Please Stand Down.
September 30, 2010


Who’s really a “true” Christian? It seems every time someone points out a flaw about Christianity, perhaps calling out the questionable behavior of a Christian leader or even something more subtle, other Christians use the defense, “That’s right! But they’re not a true Christian.” Some examples:

When non-Christians speak of the failings of Ted Haggard or Eddie Long as proof that Christianity is worthless, liberal-progressive Christians like to point out how they’re not like that, or even use it as an example of how their form of faith is better. How that (conservative, Charismatic, megachurch) stream of Christianity is not the real Christianity. How real Christianity is about social justice and sound reasoning and such.

Or when people who leave the church explain to Christians that they left it because it was dry, ritualistic, boring, and irrelevant. Those belonging to the more energetic traditions, Charismatic for example, say, “Oh, but that type of Christianity (Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran) is really not what Jesus had in mind… Jesus came to bring life!”

Or when those within the hallowed realms of ancient Orthodoxy and Catholicism claim that, because of apostolic succession, they are the true heirs of Christendom. They criticize protestant churches of heresy. And when they themselves are exposed of oh, I don’t know, sexual abuse let’s say…the Protestants come running to use it as a chance to protest that, because of the priesthood of all believers, they (the protestants) are the ones who the truth has set free.

And then you have Emergence Christianity, which seems to be trying to get beyond the labels, but is having a hard time doing so. One reason is that everybody else calls them heretics.

And Emergents often respond by calling the traditional churches “narrow-minded modernists” who are too tied to their traditions that they don’t leave room for Jesus.

And the next time Pat Robertson makes an idiotic statement on international television (and he will) or another televangelist misuses money (and they will) or another priest is said to have molested boys (it will happen) or another deep-south pastor with a dozen congregants makes inflammatory protests about gays or Muslims (and they will), the “other” “real” Christians will come to Christianity’s defense.

Now it’s definitely a good thing when the “other” Christians, the silent majority, speak out against extremism. But there will always be “the other Christians,” the ones who consider themselves to be the “real” followers of Christ. And what gets me is all the talk about who is and who is not a “real” Christian. Every single denomination thinks they’re the ones who got it right.

Of course this is nothing new. It’s been going on, literally, since 1 AD (and before), and it will most likely continue. There were even the Gnostics, who believed they had received the secret, the real truth. And it seems every denomination today believes that same way.

And for years people have been complaining that because of the fact of Christianity’s countless divisions, it’s just not worth the trouble, and it’s proof of the religion’s illegitimacy. To which the Catholics would respond, “It’s the protestant’s fault…without Luther we’d still be one Church (capital ‘C’), except for those pesky Orthodox kids in the East who caused the Great Schism.” To which progressives and Emergents would respond, “But it’s not division… It’s diversity!” and on and on it goes.

Jesus talked about this problem with someone from another religion. He even brought the conversation beyond Christianity, into the debate about which religion (in general) is right. To the Woman at the Well, a Palestinian and declared unclean by the Jewish religious authorities, Jesus said something to the effect of: “Your religion says we should worship God one way, and mine says we should worship God another way. But there will be a day when we’ll all worship God together, from the heart, sincerely, beyond all these arguments.” (John 4)

That day has yet to come. Christians claim that Jesus was the one who brought that day here, 2,000 years ago. But apparently, seeing as we’re not all Universalists or Baha’i or anything, that’s not the case. And I won’t pretend to have an alternative. But one Jewish writer did touch on something that may be helpful, when he said, “True religion is this: Taking care of the widows and orphans and guarding against corruption.” (James 1:26-27)

And Jesus himself hit on it with the advice that he said sums up all the religious rules. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders might say that something like it is too vague, too nonspecific, and not clear enough for the average person to put into real practice. It was Jesus’ primary directive: “Love God. Love others. That’s it.” (Matthew 22:36)

It just seems to me that no Christian tradition has still, after 2,000 years, never really mastered both of those two simple things. Especially if all the blaming and bickering is any indication.And when so many Christians say that they’re simply being persecuted for righteousness sake…I think it’s more accurate to say it’s for self-righteousness.

But if that’s what Jesus meant by what true spirituality is — just loving God and loving others — perhaps all of us still have some growing (and loving) to do.

Until then, would all you “real” Christians please… Shut. Up. You’re giving me a headache.


