Category Archives: Faith & Spiritual Drift

A Christian Without a Religion

Broken Cross photo by Cantabrigian (deviantart.com)
Broken Cross photo by Cantabrigian (deviantart.com)

“For the last few years, Christians— particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people.” –Thus begins a recent article by Stephen Mattson on Sojourner.com entitled “American ‘Christianity’ Has Failed”.

Thus is also a large part of the reason why I have no words. Why I can’t even…
The irony. The hypocrisy. The pride. The fear. The anger.

This is why we can’t have nice things. This is why I’ve recently deleted my Facebook account. This is why I said I’d written my last Spiritual Drift post.

But then again there’s nothing like a vow of finality to get the creative juices flowing.

My Own Hypocrisy

It’s becoming harder and harder these days to sit in the pews of church and stew in my own hypocrisy. When I hear offhand ‘jokes’ coming from the pulpit about a certain U.S. state being “the land of fruits and nuts”. When I hear fellow ‘Christians’ sitting around a men’s breakfast gathering, swapping stories about particularly touchy neighborhoods they used to patrol as former cops, including the homosexual community, spitting the word between clenched teeth then clarifying, “fags, we used to call ‘em” to nods of understanding and chuckles of solidarity.

I say “stew in my own hypocrisy” because the hypocrisy of the church has been on display for years now. Centuries even.

It’s not them, it’s me.  My own hypocrisy is in continuing to sit there. Numb. Dumb. Mute. Confused and angered. Unable or unwilling (fearful actually) to speak out.  Because apparently I’m the weird one. I’m the ‘no rules’ progressive. I’m the bleeding heart liberal. I’m the one practicing ‘hypergrace’. All accusations I’ve heard over the past months and years. Most all given in contempt with a dismissive wave of the hand if not all-out red-faced anger.

I guess those are supposed to be a bad thing. Continue reading A Christian Without a Religion

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My Last Post as Spiritual Drift

This will be my last post as Spiritual Drift.

I can no longer find the words.

Since my last post, and given the current climate of our nation, both politically and spiritually, I simply can’t think of anything I can say that would make one tinker’s damn bit of difference. To anyone. To anywhere.

We’ve grown too busy shouting, too comfortably entrenched in our own dystopian universes to worry about the lost art of communication. We run around shouting that the sky is falling, never seeing that it isn’t our God who created that sky, it was us. We are being crushed by gods of our own making. We’ve grown fearful of every shadow because the light of the world has grown too dim if it hasn’t been totally extinguished, never recalling that we were supposed to be that light.

I weep for my country.

I weep that a statue stands at our shore and says, “”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I weep that our founding document includes the words, “all men are created equal”.

And I weep that no one cares.

I weep for my religion.

I weep that my scripture says, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the stranger by giving him food and clothing. Therefore, show your love for the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
And says, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
And says, “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

And I weep that no one cares.

I weep for the “less than”, for the oppressed, the alone, the wounded and weak, the disabled. I weep for people of color, and people of poverty.

I weep for the poor in spirit, and for those who mourn. I weep for the meek, and those who are hungry and thirst for righteousness. I weep for the merciful, the pure in heart, and for the peacemakers.

And I weep that no one cares.

No, I take that back.

A lot of people care. We just care more about being heard than about hearing. We seem to be caring more for our rights, for our liberties, for our needs, and for our selves.

We care more about the external than the eternal.

We care more for those things that moth and rust destroy, that thieves can break in and steal.

We equate acceptance with approval.

We equate immigrant with enemy.

We equate poverty with work ethic.

We equate disability with worthlessness.

We equate need with weakness.

We equate conservativism with oppression, and liberalism with anarchy.

We have lost the fine art of nuance, and we’ve forgotten that we live in a world of gray and not one of black and white.

And mostly I weep that there is no one to talk to. No one who will withhold judgment. No one who will simply listen. No one who will do the hard work of caring, and who will face the hard truth that we, yes WE dear Americans and dear Christians, are as much to blame for the state of our world as are our supposed enemies, and probably more.

I have no words.

I am at a loss.

And thus, this will be my last post as Spiritual Drift.

God help us all.

The Four Most Destructive Words of the Christian Testimony

This statement could apply to either side of the argument…

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time over these last several months in the mission field. In fact, I’ve been immersed within one of the most important missionary areas that anyone confessing to be a Christian can labor in; one that is sadly and too often overlooked by so many well-meaning followers of Christ; one that is actually the nearest and most important field within which any of us can work. I’ve been spending time lately in tending to a few of the beliefs, and mending a great amount of faith, within my own heart. And here’s one of the things I’ve been convicted of as of late:

I firmly believe that four of the most destructive words that any Christian can utter to a world that increasingly and desperately needs to hear (and more importantly see) any kind of “good news” of Christ and His followers are these:  “The Bible clearly says…”

No. No, it doesn’t. Continue reading The Four Most Destructive Words of the Christian Testimony

The World is Watching: but what is it seeing? (and do we care?)

