You know, I used to think Christianity was GREAT(!). You may not, that’s ok. Recent cultural events and personalities certainly make this opinion less viable.
What I mean is, other than actually being a Christian myself, I used to think Christianity was a “good” religion that was both intellectually satisfying and personally helpful to practice. It was something that gave me more than it took away. It’s hard not to love a practice that teaches you what things like joy, meaning, and love mean and how to live in a way that seems far better, richer, and more satisfying than life without it.
For me, as a Christian, the right question has always been: “How do we live in light of God’s kingdom when the kingdoms of the earth have yet to become the kingdom of our God and of his Anointed One?” It’s the struggle to live between times. Jesus has inaugurated hope for us, has lit a lamp in a dark room that we can use to light other lamps. What do you do in the messy gray stuff? How do you navigate sin and love and grace and justice and mercy? There aren’t really answers to those questions so much as a commitment to a practice that helps you keep engaging God in the midst of the gray areas. You get better at it, you get closer to God, you get closer to people, you learn a little bit about holding grace and truth together in an open hand . . . and there are practices and frameworks and all sorts of things that help you do these things better than you did them yesterday.
Or whatever. I’m sure I will eventually get back to this appreciative view of my faith, but right now, I think Christianity suuuuucks. Let me tell you why.
I could say that I, like so many others, hate Christianity right now because I feel betrayed by its adherents. “Jesus is cool,” we muse, “WHY CAN’T YOU EVER BE COOL, CHURCH?!” we yell. “Why you gotta side with the white people, the rich people, the Trumpkins, the sexual abusers, the gay haters, the money grubbers, and the RNC liars/power-mongers–WHY YOU GOTTA BANG EVERYONE WHO SUCKS OR DOESN’T NEED YOUR HELP?!” (FYI, bang=fornicate with, in this context. Yeah, I went there, read Revelation 17, and think of this as my paraphrase.)
You know what? I’m into that rant…sometimes. It’s the most natural thing in the world to blame people because I can persuade myself that I’m serving the cause of justice by blaming people and by hating injustice (lolz!). I’m not really better than that, I’m not gonna pretend like I am. I am not, however, taken in by myself or by the blame game I frequently indulge in. Blame doesn’t do anything. Sure, it makes me feel less helpless, but it doesn’t actually serve the cause of mercy or justice or any form of godliness.
But as much of a mess as I think the Church is right now (been fired up about that since 2011, by the way, it’s not just the Travesty of 2016) . . . that’s not at the core of what’s really shaken me to my core. I have a deeper problem, and it turns out to be a theological one.
If I could summarize my theological praxis before this paradigm shift, I’d do it like this: “I, Seretha, can force people into the kingdom of God by loving them, and people, being loved, will always choose love, and choose to be loved, because it is self-evidently better. Yippee! Things are great because love always wins.” You can probably see the flaws in this . . . the main entree is codependence with a side of youthful arrogance. I goofed the relationship between love and responsibility.
To this day, I have zero doubt that God can wrest the world from the power of the devil. I also used to think the devil (or maybe death) was humanity’s greatest enemy. Sin has entered the world, and the spiritual forces of evil have people captive. Sin, death, the devil: those are things that I can deal with because I know Jesus has already dealt with them. Now, though, I realize that our problem is deeper than that, and it’s an internal threat, not an external one.
I’m pretty sure that our biggest problem is, no matter how religious (or irreligious) we might be, we want to kill Jesus when he says things we don’t like, or that inconvenience us. It’s easy to read the religious leaders and communities in the gospel stories that conspired against Jesus as being them, but more accurate to read it as us. Maybe you aren’t feeling that right now. But I think the cultural climate in the US right now has made it self-evident to just about everyone to say that they are to blame. The “they” just differs depending on who you talk to.
I think Christianity is a lot easier when the devil is the scariest enemy there is. When the enemy is within, when I’m confronted by the present reality of the story of Adam and Eve–that we choose and God has refrained from correcting our choices . . . Christianity just sucks. Who wants to square with the fact that God gave the keys of a Maserati to a 16 year old who has no history of being a good driver? In the face of human evil, God’s choice to give humans free will seems irresponsible. Oh, yeah–that 16 year old with a Maserati also gets to procreate at will (shudders).
It’s tempting to practice religion in a human attempt to manage the problem of sin or evil or chaos. Or am I the only person out there that wants to be in control and does not want to be helpless in face of the suffering of others, even when that suffering is self-generated? But the Christian religion in particular is not magic: there is no combination of willpower and intelligence that will ever control this situation or bring it to a good end. Unlike magic, faith is not about control, power, or mastery. (Btw, I like all those things, they’re great!)
I know we have to trust God to walk with us and save us despite our best efforts to mire ourselves in darkness and chaos and ignorance. And it is hard to accept that I am the one who so often does not know the way, and that my loved ones get lost and turned around, and sometimes end up on the wrong side of a screaming match with a rock in our hand to stone one with the face of an angel. But I’m told God has a habit of still speaking to us, like a bolt of lightning in a dark sky: “Seretha, Seretha, why are you persecuting me?”
It is my particular task at this moment to learn how to invite God into my own helplessness. But I’m not good at that. Helplessness is the point at which I am most tempted to just move on without God. God indwells all things to heal all things, and the story with Incarnation at the heart of it is one where God illuminates and brings life through death. And I don’t know much, but I do think a place where God dwells is better than blame and vengeance, and maybe that’s a mustard seed where the kingdom of God can grow.
Good luck with all that–what helps you navigate the chaos with God’s grace? Or, do you prefer a magical view of religion, like me?