I’ve been re-visiting Christianity, but this time, it's through a back door.
Some people tell me I’m a strange duck. My former husband loved calling me that. He didn’t understand my lack of conformity and was totally perplexed when I wanted dining room chairs that didn't match, or preferred the idea of an ATV over a diamond engagement ring.
I’m not part of the traditional church culture either. Truth is, it makes me squirm. But I don't know why. I didn’t fit into the neat boxes my other Christian friends seemed to fit into it. It wasn’t a surface thing, it was much more about how people translated the religion - and the language they spoke. I never did get that.
That said, I am into the Holy Spirit. I'm a fan. At least it's how I refer to a transcendent experience I had when it happened the first time. I’m also a wanderer. It’s true what they say.
Not all who wander are lost.
I always felt the presence of God. And the spirit of Christ. To top it off, the Holy Spirit was my traveling companion wherever my journey led me. But I was never churchy, nor did I want to be. The churches where people seemed genuinely interesting in being like Christ had services that made me yawn; and the churches that felt passionate and alive appeared more concerned with a political and recruitment agenda than drawing people deeper into their experience of God or standing with people who were marginalized. Nothing felt congruent with the spirit as I had experienced it. This, in no way, means there weren’t countless churches out there I might’ve blended into. I’m only referring to the few I attended hoping to connect to a spiritual community tied to my own spiritual roots, while not being weird - or jerks.
I’m also not a theologian. Or a pastor.
But I married one.
I’m probably a pain in his butt. Although he seems ok with my journey along the edges. My guess is when someone lives their life as congruent to their chosen path as he has, it probably feels good to visit me there. After all, it does feel risky and it may be all the excitement he gets.
Well, maybe not all.
I often struggle with the idea of the cross. Probably because it’s horrific and stands for everything I don't. (which opens up a whole new set of questions for me that are reserved for later). And if we have any empathy for Christ’s humanity in this experience, it’s almost unbearable to think about. At least that’s true for me.
I also associated the popularity of the cross as a symbolic mirroring of a culture more interested in victims, wounds, and martyrs than individual accountability and clarity of vision.
Personal growth and self-discovery that resulted in transformation of the soul and spirit is what most fascinated me. This quest for understanding always struck me as the more powerful aspect of individual growth in a life. That said, the spiritual side of human development has always played an equal role in the unfolding of the human experience, from my perspective.
As I said, I am drawn to the edges. I’m not a rebel at heart, but I do enjoy the process of rising up from the inside out as an outcome of living in the questions. I’m not a skeptic either. I’ve simply learned that the best moments in life have been grounded in experience, not in the words I say or the worldview I’m attached to. People also learn more from their experiences than from what they believe to be true.
Identity with a particular world view never worked for me because life’s complexities far outweighed any one point of view. This has caused me heartbreak occasionally because some people don’t trust the person sitting on the fence, and to an observer, I can appear glued to the fence. But that's perception. It’s not the reality.
Sitting on the fence, to most folks, means you don’t have an opinion, or you’re scared to take a stand. That’s not it. I do have an opinion. It just that my opinion doesn’t fit within the limited framework often presented in an ideological debate - or in the voting booth.
This has occasionally played out in Christian circles as well, with each group strongly identified with their theological view, and the seven last words on the cross seem to be a place most Christians theologically agree.
This is true even though Christians identify with Christ in different ways - and they express their faith in different ways. Some, particularly the evangelical and conservative movement are strongly identified with scriptural accuracy and literalness of Christ’s experience - particularly how theology frames the unfolding of God’s purpose. The more moderate and sometimes, liberal Protestants and Catholics, are more aligned with living as Jesus would, even if they subscribe to the story. These are obviously very broad generalizations, with a wide range of variations in each group. For the sake of discussion, please don’t take offense if you don’t fit into either box.
The cross, and particularly the last seven statements Jesus said, were not of great interest to me over the years. To be more honest, I found the topic distasteful - but I’m probably not the only one.
No one was more surprised than I when I spent the better part of three days last year studying these words Jesus spoke as he died. I believe he demonstrated something very important with us there. Messages hidden in his experience. If we were to ask what would Jesus do, these moments of him hitting the wall would be a good place to observe.
The business of the church has been so tied to the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection that we can miss the fundamental teachings on transformation. Of couse, this is far from an original idea. Many have cited this - including Paul. I only suggest we miss the boat when we neglect to tie our human development to our spiritual development in a way that more authentically and honestly connects to the way people think and behave.