19jxqlI read a quote not long ago by the author Rachel Held Evans from her recent book Searching for Sunday. It said this:

So many people fit right into church until… the divorce, the diagnosis, the miscarriage, the depression, someone comes out, someone asks a question, an uncomfortable truth is spoken out loud. And what they find is when they bring their pain or their doubt or their uncomfortable truth to church, someone immediately grabs it out of their hands to try to fix it, to try to make it go away. Bible verses are quoted. Assurances are given. Plans with ten steps and measurable results are made. With good intentions tinged with fear, Christians scour their inventory for a cure.
But, there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome. The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.

This got me thinking. In the past, I’ve been accused of this odd thing called “hypergrace”, of going overboard in such hot button areas as “acceptance” and “inclusion”. And at first, it was an accusation I backpedaled from. For longer than I care to admit.

But now? Now I gladly welcome the accusation.

Yes, I practice hypergrace: I take this whole “love thy neighbor” thing seriously.

My overriding motivation for this is the feeling that there should be one place, one place, where all of us who are sick, wounded, hurt, grieved, addicted, neglected, alone, bullied, unwanted, or unloved, should feel safe, heard, cared for, and made holy.

That place is in God’s house.
But here’s the rub…

The Old Testament made clear that God’s house was the tabernacle, then the temple, which today would mean the church building, the synagogue, the worship center. But, on this side of the cross, Jesus has taken this so much further.

On this side of the cross, we have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer [we] who live, but it is Christ who lives in [us] (Gal 2:2). Further, the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom 5:5(b)). All of that (and many more) means this: God’s house is now inside of us. Scripture calls this “indwelling.”

Just as on the sermon on the mount, Christ narrowed the gap and eliminated any misperceived wiggle room on what the people of Israel knew of the law, so too is He doing the same now, with us, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There’s no wiggle room in the greatest commandment. No “love others when…” No “love others if…” No “love others as long as…”

It’s love others. Period.

Evans went on to write:

 But, the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished – proof that this Jesus stuff works! ‘The world is watching,’ Christians like to say, ‘so let’s be on our best behavior and quickly hide the mess. Let’s throw up some before-and-after shots and roll the flashy footage of our miracle product blanching out every sign of dirt, hiding every sign of disease.
But, if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.

As she says, “the world is watching”. And though we may think, I’m not concerned by what the world thinks, I’m not concerned about how I’m perceived, it reminds me of a scene from The Newsroom I watched not too long ago between the main character, Will McAvoy, and a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement that he’d belittled on prime time only the day before (caution: language):

Will:  Your movement sucks, Shelly.
Shelly:  I’m sure it looks that way from the outside.
Will (with an exasperated sigh):  And right there is your problem, ’cause who the f**k cares what it looks like from the inside?

Yes, I can hear it now; Jesus cares what it looks like from the inside. But, Jesus also cares that “the inside” should include everyone. And isn’t it our role as His followers to make “the inside” so appealing that no one wants to be left outside? Let me ask a question: How’s that been working for us so far? Personally, I believe it’s been a role we’ve failed at. Miserably. For hundreds of years. And isn’t the definition of insanity to do something over and over again in hopes of a different result?

Maybe it’s time for an entirely new conversation. Maybe even an entirely different course of action.

Maybe, instead of telling people what they need, we should ask them what they need. Get down in the muck—into their muck—hip deep, armed with only a shovel and a compassionate heart. To get our hands dirty in this messy, long, intentional, heart-wringing, gut-wrenching process called relationship. To be invited in, instead of feeling the need to bust the door down with a cross and a Bible.

What would it actually be like? Invited to share in these burdens of grief, pain, hurt, or anger: These things that all of us feel, that the world feels, that they live, that they experience? Would it be a surprise to find that many of these things have been caused by us? By believers? By religion? Often through our own misguided sense of need, or fear, or ego?

Only when our faces are sweat soaked and filthy, our hands calloused and bloody with the back breaking work of intentional relationship, will we even know if the world is ready for anything that we may have to offer.

Yes, Jesus cares what it looks like from the inside. But He also cares what the inside of the world looks like. And wouldn’t it be more effective, more real, more authentic, to dive in and change the world from the inside out?

Though it may be more effective, it won’t be a quick fix, and I think that’s our biggest fear if we turn and face the world. It’s not an easy “say this prayer” theology. And it certainly isn’t as simple as “love the sinner, hate the sin”. It was never intended to be. Jesus never said that anyway.

What Jesus gave us was good news of great joy. At least it should be. But I’m not seeing a lot of “good” in our message, or a lot of “joy” in its delivery, or in our walking it out.

I suppose the question comes down to this: What will we receive for our actions here on earth, and for the relationships we choose to form in the world? Matthew 25:21? Or, John 11:35?

I know my answer, but I invite you to wrestle with yours.