Monday, August 22, 2011
Why I'm a Christian
Religion's purpose is to mediate the sacred and to inform, engender, and nourish a transforming relationship to "the More."
Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity (2003)
…Christian identity is not primarily to be found in statements or debates or arguments, but in particular practices, commitments, and habits. Christianity is not principally something people think or feel or say—-it is something people do. The narrative of the Gospels is the story of what Christ did, and what God did in Christ, and the scriptural narrative shapes and inspires disciples to go and do likewise.
Due to the rather presumptuous title of this post, in order to put readers at ease, right from the outset I would like to resoundingly reject what I have experienced are two polarizing and counterfeit notions of comparative religion. These are what Marcus Borg calls (1) the absolutist and (2) reductionist understandings of religion.
The Absolutist Christian (or Muslim or Buddhist or Jew…but usually Christian) is committed to a triumphalistic narrative that proposes that only his understanding of God is correct. All others are wrong. Only Jesus (his version) reveals Truth and Salvation.
The Reductionist Scholar, on the other hand, posits that all religions are just human constructions & projections about what/who God is, and, in the end, they are all just guesses and ultimately incorrect. The Reductionist believes that "we made it all up" to serve strong psychological and social needs (we humans desperatley need explanations, protection from vulnerability/death, reinforcement of social order and deep meaning).
As we’ve posted before, EasyYolk is committed to a Third Way, what James McClendon calls “perspectivism” and what Borg calls “the sacramental understanding of religion.” In this rendering, one’s religion (or "spirituality") is a glimpse of the Divine, a window into what is “More” or “Real.” Absolute Truth exists, but there is a multitude of competing claims to that Truth and, at least for now, the Judge is silent on which one is correct (as Paul writes to the Corinthians: we all see through a glass darkly).
Like Absolutist Christians, we believe that core convictions are important: if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything. And like Reductionist Scholars, with humility and critical awareness, we acknowledge the human element that soaks through all religious endeavors: throughout history, as the sacred and transcendent have been experienced, humanity has made sense of it through the limited culture and language that is available.
To clarify matters further, if “Christianity” represents the Absolute & Universal Truth (as many of my friends and acquaintances believe) then whose version of Christianity represents that Truth? Sure, all Christians have some convictions in common: the Bible, the distinctiveness of Jesus and the reality of God. But core commonalities stop with these 3 generalities. From these 3, flow all sorts of streams and strands, creating virtually different religions along the way.
Some Christians believe the Bible is error-free and read self-evidently. Many Christians do not. Some Christians believe the significance of Jesus’ death was (and is) that it was a necessary sacrifice that appeased an angry God. Many Christians do not. Some Christians believe that God is a He and that all husbands/fathers ought to be the “spiritual leader of the household” with ultimate veto power and that the only ones who are capable of teaching and leading a church community are males. Many Christians do not. Many Christians believe in a literal heaven (for "believers") and hell (for "nonbelievers") as eternal destinations after death. Some Christians do not. Throughout Christian history there have been literally thousands of diverse denominations (this researcher counts 33,840), orders and traditions reading the Bible differently, understanding Jesus’ message and death differently and praying to God differently.
In light of the plurality of religious and spiritual options throughout the historical and contemporary world, I am compelled to stand within the prophetic Christian tradition (the minority report of monastics, Anabaptists, Quakers, Catholic Workers & the African-American freedom struggle of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King) which, above all else, has been committed to Christ’s socio-political-spiritual call to “take up the cross and follow” him. We “radicals” believe that God is revealed through nonviolent love, a pursuit of reconciliation, a robust ethos of forgiveness, compassionate acts of service and a rugged solidarity with the weak and vulnerable.
This prophetic vision of the Christian life is demanding and, quite frankly, difficult to market in a wider culture (that is mostly "Christian") physically & emotionally enmeshed with consumerism, convenience and creature comforts. After all, transformation is hard work. Change is possible but it must be intentional (this is at the very crux of Jesus' call for us "to follow"). And, we are experiencing more and more that people don’t think logically--they think emotionally. We are rooted in practically invisible family systems that hold us captive to patterns, roles and rules. We carry with us deep unresolved wounds. We are enslaved to the herd instinct (group think), the quick fix, the constant drive towards self-protection and our unacknowledged socio-economic privilege. Jesus came to expose these "powers" and to liberate us from their chains. No more addiction, abuse, apathy and accomodation towards evil. Jesus replaces our burden with an easy yolk that liberates.
In addition, our historically-rooted vision of Christianity is committed to standing against the glorification of our market-based economic system (at the expense of those who are left behind by capitalism: the poor & homeless, precious resources, dehumanized workers), against ingrained patriarchal attitudes (at the expense of wives, mothers, daughters), against fear-based justifications for a War on Terror, Homeland Security and Safe Borders (at the expense of Iraqi/Afghani/Pakistani/Yemeni/Palestinian civilians, American undocumented workers and Muslims), against racial resentment and entitlement (overwhelmingly at the expense of non-whites) and against multinational corporate privilege (at the expense of those not in the executive and investor class).
I am a Christian because I am compelled by the life and teachings of Jesus. I am overwhelmed by his love and compassion, his advocacy for the poor and marginalized and his willingness to suffering a torturous death for what he believed was Real and True. He was the ultimate Underdog, strategically fighting for redemption over every form of evil, including death (perhaps this is why our hearts burn when we watch movies like The Fighter & Shawshank Redemption). His resurrection was a vindication of his life and teachings and it holds promise for all of us who commit our lives to living out the Way of Truth and Beauty against all odds. Love wins in the end...no matter the odds.
I am a Christian because I believe "we all gotta get saved." And by that, I absolutely do not mean that we need to get saved from hell after we die. Jesus came to save us from the hellish existence of this present moment on earth...and beyond. He came to both show us and empower us how to be on the right side of history no matter how strong the opposition (consider the 16th century Dominican Bartolome de las Casas who almost single-handedly advocated for the abolition of slavery and harsh treatment of Native Americans before the Spanish Court--see image above). The abundant, meaningful and fulfilling life comes by following the Way of Jesus (his subversive and demanding teachings and lifestyle...which usually leads to a death like his because of the unwillingness of elites to give up privilege, status and entitlement).
Jesus' Way of salvation cannot be proven or argued rationally, but contains an embodied apologetic that prods and compels us to a greatness defined by unconditional love and suffering service. When people witness and experience this Way they are convinced that Beauty and Truth are alive and well.
To join the Cause of Jesus, I believe, is to really live life to its fullest, to be captivated by the Divine Essence. When we commit our lives to a litmus test of, above all else, comforting the afflicted (energize) and afflicting the comfortable (criticize) we are caught up in a historical Mission far bigger than ourselves. This brings overwhelming joy and peace because, as Martin Luther King put it, we have "cosmic companionship" in our quest for justice.
This is why I'm a Christian today. No heavenly rewards or gospel of prosperity. Just a lifestyle (albeit imperfect) that seeks to reflect the true Story about a world created & sustained by a Director who searches far and wide to invite forgiven-and-transformed characters to nonviolently participate in the redemption and healing of the universe.