I thought I had writer’s block.
I thought the words had left me a week or two ago. Every time I tried to write, my mind seemed like an empty room. I was wrong.
I wasn’t out of words. Only out of comfortable words, neat words that flow from one cleanly-formatted paragraph to the next and resolve with something that could be called an ending. I’m out of those words.
Instead there’s this.
There’s this ball of yarn tangled all on itself, confusing and frustrating and ever-present. There’s bits and pieces of thoughts scattered, held together with the thread of disillusionment.
There’s only words that I don’t want to write, because they’re not easy, they don’t flow. They must be dragged from the chaos and flung unwilling onto this page, if they are to be seen at all.
I don’t want to write these words because I don’t know what they all mean, or if I’ll agree with them a week or a month from now. But I don’t want to be a Christian writer if it means writing from the heart and hitting backspace until it feels safe again.
I don’t want to be a Christian writer if it means disclaimers and endings that make sense. I don’t want to be a Christian writer at all – I just want to be a human, free and fully alive. And right now, these words are the only way I know how.
I don’t know if I’m a Christian anymore.
These are not unfamiliar words beneath my fingertips. I’ve written before about how I don’t want to be a good Christian anymore, and again about how I don’t want to be called a Christian. But I concluded:
“We look in the mirror at this label on our own foreheads and we try to rub its stain from our skin, but still it remains. Christian… It’s just a word, but it’s ours. It’s mine. It’s stamped into my skin and into my heart and I’ll let it stay because of all that it meant when it was first spoken.”
In the year since then, I haven’t tried to rub that word from my forehead. I haven’t given it much thought at all.
But lately, I haven’t been seeing that word on my forehead when I look in the mirror.
I don’t know if I’m a Christian anymore.
Please don’t be alarmed.
This isn’t a game of semantics, a “spiritual but not religious” thing; it’s not about disowning the weird Christians that make me uncomfortable.
This isn’t a loss of faith either; I still believe in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ His only Son Our Lord.
This isn’t about leaving the Church; I’ve finally found a place in the Church and am coming to understand as if for the first time the depth and beauty of its mission and purpose.
This is just a mess.
For most of my life “Christianity” was a wall, and we were on the inside.
We had Christian books and Christian movies and Christian music. I went to a Christian college and after I graduated I got a job at a Christian ministry.
I put one of those shiny silver fish on the back of the first car I drove. It was really important to me that other people knew. It was my identity. When I saw other believers, we’d make eye contact and smile. I knew that they knew that I knew.
When I saw the poster for the newest Attractive European Jesus Movie, I didn’t recognize the Jesus staring back at me.
I’m a follower of Jesus for sure, but not that guy. And I cannot comprehend why so many Christians find it so important to get this movie seen. It’s like their identity depends on it – an identity that simultaneously cries they’re the persecuted minority in America, but also brags that they’re the most powerful purchasing demographic at the box office.
So Sexy White Jesus becomes a sort of David vs. Goliath story, and Christians cheer for themselves as the underdogs against big bad Hollywood. A big box office is a point for us, a touchdown for Team Sexy White Jesus.
Maybe it’s an evangelistic opportunity too, a chance to talk to their unsaved friends about Jesus. But it’s a Jesus I don’t recognize. Why would I want to talk to my friends about that guy?
Meanwhile, there’s been a flood of soapboxing about the Unbiblical Environmentalist Noah movie. They’ve gone round and round about whether or not the movie is Biblical, if Christians should see it, how we can capitalize on this chance to talk to our friends about Noah too.
Aside from chuckling at the irony of pushing an Attractive European Jesus whilst complaining that Unbiblical Environmentalist Noah isn’t “accurate”, I just can’t bring myself to care.
If this is what Christians care about, I don’t think I’m a Christian anymore.
The “God’s Not Dead” movie is even worse. Apparently it has everything that we’ve come to expect from Christian films: cheesy characters, terrible production values, straw-man non-believers, impossibly tidy endings. Add in cameos from Duck Dynasty and an entire Newsboys concert, and I wonder if these Christians have any idea that they are their own parody.
It’s fine if terrible “Christian” film wants to exist in a vacuum. But this is paraded as another “opportunity”, a chance to score another touchdown for Sexy White Jesus. Churches and youth groups drove this film to the top of the box office over the weekend, hoping to make converts out of doubters. As Kevin Sorbo put it:
“Agnostics out there who kind of believe, kind of don’t … these are the independent voters. We want them to come over to the right side.”
I spent most of my life on the “right side” – the side dominated by evangelistic opportunities and culture war skirmishes. I honestly don’t think I’m on that “side” of the wall anymore. The movies didn’t cause this decision; maybe they just helped me realize it.
I don’t think that’s the sort of “conversion” that they were hoping for.
Christians always tell me stuff about unity in Christ, how we’re all one family in God, how there’s room for disagreement. I get that.
At the same time, it seems that many Christians are reading the same Bible, using the same words, and coming to opposite conclusions. At what point is that not even the same religion anymore?
I believe God is love. But all too often, Christians pay lip service to a God of love while also arguing for theology that makes God an asshole.
John Piper says: “Before you were born or had done anything good or bad, God chose whether to save you or not.”
Jonathan Martin counters: “If that’s who God is, then He is a monster on par with, if not greater than, the Biblical portrait of Satan. And I have no clue why anyone would want to worship a tyrannical, sadistic, monster like that.”
Mark Driscoll teaches: “Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. He is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter His enemies.”
Preston Sprinkle argues: “His clothes are bloodied before He wages war against the enemy. Why? Because it’s His Own blood. The Lamb—the crucified not crucifying Lamb—has conquered.”
These are not peripheral issues. They get to the very nature of the God we worship, the Jesus we follow. And when your version of God is not only slightly different, but fundamentally opposite from my version of God, are we really in the same religion?
These aren’t rhetorical questions. I really don’t know.
There’s only one Gospel, but it seems that many Christians preach another gospel I don’t recognize anymore. Sometimes I feel like I’m caught between “What does it matter as long as Christ is preached?” and “If anyone preaches any other gospel, let him be accursed.”
If “Christian” is such a broad word that includes all this, what use is the word at all anymore?
I’m realizing that the Church and the one we clumsily call “God” are so much bigger than the walls that have defined my experience of Christianity.
Beyond them is a world of beauty and truth and I can’t imagine that the God who made all this would want us to be so afraid of it all.
But when I look at Christians, I see so much fear, so much arguing round and round the doctrinal flagpoles, trying to establish the correct position, warning that all others are “dangerous”. I’ve been part of those arguments too, but lately I can’t bring myself to care.
If those are the things that Christians care about, I don’t know if I’m a Christian anymore.
It seems like Christians spend so much time claiming exclusive understanding of God and truth that there’s not much space left to actually encounter a God who’s more than an intellectual construct. Sure, the Bible reveals God. But it doesn’t contain God. He’s also in the wind. He’s also in the faces and arms of my brothers and sisters. The Kingdom of God is within you.
So much of what passes as teaching on “Christian living” is religious leaders confining our experience of God to something they can control.
I want out.
Why waste a thousand words writing about one? I don’t know.
Maybe because that’s what writers do. We use and overuse words, turn them over and over searching for meaning, we fling them about just to see what will happen.
This word matters more than most because it’s been my identity for all my life. And it’s more complicated than most because it’s word that so many other people call their own.
I told you I didn’t have a neat ending, just a lot of tangled questions. So here we are, for one moment of uncomfortably honest confusion.
Thank you for listening.
published March 24, 2014
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