Religious speak may ignite the spiritual heart and, for some, help them dive deeper into the mystical experience of Christianity. This is a powerful tool not to be discarded or rejected. However, just as we separate church and state in this culture; we seem to separate religion and personal transformation and growth. It’s difficult to understand why churches have consistently resisted allowing, and even emphasizing, the personal side of human understanding to stand visibly beside theology on the spiritual journey, no matter the religion.
This glaring disconnect is particularly shocking when we see that it's exactly this personal struggle that ignites human transformation in the Christian narrative. This is the one thing that makes Christianity different from other religions. The muck, blood, struggle, betrayals, unhappiness, desperation, evil, doubt, violence, and confusion are exactly what Christ experienced. The one human being who, depending on your theology, is God or is the only person who transcended the false self to be fully in unity with God, experienced every one of these challenges. He was not exempt from them. It's the main idea. The main event...next to the resurrection story.
The point is life is as much about suffering and the struggle, as it is about transformation and happiness. We do not get to escape being unhappy, or miserable. It's what balances the human experience. Dark and light can only exist in relation to one another.
What's also often missed or goes ignored, is he was asking his students to adopt non-duality as a way of being. From where I sit, this was his most important teaching behind the idea there was something beyond us, something that acted like the glue to the universe that connected us to all that is.
What's been most distorted, unintentionally perhaps, is that this power that's greater than us is formless.
Jesus' reference to God as Father has also been reshaped over time into imagery of God as a man on a cloud with a beard and a staff. Some of us have even been taught he controls everything that happens to us, and is the cause of horrific world events, terrorism, and tragedies. This is not the message. Although many biblical narratives throughout the scriptures refer to God as being all powerful, and therefore, the power behind every event. This is most likely due to understanding and evolving thought as our knowledge base grows. That said, it is true this power beyond us is in everything, but this does not equate to being the cause of it.
If I'm with you when you're struck by a car, it does not mean I caused it or willed it to happen. Such is the case with the idea of a power greater than ourselves that is all that is, and can unlock the holy mysteries that we cannot even begin to guess at understanding or having knowledge of. For all we know, it doesn't even exist. Bottom line, thinking these mysteries exist is a choice that's supported by personal experience and how we interpret events in our life we don't fully understand. This has always been true...and probably always will be.
But does it make it untrue? I don't think it does. Personally, it makes the mystery even more sacred in my view.
Some things are truer than true. I'm not sure who I heard say that - perhaps the liberal theologian, Marcus Borg, in describing his own journey on the Christian path. In his quest as a scholar over a period of three or four decades, he has ridden a roller coaster of intellectual, theological thought that has led him to various conclusions over the years.
It seems to me this is just as it should be. We are dynamic, creative organisms who are always in the process of change and evolution. This is a good thing because there is no definitive answer. There is only our own seeking, receptivity, and desire to grow beyond ourselves. This is the real journey.
When we choose to remain stagnant and attached to a version of thought that we first heard, we are not challenging ourselves or exercising the very tools we have to grow and expand our individual and collective consciousness. I'm not suggesting we surrender the idea of God, but rather, that we surrender to what is greater than ourselves. That we allow for the unfolding of our own consciousness that we are not yet aware of. It sits waiting to be discovered. It's up to us if we want to be open to the possiblity of what is beyond us with the potential of experiencing mysteries that take us to a higher consciousness, or stay mired in the predictable reality of our day to day lives. Having a foot in each place keeps us vigilantly aware of our spiritual essence, while grounding us in the physical reality of our own humanity and the world around us.
Among other things, I believe it is a significant cause for the steep decline in church attendance over recent decades. It’s not alone however. Television, internet, deconstruction of the Sabbath, the human consciousness movement, and Oprah have also contributed to these changes in the traditional church culture.
As we became more creative and informed; while changing the way we learn - the church remained tied to traditions that no longer met people where they were. This is more likely due to the fact that those in charge in the individual churches dotting the American landscapes, as well as those at the higher ranks of the organizational ladder were not connected to the pulse of the culture. There was a time they led culture change, when now they found themselves behind the curve. Way behind it.
Additionally, it was fashionable in conservative Christian circles in recent decades to be protective of their faith, instead of magnanimous. When new technologies and social media venues came into the picture, instead of embracing them, they avoided them - and recommended their parisioners to do the same.
We all know the outcome there. Isolation, fear, disconnection, parochial. This was in exact opposition to what the new technological age had birthed. From the get-go, these reluctant adopters were behind the curve.