A couple of days ago, I had a thought come to me and asked for others to contribute their thoughts, and I had hoped for more discussion, but I understand these things don’t always go as planned or hoped for – but even with this longer post, I still hope for more dialogue.
But with the dialogue I did have – with the couple of posters, a couple comments on facebook, and a very long conversation with my wife – something became very clear – our view of, our experience of, and who we believe Christ to be (we can pretty much sum all of that up by saying our Christology) is central.
Lately, I have found myself angry – because of injustices and excuses for injustices – more specifically, I have found myself incredibly angry at racism, homophobia, immigrant-phobia (more racism with a twist), politics, and in all honesty – angry at the Church for its participation in some cases, and its silence in others. I became angry at people (usually people seen as leaders in the Church) who seem to talk more about conservative politics, “old glory” (the flag) and “God and country” more than the risen Christ and the hope we have in him.
Another place I find myself often these days, and I think because of the sins of the Church – is a crisis of faith.
James Fowler, a minister in the UMC and someone who has studied psychology has a model of faith development in which we have a crisis and possibly (depending on what we do with that crisis) – grow. For anyone who has taken a basic psychology class, this model is very similar to Erik Erikson’s model of identity development. Fowler has an entire book on the topic, but I also highly recommend this article: http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/fowler.htm
Though I know this theory rather well, and though I believe it to be true – it hasn’t been what is on my mind. What has been on my mind the most is asking myself the question: why do I hold on to my faith, anyway? Why don’t I just quit and stop associating myself with a religion, that in this country, isn’t what it says it is? Many of us have become disillusioned and disgusted with the American brand of Christianity that seems to disenfranchise and demonize rather than provide real hope and love in the world. It seems to focus more on what we shouldn’t do, rather than what we should be doing. The book of 1 John and Jesus’ command to love God and love neighbor seems to get lost in a rhetoric that is overly political and even more so: us vs them.
Last year, when extremely hurt by the Church over a very sad and ridiculous day of political action, I even toyed with a chorus to a song which really went nowhere because I thought it sounded too angry, but I will share it now:
I pledge allegiance to the Church
Of the United States of America
And to the Republican whom it serves
One God inside our box
Divided between the sheep and goats
Justice only inside this flock
It isn’t my finest, I know. And in case you were wondering, that republican, of course, was Mike Huckabee.
What I wanted to share was the feeling. The anger and the sorrow. Anger is an interesting emotion in that it is usually covering up something else. (A nice bit of information I learned in my training as a therapist.) Here, it is covering sorrow.
I was sorrowful because so many people were standing against rights of human beings, sorrowful that the Church was participating in such a sad and pitiful act while people were starving (gluttony, anyone?), sorrowful that people did not look into the real reason behind the boycott (money going to a hate group. don’t believe me? look up the FRC at the Southern Poverty Law Center site), sorrowful at all the hate coming out of people’s mouths, very sorrowful for Christ being so misrepresented.
So am I losing my faith in Christ over a bunch of conservative (and many believed they were well meaning) Christians eating chicken sandwiches in my face about a year ago?
But I know some people who did.
Pat Robertson said this week he wished there were a vomit button (instead of a like button) for pictures of gay couples on facebook. People protested against marital rights, in the name of God. People have started the process of limiting voting rights in states throughout the country. Russia passed some scary laws against LGBT people. So-called evangelists have helped, in recent years, to ignite so much hate in Africa, that some countries made being gay a crime punishable by death.
Am I losing my faith because of all of this?
But I know some people who did and are, and let me tell you – it is a daily struggle for me.
Why do I hold on to my faith in Christ?
I have thought in recent weeks about stopping, but then I think of my church, in the UCC (United Church of Christ), and the wonderful supportive loving community I have found. I just can’t leave.
And I think of the gospel and what it really says about loving God and neighbor and about all those commands to live out that love in a tangible way.
But even more, I think of Jesus.
I think of what all I have learned about Jesus through my union with D. How her love for me, and mine for her have taught me about intimacy, vulnerability, steadfastness, loyalty, joy, and companionship more than any other life lesson I could have imagined. (Though I know we will learn even more when we become parents together.)
In all honesty, since I have been with D, my love for Christ has only grown, and continues to grow – exponentially.
