Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
|I wakened yesterday morning thinking about my problem with Christianity as I have encountered it in my adulthood in Southern Missouri. It starts with “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” The first time I heard that was in connection with the Leighton Ford Crusade in Erie, Pennsylvania. I worked for Zion Lutheran Church at the time and was assigned the task of participating in planning for the crusade by my pastor/boss. I went. I had never seen crusade planning before. Someone I didn’t know sat down next to me and asked that question. My answer was “I was baptized and it took.” The feeling I had at that moment was complex and very uncomfortable and the discomfort has never left me. First, it felt like a boundary violation. I would have felt the same way if stranger had asked me about my most recent sexual encounter, or if they asked me to tell them my most private thought. For me, my religious faith is very personal. That question is too personal.
The person asking, hearing my reply, said nothing more and walked away. I have tried to understand that behavior. Superficially, the question was an invitation. However, even though my answer was affirming my identification with Christianity, it wasn’t good enough for them to continue conversation. I felt judged and very unwelcome. I never went back and I told the Pastor why. He said nothing more. I thought at the time that perhaps he was just uncomfortable with that view of Christianity as was I.
I have had an internal dialogue about that question ever since, trying to understand what bothers me so much. It isn’t just that the question feels like a set up for being judged. The question represents an idea in my mind that is totally contradictory to my sense of Christianity. It represents the idea that was popular at the turn of the twentieth century expressed in the romantic sounding hymns such as “In the Garden:
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
When I was a teen going through my spiritual transition to adulthood, I prayed and expected to hear God’s voice like I would hear anyone’s voice. Well, when that didn’t happen, I struggled to understand why I had been told that would happen and it didn’t. My conclusion was that God, whatever that may be, is not a human being, does not act like a human being and I needed to quit thinking of God in the same way I thought of my father. I need to think in terms of the creator of the universe. Science helped me to see God as the power behind everything described by science, the glue that holds things together and the power that pulls things apart and rearranges things. I can see the power is real. I understand that science gives me a limited description, and that even language cannot describe what this is. The word “awe” seems appropriate. The word “personal” seems way too small. Personal makes me think of my relationships with individual people.
My experiences in relationship have taught me that no matter what I do, I cannot fully understand another person, and, no matter what I do, I cannot make them fully understand me. Although I love language, it is too small to describe the thing inside me we call life. Mathematics is too small to describe life. As my thinking evolved, I came to realize the question “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" is way too small and threatens to hog-tie my spirit. I don’t mean to criticize people who use the question. I criticize a culture that traps people in the small world view that everything that matters can be contained in any sentence. I am threatened by a concept that shrinks the power of the creator and sustainer-of-all-that-is into a few words that any human can bandy about like a basketball, or obtain like a tube of lipstick.
It seems to me that the Christianity I have encountered in “the Bible Belt” represents the values of Capitalism, of consumerism, more than it represents the teachings of Christ. In fact, it seems to stand in opposition to what Christ taught. There are Christians who do not think this way. Mother Teresa, Deidrick Bonhoeffer, Pope Francis, Jimmy Carter and Dorothy Day all come immediately to mind. Their spirituality is expressed in living, not talking, in acting rather than recruiting, in loving and accepting rather that sorting the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats. This is what I was thinking when I awakened yesterday morning.