*****

Check This Out:

  • To get the idea behind what I’m getting at, read my older post, God the Elephant.


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Frontier
July 25, 2010

This is for Rick (and anyone else, of course). What started out as a paragraph became several, and maybe a bit too abstract. Sorry if I rambled too much. Just some thoughts.

Many think we are just selfish relativists who want to have our free will without any responsibility or consequence. We are seen and described as non-committal, apathetic-yet-verbose idealists whose primary desire is to buck the system to conform to and justify our own fleshly desires. We are perceived as having near-demonic repulsion to the holy absolutes handed down by wise, God-fearing prophets, teachers, and/or apostles. We may be seen as naïve. Or if we demonstrate that we are not naïve, we are declared as bitter malcontents whose hearts have been darkened by such sins as pride or rebellion.

These are some of the justifications given for declaring many of us heretics, among many other descriptors. And we know these all quite well. In spite of this, and not merely in quick reaction to it, I think the best way to respond is with words such as those spoken by Dean Thomas Ferret, one of the first Protestants who was burned at the stake during a Scottish inquisition: “I am confident my cause is just in the presence of God, and therefore I am not concerned about the consequences.”

I use that quote not because I piously think of myself or others in similar position as martyrs. I wouldn’t dare compare myself to someone who was questioned by an established regime of Christians who were so confident in their specific form of faith that they felt it okay to literally judge the faith of others. Okay, well, maybe I would. Because in the same way that it has been happening for centuries within Christianity, people have felt so determined to defend “the” faith, or at least their form of it, that they have named “their” faith “the” faith. And to this day the inquisitions live on, albeit softly, through various forms in all denominations of what the Catholic church has progressively re-named from “Inquisition” to “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the task of which since 1965 has been defined as “furthering right doctrine rather than ‘censuring’ heresy.” And I think such soft-pedaling is disingenuous.

Regardless, what I want people to know is that most of us really are, on a heart level, confident that our “cause is just in the presence of God.” And while some might say that one who is sincere can still be wrong, which just makes one sincerely wrong, I think the crux of the matter is that Christians have come to define a relationship with God with too tight of terms, including “right” and “wrong.” I know this may get into the whole relativism-versus-authority debate, but I’ll avoid that by just pausing to say that one way I have come to define my faith is with the same words of those who established the Christian Biblical canon: “This ‘seems’ right to us and the Spirit.” In other words, it’s all a guess. A hunch.

Whatever label some try to put on me, I am holding fast to this proposal: Faith is not faith if it doesn’t involve uncertainty. If it doesn’t involve some trepidation, mistrust, struggle, fear, blindness, and dare I say, doubt, it’s no faith for me. And if my version of God is a god whose deadly “justice” needs defense, that god must die, because he is apparently too weak to stand on his own. And if, in order to further the legacy of such a faith, I must reject any perspectives that question, deconstruct, or defy established doctrines, that’s a legacy not worth continuing.

So these views might make me an outsider of sorts. A wanderer. A lost “prodigal.” But in this sense, I’d rather wallow and share slop with my fellow pigs than return to a house that promises an inheritance. Because, in this case, the inheritance is conditional upon my acceptance of too many house rules based on imagined certainty, and such an inheritance, in my view, is fools gold. And many have made that house and that inheritance into more of a self-proclaimed kingdom. But it’s an insular kingdom, an incestuous monarchy.

For these reasons, I am content with my wandering. But I am intentional in wandering. It’s part searching and part enjoying the ride. Part sailing, part motoring, and part drifting. Part communicating and part staying silent. And a lot of listening. A lot of sniffing the air and licking my finger and testing the breeze. And occasionally putting one foot in front of the other, not on a staircase that brings me higher, but on a wilderness trail with lots of blind turns. And I’ve grown comfortable in the discomfort of that. Confident in the contradictions.

It’s like I’m suspended somewhere in-between, but not like walking a tightrope, trying to traverse from one side to the other and calling it a success. More like the neon suspended in a glass tube, happy when the twilight comes. The time when the world occasionally realizes that night and day are different for each time zone. Because that’s when I begin to see that I’m not the only welcome sign in our lonely town. With each flicker of light here and there, little signs popping on, I’m reminded of the beauty in the art of divine randomness. It’s the beauty of holy chaos. Reds and yellows and all sorts of colors blinking on, some in steady, predetermined  patterns, some of them stuttering for a while until they’re warmed, and some haltingly flashing, barely humming in their own discouraged dimness. But we all light up our own little portions of the solitary road, letting travelers know that they are welcome to stay a while, to exit the busy highway and rest.