Christ – it is my love for Christ that drives me to be so sorrowful for the church. It is my deep knowing him that aches my soul when I see him painted so negatively and misrepresented.
Christ asked his disciples a question –
They told him what other people thought he was – a prophet, sometimes a specific one reincarnated.
Prophets tell us things; they see things; they sometimes had these amazing and seemingly impossible things happen when they were near.
But Jesus got real specific, “Who do you say I am?”
Bless Peter’s heart. He was pretty bold: “You are the Christ (the Messiah).”
Messiah is much more than prophet. Saying someone was the Messiah could get you killed. And it did.
Messiah – not just someone to tell us things or give us rules.
Someone to know. Someone to love. Someone to follow.
Who do I say Jesus is?
Well, like the ones who said something earlier this week, I believe Jesus is the Christ. I believe he is risen, and I believe this changes everything.
One poster so beautifully said “he commands my life and my death.” – so true.
Another so wonderfully stated that his belief impacts how he cares for others – that he strives to be kind. Yes, and amen.
I do not walk away from my faith because of the Church at large. I stay with my faith in Jesus because of Jesus Christ himself. Because I have known his love. Because I have literally felt his love and known him to sing over me, rejoicing. Because I have known his beautiful gifts and sacraments in community, friendship, marriage, and communion.
I do not walk away from Christ, because Christ is my center, and he is the center of marriage with D.
I truly believe that it is our answer to the question, “Who do you say I am” that will determine how we relate to ourselves, to God, to each other, and to our environment.
When we see God’s great love and we know it, when we see Christ literally make all things new, when we see the beauty of the Creator – it is the working out of our salvation that will flow out of us – living as God’s great work of art, loving God and loving others – truly loving them (See my post: “Confessional” for more on what that love should look like, or for that matter, read 1 Corinthians 13). We will care for our environment, because we love the Creator who made it.
Mike, someone who wears a lot of hats at the college I went to- church leader, professor, student development vp – said something to a group of students, “what if people know the wrong Jesus?”
It has stuck with me through the past few years since he said it.
I think it is true – some people do not know the real Jesus – they know someone presented and misrepresented by the Church. If we don’t do our own searching, how can our faith be our own?
Deanna and I have started watching a new show on ABC Family, called “The Fosters” – I recommend it. It’s a drama about an interracial lesbian couple raising a family – adopted kids, a biologically related child, and foster kids. It is a beautiful picture of family, and I think the kind of picture of how family is a picture of Christ and the church.
This week, there is a quote (spoiler alert) that I was surprised about for a TV drama to get so right.
One half of the couple was talking to her father, and he started talking about sin and how she was away from God and he didn’t understand why she didn’t go to church anymore. She relayed a story of when he made her talk to a youth minister when he found out she was gay (when she was still an adolescent.) She then said it was so wounding, that she never went back to a church again. The conversation stayed tense and a little heated, and she left.
Later, her dad shows up unannounced at the couple’s house, looking remorseful and bothered, and her partner invites him to stay for dinner. To my surprise, the other dinner guests are a catholic latino family, and when the dad asks, they defend the lesbian couple – saying, “What is more Christian than family?” – they go on to press the dad for how he can love his daughter but not stand for her equal treatment. Beautiful – but that isn’t the quote.
When he leaves, his daughter walks him out, and they have a few words about him being welcome, then he says, “If my sending you to that minister all those years ago drove a wedge between you and God – well, that’s the biggest sin of all.”
I almost fell off the couch.
This show captured what I had been trying to say. It captured the difference between Jesus the prophet who does signs and miracles and has all this power and all these rules – and Jesus Christ – the Messiah – the real Jesus – who is our good shepherd, and who often told the disciples about how he had other people, all people – drawing them unto him, not rejecting them or taking an us and them approach.
There was this song in the red back hymnal (if you don’t know what that is, it is a whole other story) called “This Same Jesus”
Well, this same Jesus,
who spoke to the woman at the well when men shouldn’t talk to women, especially not Jewish men talking to Gentile women
who touched those considered untouchables
who chose the outcasts and hated of society as his disciples
who loved those who were looked down upon
who said all people – all people
and will be.
And there is always room at his table.
For all of us, whoever we may be.
And he calls us to do the same.
And that is why I believe.