I know some would say that I believed in a Pollyanna Jesus, but I was also aware that if Christianity wasn't about goodness and love that it wasn't something I could claim in good conscience. If it was something different than what I had been taught as a child then I'm not so sure I was interested in this particular religion. If it required that I vote a certain way, or hold a particular political stand, or make choices that didn't make sense for me, feel shamed for living with a man or having gay friends, or bearing a child out of wedlock, I couldn't be part of it. But it never worried me in my spiritual journey.
I also didn't concern myself too much with the idea of people burning in hell, because I couldn't go there. Every time I tried to recommit myself to a church because I missed aspects of going to church, but time and time again, I hit a brick wall that left me standing outside the door because I could not accept or believe the rest of the world would burn in hell. This was beyond my ability to accept, particularly as the world became smaller and more connected.
In the public view, Christians had become their own worst enemy, and the last thing people were interested in emulating. This included me. They weren't bad individually, it was how the whole culture made you feel. The saddest part was they were blind to seeing how they made other people feel, and how separate they acted from the rest of the world. It sometimes felt like they feared secular humanism more than Satan himself - which doesn't do much for communicating love and authenticity to your neighbor. This fear-based posture seeped into everything they did. I bristled whenever friends posted religious statuses on Facebook, like reminding them how important it is to be saved so they don't spend their eternity in flames. They were so passionate about it that I almost felt sorry for them. Occasionally, if I knew the person well enough, I'd try to explain how they were shooting themselves in the foot and creating the exact opposite outcome they desired. There was no gentleness, as Peter suggests, even though I know it was always well-meaning. It was a blind spot.
Peter said, who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is gods will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." 1 Peter 3:13-17
I always related to this verse but not because I wanted to have answers to convert people,but rather, because I think Peter's spirit here is what being a Christian is all about. Jesus said he would pour his spirit on all people. I wish that the ALL PEOPLE was capitalized, but maybe that would make me obnoxious in reverse.
These words by Peter are about loving fearlessly, not arguing or defending. Although he's referring to Christians who are being persecuted, it was this verse that I often kept in mind when I felt judged by other Christians. I used it often in my relationships with Christians, and seldom in my relationships with others. I had a certain peace about my relationship with God, and a deep knowing that went beyond theology or words when it came to Jesus. There was a depth that came to life over the years, most of which ironically came through other workshops and awareness training that made it clearer and clearer as the years went on.
It always felt to me that Christians came more from fear than anyone else, and it was this very attitude that kept me away from them.
The main reason life has always been a mystery is because it is always dynamic, ever-changing. It is in this that we should hold on to for it's in expecting the change, knowing that our eyes will see anew again, and again that makes life the unfolding discovery that it is. It is in this that we experience wonder, awe, and even the trust that makes up faith.
I learned the joy that lives in the willingness to be wrong from cowboys on the range. Ironically, they were learning this lesson with me. Instead of expecting to see what they'd always seen in nature, they began to watch and wait for what actually happened. We began doing things differently with their cows, from cow whispering which changed their behavior, to the times they grazed and how much they ate of the grass depending on the season and the amount of rainfall there had been that winter. We paid attention and monitored what we found...
And were often surprised and delighted at the results. Instead of being overly cautious and fearful of every action they took, they now made changes in anticipation of learning something new. The underlying guideline was always make the best decision you can with the information you have toward the best result you an imagine. Holding this in view, while also aware that each decision is a process, a journey that takes time. Nothing happens overnight, but the results of our actions are teachers for us, and help us to think critically about the next action we take toward our goal.
It's like this with life in general, and it is certainly true in being a Christian. As a Christian, we are one of many other people and religions on the face of the earth. Christianity is what drew us to our spiritual centers, or how we were raised. It is the religion of our culture. It is imposssible for us to say that everyone else is wrong but we are right. But it is very possible to live like Christ, and continue to keep our minds and hearts open to the constaant unfolding of God in our lives, and our own understanding as we grow and learn together.
This requires the kind of trust that faith is made of. Belove means the kind of trust that true faith requires. It is different than belief. Belief is memorization, having cognitive knowledge. Belove and faith says we put our trust into something. It goes deeper than belief, it has emotion and heart in it. Whether you are a believer in hell and heaven or the resurrection, or not; if we belove in Jesus Christ and anticipate the movement of the Holy Spirit, and love God and our neighbor, we have a starting point to move forward in love, not fear. The rest is what conversations and inquiry are made of.
All else will be revealed along the way, and it may look different tomorrow...but as long as we are doing it in community and are willing to keep the questions flowing and our truth in the center, God will continue to be the ground of our being and the mystery will continue to unfold.