Do You Know Your Enemy?
June 30, 2010

Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels that you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him he would no longer be your enemy.

Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weaknesses of men.

Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God, for it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice, your mediocrity and materialism, your sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.

–T. Merton

***

When I first read those lines a year or two ago, I had other people in mind. I envisioned myself saying those words to them, calling out the error of their ways. It’s easy to do that, especially when I’ve been on a journey away from the established traditions that raised me. It’s easy to take every opportunity to snap at those who I may see as hypocrites in religion or those that I feel may be holding us back from “progress.”

Now I’m trying to envision someone saying those things to me. Yes, I’ve had many call out the error of my ways. It’s sort of been a theme of my life for some time now. But this is different. It doesn’t deal with belief or doctrine. It deals with behavior. It deals with the ways I choose to  see the world and others around me.

So instead of “convicting” others of such things as “coldness and avarice…mediocrity and materialism…sensuality and selfishness,” I’m trying to recognize where those elements might have a home in me. Instead of assuming people see me or my views as the enemy (although that may be the case), I’m trying to recognize when I see “them” as my enemy. How do I speak of them when they’re not around? How do I speak to them when they are around?

There’s a balancing point somewhere in all this. What’s the  optimum tension between staying quiet with a humble, open mind, and not hiding my own truths? (To be sure, there’s a difference between “not hiding” and “asserting.”) And to be honest, I’m tired of trying to find the wrong in others, and looking for holes in arguments. It just takes too much energy.

And in that sense, my enemy is often myself, sapping my energy for the sake of an endless war.

So maybe I can try not “knowing” the weaknesses of my enemy, and instead try to know them as individuals. Which just happens to be what I expect of them.

My spiritual exercise for now is to just go with the flow, staying content in my own truths, assuming no ill of anyone else, and remaining responsible for my own words and actions.

But that’s hard.

God the Elephant
January 23, 2010

I think it would be helpful if we all admitted we are blind. Then maybe we could work as a team. You know…Coexist. Share our perspective and admit that’s all we know…our own perspective. Nothing less, nothing more. None of us have the full picture of God and Truth. That’s my take anyway.

My friend Melinda shared a beautiful comment on another friend’s Facebook wall in response to a political discussion, and this is sort of related to my last post here as well (about prejudice). Melinda is a wonderfully talented musician, writer, poet, mother, human. She has a depth and peace about her, and I think what she wrote deeply and beautifully puts into words my thoughts on a lot of this God stuff and church stuff and relationship stuff:

I have this sense that we are all the same, all one. Poor and rich, haves and have-nots, criminals and saints, wives and adulterers, ignorant and intelligent, god-fearing and lovers of darkness.

There is nothing that makes me superior to you in character or deed or status or behavior or genetics or culture or gender or race or belief system. Nor you to me.

If I behave toward you as my brothers and sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, self, then my judgments of you ring hollow– for where I see your weakness in one area, you inevitably transcend me in another.

To eliminate the idea that *I* somehow have the experience and wisdom to judge *you* is what I strive to do, and I hope for you to do the same of me.

A fair, impartial judge could take a look at my life in its entirety and FAIRLY condemn me to hell for my vast character defects (I have so many). Yet, that same judge could raise me up as an example of courage and fortitude and beauty (I have these, too). In the end, my wholeness is inherently “good” and “evil”, light and dark, blending me to an awareness of God through my mistakes, allowing me to minister to others in my good choices.

Love, love.

(re-posted with her permission)
Please don’t dismiss this as idealistic. This is real. This is possible.  And yes, this is very hard. I mess up and I fail at this. I’m prideful. But I think it might be worth a shot: Let’s share what we’ve found, without defending it like a treasure. Let’s share what we fear, without taking advantage of the fears of others. Let’s share where we struggle.  Let’s share the load.
And when I said we should work as a team…Maybe the goal is not to work as a team so we can figure it all out, to clearly define the nature of God, truth, the universe, whatever. Maybe we’ll find that merely working as a team was the point in the first place. Then maybe the Elephant would say, “Now you’re getting it.”