(I originally posted this to Facebook on 7/9/2012)
Many don’t realize this, but when I was about 8 years old I was baptized Lutheran.
Nevermind that I haven’t set foot in a Lutheran church since I was 9 (with the exception of weddings, baptisms and other special functions). Nevermind that until this past fall, I haven’t really set foot in a church *PERIOD*, with any regularity, since I was a teenager. Nevermind that I’ve no intentions of ever “re-joining” the Lutheran sect of Christianity, mainly because I no longer feel that “sects” of Christianity really have any importance in a “big picture” sense of speaking (more on this later). Fact of the matter is, I was 8 when I swore in front of God and church that I had accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. There was no magic moment. No epiphany. I was too young for any of those words I spoke to really have an impact on my life without support from the friends and family I might have called “mentors.” I wasn’t driven enough to pursue my faith any further on my own, and as a result when my mother decided that the Lutheran faith was no longer for her, she decided it was no longer for me either since I was still far too young for this decision to have really made any difference one way or the other; I did not feel any particular attachments to faith and didn’t put up much of a fight.
Through my “tweens” and teens, we attended few churches with regularity. There was one, a mainstay for a few years, wherein I joined a few youth programs and the choir, but this church offered little to its youth. There was no mentoring in faith, there was no youth outreach, there wasn’t really even much of a program. We were a handful of 14-18 year old kids with little direction and almost no real faith foundation between all of us. Our “leader” (and presumed mentor) each year was one of a series of 18-year-olds who was typically more interested in talking about the guy or girl they were dating at the time and the drunken parties they had attended the day before, than in doing any serious faith studies or expansion. I attended a few lock-ins, but faith shifted to the peripheries. I stopped attending church about a year after my mom did, but I never stopped associating myself with being Christian. Even so, through the course of those teen years I did some things that many would consider un-Christian, and eventually (as I’ve said in the past and am so fond of saying even now,) “Life got in the way.”
It took a rather blatant turn of events for me to stop seeing my life in the light of writing my own story, and start realizing that there was more to this world than the pages of my life I was penning on my own. It was only at that point that I truly began to have the “epiphanies” that people talk about when they truly start to realize their faith. I looked back at certain points in my life, where there were certain things that I wanted very very badly, and I began to notice common trends in those points:
1: My desires often had something to do with wanting to help others. When I was getting ready to graduate high school, I wanted to go through school and become a teacher. When I became older, I wanted to look into a career in physical therapy. At the point in my life I began to reawaken in my faith, I was wanting to build a career in various aspects of customer service. In all of these venues, I was driven by a desire to serve others, help others and to do good things for them. Thinking about it now, from the viewpoint I’ve gained, this should have been a “DUH!” every time.
2: Each and every single time I thought I knew exactly what I wanted, “life got in the way.” Was I being gently steered and prodded toward this outcome the whole time? Looking at it in retrospect, I honestly believe this was so.
In the meantime, I had been exploring other aspects of the faith I felt I’d been called to. I noted the image problem that us Christians face in today’s age, and it bothered me. I didn’t even need to ask myself where we were going so wrong; all I had to do was turn on the news or go on the internet, and I was met face-to-face with the ugly intolerances and the sly, slick, shallow rhetoric of a ministry that so many of us Christians preach so failingly to so many. I saw young people giving up on their faith because those who should have been mentoring them were instead brushing off the difficult questions and chiding people for having a faith that was not strong enough. I saw Christians going door-to-door, “hard-selling” their faith to the unwilling through shrewd arguments and slickly-placed biblical verses. I heard tales of churches that had “salvation quotas” for their leaders, and those who did not fill seats in the church with registered attendees would lose the ability to perform ministry within the church they likely grew up and grew old with. I heard of Christians who were perfecting a “5-minute bar napkin ministry” to get random people at the bars to just get their butts in a seat on Sunday. I wondered if we, as Christians, would ever shoulder the responsibility of our own diminishing self-image and realize that we were shifting our focus to the same focus Corporate America has engendered: Quantity of bodies over quality of an individual’s relationship with God… because, let’s face it, how awesome are you going to feel about your relationship with God when you feel like you’ve been swindled into the church in the first place?
And then I read a rather disturbing (yet hopeful) book called You Lost Me by David Kinnaman. I recommend EVERYBODY read both this book and the author’s other work, Un-Christian. Both of these books are written from a strong Christian point-of-view, so do be prepared for a bit of a skew in that direction especially if your beliefs are not Christian, but both of these books are well-researched and deal with the viewpoint of Christianity’s own self-defeating image, both as seen from within (in the case of You Lost Me) and as seen from without the faith (as in Un-Christian). You Lost Me dealt with quite a few issues that are causing a mass-exodus of youth (between the ages of 18-30) from church and even from faith, and there was a resounding message throughout the book that I feel I need to paraphrase here:
If the Christian church hopes to maintain its relevance within society, it must change the way it views, empathizes and deals with a culture that is, as David puts it in the book, “discontinuously different” than any culture or cultural change before this time. The Christian church needs to deal with a world that is infinitely, instantly connected. Where the worldwide melting pot has grown exponentially, and people of different faiths and backgrounds and societies are a mouse-click away instead of a plane-ride. Where diversity and fairness are valued over segregation and “biblical” justice. The church, most importantly of all, MUST RETURN TO THE TEACHINGS OF CHRIST. This is a huge point that he emphasizes again and again in both of his books and that I’ve been saying for a while myself; we as Christians must again learn to humble ourselves before our fellow man, and before God. To humble oneself is to begin to see the bigger picture of the world, and we realize that this place isn’t about our story. It’s about what role we play in the bigger picture. For us Christians, it’s about God’s story.
And if you want to humble yourself, stand beside a body of water of which you cannot see the other side. As a matter of fact, stand right at the water’s edge. Stare out at the swirling infinite and think about your place in that. It isn’t about you. It’s about this world, and you working within it to effect the most good that you can. Life is too short to focus on hate, negativity, intolerance and judgment and hope to be heard above the tumult of the swirling waves. Or, to put it more succinctly, I’ll steal a slogan I saw on a local church billboard: “If you are judging others, what time do you have left to love them?”
So. Audience participation time.
I challenge you to challenge faith. For those of you that I love who are on the outside looking in: What elements of Christianity, or religion at large (Christianity or otherwise) do you find most appalling? What elements do you find most appealing? For my lovelies who are on the inside looking out: What frustrations have you had in dealing with your faith and how it treats the world at large? What elements of your personality have clashed with how your church wants you to deal with the “outside world?”
For in voicing and addressing our doubts, we can help each other fix them, and we can all grow stronger in our lives whether we practice faith or not. Perhaps if you are not Christian, this might help to give you a better example and understanding of what we Christians are *REALLY* supposed to be on about. If you *ARE* Christian, perhaps you’ll see or hear something that causes you to rekindle your faith and take it in a more Christlike direction.
I love you all.